Clutch Your Stinky Blanket

Dog-Dog with stinky blanket

Dog-Dog with stinky blanket

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog has a morning ritual that I do not understand. He returns to his crate, stands on his stinky blanket, and attempts to pull it from the crate. After a few moments it occurs to him that he’s unsuccessful because he’s standing on the blanket. It is a revelation. He exits the crate, walks halfway across the room, turns, returns to the crate, grabs the stinky blanket, finds his reverse gear and pulls the stinky blanket out of the crate and out of the room. His stinky blanket ritual happens every morning (that is why it is a ritual).

For the rest of the day, the blanket travels to new and exciting places around the house. Sometimes he takes great care of the stinky blanket. Sometimes he takes great delight in shredding it (often there are so many stinky-blanket-fragments littering the floor that it looks like a clown exploded in the house). Either way, great care or delight-in-shredding, his stinky blanket is a source of comfort not unlike a small child’s security blanket. For Dog-Dog, the world is a better place with a stinky blanket.

Last week, after Beaky was found on the floor of her apartment and rushed to the hospital, after we recognized that the incredibly resilient Beaky would not bounce back this time, Kerri needed to see Heidi. We drove an hour to where she was working and it was enough – more than enough – to grab a quick hug and spend a few passing moments with her as she worked. We sought out John, aka 20, and took great comfort in his good humor and kind heart. The family turned in and circled around Beaky. “This is hard…,” we cry as we reach for one another, giving and receiving comfort.

It occurs to me that we do this everyday. It is our ritual. Mike and Sabrina sent a text, “Think happy thoughts for us today…,” I emailed my mother, more for me than for her “Just thought you should know…,” Arnie tells me of his adventure and closes with, “Let me know how things are going.” David called and left a message, “Wanted to continue our cycle of communication…!” Each day, in many ways, in small ways, we reach out. We touch base. The world is a more secure place – a better place – in the reaching, in the touching base.

Walk Through The Firewall

from my narrative series: Sleepers

from my narrative series: Sleepers

The text read something like this: There are some things in life you cannot circumnavigate. You can only move through them.

Carol told me that each year there is a growing change in her students. There is a gap between their generation and ours – and it is alarming. She teaches young actors at a college for the arts.

“What’s the difference? “ I asked, “what’s the change?”

“They are increasingly more and more medicated,” she said. “Through their whole lives, since they were small children, they’ve been reinforced through medication that their emotions, what they feel and how they express it, are bad. To teach them to be actors, to be authentic on the stage, to allow that what they feel is necessary and good, is nearly impossible when they are drugged to prevent them from feeling anything.”

She paused for a moment and added, “I can’t ask them to get off their drugs. I can only help them consider that their feelings, their emotions, are not the enemy but the route to truth.”

I offered that the drugs serve as a firewall that keeps them from themselves. It dulls them from the full range of life experiences. Years ago, when I was working in the schools, I experienced the first wave of kids drugged into compliance. It seemed that the solution for almost everything was medication. Their attention was either in deficit or their behavior obsessive and, either way, meds were the answer.

We talked of the other firewalls, the drugs that numb us or distract us from a full range of life experiences. Television in excess is the most obvious. And then there is the downside of social media; disconnection in the guise of connection.

I shared that, on my move to Wisconsin, I decided to unplug from the daily news. For me, it was serving as a firewall against the essentials of life. Too much adrenaline and fear numbs us. It makes us close, shut down. I felt that the noise was doing the opposite of what it pretended. I suspected that I was less informed by listening to the onslaught of opinion-masked-as-news. I realized that I was agitated all the time by the battling correspondents and felt infected by the us-and-them picture they were painting of the world. When minor events are elevated to disaster status the real disasters pass unnoticed. Everything evens out. All colors of life reduce to bland gray.

