Living “out here”: a Michigan vendor reflects

In this moving article, Groundcover vendor Lit explains what she means when she says she lives “out here”. She discusses what she’s lost – and what she’s gained – through her experience of homelessness.

By Elizabeth ‘Lit’ Kurtz, Groundcover vendor

For some time, I’ve been telling folks that I lived “out here”. I presumed that everyone knew what I meant. But a friend of mine recently asked what I actually meant by the term. That was when I began pondering what this destination I refer to as “out here” really means, especially in relation to other places I’ve been.

It didn’t take much effort for me to remember my past. Our family roots are in Georgia, a place defined by peaches, pecans, Southern belles and Vidalia onions. My southern-born mother cooked collards, and though she forbade us to do so, ate them with her fingers in a glorious mash of cornbread and green liqueur. My growing up was defined by Michigan seasons: sledding, dandelions, marigolds, and bushels of Baldwin and Golden Delicious apples.

Few words translate to describe my experiences now, at least in “First World” terms. Homeless: characterised by showerless days and many sleepless nights. It is a place where I struggle to feel pretty and often feel vulnerable.

I am homeless now.

I construct each day anew.

To build a new home.

Perhaps I have always done that – and in some ways, we all do. That is, we use the tools – emotional, spiritual, and physical – to define and “construct” our space. The only difference is that now I am more cognizant of it, painfully aware that the carefully-chosen building blocks I choose today will directly affect my place in the world tomorrow. For the first time, I have to create my own space to help me maintain a sense of being. There are no indigenous plants in this place and the traditions are those of immediate survival. These traditions are ones that, although shunned by the larger community, are vital for a meaningful subsistence.

Take, for instance, the long-held tradition of canning, which at one time for me meant partaking in a yearly practice of food preservation that had been passed down through generations of aproned mothers and grandmothers. It was an annual family (and sometimes community) activity of preparation for the winter months. The term “canning” now links me closer to my earliest ancestors of the early hunter-gatherer tribes who were not only unable to preserve food, but could merely hunt down enough for subsistence for a limited time.

Canning in my new world bears no resemblance to its namesake. In this new world it means nothing less than collecting as many tossed-out beer cans and pop bottles as possible in a day so as to be able to stave off hunger. It is often a daylong task that people schedule for certain days during the week to get enough collected to eat, do laundry, or finance other tasks for a couple of days.

The contrast between First World and Third World America is remarkable, with the average First World individual having no appreciation for the time and effort needed to occupy this space and still maintain a sense of balance and propriety among First World inhabitants, with whom we invariably must interact.

“Though out here is definitely a place where I never want to return, it is still one that has gifted me the ability to discern which things are important in life”

So many things are predetermined in First World America and already defined. But out here, there is no guarantee of plumbing, electricity, or furniture. Furniture is what I have sometimes missed the most. These are the “trappings” that informed my early life and transitioned me from child-hood to adolescence, young adulthood – even menopause. Now in this abeyance, my spirit has often wandered in search of what I had before.

But while pondering, I had a gradual awareness that the seedlings I have planted here over many nights and days have grown to form a new kind of place. It’s a place where I’ve acquired patience, established new traditions, and found spots of respite in a world of unpredictability and confusion. “Out here” has become a place – though lacking physical boundaries, it has many other characteristics that make it separate from any I have ever had or expect to have again. It is a place where I have formed lasting bonds, gone through unexpected and unpredictable challenges, yet woken up to face another day with gratitude.

Though out here is definitely a place where I never want to return, it is still one that has gifted me the ability to discern which things are important in life and which are merely fanciful or transient. Out here has given me wonderful memories that I will carry with me long after I have found my way back to the world where I once lived.