Make Better Assumptions [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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As a kid, riding up the mountain to Central City (long before it morphed into a casino town) to visit my great aunt Dorothy and uncle Del, I’d always look for the hermit. With my face pressed to the window I’d scan for him.

Perched precariously high above the creek, his shack seemed in constant danger of sliding down the mountain. The only thing holding it in place was the cascade of rusting bean cans that he’d tossed over the edge after each meal. Decades of cans. And, every once in while, I’d catch a glimpse of him.

He was uniquely grey; his clothes, his long miner-forty-niner beard, his pallor. He was always standing still, looking over the canyon. I don’t think in all of my rare glimpses that I ever saw him move. I wondered if he’d just thrown a can over the edge. I wondered if in his moments of standing-stillness he pondered how he came to be the hermit in the canyon. If life forged him into a hermit or if he came into the world wanting to be alone. I wondered where he got his cans of beans. It was a great mystery that I spent long hours considering. Hermits are not known for shopping trips into town and it was long before the age of home delivery. Where did he get his money to buy all of those cans? Was he a wealthy miner, a Howard Hughes type who retreated into a paranoid seclusion? Who facilitated his solitude?

I am mostly an introvert so his retreat from society fascinated me. I’d try ‘hermit’ on like a costume. He wasn’t a monk though I wondered what he did all day; contemplation had to be on the list of things to do. I wondered if his shack was filled with paintings or wire sculpture, a reclusive Alexander Calder? A disenfranchised artist (now, there’s an oxymoron!) I wondered if his shack walls were lined with good books.

I wondered, if I climbed up the mountain to his shack, would he meet me with a shotgun and tell me to go away? Or would he welcome me and tell me that he’s waited a lifetime for someone to come for a visit? I liked the second scenario but the realist in me knew it would be the first. He was grey because he didn’t want to be bothered. He was alone because it was not safe to be in relationship. It’s always easier to close the door and growl than it is to open it and ask, “Can I help you?”

We see this sign often. It marks the door of a house on the road to one of our walking trails. In the absence of a canyon I suppose the only thing to do is paste your anger on your door. Every time I see this sign I wonder what would happen if love came knocking?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GO AWAY

 

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Step In The Box [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Jen told Kerri about it. Make a square on the floor with blue tape. It will act like a siren call to your cat who will NEED to sit inside the square. I was a doubter. Worse, I was a loud doubter.

During one of our famous Sunday night dinners, Kerri told 20 about the blue tape square and its kitty magnetism. I remained a stalwart disbeliever. After a glass of wine we retrieved the blue tape from the studio and slapped down a rough square on the kitchen floor. We poured more wine and waited. I scoffed.

In a few minutes BabyCat (lovingly known to me as Sumo) thump-thumped into the kitchen, went directly to the tape, circumnavigated the square (counterclockwise) and like a kitty in a current, was  pulled as if by a force into the square. He sat down. Kerri roared with triumph and took a picture for proof. She knows I am capable of denying the undeniable so she was quick to get photographic proof. 20 shook his head at me and said, “I thought you’d have learned by now that she is always right.” I am, as previously reported, a slow study. Very slow.

BabyCat sat tight in his blue tape square throughout our turmoil. He seemed oblivious to our antics, He was content. And, to add further insult to my injury, he laid down. He closed his eyes. He purred. He fell asleep, safe and sound in his blue tape box.

DogDog runs in circles. Circles are in his DNA. I suppose box attraction, real or imagined, must be encoded into BabyCat. It was true. He couldn’t stop himself from stepping into the box. I imagine the defined space made him comfortable. It made him feel safe.

I found myself wishing that somewhere in my DNA was the coding for box attraction. Or, at least a balance to the chain-of -command written into my coding: box avoidance. I wondered what it must feel like to see a defined space and not want to stir it up or redefine it. To open it up. I wondered what it must feel like to see a box, step inside, and give in to contentment. To purr with confinement.

20, watching me move through my troubled thought process, laughed. He sipped his wine and said, “You’ll never learn.”

