When I went to grad school to study the history of South Asian religions, I thought that my passion for work in the community would have to be relegated to a hobby. I felt like the two were so unrelated that there was no way I could justify my research of ancient medical and religious texts and stories from India with my desire to create a just world and sustainable, vibrant communities. I started working with The Chicago Time Exchange while I was in grad school to create a “hobby” space for social justice.
Fast forward what feels like a hundred years (who’s working on that time machine, people?), and I’m no longer officially studying myths, texts, religions, and languages, but I am still active in The Chicago Time Exchange working to affect social change in communities. What I’ve realized recently (and I promise this is going to be not about me–insofar as I can write about something other than myself–very soon) that they have always been related for me. The stories and myths I’ve studied have always highlighted the experience of the non-dominant class. Likewise, I’ve learned that stories, myths, and history play an important role in the way people relate to one another.
This joke-of-a-“spring,” Lara, an active member and co-director of The Chicago Time Exchange, finished her LinkUp residency at Links Hall. The residency was designed to investigate Lara’s art practice and her social practice. How does her community support her art? And vice versa? What is the role of art and artists in community building? What about her love for etymology and linguistics? And, probably most importantly, what about balloons?
Lara’s performance artistically wove these questions in with folklore and storytelling, social justice issues, current events, her own journey, desires, needs, and offering gifts.
Lara beautifully tells and illustrates the story of the princess and the frog and presents it as a story about desires and vulnerability. The princess needs the frog to help her with her ball and the frog represents a need for human connection (and sexuality) that can be scary and sometimes intimidating.
She then recounts her story about how she came to the sharing economy. She was listening about the BP oil spill and felt so furious and desperate that she was moved to action. She needed to do something. She found about gift economies at the Social Forum in Detroit and worked on building their presence in Chicago.
These are both two really separate things, right? I mean, what does a fairy tale have to do with the BP oil spill? What does any of this have to do with The Chicago Time Exchange? They are all about needing each other. The motto, if you can call it that, of the CTX is “we have everything we need, if we use everything we have.” The two major premises of this statement is that we (individuals and communities) have needs and we have something to fill the needs. It is never true that an individual can fill 100% of their own needs. Basically, we need each other. Lara’s performance illustrated in different ways, that I need my community. I need other people.
The great thing about Lara’s performance is that saying “We need a community. I need people” is a nice and cheery thing to say theoretically, but putting it into practice and living it is kind of brutal. It is a pain in the ass to need people. People fall through and they mess up and they can be super awful sometimes. I wish sometimes we “needed” something a little less complicated. Like, chocolate. Can the CTX motto be “we have all the chocolate we need if we eat all the chocolate”?
I certainly don’t have an answer for this. Though I think we can vote on a motto change. People do awful things. I never do (ahem), but others definitely do bad stuff. That stuff sucks and it’s constant and there’s nothing for it.
But people do awesome stuff too. Lara starts gift circles in Chicago. Rebecca starts The Chicago Time Exchange. My husband tells the funniest jokes ever. Laura knits stuff for people and is great to talk to. Tom helps me with website stuff out of the goodness of his heart. Julius tutors kids to make sure they do well on the ACT. My boss enthusiastically supports me even when I’m being awful. The kids I work with are simply hope incarnate.
I need these things. I need this community. I need these people.
It’s scary to need these things. What if they get taken away? What if I am no longer deemed worthy of these people? What if what I offer them is not worth what they offer? What if something happens and they cannot offer what I need? What if I need them and they’re not there? What if they do not follow through?
Those are scary questions, and the only person who has all the answers is Brene Brown and possibly Oprah. And Beyonce. I think Tavi Gevinson has some too, even though she’s only 17. I digress.
The larger need that we have is the need to be needed. In Lara’s performance, she describes a break down after the BP oil spill. She needed to be helpful. Do all the people I need, need me to need them? Does my husband need me to laugh at his jokes? Does Rebecca need me to appreciate the CTX because she needs to help her community? Do the kids I work with need someone to see them with hope rather than despair? Does my boss need to support me so his mission can be successful?
Perhaps it is not a weakness to have individual needs and desires. Perhaps the secret strength of our community rests in the ubiquitous and inter-related nature of our needs. When I need you, I am weak. When we both need each other equally, we are unstoppable.