Play For The Light

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

I’m hanging out listening to the handbell choir practice. I meant to bring my ipad so I could write while hanging out but I forgot it so I had to go old school and find a pen and some paper. The pen was easy but the only paper I could find was the back of an old church bulletin. I opened the bulletin and found the language for the communion celebration, “…he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it saying, ‘Take this and eat. This is my body, given for you….”

In reading the words I was thrown back in time (a meditative handbell soundtrack is very useful when being cast backwards in time). Many years ago, just after I moved to Seattle, the Makah tribe attempted to revive their traditional whale hunt. The entirety of their traditional ritual life stems from the hunt – the whale is their central god much as the buffalo is central to the worship of the plains tribes. In the early 20th century the Makah voluntarily suspended the hunt because European whaling techniques had devastated the whale population. Consequently, with no central ritual, their community fell into disarray. The revival of the hunt brought intense opposition and a media circus of epic proportions.

At the time, I was taking a masters degree in systems theory with a focus on Cultural Mythology and Transformational Art and, so, was enrapt by the collision of cultural perspectives. Through one lens, the hunt was an unnecessary slaughter of a whale. Through another lens it was a communion meal; the hunter is deemed worthy and chosen by the god (the whale), the god gives his life to nourish the people (spiritually and literally), and the people, in turn, perform the rituals of rebirth that bring the god back to life. It is a cycle of death and rebirth, the god nourishing the people and the people revivifying the god through their rituals and attention to life.

The central word is “communion;” to commune with the divine – regardless of faith tradition. And, in the end of the day, when the shopping is all done, isn’t that what this season is about? Does it matter how we mark the return of the light, the winter solstice, the return of the god to eventually bring life to a barren winter landscape (I’m writing metaphorically, too), the fulfillment of a prophecy, as long as we truly experience communion with something bigger than ourselves? It is an awesome responsibility to revivify the god – especially when the return depends upon how we live our lives and perform our rituals.

The handbell choir is working extra hard. Although they play each month, this preparation is for something special. They play with a sense of stress and excitement and desire a perfection that they usually do not entertain. This performance matters more than the others because they know, just like this time last year, they are playing for the return of the light.

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Visit With Your Guardian

My Threshold Guardian at the Jelly Belly store.

My Threshold Guardian at the Jelly Belly store.

In addition to being a dear friend, Arnie is my personal threshold guardian. His appearances in my life always signal that change is a’comin’. The last time that I saw Arnie I left behind everything that I knew (literally and metaphorically). I began a long pilgrimage to the church of my self. It felt as if I stepped into my big wooden sailing ship and set a course for the edge of the known world and then, with great intention, sailed over the edge.

Two years have passed since our last meeting. In the interim, I have experienced Sirens and Cyclops, I lost my metaphoric ship and crew to the great whirling Charybdis, I was held captive on an island, I paid an extraordinary visit to the underworld and, at last, returned to the light with new knowledge. And, this week, as is his custom when I am ready to pass through the next portal, Arnie came to visit.

Saul’s voice roared in my head as Arnie and I debriefed my two-year journey: address your self to the field of possibility, not to the opponent. Possibility, I learned, becomes visible when we are vulnerable and available to it. It appears when we place our focus on it, when we seek it. Pushing and protecting and fighting and resisting obscures the field of possibility because our focus is on the opponent, not on the possibility.

And, of course, the greatest opponent is our self.

In the language of story, for great personal transformation to occur, we must leave behind everything we know and go on a journey into the unknown. That includes leaving behind who we know ourselves to be. In other words, we are required to let go of all the things we believe that we can control – but in truth cannot; we are required to release our insistence on keeping things “as they are.” In the end, we are required to face and then release the things that we are trying “to make work” but cannot – and let go of all the things we want to force into existence but cannot. That is the moment the opponent in our self disappears and we are at last able to turn our eyes outward and see the field of possibility that has been available for us all along.

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Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

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Move Your Words

My friend, Mark, made this Wordle of my blog

My friend, Mark, made this Wordle of my blog

I am working with words again today but in another aspect entirely. Now that The Lost Boy has the minimum funding necessary for a production I am working on the play in earnest. Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog cocks his head and wrinkles his brow in wonderment as I talk to myself or dance the words. Sometimes he confuses my work method as an invitation to play and he leaps, catching the cuff of my shirt and pulls me to the ground. “Not now!” I cry out as Dog-Dog stretches my sleeve so that it might fit a giant (a side note: Dog-Dog has altered all of my shirts – he regularly mistakes my work for play. If I do not roll them, my shirt sleeves look as if I am small child wearing an adult extra-large).

