Linoleum Floors are More Than They’re Cracked up to Be


I heard someone say the other day that home is where your story begins.  It’s where we’re rooted, what grounds us in the present and gives us a history to remember.

I’ve been fascinated for years by the notion of place and the impact it has on who we become.  I’ve even oriented my composition classes around questions of space and place, exploring how who we are is so often affected by where we come from.

So it seems unsurprising then that I might orient my memoir about recovering from mental illness around similar concepts.  I’ve posted pieces about fearing homelessness, about my inability to afford housing in any remotely comfortable way, about wanting the hospital to be my home.  I even took this one step further yesterday when I mentioned now owning a home.             

However, an important part of this progression toward home ownership involved twice living in government housing—not a lovely place by any means—but not the housing horror folks often expect.

In June of 1998, I moved into Lakeland Manor—a government-subsidized, semi-high-rise for the elderly and disabled in Dallas, Texas.  I decided this move made sense when it became more and more difficult to afford the small, one bedroom apartment I leased on Northwest Highway.  I scraped and scavenged each month to pay the rent, making myself abide by outrageously restricted spending limits that may have reinforced patterns of neglect and denial I carried over from childhood.  The apartment at Lakeland Manor saved me more than $200 a month—what to me amounted to a small fortunate at the time.  The year before, I had told my therapist that if I could only make $100 more a month, I would feel rich.

I’d gotten to know a woman who owned a home in a neighborhood near the complex, and visiting her home, I’d noticed the place was not-so-bad.  In fact, my friendship with Jeanette impacted my decision to move, as I began to recognize the impact proximity might have on my recovery.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is not a small place.  My apartment was far from my therapist’s office in Plano—an expensive place to live, and I knew how not having a car kept me isolated, if I didn’t have friends nearby.  I had been fortunate to have my friend Ellen living in the complex on Northwest Highway.

I frankly adored Ellen.  She was my friend from Tulsa, my first openly lesbian friend, one who had also moved to Dallas for treatment purposes.  Ellen was witty, brilliant, creative—great fun to be around when she was sober or not psychotic.  Unfortunately Ellen’s efforts toward sobriety left her more psychotic, more often, and in some ways less available.

My move from Northwest Highway to Lakeland Manor had no conscious connection to Ellen’s decline, but tragically Ellen died suddenly shortly after my move, having visited my new apartment on only one occasion.  Ellen’s death devastated me.  There seemed no clear medical explanation for her dropping dead one afternoon in the parking lot of the apartment complex where we had lived.  But once Ellen was gone, I was relieved to have already moved.  I don’t imagine I could have tolerated living there with her gone.

This issue of proximity made one friend I met at Lakeland Manor enormously important, as I finally had a friend who was bright and creative living in the same building.  Elaine was a classical musician who played the French horn—an SMU grad who loved to laugh as much as I did.  Elaine had had a stroke a number of years back, as well as a kidney transplant, so her physical disability qualified her to live in the building.

Elaine was a friend in every sense of the word.  She was my age, came from a similar educational background, and was finally someone with whom I could socialize, without either transportation or finances being issues.

Except for Ellen, when I lived on Northwest Highway, none of my friends lived nearby.  Without transportation in a city like Dallas—especially when you don’t live in a particularly safe part of town—it’s logistically difficult to go out with friends after dark.  And given all the other battles I was fighting at the time, dealing with getting home after dark was more than I could manage—so mostly I stayed home.

However, I couldn’t afford to socialize either.  I couldn’t afford movies or going out to eat or shopping—activities most folks not fighting poverty enjoy.  This created a financial incongruity in almost every relationship—leaving me feeling isolated and alone. 

With Elaine, all of this changed.  Neither of us had any money—neither of us could afford to go out—but there were countless evenings when Elaine would come down to my apartment or I would go up to hers, so we could cook dinner together and watch T.V.  The meals were simple.  We ate lots of pasta. 

dinner with Elaine at my apartment, February 1999

I remember we spent Christmas of 1998 together.  It was icy outside.  We couldn’t go anywhere, but that didn’t matter.  We were friends, and we were together.  Ironically, I owed this friendship and the joy it provided to the fine folks at the Dallas Housing Authority.

So Lakeland Manor, government housing or not, was in many ways a relief to me, my apartment a retreat—a place I could finally comfortably afford.  Plus, since the rent was based on income, I never really needed to fear homelessness again. 

Home is where ones story begins, and the home I made at Lakeland Manor is one that ultimately allowed my recovery to take hold—grow roots—be strengthened.  I gained confidence while living there.  I felt good about myself and proud.

Yes, my apartment had roaches.  It has linoleum tile on the floor.  It was ugly. 

less-than-lovely linoleum floor

But I worked hard to make it feel like home, and quite honestly I loved it, linoleum and all.

