If you are involved in arts nonprofit organizations in Benton county, then you know Jeff Davis. He is zealous about people and creativity, so when he learned that I create digital stories for my YouTube channel, he invited me to participate in digital storytelling workshops hosted by The Resilience Project, a community movement empowering at-risk people to turn their experiences into stories of strength. I don’t think I’ve found a project this well-suited for me since working at a college-level writing center five years ago. Narrative therapy and video editing? Oh, hell yeah.
Kriste York, The Resilience Project creative director, told me about their Summer Games fundraiser. You need a team of five, she said, and have nine days to complete as many community-building challenges as possible. Bonus: the winning team receives medals from Mayor Biff Traber at a city council meeting. That is one goofy badass reward.
I asked many friends to join me, but everyone was too busy, so I asked people I barely knew. Months ago, I was walking by a bar and heard live music. “Who is playing?” I asked someone standing outside for a smoke. That is how I met BK. Another night, feeling lonely and bored, I went to a poetry open mic. The MC sat next to me and ordered a beer afterward, and I met Nick. Another night, my brother and I met up for drinks outside, and behind us a couple were playing a tabletop game. “What is that?” my brother asked them. The man tried to explain, but gave up and said, “Come play, and it will make more sense.” That night, I played Dominion with a woman named Alison.
BK, Nick, and Alison surprisingly said yes to play the Summer Games with me. Along with my mother, the five of us met at Interzone to choose which challenges to complete. Up until this morning, none of us really knew how involved or fun these games would be. Many demanded energy and bravery, such as making a piñata, filling it with something awesome, and inviting the neighbors over for a piñata party. All of us were hesitant.
Out of all the team names we brainstormed (Benny the Beat Your Asses, Mary’s Peak-a-Boo Squad, The Avery Parfaits, The Dixon Boxes, and The Starker Farts)(all hilariously clever Corvallis play-on-words), we officially became Team Fit ‘N’ Greens.
I’m gonna tell you right now that the Summer Games changed our lives.
If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you know that it’s been a difficult 4 years for me and most of my close friends and family. But you also know things have been in motion toward healing and growth. During the Games, Nick and I (a bit drunk) wrote a passionate letter to a newspaper reporter to convince her that the Games are essential to the community. I hadn’t burst with passion and created something badass like that in years.
We painted rocks during the Sage Summer Concert, posted 100 notes of kindness all over the bus transit station, and gained an honorary team member while building a wonky flotation device (it actually worked!)
BK researched Liz Wilderson (1958-2001; one who loved and supported libraries) memorialized on a plaque near the Milne Computer Center, and while using a GPS tracking app, she spelled out the word LOVE by running up, down, around, sideways, and through the neighborhood.
Nick made a dozen copies of a poem he loves (“here is the ocean,this is the moonlight:say” by E.E. Cummings) and gave them to strangers, and he used the panoramic feature on a camera to insert himself into the picture 3 times in different positions.
Alison played a few bars of a well-known tune on a working musical instrument of her own invention, a 2 Towns flute. She also put her finger randomly on a globe, researched the place, and created a painting inspired by Malangatana Ngwenya from Mozambique.
My mother’s creative contributions spanned from writing a ten-word ghost story that she brought to life to carving a watermelon jack-o-lantern to taking two things that don’t usually go together and making half of one and half of the other fit together into one new thing.
Me? I made videos. We made our team mascot (Alison the flamingo named Bob) a bandit who flips all the books around in the Little Free Libraries of Corvallis. On a whim, I asked my best friend Jordan (originally from Philomath and who illustrates my webcomic called Headscribbles) to narrate in that 40s weirdo announcer-voice accent. Collaborative art is a powerful thing, and Jordan rocked it.
And at the end of the week, the five of us hiked Fitton Green County Natural Area to bury a time capsule, worth 100 points. Each of us put in beloved belongings. We took turns digging and threw dirt on the buried capsule. We enjoyed a sushi dinner (where we completed more challenges), and then Nick, Alison, and I rushed through last-minute challenges at the Peacock before waking up to the announcement that our team won the Summer Games. That’s right: Mayor Traber gave us medals.
At the same city council meeting, a local Boy Scout pitched his communal art project to the Board. He wants to invite artists to paint book spines on the columns in the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library parking garage. The Board expressed excitement and support for this young person’s vision and approved the project. The Scout’s face lit up, and he graciously thanked the Board. We were there for that, and when we visit the public library and see the splash of color in an otherwise garage of gray, we know who came to the table to make that happen. That is really frickin cool.
These Games, the challenge to do new stuff and invite strangers to play along, interact with and learn about our environment, the people, and the history of our town and community, all lit a fire in me. I walked out of my house every day to meet these acquaintances, telling myself, “This is life. This is truly living.”
When I think about the past 4 years of anger, loneliness, and guilt, I know bad decisions and hardships contributed, but I also think I missed having a community. Since the Games, our group frequently hangs out. We often express how we needed something to pull us out of our individual darkness. We have our baggage, but we aren’t stuck in an echo chamber getting more stuck. We talk about the serious stuff, yes, but we also embrace the goofiness and fun we discovered during the Games. It makes me smile to think our group formed exactly how the Games intended. We were strangers before a week of shenanigans. Now, I call them my friends.