Catch The Glimmer [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday a treasure arrived in the mail. Mike sent it for my birthday. It is a painting, a study for class that her father, DeMarcus, did when he was a young art student. He was learning to see and use color. This painting hung in her hallway. More than once I stopped and studied it, his color swatches carefully placed at the bottom of the page. She must have noticed that I was drawn to this painting.

Many years ago, Mike gave me DeMarcus’ notebook from this same class on color. It is from a time before it was possible to go to the drugstore and buy a notebook. DeMarcus cut the paper, made a cover from old Levi’s, starched for strength, and stitched it together. The pages, a hundred years later, are tender, so I am careful when I read them. Reading his notes always buoys my spirit since they are a record of his revelation, of training his eyes to see.

During the bitter cold of the past few weeks, an entire ice-age played out on the top of the awning over our backdoor. A creeping ice shelf moved slowly down the awning, crawling over the side. One evening, the long fingers of the ice-age reaching for the deck below, became brilliant with the winter colors of the sky. Kerri grabbed her phone, flung open the door, frigid air blasting into the warmth of the room, she stepped out and snapped photos of the fingers.

“Look!” she said, showing me the screen. “I love this picture!”

Just above the center of the photograph, a glimmer of electric blue. Amidst the suspended bubbles and greens and purples and light-reflections, a tiny beacon of vibrant blue. I could almost hear DeMarcus laughing.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICICLES

Witness Time [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I have this odd sense that time is standing still. I know it is not true though I still go outside each day to check my one sure source of proof: the ever-growing icicles. Ice damming. Without time, the icicles would not grow.

I have this odd sense that the earth is off its axis. I know it is not true though I still go outside each day to check my one sure source of proof. Through the roof, the heat of the house melts the snow and it behaves as water should. It takes the path of least resistance and flows downhill to the colder gutters and, again, behaves as water should. It slows and drips and refreezes as it reaches for earth. Snow to water to ice sculpture. Nature is still behaving according to its principles.

We are expecting snow again today. People are rushing to do their errands early. They want to be in before the snows come.

Twice yesterday, in separate phone calls, we heard the voices on the other end of the line declare that “Three weeks ago seems like a decade ago.” So much has happened. Everything seems in limbo. Both. Like the icicles, it’s hard to reconcile.

I opened the door early this morning to let DogDog out and I was delighted to hear a chorus of birds. I stood in the cold open doorway for a few moments and enjoyed the music. I closed my eyes. The chirpy sounds of spring were out of sync with the piles of snow and ice in our yard, so, with my eyes closed, I gave myself over to the moment.

There is a poignant moment in the Sisyphus saga. Death is bound to a post so time stands still. Without death, nothing moves. Nothing changes. Crops cannot grow. Water cannot flow. Eternal life comes at the expense of change, growth and uncertainty. Absolute certainty brings absolute boredom. Stasis. Icicles cannot form. Sisyphus frees Death from his captivity so water can once again behave as it should.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICE DAMMING

Breathe and Make Choices [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James

A note from the Rejuvenation Fairy: the relief we seek may depend upon the phrase we choose. For instance, consider this phrase: coping mechanisms. What ease might become available if we viewed ourselves as something other than machines? Turn this dial. Adjust this screw. Add a little oil. Check the battery. Do this, then that will happen. Turn down the pressure gauge. Talk to others. Take a break. Cause and effect.

Breathe. Sentient beings are much more complex and subtle than apparatus made from iron and steel.

We story ourselves. For reasons no one will ever fully comprehend, we sort to the tragic. We imagine the worst. Ask any good storyteller and they will confirm that conflict is the driver. Yearnings meet obstacles and stories ensue. Everyone, without exception, is telling themselves a story. Everyone, without exception, is starring in their own movie, complete with impossible mountains to climb, monsters to face, dreams that remain just out of reach. Robert Sapolsky has it right: zebras don’t hold onto their tale of stress while human beings are reticent to let it go. We like to tell it again and again and again.

If we cast ourselves as victims in our movie, our stories will be filled with ogres to blame. If we reduce ourselves to the mechanical, our stories will be endless attempts at fixing what’s broken, looking for the right hose to replace. How to recharge the battery. The fortunate few recognize that their movie might be a story of choice. Choices made within given circumstances. The storm, like time, passes. How do we stand in it?

