Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The End

This title hints at the close of summer. Yet is this really the end? In many ways, yes. This is the final year of research in the Washington Park neighborhood, and these are the last nine days before the community presentation day. It is, then, the end.

Next summer, the Field School moves to study Sherman Park, a nearby neighborhood. What is the difference between this neighborhood and Washington Park? Well, at the risk of avoiding the question, that's kind of the purpose of the Field School--to find those differences and to tell those narratives, the ones that have yet to be unearthed.

I won't be here next summer. Grad school calls and I know that it is time for me to partially set aside my obsession with the Washington Park community. This upcoming school year, we will push for one last analysis, one last discovery, one last attempt to tell the stories of the people--and then we walk away.

Or is that simple? Would we still return to Amaranth Café on Lisbon? Would we still return to the community gardens and to HAFA, to eat egg rolls and enthuse about produce? Or, because we are outsiders even now, would we feel uncomfortable to return to this place where we have spent so much time?

When I think of a good farmers' market in Milwaukee, I think of the Friday night ones next to Amaranth, I don't think about Shorewood or Whitefish Bay or any part of the East Side--that place I call home. Instead, this layered, complex, devastatingly underappreciated neighborhood comes to mind. So what does it mean to walk away from this?

At this point the social connections and place-based connections that we have made are profound, they stretch across geography, age, social class, and a dozen other factors. So looking into the future, how are we to remain connected to those who we have befriended? Again, my discomfort at being a complete outsider (I think of the one interview I took notes for, the man effortlessly identified both of us conducting the interview as East Side residents) results in my inability to understand how to remain present in a neighborhood I have no clear purpose being in.

Next year, Sherman Park--will they open up, reveal secrets, share stories, or will they remain aloof for a year, hard to pin down and tough to fully understand? Probably some of both. It is people's lives we are asking about, all their personal stories and their homes, after all. So how can I say that this is "the end" when in fact next year there will be more research?

This is definitely muddled in my brain, and while on the one had I feel as though the entire research project is ending, another part of me, more rational, recognizes that while we are leaving Washington Park, we are not going very far and we will not forget where we came from.

And who is to say there won't be cross-connections? The neighborhoods press against each other, their government-decided boundaries fade into each other, the overlaps in residential makeup and neighborhood culture have the potential to simply continue, with shifts, the research of the past three years.

I ramble now, avoiding the obvious end and conclusion to both this post and my work. I'm still stuck on the difficulties of walking away from the neighborhood of my research. Perhaps it is good that I graduate in the spring, and won't be around to watch the Field School take on an entirely new neighborhood. In some ways, this entire post is fueled by my own personal fear of change, even positive change.

A year from now I hope to be on the east coast, preparing for grad school. A year from now I hope to log onto my computer, go to the newest Weebly page, read the stories and feel a connection to Sherman Park like the one I feel to Washington Park. A year from now I hope that this endeavor will have changed, adapted to the unique neighborhood, and yet remained the same. Stories of people, their lives, stories of place and space. A thousand narratives to discover--what I would give to lend my hand to this future project, to do it all over again just so that I could still claim some reason to visit Washington Park, Sherman Park, all those people we have connected to on the way.

So, in lieu of a good ending, here's to the future success of the Field School, regardless of where it goes and what it finds.