So, home is where one’s story begins, humble as that home may be.

HGTV Premiers New Show (Does Haiti need to be HGTV’d?)


On Monday, June 6, 2011, HGTV (Home and Garden Television) premiers its new series, “HGTV’d.”  The network’s website says the show is for anyone who has ever wanted an HGTV makeover and that in each episode an HGTV designer “will arrive at the home of a viewer, surprising them with jaw-dropping makeovers and over-the-top transformations.”

Back in February, however, having read about this upcoming series (while still living in Port-au-Prince), I posted a piece called “Haiti needs to be HGTV’d.”

So, it seems only appropriate, since earlier this week I wrote about the Food Network and its disconnect from the “food insecurity” so much of the world endures, that today I share the February post again and comment (in light of this premier) on HGTV’s own culpability in not addressing the housing crisis so much of the planet faces.

(Please be aware that I’m a big fan of HGTV.  I watch it daily, at least when I’m in the US and near a television.  You should also know that the network does
support Rebuilding Together—”a nonprofit working to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize communities” here in the US.   And I appreciate this effort.)

However, the network—though it airs shows such as “House Hunters International,” which follows the house hunts of ex-pats seeking to
relocate abroad–does nothing to share how the less-privileged
citizens of places like Costa Rica or Ecuador actually live, and it, moreover, does nothing to support housing projects in these countries—ones that would improve the standard of living endured by the poor in developing countries.

Perhaps, it’s not the responsibility of the network to do this.  Perhaps, this kind of programming wouldn’t sell.  Perhaps, people wouldn’t watch.

However, it seems reasonable to raise this question—especially in light of the series premier on Monday.

So, take a look at what I posted several months ago—photos of the housing crisis I witnessed when I visited a small Haitian village outside of Leogane—and tell me if you think HGTV has any responsibility to help a community like it:

Like many Americans, I love HGTV (Home and Garden Television).  When I go home to the US, I can’t wait to watch kitchens upgraded, bathrooms remodeled, landscapes transformed.

Whether I’m cooking with the ease of Lean Cuisine, laundering with the convenience of Kenmore, or cleaning with the miracle of Mop & Glo, I appreciate the perky background chatter of “Divine Design” (to learn more about the show click here) and “Design on a Dime” (to learn more about the show click here).

I enjoy segments on how to install bamboo flooring at a diagonal as much the next surface-obsessed, granite-loving, domestic goddess in North America.  Even when I’m at our house in Haiti, I complain about our stove, our oven, our cook-top.

It’s so small:

So tall:

—so not the stainless steel I have at home in the States.

But—(and this is a big BUT)

This past week I went with Sara to Leogane, a coastal town about 30 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince, close to the epicenter of the January 12th earthquake.  A United Nations assessment team deemed Leogane “the worst-affected area” in Haiti, with 80 – 90% of buildings damaged and nearly all concrete structures destroyed.

Just outside of Leogane I visited a community called Nolivos—

Where the houses look like this:

 a “Desperate Space?”

(To learn more about the HGTV show, “Desperate Spaces,” click here.) 

The washing machines look like this:

doing laundry for a family of 7 children

The kitchens look like this:

a “Sizzling Outdoor Kitchen?”

(To learn more about the HGTV show, “Sizzling Outdoor Kitchens,” click here.)

The sinks look like this:

the community well

And the stoves look like this:

a “Kitchen Impossible?”

(To learn more about the HGTV show, “Kitchen Impossible,” click here.)

Watching a woman cook dinner for seven on  a stove of sticks and stones, I wondered whether Vern Yip would be willing to bring a “Deserving Design” to this mother or another mother in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil.  (To watch an episode of Yip’s series, “Deserving Design,” click here.)

I wondered whether David Bromstad (the designer featured in the premier of “HGTV’d”) would splash some color a little south of Miami.  (To watch an episode of  Bromstad’s show,”Color Splash: Miami,” click here.)

I thought:

Haiti needs to be HGTV’d!  (To learn more about the series, “HGTV’d,” click here.)

(and I thought I needed a kitchen remodel.)

She Sheltered Me (In the Shelter of One Another, Part 2)


 

Today I’d like to welcome my friend and fellow writer Mindy Shannon Phelps to “Reinventing the Event Horizon.”  Mindy’s  guest post is also about “sheltering,” a topic explored in yesterday’s poem and one inherent to the recovery effort here in Haiti.  Mindy’s narrative negotiation of this issue–an event horizon of its own–is stunningly poised and powerfully moving.  (Mindy’s bio is below and her post “She Sheltered Me” just below that.  Mindy will personally respond to comments, so feel free to ask questions.) 

A journalist by training, Mindy Shannon Phelps is a project management and communications specialist.

