Capture The Essence

Dog-Dog and treasure

Dog-Dog and treasure

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog gathers his stuff around him. He has two stinky blankets that he pulls from his crate each morning, a red Kong, a blue chew bone with a handy looped rope pull, another blue toy that once looked like a jack but has been chewed beyond recognition, a once-stuffed moose from Josh that is now an unrecognizable shredded mess though he carries it around as if it was precious cargo. There is also a muddy tennis ball, a raw hide bone and usually a sock pilfered from my sock basket. If Kerri and I shift locations within the house, move from the living room to the sun room, Dog-Dog’s worldly possessions will slowly migrate with us. He is subtle and I rarely see the migration in progress; I suddenly realize that I am sitting within a nest of Dog-Dog treasure.

My favorite section in The Lost Boy is a series of questions that Tom asked: 1) if you were given a cardboard box and it was all that was going to be allowed to provide proof that you walked on this earth, what would you put in your box? 2) Beyond proof, what would you put in the box that captured the essence of who you were, that distinguished you from all the others? 3)What are the collections, the things you gather around you that are somehow supposed to tell others who you are? These questions might seem simple but are surprisingly complex. How does your stuff tell the story of who you are? Or, a better question: does your stuff define you? Can your stuff – your car, your house, your granite counter tops, your clothes, your jewelry,…, – capture your essence?

Tom asked two other related and relevant questions: In packing your box, would you be tempted to scrub your life of its messiness? Would you try to eliminate the mundane, the everyday? Would you throw away your rough drafts? Would you ignore the relationships that didn’t work out? Would you explain away the ugliness, the ruthless choices? Would you burn your personal journals so that the future might never glimpse your doubt, your struggles, your frailty?

I would add these questions: What if your essence was only available to you once you value the messiness? What if, in throwing away the mundane, you actually eliminate what is truly special about you? I’ve often taught and touted a tenet from improvisational theatre: drop your clever and pick up your ordinary – most of us diminish/neglect our greatest gifts because we label them as ordinary. They come naturally to us so we don’t always recognize them. In trying so hard to be clever, to be right, to be flawless,…to be other, we regularly overlook the real treasure and relegate ourselves to that most shameful pile labeled ‘ordinary.’

Scrubbing life to a sterile, conflict-less blandness is a recipe for….boredom and, at the end of the day, a very uninteresting box. Of this I am certain: if Dog-Dog had to pack his box today, I would be proud to sit amidst the stinky blankets, blue bones and remnants of moose toy. Dog-Dog hides none of his messiness.

 

Reach

photo-6In these few weeks post Lost Boy I’ve been writing thank you letters and sending Kickstarter rewards to the many people who donated to the campaign. I am humbled by the number of people who stepped forward to lend a hand, offer resources (financial and otherwise), and/or heap us with the moral support necessary to produce the play.

The Reminder: no one does anything alone. All creative acts, all things that are useful in this world, all triumphs that seem on the surface to be an individual achievement, are, in truth, a group effort. Life is a team sport. Quarterbacks are nothing without a front line, a coaching staff, a back office, a marketing machine spinning the tale. They also had mothers that for years drove them to practice, families that stood in the cold to watch them play little league, and a host of friends who told them that they could do it if the only kept going. Artists are no different. Even the loneliest painter has a rolling lifetime team whether they recognize it or not. Consider this simple basic: a painting is never complete until someone other than the artist engages with it. A play is never complete until an audience arrives. The whole point is to make or accept an offer to/from an other.

We, the people of these United States, place the accent of our existence on the achievement of the individual and that sometimes makes us blind to the obvious truth of our existence. We do nothing of worth on this earth without the support and participation of others; relationship is at the core of anything worth doing.

from the 2015 Racine snow carving contest. I'm sorry I did not capture the artists names!

from the 2015 Racine snow carving contest. I’m sorry I did not capture the artists names!

Once, many years ago, I lived in Los Angeles. I did not know my neighbors. I had no idea or desire to know who was living in the houses next to me. One night the earthquake came and our illusion of independence was stripped bare. With no power, no water, no heat, and compromised housing, the first thing we did was to reach to each other. When the illusions of comfort and security are stripped, our real need (each other) becomes glaringly apparent.

