Artist Meetup Blog Entry 3

March 2024

In preparation for this month’s meetup, I meditated on the interconnectedness of grief and joy and the way that relationship appears in our perception of impermanence and improvised collaboration. The thoughts and exercises I chose for our meeting were inspired by my own recent, personal relationship to grieving—which is only possible because of the profound joys I experience in this world.

Before I continue, permit me to define grief. I often use grief and mourning together, the former being the state of being and the latter being the act that takes place. We grieve loss and change, and we find that seated in our bodies through the process of mourning. Perhaps these distinctions are arbitrary, but I find that having terms to describe how my emotions rest in my body is important to gain a deeper connection between my mind and my body. You could choose to use different words or create different markers to identify your mind-body relationship, and I invite you to do so! There is no template for drawing a map of your own being. 

You may notice in this entry something different than my normal recap of the day’s events. Rather, here I am interested in sharing a snapshot of the process that goes into preparing the atmosphere for our events.

I’ve needed to gather more frequently, with more confidence, with the intention of sharing in visible grief and joy. Our world is complicated and heavy and also full of such wonder. To fully experience the world, I need to be witnessed mourning and revering the world, and I need to witness others doing the same.

Many years ago, I was taught a lesson by my dear friend and fellow community organizer and artist-activist Alejandro Rodriguez that I take with me wherever I go.

It was in hearing the echo of Alejandro’s words that I have decided we must elevate our monthly meeting space:

Lead through vulnerability.

Some of you may be familiar with our sibling organization Queer Headed. Their organizers—Meech, Mark, and Claire—have been present at many of our artist meetups since the meetups’ inception. Even if you’ve never met them, you would recognize them in my guiding principles and organizational practices because their team and I are deeply aligned in ethos. And because I am a proud member of their community.

Queer Headed’s programming creates something magical, a series of portals to temporary alternative worlds in which their members can rest, rejuvenate, and revel together. Queer Headed builds spaces in which people can join and imagine a future together.

Last week, a member of the Queer Headed community, Jake Newman, passed away unexpectedly. I’d like to share Queer Headed’s words in the wake of the community’s loss:

“We don’t really know where to begin and I think it’s best to start by saying thank you for allowing us to bear witness to your narrative, thank you for showcasing your queerness unapologetically, and thank you for your service. You struggled and knowing your suffering has been halted is closure. For those unaware, Jake Newman was an integral part of Queer Headed; a person we considered family. You have been through all of this with us from the fantasy which is now Queer Headed, to having a dream and no idea of how to start a non-profit, to setting up and taking down events, to making us smile when we were frustrated, to influencing the addition of Drag to programming, and most importantly believing in us NO MATTER WHAT… even irrationally. You will always be remembered for this Jake, we love/loved you unconditionally and with positive regard.

Jake passed away on Saturday 3/2/24 from substance abuse related causes. We have never seen you more happy than in the moments of your pure and explicit queer expressions. Queer Headed’s entire purpose is to support queer people who are also seeking a sober lifestyle; we are so grateful to have been able to provide this to you in the past year. We love you, will always remember you, and feel that we will see you again every time we radicalize queerness. To the Newman family and the recovery community we are so sorry for your loss. Words can’t make this feel real, but know that we are here to support in any way and fashion.”

We carry with us our community wherever we go. We share in grief and joy through our gathering, our sharing, our vulnerability, and then we weave our memories into the fabric of our being and carry them forward as parts of us.

Jake and I share a name. Though I didn’t have the chance to get to know him very well, the two of us joined over discussing identity and our commitment to community, radical joy, and pure unfettered artistic expression. I will carry Jake with me, as Queer Headed has so profoundly put it, every time I radicalize my queerness.

Jake was intent on becoming a fellow “Jacob,” too, embracing that version of our name—he told me that he had started introducing himself as “Jacob” with more frequency, with more confidence. To the both of us, “Jake” and “Jacob” hold different energies, and, maybe different from some other nicknames or shortened names, the two feel like they have their own personalities: “Jake” is maybe more playful, “Jacob” is maybe more wise. There is no definitive answer. It’s just a feeling. But it is something we searched to decode together.

