De-Swash Your Font! [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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20 and Kerri can fill an entire evening with conversation about fonts. Serif and sans serif. They grimace and make faces. Some fonts are praised for their simplicity while others are disparaged as presumptuous or gauche. Baseline, Cap line. I listen with amazement. They’re both designers. To get a rise out of them, I tell them that I’ve never really thought much about fonts. They look at me with shock and disdain. Then, one or both slam me with the ultimate insult: “Well, apparently, you’ll read anything.”

At first I thought the font obsession was unique to Kerri and 20 and then I learned that Kirsten caught the font gene from her mother. Kirsten won’t take a book off a shelf if she doesn’t like the font. “Who designed this!” she shouts in the library. “Why would anyone use that font!” she adds to the patrons averting their eyes and scurrying to hide from the dangerous lady.

And then there was the frigid night in Chicago when I realized that it was a family fixation. We were walking with Craig to find the zoo lights when we passed a Barnes & Noble. Craig shook his head and said, “They really need to upgrade their font.” I stopped in my tracks. Thinking my stopped motion was a comment on his font-thought, he added, “Well they do!”

Now I spend my days worried that I, too, will soon become hyper-critical about fonts. I wonder when I will begin to scrutinize stems, ascenders, and shoulders. Will I recoil when confronted with Comic Sans or wrinkle my nose at Didot? Will I find myself asking, “Why didn’t they use Frutiger instead of Futura? Will I contract the font virus?

I pretend. I shake my head when Impact is misused. I snuff when cued at the improper use of a serif, the too-expressive vertex. The pressure to belong is intense! But, in truth, I remain a font goat. Much to the disappointment of 20, Kerri, Kirsten and Craig, I read with pleasure, absent of almost any font awareness, whatever is put in front of me. Gadzook! Bad serif!

 

read Kerri’s out of control rant about FONTS

 

 

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Change Your Mantra [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It was only after the dive that I realized my folly. Rather than enjoy it I repeated to myself, over and over, to just get through it. I’d be fine once I was back in the boat. I was afraid.

It was a very deep dive, the deepest I’d ever attempted. There were sharks swimming beneath me. There were sharks swimming above me. The Blue Hole. The wall was gorgeous, an explosion of red, orange, and yellow. Looking up was a miracle of sunlight on water. Looking down was a study in the color blue, layers of turquoise, cerulean, disappearing into a bottomless (aptly named) ultramarine.

My mantra, just get through it, was a wall between me and extraordinary beauty of it.

Later, in the boat, I appreciated it. I also appreciated that my experience was unnecessarily fearful. Rather, I understood that the only real danger in The Blue Hole was my doubt in myself. The sharks were not man-eaters. The depth was the limit for amateur divers but not extreme. The dive master was world class. I had plenty of oxygen.  I was safe everywhere but in my imagination.

The dive made me wonder how much of my life I’ve spent telling myself fear tales? Instead of having an experience of wonder, how often have I storied myself in fear? How often have I made up monsters and raced to the other side of the moment, raced to get it over with rather than be in it?

Sitting in the boat, I realized that it wasn’t the fear that I was wrangling with. Fear is natural, especially in alien environments like deep water, especially when sharks are involved. It was my mantra that plagued me. Get through it.

Next time, I told myself, I will have a new mantra. Be in it. Fear is an experience, too. It’s part of life and, at the end of my days, I will be sad if the story of my life was simply getting through it. Or over it. I want to know that I was in it, all of it; the fear, the joy, the ugly, the angry, the beautiful blues, the sad days, and the quiet wandering.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GETTING IT OVER WITH

 

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Take One Glorious Step [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This post marks the 100th week of our Studio Melange. As it turns out, to my great surprise, the body of work I leave behind in this lifetime will probably have nothing to do with my paintings. I write everyday. I do not paint everyday.

I read that Graham Greene, one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, wrote 500 words a day. Sometimes those 500 words took an hour. Sometimes they took several hours. Either way. Write 500 words a day, every day, and you, too, will be prolific.

