Merry Christmas from Detroit, y’all. It’s been a hell of a year, hasn’t it? I hope this letter finds you healthy and joyful and warm.
As most of you know, I moved to Detroit in February from my home of 25 years, Milwaukee. The decision was borne of a need to take the next step of walking the talk, to become a student once again. and to leave in large part my accumulations of comfort, resources, and status. I felt Detroit had something to teach me, and I have not been wrong, although many of the lessons have been friggin’ hard!
In February, I moved in as house manager for Capuchin Corps Volunteers Detroit. I lived with 3 volunteers, ranging from early 20s to mid 50s in age, who were spending a year working at local social service nonprofits. My job, in exchange for housing, was to organize the house repairs and renovation. As I became integrated into the house and community, the Cap Corps House on the east side of Detroit, increasingly became a gathering place. We hosted drum circles, neighborhood meetings, visiting poets and filmmakers, international Couchsurfers, Allied Media Conference and Detroit 2013 attenders, and returning citizens, with abundant food for all. To tell you the truth, it was a bit much at times! But it revealed how much so many of us longed for beloved community, a place of welcome, and meaningful friendship in “liberated territory.” And showed us what was possible.
Several of us in the house knew we would be moving out in August when our terms ended with Cap Corps. We all longed to continue living in community and wondered what this might mean. Detroit has no shortage of beautiful, well-built housing from the early 20thcentury. Sadly, too many are empty and dilapidated. Grace intervened, and through a series of events, 7 community members ended up moving into a turn of the century, 3-story gem down the street from the Cap Corps House.
In August, we started up New Work Field Street Collective, with the purpose of “meeting mutual needs by embracing neighborly interdependence through self-sustaining industries.”
What does this all mean? When I moved to Detroit, I became active at the Boggs Center, founded by Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs, and down the block from the Cap Corps House. I joined the New Work committee, exploring the concepts of New Work/New Culture/New Economy. In a post-industrial, post-capitalist and post-socialist, post-oil, post-JOBS era, how do we survive and thrive? The jobs aren’t coming back, y’all, in case you haven’t noticed. Our house, NWFSC, is the beginning of an answer to the question. Here, we have several enterprises: New Work Leathercrafting, Homespun Hustle (sewing, knitting, quilting…), Food2Gather (meals, food preservation, carry-out), Healing House (yoga, Capoeira, meditation, massage), and more to come. In the coming year we plan to engage in developing alternative energy for our neighborhood and beyond.
What this means on the ground is that we’ve been struggling to fix up an old house, and we’ve only had heat and hot water for a few weeks! Still, no shower, and only 5 radiators installed so far in a 4000+ square foor building. Nevertheless, we’ve made amazing progress (I will spare you the gritty details!) and most days, we embrace this immense challenge.
Meanwhile, yoga, thank God, continues to sustain me on every level. Simultaneous with all this, we opened Iyengar Yoga Detroit, a regional center for comprehensive study. We began offering classes in September and we are growing daily. This week, we begin construction on our rope wall! You are most welcome to make a tax-deductible contribution to our development.
What does all this outer activity mean for my inner life? It’s been another year of recognizing privilege, and calling it out, dismantling it, leveraging, or transforming it for communal good. It’s been a year of working through complicated social dynamics as we create a multiracial, multicultural, multigenerational household. In this past year, I’ve been in more uncomfortable situations than in my last 10 years in Milwaukee. My learning curve has been steep in my 50th year! And that is a good place to be. At this growth edge, I hope to stay vital, relevant, and useful for decades to come.
It seems my children (Meiko—27, Katja—25, Malachi—22) and I are all asking the same questions: what does it mean to be human in the 21st century? How do we live sustainably and harmoniously and joyfully? I am deeply blessed to be sharing housing with Meiko! We relate to each other as adult roommates, but also enjoy the mother/daughter bond. And our food! Mmmmm. She is developing her food enterprise, giving massages and helping to run a healing center, and apprenticing with me as an Iyengar Yoga teacher.
Katja is living in a treehouse in the rainforest on the Big Island of Hawaii. She is growing vegetables, making jewelry, subbing at the local Waldorf School, and taking care of a slew of cats and a dog. Malachi graduated from Occidental College this year, and living in Los Angeles. His radical social justice heart is leading him toward law school. Needless to say, my children have as much, if not more, to teach me than I have to teach them. They amaze me and I am deeply honored to know them.
May your coming year be full of the light of learning and love. May you thrive in this era of major transition and develop your own “new work.” May we remember, on this holy day, that Jesus came as a revolutionary, to liberate us all from oppression. May we all create beloved community in the coming year, wherever we are. Do not hesitate to contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org, 313 454 1401.
So much love, from here to there.
still the Badass Yoga Nun, peggy kwisuk hong