I am a kinesthetic learner and realized years ago that working on a script was easier and more productive if I moved or danced the words as I worked with them. To borrow a phrase from a lost friend, my years at school were “fresh hell” because sitting in a desk was painful, it hampered my learning. If I want to have an insight or gain an understanding of something, the best thing for me to do is take a walk. If I move it, I can break down a script in no time. I can memorize anything if I can physicalize the intentions. For me, language, word use, and sense-making are a physical affair.

It is a physical affair for everyone. Try to speak without breathing (an impossibility); breath is movement. Speech is physical. For a real laugh, try to communicate without gesturing. Limit your movements and you will inhibit your capacity to communicate. For more fun, Google the latest statistic about how much of our communication is really non-verbal (we primarily read body language; listening to what is being said is a distant second). The deep mastery of a storyteller is found, not in the words, but the punctuation of a moment: the turn of the head, the intake of breath, the smallest of gesture, the connection made through the eyes; the fire of imagination is fanned when the storyteller, no matter how subtle, dances the story.

Last night I was reminded again of the power of language – the real kinesthetic of it. Betsi is disturbed by the violence and darkness she sees in the world and asked, “How do we push back on it.” I challenged her verb. When we choose our language we also choose a “metaphor path”. Language choices come with images and images are not passive. They define what we see. They define the available options. They are a root for movement. To push back is a verb of resistance. It is counter force, a choice of aggression. “Why push against what you don’t want?” I asked. “Why not put your energy, effort, and imagination into creating what you actually want?”

To push. To create. Which verb will move you?

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Follow The Thread

My work in progress.

My work in progress.

I spent the morning in the studio fanning the flame of a painting I started weeks ago. It’s hard for me to leave a painting once I start it. Once started, there is a thread that I must follow through the maze of developing imagery that will eventually bring me to completion. If I drop the thread, I lose my way. When I find myself thinking too much I know I’ve lost the thread and it is best to do nothing. It is best to sit in the maze and be lost. Moving from the intellect alone will always create mud or worse, it will kill the painting. The thread, to be useful, is intuitive, a guide of feeling. I’ve learned that sitting still is a necessary and useful skill.

To return to the painting requires finding a wholly new thread. It requires sitting with the existing image until the new thread appears. Sometimes the new thread presents itself when I stare at the painting. Sometimes the new thread jumps me in an alley or while having coffee with a friend. That’s what happened with this painting.

The new thread mugged me. I was miles from the studio and heard someone recite a portion of The Prayer of Saint Francis; the painting was suddenly smacking my inner eye. I knew exactly what I needed to do. It felt right. It felt vital. It would not leave me alone – and that’s how I know I’ve found the thread again. The prayer wanted to be in the painting. This thread would not lead to the same outcome. This thread would lead to a completely different painting.

More and more, words are showing up in my paintings. As I walk deeper into specific symbolism, I’m discovering the word as image. Using words as design elements, shaping a word as I shape a drawing, letters as visual symbol (they are symbols referential to sound). These words that do so much to shape our perception and either put locks on our experiences or set us free – they are calling to me as pure visual forms. Letters are simple lines and shapes sequenced and given meaning as words. Just so, words are lovely shapes sequenced and given meaning as sentences. The meaning is not carried in the words (the symbols) but in the reader. The shapes are visual statements before they are infused with symbolic meaning. Open a book written in a language that you do not read and you’ll see what I mean. You can’t make meaning of the symbols but you can appreciate the visual – in fact, once your brain ceases attempting to assign meaning to the symbols you can actually see the pure form (this is a good rule of thumb for cultivating presence, too).

Here’s the prayer in its symbol form for you to interpret and an image of how it currently exists in the painting:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

A detail of the prayer.

A detail of the prayer.

O’ Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

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Let Yourself Dance

'Dancing In The Front Yard' by David Robinson

My painting, ‘Dancing In The Front Yard’

It is the season of the light’s return. The Equinox is only a few days away. The dark days bode of new light. It is the literal, solar-lunar cycle-dance of rebirth, the return of the sun.

The great theatre artist, Jim Edmondson, spoke of all life as a dance of giving and receiving. To give and receive are energies similar to the tides or the intake and exhale of breath. The dance requires both giving and receiving and, in truth, they are not separate but are one action, one continuous connected cycle as is chaos and order, birth and death, winter and summer, boredom and breakthrough.

All stories lead back to this dance, this source of light’s disappearance and return. Frodo wrestles with the pull of the ring, Orpheus descends into darkness to bring Eurydice back to the light, a too-early-death affords a healthy heart and new life to a stranger, a baby is born and down the hall Hospice is called, lost love leads to new love, we wrestle with our limitations and someday transcend them (or not); we dance the dance every day because, in truth, we never know what the day brings and learn that this life sparkles when with clear intention we bring our light to the day. What else?

With all of our talk of transformation and renewal, we pretend that the dance is something new, something we must intend, when it is a dance as old as time and as ordinary and extraordinary as the sun setting and rising again. It is new when we pay attention and greet each day as a new step in a very old dance, a new opportunity to give and receive. To live fully, to transform, requires nothing more than to pay attention and let yourself dance.

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Johnny crop copyJoin the campaign to fund my play, The Lost Boy

 

 

 

 

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Recognize The Gift

Kerri with her mom, Beaky

Kerri with her mom, Beaky

Late night thoughts from the ER.

Earlier in the day Beaky told me that she had no special talents and I protested! She is one of the best storytellers I’ve ever known. She’s a natural. She can’t help herself. Sit with Beaky and you’ll hear some great stories. Beaky is like the rest of us: she doesn’t recognize her greatest gift because she thinks it is ordinary. She overlooks her gift because she thinks everyone can do what she does easily. That is the way with gifts: it is in the ordinary that we ultimately recognize our extraordinary-ness.

Beaky fell and we spent the night with her in the emergency room. As we sat by her bed, waiting for the pain medication to kick in, she said, “Did I ever tell you about the time…?” We heard stories about stags leaping over the car and the late-in-life marriage of her brother.

Another gift, related to her gift of story or, perhaps, an extension of her story-gift: people smile when they hang out with Beaky, even under extreme circumstances. For instance, writhing in pain, she looked into the eyes of a nurse and said, “I wish I had some of what you have! You have such a lovely smile.” And a new story begins; the nurse moved into the hall to tell the night staff about the kind woman in room 28.

After a sleepless night, Kerri and I sat in the hospital café and talked about the lessons of life, the lessons in generosity of spirit, the instruction in Grace and the rich stories we are receiving. From this seat, not much else seems important.

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Johnny crop copySupport the Kickstarter campaign for my play, The Lost Boy

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Touch The Past

The journal/record Isabelle kept of the fever that killed Johnny.

The journal/record Isabelle kept of the fever that killed Johnny.

I’ve been posting updates to pledgers for my play, The Lost Boy, through the Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been using images of the artifacts – Johnny Quiggle’s possessions – found in the trunk. Jim, the chief Chili Boy, has been doing archival and art shots of the artifacts. The images have served to make a vital point about the play: this story happened. This little boy died. The story that unfolded for me moved both forward and backwards in time. And, while receiving it from Tom, I realized that it was also my story, and your story. It’s universal and, therefore, worthy to tell. My latest update generated much feedback so I’m sharing it here, too:

Jim has completed shooting archive and detail photos of the contents of Johnny’s trunk. This journal was the last thing Isabelle put in the trunk before she closed it in 1885 and secretly sealed it into the walls. Tom told me that this journal told him more about Isabelle than any other object in the trunk. In her record of the fever, he could read her worry, her despair, her fears, a few days of hope, and then the devastation at losing her son. This play is more than a good story well told; it is one of the ways Isabelle reached through time, through Tom, and into me to tell a story that is relevant to all of us.

Thank you for everything you have done to bring this play to life. It is your encouragement and support (financially and otherwise) that will open the trunk to larger audience and extend Isabelle’s intention beyond the walls of the ranch, beyond the Quiggle/McKenzie families, and into the greater conversation.

Johnny crop copySupport the kickstarter campaign for The Lost Boy

 

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