Listen to enough mountain climbers and you’ll receive the same advice. One step at a time. One hand hold at a time. Don’t think of climbing the whole mountain. Rather, pay attention to the next step and the next and the next. The action of stepping will take you farther than the wishing. Step consciously and the summit will cease to be a goal and will become another glorious step en route to another glorious step [and, best of all, your odds of survival will skyrocket].

Were Kerri and I to scrabble together into book form our 100 weeks of writing, we’d have more than a few tomes on the shelf. A single prompt. He said/She said. Mounds of accumulated thoughts. Lots of writing. A few precious and treasured readers. Every once in a while, especially on these dark winter days, one of us asks, “Why do we keep doing this?”  The other will inevitably say, “Well, let’s stop.” The answer is always, “Nooooo! I love doing this!”

Why do it? Why climb the mountain? Why walk toward the horizon? Why paint what no one sees or compose what no one hears? Our answer, after 100 weeks, is becoming clearer and clearer: do what you love. Even better, do it with someone you love. One glorious step en route to another glorious step.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MAKING HUNDREDS

 

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Look Before You Bite [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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When John said, “Penny wise, pound foolish,” I would always stop and reconsider my options. John was wise. John was concise. He was a master furniture maker and spoke like a man who necessarily made exact measurements.

If I could slap a label on this era of the USA, I’d call it the penny-wise-pound-foolish-age. Perhaps my label would also apply to the human world at large? I think so. Short term gain is rarely a healthy criteria for determining long term health. Anyone who’s ever experienced a hangover, lashed out in anger, dumped their waste into the drinking water, or jumped into a get-rich-quick scheme will understand.

I read this phrase the other day: Fox is feeding misinformation to an angry populace hungry to consume it. In most mythologies, the fox is a trickster and I couldn’t help but grimace and chuckle at the layers-of-veracity implied. A maker of mischief feeding misinformation to people hungry to gobble it down. Of course, there are two points of view in every fable and it is true of our fable, too: there is the fox and there are those who eat the gruel to fuel their angry point of view. The fox is never without agenda. Control of the point of view of the angry populace is the fox’s agenda. In other words, the fox is not a friend. The fox is like the witch offering the poison apple. Take a bite; it won’t hurt you. Really.

Reds and blues. Post fact era. Foxes in the hen house. Tribes eating tripe. Penny wise, pound foolish.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHERE YOU STAND

 

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Dance A Simple Dance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Simplicity. Patience. Compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” ~Lao Tzu

“Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” ~ Steve Jobs

I am at home in my studio. Even during the times – like now – when my well is dry, I go into my studio and the world makes sense. It is quiet. My intention is pure: I seek an experience, an exploration, not an achievement. In other words, I enter into a relationship with something so much bigger than me. It is a simple dance with no end. The paintings are a map of this relationship.

Krishnamurti wrote that “stillness is the act of worship – not going to temple to offer flowers and pushing the beggar aside on the way.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (thus, not being still;-) in our world of angry competing narratives. Screaming moral high ground. All the shouting down of others. All the static and noise and agenda-masked-as-righteousness. The celebration of the lie (the official term is a ‘post-truth world’). The difference between rhetoric and lived realities. We ask almost every day, “How does this make sense?”

Rome fell. Ask Google the question why? and you’ll get a list of eight simple reasons. Over reliance on slave labor. Military overspending. Government corruption and instability. The loss of values. Weakened and eating themselves from the inside out, they became exposed to easy invasion. Lots of noise. Loss of center.

We know there is no sense to be made so we walk in our beloved Bristol wood. We walk the trails next to the Des Plaines River. We walk the streets of our neighborhood. We hold hands. Simple. We talk about the leaves, the color of the sky. Kerri takes photos of things that catch her eye. Beautiful shapes. Geese flying en masse. An ancient tree. Radiant purple vines climbing from the ochre grass.  We attempt to leave the angry noise even for a short while, to dip our toes into the quiet.

