For me, fall seems to prompt changes and thoughts of moving on or letting go. Although I like fall, I always feel a little blue this time of year, letting go of Minnesota summer and it’s bare feet, eating outside, digging in the dirt, swimming in the lake wonderfulness is hard when you can’t help but remember how long it will be before we see our toes again.
This fall’s change and melancholy has held a number of moments that push me to think about place and change and art and the ways that we make our mark and tell our stories.
In my family: We are moving. We are selling our house. We are only moving 10 blocks away. We are moving by choice, but it is not without complex emotions and reasons. We have lived here almost 11 years – a drop in the bucket really, less than 10% of our house’s life. I wonder about all the other families who have called this place home, who have changed it and molded it and tended it. All the people who watched as the trees grew around them, who walked across these floorboards, who sat on the porch and watched the neighborhood go by.
We obey the common wisdom of realtors and remove our personal items from the house, paint over the weird colored rooms, and clean up the crumbs to help the next family, wherever they are, imagine themselves as the “owner” of this place. My husband and daughter and I hold hands in the living room and whisper our memories into the walls.
In my community: Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop Theater moves out of 2605 Hennepin Avenue, where the historic comedy theater has been for 49 years. The theater is moving by choice, to greener pastures and a space downtown with more visibility and less leaks and holes and places to bash your head. I worked in that space for a few brief years—a drop in the bucket compared to other actors and writers who spent literal lifetimes in the space. But it was one of the first places I worked as an actor and I met my husband in that theater, and we performed and wrote together in that theater. We learned who we were as people and as a couple in that theater. We made lifelong friends.
We gather with those friends and the many others for whom that place has meaning well beyond it’s physical structure. And we tell the stories, we shout them into the rafters, as if they weren’t already there. We write our names on the doors to make our mark, as if the building isn’t already held together by our sweat. We listen to the wisdom of Dudley Riggs with a special reverence. He tells us “Nothing is sacred. Except the circus.” I know the circus is defined by the people and the activity and not the space. The circus is moveable and so it moves.
In another place: In Fergus Falls, Minnesota. On a beautiful September day, 700 people gather to watch a play. A play, based on the history of the Kirkbride building. Vacant for the last ten years, this 120-year old building was home to the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center and State Hospital. It is a beautiful, sprawling campus that is awe-inspiring, contentious and complicated. On this beautiful September day, 50 residents of Fergus Falls perform in the play, which is written from 100 interviews of former employees, patients and other community members. A drop in the bucket really, when you think about the many thousands of people who have passed through that building. These stories and these voices are strong and beautiful and complicated. Together they make up a nuanced and complex history of mental health treatment and community history and pride.
The community tells its stories into the breeze and sunshine, into the ears of the generations of people who came to witness. A community imagines a future where the past is not forgotten. We walk together around the 500,000 sq foot castle and see the place in new ways. At the end we perform a kind of ritual motion together, based on a movement repeated many thousand times by a former patient at the Kirkbride. My daughter looks at me and says, “Mom, you are crying A LOT.” It is true. The stories are held in our hearts now, not just in the walls.
The leaves fall, time marches forward, we tell our stories, we make our mark, and the circus moves on.
(photo credit: Margene Newton)