The Heroism of Here: Poetic Entrepreneurship, a Revolutionary Model

Dread was lurking close, I had to pretend it wasn’t here and that I was united with others in a blessed normalcy.

– Czeslaw Milosz, To Allen Ginsberg

God is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.

–The Book of the 24 Philosophers, 12th century

In Utica, upcoming Common Council elections feature two women candidates, one already on the Council and up for re-election, who are prepared to stand up for small local businesses and local art in a way not seen on that body in a long time, perhaps ever. From the perspective Orin and I share, as owners of a small family-operated coffeeshop in its 20th year of doing business, much of that time “on the ropes,” such support comes none too soon. Utica’s (and Oneida County’s) leadership, strong in some respects but weak in vision, continues to serve money, laying the red carpet down for “jobs,” no matter how demeaning ( i.e., prisons), chain entities, and special interest-serving projects like the downtown hospital. In reproducing sameness, they are blind to the fact that they are erasing Utica, treating the city as having no intrinsic worth, as disposable.

Unlike many fellow business owners, Orin and I see this challenge to survival of the small and local not as a “Utica problem.” We see it contextually, as consequence of capitalism’s thrust toward bigness and sameness that holds nothing to be sacred, and that inevitably erases difference. And its a sacrifice that’s not exacted equally; places like rustbelt, has-been, used-to-be Utica are sacrificed first. This is why, if we are to protect the local places by making local businesses, our motivation must be more powerful than profitability. Romantic or plain daffy as this may sound to many ears, especially those attuned to the Wall Street Journal, we will lose our local places entirely without intervention by individuals whose motivation is visionary: i.e., those who’ve found the sacred and know its center is “everywhere,” and thus it is here. Missing that truth, all that’s left are values based upon financial success, and the accompanying disregard for the real people, places and creatures that culminates in disposability (and eventually, extinction).

The great obstacle for vision lies in the efforts of the liberal class in America to uphold “blessed normalcy.” In order to do so, to pretend the “lurking dread” isn’t there, we believe ourselves to hold sacred things which are not sacred and fail completely to defend those things that authentically, morally are sacred. We are living now in the advanced stages of the ongoing destruction as corporate powers rush to fill the vacuum left by our failure to know the difference. They fill their coffers at the expense of the intrinsic rights of people, particularly of poor and vulnerable people, but no people or places are, or will be exempt. They disdain the sacred rights of all creatures to the conditions necessary for their existence (as healthy, whole beings), and of rivers and forests and mountains, indigenous cultures, the commons of air, water, land and climate. As well they disdain the rights of communities to have their distinctiveness – their histories, the buildings that carry that history in their antiquity, their small businesses, their art, their particular, familiar, sad, beauty. For corporations are incapable of perceiving the sacred.

The sacred is neither “just a word” nor an awareness exclusive to indigenous people, but a kind of knowing freely available to any man or woman sufficiently curious – or, it must be admitted, sufficiently desperate – to be open to it. If we ever are to have the spirit and the will to defend the conditions required for our humanity, we must seek after this kind of esoteric knowing. The path has historically been considered attainable only to yogis and saints, but today, through understandings reached between western and eastern spiritual traditions, the visionary way of inward knowing is discoverable by anyone who will forsake the tempting apple of blessed normalcy and embody a different kind of commonplace heroism.

That is, although the knowledge of the sacred is exclusive in a way, the knowledge, and the heroic sacrifice inherent in the effort to attain it are universally available. Its exclusivity is due in part to the fact that the realm of the sacred is not safe; indeed, some of its passages should not be attempted without guidance. Most people dare not “knock” and therefore the door is not opened to them. But its reward, beyond measure, is to be able to see the sacredness, the connectedness and meaning in everything, to have poetic meaning – the only language adequate to such “supernatural” experience – restored. And, although the “camel and the needle’s eye” exclusivity is real, it’s temporary. It gives way to the Absolute inclusivity, in which, miraculously, one’s subjective self is included, an experience traditionally named by the word “God.” (and, alas, also temporary but infinitely replenishable!)

Commonplace Heroism

But the difficulty of the task is not the chief obstacle for white liberal Americans to retrieve knowledge of the sacred; there are others, imposed within a topdown economic system that profits from regarding human beings as discardable. In our panicked clinging to blessed normalcy we’re resigned, as if it were better not to have one’s own destiny, but to live on somebody else’s coattails, taking someone else’s word for it, forfeiting one’s chance to, as they say – follow a dream. The consequences of declining one’s dreams are tragic and irredeemable. Once dreams have been relinquished there’s no choice but to be forever dissatisfied with oneself, always a mis-fit but making oneself amiable as possible so as not to appear misfit. Without dreams, the goal is not preserving relatedness (love) but marketing oneself in the loveless soulless marketplace, i.e., treating oneself as discardable. Is this cringing existence a suitable life for a man or a woman, each one who entered this world “trailing clouds of glory?”

On October 4th, billions of people globally were left without their social media for 5 hours; for many the loss ripped the veil off the underlying, ever-present panic. Our materialist world, its technology, its career path, and its wonders, is built to be a fortress against the dread – the panic and anxiety bursting at the seams of “blessed normalcy.” We are fools to question it or to dissent from it. On the other hand, if we look at those who have been excluded from the comfortable middle class, those fated to the precarity of the underclass in America and globally, we see people in a constant struggle for survival and for dignity for whom our kind of dread, our panic, are “luxuries.” Those who, many times, defend their communities, their water, their traditions and customs against imperialist incursions do so empowered by their knowledge of the sacred. For their activist resistance, knowledge of the sacred – i.e., Black Lives Matter – is not luxury but necessity.

