Think “And”

a second version, a second point of view of my painting Shared Fatherhood

I suppose it is the great trap in human nature to define life through oppositions. Was your experience good or bad? Are you liberal or conservative? Are you your brother’s keeper or is it every man for himself? Oppositions provide the illusion that there is a right way or a wrong way, that any issue can be reduced to a simplicity, a singular path. One way. Oppositions are great language devices for dictators and the righteous. They remove the grey tones and blunt the grey matter. With an opposition, us or them, “god” can be exclusively on your side (a small god, indeed) which self-grants permission for all manner of abuses enacted by “us” on “them.” The problematic word when employing oppositions is “or.”

“And” is a much more useful (and honest) term to employ when dancing with oppositions. Can you be your brother’s keeper AND take care of yourself? Certainly. Can you survive entirely by yourself without the participation of your brothers and sisters? Certainly not. No one lives in a vacuum; “or” is the great creator of illusory vacuums. “And” guarantees a conversation and perhaps a host of useful, challenging and robust perspectives. Both/And is always more functional than Either/Or.

AND the first version of Shared Fatherhood

The snag in “Or” is that there is very little truth in any reduction that ultimately lands on just One. This or that. All life is movement and all movement stops in One. Creative tension requires at least two points and a desire for someplace place to go. There is no single arrival station in real life. There is no achievement that stops all the presses. Every answer inspires new questions. Each question opens doors to multiple possibilities. Agreement is a fluid target at best and must be nurtured. Compromise is never an end state; it is a relationship imperative. Life is never found in the static “or.”

Do an experiment: go to the grocery store, choose any item and ask yourself how many people it took to bring your chosen item to the shelf at that moment. If you are not astounded by the complexity of participation, how dependent we are on actions of others, your imagination has most certainly failed you. Skip, entrepreneur extraordinaire and mentor to entrepreneurs taught me that a business cannot succeed until it serves its customer’s customer. Note the word “serves.” Businesses serve. Not simply a customer but the complexity of a customer’s customer. Entrepreneurism is a service to the creative genius of a community and multitudes of communities beyond.

Entrepreneurism, like artistry, ….even, yes, like governance…like all things vital, moving, complex and growing, live in service according to the good graces of AND. Anything else is a mirage.

 

 

 

Think “Isn’t It Weird…?”

my new tree;-)

Wide awake in the middle of the night, we snacked on handfuls of Chex cereal and indulged in my favorite kind of conversation: “Isn’t it weird that…?” Little did we understand that our late-night conversation would set the theme for the week.

The next night high winds toppled our neighbor’s ENORMOUS aging maple tree into our backyard. The insurance company called it “an act of God.” It is a phrase implying no fault, no responsibility. It just happened. I laughed aloud when, immediately following the “act of God” designation, the insurance adjuster heaped on us a load of legal cautions, new responsibilities (the tree now ‘belonged’ to us), property line designations, and small print reminders meant to minimize financial risk and responsibility to the insurance company. The layers of irony are too many to count though I suppose if wacky preachers can assign responsibility for hurricanes and other natural disasters to the wrath of God, then it is no less ridiculous for insurance companies to invoke the fickleness of God to absolve themselves of liability.

Isn’t it weird that…?

P-Tom reminded us that the “act of God” was that no one was hurt in the tree fall. For P-Tom the act of God was a kind of intervention. A few degrees to the right, a slightly different wind direction, and the tree would have landed on our bedroom. Life does seem fragile by the slightest of degrees. We told people that we were lucky. Intervention? Fortunate? Fate? Design?

Isn’t it weird that…?

We cut a branch from the fallen tree and brought it in the house. It is now our Christmas tree.

Had you asked that branch a week ago if it would ever become a Christmas tree it might have laughed at you.

As a maple branch it had no aspirations or intentions of being wrapped in lights or decorated with silver baubles. In truth, it probably cares little if it makes us laugh or invokes a smile each time we enter the room. But it does. Or, better, we make sense of it that way. Sense making? Story telling? Either way.

Isn’t life weird?

Our work-in-progress

 

 

 

 

 

Go Inward

a new painting perfect for winter and inward looking. it’s part of a set in my sacred series.

“The doctor may explain why the patient is dead, but never why the patient is alive.” ~Declan Donnellan

Once, tromping through a biodynamic vineyard, Barney explained to me that winter is the time for the energy of the vine to go to the root. The vine that appears dormant above ground is, in fact, actively recharging below the surface. The energy goes inward. The root rejuvenates, drinking in the minerals necessary for the new growth of the coming spring. The fruit of the summer is impossible without the rejuvenation of winter.

We are not so different from the vines though language can trick us into compartmentalizing, perceiving winter as distinct and separate from summer, the inhale as a separate action from the exhale, tides that ebb and then flow. Cycles of life have compartments in study but never in real life. The compartments are made up for the convenience of categorization and conversation.

