I just reviewed the BALLE conference schedule in preparation for the full week ahead. BALLE stands for the Business Alliance of Living Local Economies. It’s a network of businesses and individuals living and promoting alternative visions for community and fulfillment. I knew about BALLE when I lived in Northern California and without needing to be sold, I naturally embraced a localist lifestyle. What I didn’t grow, I got from my CSA, the farmers’ market or the local, independent market. I procured all my needs at the local hardware store, nursery, gift shops and boutiques. I don’t like to shop, so a small, edited selection and a personal experience suits me. I embraced the philosophy of less is more and chose consciously. Then I came to Buffalo.
Shortly after I moved into my house, my father and nephew drove up from Maryland to help me settle in. I wanted an old house with character and good bones; one I could live in comfortably while I thoughtfully restored its potential. Once in, I realized that an old home is the perfect remedy for a recovering perfectionist. An uncomfortable, but effective, cure. At the end of their second day, overwhelmed by everything, I excused myself to go lie down in the fetal position until I could cope again. In my absence, my father and nephew sat out on my porch and discussed a plan. They were there for another full day and decided they would tackle and make one room perfect that I could be proud of and enjoy. Knowing I love to cook and entertain, they chose my kitchen.
Like many old Buffalo homes, the kitchen ceiling had been dropped at some point in the past. Mine had been recently covered in an off-the-shelf reproduction copper ceiling that made the room feel excessively dark. I wanted the height back and I wanted more light. First thing in the morning my father and nephew began demolition. The plan: to remove the ceiling and paint. There are plans, and there is reality. The truth they discovered once the plywood came down was significantly more than they had the skills or time to tackle—so they left it unfinished and left.
It’s been three years and remodeling my kitchen is still a distant vision—but I no longer mind. They say fate leads the willing and drags the unwilling. I was working on learning to be vulnerable and real; to demolition the identity I’d spent my first 40 years creating and allow a higher truth to emerge. Not a truth I controlled and created, but one I needed to discover and accept. Not easy or fast work; a process that takes patience, perseverance, courage and grace. A lesson my Buffalo kitchen helped teach me.
I don’t remember what I was thinking the night I pulled out paints and began writing fragments of favorite poems on the kitchen walls—perhaps only that I hated the yellow and why not. What I didn’t expect: the response. People comment on how uncluttered and serene my home feels; then they enter the kitchen and gasp—they love it.
To live is a choice—a choice I make every day with my attitude and my willingness.
I wanted to live creatively and free. I craved something more than everything I had. I grew up with privilege in an affluent community. I attended an elite private high school before I went to Cornell, where I graduated without student loans. I’ve made lucrative investments, done well in real estate and been successful in business. I lived for 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, a creative city with high self esteem. Yet with all my advantages—both personal and external—it wasn’t until I moved to Buffalo, a city with perplexingly low self esteem, that I found my own and found fulfillment.
Chains and big box stores make living locally an elite privilege for the financially able. That’s one story line; the convenient and well publicized version of a multi-faceted truth. But change agents don’t take the convenient path, they live on the edge; they push the boundaries of possible. Money is energy; a symbol—to many, a gatekeeper. I spent my last dollar getting to Buffalo and have lived here on less than I imagined possible while reaping more than I dreamed conceivable. There’s just no accounting for happiness.