Now that I’m through the firewall the events of real importance are evident beyond the chatter. If I really need to know it, I hear about it. In unplugging, I am actually more informed. And then there is this: without the incessant chatter, my artistry is coming through with clarity and potency. In seeing more clearly I can see my self more clearly. When not dulled or distracted by the noise, the full range of sound and color has re-emerged. The lesson: this world does not need fixing or changing or improvement. Neither do I.  It is gorgeous and profound when we are able to live unafraid of what we feel.

 

Gear Down, Baby!

a detail from my painting, John's Secret

a detail from my painting, John’s Secret

When writing The Seer I showed the early chapters to some pals and the response was unanimous: break it down into smaller bites. The conceptual steps were too big for readers to connect the dots.”What!” I exclaimed. “Are you kidding me!” I protested. “Are you telling me that people need me to spell it out for them? Am I supposed to hit them on the head with a hammer?” I cried in disbelief to my bemused pals. Their response to my inner adolescent was, again, unanimous: yes. You need to go slower, take smaller steps, and come a bit closer to earth. The details matter. The job is not to be understood. The job is to create understanding.

After gnashing my teeth and tearing my clothes I took their sage advice. And, it was sage advice. The book that I published was comprised of only the first three chapters from the original manuscript broken into smaller thought-bites. Breaking it down was one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done. Like Horton the-hearer-of-a-Who, I discovered complete new universes in the details, in the things I’d deemed too insignificant to mention or simply didn’t see with my head so firmly in the clouds. Ironically, while writing a book entitled The Seer, I learned a lesson in seeing.

Skip laughed when we first met. He’s a very-big-thinker and, like me, sees the world from 30,000 feet. He exclaimed, “Oh, No! You have the curse, too!” From 30,000 feet, small steps and details are almost invisible or easy to ignore. From 30,000 feet, everything is inter-related, one great big dynamic flowing motion. From 30,000 feet, the ubiquitous question is, “Don’t they see?” The runner-up question is, “What’s the problem?”

As we learned in school, the devil is in the details so, with my head in the clouds I have often been surprised by the detail-devil. People on the ground plant flags and guard territory. People on the ground choose sides and assume a defensive posture before thinking to ask a single question. Fear drives swifter action than does lofty reason. People are much more complex than they seem from the conceptual heights.

And, the only way of working with a complexity is through a simplicity. Connect the dots. Do not assume that “they” will “know” or “understand.” Do not assume that “they” see what I see or believe what I believe – or that what I see or believe is better or more valid than what they see. Opening a heart is a slow affair. Listening is best done when leaning in. Asking questions before making statements is good artistic process. Be a dot that connects to the other dots. Art, in all of its forms, is meant to serve as the great dot connector.

John's Secret by David Robinson

John’s Secret by David Robinson

Kerri, no stranger to my 30,000 foot rants, has developed a short-hand phrase for those too-many-moments when I need to move slower and pay attention to the details. She is helping me with this life lesson by applying a simplicity to my complexity. Now, when I have assumed that the dots are already connected and am perplexed by the breakdown, she simply says, “gear down, baby.” Move to a lower gear and open your eyes. Connection always happens in a lower gear. What is really there is infinitely more important (and often more beautiful) than what we want to be there. Releasing the “shoulds” opens eyes and hearts for shared experiences. So, gear down, baby.

 

Find The Riches

an illustration from Beaky's book, SHAYNE.

one of my illustrations from Beaky’s book, SHAYNE.

During my call with Jim I told him that my projects this year have been the most satisfying of my life. Certainly they have been the most important. And, they have also been, as I laughingly used the term, “negatively lucrative.” He didn’t yet know of Beaky’s books, of her website, of her book signing, so I sent him a few of my favorite photos from the event. Later, he sent me this text:

It is wonderful to be able to eat and pay the bills but there are for a fact things money can never buy. That famous authors obvious joy being one.

Isn’t that the truth? What price could we possibly place on joy? What price would we pay for true love? What price do we place on personal truth? What is the price tag on fulfillment?

