Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lori Kane, Author & Community Fan,

Lori Kane. Author & Poet. Community Organizer

Photo: Madeline Crowley

We just wanted it to be fun and playful, that’s enough.

About Lori:

Lori regularly opens her Central Area home to anyone who wants to work in a free co-working space, Collective Self. She and her friend, Knox Gardner, also brought the neighborhood the event Hopscotch CD, by involving many other contributing individuals and groups. 

 Lori on building community in the Central Area:

You’ve been generously organizing different events. How would you describe that?

They’re neighborhood events.

What’s the impetus?

It’s different for each one. The co-working space came out of being a writer working from home. I work for myself (with a creative partner) and absolutely love what I do. It gets me out of the house one or two days a week to interview people. Still, I’m home alone a lot. The impetus for the co-working space was my own loneliness. It wasn’t a big grand idea. It was just that I’m home alone a lot. 
Collective Self Co-Working Space. Photo: Madeline Crowley

When you work alone you can almost forget the last day you showered and you begin to feel your social skills are degrading.

Then, I was in San Francisco interviewing people for a book we were writing. I interviewed one person at a co-working space, the Hub (there’s also one here in Seattle). That was my first extended time in a co-working space. I really liked it. I came home and thought, “I’ll bet I could do that better.” As you walk down the street to the Hub, it felt like you were walking with someone from every country on the planet. It was a really cool street to walk down. Then, you come to this big building which is shared with a newspaper. It was incredibly unwelcoming to get in. There was a security guard, you had to sign-in, go through a metal detector, then someone had to come down and get you. It creeped me out.  After all that you get into this beautiful space, two floors of amazing, creative, high-energy but you notice a shift from the diversity on the street. The workspace was very white. I came back wondering how you could do co-working so the diversity of the neighborhood was reflected in the space. 

Collective Self Co-working space.

I came back thinking I could open our home as a co-working space one day a week. I’m also an introvert so I also like my space to myself. We started opening the house on Wednesdays. On that day, the door is unlocked. People learn you don’t have to knock. You can come right in and make yourself at home. We started in February of 2012; it’s been about a year and a half now. It’s fun. It’s always different, always an interesting mix of characters. We get a lot of people in transition, people who are about to quit their day-job to do something they love, or people who are working just on getting another job. Since it’s a free space we get a mix of people from this neighborhood and other parts of the area, and we also get an occasional traveler or someone who hears about the space.

Photo of Lori & Friends as Kids. Collection of Lori Kane.
As far as the personal impetus for Hopscotch CD (click for photos!) goes, for me it was to get to know all our neighbors better, especially the older residents who've been here longer, and also our African-American neighbors. I put out postcards about our co-working space at Central Cinema,
Katy's Coffee, Earl's, 20/20 Cycle, the dollar store, and Tougo Coffee. All these places are close to our house, but I still wasn't getting any African-American takers
(our only African-American coworker back then was driving here from West Seattle!) So I thought Hopscotch CD would be a way for me to meet more African-American neighbors. That was one reason I did it. And it worked! That was great.

Photo of Lori & her Dad. Collection of Lori Kane.

Hopscotch started as a small event and it grew, could you talk about that?

The idea came from my friend Knox Gardner who lives just off Jackson Street. He heard about HopscotchDetroit, they attempted to set a record for the world's longest Hopscotch path (four miles) and they did it.

Knox is really interesting. He's is taking a year off from his technology job to do community building. He’s an amazing guy; he started Jackson Commons to get neighbors talking together, a lot of that area is owned by developers based in Texas, which isn't great. Knox gets people together to get to know each other and talk about what they want Jackson Street to look like. Plus, he's a great baker; he’ll bake 20 cakes for a pop-up cafés where he gives away cake on Saturdays. He had a fun time organizing the Judkins Park Luminaries event with music in December.

As I was doing interviews, I kept hearing about Knox from different people who didn't know each other. Then he emailed to say he was thinking about this Hopscotch event… so that was a sign that I should do something with Knox, even though I hadn’t even met him yet. 

