Monday, January 16, 2012

Artwork and Scientology

I’m in Burbank, and yesterday morning I went on a doggie walk with my friend (poor phrasing, I mean we walked her dog). On my way back home I walked by an art store, one that’s intrigued me since my very first visit to LA 15 months ago. I’ve never been sure what to think about it, because on the one hand it looks kinda shady, hole-in-the-wall-esque; on the other hand, [potentially] like a great place to find deals. Because I like art. Or at least, paintings of landscapes and nature. And over the last few months I’ve been longing to buy another piece or two to hang in my living room.

So with nothing else to do this morning (Baby Jesus cried, I skipped church, not having a car to get to the one in Pasadena that I love), I decided to stop in the art store and just check it out, see what there was to see. I didn’t really expect to buy anything, but if I saw the right piece, then sure, why not?

I entered timidly, and cheerfully greeted the guy at the front desk. Michael. He welcomed me with a warm, soothing voice, asked if this was my first time to the store, to which I answered affirmatively. He offered me a drink: tea, cocoa, water; asked if I needed a restroom; then we talked for a short while, him telling me about the store, me describing my love for scenic landscapes, and eventually we made our way into a room with hundreds of canvas original paintings lying in piles around the room. One by one he went through a pile, me admiring each piece, and every now and then I’d ask, “set that one aside” for us to review later.

Before we had started looking, Michael said something that really captivated me: (voice note, so exact quote)
When you look at something, it happens immediately for you…. there’s no thinking involved. If you have to think about whether you like something or not when you’re looking at it, then you’ve spent too long looking. In other words, I’m saying if you trust your judgement, if you trust your own immediate perceptions of who you are as a being, and what works for you, that’s as good as it ever gets.
And as I asked about prices, mentioning maybe I’d need to save my pennies and come back next time I’m in town, he noted that while the store would be here, specific art pieces might not be - if I like it, I should really get it now, even if I have to put it on layaway. “Anything you like, and you leave, there’s a good chance you’re gonna lose it…. Do something about it today, whatever it is.”

Because it’s been on my mind, I found myself drawing parallels between what Michael said about art as being directly applicable to Love. I was moved.

After seeing a hundred paintings, (maybe two hundred? maybe more?), I’d selected a dozen to review: several mountain landscapes, some palm trees on a beach, a cityscape, some leopards, and a still-life of a violin. Then we stepped into their viewing gallery, complete with elegant red recliner couches and chairs for sitting back and admiring the artwork, which Michael carefully taped on a white wall illumined by gallery track lighting. I looked at six paintings at a time, eliminating them from my selection one by one. And during this, Michael brought me a cup of tea and some bread and cheese to munch on while I pondered. I’m not used to this kind of treatment! He explained this is how his parents raised him: when someone comes to your home, you offer them food, drink, bathroom, anything to attend to their needs. It’s how he was raised, and how he lives his life now. I really appreciated that.

Narrowing from 12 excellent paintings down to 1 was not easy. Of the first six (all taped on the viewing gallery wall), I eliminated two right away, not because they were bad, not by any means! But because I didn’t love them as much as the other four I was looking at. But then there were two palm tree paintings, both spoke to me differently. I’ve never been good at art critiquing, but I saw in myself how these two paintings evoked very different emotions. Both had three palm trees on the left side, and both skies were sunset, but the ocean water and land composition was different. One had rough water cresting on the beach, and the water was surrounded by land on both left and right. It made me feel comfortable, cozy, cocooned, wrapped, enveloped. Safe. The other had no land on the right side, just wide open (mostly calm) ocean waves. It made me feel uncertain, almost scared, at the same time exhilarated at the possibility. It was symbolic of my future. It also made me feel brave, like I could dive into the deep and there was nothing wrong with that. It was the same beach, the same palm trees, from two different views. Perspective made all the difference. After a lot of thinking, and mostly feeling, I eliminated the enclosed, safe-feeling one. Time to take a risk.

Michael was clever in how he helped me eliminate paintings. While I agonized over the palm trees, he asked, “well how about this [completely other] one, do you like it better or less than the palm trees.” “Well played,” I told him. Because when asked that way the answer was obvious: I loved the palm trees more, so the other painting could be dismissed. I commented that he’s clearly done this before, and he explained his role isn’t to decide for me, but to help me come to the right decision for me.

Eventually, after some easy decisions, and a lot of hard ones, I narrowed it down to three: two with mountains and the one with palm trees by the wide-open ocean. The two mountains were very similar - same artist and I suspect the same mountain, but one was light, happy (“safe”) blue, daytime colored, and the other red and orange and yellow, sunset colored, more fire-y, more exhilarating. Both were beautiful, both were very “me” and my decor.

At this point, I munched on my bread and cheese while Michael moved these final contenders to the lower half of the wall, and found wooden frames to set in front of each, so I could see how they looked.

They looked beautiful, and I wanted all three.

And while I was VERY tempted to take all three home with me, I forced myself to make a sacrifice, and I turned down the palm trees, leaving the two mountains on the wall. And then I couldn’t prune any more. I decided, if I could afford it, these two would come home with me.

