Happy end of January. Here’s what I’ve been up to this past year, what I’ve learned, and questions for 2019. Pull up a chair!
This summer, I took a two-week intensive course on theatre, ritual, and healing, taught by Hector Aristizábal, at the CUNY SPS MA in Applied Theatre. In the course, each participant went to the woods and performed a meditative ritual, then returned to the group and created theatre about what they’d found.
My experience in the woods was a turning point for me, and also a point of reference for my other work in the year.
In an opening in the trees, I found an old boulder bathed in light. I climbed up on it, lay down, and listened. After a while, I got the message, from the light, “everything is okay. You’re following your calling. You have everything you need.”
That is no small thing. You might have listened to two podcasts I guested on earlier this year, where I shared how I’ve struggled with trying to package what I do for people: coaching, photography, Man Question…what if I don’t make sense and people write me off? What if they decide I’m “too much” and don’t take me seriously? The light said, “pfff. Not a thing. Forget that and do what you’re here to do.”
As I soaked this in, my shoulders melted down my back and I settled into the contours of the rock under me. Then, suddenly, I was confronted with bittersweet memories of the all-boys summer camp I’d gone to as a teenager and then worked at for six years as a counselor. I remembered two young counselors moon-bathing topless one evening—they got so tired of saying “no homo” that one of them suggested a “blanket no homo” for the summer; I remembered massive games of capture the flag and cooling down in the lake; I remembered how I was refuge for the boys who felt alone or out of place; I remembered a boy in my cabin who left because he’d been bullied; and I remembered how alone and out of place I’d felt there, myself. I was in the closet and confused about how to connect to the men my age about my feelings—feelings of desire, and also platonic feelings of tenderness that don’t fit in the myth of mainstream masculinity.
The light bath was saying, "now that you’re feeling confident, don’t ignore these stories. Use them as your fuel for your work. Help men learn how to stop being violent and isolated and learn how to connect with each other."
I’m proud to have gotten to do that a lot this past year with Man Question. Highlights include our residency at Roanoke College, our sixth annual New Masculinities Festival, and welcoming Steve Gordon to our facilitation team. Also, just last week, Fox 5 aired an interview with us in NYC. Finally, in just a few weeks, we’ll be off to the National Association for College Activities’ annual convention in Columbus, Ohio to network with colleges and universities about combating toxic masculinity.
I mentioned that the woods meditation was also a point of reference for my other work the year. Yeah. This year it’s been easier to relax and just do the work and do it well.
Photography has grown a lot: I’ve had more portrait clients than ever, and I’ve bridged into more wedding, event, and art gallery work. I’ve also stayed on my toes about processes. I asked one client to think of the portraits we were making as a ritual, which is an approach that’s helped a lot of people in front of the camera. They politely changed the subject, so I asked what they thought about the idea. “Is that some kind of coaching thing?” they asked. Hah. I asked them instead to walk me through one of the articles they’d written, but not out loud—narrate it and keep eye contact with me through the camera. They did that, and we made some elegant shots.
In coaching, I’ve had the privilege to start with new clients and keep working with longer-term clients. It’s hard to write about what I’ve learned while maintaining confidentiality, but I can say I’ve been interested in engaging my clients’ creative practices in sessions (like making music, dancing, or drawing); building systems for accountability that reflect the client’s personality (one person’s spreadsheet is another person’s best-friend check-in); and helping clients put parts of themselves into productive dialogue (like inner critic, inner caregiver, and inner child talking through what they need).
Finally, politically, I’m very interested in how to avoid escalation and deal with conflicts thoughtfully. I interviewed my friend Olivia Harris about restorative justice in sex education, and I closely read Sarah Schulman’s Conflict is Not Abuse, including attending a small talk with the author. My thoughts are with Venezuela and, for that matter, my thoughts are with South and Central Americans who are heading north to Mexico and the US for better lives; I’m thinking about how the border wall is a bad way to try to hold on to dignity; I’m thinking about how nationalist movements in general, from the US to the UK to Turkey, are bad ways to try to hold on to dignity; I’m thinking about the conflicts in the middle east; I’m thinking about housing and gentrification in New York; and I’m thinking about how movements for equity and justice stay alive and rich.
Thank you for being a part of the journey with me. And let me know how things are in your neck of the woods.