John Hughes, 70, in his home studio

Rose Archer very kindly put me in touch with Barbara Hastings to learn about my Enneagram type. While chatting with her she highly recommended that I interview her partner, John. She patched us together via email and, without delay, John and I set up a time to meet. He met me at their door and we immediately dove in. We were well into a deep conversation by the time we even reached the top of the stairs and over an hour went by before I got my recorder out. After getting a little acquainted, I learned that John's a musician and he often won't let anybody listen to his music. He pointed to boxes and boxes of music files, so I found it impossible to ignore my urge to lovingly chide him about his similarities to Vivian Maier. John's a very wonderful guy. And he's challenging himself to look for more opportunities for connection, so I'd like to encourage you to say hello if you happen to encounter him. I am grateful for our meeting and sincerely looking forward to our next time together. 

Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

Hmmm. How would I describe myself. Well, I think I'm kind of part monk and part artist and part... I don't know. After a while, labels get to be rather restrictive because we have a tendency to narrow the idea. I guess in the purer, spiritual sense, I'm just a field of energy that's taking up this form and I don't really know who I am (laughs). You know? 

What matters to you?

Well, I used to give the answer that love was the only thing that mattered to me. And then I started to realize that I didn't really know what love was. I just had these different ideas about what love was. And that it, in some sense, was a little bit too general. But what really matters to me more than anything is connection with my fellow brothers and sisters. That really matters to me a lot. 

What does it mean to you to experience a disconnection?

Well (laughs)... yeah the disconnect always starts within. This is the difficult part of the journey - is to realize that if I have been reclusive, what is it that I am disconnecting from myself? In one sense. Let me try it on another way. Disconnect starts within me but I recognize that my disconnect is actually something that I can heal and I trust my brothers and sisters enough to want to take the risk to see what might happen if I could hazard that experience of being in a strange place with other people to see if I can better understand the disconnect. 'Cause I have all these theories and I think everybody does. Well, we have disconnect because their different political affiliation or they go to a different church; we have these ways that we subdivide ourselves, which I think really feeds the disconnect on a much bigger scale. But if we can throw away all of those imaginary boundaries and just sit across from someone, can we discover - can I discover myself - in your eyes? I think that's the key. And so, I think the disconnect is just the grand illusion, right? 

What motivates you?

(Laughs) You're asking all these really great questions because I've been asking myself that question a lot lately and I'm starting to question whether or not I really know the answer to that. I think at different times in my life I have used things like money to motivate me. Because I drank that capitalist Kool-Aid that said, You're gonna be so much better if you have a lot of money. Of course, it's pretty easy to see the fallacy in that one - that doesn't require any greatness. So, I think the thing that is motivating me - and this is maybe gonna sound like too much of a repeating theme - is this kind of interaction, this kind of conversation. I am motivated to have that. And I think if I look at it from within, why haven't I been? James Hollis, I was listening to him last night, and he talks about that regardless of who we are as personalities, at the end of our experience we have this essential fear. And there are only two different manifestations. If we want to understand what is making us afraid, it's either gonna be having to do with overwhelmment or with abandonment. And by asking that question - I ask that to myself in regard to this - and there is the fear of being overwhelmed by the presence of another person or a group of people. And that's what I need to actually put myself into that field to see if I will be able to handle it. Now, for most people who are super social, to them that seems silly. But, to me, it's definitely working my edge (laughs). 

What gives you a heavy heart? What concerns you?

Oh, god. Yeah... there are so many things that one can point to. David Whyte, the poet, has a lovely line where he says, The world's harsh need to change you. That brings me a pretty heavy heart because what I see America doing is they have this harsh need to seemingly change a lot of the world to their specifications. But it's not just that, I mean there are so many things. I thought once that if I were a woman in the world, I wouldn't want to be because of how harsh we have been towards women. Towards blacks. There's just so many. I think there's a dark side to humanity, you know, that we are not very kind to one another. So, I think it's unkindness. 

What do we mean to each other? 

Hmmm. What do we mean to each other? That's a great question. Hmmm. I can only think of present examples, but what you mean to me in this moment is... you mean to me to present a field of energy to where I can actually reconsider how I'm seeing the world. And, in this moment, that would be a valuable way to evaluate a moment in terms of meaning. Are you someone that is going to bring out my best or my worst (laughs)? And I think that's a challenge, right? Because we go out into the world and what if we get triggered? We don't want the worst of ourselves to come out. But when the ego gets triggered, fuck, we're screwed (laughs)! 

What does community mean to you? 

Yeah, community has been something that is another concept that I've been exploring. For me, it's about wholeness. It's really about practicing the letting go of this idea of being separate. 'Cause that illusion doesn't hold water anymore like it used to. So, community is definitely about me remembering the wholeness that there is no separation between you and I or anybody or anything in this world of form. 

What might one's role be on a regular basis of working towards social justice, equity, fairness, and kindness? 

Well, it all comes back to working on myself. I would like to externalize that, you know, that I would be kind if dot dot dot, but it doesn't work like that. Everybody knows that, yet we go around operating as if... there are so many examples, but I really need to be the guy that I want to meet. I had this experience once - I do five-day meditation retreats here - I went to Costco a day or so after I came out of one of these retreats and I was really studying this whole idea of really, at our essence, we're innocent. And so I'm standing at Costco, watching all these people come out of Costco and I'm just looking at their faces and I was struck by the innocence that I saw in everybody's face. And I thought, Wow! I've never had that experience before. (Laughs) And I thought, How cool! And, of course, that didn't last more than a day. But I think if I can see somebody's innocence even if they're behaving like Hitler, then I have mastered myself. And so, I think it really is, as they say, the inside job to practice kindness. 'Cause there are plenty of times that I'm just ornery and I forget that kindness is an option. 

Do you have a sense of purpose?

(Laughs) God, you're hitting all of the ones. Yeah. That's something I'm reexamining again. The ego is such a master of disguise that at any given point, it's just my make-up that I need to question that. Even if I can feel it in my heart that it's true, I still feel responsible to question it. So that becomes a mechanism that prevents me from actually becoming fully actualized. Because, well, I don't really know that that's true. Right? So, I get to continue to hide instead of really actualizing a meaningful and purposeful existence. And yet, you know, we were talking earlier about how many of us drink the Kool-Aid that culture serves that tells us that having a career and making lots of money and making babies and having a big house and forty cars and, you know, whatever - that that's meaning. And a lot of people end up going to the grave thinking that that was a meaningful life. I've met a lot of people that when they get older they actually say they have no regrets and I find that so difficult to believe. So, meaning and purpose is the first thing that a parent should really instill in their children - is Why are you here, dude? You need to figure that out. More than I need to control you. So, yeah, right now if I had to say what my purpose is, is I think my purpose is sort of threefold: to get better at my craft, to really connect more deeply and more frequently with my fellow beings, and really learn how to be a better human.

How does it make you feel to have more questions than answers?

(Laughs) It makes me feel great because if I don't have questions I think that I'm really asleep. 

Do you have anything else that you'd like to put out there?

I guess the only thing that I'd like to put out there is I would like humanity to invite each other to dance more. And I mean that as a metaphor. Yeah, I would like to see humanity take the risk to not listen to what culture says is acceptable behavior and just to talk to a stranger in the grocery store. Yeah, I don't know. I'd like to see the boundaries of fear dissolve to - to use an old hippie term - to have a love-in, so to speak (laughs). 

This is a recent addition and you couldn't have known about it, but would you like to ask me anything? I've been answering the question after the interview, but have been feeling as though that might be unfair as you have to answer all these questions on the spot. So I am toying with the idea of answering it here and now. 

I find that this whole process of your invitation to have the conversation, first of all, to be so amazing. So it piques some very deep curiosity in me in terms of who you are. What are all the threads in you that have come together to be this photographer, community-builder, questioner? There's this mix, this great texture of who you are. And so I'm trying to find the question (laughs) to ask you. Yeah. Who are you (laughs)? How would you describe yourself?

I've been wondering... for this project I've asked that 89 times and I've been wondering what I would say. It's an easy thing to just say something to, but I think it's quite difficult to answer honestly. I'm wounded. Deeply, deeply wounded. And I'm often not very proud of myself. I recognize a lot of behaviors that I often judge other people for having or for exhibiting. And I, as I said before, have a tendency to feel really heavy. And, as a juxtaposition, I like to have a pretty good time. You know? I have a sense of humor - maybe a little bit darker than some others'. I enjoy intimacy. I value my friendships very much. I think I hold myself accountable to a high standard and then I also expect that from others, so that makes me someone that's contentious. And I have a difficult time - and I always have, as far back as I can remember - I have a difficult time fitting into the system. And that might mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but that leads me to a lot of confusion. Various times in my life, I've been told things about myself that have led me to believe that I should be doing something a little more calculable. And so then, just doubt - just so much doubt. For much of my life I was told that there was a particular way and there was a particular god and there was a particular code and there was all these answers and isn't it so lovely that we've given them to you? And when I decided that I didn't agree with that, it just opened up a complete, seemingly infinite, unknown; where now I have to be very careful with the judgments that I put on people. But I still have all these tendencies to do so. So I have got lots of questions. I would describe myself as someone with a lot of questions. And this is my current attempt at looking for some answers.