Saturday, April 10, 2010

26: owning it

Last month, there were a lot of deaths at Cornell. It brought on a bunch of preventative measures, like all the professors reminding their classes of "resources" they could use, like the "Lift Your Spirits" rally on the Arts quad, like all sorts of Facebook groups in which community support is the theme of the day... But none of these measures were so controversial as the installation of temporary fences alongside the bridges all over campus.

This sparked the creation of Facebook groups such as "Don't fence us in!" as well as an outpour of actions to make the fences a little less of an eyesore. In the month that the fences have been constructed, I've seen fake flowers stuck in the chain links; little wooden signs of bees and butterflies and positive words; streamers; Hawaiian leis... I've seen fences painted red and blue and yellow and green, just to bring some life into the gray... Someone even bought several potted plants and real flowers to set along the bridges.

Yes, having fences to prevent people from jumping off bridges and killing themselves is a depressing notion. But it doesn't have to be just that. It could be so much more. Imagine a fence filled with "graffiti," all the things that make people smile. Bright ribbons. Key chains. A bulletin board of people who want to share a little bit of themselves with the campus, who want to bring a little beauty to a wall of mesh.

It's all about creativity. Taking something that exists and giving it a life of its own.

I wrote all of the above yesterday afternoon. Later in the evening, I attended a special Friday night Christian fellowship with lots of different Christian fellowships on campus. Afterwards, we had a post-fellowship activity that involved dividing into teams, targeting locations all over Cornell's campus, and chalking.

Chalking, for those of you who don't know, involves using chalk (duh) on sidewalks to publicize or promote events, organizations, ideas, and so forth. In light of the recent suicides here, and also because we wanted to spread love to the Cornell community, we decided to chalk encouraging Bible verses on North Campus, Central Campus, and in the Engineering and Ag quads.

My team was one of the two groups that went all the way up to North Campus, and we chalked on the sidewalks along Thurston Bridge. Materials: a big box of Crayola sidewalk chalk, our hands, four other lovely women with great minds and resourcefulness.

I offered to write and draw out all the text -- all my time spent drawing block letters has finally paid off... sweet -- and we each embellished. We made it a point to use a lot of colors, but we also ensured that they corresponded with the words (light blues and lavenders and soothing turquoises for "rest," for example), so that people would get the message even more. It was fun to consider what we know about people's attention spans and to then use that information to guide our chalking strategy.

I'm proud of all of us. We spent a considerable amount of time in the cold (34 degrees, man! and windy!), bruising and scratching our hands and knees, rubbing our fingers into chalk dust to blend colors and get them to stay... but it was well worth it to attract the attention of cars passing by, of students walking home, of kind words and open conversations with strangers. We poured our love out into our work, and I think it showed.

A senior girl walked by and commented that she absolutely loved what we were doing; that our chalking was one of the best she'd ever seen; that she was happy to see us bringing color to this place; that she was delighted that we were just hanging out and relaxing and spending time with friends; that she was glad to see us doing a little bit to make these fences our own. "Making these fences our own." What a great way to put it.

You might not be given the best or most favorable situation, resources, etc., but it's up to you to change that. Bring yourself to the project. Commit and give it your all. Make it your own. Content is important, but emotion -- expressing ours and appealing to yours -- is what makes things stick, what makes you even consider what we have to say in the first place.

Sadly, it's supposed to rain on Sunday (it's currently snowing now!), but with luck, tons of students, faculty, and staff will get to walk by it and appreciate what we've chosen to speak. Visit my Flickr to see more photos.

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