Jake and I spoke about the artist meetups, too. I told him about you with so much pride, that you who join me there each month enliven the space, that you make me feel safe and free to experiment, free to share in vulnerability. I told him I am proud of how much ownership you have taken over the meetings, how I feel confident that the meetings will carry on because you all carry them with you wherever you go. He was excited about our gatherings, excited to join.

As the SOAC Artist Meetup community, you were not afforded the chance to meet Jake Newman directly, but you must know that he met you because you travel with me wherever I go, and you must know that he travels with me, too. Jake’s impact will be felt forever in the fabric of the relationships we make together in our community. We will honor Jake through our radical expression.

I have been yearning to move together, to explore how we physically hold our emotions. For this meetup, I was thinking about the many ways we catalyze spaces through our movement together. I was wondering how I hold myself these days, and feeling the need for a mirror by way of community.

I’d like to share a few excerpts from a chapter of a text I have been reading, “Creating a Temporary Alternative World” from The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker, which found its way into conversation during our March meeting:

“I began noticing the invitations a few years ago—invitations I personally received and ones people showed me. In some ways, they were conventional, asking people to a dinner, a conference, or a meeting. But they contained an unfamiliar, even jarring ingredient: rules for the gathering…. It took me time to understand that what these gatherings signified was not a doubling down on etiquette but a rebellion against it. In the explicitness and oftentimes the whimsy of these rules was a hint of what they were really about: replacing the passive-aggressive, exclusionary, glacially conservative commandments of etiquette with something more experimental and democratic” (pp. 103-104, Riverhead Books, 2018).

“In a rules-based gathering, the behaviors are temporary. Whereas etiquette fostered a kind of repression, gathering with rules can allow for boldness and experimentation. Rules can create an imaginary, transient world that is actually more playful than your everyday gathering. That is because everyone realizes that the rules are temporary and is, therefore, willing to obey them…. If etiquette is about the One Right Way, pop-up rules make no such claims. They are free of the ethnocentric, classist pretensions of etiquette, because the rules they enforce are made-up. Their impermanence is a sign of their humility” (pp. 109-110, —).

Etiquette can root its way into how we hold emotion in our bodies, how we allow or disallow ourselves to mourn, how we restrain ourselves from crucial sorts of togetherness. In contrast, there are beautiful ways to collectively engage with movement that allow us to create a “temporary alternative world,” ways of listening and responding, improvising, allowing for change and failure and mutation—all elements of life itself. These are what I feel so committed to bringing into our meeting space.

Permit me one last quote, this time from Christopher Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building, a text that is rarely out of my arm’s reach these days:

“[T]his seeming chaos which is in us is a rich, rolling, swelling, dying, lilting, singing, laughing, shouting, crying, sleeping order. If we will only let this order guide our acts of building, the buildings that we make, the towns we help to make, will be the forests and the meadows of the human heart” (p. 15, Oxford University Press, 1979).

When the event began, all the planning that went into a movement workshop was immediately sidelined when it became clear to me that that was not what was wanted for our meeting on that day. This sort of thing happens! It’s necessary to stay limber, to realize that we can always return to ideas in the future, but forcing an idea breaks the sanctity of the gathering space.

Instead, we discussed. We sat around the table and talked and talked and talked. And that, in and of itself, was beautiful. We witnessed one another. It was a table of folks leading through their vulnerability together. It was magnificent. It was healing. And it was just the beginning.

I have saved my movement workshop for another day. We will get to explore this soon, and in every gathering moving forward, I promise you, we will see one another.We deserve to experience each other, to feel that we are seen and heard, to feel recognized fully. We deserve to mourn together. It is healing to have a place to rest. It is necessary to share in both laughter and tears.

Our Artist Meetup series is supported by New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a nonprofit that funds initiatives to benefit the State’s civic life and meet the evolving information needs of New Jersey’s communities. A first-in-the-nation project, the Consortium reimagines how public funding can be used to address the growing problem of news deserts, misinformation, and support more informed communities.