Photo of Lori & Friend as Teens. Collection of Lori Kane.
 So, we started thinking about Hopscotch CD in February, posted in the Central District News to ask if people wanted to help. We asked our neighbors. Then, five or six people got together. We wanted it to be about getting to know each other. This is a neighborhood with an extraordinary number of busy people: a lot of technology people who work 60-80 hours a week because that's just part of the gig, or instead people working three jobs while taking care of kids and parents. 

The event wasn’t going to be about making a 4-mile Hopscotch path, we wanted to do a semi-circle from Jackson to Union. I wanted to do from 18th-23rd Avenues along Union Street because that's my stretch of the neighborhood. Knox wanted to do MLK and then down Jackson. Originally, he wanted it to work with the SeattleGreenways program. 
The part of the Hopscotch path connecting Jackson to Union followed the Seattle Greenways' proposed Central Seattle Greenway, with one minor deviation so that the path would cross Jefferson safely at an existing crosswalk. We started meeting and getting ideas of what we should do for an event. We just wanted it to be fun and playful, that’s enough. If you can get people to play together, to have fun together they can add to the event themselves.

Not everyone sees it like that, not everyone wants to have fun, and not everyone wants to get to know the neighbors, either. For us both the motivation was to meet other neighbors, to build community and all that comes with that. 

Photo of Lori as a kid. Collection of Lori Kane.
We started by asking people if they wanted to participate by doing things along the route.  We applied for a Small and Simple Grant but didn't get the grant until mere moments before the event, so expenses were all out of pocket. Now, we're getting reimbursed for that, which is really nice. 

We had a small group of people laying 2-miles of Hopscotch path so we took a Block Captain approach and asked people to take ownership of their own blocks. That worked well everywhere except Jackson because of the big businesses there. Union Street is small businesses and homes. The core organizers of Hopscotch knew those businesses, so the business owners totally embraced the event. They went way above and beyond to participate. Katy’s Coffee did a rummage sale on Union, they had balloon artists and buckets of sidewalk chalk and had neighbors who did face painting. Alex at 20/20 Cycle had a vintage clothing sale on the sidewalk. A chiropractor did free adjustments and gave out coupons. Meter Music School participated. Fisher and Shawn of Alley Cat Acres
brought fresh eggs from their chickens and made breakfast all day for people. Jean Tinnea, who is a long long time resident who did the neighborhood garden tour for over a decade, and her friend Mary Pat organized a Flea Market. They’re raising money for a Central District Public Arts project. Magpie Clothing participated too. They all embraced it and loved it. 

Still, what really made the event big was the Central District Association’s Derryl and Sharon Durden. They were long time Central District residents, wonderful human beings. They used to own a bunch of property in the area, like the Neighbor Lady building. The Durdens figured out what they could do for Hopscotch though they don't even live in the neighborhood anymore.

The Central District Association decided to do something big on Union and their friend Angela Knight, a firecracker of a human being, pulled together in three weeks a carnival in the parking lot of Med Mix. It was amazing, the most fun carnival I've ever been to: they had fire trucks, they had a bouncy boxing ring with huge soft gloves, they had magicians, all this stuff for kids.

It was great fun. They really helped us make inroads into the African-American community and into the kid-community. Angela had friends at Garfield High School who got posters made, got students to come and help, and to show up the day of the event. That was really nice and it just sort of bloomed from there.

There were yard sales. The Lake Washington Girls School got involved. Centerstone had a pop-up adventure play and free hot dogs in their parking lot. The Block Captain, there, Kenton, did an attempt at a Guinness Book of World records for the most people hopscotching at the same time. They needed 380 people and they got 330. It was so much fun.  

I knew it would be fun to hopscotch with kids, but hopscotching with other adults in a parking lot with 300 plus people, it was so much fun. We just showed up at there but the Guinness Records people require it to have a sign-in sheet, contact information with 300 people in this space. Kenton set up about a hundred courts for 4 person teams. By the time we finished signing people in and I went to join my team, I noticed that the whole parking lot had been decorated with sidewalk chalk. People had decorated their own courts and it was just awesome. One group had numbered their squares with animals that increased in size, so it started with a worm as Number 1 with number 10 was a dinosaur. It was just cool.

