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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Learn Earn Return

Look Into Me, acrylic and oil crayon on canvas with original poetry, 48"x36", 2001, Stuart Sheldon

Look Into Me, acrylic and oil crayon on canvas with original poetry, 48″x36″, 2001, Stuart Sheldon

Life in three words.


This is how it’s supposed to go. As children, we drink knowledge for the long, sweaty trek ahead. Once our minds and hearts are hydrated, we suit up and hit the trail for a couple decades, hopefully ascending to the peaks of our choice. And, once at or near the summit, we share the nuts and berries collected to leave the trail and fellow hikers a little better than we found them.

Granted, I’ve still much to learn and am hustling to earn. But, with two healthy kids, a gorgeous wife and rent money in the bank, I’m feeling pretty high up the mountain these days. Like many of you, I’m not a just-write-a-check-and-put-my-name-in-the-Playbill person. Many causes are close to my heart, and I fully intend to engage them all ASAP: children in pain, lonely elderly, dying oceans, public art.

But with so much trouble in the world, HOW does one determine where and how best to direct one’s time and resources?

Ready. Fire. Aim.

I was deeply moved by the earth-shattering installation at MOMA, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (run, don’t walk, to this award-winning movie). For three months, Abramovic did “nothing” but sit in a chair silently and stare into the eyes of the person who sat down across from her. Thousands sat. On paper it sounds absurd. Like some “emperor’s new clothes” type prank. But it was the opposite.

We do not realize how infrequently we are wholly acknowledged by another person, even our most intimate loves. We rarely have someone look into our eyes, not just at us but into us and hold that gaze for as long as WE choose to allow it. Abramovic never looked away. Never said a word. Never showed any judgement. The breathtaking result – a lot of very touched and many weeping humans who really felt seen for the first time in many moons.

What does this have to do with giving back, you ask?

More drops of empathy means more ripples of compassion which leads to more waves of charity.

I will take Abramovic’s basic notion, to be with people in a pure, immediate and dedicated manner … and make it my own in an attempt to increase empathy in the world. My hope is that this silly little experiment will become greater than the sum of its parts.

I know my strengths. I’m a people person and a dynamic conversationalist (some say cunning linguist). I’ve been far and wide. And I have tales to tell … of working as Donald Sutherland’s chauffeur. Managing tens of millions of dollars for angry lunatics. Canoeing with charging hippos in Zambia. Diving with 9-foot manta rays in Bora Bora. Saving a drowning surfer. Nearly drowning myself at 16. Bellying up to glorious dive bars in Barcelona, Melbourne and Osaka. Dining at Michelin-star restaurants in Paris.

But before you accuse me of bratty boasting, understand that I have had my heart utterly broken. I’ve disappointed myself with every fiber of my being. I’ve suffered the agonies of divorce and losing unborn children. I’ve failed spectacularly at business. At love. At art. And … I’ve succeeded wildly at business, love and art. In other words … I have a lot to share. And I thoroughly enjoy doing so. You want an animated dialogue? I’m your man. And guest what – most people do.

Look Into Me, acrylic and oil crayon on canvas with original poetry, 48"x36", 2001, Stuart Sheldon

Look Into Me, acrylic and oil crayon on canvas with original poetry, 48″x36″, 2001, Stuart Sheldon

The RaconTOUR begins …

The RaconTOUR Empathy Project is geared toward enhancing empathy and connectivity in society.

I will fund it entirely. Anyone is welcome and each of you are formally invited to be an integral part. All that is required is that you abide by the following protocol:

1. I will visit you in your home or a place where you feel comfortable and safe. We will begin our visit with you telling me a story about anything you wish, no matter how profound or trivial. I will simply listen intently without interruption nor judgement for as long as you wish to speak. I will look directly into your eyes and attempt to truly see who you are AS you are at that moment.

2. Once you have completed your thoughts, I will tell you a story from my life that relates directly to what you just told me. It may be funny or tragic, serious or ridiculous. I will base the tone of my story on the tone of your comments. We will allow the dialogue to go freely from there.

3. I will videotape these interactions and place any notable moments in a special RaconTOUR section of my website. I will not share anything which anyone wishes to keep private.

I know what some of you are saying, “What a scam. What shameless self-indulgence. That’s not giving back. Nor is it art. It’s just talking with somebody about whatever.”

Maybe. This could be a contrived pile of suck. Would not be there first time. Truth is, we just can’t know.

You’re precisely right on the last point – it’s just talking about whatever … but that whatever is something someone cares about enough to bring up. Self-indulgent? Absolutely. But, then again, all art making is by definition. I contend that any truly intentional and meaningful interaction, no matter the subject, where the goal is to see and feel with the other person, is high art. Bilateral empathy is in short supply, and the goal is to make more of it. It is the apex of human connection. And it is a gift to both parties. If you disagree, don’t participate.

There really in no downside. Won’t cost you a nickel. Worst case, we share a few laughs over coldies.

I invite each of you to reach out if you wish to be part of the RaconTOUR Empathy Project. Email me or write me a letter. I cannot promise I will get to you, as geography and expense are factors. But the RaconTOUR will be ongoing for years. When I’m in your neck of the woods, I’ll stop by … and off we’ll go.

Wynwood Walls Feb 2013

Wynwood Walls Feb 2013

PS. I am 50 today (so weird to write that).

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