‘if you build a good new house’

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My favorite of houses.

I’m quite saddened that my most imperative podcast, About Race, has ended. This post, however, is not a meditation on that particular sadness, but about using the art of construction to overcome a different sort of heartache.

Because not only has About Race host (comedian, writer, culture critic) Baratunde Thurston regularly offered a roadmap to how to be a better citizen in the world, but he happened to drop some parting advice that truth-smacked me onto a worthier path. “Try to architect the new house and worry a little less about destroying the corrupt old house,” he said. “If you build a good new house, people will leave the old one and you don’t have to worry about it; it’ll be empty.”

(I can’t help but also think of the The Trouble Coffee Co. motto, “Build Your Own Damn House.” If you missed the This American Life episode about Trouble, you must check out. And Trouble Coffee happens to be mere blocks from my San Francisco residence. Coincidence? Or synchronicity?)

I love the hope this concept offers. We all have our old houses, you know, the ones filled with people who’ve hurt us and where we’ve maybe responded to that hurt in ways that’ve made things worse, made us worse. Yet leaving is so hard. We had some great parties in that house. Maybe we made out for the first time on that couch or learned to cook dank frittatas on that stove. Maybe we spent hours on our knees in the garden planting perennials and we still hope they’ll shove up through the dirt despite the yard being wholly stripped of nutrients. Despite the endless stomping about by people who care neither for your daffodils nor your heart.

It can make a person want to tear that shit down. And destruction isn’t always a bad thing – the role of riots in societal change is often underestimated (America was founded on riots). But you can’t simultaneously destroy and build, and what I want most right now is to keep building that new house and invite in all those who represent love and fun, and around whom I am my very best self.

So when I find myself back in that old house – or metaphorically peering in through the windows – I tell myself in my strictest voice, “New house! Build your own damn house, Jennifer!” And then I think about that house. I imagine being in it, all sunlight and warmth, with plenty of room and friends and the most comfortable of couches.

And for those of you – so many of you! –who’ve been activists or have been newly inspired to be (right on cue, WaPo alerts light up my phone), what this means in a political sense (and you are welcome to interpret as you wish) is, yes, we have to keep stopping the bad things. But it’s also critical to start – and nurture – the good.

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