True. Too true.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the BLUE TAPE SQUARE

 

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Circle Back To Change [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A long time ago, in addition to naming my posts, I used to number them, too. Today, as I considered what to write, I realized that I had an old post sitting on my desk top because I’m slowly (very slowly) working on a maybe-someday-book called For Art Sake. I opened the old post and laughed aloud when I read it. It is  from a younger version of me writing about the wheels of change [I’ve made a few edits]:

1174. MEET THE FIRE

In order for the phoenix to rise it must first burst into flames and be reduced to ash. Every rebirth requires a death. I imagine the phoenix does not relish the flame but after a few cycles it recognizes the necessity of the fire.

The same image (metaphor) is everywhere: the caterpillar must first cocoon and then be reduced to mush before the impossible happens. The leaves must fall from the tree before the root can replenish, revitalize, and do the impossible: bring forth new life.

The healers in Bali assured me that a wound is necessary to open the door to the gift – each of them had suffered a devastating wound or loss en route to fulfilling their healing power. The journey through the wound was necessary to realize and fulfill their gift. The heroes cycle, the belly of the whale, the quest through the wasteland, finding joyful participation in the sorrows of the world; change is a fiery, difficult business.

In my life I’ve worked with many, many people in all manner of change and transformation processes. It is surprisingly common for people to want their phoenix without experiencing the flame. It took me a while to realize that people (organizations and otherwise) were hiring me under the guise of helping them transform but in truth they really wanted me to help them circumvent the fire.

People go to great lengths to avoid the flame. No one willingly seeks the wound and no one transforms without it. No one in their right mind jumps out of bed in the morning ready to jump into the abyss and yet the adventure is impossible without it. If a full rich experience of living is the aim of our limited time on this earth, then the fire is necessary. The fire is part of the ride.

Fire avoidance is what dulls an otherwise vital life. Comfort is certainly a worthy aspiration but as the only aspiration it deadens, it limits the life-color-palette to taupe. The trick, as all the stories teach us, is never to avoid the fire (you can’t) but, once there, to be alive in it.

After ashes comes honesty. With ashes comes a deeper knowing, call it faith, that  somewhere deep inside, the phoenix-in-you will someday rise just as spring will always return.

[Kerri took these photos. They are the treads of the massive tires on the enormous earth moving equipment that is transforming our beloved Bristol Wood into a high ropes course. We grieve it daily, watching the woods reduced to ashes]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WHEELS OF CHANGE

 

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Slog And Smile [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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the melting ice castle

It is the mud season. The time of thaw. When snow and ice like magic return to their elemental form and flow according to the rules of least resistance. Downhill. Always.

It is the season that we wear our black boots, the pair that is good for slogging through the mire. On a recent squish through our beloved Bristol Woods we laughed at the sucking sounds our black boots made when we tried to lift our feet from the bog. The water gurgled around us. The sun warmed our faces even though the day was cold. We were glad that we left DogDog home. He’d have been a mucky mess.

It is the in-between time. Not winter. Not spring. This morning there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and still it snowed. The winter took a toll and everyone groused, “I thought we were done with that!” These same growlers only a few short months ago celebrated the return of the white stuff. “It’s the first snow!” they laughed and ran out to touch it. How fickle we are.

Or, perhaps, how ritualistic we are. Persephone must return to the underworld for a season. Demeter grieves and so the cold snows come. Months later, when the daughter returns to the light, the mother, over-joyed, allows the plants to grow again. Life returns. Tell the story any way you want. It is the same. A cycle of life. Equinox. Solstice. A time to sow. A time to reap. The root, rejuvenated, now pushes little green tendrils upward the sun. Rituals and celebrations.

Our ritual? Eager to get outside and walk, Kerri asks, “What boots shall we wear?” I respond, “I don’t know. Do you think it will be muddy?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ICE FALL

 

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Love The Mud [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” ~ Picasso

It would seem to be a no-brainer. Mastery comes from a lifetime of doing. Trial and error. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule: success is nothing more than practicing the task for many hours over many years. As the old joke goes, it’s how you get to Carnegie Hall.

