This is NOT BS: Self-Expressionists Unite!
About a month ago, I was fortunate to host a friend of a friend (or FOAF) for an evening as he traveled through Chicago. He needed a place to crash before a 6am flight to Pasadena, where he and a group of like-minded individuals had created a public center for communal artistic activities – painting sessions, drum circles, yoga classes, etc. Their overall objective was to build a community where individuals could express themselves freely, to explore personal identity while connecting with others.
Needless to say, this FOAF and I had a lot to talk about. We discussed the social necessity of community, valuable now more than ever due to the alienating effects of technology and the 9-5 grind. We discussed the potency of the arts – how they can induce a meditative state of non-thinking, often leading to deep discovery. We also discussed how few places in the world use the arts as tools for self-maintenance, as opposed to “healing” or “technique.” Indeed, the two of us had been explaining the purpose of our similar organizations for so long, to fresh ears, that it was mutually refreshing to find someone else that just got it.
Now, anyone familiar with Rooted will know its central mission:
To create a safe space where people use the arts to experience themselves being free, and connect with others who are doing the same.
What they may not know, however, is the challenges Rooted has faced in providing this unique service to Chicago. One of those challenges has been finding a larger community of “self-expressionists” with whom to grow. Our founder, Shruti Sekhri, recognized a very specific need for a business that, to our knowledge, is still alone in its mission. We’ve encountered arts schools, art therapy clinics, and mental & physical wellness centers galore, but it’s become increasingly apparent that we are offering a very different service. Honestly, this challenge hasn’t been too taxing; the entire Rooted team is inspired to be on the forefront of what we consider a new movement. Every now and again, though, we do hit a snag.
Example: about 7 months ago, I had a very different encounter with a very different FOAF. Shruti, Jaci, Aliza, and I had all met for the first time and had spent the better part of a month refining what was to become our first round of artistic curriculums. Emboldened by our genuine enthusiasm for the service we would be providing, we posted the following picture and permission, encouraging our friends and fans to enjoy a simple moment of silliness. I was in no way prepared for the response one of my Facebook friends left on the photo:
I have left the poster’s name and photo off of the comment.
I remember precisely how and when I discovered this comment. I hadn’t seen it yet, but the day after it was posted, the Rooted team met to continue our work preparing for Rooted’s opening. Shruti said something like, “whose friend was it that posted on our photo?” I was horrified to discover it had come from my FOAF – someone I had met only a few times in high school, over a decade ago. I’ll never forget Shruti’s reaction. She wasn’t upset or discouraged, and her response to it, as seen above, was exceptionally welcoming and understanding. I, however, was extremely discouraged.
I’ll ignore the racial angle of the post – which I feel allowed to do, since Rooted’s founder Shruti is Indian, and because over the last 7 months I have facilitated sessions for people of every race. I’ll also ignore the word “hippie” – Rooted is totally down with love and art, if that makes us hippies, so be it. But what I won’t ignore, and what really discouraged me, was that our efforts had been called “self indulgent” and dismissed as “bullshit.” These words really penetrated me, and sent me into a strange shame spiral of self-doubt. I was terrified that I was putting time and energy into something that was irrelevant, or worse, detrimental to the well-being of those around me. Honestly, I was most worried what other people would think of me for perpetuating a service for “rich white” “self indulgent” “hippies.” That’s not something I’m down with.
I took some time to write out my thoughts and outline exactly what it was that made Rooted important. In the end I decided that even though many people don’t have the means for a self-expression session, it is no less valid a use of time and money than a cooking class or a gym membership or a movie ticket. It is just as “self-indulgent” as anything you choose to do for yourself, and because of that, it isn’t self-indulgent at all, but self-preservative. I think it reveals more about the commenter than it does our center, and ultimately our comparison to “bullshit” strengthened my convictions that what Rooted is doing holds value. As I continued to build and attend sessions, any doubts I had melted away. As I saw person after person experience meaningful, emotional realizations (myself included) I became overwhelmingly happy to be a part of it all. When I revealed my feelings about the comment to Shruti, she again exhibited nothing but warmth and encouragement, saying, “this person would probably benefit from a Rooted session as much as anyone, but if they’re not open to what we’re doing, let’s focus on those who do.”
That’s what I would like to do in this post: focus on, and more than that, reach out to those who believe in self-expression. Wherever you are, whoever you are, if you sense an urgent need for community – however ephemeral – and if you value the arts as tools for regular wellness, I’d like to hear from you. I’d love to talk with you, or better yet, invite you to Rooted to experience firsthand what we have put together. This is not an exclusionary invitation in any way – ALL ARE WELCOME! Even if you think you might be interested in discovering self-expression for yourself, let us know. If you like art, but don’t consider yourself an artist – PERFECT! COME ON DOWN!
I know there must be so many of us out there. The conversation I had last month with my new friend only confirmed it. Perhaps we could plan an event together, or compare notes on the efficacy of specific artistic activities. Maybe we could put together a special round of sessions just for you and your FOAFs. Whatever we come up with, I am positive that such a union would benefit not only the two of us, but every future Rooted participant. As optimistic as it may sound, I think we may even have a chance of opening the minds of people like this commenter, who think that creative time spent with the self holds no value. I’d at least like to try.
If you’re open to us, you can reach out via our e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can comment on this post. Either way, you will be received with open arms.
And that’s my spiel this month. Thank you, as always, for your time. I look forward to talking to you soon. Until then, all the best.
Frederick “Freddie” Ford – Rooted Facilitator