Yesterday we came to the end of the trail and heard a bagpipe playing The Water is Wide. It was lovely. Haunting. So out of place yet so perfect. It made sense. We stopped and listened as the music reverberated through the woods. It brought us fully into the moment. The cool air and sun. The music mixing with the rustling of the leaves. No where else to be. Nothing to change or control or get through. Simple.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about keeping things SIMPLE

 

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Find Another Door [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Roger and I used to discuss life and career. He would say, “There is a time of becoming and then, one day, you realize that you have become it.” He was right. I wanted to be an artist. For years I chased it. For years I practiced it. And then, one day, I realized I was it. Not because I’d arrived at a place called Artist, but because art was my practice. Art was my pursuit. Art called me.

It’s a paradox. You become the thing that you pursue on the day that you realize it is not an achievement. Becoming is a choice of practice, a dedication of your limited time on earth to an exploration. Follow the Siren long enough and she will claim you.

Long after his retirement, Tom continued to toss his hat into the ring for regional directing assignments. During his career, he was a force in the theatre. He was a master-teacher-director who opened the door to many of my peers, theatre artists, the people I most admire. I heard about Tom long before I met him. And, although he continued his passionate pursuit after his retirement, the world of opportunity could not see beyond his grey hair. Even his former students, those people I most admire, stopped considering his resume or returning his calls.

It was in the midst of recognizing that he had more to give but the old routes were now closed that he pulled me aside and said, “I need help telling a story.” And then he asked, “Will you help me?”

Our project, The Lost Boy, opened ten years later,  several months after Tom’s death.  The opening night audience was a packed house of Tom’s family and relatives, people who brought photographs of the lost boy, Johnny, to the theatre. They clutched them as they watched the play. After the performance, they stayed in the theatre sharing their stories until the management asked them to leave.

A dream. Tom’s practice: uniting people through telling and sharing a common story. Art in its purest form.

His final lesson for me: storytellers (artists) age but the force of their dreams does not grow old. They will inevitably hit walls and freshly closed doors and rather than sit down and throw up their hands, they simply turn, ask a few questions, and look for another way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEVER TOO OLD

 

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The Chili Boys in rehearsal for The Lost Boy. They wrote gorgeous music for the play. I will always be grateful to them.

 

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

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50 minutes before stepping onto the stage. Kerri and I performed together for the first time.

 

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Let Go The Conditions [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Change the world. It’s a hefty aspiration. It’s a daunting mountain to move when all that needs happen is to forgive. And what does that mean? To forgive. It sounds so simple! Forgive and BAM! The world is changed. Phew.

In a world that needs so much changing, you’d think we’d be more forgiving.

Take the wrapper off the word “forgiveness” and a skinny naked vulnerability is exposed. What might be lost or surrendered or compromised or released in this simple forgiveness? What must be let go? It’s scary stuff to take off the wrapper. It’s scary stuff to forgive.

What must be ‘let go’ is another reduction, a simple word or two. The wound. The grudge. Let it go and forgive? Language makes all things possible! Just let go. BAM! The world is changed.

Isn’t it true that, once wounded, once offended, we hang on tight. We claim it. Indulge in the hurt? Once wronged, isn’t it is the other person’s responsibility to make it right? I’ll forgive if and when they apologize?

Conditional forgiveness. Feuds are built on it. Marriages are destroyed by it. Wars are hungry for it.

It’s a log jam. Stuck-ness. Energy eddy. Does the knot create the toxin or does the toxin create the knot?

Sometimes, as Rich taught me, when the pain of holding the grudge becomes greater than the fear of letting it go, forgiveness becomes possible. People open their hands and reach rather than withdraw. The log jam breaks and movement begins again. Readiness is all [another simple word].

The world is not a fixed state. It is fluid. It require movement for health. Forgiveness is nothing more than movement. A release of conditions. Simple? BAM!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FORGIVENESS

 

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