Even before we’d started looking at paintings, Michael had reassured me not to worry about the cost - he described a layaway program they have, and also mentioned there might be room for negotiation on the final price. I knew with the current “liquidation sale” discounts these paintings would all be in the $150-$400 range, plus the cost of framing, so that gave me a ballpark. But in any case, I understood that it wasn’t about the money. This felt very comfortable to me, because it’s how I operate, too.

With the final two paintings selected, my guide through the art world priced them out with the same wooden frame he’d used for the demo. Once I saw the numbers, I asked if there were other framing options - he immediately jumped in, saying if I was worried about the price– I cut him off: “No, it’s not that, I actually want to get something nicer, this frame looks cheaper than what I have on my art at home.” I went into their custom framing room and found a frame that looked similar enough - deep, rich, elegant wooden - to what I had at home, and as it turns out, that choice wasn’t significantly more expensive.

With a final quote prepared, it was a little higher than I’d hoped to spend. On the plus side, because they were billing and shipping to me in Minnesota, there was no sales tax. On the down side, there was a significant shipping charge. I hemmed and hawed a little bit, then, as humbly as I could, because I knew everything was already on sale and discounted (even the framing), I asked if there was any chance they could slash the price slightly more.

Michael said “let me check”, then brought in his manager and described my situation. The manager offered me a $30 discount, which I might have taken, but I asked if he could drop it even more - I named a price, and said if he could meet it, I’d pay the whole amount right there, right then, no lay-aways required. He shook my hand and said “enjoy your art.”

Win. Two beautiful paintings, framed, delivered to my door in Minnesota. Did I mention, original paintings, not prints. Michael wrote my order number and the date on the bleed over edge of the canvas, then handed me the pen to sign my name - point being: when they arrive, I can verify these are the originals I picked out, not duplicates.

He also let me pay with two credit cards, which means I’ve now spent enough on my new American Express card to get a free flight’s worth of Delta SkyMiles bonus points, and racked up a few extra Southwest miles on my Chase Visa, to boot. If I can keep working within the system, I may never need to pay full price for a flight again.

Receipts in hand, I started toward the door. On my way past the front desk area, Michael brings me to a stand with some DVDs and pamphlets, and I see right away the DVD on the top of the pile says “Scientology”. Oh great. Such a great morning, why ruin it with this?

The situation turned out not as badly as I feared, He told me a bit about his background, growing up Jewish, and his conversion to Scientology, and along the way we shared some ill-will toward organized “religion” at large. He seemed more interested in what Scientology teaches about interacting with people, vs promoting the religion itself and trying to “convert” me. My first thought was “this makes me feel uncomfortable”, but then I asked, “Okay God, I’m in this situation, anything you’d like me to say?”

As he talked Michael cited Jesus’ saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” There came a point in the conversation where Michael said, “okay, now your turn to talk and me to listen”. This caught me off-guard, but I latched onto that verse that he’d quoted and said, “you know, Michael, you’ve talked about wanting to make up for past deeds, to earn God’s love, and brother I just want to tell you that price has already been paid; the verse you cited before, Jesus being the way and getting to the Father through Him, stop putting so much pressure on yourself, you don’t need to earn anything. God’s so proud of you, of the man you are, the kind of man who offers his guests food and drink…blah blah blah” I said more, but that’s the gist of what I remember.

I don’t know if it meant anything to him, I don’t know if he truly “listened” or was just humoring me, but he got a little teary-eyed so I’d like to believe it meant something. The words weren’t mine, and they kept coming.

At the end of the conversation I asked if I could pray for him; he consented, I did, and then left. So weird, going from learning about art (and even learning how to appreciate impressionist work), to talking about Jesus in a public storefront, and feeling comfortable doing it. I figured if he was going to “Scientologist” me, I would “Jesus” him in return. Not about conversion. That’s not up to me. It is about reminding God’s children how much they are loved. Being counter-cultural.

Drive-by ministry. This is my Calling.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Goals update for 2011-2012

Some people call them New Year's Resolutions, but because I work in a school I set my goals in summer. Let's check in and see how I'm doing (considering I've forgotten completely what I had planned to be working on this year)

Play guitar more often, even when I don't "feel" like doing it

Learn basic chords on my banjo, even if I do not become an expert

Continue working toward my CD album

Finish post-production on The Vacationers, Paperclip, and start working again on Far Away
Progress, and hopefully both Vacationers and Paperclip will be done by summer. So, "not fail".

Read at least 1 more book
Well, if audio books count, then I've read FOUR! The Hunger Games trilogy, and the Steve Jobs biography.

Let God start leading and stop trying to force it
Constant battle, but I've drawn back quite a bit and am letting come what may.

Prioritize friends over work
Yes. Definitely done this. To the detriment of myself sometimes, though.

Keep diving straight into deep questions
Hm. I've grown a tad more confident in myself in starting conversations, but maybe not so much in the area of deep questions. I'll work on it.

Explore the wonders of Netflix
Done. I have large DVD and instant queues.

Discern my calling to Los Angeles, and what I hope to accomplish
Nope. Good thing the year isn't over yet.

Be honest with myself
Yes. I am this, if nothing else.

Become a more persuasive speaker

Eat healthier and exercise, even if it's "just" going on more walks
I need to get out walking more. I wouldn't call my diet a smashing success, but small steps toward progress, perhaps.

EEK. Long way to go in the next 7 months.