Election cycle is in full swing, and Julia is totally checked out. She is currently taking part in an artist-in-residency program in upstate New York. She is tasked with the completion of her year-long screenwriting project, a feature-length WW2 movie set in the Calvados region of Nazi-occupied France. In even a context of isolation and focus, business operations for Weenta Productions, LLC website as well as community projects avert Julia's attention.
You are invited to read about Julia's current experience as an artist-in-resident at SUNY Binghamton's cooperative household: The Genome Collective.
"Do we even need a leader?," Captain Josef Häger asks his small battalion of young and old German and Soviet volunteer soldiers. "No!" is this small army's resounding answer.
Ahh! It’s not that simple. While the men of German coastal Division 716 may not require a leader, they do need a facilitator. In the months leading up to the Allied Invasion, Captain Josef Häger plays this part. Captain Häger facilitates the impossible alliance of German and Soviet soldiers. Captain Häger also instructs his men to carry out an impossible objective: to stop the invasion at the water's edge. The alliance is messy because the circumstance is complex: full of feelings and differences of opinion. The objective is lost. Circumstance, however, does not determine Division 716's fate. Vulnerability determines fate. The facilitator, Captain Josef Häger, in this instance, fails to recognize his as well as his the group's vulnerability. Failure to recognize vulnerability spells out sorrow. Perhaps, our Captain, our facilitator, our new age leader will redeem himself before the movie "fades out."
Just as our protagonist, Captain Josef Häger, is complex. Every single person is. Each of us is full of feelings, and it is my proclamation that each of us is most beautiful when when she or he is able to be squishy.
Squishiness (pronounced "squishiíness") is vulnerability. It is tenderness. It is a sensitive tum. Squishiíness is also a conversation about feelings, emotions. I want to make a kind of heady claim, now.... Squishiíness is the intentional communication of one’s vulnerability.
The three days’ confluence of Point A and Genome Collective made for some squishiness. Though not enough. It is important to note that in just about every context or conversation I find myself, the focus is never "squishií” enough or never strongly focused on feelings, emotions, and the vulnerabilities therein. Before I riff too hard on squishiíness, let me figure myself within the time and space of Point A’s three-day visit.
As some philosophers do (phenomenologists, actually) and the more ought to do, let subjectivity be my starting point. Subjectivity, here, refers the personal perspective of each individual, in which an individual’s personal experience as well as unique set of circumstances give rise to her subjectivity. Spoiler alert: subjectivity will be my ending point, too.
I arrived at Genome Collective, 65 Park Avenue, Binghamton, New York, a few days before Point A. My arrival entailed 2 intentions: 1) visit special friends; 2) and even more strongly felt, an intention to finish a year-long screenwriting project. Genome granted me so much hospitality. My stay manifested in the form of an artist-in-residency. Be it congenial and rather informal, provisions exceeded expectation and were quite lush: a bedroom with a gold key and walls painted a comforting, dark-cherry pink; a large temple space where the Genome Collective members granted me uninterrupted solitude; and finally a sense of household enthusiasm for my screenplay project. The key thing was that everybody left me alone.
As such, I did not participate in the first day-long Point A workshop. I acknowledge that perhaps the squishiíness and tenderness that I feel I missed and am now trying to promote could have been in full expression then. Who knows? I don’t know. Perhaps another blog post will mention it.
I came into Point A workshop only on the second day.
It was a Sunday, July 24 in the afternoon. Genome’s temple, i.e. my luxurious provisional workspace, was hollering at me, “hurry up, hustle over here, and get going on the damn thing. You only have one more scene. Girl, it’s the movie’s final scene; it’s like…it’s like… it’s already been written (except it hasn’t and still hasn’t. It is 3:44 pm e.s.t., Thursday, July 28).” “I’m on my way, Temple,” I yelled in my head as I tiptoed around a long breakfast table full of communards and scientists. I needed to grab a big bag of whole papaya fruit, my work day’s snack attack-age/sustenance. It was the last chore before heading out. I felt concentrated, that was, until Ian’s voice interceded. Ian is a research biologist at SUNY Binghamton, whose last name I cannot recall and whose context as well as job title I very likely have wrong. Ian along with the rest of the long table (or array of tables shoved together with stacked milk crate functioning as chairs, et. all) was interested in the question: how can we monitor the resilience of intentional communities, like Genome Collective, Cambia, Acorn, Twins Oaks (those being the ones represented at the time)?
When happening upon such a conversation, all prior commitments dissolve. Gil, Patsy, Telos, Maximus, David, Ian, GPaul, Rachael and I made up the conversation. ("Patsy" refers to Paxus, whose name will be misspelled from here on out. The misspelling accords to the phonemic expression my ears heard throughout Point A's three days at Genome Collective.)
