Listen To Randi

a detail from my latest painting in progress

a detail from my latest painting-in-progress

Randi is wise. Though, like all truly wise souls, she is completely unaware of her wisdom. She knows that she takes great delight in learning new things. She knows that her curiosity is boundless. She knows beyond the platitude of the sentiment that each new day is an opportunity to renew. Each new day is a step into unknown territory and, for Randi, there is no sense in taking timid steps. There is no sense in trying to make the day fit into a preconceived “normal.” There is no sense in watching the dance. Dance!

She squeals with pleasure when she hears a word used beautifully. “I am a lover of words!” she exclaims. She knows that words are powerful and when used beautifully will define beautiful experiences. She uses her words to define life beautifully. And, because she understands the power of words – and the brevity of life, she also understands the imperative of telling others what they mean to her. She has no problem expressing love.

another detail

another detail

We took a rare opportunity to see her, swinging north to Buffalo after traveling to Boston to celebrate Thanksgiving with Craig and Dan. At dinner, we talked of new relationships and new work and new phases of life. We talked of the necessity of creating balance amidst the tug and push of this fast moving life-river. Randi smiled, “I once heard someone speak about attempting to balance life and they said something that changed how I see it. They said that when yearning to balance the many aspects of our lives it is most often not balance we seek! It’s integration! Rather than try to bring all these separate pieces of life into a balancing act, why not integrate them into a unified whole!” She clapped her hands as if having the revelation all over again. “It’s integration, wholeness that we desire!”

Wholeness is another word for presence, and presence is the goal of the performers’ art. Quinn, another wise person, used to tell me that all spiritual teachings speak of finding the middle way, the path between poles or opposites. “Zealots miss the point!” he’d say. Life is not found in the extremes, in the separations, in the fragmented, or the isolationist’s dream. Those are aims of the controller. The rule bound. The real balancing comes in the letting go. As Randi reminded us, it is found in the integration, the middle way, the whole.

the whole

the whole painting as of 12.1.16

 

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Love What You Do

a detail from my painting, May You Be

a detail from my painting, May You Be

It is cold and the lake is very still. It’s one of the things I love about living next to the lake: one day it is glassy stillness, the next it is an angry torrent. It is alive and has many, many faces.

Quinn used to say, “There are 5 billion people on this planet and you’re the only one who gives a damn about what you are doing or how you are doing it.” That was some time ago. There are now 7 billion people on the planet but I’m certain the equation remains the same. If you stop your forward motion because of what others might think, you are indulging in a delusion. The other 7 billion people are primarily concerned with themselves, not you. The deep water lesson: do what you love because you love to do it. There aren’t nearly as many limits as you pretend.

I thought of Quinn the other night because I have a new hero. His name is Dan Navarro. He’s a troubadour, a singer songwriter, and was performing at Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson, about an hour and a half drive from home. Kerri has long been a fan and introduced me to the music of Lowen & Navarro. For many decades, Dan Navarro wrote and performed with his friend and creative partner, Eric Lowen. They were brilliant together. A rare fit, a true creative team, Eric Lowen died of ALS in 2012. He and Dan wrote and performed as long as humanly possible after Eric’s diagnosis. They loved to write. They loved to perform.

A few months ago Kerri and I were listening to a Lowen & Navarro album and wondered what had become of Dan Navarro so we googled him. To our great surprise we discovered the impending Fort Atkinson stop on his latest mini tour.

Cafe Carpe is a smallish place and Dan Navarro is an accessible guy so I wasn’t surprised when, before the concert, he came over for a chat. He and Kerri talked about the pain of disappearing royalties and the radical changes technology has brought to music making and music selling. I wondered how many times he’s been asked about the loss of Eric and how it must be the white elephant in every performance as well as every conversation; the people coming to see Dan Navarro are fans of Lowen & Navarro. When it came up in our conversation he was gracious and spoke openly of missing his friend everyday.

