Living the Rich Life

Now that school’s out, every time I leave my apartment I’m accosted by a kid who wants to do art with me.  I offer an art class every week for kids in the Bridge Meadows neighborhood.  For a few kids, I also have weekly one on one time to work on art and books and stories.  But it’s not quite enough now that summer is here.

I know I’ve had this opportunity to become popular with kids because of my unique living situation here at Bridge Meadows.  We are an intentional community organized to support families adopting 3 or more children out of the foster care system.  On our city block in Portland, Oregon, we have 9 single family homes, and apartments for seniors who provide support for the families. We seniors get a sense of purpose; the children get a sense of permanence.  There are about 30 kids under the age of 16 here.

In any other neighborhood, I might not know any of them, but here, I am welcome to form bonds with all of them.  Their parents know I’ve been vetted — I’ve passed a criminal background check and gotten training on how to work with children with challenging backgrounds.  I’ve been here over 2 years now and I’ve seen children grow from being distrustful and anxious to being playful and creative.  It’s an amazing transformation and I feel so blessed to help open creative channels for them.

My life has become richer than I ever imagined.  When I think of how I haven’t manged to “make it” as a writer, that I’m living on disability and occasional freelance jobs, at times I feel a sense of despair.  I’m well into my fifties.  Will I ever get my work finished and out into the world?

That I’m poor isn’t a surprise.  When I first started writing poetry in my teens, I knew there wasn’t going to be much money or prestige in the writing life.  I quickly figured out that if I was dedicating my life to the arts, I was essentially taking a vow of poverty.

When I was younger, my plan was to have a day job for money, and to write in my off  hours.  I’d already

Typing poetry at age 19

started having health problems but I still had that fire that young people are blessed with.  Even though I had epilepsy and muscle deterioration from transverse myelitis, I felt these were minor problems that I could easily manage. I could have a family, work, write and be constantly creative.

After a certain age, though, it just wasn’t possible to keep that up.  And now, even though I no longer have a job, I still struggle to find the energy to get my creative work done.

When I moved to Bridge Meadows, I committed to volunteering at least 7 hours per week to the community.  The obligation is loose enough that things like sitting in the courtyard talking to the kids is considered supporting the community.

One day an 8 year old girl asked, “Can you sit on a bench?”

I said I could indeed.  She wanted me to sit in the courtyard and watch so she could play outside without her mother worrying about her.  I have to say, my bench sitting abilities are astounding.  

What I found was that working with the kids was energizing.  My productivity has increased.  My imagination is constantly stimulated by these little muses.  There are many days when the pain of arthritis would keep me from venturing out of the apartment if I weren’t looking forward to showing some kids how to capture their imaginings through stories and art.

I’m helping Noah build a robot costume out of cardboard boxes and we’re making a book of dragons.  I’m

helping Monica and Karishma create a book about Marshmallow Land, where if someone eats your marshmallow head, it spontaneously grows back.  Lily is creating a series of one line stories about animals. The latest was about a clownfish named Steve.  I tell stories.  And sometimes I teach journaling for all ages.

Community living has it’s drawbacks.  Being involved with so many families means you share their grief and sorrows as well as the good times.  I still have limited energy and can’t do all I’d like.  I still hurt and am plagued by fatigue.  But, like when I was young, these now seem to be problems I can manage and carry on.

Once, before I even moved here, a teenage artist who came to an art show I was in, asked me if you could make a good living at art.

I had to say no.  But, I added, you can make a good life.  It deepens your sense of your surroundings.  It pulls you out of your anxious mortal life and lets you dream, imagine and create.

And here I am, a rich, rich woman.  I am in this rich place because I was financially poor enough to qualify for the affordable senior housing.

No matter what else happens in my life, I know I’ve helped these children turn a page in their young lives.  They have a restored sense of wonder — and so do I.

For more on Bridge Meadows, watch this PBS story.

I’m linking to my friends at Paint Party Friday

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44 thoughts on “Living the Rich Life

  1. I can't think of anything more worthwhile than providing stability and direction for young lives. Kudos to you, Joy. You may not see the results of some of the good you are doing, but I know the children will appreciate you and do appreciate you.

  2. Joy, what an enlightening article. I would love to reblog you, but can't do it easily — I can lift part then post it with a link to you. I will post it on dkatiepowellart if that is okay? You can always ask me to take it down!