Over the past 17 years, her clients have ranged from Habitat for Humanity 
International and the US Department of Justice to the FEI World Equestrian Games and the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship, which she launched in 2007.  As a consultant, she focuses primarily on not-for-profit organizations.

As a wife and mother, she says she is humbled by the grace and love of her two daughters and husband, who encourage her to “write it down.” She does write – prose and poetry – and she is an editor, as well.

Her maxim: “Woman hath no greater satisfaction than editing someone else’s copy.”

________________________________________________________________

She Sheltered Me

It was the spring of 2004 in one of the worst years – work wise – of my life. I had been hired to transform a well-known non-profit organization from an affiliate of the national group to a state-only organization.  The group’s mission was completely embraceable – justice and fairness for all – but the group was hamstrung by about 60 long-time stakeholders – board members and advisors and founders – who each decided to be my boss. I also had an entrenched staff that I simply could not manage.  My associate director made Machiavelli seem like a decent person.

I could not win for losing. 

One morning, on the drive to work, I stopped at Starbucks and stood in line behind a very odd person.  She was very colorful.  A black lady whom you could immediately recognize as being from Africa or the Caribbean.  Not used to the chill March weather.  Bright knit cap and scarf. Bangles and rings and clothing that seemed to surround, rather than actually fit, her body. Sneakers and thick socks. Carrying a knapsack and a small pair of bongo drums, she was about to beg the barista for coffee for one dollar. Before she got to the counter, she turned around to me and told me I was a “rainbow child” and that I blessed her with my smile. 

She turned to the counter and the barista refused her request.

She hurried out the door. I was troubled that I did not quickly step in and get her some coffee. But I could see that she frightened the clerk and the customers. And she, herself, was frightened.  So I got my own coffee and went on my little way.

She walked across the street and I overheard her asking for directions to Main Street. I really wanted to pick her up and debated with myself through a light change, then crossed lanes and stopped and offered a ride. 

We sat for a minute and chatted and she explained how she had traveled from Jamaica to live with her sister – had sold $2000 worth of jewelry that she makes – and her sister had taken her money. My passenger was headed to the Hyatt Regency downtown to stay the night.  Her sister had a reservation. 

You know, I like to think I at least try to take people at face value. But I’m just as shallow as they come, really.  I wasn’t sure I believed this woman’s story. Making it even more difficult were comments that interspersed her narration, such as, “but, you know, I am not worried because God takes care of me.  We are all His children and He loves us.  I used to be a rainbow but now I am here.” I was with her on God’s love but the rainbow metaphor was beyond my ken.

Then she told me something I had always believed. 

“We need to continually stay in prayer.” With that, she began reciting the Lord’s Prayer and I headed the car down the road.

When I got to Main Street, I pulled into a parking lot next to a bakery. I don’t know why I didn’t just take her all the way down to the Hyatt. It was as if I was dreaming and did not have control of the car. This is what she told me in that lot.

“God bless you.  Be on your guard. Satan has demons driving on the streets today.  You are under attack and you don’t know it.  You need to call on Michael. Do you know Michael, the archangel? He’s my angel and he will be your angel, too.  You are God’s child and He loves you. You and I will see each other soon in paradise. We’ll be so happy then!”

All of this, she repeats, several times.

I began to weep because she touched something I didn’t know needed comforting. My heart.

The lady from Jamaica had blessed me and she was of God; that I knew. And I think God was there in the car with us and so was Michael, the archangel.

Before she got out of the car, I fished into my wallet and gave her a fifty-dollar bill. It was my two-week “allowance.” I felt as if I were giving it to God.  

She cried when I handed it to her.

I never saw her again.

In the Shelter of One Another (Part 1)


“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”
— Irish proverb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If we don’t shelter one another, we are lost.  If we don’t shelter one another none of us has a home; none of us has heart, has peace, has rest.  If we don’t shelter one another, we are alone, alienated, adrift.

Believing this to be true, struggling to understand community and what it meant to care for one another, I wrote the prose poem below some years ago, wrote it in the voice of a woman who had the experience described:

 My apartment has a view of the city skyline

 A street lady keeps coming to visit me.  She’s looking for her son, leaves me notes.  I called the police.  They said to call if she comes again.  She hasn’t come again, but when she does come, she tries to get in.  

Of course, she can’t get in. 

She only rattles the door.

Would you have responded differently to the woman’s visitor?  What would you have said or done?

Tomorrow, in the spirit of these questions, I’ll bring you a guest post, written by my dear friend and fellow writer, Mindy Shannon Phelps.  Mindy’s post will further address this issue of “sheltering”–offering another voice of witness.

Hope you will come back tomorrow and listen to Mindy.  Let’s help her feel welcome!