Saturday, December 24, 2011

Greetings from Santa's Village

Just a thought before closing out 2011--some of you may remember that I won an I-Pad in an online contest from the generous folks at Patch at the beginning of this year.  It has certainly transformed my life.  I use it in my teaching, at Village Board Meetings, for blogging, and when I happen to be having dinner alone at The Second Chance.  But the most unexpected change in my life has come from apps.  Yes, the game sort of app.  I never thought I would be sucked in.  Famous last words.

Recently my husband suggested a cute little holiday app called "Santa's Village."  It is rather like "We Rule", in that you are forever building things and making things and so on.  But somehow this little thing has taken over my life.  It takes a very specific amount of time to make each kind of toy, and if you don't come back in time to collect it, these annoying little purple things, called Grumpkins, come in and destroy them.  And then you have to start all over.

For the first time in my life, I am prioritizing tasks according to how long they will take. Can I start this Toy Soldier now?  It might be finished while I am asleep. Should I accept the challenge to produce all those Rubber Duckies if I know they will come due while I am teaching?  I have even been setting timers, for heaven's sake, to avoid missing a toy "harvest."

What is particularly disturbing about this is that I would never do this in real life. I am a concept girl--a starter more than a finisher.  A procrastinator, a wishful thinker.  More touchy-feely than concrete sequential, if you will.  What has caused this change in my "it'll get done" philosophy of life?

Metaphor.  Yes, I suspect it's because I look at this little village and see multiple worlds. For example:

1. Santa and his elves are trying to build a better Columbia.  The Grumpkins are the naysayers who want everything to stay the same.
2. Santa and his elves are the overly-abundant ruling party who are merely displaying their power-hungry desires through land-grabs and graft. The poor, misunderstood Grumpkins can do nothing but express their dismay over this untenable situation.
3. Santa and his elves are really big money developers.  The Grumpkins are devoted Pioneers, trying valiantly to preserve Jim Rouse's vision.
4. Those elves are renters, dagnabbit!  The North Pole just isn't the same since Santa started that affordable housing program.
5. Santa and his elves are doing their best to provide for people who might otherwise be left out. The Grumpkins are disillusioned elves who think that it's nothing more than Socialism.
6. The app was created to train CA Reps how to relate to CA Staff.
7. The entire app is a metaphor for the Howard County School Board. (Choose your own particulars.)

I have promised myself that even if the app does not automatically shut down on Christmas Day, I am going to delete it.  I have too much living in the real world to do!

Whatever holiday, religion, season, or reason--I wish you all joy, and happy times with the people you love.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Party: FAIL

The Party's Over, it's time to call it a day.
They've burst your pretty balloon and taken the moon away. 

What if you had a party and nobody came?  How would you feel?  How would you respond?

Consider the ongoing party in Columbia that we call CA Aquatics:
In looking at traditionally underused pools in Columbia, a member of the CA Aquatics Staff suggested that the culture of certain 'populations' didn't promote swimming.  In other words, lack of pool use stems from lack of interest.

Really?  Isn't this like saying to the starving French peasants that their predicament is caused by a lack of interest in cake?

It's time to wind up the masquerade.

Just make your mind up the piper must be paid.

What if you had a party and nobody came because they didn't know they were invited?

The CA experience, the way that Columbia "was meant to be" is unknown and largely irrelevant to many of our residents. Institutions like this just can't survive without ongoing evangelism, and by this I mean outreach which is continually evolving to meet the needs of its community. Not just to the community we imagine to be the true Columbia. We are not all generally well-educated, generally middle and upper middle folks who can join CA and shop at the Mall.

I do not dispute that CA has some programs to meet the needs of lower-income residents. But I don't think they are being offered in a way that truly reaches the people they need to reach.  It reminds me of the Washington Post's rather smug slogan, "If you don't get it--you don't get it."

Very true.  And now where are we?

The Party's Over.The candles flicker and dim.

You danced and dreamed through the night,
it seemed to be right...

A young, well educated professional in Columbia said to me recently, "Well, of course there's no way that  CA facilities could accommodate all residents. So they had to have a way to restrict it: by income."
Breathtakingly simple. Yes, it may be just one opinion.  But this is someone who has lived here for twelve years and this is what has been communicated to her.

Are we really going to where the people are and finding ways that are relevant to them to involve them in the benefits that Columbia can offer? Or are we using the same old ways to promote and expecting, no, requiring, people to come to us? 

