Listen For The Funny

752. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I’ve spent the past few weeks drawing cartoons. The cartoons are part of a new collaboration. An amazing thing happens when you are responsible for scripting and drawing cartoons: you listen to the world with a whole new set of ears. I’m tuning into the ridiculous. I’m hearing the absurd. Yummy phrases cross my path and I net them like butterflies. I might not yet know how to use the phrases but I am certain there is a perfect scenario for every luscious bit.

I find that I am constantly scrambling to fetch scraps of paper to capture the phrases that I’ve heard or the events that I witness. Yesterday I had to borrow a pen and scribbled furiously on a sack from Office Depot. The sack now has weeks of good material scrawled between the colorful decorative Office Depot pattern.

It is an exercise in intentional listening. I’m listening for and subsequently hearing things that are funny. Even in the most mundane conversations or serious meetings I find gems. I’m tuning into a world filled of comedians who do not know they are funny. Going into a coffee house is like climbing into a clown car. I am busting up at the most inappropriate moments. I’m certain there are people in my circle who now think I have slipped into madness. The more serious they become, the more funny they seem to me. Interventions will do no good. Take me into a room, strap me to a table and sedate me and I will find something funny in what you are doing. I can’t help it. It’s my job at the moment.

I encourage you right now – do not wait to begin drawing your own comic strip. Do yourself a favor and stop listening to this world with serious ears. Listen for the funny. There are clowns everywhere just waiting to feed you new material.

Leave Sorrow

751. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Sorrow is a strange land. It is located deep in the continent known as Heart and is a place renowned for its fragments. It claims and celebrates a culture of pieces with nary a nod to the possibility of wholeness. Beneath the community coat of arms is the question, “What happened?” No one in the community attempts an answer as that might change the very nature of the place. The residents of Sorrow are committed to maintaining things as they’ve always been. To seek a change in their situation, to move to another land might require some soul searching. It would certainly require initiative and the recognition of choice, something the locals haven’t considered for generations.

As you might imagine the sky over Sorrow is mostly overcast with light rain or drizzle. The geography is as flat as the expectations of the inhabitants. To live on a hill is a burden. Who needs a view with downcast eyes and frozen internal gaze? “Why bother?” is the phrase uttered most by residents when faced with a challenge.

No one in Sorrow plants gardens as budding plants bring a sense of hope and wonder. Those emotions are eschewed. Houses are rarely painted. People make do with what they’ve got. People hold on to what they know. Children are taught to curb their imaginations so that they might not grow to want something better.

Outsiders are often disturbed by the flat nature and dull acceptance of the residents of Sorrow. Tourists have been known to ask the locals, “Why don’t you dream of something joy filled?” Or, “What keeps you here? Why not make a change?” The locals shrug their shoulders as if to say, “Why bother?” Later in the pub, seeking commiseration, the locals will tell the tale of the tourists asking annoying questions and will reinforce each other in their sadness by agreeing that, “They just don’t understand what it means to be dedicated to life in Sorrow.”

A little known statistic and curious fact: no residents of Sorrow where actually born there. There are no natives. Some moved to Sorrow without prior knowledge of the character of the land, some were compelled to move there temporarily for work or perhaps relationship. All stayed without coercion or restraint. In the end of the day, they chose to take up residence. They chose to locate in Sorrow.

Back on the bus, the tourists stare out the window and quietly ask, “Why would anyone want to live there?”

Listen To The Story

750. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I found another rich tidbit in the archives and have updated it slightly:

Where is the story that unites us? Story is the gravity that holds communities together, pulling individuals into a common orbit. It is the irresistible cadence of invitation: come. Sit. It is singular and essential; it holds the space of affirmation. It reinforces the knowing of, “This is who we are. This is where we belong.”

