The Art of Philly

While Philadelphia is very gritty, it’s also filled with art. From graffiti to theater and murals.

I asked around and was told to check out the Grounds for Sculpture, which is just outside of Trenton, NJ about 45 minutes from Philly.

I spent more than 4 hours exploring this amazing space. The grounds were beautifully kept and there was quite literally art tucked into every corner. Often I would spot a foot path leading into a grove of trees or stand of bushes, follow it and find a hidden gem.

While I took lots of photos, it really takes video to do this place justice. Here’s a highlights reel of my favorite pieces.

My mom is often envious of my travels and wishes she could tag-along in person. She would have loved this place. I recorded about two hours of my explorations and then sped it up into a 20-minute walk-about for her, if you’re interested you can watch it here.

I’ve also enjoyed visiting salvage yards and thrift stores around the city – also full of funky, artistic displays and pieces.

 Check out the quick video full of seconds from my 2.5 weeks in Philly, including more street art.

I think my White Privilege is showing

For the past few weeks I’ve stayed with dear friends who I trust implicitly. I’d go just about anywhere to spend time with them and their crew. Their home is lovely, cozy and filled with things I would fill my own home with.

They currently live in Philly. Downtown Philly. The gritty part.

When they first moved here from Boston, and NYC before that, they told me that they chose Philly because of the grit. They love that it hasn’t been totally gentrified. They told me that they often feel like NYC and Boston are just doing a good job of hiding their dirty laundry, relegating it to the dark corners of the city and they wanted to live somewhere that went beyond not hiding the dirty laundry but didn’t even relate to it as dirty. Where the grit and the glory/trendy etc were all intermingled evenly throughout the city.

Now.

I like to think of myself as very open minded, non-judgemental and what not. I’ve lived through some crazy stuff, spent time in not so nice sides of town, participating in questionable and not-so-legal activities. But always in generally safe cities.  I’m disappointed to discover that the grit of Philly is making me really uncomfortable.

First, allow me to define gritty. There is, from time to time, a grocery cart full of a homeless person’s belongings parked next to my car in the morning. The local street I’m parking on is considered safe because the neighborhood drug dealer spends his days on the corner two blocks down and ensures his home turf stays safe. There’s a cop two doors down. The local businesses all have razor wire protecting their property. People walk fast, eyes forward, on a mission. OR. People meander, eyes scouring for trouble or what they should be defending themselves from.

There is trash everywhere. Broken glass everywhere. It’s common to see a syringe, used condom or hair extension on the sidewalk. There’s a scrap yard a few blocks away and the several times I’ve walked by during the day there have been people lined up here, stripping cars and breaking things down. Once a guy addressed me as I passed by as he was pulling a piece off a minivan and proclaimed ‘it’s mine, I bought this‘ in my direction. Until he spoke up it hadn’t occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t his.

The grocery store only blocks away from me, is the only store within a several mile radius that has a full produce selection. Most people go in and shop for the month. When I went in today I was behind a woman buying three carts worth of food, one cart was full of chef boyardee, koolaid and those sugar water drinks you twist the plastic top off of.

This is what I mean by gritty.

Living amidst this grit has put me on edge. While I’ve never felt unsafe, never felt I was at risk, I’ve been perpetually uncomfortable walking around.

I’m uncomfortable with the source of my discomfort.

My discomfort surprises me because I have a habit of not noticing when I’m in what My Guy calls a “windows up neighborhood”. I typically seem unaware as to when I’m in an area where my guard should be up. I have stories of being in areas of Chicago and Harlem, places I shouldn’t have been alone, and a kind stranger took it upon themself to inform, protect and lead me out of their neighborhood. I was that oblivious.

In theory, I am totally onboard with my host’s perspective. In theory, I don’t agree with gentrification. I don’t think it’s right for rich (white) people to move into a neighborhood and impose their views and preferences on the whole neighborhood. For that matter, I don’t think it’s right for the US to move into a third world country and impose their ideals on the locals either, but that’s another subject entirely.

I’m reminded of the TV show Shameless (great show, but very crass) in which ‘the gays’ moved into their rugged Chicago neighborhood and suddenly tried forcing people to clean up their yards, plan community gardens and park their cars differently. When watching the show I identified with the locals and was ashamed by the actions of my (theoretically fellow) white, gay (albeit fictional) comrades.

Yet.

Spending a few weeks in the midst of grit, well, I’m just not loving it. Part of me wishes I fit better into this world, so I could blend and be confident. I’d like to be that badass chica who’s confident walking by the local drug dealer, people stripping abandoned cars for scrap metal, to be un-phased when there’s a gun shot in the distance.