These past few weeks we’ve been cleaning out our house, going through old boxes and files, shredding old bills, carrying furniture and computer carcasses to the curb. Old clothes are going away. Closets and bins are emptied. The house is beginning to breathe. There is space. Spaciousness. We are laughing at old pictures, sometimes cringing. This day’s new-found spaciousness inspires the next day’s cleaning rampage. It is invigorating. Rejuvenating.

and this is the other half of the set. winter has me looking inward and exploring simplicity in line and space.

Our cleaning tsunami wasn’t planned. Our computer crashed. Our work was interrupted. Our expression was limited. We complained and resisted and then turned our energies elsewhere. Inward. Going through and releasing old stuff, past lives, creating space, is rejuvenating. We are taking our time. We are going slowly. It is oddly restful.

Driving home from our walk in the woods, we laughed at ourselves. Mock-praising our virtuous cleaning, exaggerating and inflating our new found spaciousness to full spiritual illumination, we pretended we’d achieved life beyond wanting, living without yearning. Consciousness beyond compartments. Wiping laughter-tears from her eyes, Kerri said, “Wait! This could be boring! What is life without desiring some red wine while cooking dinner? What about the pleasure of yearning for morning coffee? With all this new found space….”

 

Look For The Two Points Of View

My latest. As yet untitled. It’s about dreams and angels.

It is the time of thanks giving in these United States and this week when I say my quiet thanks I will include Horatio in my list. Our conversations are life-giving and art-inspiring. And, best of all, tracking Horatio’s thought path is an utter delight. He is an expansive thinker! Here’s an example from our recent call:

“I’m the last person to really see my work,” I said. “Kerri routinely stops me from ruining paintings. She forces me to leave them alone until I can actually see what I’ve painted.”

Horatio said, “You have a parallax problem.”

I thought to myself (who else would I think to?): Parallax is a great word! The last time he flung that word at me I looked it up. In essence, divergent perspectives when looking at the same thing from two different points of view. You might say our political parties have a parallax problem.

Horatio continued, “All religions say, ‘Love your neighbor.’ All religions say it. Love your neighbor.”

What!? I thought. How did we get to neighbor-love from parallax? Grab the reins and hold on!

“The fundamental human problem is to know yourself.” Horatio said. “And artists confront that problem every moment that they stand in front of the canvas or sit down at the piano. Every moment is an exploration of the self, what you see, what you believe.”

From parallax to loving your neighbor to knowing yourself.

“Self. Other. That’s it!” Horatio continued: “That’s all there is! Isaac Bashevis Singer said that the purpose of literature [he was a writer but you can insert any art form] is to 1) entertain and 2) to educate. IN THAT ORDER! You cannot educate first! Playing matters! Fun matters! You must engage the heart first. It opens the path to the other thing.” [take note all ye test makers and proponents of head-driven education].

Parallax: differing points of view. Love your neighbor: a universal aspiration amidst the raging parallax. Know yourself: the fundamental human problem and the singular pursuit necessary to approach the universal aspiration. Heart first: the only route to all of the above.

“An artist has to play. Experiment. Step across the knowns into the unknowns. Question all of those assumptions. Doubt what they see,” he said.

It’s a beautiful paradox, isn’t it? The route to knowing yourself, the route to loving your neighbor, is to doubt what you think. In fact, it is to realize that the river of nonsense incessantly running through your mind is nothing more than a deflection from actually coming to know your self. It is not to be believed. It is the ultimate fake news. It is a great day when you recognize that your inner monologue is entertainment and not education! It’s a great day when you recognize that you need another person’s perspective in order to know your self. You need it precisely because it differs from what you see. Clear vision requires two points of view. It’s called perspective.  Having two points of view opens the door to questioning. It makes probable the birth of a possibility.

“It’s all about relationship.” Horatio concluded, “Now, the only real question surrounding the artist is, in the midst of all of this navel gazing, in the thick of all of this dedicated pursuit of the self, boundary-crossing-questioning, will your neighbors want anything to do with you? Will they want to have you around at all?!”

Oh, yes. Parallax.

Stay Fully Alive

a more recent smaller painting: In Quiet Prayer

Horatio issued me this challenge: do something new, something you’ve never done before. Paint something different, something that boggles you.

I love this challenge. In other words, step out of your comfort zone. Dare to not know where you are going. Make a mess with great gusto and intention. Court chaos and wrestle it into something that resembles order for you and no one else.

Horatio might have said, “Dare to see again, purely, with no filters, knowledge, or preconceptions.” He might have added, “What might you see, who might you be, if you stepped beyond the safety of your ideals, your beliefs, and great mass of weighty and important knowledge?”

The child in me, the one not yet accustomed to sitting in a desk or raising my hand or waiting my turn would loudly sing the answer: You’d be fully alive! I’d be fully alive.

from a few years ago, a larger piece: Meditation

I’ve always appreciated how similar are an artist’s path and that of a spiritual seeker. The aim of the exercise is the same. A meditation practice to still a busy mind is identical to an actor’s training to be fully present on the stage or a painter’s pursuit to see purely (to see without the disruption of interpretation). On both paths, truth is a fluid thing. Truth is what is happening right now. What happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow are distractions at best. They are stories that get in the way. They are of no consequence to this moment of living, this moment of aliveness. It is, an actor learns, a fool’s errand to attempt to repeat yesterday’s performance.

