Tara L. is an 18-year-old member of Tivnu 9 from Chicago, Illinois. She is an intern at Innovation Law Lab and Tivnu construction and in her free time enjoys reading, climbing, and digital anthropology.
We’d been in Portland for about a month, the first half of that in a whirlwind orientation. We covered what it was to “do” social justice, Jewish practice, and communication skills. But also the more mundane mechanics of collective living: how to cook, how to clean, what you can and can’t recycle, what Tivnu provides for us and what they don’t. There’s a dishwasher, but nobody else is going to wash your dishes. There are vacuums and brooms and cleaning supplies, and they won’t ever be used by a maid or a cleaner. There are bikes, and the bikes are purely manual, not a battery or motor to be seen. It seemed that self-reliance was the rule of the day.
I took to the city on those bikes, soaring downhill and struggling uphill: to and from the library, downtown, the park, and anywhere else that struck my fancy. One of the friends I quickly made, however, didn’t have that privilege. Em had never learned to ride a bike. So we decided she ought to learn, and how else to learn but for one of the Tivnuniks to teach them? So one sunny autumn afternoon, we decided to bike to the park.
After grabbing our helmets and going over how to inflate bike tires, we struck off, both clad in Baja hoodies color-coded to our hair: mine purple, Em’s blue-green (at that moment my hair was purple only in spirit, the dye not yet having made its way out of the tube, but don’t let my un-purple hair mar the otherwise beautiful picture). The other colors on display were the full range of greens, reds and oranges of early fall, set under a silver overcast sky. The street was studded with trees and an occasional sprinkling of little library boxes, often even more colorful than the rubicund leaves that surrounded them. We decided we were better off walking the bikes to the park, and so we set off down the sidewalk.
Less than a block into our journey we passed one of those little free libraries, and, as always, I was compelled to go check if there was anything good in it. It just so happened that this time I struck gold: A sci-fi book recommended by Powell’s, the giant independent bookstore I’d visited earlier that week, and a book by Neil Gaiman (automatically rendering it worth taking). After an apologetic sprint to and from the house to deposit my treasure, we were off again.
Learning to ride a bike, however, would prove to be more difficult a treasure to find, and as we got to the park the sun came out and quickly made us both overheat in our thick sweaters. Sweating, we finally started actually trying to make progress, only for a woman walking her dogs to laugh at the fact that Em never learned how to ride a bike. Most strangers I’ve met in Portland, even during that outing, have been friendly, mind, but it only takes one comment to undermine confidence. Together we shrugged off the comment and ran across the paved walkway, Em pedaling and me holding them upright when she started to lose balance (and lose balance she did). After a few repetitions of this, with me encouraging them to keep going after every time they fell, we decided to stop for a while and walked to the top of the hill in the middle of the park.
Atop the hill I spied a thrift store, Rerun, that had seemed to be blessed with great wares and the uncanny ability to be closed every other time I happened to pass by. We decided to suspend our didactic dalliance and try stimulating the local economy instead. It was a stroke of good fortune that just as we had given up on our original project, we found a way for Em to ride farther and faster than any time before. Turns out all she needed was a little push, provided by the slight downward slope of the path down from the top of the hill, letting us both focus just on balance, and not on gaining momentum. When we arrived at the thrift store, I got to have a turn being the nervous one: I’d restructured my wardrobe before I left for Portland and still wasn’t sure what styles to go for. Lucky for me, I had a friend to rely on.