We are on the verge of closing (at least one) pool  located in an area of the greatest need.  Actions like this say to me that somebody, somewhere (or quite a few somebodies) think that these people are not real Columbians. Or perhaps, that some Columbians are more equal than others.


Monday, December 5, 2011

A Crisis of Face?

Who is the "Face of CA" to you? Is it visionary James Rouse, or current President Phil Nelson? Is it the CA Board, your own Village Board, or Village Manager? Is it the staff you see at your local CA facilities? Is it the folks who make The Festival of the Arts happen, or the childcare staff at school? The People Tree is a powerful icon, but it is merely a symbol. Who, in your mind, is the living, breathing Face of CA?

The Columbia Association is going through a process of rebranding itself. Choosing from a collection of twelve well-known archetypes, CA sees itself as Caregiver, Jester, Sage, EveryPerson. What do you think? I am neither an expert in archetypes or rebranding, so I invite you to stay engaged with the process and learn more for yourself. I raise this issue now because the "Ignite" event last week made me realize that I am experiencing a loss of faith, or "Face", if you will, as regards the Columbia Association.

Don't misunderstand me. I believe in Columbia and what it stands for. I believe in the Villages, where you will find community engagement and vibrancy happening all the time. But I'm not sure I believe in "CA."

Panel member Candace Dodson Reed offered the following, "If all people had to go on was what they read in the newspaper and saw online, they would think that Columbia was a dysfunctional place where no one got along and people constantly argued about things."

There you have it: that's my "Face of CA."

People like me, who didn't come here at the beginning, don't necessarily know how to become a part of it all, or even if it is worth it. The steady voice of CA available in the news is resistance, micromanagement, argument, suspicion. I love Columbia, but I do not want to be a part of That Club.

Tom Coale recently made this comment on his blog, HocoRising. "To the extent CA has problems, it is my personal opinion that those problems can be sourced back to the Board. If we were getting paid, I might see the upside of cutting compensation."

His comment jumped off the screen for me. How many of us see this as the "Face of CA?" How many, then, are missing CA's relevance to living, working, and thriving in Columbia?

If CA wants to communicate more clearly what it is about, then it will need to confront what holds it back from being the best it can be. Encouraging new ideas and new faces is a good place to start.

I wonder if the rebranding people are listening.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Skipped Over

This week I attended a Columbia Association event at the beautifully appointed Claret Hall in River Hill.  We were there to be "ignited", or inspired, I suppose, about what is going on as CA looks at re-branding itself and becoming more relevant to younger residents.

A panel discussion, moderated by Brian Dunn, focused on engaging Columbia's younger generation and involving them in community affairs.  The participants each had a valuable perspective to bring to the conversation.  But there was just one problem--why wasn't I on the panel?  I'm a parent of a young(ish) child, I live in a starter home, I serve on a village board, I blog about community events.  What's not to like?

Oh, yeah, Duh.  I'm not young.

This second marriage, second child, second career, second chance at a happy life thing means I am always coming late to this party. Darn.  I am forced to click "Boomer" in the live polling, which galls me. Not because I dislike Boomers, but because it's an inaccurate representation of who I am.

I am the youngest in my family--with birth years of 1950, 1953, and 1959.  My oldest sister took great delight in lecturing me when I was a teenager in the '70's,"When I was a teenager we cared about Civil Rights. My friends went to the March on Washington. Some were Conscientious Objectors. We boycotted California Table Grapes to support Cesar Chavez.  What do you do?"

It was drilled into me that I and my friends would never earn the right to be Boomers. Our teenage years were insignificant; we had no causes. 

Somehow, I survived.

I survived through putting myself through college, a turbulent first marriage and being a single parent, working for years in an unsupportive and stressful environment.   In the midst of all of that I looked up one day and true love was looking right in my face with kind and gentle eyes.

So, here I am.  I caught a lucky break and I have the time, financial stability and mental health to give back a little to my new-found home town.  And don't think I'm not grateful, because I am.  Every day. Despite the very real physical reminders of middle age, I sometimes forget how old I really am.  In my ventures into community life I allow myself an adjusted age of say, 35.

I may not ever get on the "young" panels. nor will I ever be a sage Pioneer.  But I do have the joy of knowing that I am home, and that I still have a lot to learn.