See Why

Once again, H wrote me with some good advice concerning my limping kickstarter campaign. I opened his email while taking a break from research I was doing on grants for artists. His email collided with something I’d just read (and applauded) on the Surdna Foundation grant site. Here’s his email:

Something dawned on me today when I checked your KS page. Two things, actually.

The first, you actually could make your goal. $7k days are not that uncommon on KS.

The second is that you can’t seem to stop yourself from teaching, and I think you need to for this work, just as you should in order to write and direct the play. All the “truths” and lessons of story and of art should be axed. Because they are true and obvious when we see them in action. But the statement of those truths and lessons distract and dilute that action. 

Tell why you love Tom’s legacy and The Lost Boy, why it is essential to your life’s work, and why your life’s work matters, why it has to be done… 

You have time for one more ask…..

And, here’s the bit of text that I applauded from the Surdna site:

“Art is fundamental to our collective understanding of who we are, what we believe, and how we relate to each other and our surroundings. Artists and their coconspirators weave the cultural fabric necessary for a sustainable, vibrant society.”

In 1998 I applied for and was accepted into master’s programs in both painting and theatre (directing). It was confusing for me at the time because both acceptances felt miserable, like walking into a cage. In my desire to go back to school, I wasn’t looking for technique or an answer to “how-to.” I needed to take a deep dive into “why?” So, instead of the obvious route, I jumped into a degree in organizational systems because I could bend it to my real pursuit: art as central to the identity function of a culture: art (specifically ‘story’) AS the system. As the folks as Surdna wrote: artists weave the fabric necessary for a sustainable, vibrant society. The story inside you, the story-you-tell-yourself-about-yourself, is inseparable from the story happening outside of you, the story-the-community-tells-itself-about-itself. When a society has a living, breathing mythology, they live from a single, shared story. As Joseph Campbell famously said, “Our mythology is dead.”

We orient and make meaning according to a shared narrative. So, if there is something that bugs you about the world it is most likely a reflection of something within you. If you want to change the world, you must start with your self. How do we begin to tell a different story when we imagine that our story is separate from all other stories? How do we make a better world when the story of the individual supersedes the story of the community?

Working with the shared narrative, dancing with the inner and outer story in all of its power and potential is my life’s work. Tom is one of the few people I’ve ever known who understood this dance. He is responsible for igniting the fire in a legion of artists, for guiding a multitude of lost boys onto a power path. He opened my eyes to a deeper path through the arts and life. He taught me that the Greeks believed that the telling of the epic stories was necessary for the health and wellbeing of a community. He taught me that we’ve forgotten what the Greeks knew. The story of The Lost Boy is Greek and has the power to help us remember. Tom believed in a better world and that a better world happens naturally when we tell a better story. That is why this play needs to be done.


Go here to help me make possible a $7k day:

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Explore The Human


my latest work-in-progress. No name yet, approximately 5ft x 9ft.

Standing on the stair to her studio, Pam said, “I’m not sure where my work is going. I’ve pulled out all of the old paintings so I can see where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing, and maybe that will help me live into what’s next.” Like me, Pam has been a painter most of her life. She’s been through this transition many times before and recognizes the necessity of fallow artistic fields. Rather than push or panic, she’s matured as an artist and knows enough to value the emptiness.

With maturity comes faith. The muse never leaves. She rests. Artistic cycles are no different than seasons. Like a farmer living through the winter months on the harvest of the fall, Pam will spend hours sitting with her old work, thinking nothing, drinking in the nutrient of her artistic yield, allowing her inspiration fields to recharge and rejuvenate. She will allow herself to go empty, creating ample space for the new work when the muse reawakens. And then, one day, she will pick up a brush and be surprised by what comes through her.

Hans said, “An artist matures when he or she ceases working from their pain and begins exploring the human condition.” Working from the wound is necessary as adolescence is necessary. Most artists in our western tradition begin in rebellion, pushing against, making statements. We celebrate the outsider, the margin-sitter and so the wound can be difficult to escape: artistic pain becomes a role, an expectation. In practice it is akin to a developmental stall. The only place to go when pain is the norm is into the intellect: to produce, to make statements. Pain isolates and ultimately, an isolated artist is ineffective. Artistry, like all things vital, must occupy a shared space. It is communal or it is impotent.

Potency comes when the eyes turn out, when the question of “we” becomes more vital and interesting than the question of “I.” Artists mature when they reorient, when instead of the art expressing their pain, they serve the art and, make no mistake, art is another word for “human condition.” Art is bubbling life in all its forms: visual, kinesthetic, aural. As Hans said, “I want to fall deeper and deeper into the music. I want to find the edges and follow where it takes me, give myself over to it.”

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

DSC_1196 copyGo here to support the kickstarter campaign for my play, The Lost Boy.

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Tend The Root

The moon over Benziger Winery

The moon over Benziger Winery

I am not and have never been a landscape painter. I paint the figure. Yet, my current sketchbook is filled with fanciful landscapes, sketches from places I have been and places in my mind. Great scribbles, cross hatches, and curly cues carve rolling hills and midnight skies. I started drawing these landscapes just before I stepped off the reservation and went on my walk-about. They are meditations.

