With a few friends, walk through a neighborhood or village you’ve never walked through and that you perhaps consider dangerous or weird or that you just don’t know much about. Meet at least three people who live or work in this neighborhood or village. Invite them to speak about what they love about their neighborhood or village. You must begin by crossing one bridge or overpass or crossable something – when you have crossed it, you officially become an apprentice hero! Mark the occasion with splendid subtle pomp!
Why? Because at some point in a hero’s adventure, heroes cross thresholds into new worlds, new worlds which must then be made their own. In other words, heroes expand their hearts to integrate new worlds.
Mrak Hall and I had our history. In the spring of 2010 I marched upon her as if to overturn the very cornerstones of our university. In the rain, “Whose University? Our University!” was our rallying call. And I thought myself a hero for standing beside the free student-body, without even considering the humanity of the preexisting community. Who was inside? What was the Mrak community other than a house for our symbolic figurehead? And what did they love?
This spring, I return to the intimidation that is Mrak as part of my hero’s journey. With an open mind, without subjecting or objecting, without condemning or condoning; what is it that these people love about Davis?
To begin this adventure I started from the Art Building, and found myself in the shadow of Robert Arneson’s ever-gazing Egghead. In a state of calm, I meditated against its brass body, at the forefront of a new threshold. To celebrate, I took off my shoes and walked skin on grass to honor the life beneath my feet. When I reached the edge of the mall, back on the combat boots went. The monument to bureaucracy had never been so estranged; as I told myself I would be forgetting what it stood for to see what its tenants loved. Looking now at its five stories I realized I had been here before in a dream -or rather in someone else’s dream- as I reimagined Mathew Barney’s Cremaster 3. Only time would tell if the five stories of the Guggenheim correlated to the five stories of Mrak.
Ground Floor. As I approached the front desk, the two student receptionists greeted me with smiling eyes. After exchanging hellos, they found themselves answering the question: What do you love about Davis? Dumbstruck the young man responded with, “the people,” his female counterpart responded with, “my boss.” The women in the cubicles behind them gave me an odd stare and had a laugh at the awkward exchange. After a quick quarrel between the two receptionists, they turned to each other and agreed, “I love my coworkers.” Expecting me to leave or ask more questions, I decided to take the elevator to the second floor.
Second Floor. When I arrived at the next layer, there were no desk attendants to be found, so I waited until I ran into someone. A petite woman walking towards the elevator told me –in a thick Cantonese accent- “the faculty.” With this response I was lead to realize, Davis meant Mrak to the people I has approached there.
Third Story. Rising to the next level, someone had decided to reinstate the desk receptionists. This time an elderly woman, comfortable lounging in a pink blazer exclaimed, “Sorry to say, I just love everything!” But what struck me was how she sounded rehearsed, as if this odd question was a standard during faculty training, and she knew how to play her part well. Well, I wasn’t convinced. I needed sincerity, so my journey continued.
Book Four. Up and up we went, the baroque elevator and I. It’s gold railings sliding down to dark green granite floors that reflected the burled black walnut walls. Doors opened and a man rushed by. Maybe he could tell me what he loved about Davis. In an impatient and matter of fact reply, he said, “the bike paths,” and as he turned the bend I could see why.
Book 5: Strange Luxury. Soft light shown above a spread of leather furniture and rugs, of the likes I had only seen from 1% windows in The City. Business attire, pomp and circumstance were in the air. This receptionist happened to be on the phone. After waiting a minute, she attended to my presence. Same question. But this time it yielded a strikingly different reply. And I quote, “Sugar Daddy’s is what its all about in Davis!” Amongst the luxurious apex of our administrative building, amongst the big shots on campus, and the velour of the soft golden lights, I finally heard some intent. And what irony spilled from her lips. Sugar Daddy’s, Sugar Daddy’s! What you love about Davis is a cupcake establishment, harking on a term that signifies a paternalistic pimp, as we find ourselves in the gentry of our Chancellor’s wake. What a dream I had indeed found myself in.
Walking out the door, I decided to ride the elevator one last time, but this time it felt more akin to Inception. As an employee took me down to the Basement, I thought about what kind of Journey I was in fact on. What had love become and had the Mrak of today proven my younger-self wrong?
Poorly lit with low ceilings, the Basement was another world away. As Charon and I left the vessel to stumble upon the realm of six feet under, I wanted to get the hell out of their in a manner of speaking, so I confronted the first poor soul I found. In the shade of a decrypted wall lingered a bearded man nearly my height. Casually I asked him, what is it you love about Davis? His response: It pays my bills.
In the age of presidents and democracy it seems archaic to hear the terms chancellor and regents. John Stewart of the Daily Show, might have put it best when he alerted the world to our community of Davis in lieu of our chancellor’s Pepper spraying incident. But where does that put Mrak? After considerable time with the community of our administrative building, I found some of my perceptions had indeed changed. My hero’s journey led me across the six levels of a story that each held their own unique understandings of communal love. From the proximity based to the all encompassing, from the luxurious to the dependent, the small sample size of people I approached -without warning- seemed to fit their situations. And like the levels of a surreal game, maybe they too were apart of their surroundings more than I can ever truly know. But what I do know, is that in my hero’s Journey of crossing a threshold to reveal multiple truths, ideas of community itself became redefined. And Love, a very human understanding, took on multiple forms; the most notable being situational in nature.
So where did I go from there? I honored my sitters and photographed (the now) less intimidating structure of Mrak, took up my pen and began to write down my experiences. But don’t take it from me, rather; seek it for yourself.
Here you can see me contemplating my shadow as I cross the pedestrian bridge over highway 99 (going from Curtis Park to Oak Park). My shadow represents for me my ignorance of the Oak Park Community, my Oak Park blind spot, my Oak Park deficit disorder, which, with the threshold crossing of this mission, I am trying to really see into and begin to transcend.
A sign of things to come as we crossed the threshold into Oak Park
The bridge itself — and some of those on the mission watching the traffic whoosh under
What three or more (and there were more!) people loved about Oak Park:
Trees, shade, squirrels, people, McClatchy Park, the Farmers Market, the community’s historic nature and diversity, its strong sense of community, its Little League, its rebirth, and that it’s a self-aware community that’s growing progressively more self-aware.
Here’s a little glimpse of an Oak Parkians beautiful front yard garden.
Mission 13: Images from my adventure with Andrew, Robin, Gavin, Roxanne and Ren in Oak park
The smell of star jasmine pervaded the street.
Stopped to rehydrate at a corner market which sold…. a little of everything.
lots of children playing in the neighborhood.
Here is the corner market photo.
And this place of prayer summed up my feelings of the area after talking with the locals. In one word – acceptance.