Last month, Margaret and I facilitated Boundaries?, a workshop exploring personal space. We facilitated the first hour in silence doing a variety of exercises that explored the question, "What are the dimensions of your personal space?" Then, we debriefed for about an hour. Finally, we ended with ritual.
The workshop was provocative and moving. Participants really grappled with their own boundaries not just in relation to physical space but in relation to who they were as individuals and what things they liked or were willing to do. One participant in particular hated movement exercises, and we have multiple movement exercises in the workshop. During the debrief, she shared her discomfort and how we had created a safe environment for her to try out the exercises despite her discomfort. In the end, she still wasn't a huge fan of movement, but she said she enjoyed herself and would do it again.
As one of the facilitators I didn't really get a chance to be a participant in the workshop. Instead, I left the workshop obsessed with boundaries. The boundaries created by classes of people and who gets benefits or livable wages and who does not. The boundaries we set when we sit down at a cafe and create our circle of "things" -- notebooks, coffee, food, computer -- in order to keep others away. The boundaries of fiction and reality and the truth that resides between them.
This all came to a head on Monday, January 2nd, 2012 when I went to the Blue Danube for what I hoped would be a quiet, peaceful moment of writing. It wasn't. But it did yield an amazing story. Some of which happened. Some of which did not.
In the spirit of unclear boundaries, I will let you figure out which is which for that really is where truth resides.
He sat next to me picking the fat off the bacon screaming into his cell, "I have the numbers. I know the math on the math. Get off the fucking phone and get down here!" Then, he hung up.
He was meticulous about the fat creating a crispy mound on the side of his plate and constantly rubbing his fingers on a napkin. It was almost comical. It was also kind of maniacal when coupled with his constant ten second phone calls to various people -- Doug, Emory, Frances, Tobias, Franklin, Miguel, Travis, Ben, Tabitha, Manuel, Pete, Kristen, Carlos, Ken, Tiffany, Bonnie, Mario, Peter, Timothy -- each of which ended with "Get off the fucking phone and get down here!"
I tried ignoring his screams, and I wondered why no one said anything to him. He was obviously disturbing everyone in the Blue Danube. As the person next to him, I think everyone else expected me to say something. I chose, instead, to transcribe and critique in silence.
The clack, clack, clack of typing text messages started. And continued for another eleven minute interrupted by an occasional call that, again, ended with, "Get off the fucking phone and get down here!" It seemed he was gathering his army.
All I could think about was taking his phone and stomping on it until it clacked and rang no more.
Then, they started arriving. The woman in the burgundy knit cap whose tight black wool sweater did not fit her. The man who ordered a sangria at 8:12am and swallowed it in one gulp. The blond bearded guy wearing his "Unite Here!" t-shirt. The mother and daughter in matching rainbows. The Chinese woman whose thick, long hair touched her waist and was the color of the coffee she drank. The group of seven in matching royal blue and turquoise tie-dyed t-shirts tucked into black cargo pants cinched tight by tan leather belts.
Those and few more all gathered around the man next to me forcing me to move by the discomfort caused when sixteen people crowd around a couch that seats three.
I wanted to hate them. I really did. For the way they occupied space was unconsciously aggressive, and my notions of space were being pushed. It made me uncomfortable when all I wanted was a moment of quiet before starting my busy day.
Then, it all became clear when Tabitha arrived. She brought with he all of the signs. "We Are the 99% Paramedics DEMAND Full Health Care!"
The guy that had been next to me stood and spoke loudly to his army. "It's unfair that we paramedics are forced to pay a portion of our health care when we make up only 40% of the health care costs of the company. The managers make up the other 60% and they pay nothing. It is time to say no more! We demand better. We DEMAND full health care!"
The gathered crowd cheered in response disrupting everyone and everything in the Blue Danube. Most of the others looked annoyed. Now understanding context, I smiled.
"Off to the board meeting," yelled Tabitha. "Grab a sign on your way out!"
They all left quickly with signs in hand.
The man who I had been sitting next to was the last to leave. He left behind his plate with the mound of crispy bacon fat and a pile of tomatoes and cucumbers. I sat back in my original seat on the couch, pulled out my pen and notebook, and proceeded to clean his plate.
Ten minutes later, I left. My day was not as busy as I had expected. Maybe all I needed was a little perspective.
What pieces do you think happened? Why? What is your truth?
And...please join Margaret, Brittany Berman, and I for Moving Directions, our next 14 Black Poppies workshop on Saturday, January 21 from 10am to 12:30pm at The Happiness Institute (1720 Market Street in San Francisco).