I suspect that the great disease of our time – something future history professors and archaeologists will investigate – is that we’ve managed to place a value on our values; morality has somehow enmeshed with money, the purpose of education has somehow become the achievement of a bigger paycheck. In this never-ending political season, count the number of times and ways our candidates tell us that we must weigh our interests against our values.

What is the price of a value? What is the purpose of a value if it has a price?

All my life I’ve been told by people who love me, that, as an artist, I need to make a distinction between the work I do for food and the work I do for love. Most artists, myself included, feel their work is a kind of call. It is an imperative, a necessity. It is food. It is love. Most artists, myself included, do their work-for-love whether they are paid for it or not. They have to. I have to. It is a call. It is nourishment. There is no way in a culture that has placed a value on its values to recognize the real value of food-for-the-soul and food-from-the soul (the purpose of artists in a culture); a market cannot make sense of soul nourishment. This line of distinction, work-for-food or work-for-love, is at best a wonky value statement. It is a line that only makes sense to a people versed and rehearsed in trading their soul-requirements for a better retirement.

what is the price of joy?

what is the price of joy?

Last night I finished reading aloud to Kerri Tuesdays With Morrie. Jim’s text and Morrie’s messages are in beautiful alignment: there are, for a fact, things that money can never buy. And, those things are where the riches of this life can be found.

Step Toward Faith

My latest. An unusually small canvas.

My latest. An unusually small canvas: Will Is Belief.

I began writing this post a few weeks ago, just before the run to Florida and the launch of Beaky’s book. It was a very busy week and I’d forgotten that I started but did not finish the thought. This morning, wanting to get back into the rhythm of writing, I opened my iPad and found these words already written and awaiting my return:

I’m sitting in the choir loft watching the evening sun illuminate the stained glass window. I’m tired tonight and listening to Kerri, preparing for the Maundy evening service, rehearsing Nancy’s solo. Nancy’s voice is like a warm cello, deep and rich, and is working like a sound-massage on my tired bones. I’m giving over to it.

This cycle of services on Easter week is relatively new to me so I’m paying attention to all of the symbols and rituals of this story of rebirth. As is true of every great story cycle, the night is darkest before the dawn (thus, the cliché). This night, called Maundy Thursday in the cycle – I’m told that Maundy means mandate – is the night of the last supper and all the betrayals that followed. It is the segment of the story that is chocked full of crises of faith. If, like me, you are a lover of story you will recognize that some form of betrayal usually precedes a crisis of faith and, in turn, a crisis of faith always leads to growth and new direction; it always leads to sunrise.

Others betray us. We betray ourselves. Betrayal happens on the edges of the dark forest and forces a step into the unknown. Betrayal happens when we fall asleep (that is most often how we betray ourselves – sitting in front of the television to numb us to the richness of our lives). Things crumble: the relationship that we believed was secure, the truth into which we rooted our belief, the career that we thought would carry us to retirement. Security dissolves, identity dissipates, and then what? All the fears bob to the surface. All the dragons come out of the closet.

This was the unfinished thought I found this morning. I have no recollection of where I was going with it. Now, two weeks and a lot of life later, I read it as if someone else wrote it. However, there was one other sentence, detached from the others. It now reads like a mystery to me. When writing, I routinely float a sentence at the bottom of the page because it is the point of what I’m trying to reach. My floating sentence read:

A crisis of faith often has very little to do with faith.

And, as I try to resurrect my thought of a few weeks ago, I can only smile and write the first thing that occurred to me when I scrolled down and found the floater: Faith, like love or truth or time or anything else, is not something fixed. It moves and grows as we move and grow. A crisis of faith is really a step toward faith renewed. It enlivens. It helps us retire old dragons or let go of empty promises. It gets us out of our easy chair and helps us fully feel the day.

 

Breathe Out. Breathe In

...if beakybeaky was a band, this would be the album cover...

…if beakybeaky was a band, this would be the album cover…

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie.