Perhaps I need to conquer the grit of Philly like I conquered the pace of NYC.

But it’s all so dirty. Everyone always seems to be on edge. Out to defend themselves, even if it means hurting me. Does it take that much more energy to be nice instead of rude? To place your trash and waste in an appropriate receptacle? To find a bathroom to do your business in? It’s like everyone’s Give-A-Fuck broke.

But then, I also get that many people (not all) who live in this neighborhood are so squarely in survival mode that they can’t even imagine a life beyond putting food on the table. That being nice could make them vulnerable, that giving a fuck would mean they could be disappointed, rejected, hurt. And who am I to say that my way of looking at life, that anitSurvival mode is any better than how they live?

Maybe?

I think this is the first self-identified example I’ve found of my white privilege showing.

I guess it seems like it all comes down to priorities. The folks who make these neighborhoods gritty, they prioritize something else (not sure what) over things like clean streets, safe neighborhoods, respectful relationships. Do they have a choice though? Can one choose when faced with homelessness, life or death situations and no awareness of a way out?

Who am I to judge people for living this way. Yet, I do.

Gah!

At the end of the day, the people who live here are just that. People. And I wish I had more access to connecting with them. Because I love connecting with humans.

I definitely think everyone should spend time in the ‘gritty’ parts of their town. Be aware of how all of the humans in your home town live, what options they have, what their daily stressors are and most importantly who lives there. Humans. Just like you. Broaden your awareness of your community. I know I’ve not done much of this in my hometown.

PS. It feels vulnerable to share this publically in the age of social media. My heart is pure. I love humans. I want to see all humans be as happy as possible, whatever that looks like for them. I don’t mean to be judgey, ignorant or part of the problem. My hope is that by sharing I’ll get others thinking and maybe even shift some perspectives and open some new dialogs….

Crickets in Philly

My bartering, nomadic lifestyle is 100% possible due to social media. I rely on it to keep in touch with people, find people to live with, even to find new clients. It is AWESOME.

And it has the well-known side effect of allowing us to choose what people know of us. It’s become quite easy to feel like you know someone well, through social media, that you don’t really know at all, perhaps have never even met. I often find myself wishing people would spend less time relying on social media and more time connecting in real life.

Well, I got my wish in Philly. There is very little available via my normally reliable online resources to allow me to connect with communities in this city. I typically check Facebook events, meeetup and the like for interest-based communities that I have something in common with. I use them to find new friends, clients and peers to connect with, to help me make my home in a new city.

Philly has virtually nothing online. Crickets.

Thanks to the friends I have here I’ve discovered that Philly is simply old school. There is plenty of entrepreneurship here, it’s just the old fashioned hustle, hard work and handshake based variety. This makes me happy, because I like to think that there are pockets where social media isn’t the glue holding everyone together. Conversely, it makes me sad because it’s much harder to get to know this city as a nomad passing through for a few weeks.

Oh well. All the more thankful for my friends and the quirky sites I’ve found in my exploring.

I Belong

Like attracts like. I easily attract like minded people. It would be very easy
for me to stay with and hang out with only people who have very similar world views to mine. I don’t want this. In my experience this leads to a narrow view of the world, it’s like wearing blinders.

I want to keep my perspective broad, I want to continually learn and grow. I don’t have to agree with someone to respect their opinion and be their friend.

To ensure I don’t end up with blinders on, I continually put myself in circles of people I don’t immediately connect with and look for connections. This context is likely why I found myself marveling at how easily I fit into their friend group when we were camping.

 

Camping!

I don’t remember having camped before. Apparently I did it once before, when I was about 10, but I don’t remember it. So it hasn’t yet been crossed of the bucket list. This weekend I went camping with my current temporary roommates, Tawny & Ted. #squee

There are several serendipitous circumstances surrounding this camping trip. First, it happened to be scheduled while I planned to be in Philly. Second, every one else going was very experienced campers. Third, I got to see lots of fall foliage which was on my list of hopeful things to see while here.

We ate stew, made s’mores, hiked, saw lots of waterfalls and enjoyed loads of great conversation and shenanigans.

All of this and I still have a week left with Tawny & Ted in Philly!

I’ve known Tawny for about two and a half years, we’ve traveled together as colleagues and definitely created a connection that goes deeper than mere colleagues. And yet, thanks to geographical distances, this is the first time we’re intentionally hanging out as friends. Tawny and I have a lot in common. People tell us we look alike and our personalities are similar enough that we’re often mistaken for sisters. Still we’ve lead incredibly different lives and run in very different social circles. I love this.