  3. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I believe John Lennon said that. Sometimes life doesn't turn out the way we thought it would and sometimes that's for the best. What an inspirational post….the children bring you so much happiness and you give them so much too! Happy PPF

  4. One of the gifts art is that it helps keep you open to possibility. I see so many who shut down after a setback, if you can keep an open mind and heart, you see that life that's blossoming while you made other plans. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. This is only one of three in the United States, and the only one in an urban area. We hope to be a model for other cities and countries though. Thanks for you kind words.

  6. Joy – this is one of the most lovely posts I have ever read. God has given you such a wonderful opportunity – to be part of the lives of others – to be a help – a teacher and sometimes just a companion. Our own “troubles” get smaller when we touch the lives of others. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  7. Hi Joy, thanks for sharing such a deeply heartfelt and beautiful journey! Shine on for the inspirational spirit you are! Very special!Wonderful picture!
    Hugs
    Victoria

  8. You are truly a Queen of positivity, walking through adversity and finding JOY!! Seriously though this is a very inspirational post that proves finding your true self and sharing it with the world is where happiness and true riches lie! I know many people who have perfection and fiscal success, yet they are truly the most unhappy!! Good for you! I LOVE this post and your beautiful soul! Write on sister!

    Hugs Giggles

  9. Joy you know how I feel about the BRIDGE living. If I could I would be there with you. I know how hard it is for you sometimes to even get out of bed, but I know how much you have given to these kids. I know that they will all look back and think of you as a friend, a mentor, the fun lady who sat on a bench. These memories will see these kids through…. and for now these kids see you through.
    Big hugs
    Nicole/Beadwright

  10. What you are doing for these children by nurturing and guiding them will live on in their hearts forever. And in return they are what gives you strength when you need it. This is a beautiful post.

  11. You're too kind. But I find if I'm not positive about things, they get boring pretty quickly. I am subject to bouts of depression, but there's too much life around to stay in that place. Love to you!

  12. I just hope more communities like this get built. I think it's a good model for all neighborhoods and income levels and family styles. It's better for us all if we get to share and care for each other. Thanks for your support, Nicole!

  13. Bridge Meadows sounds like a wondrous place to live in. As you may know, I work with gifted and talented children from 1st through 5th grade. Although my salary is comparatively very low compared to other professional venues, I do agree that working with children can keep your spirits high and increase your creativity. Therefore, as an artist and a person that thrives in creative endeavors, I love my job. Blessings, my friend!

  14. A perfect post about art, life, and the conflicting emotions that arise when one chooses a passion/vocation over the urge to be financially “safe” (whatever “safe” is). Your gifts include writing and art-making, but extend infinitely further beyond. We are all richer for them–thanks!

  15. You're too kind, Tom. I really enjoy sharing your artwork with some of the kids here. I've had a few very interesting discussion with one 10 year old in particular who loves your creepier pieces. (For others reading this post, Tom's very imaginative work and thoughts on process can be seen at http://tomsarmo.blogspot.com/)

  16. Joy, you are an INSPIRATION!!! As your name suggests you spread Joy to the ones surrounding you and those lil kids must be Lucky to have you and you too as we can learn a lot from these lil angels…truly they are muses! I am awed by your community and your spirit of strength, belonging and support. Kudos to you and your community! Would really love to see your place someday 🙂
    Loads of love, hugs and prayers
    Deepa
    http://deepazworld.blogspot.in/

  17. Thanks so much. I'm glad the children are getting your instruction, too. A bigger salary, I'm guessing, wouldn't give you near the fringe benefits of working with your gifted students. Blessings to you, too.

  18. You're very kind, Deepa. It would be fantastic if you got to see the place one day. Hopefully, though, more will be built everywhere and you'll get a chance to see it close to home. Warm regards, dear.

  19. Your community continues to be one of the neatest, most hope-filled things I have heard about in a long time! And I love what you shared
    With the teenage artist: though few can make a good living at art, all who do art can make a good life! Such an important and insightful distinction:)

  20. Good jobs may come and go, but the gifts of art stay with you no matter what. I Know I will always be able to have at least paper and pencil no matter what else happens. Thanks for your kind comment!

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