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.

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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.

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Learn To Swim

from my children's book on how to play, PLAY 2 PLAY

from my children’s book on how to play, PLAY 2 PLAY

Hoodie tells me that he is sarcastic by nature but I don’t believe it. I’ve spent a lot of time in nature and I find no sarcasm there. I also understand much about human nature and know that sarcasm is not a native plant; it is invasive. It is introduced into fertile, unknowing soil.

Sarcasm is the tool of the drowning man. It is an act of desperation to push others under the water in order to elevate the self. I’ve walked many paths and worked with many powerful and not-so-powerful people. There is a rule on the stage that applies: the king never needs to act powerful because the king is powerful. Those who need to demonstrate power have none. As Quinn used to tell me, if someone has to tell you that they’re important, they really aren’t. Sarcasm is a form of importance-telling. Powerful people create power with others. Power is a creative act. It is a communal act. They have no need to diminish or reduce others because they recognize that reduction also reduces. People who must reduce others are not powerful; they’ve confused control with power. They want to be king. They want to be seen as king. But, they do not believe they are king. Sarcasm is a form of perception control.

No one is by nature sarcastic. Sarcasm is learned in batting cages, at dinner tables, and on the field of play. Sarcasm is a mask. It is a place to hide smallness. It is passed down generationally. Masks both conceal and reveal and while it might feel good to pull others under the waves, it also reveals a non-swimmer. It is habit. It is learned.

Hoodie is not by nature sarcastic. Hoodie is a swimmer. He has the stuff of kings. He also tells me that his nature is to give comfort, to help others. He will one day realize, after he transcends his habit of drowning, that his nature to lift others is the center of his power place. Sarcasm separates him, reduces him, as do all forms of self-diminishment/control. Sarcasm is a lonely planet. Power is always a movement toward others. It is generative, as is all of nature.

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Covet The Right Stuff

I did this drawing for my book, The Seer

I did this drawing for my book, The Seer

This morning Kerri shared a nice definition of the word “covet:” insufficient gratitude for what you already possess. It made me laugh because the definition exposes the ethical double bind of being human.

I imagine that in some distant past, a hairy guy stepped out of his cave and was startled to find that his neighbor had a new thing called fire. Being cold and also tired of eating sushi for every meal, he coveted his neighbor’s fire. He wanted some of that. A healthy lack of gratitude for what you already possess is often how good ideas spread (a random anthropological note: I read this morning that the average life span of a cave man was 18 years. I suspect coveting warmth-by-fire increased the average by a couple of years).

So, to covet is sometimes useful, especially where essentials like food, fire, and stories are concerned. It is only human to want enough food, a roof over your head, and a life-story that has meaning and purpose.

To desire is human. To want a better life is universal. What is the line between desire and coveting? To want what others have, to a certain extent, is pack behavior and we are, like it or not, creatures of the pack. Product marketers around the world count on our capacity to want what other people have and so our covet-muscle is exercised daily. The creation of imaginary need is a super trick for selling stuff and coveting what others have is key to lack creation. It’s hard to sell things if people are fulfilled.

So, to covet may be a warning signal that you are building your tower of meaning on sandy soil.

And that loops back to gratitude. All day, Kerri and I have been talking about being conscious in the moments of your life. None of us have unlimited time on this earth. The only thing we actually possess is our moments and our choices within our moments. The other stuff is really on loan and generally passing. Spiritual teachers and artists throughout history are unanimous on this point: the path to a rich life is built upon presence. Paying attention, exercising deep gratitude for the moments of your life, will always illuminate the extraordinary in the ordinary. Cultivating the capacity to see your extraordinary life will help you will covet the right stuff. Feeling grateful for your moment is always easier when you are warm and your brontosaurus burger is cooked just right.

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Open The Box

JIm Marsh of the band, Mom's Chili Boys, tuning up for rehearsal.

JIm Marsh of the band, Mom’s Chili Boys, tuning up for rehearsal.

It is often the simplest of actions that rock the world. I had one of those moments yesterday. It was a threshold moment. Its power took me by surprise. It changed me and all I did was open a box.

We flew to California to work on a play. I’ve worked on dozens of plays and performance pieces in my life but this one is special because it’s not an abstraction. It’s not a made-up story. I’ve lived it and lived with it for nearly a decade. The event, the catalyst of the play was the discovery of a box, a time capsule plastered into the walls of a ranch house over 130 years ago. Tom found the box. It held the possessions of an ancestor, a small boy who died in 1885. The boy’s mother, Isabelle, put his clothes and toys in a small trunk, wrote notes, some brief anecdotes about the boy, and then hid the box in the walls of the house.

Nearly ten years ago, we began creating the play when, late one night during a visit to the ranch, Tom asked me to help him. He asked, “What am I supposed to do with this box?” At first, much of the body of the play amounted to organized transcription. During each visit I recorded hours of conversation with Tom, hours of late night storytelling, and then flew home and transcribed the recordings. I wanted to catch the cadence of Tom’s vocal patterns. I wanted to catch the rhythms of his extraordinary voice and gift of storytelling. The play was his to perform; my work was simply to craft it, to draw a clear story-path for him to follow. The play, a one-man show, was ready for production when Tom’s health failed. He died a year ago.

During Tom’s decline I rewrote the play so that I might narrate the story and added another character to the piece. The Chili Boys had a battery of new music for the play so we gathered in Stockton to integrate the new music with the new text.

When we arrived in California, we visited Tom’s widow, Marcia. She gave us the trunk so we might photograph the clothes, toys, and notes. I’d seen the artifacts many, many times. Tom and I wiled away many nights unpacking the box and reading the notes, talking about his family stories. When our rehearsals were finished, sitting with Kerri and Jim moments before driving back to the airport for our return flight, we decided to open the trunk. Kerri had never seen the artifacts. As I lifted the lid, as I opened the trunk, I realized it was the first time; Tom had always opened the box. Tom had always reached inside, removed the shoes, the tattered coat, the hobby horse, the diary that contained the tracking notes of a fever that killed the boy. This boy was not fiction. Tom would say, “Look at this. Look at what she wrote on this.”

I opened the lid, for the first time, reaching inside, pulling out the shoes, the jumping jack, saying, “Do you see this? Someone must have made it for Johnny. And here, this is the notebook that Isabelle kept of Johnny’s fever. Look at what she wrote.”

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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.