Community as a Creative Process

“She doesn’t know that she is part of creating something everywhere she goes. Just her presence and her participation in this room is a life-giving force. Her round, confident face and eager eyes tell us that we are creating something wonderful in this room.”

-Whitney Kimball Coe


As a dyed-in-the-wool “solo artist,” frequent mover, and independent spirit, creating community is not something that’s come as natural to me as writing or making art and music on my own. That’s just the way I’ve always been.

And while I’ve collaborated with many wonderful musicians, directors, photographers, and other creatives, being an active and sustaining part of a creative community has been few and far between. But now that I find I’m settling more into where I’d like to live for years to come, I’ve been thinking more about community, what it means to me, and how I can create more of it in my life and art.

Knowing this, I happened to come across a great talk last week from On Being, “The Call to Community in a Changed World,” with Journalist Anand Giridharadas and Whitney Kimball Coe of the Rural Assembly, which brought up so many enlightening subtleties of intentional community engagement — and sounded like a clarion call to me in our fractured political climate where “our neighbors have become strangers.”

It also makes sense that I’ve been thinking about community in the context of the holiday season and the community of our immediate and extended families. This weekend I was launched full into it helping my Mom and family out with hosting our annual holiday cookie decorating party. And I was reminded again that community is something you create. It’s something you participate in and are influencing, whether you know it consciously or not.

Still a bit overwhelmed from my recent move back to California and not feeling fully settled, I made an conscientious effort this year to overcome these feelings and really pitch it. Living in Austin, I felt so far away from my family that I always came back feeling like a sort of guest. But this time, I was truly a part of the fabric and the fray.

I swept the floor, helped my Mom with food prep, labeled dishes, made our signature holiday drink (“Santa’s Strawberry Fizz”), greeted guests and took their coats and bags into the guest room, blended frosting with my Aunt and 96-year-old Papa, cleaned up a guest’s spilled drink so they didn’t have to or feel embarrassed. These are not heroic acts. This is simple work that comes from love, and that’s what’s powerful. Intention and action:  this is what creating community is all about.

For someone who has often felt apart, re-learning these things and being able to put them into practice made me feel so grateful. It makes me want to keep reaching out, to my own family and into my greater community, to give and create more together.

A emailed note of thanks from my Mom the next morning after the party was what made this sometimes dark, “lone wolf” girl feel like she really was trying, and it brought tears to my eyes:

“You were a gem this weekend…
Everyone felt your light."

Baking Bread (1920)  by Aksel Waldemar Johannessen

Baking Bread (1920) by Aksel Waldemar Johannessen