Efficiency. Ease. Body knowledge. Body of Knowledge. Flow. Wisdom. The blossoms of a long-body of experiences. The farmer, over a lifetime of living and working the same plot of land, knows the signs that no one else can see. They sense the storm coming. They smell the time for planting. They waste no time; their 10,000 hours having developed a solid relationship, a kinship with their environment and work.

An artist, over a lifetime of living and working the same plot of music or paint or dance, knows the signs that no one else can see. Artistry is efficiency, a single line saying more than 20. A musical phrase capable of reaching deeper into hearts than was once possible. Like the farmer, their 10,000 hours becomes 20,000 and then 30,000. Their worth, their work, after so many hours of hands in the soil or fingers on the keys, is incalculable.

Awash in abstractions, organizations play by a different set of understandings. Bottom lines are blind to mastery. You’d be amazed (or not) at how many people I know who’ve been “let go” because a younger, less expensive person, might “fill the role” and “cost less.” Mastery as deficit. You’d  be astounded (or not) at how many people I’ve coached who were punished because they became highly efficient. Their life-of-experience made their work look too easy. They were either squeezed for more or released as unnecessary.

What happens when all of the organizational knowledge, the ease and efficiency that comes via experience, becomes a liability? Wearing my consulting hat I’d routinely shake my head at the standard folly of leadership – people in power suits and ties a hundred miles from the dust and grit of the boots-on-the-ground – determining with pencil and paper the time and worth of a task. Abstracting the worth of a life. Budgetary efficiency driving the carefully calculated undervaluation of experience. Actual efficiency red-lined by abstract efficiency. As John would say, “Penny wise and pound foolish.”

Maturity in season of life. It comes from a job description that came across Kerri’s desk. Maturity as a job requirement! A search for someone with the experience necessary to paint like a child. Seeking the mastery that results from years and years of plowing the same fields.

I wonder if the hiring committee merely tossed out flowery language or actually understood that their ideal candidate would come through the door with boots made muddy from a lifetime of walking the fields?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MATURITY IN SEASON OF LIFE

 

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Release The Peace [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Peace. Compassion. Strength. Wisdom. The idea is that prayers and mantras symbolized on the flags are blown by the wind, spreading their peace, compassion, strength and wisdom into the world. It’s not a bad idea. It’s not a bad reminder.

We pass beneath our prayer flags everyday. It is our version of the Balinese split gate. A symbol of bigger things. Coming or going we pass through a moment of meditation, a fluttering reminder of the path that threads through time’s center. The place of presence. It is the place where divisions fade – even for a moment. The place where the drama-of-the-day and turmoil – all expressions of separation – fall away.

The flags quiver and dance. We stop and listen to the quiet flapping, the release of peace into the wind. The basic elements of compassion, strength, and wisdom. Water, fire, earth and sky. A renewed focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

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Mess With It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A simple image skewed. It becomes something else. The original was beautiful, simple stark contrasts. Iron grey corrugated metal meeting untouched snow.  Textures. Man made meeting nature made. It looked like an abstract painting.

When Kerri is restless she plays with images. My composer wife has a better visual eye than her painter husband. She can play for hours with a single image, designing from an inner imperative that words cannot reach. “What are you messing with?” I ask, already knowing the answer. Silence. She shakes her head, my question a horsefly to her concentration.

A curator might tell you that this photo represents a dream gone awry. A door that opened. A possibility that whispered. And then, like the iron grey metal meeting the snow, the dream met the realities of the moment and tilted. The door, the possibility was a mirage, a vanishing oasis.

Of course, a curator might say it represents any number of things and we’d affix their meaning to the image, even if we didn’t want to.  Words are powerful. Sticky.

A simple image. Another day. Another step. Skewed. What are you messing with? I already know the answer. Tell me what it means.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SKEWED

 

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