Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.
~ Soren Kierkegaard
I drove into Lake Lure, North Carolina from the south under a monochrome grey sky feeling like I was searching for something. I wound my way around the micro inlet communities where everyone seemed to have a private dock. Mostly, the place seemed barren, but only until I hit the two blocks of downtown area near the entrance of Chimney Rock State Park.
I was having a hard time finding a place to park Clementine, and almost gave up and kept driving except… I didn’t. I pulled over to give myself time to think and to let the annoying tailgater clear away from my bumper. When the traffic passed I looked up to discover that I was sitting right across the street from an intriguing hand-painted ambulance.
I didn’t immediately embrace this serendipitous experience. I had once dated an artist who initially seemed normal – or as normal as a contemporary multi-media artist can be. Within a few months he had a severe paranoid schizophrenic break, and he never fully recovered from it. His art looked like the art on the ambulance and I sat for a long time recalling things I didn’t want to remember.
Still, I grabbed my camera and decided to get a closer look. That is how I met Brother Rob Seven. I’d made my way around the Armageddon Art Ambulance twice when Rob approached holding a fresh cup of coffee, smiling a smile he’d probably smiled thousands of times before. Expecting questions that he’s probably answered hundreds and hundreds of times. But, those questions didn’t materialize. Instead, somehow we started talking about creating vacuum space in our lives by purging stuff and the dynamics of empty space and getting rid of things we think we need, but that we really don’t. I think we were both intrigued by a conversation that took on its own life, pulled forward by its own need to create itself. Weird, since we were talking about basically uncreating things…
Rob said that he’d had the golden babydoll head crowned monstrosity for a decade, and thought he was ready to jettison it to see what would materialize in its place. We talked of possibilities and he mentioned the idea of a monastery out of the blue (or I mentioned it… Well, honestly, I know it had to be one of us…) . I told him about my experience at Mt. Shasta Abbey in northern California and the brief consideration I’d given to abbey life myself.
I told Rob that I wasn’t willing to give up sex or my hair, but that I’d learned a great deal about myself and what attracted me to life in an abbey. It turns out, I told him, I really just liked peace, and I also enjoyed hanging out with monks. I happily discovered that I was welcome to visit Mt. Shasta Abbey anytime, and to hang out with the monks as often and for as long as I liked. I didn’t need to take the drastic step of becoming a monk to do that. I was never pressured or expected to “become” anything other than I already was. They said they liked the “non-monk” me. So, I came when I felt like I needed to be there. I left when I felt I needed to go. I peeled eggs, and potatoes and carrots in the kitchen. I meditated for hours in the temple. And then I went home… peaceful. Happy. Feeling loved and accepted.
Rob’s face relaxed as he considered what I’d just said. I noticed that I actually liked this man. He wasn’t cloaking anything. He wasn’t behaving like a goofy assed actor. He was standing in front of me with his eyes open and clear, talking to me about real things like creating living, open space as its own entity, a thing of value. I hadn’t really even planned to talk about Mt. Shasta Abbey, which I consider a fairly personal subject. It just blurted itself out through my mouth when Rob mentioned the idea of “becoming” a monk. It even seem off topic when it came up. But, I could tell by the look on his face that this fragment of conversation meant something to him. That it would be on the edge of his mind, until it didn’t need to be anymore.
We talked more of art’s ability in creating dynamic experience. I was listening to Rob intently knowing that this was the reason I was drawn to come back to Lake Lure, to wade through the New Year tourist traffic and my trepidation of having a sincere conversation with another potential lunatic. Its the kind of conversation where everything else blurs and time both speeds up and slows down simultaneously.
Eddie Cabbage didn’t know when he slowed his car and leaned out his window that he stumbled into such a strange moment. He seemed like just another tourist enamored with Rob’s painted art project, and who would be content with holding up a dorky thumbs up and driving on. Apparently I was wrong. Eddie and Rob were acquainted from the Asheville art scene and Eddie is what is called a Poet Busker – an artist specializing in creating poetry on demand on his antique typewriter. Eddie parked his car and bustled over to greet his friend. And the magical moment woke up.
I stood back and watched the two conversing, reminding myself that this experience was priceless and unique, and not to mourn its passing. I didn’t really know how to disengage from it. So, I just kept stepping away. I felt blessed and felt pretty sure our paths would cross again someday.
As I returned to Clementine I mentally took note of what it was that Rob had said that made so much sense in that moment. I realized that it was the idea of intentionally creating open space as a thing of value. Of releasing possessions that we collect to protect us against being destitute, when, in our aging years, its actually the releasing of things that creates open mental space, freeing us to use that new territory to explore new thoughts and new ideas.
Yes, I decided, I liked Brother Rob Seven quite a lot. But, even more, our exchange reminded me of what the Mt. Shasta monks had taught me about my own non-monk self. I liked me too.
Additional Note: 1.3.14
I almost never add on to blog posts, or articles, but I do have something else to say about meeting Rob, and his Emerge-N-See Art Ambulance:
I mentioned that I was wary of approaching the ambulance because of the disturbing memories it elicited from my past. In retrospect, I see that was a huge part of why I am grateful for running across Rob and his creation. The ambulance gave me the chance to venture back in my memory to something that horrified me and that I had shoved away and kept at distance. The ambulance beckoned me to “emerge-n-see” what would happen if I just took a few steps toward that nightmare.
I also mentioned that I initially thought my former boyfriend was “normal.” That isn’t an accurate or fair statement. What is accurate is that I thought that even in the midst of his creativity, that he was sane. I realize this is a very sensitive subject, and one I plan to explore much deeply for myself. For now, suffice it the say that I don’t have the capacity to expose myself on a day-to-day basis with very real, dark, knuckle grating paranoid schizophrenic psychosis. I don’t like where I must go in an attempt to reach and communicate with the clinically insane. It was a part of myself that I was introduced to that I have been unable to reconcile. Very seldom do I give up. But, I gave up.
I remember sitting in the corner when I was a little girl and reading (and rereading) the Time Life Book on the Mind. I was particularly drawn to the section that showed insane people chained to walls. It made my heart hurt. (Really, when I looked at those pictures, and later, when I could read the captions and articles, my heart literally hurt.)
Then, later, I found myself in the midst of that nightmare, immersed in a relationship with a man who moved in and out of recognizing me. He had several guns in the house, and made altars out of jewelry (mine), doll parts and foil in order to build a vehicle for escape and space travel. I left when I no longer felt safe, and when I felt my own sanity slipping. I brought food and clothes to him, but I did not stay. He eventually moved into the Veterans Domociliary, into their pscyh ward. I took him some art supplies and some food. But, he was only slightly closer to lucidity than when I’d last seen him.
I told him that I was coming east to work on a documentary project. And for a moment his eyes cleared and took on a desperate pleading look. “Please take me with you,” he begged, his voice breaking with emotion. In that moment I felt like I’d failed him. And, in my own preservation, I was about to fail him again – knowingly.
“I can’t take you with me. I don’t know how to take care of you.” I told him. He slumped back in his chair, like a child. I bent over, and kissed the back of his hand, and left.
As I walked around Rob’s Emerge-N-See Ambulance I felt the little girl in me peeking around the corner. And when Rob walked across the road with his coffee and clear blue eyes, I felt safe. Art does not have to equate to insanity. I was invited to consider new perspectives. New intellectual territory and heart land. I just don’t have to carry them all as my own if they don’t resonate with my soul.