Story is the gravity that holds us together, this we’ve forgotten. And like the musicians in an out-of-tune orchestra, when we no longer recognize our common story then the gravity reverses itself, we spin off into the void, alone in a cacophony of inner monologue. Hell is a community of individuals lost in the fog of their own story. Hell is the universe that has forgotten the existence of shared music. Hell is where you compare yourself to others and in a comparison the others will always win. In Hell you think you have to be perfect so you are never good enough. Hell is where you invest in false notions of who you should be, have to be, could have been. In Hell there is no present moment because you are too invested in the fears of the future and regrets from the past. It’s a dense fog, an inner wasteland. In hell you are alone. Staying in Hell takes a real commitment to the story that you tell!

Not only is story capable of holding us in a coordinated orbit and conversely, blinding us to each other, story also holds the power of guiding us through the wasteland and back to the garden. The old stories are like maps capable of telling us. “This is how your trials will look and feel. These are the challenges you will face. This is what you can expect.” Knowing the stories won’t save you from your trials but they will bring greater meaning to them. Stories guide.

Every human that has ever walked the face of the earth has been born, grown to adulthood, wondered what was theirs to do, loved and lost, fulfilled themselves or not, grown old, and died; their advice comes to us in the form of a story. If we listen metaphorically, the wisdom it holds will spill its guts. Stories don’t need to be tortured to reveal their secrets, they are eager to share. However, treat them as fact and they will clench their jaws and clutch their fists and hold their breath until they pass out. Their treasure lives beyond the realm of facts, beyond the superficial. Read a story as literal or as fact and you cage what is wild. Listen deeply, go beyond your chattering intellect and engage it, feel it in your body. Story desires a relationship with you.

Make Your Choices

749. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Today I saw a man nearly beaten to death. Four men jumped him. Pedestrians ran to the man’s aid. A bus stopped. Police were called. I could not look. I did not want those images in my mind.

A half a block away a young man helped an old woman in a walker cross the street. She took longer than the time allotted by the light so the man stepped into the street and shielded her. I stared. I wanted that image in my mind.

I ran for a bus and the driver either did not see me or did not care. He pulled away as I reached for the door. For a moment I was angry because I decided that he didn’t care and then I chose the other possibility. I did not want the anger in my body.

I debated about telling someone of the love I felt. It seemed scary to say out loud. For a moment I was silent and then I chose the other possibility. I wanted to feel the love in my body. To say it is to release it. The warmth flows both ways.

These are our choices, are they not?

Open The Door

748. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

“The artist vocation is to send light into the human heart.” George Sand

The first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is that all of life is suffering. In this context the predicament of the artist is no different than that of a plumber or a president though I’ve yet to find a plumber who considers suffering necessary to his or her vocation. With artists (in the USA) suffering is central to the narrative. It is an expectation and seems to be a prerequisite. Why do artists think they need to suffer or believe that suffering unlocks the door to their artistry? It doesn’t.

Here are some conditions central to unlocking the door to artistry: curiosity, experimentation, exploration, discovery, passion, investigation, play, “What if…?”

We do not easily walk into our shadows. One of the roles of artist is to go where others choose not to go. A walk into the shadow may be uncomfortable but it is equally as liberating. An artist is supposed to see what others cannot and sometimes that is painful. An artist often acts as a bridge between worlds of perception, living on the edge of the village, translating the signs. As the god of transitions and boundaries, Hermes was of this ilk. He was also the protector of poets. Sometimes it is the role of the artist to travel into the netherworlds to retrieve a truth or a lost soul. Orpheus descended into the underworld to reclaim Eurydice. He did not trust so he lost what he most desired. His artistry was a gift of the gods. His suffering was from distrust of the gods’ gift.

At times artistry may be solitary or scary but it is always transforming. Always. An artist rarely “fits” the social norms but continually serves the health and growth of the community. Artists are transformational.

The coaching work I do with artists (myself included) often requires a stroll into this misguided ideal or expectation of suffering. What are the underlying assumptions that make suffering or madness an erroneous precondition for artistry? This is what I know: suffering is what happens when we ignore our innate artistry or smother our essential creative spark. Suffering is not a prerequisite to anything. Suffering is a sign that the artistic door is closed.