There’s little doubt that we are living in stressful times. There’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to turn up those mechanical pressure gauges. Add another notch or two of pressure with extreme national ideological division, cowards at the switches of government, mix in some economic stress…there are plenty of choices on the angst-menu. All are visceral. All are circumstances to the story we choose to tell, the story I choose to tell.

I came across a few universal coping strategies. Eat healthy. Exercise. Give yourself a break. Get plenty of sleep. Talk to others. Recognize when you need help and ask for it. I wondered why these good choices are reserved for times of stress. Why not give yourself a break as an everyday expectation. Talk to others. Eat healthy. Weave a calm center it into the fibers of daily life. Make choices. Especially in the story you tell yourself about yourself. The thought upon which you choose to fixate, to play over and over again in your movie-mind.

When Kerri and I fall off the pony and run around like our hair is on fire, we make chicken soup. I am the sous chef. She is the master mind. The recipe comes from her mother so the making of the soup is more than food prep, it’s a love-touch to her anchor. We touch love. And, of course, defying the advice of experts to avoid alcohol, we enjoy a glass of red wine. We choose the glasses: Jamie’s? Or Skip’s? Or Joan’s? For our wedding, we were gifted with many special wine glasses from many special people. Recently, Jay and Carol and Rob sent us wine. When we clink our glasses, we touch the depth of our support and reach of our friendships. We call 20 and laugh. As the soup simmers and the wine disappears, we realize that our hair is not on fire, that, although we are not zebras, we are infinitely capable of releasing our tale of woe. We need not cope or distract. We can grasp hold of the full tale of the enormity of our lives. We need only refocus our eyes, see the depth and expanse of our story and choices, enjoy the warming soup. Appreciate the story of the wine.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHICKEN SOUP & WINE

Defy Augury [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It lifted my spirits. David sent a short video, a snippet of a play. He called it “Sofa Shakespeare.” Using small toys from his son’s collection, he performed – and filmed – a puppet version – of Act 5, Scene 2 of Hamlet. “…we defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow….” He’s a professor of theatre, a director and playwright, a major member of my inspiration-tribe. He is a bubbling wellspring of the creative.

We have a periodic-ongoing-for-years-conversation about Hamlet. The play is special to both of us. I’ve had two runs at Hamlet. Both were significant. Both productions popped open new doors of understanding for me. Both productions also came to me just before the floor-of-my-life collapsed. I’ve come to think of Hamlet as an omen. If today I was approached to direct it, I’d say “Yes,” but, inwardly, I’d think, “Uh-oh.” I would defy augury. Like Hamlet, I’ve come to realize that I have little or no control over my fate.

Later in the day, after Sofa Shakespeare, Kerri and I hit the trail. The sky stopped me in my tracks. It was winter-radiant. I felt as if I was standing between heaven and earth. Staring at this magical sky, Kerri asked, “What do you think is going to happen?” Our lives, like so many others during this pandemic, have been blasted into utter uncertainty. We ask this question daily, “What do you think will happen?”

“I don’t know. Something will happen. That’s for certain,” I respond. She punches my arm.

“Not helpful!” she grimaces.

Making choices. Making peace with your choices and your fate. Chasing ghosts. Asking the ethers for more information. “What does it mean?” Trying to decipher whether the ghost you chase is “a spirit of health or goblin damned.” Whether your ghost brings “airs from Heaven or blasts from hell…” What will happen?

Continuing down our snowy trail, more words from Hamlet rolled to the front of my brain. These words come at the beginning of the play: “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” At the end, “We defy augury.” This great magical world is beyond our capacity to grasp. Still, we must try. And, like Hamlet, the best we can do is arrive at peace with our uncertain fate.

“If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all.” Hamlet. Act V, ii

read Kerri’s blog post about HEAVEN AND EARTH

Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK

Take The Opportunity [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Paul used to teach his actors that, in choosing to step onto a stage, they had a profound responsibility. “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life,” he’d say. I took his lesson and passed it along to my students. I hope that a few of my students took Paul’s lesson and, in turn, passed it on. You have a responsibility.