The conversation was alive. Every single spot at the table housed an earnest intelligent human. My host, good friend/Genome Collective member, Maximus Thaler’s giddiness reverberated onto me while David, Max’s dissertation advisor at SUNY Binghamton, affected me with concrete optimism and insight regarding the bridges between biology, empirical research, and intentional communities. We brainstormed metrics, specific empirical questions, and referred to relevant social psychology experiments. The table referred to me as a “communard,” someone who works to manifest and to cultivate intentional communities. The Point A-ers’ pointedness about this wholly new term - “communard,” which kept sounding to me like “communartist,” paired with their noble conviction about income-sharing swerved my attention. Yet, inasmuch as the conversation excited the long table of people, it also felt aimless.
Now, let me explain. I appreciate a bit of aimlessness.
I even consider aimlessness to be an imperative quality for conversation. Aimlessness offers in-between space. In-between space is where subjectivity slides, squirms and/or wiggles her way into the conversation. Subjectivity, as I refer to it here, is the expression of emotions; feelings; mindful senses like confusion, disinterest; also, sensitivities and vulnerabilities; oh and bodily sensations like attraction, fantasy, boredom, day-dreams, desires to be present and/or to be elsewhere.
For all of Sunday afternoon’s aimlessness, though, the conversation never got to feelings nor subjectivity. The men were too engrossed in objectivity, seeking its possibility. Not even a smidge of squishiíness got expressed. (Another contextual note: work priorities curtailed my participation in Sunday’s Point A workshop, conversation on in-come sharing. Re: the hypothetical blog post to describe July 24’s evening workshop.) The conversation eventually voided out. Moreover, my weekend with Point A ventured not once into the squishy, milky feminine realm of feelings and vulnerability.
To prompt this conversational space, one must really embrace the individual perspective, the subjective one. It’s also important to know that rationalism is not curtailed in such a conversation.
That is to say, embrace subjectivity. That is my point, my battle cry. This battle cry resonates even (and actually most especially) in conversations regarding objectivity, scientific research, empirical questions, computational theory, la…la…laaaaa… whatever and the like. To embrace subjectivity and to prompt a conversational space about feelings, emotions, and vulnerabilities that is (yes) still very rational, I ask questions like: how does your body feel right now? what feelings do you notice in proximity to me, or with me when I say such and such thing? and on.
This form of conversation is called “circling”. In circling, the general goal post is to notice our individual selves/bodies in proximity to others and vice-versa. Circling is related to SocialPro, a methodology for effective group communication and group/individual growth that Ian presented to all of us, Point A/Genome Collective/interested compatriots, after dinner, Sunday. Social Pro promotes the noticing and eventual recognition of one’s feelings both positive and negative in the name of attaining goals. In this sense, SocialPro is methodology for effective/production communication and cooperation.
Both circling and SocialPro entail the recognition of both one’s own as well as the group’s vulnerabilities. I want to apply this precondition to conversation. Conversation, put generally and simply. I think the recognition of one’s vulnerability is a precondition to conversation. Martha Nussbaum, philosopher-dynamo extraordinaire, describes the recognition of one’s vulnerability as painful. Yes, it is difficult. But, even more so, it is extremely critical for resilient people and intentional communities. Nussbaum also goes a step further with regard to vulnerability. She states that the painful process of recognizing one’s vulnerability is a precondition for an ethical life. “To be a good human being,” she is quoted as saying, “is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered.” This shattering, my own spontaneous, poetic mind thinks, gives way to the emergence of squishiíness. Namely, Nussbaum’s “shattering” points toward squishiíness.
Let’s associate this “shattering” and the vulnerability therein with subjectivity, or let’s just draw a direct correlative line between those two things. I do this because Gil and Patsy fixate on biases, trying to figure out their own biases, and my direction to them and to whomever reading this is to not fixate on biases but rather to embrace subjectivity. Subjectivity is implicit in everything. Therein, so is biases. This explains why Gil and Patsy’s fixation was so much. It played out as a comedy, “you are bias to unclean dishes because of your own bias about diluted dish soap….” The conundrum is that the word “bias” draws a negative connotation. Bias often refers to something a person must realize and overcome. Therein, a fixation on “bias” is a fixation on a negative. So I say, we must reframe Gil and Patsy’s fixation on “bias” as their embrace of “the subjective.” It reasonable to say that one can overcome one’s biases. On the other hand, considering subjectivity as something to overcome is fallacious. Again, subjectivity is implicit to our being human. My reasoning is that an embrace of “the subjective” is an opportunity at self-knowledge, more specifically a chance at revelation in regard to one’s personal bias. There, thinking positively, we are back on track and more able to thrive, cultivate, and manifest intentional communities.
In the same way that we just recognized an embrace of “the subjective.” Now, let’s recognize: intentional communities cannot erase vulnerability, hard feelings, illness, disability, what have you. We can embrace those things. Let’s go ahead and celebrateall that jazz, all that relates to individual and group vulnerability. I say forge forward into the aimlessness, decide to visit that river island as a knucklehead crew, venture through the Susquehanna rapids, hoard your fruit, jam the house knife into your papaya again and again, and yes defer the screenplay’s completion to another day and another and another.
Subjectivity and papaya are necessary and sufficient conditions for a healthy, prospectively resilient intentional community.