We started out as normal with our three five-minute free-writes/draws. This then lead us into pondering the proverb, which began with defining impermanence as "things that are not permanent; temporary". As we discussed impermanence by sharing examples of "things that are not permanent" both Ben and Leonard had a very deep revelation: nothing that we perceive is permanent. It was a moment of clarity, one that profoundly affected both of them and changed perception about life.
I then had Ben and Leonard ponder "What is meaningful to you" through another timed write/draw. I felt it was important that Leonard and Ben ground meaningfulness in personal experience. Through this grounding in person, it becomes easier to finding what is meaningful to others.
We shared our responses as we started walking to the Mission Town Hall. The conversation started slowly focusing on personal things that hold meaning. As the conversation moved to "How does it make meaning," it became more difficult for Ben and Leonard to understand exactly where the conversation was going or what I was looking for in relation to meaning-making. So I decided to stop us right there on the sidewalk.
I pointed out a building, and I asked them "What is that?"
They both responded, "A building."
I asked them to be more descriptive.
They replied, "A brick building."
Then, I asked, "How do you know it is a brick building?"
And that is when the conversation deepened. Ben and Leonard started thinking about what cues told them that it was a brick building. It was sight. It was personal history. It was education and experience. It was taking in the small elements as well as the larger picture. It was all of those things combined that told them it was a brick building. At some point Leonard responded, "I see what you are getting at. You are asking us to really examine things."
Feeling successful, I then introduced the next exercise. We were going to walk in complete silence for the next 15 to 20 minutes. I acknowledged that walking in silence with people is awkward. I then encouraged them to embrace that awkwardness. I then asked them to simply observe what is around them and find things during the walk that were meaningful.
We arrived at Dolores Park, and I invited them to sit on a bench and pull out their journals. Again, I asked them to free write/draw about "What along the walk did you notice that was meaningful to you?" They grabbed their pens and journals and madly started writing/drawing right there in the park.
After the timed write/draw, we continued our walk to Everett Middle School where the Town Hall was being held. And we also chatted. Leonard mentioned that he was starting to see San Francisco differently as a result of these exercises. Ben spoke about thinking critically and finding deeper meaning in ordinary things. Again, I felt a little proud that the lesson was sinking in.
We arrived at Everett Middle School and the cafeteria was buzzing with people, ideas, prayers, fears, and hopes. I instructed Leonard and Ben that I wanted to them to watch the audience, to find the things that were meaningful to the audience and not to them personally. I wanted them examining the situation around them through creative and critical eyes.
And the Town Hall provided incredibly rich moments to witness what was meaningful to the audience. Violence impacts people's lives in very direct, concrete, and emotional ways. The increasing violence throughout The Mission brought elders, healers, business owners, artists, youth, migrants, and natives together in a single space. It was a somber moment, and it was also a moment of action. It was a moment to ask: "What are YOU doing to solve violence in our community?" And it was a moment to move from the personal to the collective through creating a five-year strategic plan to reduce violence in The Mission.
We left the Town Hall early because I wanted to give Leonard and Ben some time to reflect on the entirety of their experience. It was also Creative Internship day, so they had to submit a work-in-progress to be published on this blog.
We walked over to a nearby cafe, and I set my clock for 20 minutes. I instructed them to respond to the question, "Why is the conversation on creating a violence response plan for The Mission meaningful to the audience in the room?” I told them to just do.
As the bell rung on my phone, both Ben and Leonard had created incredible works. They are works that contain both the pain and the hope of the audience. I will let you make meaning of their work for it speaks for itself.