Before and After

thehood copyI’m the president of my neighborhood association–which most days doesn’t mean much.  Neighborhood associations, though sanctioned by the City (of Albuquerque), don’t wield much power though the City does like to get input from us in regards to requests for waivers or zoning changes, respecting our knowledge of and concern for our particular neighborhood.

One benefit of being involved in the neighborhood association is that I get invited to participate in a variety of meetings and workshops (many many many of which I decline).  This past week, however, I attended a workshop hosted by the folks from County of Bernalillo Neighborhood Coordination office.  It was an opportunity to learn about resources that the County offers to support neighborhoods.  One of the resources we’ve been trying to tap into is the Neighborhood Enhancement Grant.

By now you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with Writing and Grief.  Be patient, it’s coming.

joining_hands_color_1_webOne of the neighborhoods that received a grant from the County used funds to support Joining Hands–a community art project that took photographers (neighbors) door-to-door to photograph people’s hands holding something important to them.  They held a variety of objects, but  common themes emerged:  water, musical instruments, rosaries, vegetables from the garden.  The project was also very healing for the neighborhood. An issue had set neighbor against neighbor and tempers were running high.  This project was interactive, and got people remembering how much they had in common.

That got me thinking about what I could do in my neighborhood, and while I like the idea of photographs, I am more interested in getting people’s stories.  Everybody has a story.  I also have an interest in oral history and documentary.  I thought what if I asked every neighbor one question…. and recorded them….

I got lots of suggestions from friends (hello Facebook!):  Can I watch? Where do you park? So how many people sleep in there? Do you have a potato? (from my smart alec friends) and Why are you here? If you could change one thing about your life what would it be? What experience has impacted your life more than anything else? Do you like your life? Are you happy? What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? What scares you? What hurts? (from my more philosophical friends)

Then a friend posted this:

Exactly what I was looking for! You can read more about Candy Chang’s  Before I die I want to…. project, and other innovative community art projects she’s spearheaded. I know I’m inspired!

Most everyone I know has suffered loss–the death of someone close, someone loved.  Maybe it wasn’t the gut-wrenching kind of loss that I experienced when my mother died (when I was just 13) but even the loss of a friend, a colleague, or even a neighbor gives you pause.  It’s  reminder that life is short.  That there are no guarantees and if you want to DO something, you need to DO it, and not put it off.

Grief is always with us and the work of grieving is to find a way to incorporate grief into our lives without letting it bog us down.  Art making, whether it’s the Before I die project or writing a memoir (or poem, essay, short story, novel) is great way to do just that.

What have have you done with your grief lately?

About Jennifer Simpson

Writer, marketing consultant, community builder and teacher. Director of DimeStories International, where authors share their 3-minute stories at open mic events and online. Publisher and editor of the I WRITE BECAUSE project. Find out more at
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