When I was very young, over and over again, I drew a cabin in the woods. There was a tree in the foreground and beyond, across a meadow, stood a rough cabin. It was as if I knew the place and I was drawing it to remember. I must have drawn it hundreds of times, the leaves on the trees, the door and windows calling for a visit. The quiet. Even today, forty years later, I can feel the quiet when I remember drawing my cabin.

Doodles and Dwight notes

Doodles and Dwight notes

The other night while on the phone with my long lost friend, Dwight, I needed to write a note – he was sparking such great insights – and all I had within reach was my sketchbook. I wrote the notes and also started to doodle as we talked. My doodles went the way of the landscape. Shapes and swirls and squiggles. Drawing is also a form of note-taking.

Dwight talked about going through the crush and coming out the other side as something – someone – wholly new, simpler. The crush refers to the process of grapes becoming wine. Life can crush us. Life does crush us. We change form, grapes to wine, children to adults to ancestors.

I told Dwight of the gift Skip gave me: lessons in wine and a few days with Barney who walked me though a vineyard and taught me about the roots and the vine. Trying to rush the grape with fertilizers and pesticides will perhaps provide short-term gain but will kill the vine in the long term. It makes the vine weak and incapable of drinking the nutrient. Health, true health, requires respect for the root and an understanding of the natural pace of things. This simple respect for the root, care and attention to the whole plant, the seen and unseen, and not a blind focus on production or the test score or the bank account, creates health. It is a meditation.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

DSC_1196 copyGo here to support my kickstarter campaign for my play, THE LOST BOY

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Live Your Sequence

Michelangelo's 'Awakening Slave.' photo from

Michelangelo’s ‘Awakening Slave.’ photo from

Metaphors abound and are all around us. Since all language is referential, all language is metaphor. Every experience we relate, every story we tell, every thought we think, is metaphoric. It is a pointer to something experienced, sensed, felt.

Just as letters are sequenced to make words, metaphor is sequenced to create story. It is in the naming and the stacking of metaphor that we make meaning of our lives.

Today, hanging out in the choir loft as Kerri played a service, I heard these metaphors that, linked together like cars on a train, make a universal story; if you are human you’ll live this sequence: Slavery. Wilderness. Promised Land. This is both the ancient story of a people and it is a story common to the human experience. The first, the ancient story is biblical. It’s big! It is the scaled up version of the personal, more human scale variation.

We hold ourselves captive. I’ve yet to meet anyone, myself included, that doesn’t place limits on their capabilities. Michelangelo sculpted a brilliant series of human figures trying to escape the marble from which they were created. Figures struggling to emerge, he called them the Prisoners. I think of the Prisoners every time someone tells me that “they can’t.”

Once we take the scary step out of captivity, once we say, “I can,” a necessary lost-ness ensues. “I can’t” is an orientation. Leaving it behind is akin to leaving the known world and striking out into the wilderness in search of a new orientation. “I can” requires a host of new experiences, a new trail blazed to the point of normalcy. Orienting to possibility is more than a choice; it is a practice.

The Promised Land is a place of mastery. It comes when we forget, for just a while, that we are on a journey. It comes when the painter forgets that they once did not know what happens when red meets green. It comes when the sculptor no longer needs to impress but can play with the stone and delight when the stone plays in return. It is comfortable and safe and known.

And, every Promised Land comes with a gift: one day it will become a prison, a place of captivity. And the cycle will begin anew. The struggle of “I can’t,” the scary step into the wilderness, and the arrival “home” with mastery, deeper knowledge, and new eyes.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

“As both an artist and an entrepreneur, who adores the works of The Artist’s Way, I am liking where this book is taking me.” Tom Ellis


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Go here to support the kickstarter of my play, The Lost Boy

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from my children's book, Play 2 Play

from my children’s book, Play 2 Play

About the river, Jim said something like this: I had to stop complaining, leave town, or do something about it.

Jim chose to do something about it. He got busy. Now, he’s dedicating time each week to clean and care for a stretch of the river. He’s working to make people aware of the rich life that the river supports. He’s drawing the plant life. He’s made and delivers an incredible Powerpoint presentation.

Jim came to an awareness threshold: complaining is not doing – but unlike most people, he crossed the threshold and changed. The first necessity in any change process is to change yourself. Complaining is a first step but it is where most people stop. Complaining feels good because it provides the illusion of action. Complaining can become fuel if it is followed with a step toward action.

I’ve worked with scores of people who wanted to write books or paint paintings and most came to me with a complaint: lack of time, no quiet space, or some other circumstance that blocked their happiness. When we removed complaining as an option, they created time or quiet space. They wrote. They painted. It was not magic. It was practical. Complaining requires dedicated energy. It also takes time and more than a little thought-space. Painting, writing, or cleaning the river also requires dedicated energy. The question is about where the energy is dedicated.

