Yup! I jumped in a van with three strangers for a two-day road trip and I would have been crazy not to do it. I met the Affirmative Art crew on Friday the 13th, went to Flint with them on Saturday, then Chicago on Sunday and it was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time.
If the definition of insanity really is “doing the same thing and expecting different results” then I feel that our routines and comfort zones are slowly driving us crazy!
Travel and adventures are passions of mine and I’m realizing more and more that they should also be mindsets.
The need to break away from the routine is usually what leaves people desperate to vacate and experience something different. While on vacation, we often have more adventurous and curious mindsets that we rarely have during our routine lives and it often awards us with amazing and memorable stories to tell. I decided to channel the Dora the Explorer © in me and be adventurous.
Disclaimer: I’m not writing this to convince you to do random things with strangers. If a van pulls up and offers you candy or a platter of hot bacon to lure you into their vehicle, you may want to run away “with the quickness”! I’m dusting off my blog to write about how I decided to break my routine of work and more work and how much I learned in the process. My hope is that you’ll prayerfully embrace unpredictability and experience more of the people and places this life has to offer.
Oswald Chambers, a late 1800’s Christian author, put it this way:
“…Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time…”
-- My Utmost for His Highest, The Graciousness of Uncertainty
I won’t pretend that it was a quick decision for me to make; I’m not that much of a hippie. It took me a few hours to think things through and of course I prayed about it. My biggest thought wasn’t if they’d kidnap me. Honestly, my thoughts were: “what if they are the type of people that don’t hold in their farts in the car?”, “what if they worship Lord Voldemort?”or “what if they chew food with their mouths open?” (I’d rather be kidnapped!).
In the end, the thought of missing out was what was most daunting. I’d always wonder what could have happened. I had no other reason not to go besides the usual “people will think I’m losing my marbles” excuse. I know by now that making decisions based on what other people think, will leave you stunted and finding comfort in the norm. The last thing I could ever allow myself to be is normal! So I un-expectantly broke my routine and joined the expedition.
Day 1 - THE INTRODUCTION
May 13th, Friday – Detroit, MI
Video courtesy of AffirmativeArt.org
About a week before Friday the 13th, I was connected with the Affirmative Art team via email. They were traveling from the east coast to the west coast and hosting Affirmative Art workshops in twenty-one cities in between. The simplest way to put it; the workshops are about drawing and discussing your aspirations with other people as a way of holding yourself accountable to achieve those dreams. The team needed a place for the workshop in Detroit, so I helped connect them with Good Cakes and Bakes. That Friday I joined the workshop and met the crew for the first time.
Detroit, MI – Good Cakes and Bakes. Images courtesy of Affirmative Art
Claudia is an architectural designer and public artist, like me, as well as an urbanist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alum. Marcus is a graphic designer from Norway and founder/CEO (Chief Executive Optimist!) of Co-Optimist. Eirik is an artist and founder of Affirmative Art, to say the least. Originally from Norway, he’s lived in Africa for over fifteen years and is living out his dream by hosting Affirmative Art workshops across the country.
Detroit was city number six for the team. At Good Cakes and Bakes, the workshop consisted of women that I already knew, but through the process of talking about our desires and colorfully depicting our dreams, I got to know everyone so much more. It’s outstanding how good a conversation can be when everyone comes ready and willing to open up. We had such a great time together that Claudia invited me to come with them to the next two cities. The conversations we had were so amazing that I was extremely curious to see what conversations would take place in Flint and Chicago.
You can check out our dreams and drawings HERE.
Day 2 - THE EXPEDITION
May 14th, Saturday – Flint, MI
Image courtesy of Affirmative Art
Saturday morning I let them know I’d be joining them. Saturday afternoon we were off to Flint! I’d never been to Flint before. Because of the latest news of the water crisis and conspiracies, of course I wanted to see what things were really like. We all know, especially Detroiters, how dramatic the media can be. I expected to see lines of people everywhere waiting to get cases of water from resource centers; but there were no visible signs of the city’s water distress. There were dilapidating structures, rough areas, pristine blocks, and new development. The usual mix of any urban area. Sometimes I realize how much I live under a rock; I had no clue that Flint was even a college town.
The hospitable folks at the Flint Public Art Project hosted us for the night and they arranged for the workshop to be held at the Flint - My Brother’s Keeper group home for men. At the home, I sat with three older African American men. One lived in Alaska for sixteen years working different industry jobs. The other had family doing amazing things across the country, used to travel a lot and hoped to be an entrepreneur. And the third was a bright-eyed poetic thinker who was proud of his kids. We discussed traveling, politics (Donald Trump!), life achievements and our aspirations while we drew our art.
Flint, MI – My Brother’s Keeper. Far left: 19-year-old conspiracy theorist. Far right: shelter manager. Image courtesy of Affirmative Art.
I’m always curious as to how people end up in shelters or homeless. As I patently waited for one of them to bring up the topic, it took everything in me not to ask. They never touched the subject. My hyperactive curiosity waned as I realized that temporarily living in a shelter isn’t where their lives “end up”. It doesn’t define their lives; it’s just as much of a life phase as living in Alaska or traveling to Mexico. Our conversations served as reminders to me that our current situations, difficult or sensational, don’t define the rest of our lives.
you can see their artwork HERE.
May 15th, Sunday – Chicago, IL
Chicago, IL – Black Cinema House - Book Cover of Stealing the Show by Miriam Petty. Image courtesy of Miriam Petty’s Facebook page.
The morning of the 15th, our Flint hosts made us breakfast and painted a section of the Dream Machine. Then we loaded up and headed to Chicago. Because the Chicago workshop plans fell through, we decided we’d wing it once we got there. I’ve always admired the work of Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation but I’d never gotten the chance to see any of its projects in person, so I figured that there had to be an event of some sort happening at one of the Rebuild Foundation sites. Sure enough, there was an event scheduled to start at the same time we were estimated to arrive in Chicago! Author Miriam Petty was hosting a book launch and discussion of her latest book Stealing the Show, at the Black Cinema House. We attended the presentation and it was an eye opener! Petty broke down the term “stealing the show” and what it truly meant to be black actors and actresses in 1930’s Hollywood. She offered insight into the challenges colored actors faced over eighty years ago and still face today; and y’all know the Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone subject came up!
After the presentation and discussion we all broke bread with the crowd at the reception and I got to meet Petty. It’s always refreshing to meet someone in academia who’s extremely smart and at the same time approachable, down to earth and warm hearted. After the reception, everyone from the audience came out to leave their mark on the Dream Machine.
Chicago, IL – Black Cinema House, Stealing the Show book launch. Images courtesy of Affirmative Art.
Chicago, IL – Black Cinema House - Stealing the Show Book Launch. Author Miriam Petty (blue dress) and audience members in front of the Dream Machine.
you can see more photos here.
Chicago, IL – Images courtesy of Marcus G. Christensen
After the book launch the team and I wandered around downtown Chicago. Over dinner we reflected on the past three days of conversations and workshops and got to know each other even more. From the first workshop on Friday I realized that once you skip small talk with new acquaintances and go right to the meat of things it expedites the bonding process. After only seventy-two hours of hanging out with them, I feel like I’ve known them for months. I’m glad that I accepted the invitation to travel with such genuine and community focused people. I’m glad that I embraced spontaneity and broke my routine.
Blog photo courtesy of Flint Public Art Project.