Creating Your Neighborhood

Posted On November 23, 2010

   I live in a condo. When the real estate market continued to tank, it became a revolving door of those that couldn’t afford their mortgage. The unit below and to the left of me has changed owners six times in the 2 1/2 years I’ve lived here. A few of them had the HOA person using a digital camera to document damage. When I first moved in, it was quiet in this part of the complex. The first family had a boy about ten years old. His father would pick him up late on Wednesday night, and bring him back on Saturday. This boy hooked up with a few of the other kids in the complex, and they would hang out in and around the big tree outside my office window. When the weather was nice and I’d have the sliding-glass door open, their voices were carried in on the breeze. The boy didn’t have the nicest vocabulary, and he didn’t always treat the other kids with respect.

   Across from my assigned covered parking space is a woman who owns several cats. One of them is named Cloe. I know this because she often walks the parking lot calling for the cat to return home for the night. The woman who lives directly below me has planted some wonderful foliage in her ‘patio’ area that was really just dirt. The flowers add color to a common area that has its blooms shaved off by the landscaping company almost as soon as they have grown. I was taking my trash out one time and a woman was walking a black and white bulldog. Hopey, the dog, and I were introduced. Funny thing, her license plate says ‘Hopey’, and when I log on to my wireless network, hers comes up as an option (thought it’s locked) as ‘Hopey’. Even though you haven’t been to my ‘neighborhood’, you might have a taste as to the characters that live here.

   If you walk out your front door, what do you see? Another house? The back of a large building? Mountains, trees, a lake, horses in a pasture (if you do, I’m jealous!), railroad tracks, a dirt road? Who are the people who live on your street? What is the population like? Elderly? Families with young children? Is the next ranch ten miles away? How many of your ‘neighbors’ do you know? How many know you? You have a plethora of ideas around you just waiting for your creative urge to take notice. Whether you paint, draw, use a camera or guitar, dance or write poetry or short stories or novels, the people and houses and cars and stores are all available for your ‘use’.

   Begin wherever it makes sense in your heart to do so. Looking for a character for your novel? Why not use Mr. Thompson across the street. He’s a retired Army Sargeant, never married, and has two German Shepards that he walks every morning, except when it’s raining. You know he hires a gardener to mow his lawn and that he was the one who called the police when the Fredericks’s in-laws parked their motor home in the side yard for three months. Mrs. Fredericks would never admit, though, that she was thankful for the officer hurrying along her mother-in-law to the next one in the family to ‘put them up’ for a few months.

   Doing landscape photography or paintings? Compare the front yards of the house that has been for sale for over a year, and that of the one next to it where there are gnomes and plastic deer, a wooden bridge over a non-existent stream, and a wishing well that displays colored lights during the holidays. No one knows that a runaway teenage girl broke into the empty house and has been living there for the past month. How does the color, shape, shadows, landscape, or peeling paint change when the girl is there instead of the house being abandoned?

   Whenever I go to a new city, I always stand in the middle of the road and take a picture. I love to see the tall buildings, or the quaint cottages, that line the streets. Restaurants, bars, shops, even public parking garages all offer something in terms of setting, and every structure tells a story. What tale will the houses on your street, the buildings in your neighborhood, tell you?

   As much as is suggested that we, as artists, should look at everything with fresh eyes, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to do. Our experiences ‘decide’ what it is that we see. If we’re used to being around opulent homes, then a drive through Beverly Hills or Malibu wouldn’t have an impact on us. But if we were from a farm in Nebraska, then it’s a whole different experience. Not that one is better or worse than the other, but what we ‘see’, and can then begin to flush out the details for, when we begin to really look at the people and structures and cars on our street, flavors what we paint, sculpt, compose, or write. And the muse loves to provide details!

   Begin to play with what you see out your front door. Describe (or paint, sketch, photograph) what you ‘see’, then drop in to your creativity and allow your muse to supply you with other sensory details. You may be surprised what arises! Feelings you have toward a neighbor, whether you feel at home where you live or long for a change, and even ideas for a safer neighborhood or a block-wide yard sale or volunteers for holiday caroling will start to creep in to your project. Creativity is a path that leads us back to ourselves, gets us in touch with who we really are. Embark on the journey by observing your street, your neighborhood, and all that inhabit it.

   As an artist, I’m always hungry for ways to explain how I feel and what I think. This post’s activity is a perfect place to start. If you’d like to see what I’ve created so far in regards to ‘my neighborhood’, check out the poem, “Absence of Home”, on my website Leave a comment if you have observed, or created, something spectacular as a reflection of where you live.

Written by Michele Venne

Writer of immersive and intriguing stories.

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