by Connie Flachs
I woke up in my new Knoxville home, rolling off the tattered mattress pad serving as my temporary bed onto the laminate wood floor, covered in a layer of dust. What was this barren room? I had left my comfortable, cozy, love-filled Michigan home to move South and start a new adventure, but in the early morning light the emptiness of this new habitat was overwhelming.
Restructuring your entire life has a way of bringing your values (and instabilities) into sharp relief. I was frantic those first couple of days, insisting on unpacking each box, hanging each painting, arranging each book on a shelf. I couldn’t handle living in a half-lived-in place. My cat couldn’t handle it either. She dove into an uncovered AC vent and remained there for an entire day, my certainty about her tragic demise not helping my already stress tangled brain.
A few weeks in, I found myself nestled into a cozy nook of my room, cat on my lap (she decided against permanent residence in the AC vent when she realized there was no food in there), reflecting on what had made me feel so frenetic and anxious those first few days.
Moving, for me, was an experience filled with breaks. I sold my house. I said goodbye to friends I had shared a home with for four years. I said goodbye to colleagues I had shared a profession with for eight years. I stepped off the path of a career I had been dedicated to for over a decade. I left a city I had invested in. I paused the narrative of my life, swerving off the plot line that had been developing for so long, back to the brainstorm phase that I hadn’t seen since high school.
So, I needed stability, and the only controllable element in those first few days was my living space. I set up my furniture, finding comfort in the pieces that provided continuity from my Grand Rapids history to my new Knoxville endeavor. I placed plants around the room so I could cohabitate with and be inspired by their growth, progression, and resilience. (Remaining alive requires grit and determination, especially when you are a succulent under my care.) The essence of a place is its feeling, so I appealed to all senses: I lit candles and incense, hung artwork, and laid a soft blanket on my bed. Comfortable, grounded, soft, cozy, intimate.
Yet, no place is completed only by holding feelings. It must also hold memories, and in a new space those memories must be co-created. I’m so grateful for my housemates who spent an evening laughing with me as we attempted five corkscrew-free ways to open a wine bottle. (Side effects of moving: lost kitchen utensils). Our porch has been blessed with candle-lit dinner parties, weekly yoga practices, one-woman dance parties, and a cohort of star gazers. The memories are pouring in, filling the emptiness so exposed in that early morning sun’s unforgiving brightness.
This homemaking parallels placemaking on a larger scale. Any place, be it a bedroom, a home, or a city, needs similar things; Stability, organization, liveliness, greenery, celebration, community, art, and memories. My service oriented, systemic-issues focused year has emphasized that placemaking from person-centric perspective is important. Whether on the micro level of my own home or within the larger context of my new city, I am far more likely to stay invested in a place that I helped to build. The hope is that one’s involvement results in a place uniquely suited to one’s needs.
When all of us in AmeriCorps choose to spend a year serving this city, we hope the city returns the favor, allowing us to see how things work here – allowing us to be included in how things work here. It seems that placemaking requires more than the furniture of mere physical presence. The relationships, memories, and shared passions are the less tangible contributions that make Knoxville start to feel like a home.
This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.