Horatio’s challenge is relevant for every human being wrestling with the big questions or trying to stave off or make sense of the chaos. Dare to dance with what’s right in front of you. Dare to drop the questions.

Picasso famously said that every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once he or she grows up. He might well have said that every child is fully alive. The problem is to remain fully alive once he or she grows up.

playing around with simplicity. This one is hot off the easel and not yet named.

this is how she looks in a frame. Magic!

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Step Through The Doorway Singing

When I first met Kerri I told her that she needed to know two things about me: I don’t sing and I don’t pray. I imagine that was bracing news for a woman whose life has been about composing and performing music. I imagine it was especially disconcerting for a woman who stands firmly in a greater spirituality. I thought she needed to know.

A few short months later we were driving through the hills of Georgia en route to North Carolina, windows rolled down, a James Taylor and Carole King concert blaring through the sound system. James Taylor’s song, Something In The Way She Moves, began to play and I sang along. Kerri pulled the car over and began to weep. It turns out I sing after all. And I like it, too. That song became our song (one of them). Jim sang it at our wedding.

We have a dvd of the James Taylor and Carole King concert – at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. We watched it a few weeks ago for the first time. James Taylor told the audience that his song, our song, Something InThe Way She Moves, was the song that popped open his career. He said it was like that song was the doorway to the rest of his life. I knew exactly what he meant. A song. A door pops open. Life.

Yesterday was our second anniversary. Two years ago, Kerri recorded a song she wrote for me, for us. It’s called And Now. Amidst the chaos of our wedding week she somehow recorded it so I might enter the church, enter our wedding ceremony, to the song she wrote and sang, her song for me, our song. As I walked down the aisle that day, her song became the doorway to the rest of my life. In a moment, with a song, my life popped open.

Yesterday, after watching the sunrise we came home, made more coffee and sat on our bed (we call it the raft) with DogDog and BabyCat and told stories of our wedding week. It was the wedding equivalent of a barn raising. Our stories are the stories of all the amazing people who cooked, baked, carried, hauled, comforted, soothed, celebrated and helped us through the doorway. Amidst the stories, we reread our vows. We listened to the songs that to which we processed into the church, Gabriel’s Oboe for Kerri. And Now for me.

Listening, remembering, I sat on the raft and found myself weeping. I understood, perhaps for the first time, that on the other side of the doorway I routinely defined myself by what I was not: not a pray-er, not a singer. On this side of the doorway, there is life, rich, uncontrollable, vast, ever moving, no-need-for-nots or brakes or resistances. Just now. And Now.

And Now is on itunes

Notice The World

my latest painting. another addition to The Beach Series.

It’s a constant source of the giggles for me now. So many things that used to seem so complex and unknowable, so serious and weighty, have morphed into utter simplicities. And, I’ve unwittingly accumulated or created shorthand phrases, adages, that encapsulate the simplicities.

Stephen used to ask me, “Why don’t people see how important art is? Why don’t people value the arts?” He is a prolific and gifted painter and, like most artists, was struggling financially. I used to sit around with other artists and actors asking the same type of questions. Why don’t they value us. Our conversations made us into a frustration-club, so certain were we that we carried in our art pouch the cure for the worlds’ ills. But the world, they, were not noticing us. No matter how great our play or heartfelt our paintings or how loudly we proclaimed and marketed our work or trumpeted our capacity to help people to think or feel more deeply – to change the world! – the community (they) seemed mostly inattentive (to us).

Art as castor oil. Non-profit non-prophet.

Wearing my corporate consulting hat, I taught this core principle for years: you can never determine what other people think or feel or see. And, it took years for this simple adage to penetrated my life – especially my artist life (we do, in fact, teach what we most need to learn…).

I still believe in the importance and great power of the arts but not in the same way I did all those many years ago. I actually believe in it more than I once did only now it seems so simple: ‘Do what you love…,’ so the saying goes. Do what you love because you love to do it. That’s all. The world (how’s that for a sweeping generality!) does not need to be saved or changed. Mostly, it needs less frustrated artists waving to be noticed while perpetuating the narrative that they are undervalued. The world could do with a wee bit less of ‘us and them.’

The simplicity: I would much rather root my energies, my focus, my creative powers in the love of it all. Frustration makes the well run dry. There is no us and them when standing solidly in the love of creating. The real power of the arts – the only real power of the arts – is to open access to the commons, the shared space beyond separations (real or imagined). At best, artists reach across boundaries, not create them. In the end, artists (I believe) are mirrors, not medics.

Kerri gave me this new adage for my collection (and I giggled): It’s not about the world noticing you. It’s about you noticing the world.