I wrote this play, The Lost Boy, because someone dear to me, over a decade ago, asked me for help. I was grateful that he asked – it meant I got to spend time with him and return some of the attention and love that he had invested in me. When the metaphoric earthquake hit – when Tom died – I had no recourse but to reach out to others; I produced this play when I realized that I was not alone and all I need do was ask for help. Legacy, like story or life, is an infinite loop of relationships.

Shovel Snow And Survive

...and that's only half of it;-)

…and that’s only half of it;-)

We have a freakishly long driveway or so it seems to me every time it snows. During the summer months I never think about the length of the driveway. In fact, when it is not snow covered, I appreciate its ability to accommodate several cars. Valet services everywhere might lust after our snow-free driveway. Our neighbors routinely mistake our driveway for the approach to a country club.

Last night Skip took the train up from Chicago. It was his first visit to our house. His first question to me upon seeing the house was, “Are you the snow blower?” He immediately recognized the freakish length of the driveway due to the massive piles of snow that currently define it. Skip also knows I have an excessive amount of hot air (so I am capable of literally blowing snow when on a good rant) that interrupts any sense that I might actually possess. Point-in-fact, we have a snow blower that sits comfortably in the garage. It requires a goodly amount of maintenance or perhaps a single bullet to the engine. I’ve considered mounting it on a pedestal for my yard maintenance sculpture series. Had I confessed possession of a snow blower Skip would certainly have asked, “Does it blow snow?” What an absurd question! Of course not!

There’s something in me that likes a challenge. Last night it snowed and I couldn’t wait to step into my big Wisconsin boots, grab my new green shovel (I broke the old orange shovel in the last heavy snow), and get to it! Kerri shook her head and reminded me that people “my age” routinely expire from excessive snow shoveling and, since we have a freakishly long driveway, there is excessive snow to shovel. She made it sound like my demise was not only possible but imminent. She said it was simple logic: if A) excessive snow shoveling causes early dirt napping and B) there is excessive snow to shovel, then, C) my shoveling excessive amounts of snow excessively would likely lead to early dirt napping.

I reminded her that we are both artists and logic rarely interferes with our decision-making. “Then take your time,” she admonished. “Go slow.” Ah! In the rebuke of logic, a little bit of Zen is always welcome. I shoveled snow slowly and survived. I paused often to breathe-in the cold and listen to the wind.

 

Delight In The Question

a new canvas, stretched and ready for gesso.

a new canvas, stretched and ready for gesso.

So what is next?

There is a sweet void that follows in the wake of every project and this particular void is vaster than most (don’t you love the phrase, “particular void?”). This project, The Lost Boy, was and continues to be more layered than any other. It pulls on emotional and spiritual roots that have not been available in other performances and so the post-show disorientation is mighty.

I’ve come to appreciate my time in the void. It is the time of reflection. It is the time of rest. It is the time of long walks. It is the time of questions finally answered that invite bigger questions. I’ve learned that disorientation is necessary for reorientation and reorientation never comes as an answer but always comes in the form of a question: so, what’s next?

Yesterday I tacked a large canvas to the wall. It is now covered with layers of Gesso and is ready for paint. I delight in this phase of preparation. It is akin to the anticipation of meeting with an old friend; the conversation will be rich and far reaching. I also bought a new sketchbook and have set myself the task of filling it within the month. Many years ago, while sitting in another void, I was staying with my pals Duncan and Liz while directing a play. Liz, familiar with voids, insisted that, after rehearsals, I do a hundred paintings before I sleep. Each night, tired from a long day of rehearsal, Liz sat with me as I did one hundred paintings, quick gestures with brush and ink, paper fluttering to the floor. We laughed and I felt renewed. After ten paintings en route to a hundred, the notion of judgment and too-much-thinking goes out the window. The joy of the action takes precedence over the illusion of a finished product.

I’ve written often of the lessons Saul-the-tai-chi master taught me. Focus on the field of possibility and not on the opponent. In other words, offer no resistance to those things that appear as obstacles. Sit with gratitude in the void. Paint a hundred paintings before you sleep. Delight in the question.