It must become a necessity for us as well. This “underclass consciousness,” its vulnerability and oppression, and as well its call for a heroism forged in everyday hopelessness – gives a direction for retrieval of our own moral consciousness. We no longer can accept the definitions of a divided and stratified society that confuse us as to what heroism is, as if only those who sacrifice on battlefields or in extraordinary circumstances count as heroes. Rather, given “underclass consciousness,” we can understand heroism as the quality of fulfilling one’s ordinary roles in the social, communal order as if one’s presence as mother, father, grandparent, adult son or daughter, aunt or uncle, teacher, healer, shop-owner or worker, were intrinsically meaningful (i.e., sacred). This is the heroism of being human, that makes dissent against “blessed normalcy” fundamental, and for which the following of dreams, a pursuit that makes a dreamer an artist, is necessary.

Moreover, the stratifications among our designated “art producers,” all laud going to the few who become stars and celebrities, in turn confuses people to the true commonness of artistic vocation, and as well must be turned upside down. As we return to being poets of the commons, mediums for the sacred, it must be to sing the songs that embody the yearning for the justice that is not. Art is dissent. No matter the level of fame attained, heroic courage is demanded of those who will carry the immense burden of aloneness that goes with dissent. Furthermore, taken on as vision, as dreams, the projects and entrepreneurial establishments in our localities will also demand courage to bear the dissenter’s intense loneliness, if they are to protect the social world in which human relationships can be protected once more among the familiar, the commonplace and the local.

Cheers to Here!

In a system intended to funnel money upwards, to be on the side of one’s local business, created to serve this community and no other, Orin and I have learned entrepreneurship must be taken on with the consciousness of the underclass, i.e. of being a business that does not matter. By its nature and from its inception, it is dissenting, (or “revolutionary,” as film maker Lech Kowalski observed about us more than 15 years ago, putting us in his 2006 online film ( at a time when my own understanding was in its infancy This underclass consciousness is the lifeblood of what we do as we face the enormous obstacles for a business that, simply, “should not be.” And if we could not think about it that way we would lose the morale to continue, for then all the blame would be ours. Of course, its true that our own choices and prejudices (such as staying away from serving food ), our sort of Luddite conservatism (holding out against wifi for as long as we could), and our dislike of the rules by which a business attains its market share and becomes “big,” contribute to our embattled situation. But these qualities are precisely what make our Cafe a local business based in the particular “terroir” of Utica, a work of art and of loyal opposition to “blessed normalcy.”

For me, (when I can occasionally manage to be calm about it, that is), our embattled situation is a gift. More so than other quixotic choices Orin and I have made, such as to reside permanently in a precarious inner city neighborhood or sending our children to city schools, the struggle to keep our small business alive returns us again and again to the honest hopelessness of underclass consciousness. This consciousness, so painful to bear at times that it seems we have no choice but to concede failure, and quit, we’ve discovered, over many years, is also the grounds for honest hope, rather than the naïve “lesser-evil” hope of banal liberal normalcy. Engaged in this hopeless struggle for survival we can afford neither banality nor complacency – no veil over the dread! – for by either of those attitudes our struggle has no meaning! In fact, our struggle only is meaningful in the reality that is not real inside liberalism’s blessed normalcy: the one of sacred relatedness of all beings realized in the creative soul. Honest hope can be maintained only with alive connection to vision, through a lifeline of constant poetic practice.

Amidst the encroaching soulless corporate sameness that values neither historic buildings, nor art and creativity, nor local communities nor the consent of the governed, our coffee shop exists as a dissenting voice loyal to the city’s archetypal embodiment of inclusivity; an independent public space, a free ground keeping alive the ideal of social dialectics, the higher truth of unity over divisiveness, which is to say, simply, it has its voice. One of the aforementioned candidates for Council uses the Cafe as her base and gives it as her reason for living in and buying a home in Utica. An avowed atheist, she perhaps is not initiated in the sacred as I’ve been discussing it, but it is apparent she senses the intrinsic worth in the Cafe’s improvisational being. Its “hipness” comes from the same source as that of the jazz artist: it goes with being a medium for the sacred. Though the candidate is not a dissenter in the way we are, she needs our dissent.

I venture that every truly creative effort – including the small local business – bequeaths the understanding that the cost of freedom – the freedom to have one’s own voice, its expressed uniqueness in this shared social world – is your life; the artist’s dissent against all that inhumanly throttles the true variety and vitality in the social world is intrinsic to the beauty of what is created.

The way back to the sacred center, is to take back the ordinariness of connected lives in communities including to take back commerce, to base it once more on the human scale of face-to-face and locally owned. To resist corporate sameness, is not only to see Walmart, Dollar General, and Starbucks as the insults to community they are, not just to change individual and familial buying patterns (Buy Local!) – increasingly difficult due to the takeover of all commerce by Amazon. But those dreams of starting one’s own business that many people have, just as people dream of writing the great novel, must be enacted, not discarded. Big dreams are all interconnected. Moreover, if our businesses are not to join the lemming herd of sameness and bigness-equals-better they will demand on the part of the entrepreneur initiation in the sacred, as much as in business know-how. Such a daunting undertaking is less intimidating if one is off the hook for “making a killing,” but not exempted from, each day, saving time for writing a poem or singing a song of resistance! Moreover, in serving community over profits the business itself is a commons; the heroism not in emulating Jeff Bezos but in being a fellow worker, knowing that in our commonness is our connection to the sacred.


Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: