Intentions: The Meaning of Absence
Greetings! I'm writing from Chicago O'Hare airport and will send this out from Vilnius, Lithuania.
Wednesday, November 29, four of us met up at the Southside Hub of Production http://www.southsidehub.org for my workshop, The Meaning of Absence. I share my notes and thoughts.
My purpose was to help me think about experiences of absence, of what is not, or what is not possible, or what is not desirable. Thanks to Sherry Williams of the Bronzeville Historical Society, I'm making a huge art work, "God's God", to hang as a centerpiece at the historic factory in Pullman. The inside is "God's Mind", how I imagine things look like from God's point of view, and the outside is "God's Face", the experiences by whose meaning we live forever. In September, I showed three large 10' x 10' black canvases that portray experiences of presence, of what is, what is possible, what is desirable. Now, in Lithuania, I'll be creating three large 10' x 10' white canvases to portray experiences of absence. How should I convey that?
This was our third and last workshop at the Southside Hub of Production. All year long, Laura Shaeffer invited and included artists whose creativity transformed the sixteen room mansion into a Hyde Park community center. The mansion has been sold and Laura is thinking of what comes next. The topic of absence was thus relevant to both of us. Truly she was the person whose interest galvanized me to organize this event. I'm starting to think that's what Jesus meant when he talked about praying in twos or threes, and when he said that where two or three are together in his name, so is he. I think of Jesus as a person-in-general, who does what any good person would do, who any of us can choose to be. Two or three people can open up a space where absolutely anybody is welcome. I suppose that is the heart of living as family, when two people are there for each other to open up space for the person-in-general, and thus for everybody.
Each of us drew the "big picture" in our life, and also one or more telling details. We then worked backwards, using Jesus's logic "as you value the little, so you value the big". From the details, we saw ourselves and could ask, How must we be valuing nothing at all?
Laura intuited this as "Where is your intention?" or perhaps "What is my intention?" I realized, that for me is the meaning of absence. My "big picture" is expressing God as a culture of living forever, where we are one, and as part of that, raising a family with my sweetheart, a kernel of that culture, in contrast to the superficial world we live in, which assumes we are all different. I feel that tension between being the same (as I believe we are, fundamentally) or different (as we appear to behave). I realize that culture and that tension in the details of what I think I should do, which is to live creatively, especially where people are open to me, as opposed to focusing on the media, or on money, or on writing a book that nobody will care to live. At the heart of this - in the absence of everything - is my wish to "share and manifest the truth". Rather than try to convince others that airplanes can fly (or we can fly or know or create...), I'd rather build an airplane so they can see it fly, and when they do, I'm sure they'll reverse engineer it. I want to share the truth even as a toy, as a game or model, so that people can see how it works and embrace it. I see that this led me to my deepest value, "living by truth", and clarified it further. So this exercise is a technique for clarifying our deepest value, which says who we are in the absence of love or God or anything, what lack we seek to compensate in the world.
Our personal style was evident in each picture. Peter Pero drew a matrix. He filled the top row with his major concerns: his wife, money, his home, his records. In the next row he drew related details. His wife likes his bookishness, he likes to have money to travel, he fixes his house and he orders his records. In the bottom row he pictured his related values such as his striving for order, but I think especially, exploring. Exploring may well be his deepest value.
Doug Binkley drew cartoons of how he's been "squashed" by life, and how he "missed the ball". Indeed, he had given up on his dream of being a cartoonist, not wanting to keep beating his head against the wall. What was the meaning of absence? Laura was reminded of a friend who had trouble associating with people, but got on great with animals. Doug drew a third picture of himself in an arm chair petting a cat on his lap. Then we saw that he's truly a gentle person. His gentleness is at the heart of his everpresent wit, and his enstrangement from our mean world. That helps me appreciate Doug and his humor.
I was very heartened by our workshop. It was fantastic how we lost a sense of time. After the workshop, Laura showed us the house with great love, the many different projects, including the soft room, the cleaning club (I bought some Christmas presents) and the shack that Faheem Majeed built on the roof.