Somewhere in the 22nd hour of our drive, the sun rose. Even through our exhaustion and bad fast food coffee, it took our breath away. It replaced, or, rather, swallowed, a brilliant sliver-crescent moon.

We’d stayed longer in Tampa than we expected. The day after Beaky’s book reading and signing, Sunday, we were exhausted so we delayed our return trip home for a day. The following day, Monday, was bad for Beaky – she was in tremendous pain and we were overwhelmed with the need to stay. So, we stayed, knowing the result would be a 24 hour dash home for rehearsals.

His voice dropped to a whisper. Let it come in. We think we dont deserve love, we think if we let it in well become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, Love is the only rational act.’” Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

...and the truth of beakybeaky....

…and the truth of beakybeaky….

This year is unusual. I’ve done too many plays, paintings, and projects to count and each had its rewards and regrets. Twice since the turning of the New Year I’ve completed a project that was so fulfilling, so right, that I would not change a thing. Both have this in common: the intention was pure. I did them for the right reason: someone else. The first, The Lost Boy, was a message from Tom to his nephew, Seth, and I was the messenger. The second, Beaky’s first book, Shayne, was to make a dream happen. Every dream needs assistance to be born: the manuscripts existed. Beaky’s desire to share (publish) existed. They lacked an illustrator and designer. I did the illustration. Kerri did the layout and design; a dream fulfilled itself. For me, both are lessons in breathing out love so that I might also breathe it in.

Just prior to Beaky’s reading, we took a series of selfies with her. I told her that, if Beakybeaky was a rock band, the selfies would make excellent album covers. After our photo opp, we wheeled her to a standing-room-only crowd, many people that she knew and many more that she didn’t, people who’d gathered to hear an almost-94 year old author read and sign her very first book.

a dream fulfilled

a dream fulfilled

Breathe out. Breathe in. It turns out that an exhale is necessary for the inhale.

 

 

Meet Shayne

frontcoverscreenshotAbout six weeks ago, Beaky called to discuss her writing and the viability of sharing it. Beaky is a few months shy of 94 years old and puts pen-to-paper almost every day. She calls it chicken scratch and is mostly unaware that she is a fantastic storyteller (actually, I believe she knows it but is too humble to apply the word ‘fantastic’ to herself). She can’t help it; storytelling is in her bones. Some of my favorite days of the past few years have been at Beaky’s side listening to her tell a tale.

At 93 she is reviewing her life and, like all of us, she wants to do more, be more. It is hard to understand for those of us who know her because she is a rare and special person. She is a bringer of joy; Beaky makes people smile. That, too, is in her bones. Some months ago we spent a long night in the emergency room with her. She’d taken a fall and we feared she’d broken her hip. Deep in the night, writhing in excruciating pain, Beaky looked into the eyes of an exhausted attending nurse and through her pain said, “You have the most beautiful smile.” The nurse giggled, blushed and beamed. Laughter, blushing and beaming are common occurrences when hanging out with Beaky. Even while in pain she seeks the giving-moment.

Almost sixty years ago she wrote a trilogy of stories for her children. For months we looked high and low for the folder of her stories. Not long ago we found them and discovered that each had a submission cover page; Beaky wanted to be published. So, we decided to put our heads down and make it happen. I illustrated the first book and Kerri did the layout and design. Today, Beaky’s first book, SHAYNE, is now available; it is published. Beaky is published. Within the next two months the second and third books of the trilogy will be published, too (SHAYNE AND THE YELLOW DRAGON and SHAYNE AND THE NEW BABY). Next week we will travel to be with her as she has her very first book reading & signing party. She is, of course, busy practicing her signature (wouldn’t you?).

Jim has a magnet on his refrigerator that reads, “It is never too late to become what you might have been.” In Beaky’s case I might add: It’s never to late to realize what you have always been AND be a children’s book author, too.

One of my favorite photos: Kerri with her mom, Beaky

One of my favorite photos: Kerri with her mom, Beaky

[check out Beaky’s website! www.beakysbooks.com]