Ultimately, as Jim described it, the move from complaining to doing changed how he was in the world. He changed so his world could change. He stepped from helpless witness to active participant.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

DSC_1196 copyGo here to support my kickstarter campaign for my play, The Lost Boy


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Make An Appeal

Tom and me a long time ago.

Tom and me a long time ago.

Horatio wrote and said he hoped my kickstarter campaign picked up steam soon. Me, too. It looks like a long hill to climb with less than 10 days to go and less than a third of the way to our goal.

In his email, Horatio asked a great question and also gave me some good advice:

The question: why should anyone care?

The advice: make a direct appeal.

The question (why should anyone care?): To be honest, I’m not sure why anyone cares or does not care about anything. I have lots of cerebral reasons why I think this play should matter but to expound the list feels somewhat like one of the many times I’ve stood in front of a school board telling them why the arts matter. What I know in my bones will bounce off because it is not yet personal to my audience. I know it has to be personally relevant for people to engage or invest in any thing, not just the arts. For instance, the people raising money for breast cancer research and awareness are the same people who’ve had breast cancer or know someone who has. It’s personal. It matters.

This is personal for me. I spent hundreds of hours over several years listening to Tom’s stories, taking notes, recording him. We walked through graveyards. We drove through the fields and stopped at places where his ancestors lived and played out their lives. It’s where he played out his life. He took me those places and told me those stories because he feared they would die with him. He wanted to keep alive the family story and, at the time, no one in his family was present to listen. I was present. I wanted to listen. I wanted to spend time with my friend and mentor and that time was a great gift to me. Tom is chief among the patriarchs of my artistic family. I am his artistic descendent.

Last week as I travelled back to the San Joaquin Valley to work with The Chili Boys to integrate the new music into the play, it occurred to me that I’ve poured more energy and time into this play than any other artistic project in my life. It’s been a decade of development and attempts to get it to production. We let it sit fallow for a spell after Tom’s health collapsed. Oddly, it was Tom’s passing that made it ready, necessary.

One mistake I made in setting up the campaign: I thought people would join the kickstarter because of Tom. It has been somewhat of a mystery to me but also a great delight that the majority of people supporting the play never knew Tom. I thought the legion of Tom’s students, peers, and friends would be the primary donors. Instead, the folks throwing in their support are my peers, students, and friends. They know me. They are supporting me. So, the only answer I can come up with that may make this relevant for you: because I care, because I need to bring this play across the finish line. Because I am now on the front line of an artistic legacy: I carry the stories, the teaching, the value-set, the vision as I inherited it. Making art (performing this play) is the way I serve as conduit to the next generation. It’s how I (like all artists) pass it on. Kerri continues to remind me that there is more to it than that. It’s not just the passing of the legacy to me. It is the reminder we all need in this busy world – the reminder that family story needs to be told and needs to be heard. And everyone has a family story to pass on. Period.

As for Horatio’s advice: make a direct appeal. Here it is: I have 10 days and need your help. Pass on the link. Give $10.00..or $1,000.00. Mostly, I appreciate your correcting my mistake. Thank you for supporting me.

DSC_1196 copyGo here for The Lost Boy Kickstarter campaign

Go here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.title_page

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Find The Purpose

Despite warnings, Icarus reached for the sun.

Despite warnings, Icarus reached for the sun. Why do I paint? Why does anyone do anything?

The question of the day is, “What is the purpose?”

Mike is 85 years old and she said, “Never in my entire life did I think I would live in a world where beheading was a reality. We’ve gone backwards, it seems to me. My god! It’s like we’re living in the Middle Ages.”

Is history a sandwich with madness in the middle or perhaps a Mobius strip? What is the purpose?

Arnie just returned from Israel. He was profoundly moved by his experiences there. He was also angered by the discrepancy between what American media reports about Israel and what he found there. “I’ll never again believe another thing I hear on the news.”

Belief meets disbelief. The fields of the profound exist beyond anything called purpose. What changes in our hearts and minds when our experiences touch the profound? Our sight changes; our eyes open.

Horatio recently wrote and told me that he’d dumped his Facebook and Linked In accounts. He wrote, “I dislike them and the fallacies we suffer because of it. Mostly, I wonder what took me so long. I mainly feel like a man with a simpler life.”

Simplicity arises when complexity falls away. The extraordinary is always found in the ordinary, something as common as holding hands.

Kerri and I sat in the autumn sun to eat our lunch. She gazed at our house. She asked, “Do you think our house will be here in 100 years?” Before I could respond she answered her own question, “If it is, we’ll never know.” And then she asked the question beneath the question, “What is everyone racing to achieve?”

Moments of fulfillment. Presence. Both require a move beyond achievement to something more connected.

It is passing. Life. Purpose. Who assigns purpose to a life? Who assigns purpose to all of life? Is it achievable? What happens when we get there? Mirages.

“Purpose” is a word like “Outcome”; it exudes permanence but don’t be fooled. An outcome is a snapshot. Just as bottom lines are temporal, data is interpretation, and endings are beginnings.

Purpose wants to feel important. Profound simply wants to feel.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

Go here to support my play The Lost Boy.DSC_1196 copy


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