“Where do you want to be in five years?” It’s a standard job interview question; I remember the first time I was asked it in a job interview. I was looking at the possibility of a sharp turn away from the path I was then marching. I didn’t have an answer to the question. Thankfully, it was just a dalliance, and I got myself back where I needed to be instead of heading for corporate life, wearing a suit everyday and selling something I didn’t believe in—which is not where I belonged then or now. I wouldn’t last six months in that world. Though I am fascinated by people who flourish there.
Since January 2017, I have really been feeling like all bets are off, and I have no idea how to really plan. Most years I put up a list of goals for the bookstore at the front desk. They are usually not realistic, but inflated along the idea of “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” For the first time since we moved in 2010, I didn’t make one this year.
I began with such uncertainty at the onset of 2017, my thinking was more along the lines of: “Please, let’s just keep the doors open and pray the country isn’t at war by this time next year…” That’s not exactly inspiring for my staff. It didn’t seem like a good idea to post it on a sign at the front desk.
To be honest, while we were wrestling with Jock’s citizenship application, we did spend a considerable amount of time discussing our possible “plan B” if that fell through.
“It would break your heart to leave Wilmington,” Jock observed several times.
“Home is where you are,” I responded.
But he’s right. It would break my heart to leave here—both of our hearts.
Now that he is more settled and, as a result of receiving his citizenship, should be able to travel again without fear of being turned away from our boarders, we are starting to talk calmly about the possible future.
Where do I want to be in five years? That’s a hell of a question.
I want to be here with Jock. I want the bookstore to be open and flourishing. But what does that mean exactly?
Well, I’d like to stop questioning the reality I live in every time I turn on the tap. Is it safe to take a bath? Is it safe to do dishes? To take a drink? We don’t consider it safe to swim in the Cape Fear River, but we drink it. That’s an interesting paradox to ponder, isn’t it? Part of why we don’t consider it safe to swim is the strong current and of course, the wild life. Still, the river needs a lot of help and work in the realm of pollution.
As well, I would really like to see our school districts redrawn. If readers wonder why that is, then, please, spend a day visiting Snipes or Rachel Freeman elementary schools. All children in New Hanover County are not getting the same education. It is unconscionable, in this day and age, we have effectively resegregated our elementary schools. There is no question we can do better—and we should do better. Five years is far more time than necessary to remedy this.
In five years, I would like for our city to have greater food security. For me, that has to start at home. I have to create a perennial edible garden to produce food that gets eaten and have a surplus. Right now, the squirrels are the only ones benefiting from my hard-working fig tree. (They also got all our plums this year.) But there are a lot of opportunities for more food security in landscaping, both in public and privately, which could really transform how we think about food as a city, county and community. The exporting of agricultural products has long been part of our history. Now more than ever, I would like to see us reclaim it.
We give all appearances of exponential growth. A drive down the now-blighted Kerr Avenue is like a trip into Soviet block-housing-meets-Pleasantville. There is enough pavement to land a 747 and housing that is most kindly described as “dense and lacking in trees.” I would really love to see a bit of a breath and a reconsideration. Frankly, if we keep taking down trees at this rate, none of us will be able to take a deep breath, let alone stop and consider where we are headed.
The county has announced four possible proposals to redevelop the block the main library occupies on Third Street with another public-private partnership, like the oh-so-successful partnership for the parking deck redevelopment on Water Street. From the most recent e-mail to stakeholders: “A revised agreement is being developed to reflect the additional costs, approximately $7.6 million, to be split between the city and East-West.” Subsidized housing—both for those who need basic housing and the public subsidizing luxury development to make developers rich—is a difficult and far-reaching topic that powerfully and directly impacts not only our city’s skyline but our heartbeat. We are fortunate to have preserved as much as we have of our historic district, but it is an ongoing and difficult conversation. Surely, we can engage in the idea of what shelter and housing for everyone in this community looks like? If can we do that, is there a real reason we can’t manage to envision a community with trees? Trees provide cleaner air, shade on hot days, habitat for wildlife, and enhance property values.
On a personal level, I want The Top Shelf Loft above the bookstore, our nightly rental, to be booked consistently with people who really appreciate and enjoy what we have worked so hard to create. I want to have Between the Covers open—a literary-themed bed and breakfast to serve as a haven for literature, discussion and preservation in a hectic world.
What both statements mean is I really want to share what we have grown with the bookstore in more tangible, tactile and personal ways with people. Frequently throughout the day, it is brought home to me how I increasingly live in world that is disappearing. (Just ask encore’s nice editor lady how often she asks if I have pictures from an event? The answer is invariably “no”—because I don’t have a camera phone.) I see myself not so much as Lear raging in the storm on the moor as much as a steward of something worth caring for. I want to be part of the conversation, and in my own way, part of adding fragments to the whole. There is something special about blending not only the future but the past, and that has been fundamental to the way I have experienced Wilmington.
I guess in five years I’d like to see a community that embraces water, food, education, shelter, and a participatory future. I want to be part of it all.