Another lesson I learned, this time from Jim, was that great acting is about standing in truth. “Acting is the honest pursuit of an intention in imaginary circumstances.” Honest pursuit. It’s a misunderstanding to equate the art of acting with pretending. The circumstances are pretend. Actors are meant to be portals to a shared story, a channel to a common experience. They transport. They transform. “Never underestimate your power…”

John O’Donohue writes that the soul does not inhabit a body. It’s the other way around: bodies live within the soul. We only think we are isolated individuals, bubbles. The bubble is singular, soul, and we play our small dramas within it. We fill our bubble by how we stand in it, by what we bring into it. There is no on-stage or off. It’s all the stage.

The other day I was exhausted. I was standing on the edge of despair when my phone dinged. It was Rob. “What kind of wine do you like?” he texted. The edge disappeared.

From across the country, MM sends me cartoons that make me smile. Horatio sent an episode of The Twilight Zone. “You gotta watch this,” he said. David sends photos of Dawson at the easel. There is nothing so freeing to an aging artist than to watch a child draw. No limits.

The bubble is singular. The soul of the earth. These good friends, living honestly on the stage, have no idea of their profound impact and influence on me.

These days, when I think of my good teachers and dedicated mentors, when I think of Jim and Tom McK and Paul, I know that, were I to teach again, I would add a small caveat to our legacy-lesson. I’d say, “In choosing to step onto the stage, you have a profound responsibility and opportunity: never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.”

Take the opportunity. Each and every moment. Ripples sending ripples.

read Kerri’s blog post about SOUL OF THE EARTH

Stop The Chase [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s difficult, seemingly Pollyanna-ish, to write about love when our nation is now officially divided and living in two combating realities. When Kerri took this photo on our back deck, I knew it was going to make an appearance in the Melange. “It will be tough to write about given the events of this week, the realities of our divided nation,” I said to no one listening.

I was wrong. The more I pondered this heart in the snow, the more I saw a simple theme, the thing we always miss. It is at the core of almost all spiritual teaching and personal revelation: stop the chase.

Krishnamurti wrote that “Love is a fact, not an emotion.” It cannot be found precisely because it is omnipresent. It is everywhere. It is everything. However, it can be easily missed, especially when covered in a blanket of righteousness. Love will sit patiently and wait for those who believe love to be a separate thing, something to be earned or discovered in the eyes of an other. We recently, through Zoom, sat Shivah for someone dear who had passed. The Rabbi read these words from a poem, “Love doesn’t die, people do. So when all that’s left of me is Love, give me away.”

Viktor Frankel wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. It cannot be pursued or attained.

I can’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve spent with groups who desire to attain presence. To achieve mindfulness. It is nigh-on impossible to convey to achievers that presence cannot be pursued. It’s simple if you think about it: presence comes when ambition disappears. Presence and love. The desire to be anywhere else, to achieve anything, to become something other than what you are in this moment, precludes presence, interrupts love. Allow it; it’s already there.

It is anathema to suggest to modern seekers that they will find what they seek by ceasing to seek. Ha! It is the ultimate collision, in a culture steeped in achievement-as-a-central-tenet, that love, happiness, presence, mindfulness are unachievable – but infinitely available when standing still.

“You can love me most by letting me live in your eyes, And not on your mind,” the Rabbi read. See beyond what you think.

Division lives in the mind. What we seek, what we most need in this historic moment, cannot be found there. What we seek will become apparent – readily available – when we stop the chase, drop the destructive delusion of manifest destiny and its many separation-shadows – and, even for a moment – stand still.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEART

Balance The Opposites [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Skip told me that the only problem Kerri and I would face is that we are both CEO personalities but come at it from entirely different directions. Truer words were never spoken! For instance, when we walk, my eyes are generally in the sky pondering the greater meaning of the universe while Kerri’s eyes are on the ground looking for a cool photo op. I see big pictures and she is a master of detail. I am easily lost in thought and she is snagged in nuance. Most of our wranglings are hysterical arguments for the same thing but from diametrically opposed points of view; we are quite capable of making agreement sound like dissent. Word magic.

Our walks, with my eyes in the sky and hers on the ground, have become a metaphor for why we are so good for each other. She pulls my eyes to the ground. I pull her eyes into the sky. I’ve recently been awed by a nurse log covered in ice crystals, the lines running through a tiny rock, the composition of a fallen pine branch in undisturbed snow. She helps me see in life what I easily miss. It’s a paradox – from my view at 30,000 feet – pulling my eyes to the ground is expansive. I see more. I appreciate more. I stop and look. It is my favorite paradox that, in our house, I’m considered the visual artist but she is teaching me to see.