Choose Your Clothes

747. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Today was gorgeous in Seattle so I decided to walk across town to my studio. En route I saw six men dressed in full foliage-style camouflage. None were in the military. The first I barely noticed. Later when the second crossed my path I thought, “Oh. Bookends!” When, a few moments later I saw a third, my curiosity was piqued. One would not have caught my attention but six was a bowling team and a half so I began to ponder. What would inspire a man to dress in full camouflage when headed downtown? And, why so many camouflage clad men in such a short amount of time?

The point of camouflage is to blend in to the environment. Had they been wearing the taupe brick pattern or perhaps cement and asphalt design, their clothes might have served to conceal. I would have passed them without notice. Perhaps my subconscious would have alerted me to the oddity in the bricks but I would have glazed over it without raising their attire to my consciousness. Their camouflage achieved the exact opposite of its design! They stood out! Six foliage-pattern-peacocks sauntering down the urban streets of Seattle. Perhaps that was the point! To be seen in an environment that is otherwise anonymous. Amidst so many grey suits they were a festival of pattern and color.

Many years ago I used to buy green military cargo pants because the pockets were great for a painter. All kinds of rags and brushes fit in cargo pockets. They were comfortable and infinitely destroy-able so they were perfect for artist wear. Perhaps my bowling team and a half were dedicated to function and comfort. Had they been wearing only the pants or only the shirt I would have thought them artistic but no self-respecting artist wears statements of regiment and uniformity. In full regalia they were making a statement other than artistry.

Clothes are a statement. Mine are just as much a statement as are the choices made by my bowling team plus two. Perhaps that is what caught my attention. It is an odd statement of choice when a person dons camouflage while they have full freedom of choice. Sameness in the military serves an important function. To choose uniformity as a route to self-expression is a paradox almost too beautiful to ignore. Or, perhaps my guys are not comfortable with choices. Perhaps self-expression is too much to consider so military gear is a nice solution to overwhelming angst. I remember watching a film about a man who came to the USA from a third world country. The first time he entered an American grocery store he was completely overwhelmed by too many choices. It’s possible that my bowling team plus two suffer from option anxiety.

Of course, I am speculating. Perhaps their mothers still lay out their clothes; matching tops to bottoms is easier when dealing only with camouflage. One need not think too much when there is only one option.

Create A New Circle Of Thought

746. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I am cleaning out old files and rediscovering some small gems. This one is useful for educators and the national non-conversation we continue to have about education. This gem is from the Circle Project years when Patti and I used Vicious and Virtuous circles with our clients as a way of clarifying their challenges. We also used them to clarify our challenges or to prepare for a training/teaching session. This Vicious circle came from our preparation to lead a train-the-trainer session. Imagine the phrases move clockwise around a circle so that the final phrase returns to the first. The challenge, of course, it to discover and change the premise of the vicious circle, transforming it into a virtuous circle:

I Am The Expert, requiring that I have all the answers

And when I must have all the answers, I can never say, “I don’t know.”

And when I can’t say, “I don’t know,” learners and questions become dangerous,

And when questions become dangerous, controlling the learner is my primary intention.
And when I need to control the learner, I train against surprise,

And when I train against surprise, my training becomes transactional,

And when my training becomes Transactional, I relegate the learner to a “passive receiver,”

And when the learner is relegated to being a passive receiver,

I am The Expert, requiring that I have all the answers…

Everything we need to know to revolutionize education: interrupt the loop OR do the opposite. Begin with this phrase and see what new loop you might create:

I refuse to be The Expert, requiring me to help my students find their own answers,

And because they must find their own answers, we begin by saying, “I don’t know.”

And when we can say, “I don’t know,” learners become questioners so there’s a reason to learn,

[the rest is for you to create – or go back and alter my start. Have fun revolutionizing a system badly in need of your new circle of thought!].