Taking Simple Steps

Sharing the process of transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle

Local Culture

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I love to share my poetry and songs. In this blog, I share my journey and vision. I feel it right to connect in these ways with those in my community whose lives mine naturally touches. This is enough.

Getting to this point has been a process, however. Spring of my senior year of college, my roommate, Erica, invited me to join her and her boyfriend, Cliff, at the Speak Easy on MacDougal Street in New York City. Cliff knew I had been writing songs and insisted I take his turn at the open mike. After singing, “I Want to Be Part of the Free Things in Life,” the emcee approached me and scheduled a gig date for a few months later.

I was delighted about my debut and fascinated by this novelty, the open mike. In the ensuing months, I frequented the Speak Easy to soak in words and melodies of musicians. I found even weak voices, staggering strums, and lipid lyrics moved my heart. As matter of fact, I preferred authentic sharing composed with grit and rawness to that of polished, studied performers. Musicians’ sincere souls touched mine.

As I became involved in the music scene, my mind struggled with undercurrents of ambitious urgings to ’Make it big’ and ‘Get picked up by a record label.’ The prospect of being part of the music industry distressed me. Its moneyed decisions fed by popular demand could lead to compromise, diverting from my path. I retreated to hold my ground and build a lifestyle consistent with words in my lyrics.

For me, music is a way to meet beyond space and dwell together in deep truths. It is food for the soul.

I think a lot about art. I see it nourishing daily life, providing meaning by enfolding realities that can be grasped and reflected upon. I dream of art expressing values that can be recollected and woven into communal thoughts and actions, bringing them to life. Art, not left to professionals and critics, viewed as better than us, but made by honest, soulful human endeavor, “ for you and me,” as Woody said.

So, I put art to task. My colleague, Sharon, depressed and recovering from surgery, is lying in bed in rehab. I sit by her side, strum my guitar and sing, “When I walk among the trees, I hear your whisper in the breeze, I hear you calling gently, please. Remember I am here.“ Her eyes twinkle.

I gather friends at my Sarasota home on All Soul’s Day. Janice passes around a photo of her nine-year-old, Sally, and shares the story of Sally comforting her younger brother as she faces her own death.

During Advent, Arthur reads a poem of his struggle through the darkness of divorce toward the light of new life. We sit around my coffee table in candle-lit dusk and nod in empathy.

I have been told that in olden and native cultures, art is imbued in practical and collective living. Evenings, folks sit by fire or on a porch telling tales and singing songs. Saturday nights, communities dance in a barn. A farmer fiddles, the barber plays bass and grandma sings soprano. I have heard African postal workers stamp letters in rhythm and song. A leader calls a chant and the group echoes, thumping postage on letters, in beat. I have read that Aboriginal healers intone broken bones back into alignment.

Participating in folk culture uplifts and unites.


When I lived in Asheville, North Carolina, I looked forward to the monthly Playback Theatre performances. Here, an audience member comes on stage to share a personal story. The director, sitting next to her, evokes nuances inquiring, “How did you feel when your boyfriend stomped boot prints on your newly painted porch?” or “Where did you hide when your drunken father fumbled home late Christmas Eve and knocked over the tree?” The boyfriend, boot prints, father and Christmas tree are assigned to be played by four plain dressed actors, who adorn themselves in colored scarfs and set the scene by arranging crates. The actors then perform, or ‘play back’, the event for the audience. Through this storytelling and improvisation, I realize the folks around town and I have much in common.

Local culture grounds me in the here and now.

In Sarasota, Florida, I feed on the local art.

On Wednesday nights, singers, strummers and tappers of all levels meet at somebody’s home, in Sarasota or Bradenton. Apple cider, hummus, anecdotes and harmonies pour into the night, as singer-songwriter Jim Glover teaches Woody Guthrie’s little-known verse,

As I was walking, I saw a sign there,

On the sign it said no trespassing,

But on the other side, it didn’t say nothin’,

That side was made for you and me!


Sundays, Covenant Mennonite Church resounds with song, but has no choir or audience. A member stands before the congregation, directs us to #124 in the purple hymnal, waves her hand in beat, hums a note and we burst into four parts of ‘My Soul Cries Out’.

At Fogartyville Community Media & Arts Center, monthly contra dances host local and visiting bands. The resonance of banjo, fiddle and mandolin intertwine as a caller leads us to circle and swing. Tones drone; we dancers rouse into a trance of patterns and swirls weaving up and down the floor greeting and twirling each other into oneness.

There is no us and them, just us.

I search for local treasures.

“You introduced me to Sunni Bunni,” Melody exclaims as we meander into a locally owned whole food organic restaurant, “I am going to introduce you to Simon’s!”

And I am glad she did. We are now regulars to Sunni Bunni, savoring its yummy frozen yogurt with live active cultures. Now, I find Simon’s nourishes me with the authenticity of our waitress, suggesting millet bread with our tofu & red pepper scramble, a combination she loves, and I plan to come back for. I enjoy the owner walking by tables smiling ‘hi’ in a down to earth, friendly manner. I ramble around the restaurant after eating, admiring displays of whole grain latticed berry pie crusts and gluten-free muffins. What draws me is the care for health and good taste I sense—not aspiring to becoming a big chain with a big name, doing big business, but attention to bringing quality to folks here and now.

“I don’t know what I would do without Simon’s,” Melody sings as we weave our way through the parking lot after breakfast. “

I also feel more at home in Sarasota knowing Simon’s is in town.

I love locations and people that feed my heart and soul, as well as body.

As I drive down Bahia Vista Street, a full-bearded, suspender-bearing Amish man rides his three-wheel bicycle across the road. Intrigued by his character, I gaze at his deliberate motion, as I break to allow him to pass. Meanwhile, I keep an ear to WSLR’s Jumping Mullet’s report on city council’s consideration of the homeless. My heart engages their discussion as I wonder about three itinerant men who hang out each day at the library where I tutor reading and watching videos. As I accelerate forward, the news story wraps up with local bard CC Carter crooning, “We are the 99!” I sway in rhythm and reflect as I scoop a mouthful of homemade yogurt from my friend Pam Marwede’s beautifully painted and thrown bowl sitting on my lap.

I relish my neighbors. I long to connect further with them, here and now, nourishing each other with our creative gifts, helping one another on our journeys.


One thought on “Local Culture

  1. Nice of you to mention CC’s song. And you posted on my birthday! 🙂

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