He is putting the final touches on a solo album due out in March. “Who knows how it will be received.” he said. “And who cares. You do what you love to do and put it out into the world. That’s the best you can do.”

He took the stage, a troubadour in his power and his prime with the ease that can only come from doing with his life what he was meant to do. “People ask me about retiring…,” he spoke into the mic, “…and I will never retire. I don’t know what that means. I love what I do and will always do it.” he said, sliding into a song that left us no alternative but to follow.

 

Answer The Question With A Question

carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram at Changing Faces Theatre Company

Many years ago at the start of my career I bumbled into running a summer theatre company. It would become one of the great gifts of my life. At the time I decided that it would be my laboratory. I’d be able to experiment with directing processes and actor training techniques. What I didn’t realize until much later was that I would also be running an experiment in business and, more importantly, how to create a community mindset of support and empowerment (and, therefore, achievement). I was free to succeed because I gave myself permission to focus on the quality of the process instead of worrying about hard and abstract words like ‘achievement.’ My bottom line was the inner growth of everyone in the company, the inner growth of the community that we served.

When the company was up and running, when it was mature, company members swept the parking lot because they knew it would make the play better (improving the audience experience always impacts the performance). The people running the box office prided themselves on their kind service and efficiency because they knew that it would make the play better. The actors understood that they were in service to the play and not themselves. In fact, everyone in the company was in service to something bigger than themselves. That was the culture of the company. When pushed to articulate the success of what we created together, I’d say, “We’re focusing on the important stuff.”

Yesterday with great intention I sent that phrase (focus on the important stuff) out into the e-stratosphere. I lobbed it in association with the company that Kerri and I are in the process of creating to see what would come back at me. Like the summer theatre company, this new venture is our laboratory. What came back was the question, “What’s the important stuff?”

Sometimes the only way to answer a question is with another question. Take a look around your world. Take a moment to look at the difference between what you say and what you do. What do you see? What do you want to see? Big power comes to people when, like my company members (students) of so long ago, they realize that their “seeing” isn’t passive. The greatest single power any human being has is to choose where they place their focus. The greatest single revelation any human being has is to recognize that what they see impacts everyone around them. No one does this walk alone.

the very first painting in the Yoga series. It was an experiment, a walk of discovery. It's also about being alone

the very first painting in the Yoga series. It was an experiment, a walk of discovery. It’s also about being alone.

It’s easy to place a focus on an obstacle. It’s very easy to fix a gaze on the problems. It’s easy because, left alone, believing we are alone, that’s where most people default. Place yourself in a community that knows there is something bigger, something more important to see and serve, and the field of possibilities becomes easy. My company members of so long ago didn’t know what they couldn’t do so they did everything they imagined. That was only possible because they imagined it together. So, answering a question with a question, to you, what’s the important stuff?

 

Say More With Less

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

say more with less

One of my favorite humans is Master Jim Marsh. He told me a story of a dilemma. Something in his world was bugging him. He complained about it a lot. One day he realized that complaining was not helping. He said, “I decided I had 3 choices: to stop complaining, to move, or to do something about it.” He stopped complaining and began acting to change on what was bugging him. Sometimes talking about something makes us feel like we’re doing something. It’s a deflection. Actions, as we are told, speak louder than words. 

TO GET TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Screen Shot Say More

Embrace The Bump

photoArt stores are dangerous places. We entered the store with a short list: vine charcoal and titanium white paint. We left with a suspiciously large bag – Kerri found the pen and pencil aisle and got “that look” in her eyes. I found her sitting amidst a vast circle of pen possibilities making marks on a pad of paper. “Ooooooooooo,” she cooed, feeling the latest pen for weight and suitability for her hand. “I looooooove this one,” she said to herself. Her pile of “I love this one” selections was formidable. Art stores are like opium dens.

