Still Learning from Mr. Rogers All These Years / by Erin King

On Sunday, July 8th, 2018, I had the pleasure of seeing the Mr. Rogers documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

I am not so deluded or so vain to place myself in the same class as Mr. Rogers, but much of what he said in segments of this documentary (and what others touched on), resonated with me.

Like Mr. Rogers, I had/have a lot of anger and was raised in a family that did not talk about ways of letting out this anger, so I turned to music to help me express the emotions that I was repressing. Like Mr. Rogers, I know what it’s like to play alone with your stuffed animals and find ways to entertain yourself because I was isolated from other children.

I too considered attending seminary, but ultimately decided that whatever I studied would still be rooted in and an expression of my own perceptions on spirituality and faith. Much of what I’m drawn to in the Bible are the moments of paradox: Ecclesiastes, the Beattitudes, expectations of the Messiah vs. reality in Jesus, David vs. Goliath, etc. The earliest spiritual element in my artwork explored ways of having materials present the interdependence between weakness and strength.

Recently, I have also been reading Brene Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness”, in which Brown mentions our understanding of belonging and when we confuse fitting in for belonging. She quotes Maya Angelou as she speaks to her understanding of true belonging existing only when you belong to yourself — not to a place or a tribe.

Brown mentions multiple times that Carl Jung held paradox as one of our greatest spiritual gifts, which I completely agree with. But this is different from binary oppositions. The dichotomy of absolutes are considered as opposing forces, set up as either/or, right/wrong. The truth that I am discovering about the spiritual gift of paradox, however, is that it’s not in the mastering of the quality which is deemed to be “good”, but recognizing that reality exists somewhere in between those two poles. What is spiritual is finding the happy medium where both qualities are held in balance — where they coexist simultaneously.

This is, above all else, the most prominent aspect of my art-making; whether I change the material I work with, the formal presentation, the aesthetic, or the words that I use to talk about the meaning of my work, this tendency toward breaking down these false dichotomies is constant.

As I’ve written about in other entries, my work involves a lot of materials, processes, and a combination of subconscious decision-making and logic-based systems that I’m inventing. It is very complex when I describe what my end goal for my project will be, and yet the actual message I am communicating to the audience is very simple, if they take the time to see and perceive, to hear and understand.

In one of the more moving scenes in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, Fred Rogers’ sons read a letter he wrote to himself expressing his impostor syndrome and self-doubt. He was always concerned about whether his project was actually accomplishing the work he set out to do. Fred’s wife added that he confided that he wondered if people got that he wasn’t just some weird guy that lived in a poorly decorated housed with tacky curtains and puppets — that his purpose was something else.

Mr. Rogers was detail-oriented, meticulously planning everything that would be in the episode. Nothing was unnecessary or filler. Rogers treated silence the same way — silence was used purposefully; there was no dead space.

This is where I most identify with Mr. Rogers. I feel my artwork is a part of my spiritual awakening and part of my calling. I feel called to speak to the importance of coexisting in community. I’m drawn to music as a vehicle to help communicate the message. I get a lot of feedback that makes me feel like people are missing the message in my work. But maybe that is because I’m communicating better to people’s emotions and their subconscious. Maybe they are getting the message, but similar to my own struggle to find the words, maybe they find themselves unable to express what my work says to them.

I also recognize that my work probably won’t be fully understood until it is seen and experienced in it’s final presentation. So as for now, I’m focusing on belonging to myself and keeping my blinders up while I complete the work at hand.

“You are only free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” — Maya Angelou