How did that shift you experience of living here in this neighborhood? 
The biggest thing for me was making new friends from the process of organizing the event, not even the event itself. Far more important than the event itself is the sheer number of people we know. That has exploded. (Lori stops speaking for a moment to cry) It was really awesome.

I was really struck that day at how amazing this neighborhood is with the variety of people here. We are really lucky to have a ton of people here from East Africa. Even after the event it was fun to keep getting pictures of hopscotching. We used a flour and cornstarch for the hopscotch grid that was supposed to go away after 3 rains. As it turns out, Detroit rains are much heavier so that equals about 10 Seattle rains. It will go away eventually. Weeks after the event people were sending us pictures people on the hopscotch path. One Sunday there was a photo in front of Immaculate Conception Church. There was a First Communion of a little girl from the Filipino community wearing a dress that looked like a wedding dress. She's hopscotching in this big dress with her little brother who's a little formal suit with a tie and a vest. 
A neighbor sent it to me as she was watching the family try to get the kids to take a formal event picture but the kids just kept hopscotching away in their fancy outfits. We were sent a lot of photos of people in front of Swedish Hospital, one in particular was of a girl with a broken leg. Her African-American was family hopscotching behind her in a wheelchair.
I have to ask, what in remembering this event brought you to tears?
It is an amazing thing to go from living your life in your house to go to living in a community.  It sounds like that event was an order of magnitude.
First, the co-working space, was an increase in an order of magnitude socially. I used to think of my neighborhood as 21st Street, with co-working that idea expanded from 18th to 26th to Capitol Hill and over to Yesler. There are people who come here from almost the four corners of the neighborhood, now Knox works here too. The Hopscotch event expanded that exponentially again. When you don't have any money for an event, you have to ask for help. We went to Lowe's on Rainier and at Franz Bakery asking for donations. We asked Franz Bakery to donate the flour and cornstarch for the hopscotch path. This definitely expanded who I thought of as a neighbors. 
What does being a neighbor mean to you now?
It's the same sort of thing, it's nothing fancy, it's about helpfulness and welcome. It's about playfulness and not seeing people in the abstract.
A lot of cool things got created in the process of Hopscotch, things we didn’t anticipate. This group called Pomegranate Center partnered with a school to build a mini, free library. Ultimately, the property owners of the school, a church, didn't want it on the property. The group then had to figure out where to give it as a gift. They had to find someone who wanted it, which was an interesting process. Lots of groups wanted it but then the property owners didn't want it because of maintenance issues. It ended up down this block with neighbors who took it because they had a personal connection to free mini-libraries. They had lived next door to the people who started the free mini-library movement in Wisconsin. Their two kids loved to go Wisconsin to visit their grandparents because of these free libraries on their block and now they have one in front of their own house.
How would you define community?
 For me the word isn't create community, it's ‘reveal’ community. It's already there, it's just a matter of finding it. I have two blog posts on defining community.
As a dictionary definition, it's a unified body of individuals. The way I experience it is that every one of us has a community. We, sort of, live at the center and we have communities around us. I personally experience community first as Lori as an individual, then Lori as a self-organizing group with Knox and the people who worked on Hopscotch CD, then finally there's Lori's community. Lori's community overlaps with Knox's community but it's not exactly the same. At the neighborhood level, this word is maybe used more instead of culture. What is the culture of the Central District? What is it that we have in common? What are our differences? All of that makes it great and interesting and a worthwhile destination.
What life advice do you have to offer young people out of Hopscotch experience or life? What the best advice you've ever been given?
As a story-wrangler, I interview people who've moved from "I should…" to "I love my work…" We interview people who work in self-created, soul-satisfying workspaces. The advice I've taken from that is follow your own energy.
It's hard to give life advice because everybody's different. Also, move towards people who make you feel good about yourself and also stretch your capabilities. In my case, I have to have both. If the people around me only are pulling and stretching me, that can feel like crap. It doesn't work. When you find people who make you feel good and stretch you then that's easy energy to follow. That’s career advice and life advice in general.
(Lori Kane was found for this project through coverage on the Central District News)

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part by
4Culture's Heritage Projects program 

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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