Balance. It comes from opposition. Like a yoga pose, energy sent in opposite directions creates stable grounding. It creates space, creative tension. Center.

When Terry was teaching me to scuba dive he often instructed me to “get neutral.” He was Buddhist and his teaching was as much spiritual as it was practical. “Getting neutral” meant not to struggle. Maintain or change depth with breathing. Inhale or exhale. “Getting neutral” meant not to swim through the dive like a tourist but to be in it. Be in the enormous power of the ocean. Balance the opposites. Begin with your breathing.

On the trail, Kerri often stops, kneels close to the ground, focusing her camera. “I love this,” she whispers. “This is beautiful.” She carefully frames her shot. “Do you want to see?” she asks, standing after taking a few shots.

“Yes.” I say. “Yes, I do.”

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDISTURBED

Learn The Trick [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s a problem when your dog is smarter than you. If I lapse into thinking that I am the master of my ship or that my opposable thumbs give me an advantage over paws, I find that I am somehow using my opposable thumbs to do the dog’s bidding. “Wait a minute,” I question, “didn’t I just give you a cookie?” The rapid tail wag overrides my doubting frontal lobe and the cookie finds the open muzzle.

We can teach DogDog almost anything and in fairly short order. We can rest a tasty treat on his paw and he won’t touch it until we give him the signal. Last week, Kerri taught him to balance a paper plate on his head. She’s taught him to sneeze for a treat. We used to spell the word E-R-R-A-N-D because he goes berserk if we say it – he likes to go on errands – he REALLY likes to go on errands – but since he’s learned to spell, we are forced to use an advanced eyebrow code, a series of knit-and-raised brows, like dots and dashes. I could warn the allied army of enemy secrets with my eyebrows. It’s insane though Kerri and I can now openly gossip at a party and no one would know we’re talking about them – though they might be curious about the sudden rise and fall of our strange facial twitches.

All of this is to note that Kerri taught DogDog to wear a mask. And, even though his dogga-ears are not made for masking, it took her less than a minute. With her eyebrow-Morse-code she sent me a secret message: “Damn!” she arched and bobbed her brow, “It’s been 9 months and human-beings-in-a-pandemic haven’t been able to learn this trick. Dogga got it in seconds!”

“Dogga is a smart boy,” I reply with twitches.

“Maybe if we gave people treats?” Kerri mused. Dogga wagged his tail.

My eyebrows fell silent.

“You’re right.” she eyebrow-coded. “Even tasty treats wouldn’t change the selfishness of people.” She ruffled his head, saying, “Dogga is a very smart boy.”

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGGA MASKS

Story Your Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A difficulty is a light; an insurmountable difficulty is the sun.” ~ Paul Valery

A newsflash from Captain Obvious: this has been a very difficult year. We’ve revoked permission to ask, “What else could happen?” because, in this year, something else always happens; something else climbs on the pile of the already insurmountable mountain of difficulties.

Robert Olen Butler wrote that a story is what happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. We humans love a good story of difficulties surmounted. There is great satisfaction when Luke Skywalker finally trusts the force, when Frodo returns the ring to the lava, when the underdog wins the race. We cheer when the skinny girl punches the bully, when the peasants rise and vanquish the brutal king.

The difficulty, the obstacle, evokes character. The difficulty also reveals character. This year of difficulty has revealed much about the character – and the lack of character – of our nation. Both/And. Healthcare workers run into the fiery jaws of this dragon-virus every day. With hospitals overrun, with numbers of infections skyrocketing, many of us ignore the pleas of healthcare workers to stay put, to avoid gathering, and fly off to play at Disneyland. Both/And.

In the arc of every great story there must be a loss. The difficulty has to win-for-a-moment in order to evoke the light. The obstacle serves as the catalyst for discovery. The discovery serves as the introduction to the next obstacle. Let’s face it, a life without difficulty is flat and void of tales. It’s a cycle of life.

It is tempting, when sitting in the belly of the whale, to think that the belly is the end of the story. It never is. It is the moment to weep. Yes. It is the moment to sit still and wonder what to do. Yes. It is the moment to run around in a last ditch effort to create enough belly-havoc that the whale burps you to the surface and spits you out to face the next obstacle, the next difficulty, that will someday become the story of ‘I didn’t know I had it in me.” The moment of greatest creativity. The Hail-Mary pass.

The story of your light – of our light – and how it came into the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHTS