JFGI!

I had to use this painting for this post. I call it Eve

I had to use this painting from the archive  for this post. I call it Eve

Notes at the crossroads of The New World Order:

1. Betsi was disappointed in the low attendance at church. She told us that everything had changed in the last decade. Churches that were once thriving were now struggling. It is a trend. It is happening everywhere. It’s true. A few months ago I saw the statistics of church membership in America and the numbers are plummeting.

“What changed,” I asked.

Without hesitation she said, “People don’t need God anymore. They think they know everything.”

I quipped, “Who needs God when you have Google?”

She laughed and said, “Right! JFGI!”

“What does that mean?”

She smiled, “Just f*cking Google it.”

It is probably true for believers and non-believers alike that God is slower than Google, especially if the notion of God is uncannily human, (i.e., a rule-maker, judgmental, angry one minute and loving the next, assigns ‘chosen’ status to one team but not the other, etc.). Such a god might easily be confused with a search engine or a legal system.

I thought, but did not say, perhaps people are looking for something that neither technology nor a search-engine-god can deliver. Perhaps they are looking for something less volatile. Information is readily available. So is judgment. Wisdom is a bit harder to come by.

2. After band rehearsal we went to a bar. Jim grew up Catholic and we were talking about the revolution of thought that Pope Francis is inspiring. Jim said, “I really like that guy!” Suddenly, he pulled out his phone. “I wonder if The Pope is on Facebook?” We laughed when he found and “liked” The Pope. Facebook showed us a gallery of others who’d “liked” The Pope. The top of the list was The Dali Llama. “I’m going to like him, too!” Jim cheered and added, “I wonder if he’ll like me back?” We laughed.

I remember when a photograph was absolute proof that something happened. I remember the day that a photographer showed me a new “software” (at the time I had to ask what that meant) that could alter a photograph. He showed me and erased someone from a shot. I remember wondering what would be the new standard of proof? Sitting at the bar the other night with Jim, nearly 30 years later, I finally received my answer: it doesn’t exist if it isn’t on Facebook.

This brought me to what will be my next late night bar conversation topic with Jim: When did all of life become marketing and data collection? Have you checked your “likes” lately?

This inspired a glance at the fast moving river that is Facebook. I read:

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

That raises an obvious question: Is hell an experience or a place? JFGI!

Wake Up To Your Dream

a detail of my latest painting

a detail of my latest painting

Oscar said, “I’m way too busy. I have too much to do.” He’s a junk guy, a scrapper and we’d just pulled a piano out of the back of his old truck.

“”That’s better than the reverse problem,” I said. “Too much time and nothing to do.”

Oscar smiled. “My grandfather always told me that sleepers wind up with nothing but dreams.” He added, “I’m trying to teach that to my son.” His son, a strapping young man, rolled his eyes.

It was a nice sentiment, a worthy lesson, and like all sticky-note wisdom, the flip side is usually also relevant. Sleepers wind up with nothing but dreams. People without dreams wind up walking through life asleep.

Once long ago I walked through a house with a realtor named Hans. The place was crammed with piles of stuff, stacks of books and mountains of magazines. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t wait to get outside. Standing in front yard, having escaped, I said, “I don’t know how people live like that.” Hans replied, “Everyone has their heaven. What looks like hell to you is heaven to them.”

Everyone has their heaven. Everyone has their hell. Isn’t it a good bit of sticky-note wisdom to remember that heaven does not look the same to all people? And, to some people, depending upon how present they are, heaven is here and now. The same sticky-note applies to hell in the here-and-now.

Flipping to the weather channel I found, instead of the weather, an episode of Why Planes Crash (answer: the weather!). A flight attendant who’d survived a crash said, “When the plane is going down, people get religion really fast.” I thought, I bet the opposite sticky-note is also true. Religion is rule bound and usually comes with an in-crowd, a right way, or a chosen people. When the plane is going down I’ll bet all the rules go out the window (so to speak), the divisions become meaningless, and what people get is how precious, unique, and vast is their life – and all of life, for that matter. They don’t get religion, they “get” life. Ric Elias was in the plane that landed on the Hudson River. For him, going down in the plane served as instant clarity. He left the plane knowing without doubt what mattered. He no longer needed to be right. He no longer had time for negative energy. He no longer had time to be too busy. He woke up to his dream.

 

 

Make A Good Team

newbaby3

an illustration for Shayne And The New Baby

The lake is very still today. Usually the lake, Lake Michigan, behaves more like an ocean than a lake. The breakers roll onto the beach. It is famously fickle and can change moods in a heartbeat. It regularly swallows tankers. This winter it swallowed more than a little bit of the shore. The Coast Guard routinely practices search and rescue missions off the coast; we’ve stood on the rocks many evenings and watched the helicopter go through its paces. Today there is calm. Today there is peace.

This afternoon I completed the 65th and final illustration in the Shayne Trilogy. Like the lake, when I cleaned my brush and put it aside, I was quiet inside. In the middle of March, after a call with Beaky, we decided there was nothing more important than illustrating and publishing the manuscripts that she’d written. And, there was no time to waste. We illustrated, designed, and published the first book of the series in record time. Beaky had her very first-ever book reading and author signing on April 11th. It was a triumph. That day I knew I that I would never do anything more meaningful or important in my life.

When Beaky passed away at the end of April, the second book was midway through the design phase. The illustrations were complete and Kerri was working furiously to publish it by May 1st. Beaky’s passing, of course, derailed all progress and I wondered if we would be capable of bringing all of her books to the finish. We were still for many weeks. We were breathless.

And then, last week, out of nowhere, a strong wind caught our sail and we were back at it with the same fervor as before. It was as if someone threw a switch; we did not get out of bed that day intending to resume the work, but by noon I was drawing the next batch of illustrations and Kerri was layering words over images. The second book, Shayne And The Yellow Dragon is, at this moment, a single click away from publication. Yesterday Kerri began laying out the final book in the trilogy, Shayne And The New Baby. At this pace, we are a few short weeks away from finishing what we started a lifetime ago in March.

the creative team

the creative team

The illustrations are simple. They came easily – as do all labors of love. They are just what Beaky wanted. “You two did all the work!” Beaky protested as we wheeled her toward the over 70 people that gathered for her reading. I teased her that she must have forgotten that she wrote the books. “We make a good team, Beaky,” I said, and she smiled.

 

Be Mortal

a detail from my painting, John's Secret

It was after 2am and, at first, I thought the screams were human. I was writing at the kitchen table and the screams brought me to the front door. My neighbor’s light came on. Faces peeked out of the window. They thought the screams were human, too. Kerri was suddenly standing behind me. “It’s a rabbit,” she whispered. “They scream like that when they are being killed.” She was quiet for a moment and added, “It’s awful. It’s the sound they make when they are trying to hold onto life.” The screams stopped. The neighbor’s light flicked off. They recognized the sound, too, and went back to sleep.

Kerri returned to her call. She was on the phone with a friend in distress. I remained at the door and stared into the dark night. It was silent. It was as if all of nature had stopped to listen to the screaming. Even the wind was still.

The fox pranced from the darkness into the center of the street. It was vibrant, sated. It stopped and was immediately still when it realized it was being watched. It stared at me and I stared at it. I’ve rarely looked for so long into the eyes of something so wild. Neither of us moved for several seconds. And then, as quickly as it had emerged from the darkness, it bolted and vanished.

My only thought came like a mantra: it knows that it is mortal and I do not.

Earlier in the day I’d read a passage from Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda. I’m completing my once-a-decade rereading of his first three books. I’m reading them very slowly this time, bit-by-bit, and sitting with what I read. The passage that rang my bell this day was this [I’m made some cuts for brevity]:

“Your reason is telling you again that you are immortal,” he said.

“What do you mean by that, Don Juan?”

“An immortal being has all the time in the world for doubts and bewilderments and fears. A warrior…knows for a fact that the totality of himself has but a little time on this earth.”

…”But, Don Juan, my point is that I’m always under the impression that I’m doing my best, and obviously I’m not.”

“It’s not as complicated as you make it appear. The key to all these matters of impeccability is the sense of having or not having time. As a rule of thumb, when you feel and act like an immortal being that has all the time in the world you are not impeccable; at those times you should turn, look around, and then you will realize that your feeling of having time is an idiocy. There are no survivors on this earth!”

Staring into the eyes of the fox I was shocked out of my immortality. Acting like an immortal being, having all the time in the world to indulge my doubts and fears or dream of greener pastures knocks me out of presence. Staring into the eyes of the fox I, for a brief moment, understood that being fully present in my life had nothing to do with achievement. Presence is not something to strive for and attain like a new car. It is not a study and the path to it cannot be found in a book. Presence is what we are. It is something we forget when we think we have all the time in the world.

The fox does not know time. The fox does not know judgment or indulge in doubt or entitlement. It literally has no time for that. It does not need to story its actions. It lives with what is, not with what it imagines.

Stay Open

Illustration from Play-to-Play

Illustration from Play-to-Play

It’s very late. I was deep asleep and am suddenly wide awake. That is happening often these days. My inner light switch is tripped and there is no going back to sleep.

I woke up thinking about something Judy told me yesterday during our phone call. Judy is wise. She told me that she believes the real work in a life is never achieving a goal or arriving at a destination. It is not something with a direction. The real work is to learn to stay open. Stay open to possibility. Stay open to choices. Stay open to feeling. Stay open to changes. Stay open to experiences. Stay open to surprises.

It is not the kind of advice that children generally get in school but it is exactly the kind of advice an elder might impart if asked – and only if asked. Learn to stay open. Life has a way of making us want to close, to armor up, to dull our selves, to turn our backs and whisper, “There’s nothing I can do.”

It sounds too simple, “Stay open to life.” It’s not. What is simple is sinking into the easy chair and falling asleep in front of the television. Simple seems like a good idea until you realize you’ve been doing it for years. That is, of course, the point of the easy chair. The easy chair is a destination. It is a direction.

Staying open is a practice. Turning toward life and facing it with all of its force, heat, and pressure is not simple. Opening to the grief as well as the joy, feeling the pain as well as the pleasure, requires intention. Opening to the full spectrum of living engenders liveliness. Life begets life.

In a recent post I included a quote from Carlos Castaneda that just popped to mind:

“Oppressors and oppressed meet at the end, and the only thing that prevails is that life was altogether too short for both.” Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality

 

Study Your Study

the next iteration. it's coming along now.

the next iteration. it’s coming along now.

Ontology = the study of existence.

When I was in graduate school the word “ontology” was bandied about regularly. I tossed it around a few times myself, checking it for style and elegance, prancing about to see if it suited me in my degree pursuit. It always felt a bit clumsy and left me with two questions:

1) What isn’t ontology? When I lived in Los Angeles I learned that people chose their houses relative to the direction of their commute. The rule was to find a place that afforded them the capacity to go against the commute otherwise they’d be stuck in traffic all day, everyday. It was essentially a quality-of-life consideration. Aren’t the reasons we locate ourselves, how and why we place our selves in space and time, an ontological question? Aren’t we surrounded by eternity whether we sit in traffic or by the swimming pool? When rolling ontology around my vocabulary I always wondered what was the difference between being fully aware of your existence and studying your existence. Now, that’s an ontological question! I have recently made it my ontological study to sit in the backyard drinking in the sun watching the Dog-Dog race around in delight barking at birds – and not wanting to be anywhere else, not wanting to do anything else. And, that brings me to question number 2:

the previous iteration

the previous iteration

2) Isn’t it improper for the subject of the study to be the studier? Ontology is a metaphysical study of human existence, not all of existence, and humans are conducting the study. I I were teaching this course I’d have to flunk myself for proposing such an ill constructed proposal! I’m fairly certain the birds are not interested in the greater question of their existence. Frogs and bees, disappearing from the earth at an alarming rate, might be interested in the question: What’s the real point of the study of existence if the studiers are so cavalier about existence? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here? It seems our study is the existential equivalent of a blind date that says, “Let’s talk about me!”

Are you being or are you becoming and – truly – is there ever a moment when you are not both (are you a particle or a wave)? Religion. Science. History. Art. Stars. Insects. Shadows. Waking to the sound of the morning dove. Knowing that the water of the lake is so cold that your feet will go numb in seconds – and stepping in anyway. A walk in the rain. Planting an herb garden. A warm bed on a cold night. Reaching out to a friend when you need to talk. The smell of good coffee. A song that makes you remember. Just because. Ontology?

Hear The Calling Voice

photo

next steps to my latest painting. it’s coming along!

“Maybe that means that the voice we should listen to most as we choose a vocation is the voice that we might think we should listen to least, and that is the voice of our own gladness….I believe that if it is a thing that makes us truly glad, then it is a good thing and it is our thing and it is the calling voice that we were made to answer with our lives.” ~ Frederick Buechner, Secrets In The Dark

This week I received an email from a long lost friend, a man I haven’t seen in over 25 years. Although we have yet to talk, his email contact has already sparked within me a life review. What have I done in all of these years? Who have I become in the quarter century since last I saw my friend? He wrote a brief three sentence overview of career advancement and family highlights (graduations and retirements). In attempting a reply, I found it impossible to encapsulate my path as there has been nothing linear, logical, or similar in my steps. I’ve walked a much different road. My inner imperative roars rather than whispers.

My life has been a source of great concern for my parents. Security has never been high on my list of occupational criteria. The day that I graduated from college my mother asked in all seriousness, with the love and concern that can only come from of a worried mother, “Now that you’ve gotten the theatre thing out of your blood, what are you going to do with your life?” She could see (before I did) my attraction to edges and my need to run at them and jump. She understood my need to question the rules, challenge assumptions, and live on the margins so I might better see and understand the happenings in the main stream. She saw and for a while feared the call of the art within me.

a close-up

a close-up

Judy once told me that she never wanted to be too comfortable because she intended to live life, not protect herself from it; she didn’t want to become complacent in this gorgeous life. Security is low on her list, too. She’s my go-to person when I lose the voice of gladness in the static and clamor of ‘should-do.’ She cuts through the noise, “Can you hear the birds, feel the sun on your face?”

When we were students in college, Roger asked me to read Herman Hesse’s book, Narcissus and Goldmund. He told me that he would most likely live the life of Narcissus and I would follow Goldmund’s route. Narcissus is a priest and teacher seeking God in the rituals of the institution. Goldmund finds illumination through the mess and random experiences of his life. One seeks God through order. The other finds God in chaos. Both are following their call, their voice of gladness. My path has, as Roger predicted, mirrored Goldmund’s. The voice, the call of gladness is clear to me on the inside while the path is nearly unrecognizable from the outside perspective.

another close-up

another close-up

So, what to tell my friend when we speak? Like all artists, I have answered the calling voice with my life.

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