20 (aka John) was with us. He regularly incites us to riot and misbehavior. He was little help extracting Kerri from her pen-nest. 20 impacts us like a snout-full of laughing gas. He has a way of making the darkest day bright. 20 is, in fact, a bringer of light; he has developed this capacity because, like all bringers of light, he knows well the other side. One day in early summer, we sat on the deck drinking coffee and made our belly buttons talk, giving voice to the things we think but cannot say in polite society. We laughed so hard that I had to run inside the house; I couldn’t breathe. Twenty’s belly button had a lot to say.

After escaping the art store, Kerri hefted her bag of supplies to the car while 20 and I waited on the corner. That’s when we saw the sign. It was something Sartre might have provided had he been a traffic engineer. It was existential. 20 and I jumped at the chance to make a selfie with the sign-philosophical. It simply read, BUMP.

photo-1As we snapped our selfies, laughing all the way, I couldn’t help but recognize that life – a good life – is riddled with bumps. In my consulting days I used to work with people to embrace the bumps rather than try to remove them. There is a pervasive notion that smooth sailing makes a good life. A bump-free life is a recipe for disaster. All of life’s lessons are found within the bumps. A life without bumps is a life without challenges is a life that is boring. And, in truth, people create bumps if they don’t already exist. They’re called a hobby or gossip or a complaint or drama. In story language, bumps (called ‘conflict’) drive the story; without bumps there is no movement. Yearning is a bump. So is desire. Unrequited love is a bump. Loss is a bump. Wondering what is beyond the horizon is a great bump.

20 is a great teacher of how to address bumps: Laugh. Make a selfie. Alter the word to something even more outrageously appropriate. Look for the next opportunity. Let your belly button talk.

photo-2

Walk With Your Ally

another painting in the Yoga series

the latest painting in the Yoga series

David is among my chief muses. He was the first person I met in my spontaneous-no-plan-move-to-Seattle over 15 years ago. We sat next to each other at a conference and he asked me if I wanted to be in a play. When I said yes he said, “Great. Can you be at rehearsal tonight?” Like me, he is a painter as well as a theatre artist. He steps through life with his eyes firmly focused on the possibilities. He reminds me that obstacles are nothing more than interesting process steps. When I wander through museums or galleries David goes with me whether he is there or not. When I see a play that inspires me, I wish that he might see it, too, so we might talk about it.

Recently, he sent this quote: “My intention has been, often, to say what I had to say in a way that would exemplify it; that would, conceivably, permit the listener to experience what I had to say rather than just hear about it.” – John Cage, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists.

When I was in college studying acting I had a professor who would say, “You will always know a good play from a bad play because a bad play wants to tell you what happens. A good play wants to include you in what happens.” He also used this rule to define good acting from bad acting. His shorthand phrase was, “Show me, don’t tell me.” It is the artistic equivalent of, “Give a man a fish and he will have a meal; teach a man to fish and he will eat forever.” Art, regardless of the form it takes, is meant to teach people to fish.

Art is not a “thing,” it is a relationship. It is a dynamic orientation to life. It is an experience (not a possession). My interpretation of my professor’s rule goes something like this: a good play/performance/painting includes; a bad play/performance/painting excludes. Vital art reaches for others. Empty art rejects or attempts to elevate itself above others.

The best artists I know have learned to get out of their own way. They have essentially, let go of all investment in self-importance. They serve the art and, so, are not terribly invested in whether a critic or a friend likes or dislikes their work. They have grown beyond attempting to control the perceptions of others (control is an act of exclusion); they are attempting to reach the soul of the matter, touch the soul of the other.

finally finished: May You Be

finally finished: May You Be

It is also true that great artists are constantly learning. And, since growth is always in the direction of the unknown, it is terribly important to have allies to walk with you. Stepping into the unknown is best done in the company of others, those special few wanderers who you can turn to and say, “Whoa! Did you just see that?” David, who is always there with me, laughs in response to my awe, and says, “Tell me! What did you see?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.