Recently, I had been unhappy with my tussles with Bob Lichtenbert. I'm very grateful to him that two of his Seekers, Doug and Peter, participated and also that I could convey my occasional exasperation.
I was glad that I could share my own life experience, and especially the tension between the idea that we're all the same, deep inside, and yet, on the surface, we're very different. As a childhood, I learned that I was brilliant, with a mind that in many ways seemed perfect, especially for bringing out the deepest ideas. I was blessed with a loving family, a utopic upbringing in California, a simple concept of God. I had boundless ambition and dedication. Most importantly, I have within me a good seed, a touchstone that keeps me on track, that pulls me away from all kinds of sin.
I see that Jesus's thinking is divine, greater than the human mind, and I love him for it. I know that we are all one, that we must ever look to each other as our equals, each standing for the other. The flip side of my blessings is the discovery that people are weak, thoughtless, dull, immature, apathetic. Furthermore, I am basically irrelevant. I feel like I'm a genius and everybody else is mentally challenged. Do I belong to the same species?
I insist that we are the same. We must be the same person but in different circumstances. So I was heartened to learn that others likewise do feel alone, as I feel alone or God feels alone. I think this aloneness is our oneness. Others likewise feel a disconnect with the world, a deep frustration. How can we speak to that?
In recent years, given my failure with Minciu Sodas and my bankruptcy, I have focused on my own talents rather than supporting those of others. I am working closely with God, I am developing the most important truths I can say, and I am expressing them creatively through the arts. I am very glad that Laura and others appreciate my ability to lead and develop such workshops, and I think that's what I should be doing. I am grateful that I can invest myself at Imagine Englewood if... and the Lithuanian countryside to make this relevant through a culture.
I think I should be less modest and more bold. The life I live is perhaps a good way to bring out our unity. We can all know ourselves as geniuses, we can all bring that out in others and appreciate them, we can all live with utmost devotion, we can all embrace and include God, we can all insist on that. This is what I mean by a culture, a shared expectation. I am thinking this will happen more if I lift people up to my standard rather than lower myself to theirs. It is more important that I set my standard that others might strive. If each of us lives our deepest values, if each of us tackles our own questions, if each of us devotes ourselves to our dreams, if each of us faces God, then we can be one. I will speak for myself so that some day they may say, "He spoke for all of us."
I am very grateful to all in Englewood who have embraced me. Truly that is a good place for us to be real. I'm alarmed to hear that a young man at Imagine Englewood if... killed himself. A month earlier, a young man was shot dead in the alley across the street. Recently, a young man I know was arrested for carrying a gun. We're all abandoned, we all feel abandoned, in our own way. We need to be able to be ourselves so that others might, likewise.
With my art, God's Face, I'm portraying meaningful experiences in life. Not every experience is meaningful. But every experience can become meaningful. We can bring meaning to our own life and that of others, and so live forever, here and now, and bridge our life with those who came before and will come after.
I will try to portray intentionality... Any thoughts?
I also talked about our emotional responses and how they are related to our expectations. We feel:
These are all healthy emotions. For Jesus, they have to do with feeling one with everybody, anybody, somebody or nobody. What is unhealthy is if we aren't true to ourselves, if we bend to the world, and pervert our expectations, until they work against us. When we expect what we don't wish, our emotions work against us:
We should not afraid to be sad... because sadness comes from positive expectations, from expecting what we truly wish for. We should be positive.
Laura's deepest value was "being engrossed in care". A detail in which that comes out is dealing with the fear she experiences from her children walking on the edge of a concrete wall, say. This is part of her learning about love through her children, of taking care and not neglecting. We talked about her thoughts for the future, after SHoP. She'd like to find a place in Hyde Park, a house. I encouraged her to find a house for her family that could be a base for the community. I told her about Zenonas and Audrone Anusauskas's house in the Lithuanian countryside, an old Soviet collective farm tractor administration site, how they share that with the whole community, so that one person keeps cows and horses and contributes milk, others have a sawmill and contribute sawdust for fuel, others store tractor parts and help fix their cars, and others come to use the Internet or make videos, or simply stay as guests. They inspire me - I believe in how they live.