I went away to a piece of land in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains to have group discussions with the School for Designing A Society. The facilitators introduced idea after idea on how to identify problems, formulate accurate vocabulary to address our problems, and design sustainable modes of action based on our desires. I sat in circles and scribbled notes. I listened and thought hard for days. I did my best to contribute thoughtfully and clearly.
I entered this space of activists, community organizers, and fed up workers in medicine and correctional intervention as some kind of terminally online sketch comedy clown artist. I didn’t feel out of place, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I was even close to even identifying a problem worth addressing like the other members of the circle. It was my job to just try to soak in ideas without much expectation. As the week of workshops came to a close, the work ahead looked less like a beaten path I used to be desperate to follow. Acknowledging the possibility of actually stepping towards that work feels both intimidating and emboldening.
Here’s an idea that has stuck with me since then.
During a talk, we were introduced to some basic concepts of Permaculture. The definition pulled from Google reads: Permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
Permaculture was brought up to begin talking about margins, borders and edges. Like where two different kinds of land overlap. You know? Let’s call back the potency of the “magic circle” in the Venn diagram. In permaculture, the margins are where wildlife is at its most fertile and diverse. Margins equal possibility and potential.
As soon as I heard that, I couldn’t stop thinking of examples. All my favorite innovations and the people behind them. The music genres and art movements born out of the margins. The counter and sub cultures made up of people holding on for dear life at the margins. Communities where people rejected by the mainstream survive and thrive.
I thought about how dumb and lost I have felt for thirstily wandering around for access and acceptance into the mainstream. I remembered that any time I stumbled into any success, it started years ago with creative seeds planted, ferociously protected and celebrated on the margin.
So there’s this courage that people display when they’re putting themselves out there on the margin. Walking a crucial border like tightrope. And mean curmudgeon self critic Riley is feeling disappointed that I am not exercising courage necessary to walk on a margin like I feel I’m supposed to.
I’m thinking about the major clowns in my life. I’m talking life long committed to a pioneering journey Clowns. They have somehow consistently walked a life on these edges (society, economics, acceptability, good taste, possibility, etc) and formed communities, missions and these unbelievable lives. By having the imagination, humor and audacity to do so, they have amassed bonds that would happily walk through Hell with them just to see if there's beauty on the other side.
It’s inspiring stuff. Could I do that? What would that even look like?