Hug The Pain [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Put on your seat belt. I’m going to indiscriminately fling stereotypes at myself and my wife and that requires me to indiscriminately snag other fish in my broad net of oversimplification. To make you feel safe in reading further, please note that this a not so cleverly disguised survival guide for two people living together in this age of stay-at-home-orders.

We are both artists. I often wonder if the universe put Kerri and me in relationship as some kind of whacky psychological experiment. Imagine the laughter on Mount Olympus! If you are an artist or know any artists, please join me now in making a list of adjectives: volatile, hypersensitive, moody, procrastinating,.. Now, multiply that times two. Let’s just say that we do not cancel out each other. We are certain that our friends invite us to dinner for the sheer entertainment value of hearing about our latest train wreck. We are both good storytellers so we take comfort knowing that at least we make our mayhem amusing.

True story: yesterday I apologized to DogDog that neither Kerri or I was an engineer. “You have hard duty this time around,” I said, patting him on the head. He didn’t disagree.

Since we are already standing at the edge of chaos I can see no reason not to jump. It was too late in our developing relationship when we realized that, not only were we both artists but we are diametrically opposed in our approach . Kerri is so detail-oriented that it makes my head hurt. I am such a big-picture-generalist that she regularly has to run screaming from the the room so as not to get lost in my thought.

Kerri organizes through piles. I organize by eliminating piles. I seem incapable of learning the lesson that what-looks-like-a pile-to-me-looks-like-order to her. I’ve probably set her back a decade by imposing my idea of order to her system of filing. We’re still looking for the project notes she lost the day I moved in and decided to help out by cleaning up the piles. Last week I attempted to hang up her snow pants and her icy glare melted my good intention; I let them slip to the chair where they remain to this day.

She is easier in the world than I am. If I begin a project or a painting it is nearly impossible for me to stop thinking about it until it is complete. I dream about it. I ponder and muse. Okay, go ahead and think it: he is obsessive-compulsive. I cannot deny it. In my defense, by bride is incapable of holding on to a thought or completing a single task. She works in circles. Attention deficit. Now, imagine, if you can, the process we’ve developed in working together. If we were a band, our name would be Creative Tension.

DogDog walks in circles around the house. I used to think it was a trait of his breed but I’ve come to believe that circle-walking is what happens to an over-sensitive dog when one of his parents is obsessive and the other is ADD. He simply can never relax since we are such a danger to ourselves.

She’s a New Yorker.  I am from Colorado. I was taught that talking over someone else was rude. She was raised in a part of the world where it is essential. Our conversations are sometimes hysterical but mostly shattered language fragments and hesitations. If only I were a better playwright!

Now, flip all of this too-much-information over. Perceptive, deeply felt, intuitive, adventurous, improvisational. Sometimes mystic. We crawl out the window to drink our wine on the roof. Our life is never routine, never dull. We cultivate surprise whether we intend to or not. Her artistic eye makes mine better. She pulls me from my obsessive mind so that I might breathe and relax. I help her step back from the detail and see another perspective.

The moral: there is no better collaborator, no more treasured companion, than the pain-in-the-ass pushing back on your idea, the one talking over you, the one challenging your choices, the one that you love and trust with your most vulnerable life & artistic decisions because (you begrudgingly admit to yourself) they see things differently. This equal and opposing force that shares space with you is the very reason you are capable of expanding your mind, your perspective, and your heart.  They are what you mean when you utter this word: together.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAIN IN THE ASS

 

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Step Toward The Center [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We had this quote in the melange line up long before there was a pandemic. Now, it is impossible to look at this phrase without pressing it through the lens of COVID19. What might we have written in a less chaotic context?

One of the best lessons I was taught, is that we cannot control our circumstance but we can control who we are within our circumstance. The hurricane will come. The pandemic. It is possible in the midst of the storm to panic. To hoard. To blame. To resent. It is also possible to stand in a center, to share, to support, to reach. You are not your circumstance.

Sitting in his study that smelled of instant coffee, book dust and cigarettes, Quinn and I used to talk endlessly about chaos theory. Within the seeming chaos of a dynamic complex system there exists pattern, repetition, self-organization. Pattern, repetition, organization – these are words of order, not of disorder. Chaos. Order. We only know order relative to chaos. We only know chaos relative to order.

Within the Hermetic laws (and Newtonian physics, equal and opposite forces) there is the law of polarity. Everything contains its opposite. Or, said another way, what might appear to be opposite, is, in fact, two ends (poles) of the same thing. Order. Chaos. We cannot know light without the contrast of darkness. We live on a continuum. What we experience is simply a matter of degree on the continuum. There is always a bit of chaos in my otherwise orderly day. In times of chaos, we become very clear about what matters and what does not.

Out of chaos we self-organize. In the throes of social distance we are finding ways to reach and connect. We are prioritizing connection. I’ve spoken with or texted more people in the last seven days than I have in the last seven months.

We see it every year. The hurricane blows away a city and the greater community always shows up to dig in and help out. And rebuild. In chaos we organize to make sure everyone makes it to the other side of the storm. Initially, the coming chaos reveals the ugliest aspects of our nature. We hoard. We price gouge. We run to the far end of the continuum and hang onto the poles, mine/yours, us/them. But, sit in it long enough, and chaos always reveals the deeper truths. Interconnectedness is another way of understanding a continuum. We turn our focus on relationship. The space between. Your need is my need. We are not separate.

Order arises when we step toward the shared center and away from the chaotic extremes. We are not our circumstance so the question remains: who are we within our circumstance?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHAOS & BOUNDARIES

 

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*this photo of BabyCat is not doctored. I have no explanation for the ordered shape that our very large cat takes in the moments prior to creating chaos.

 

 

 

Capture The Beauty [on DR Thursday]

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The day was stormy, the lake was unsettled, steel grey and roiling. Kerri walked to the water’s edge with her camera. I opened my sketchbook and caught a quick sketch. Perhaps a notation for a someday-painting. Perhaps a gesture with nowhere to go.

A few days later I looked at this quick sketch and laughed. It is a metaphor for our time on island. Standing at the edge of a storm not of our making. Witness to the turmoil. It blows us to and fro. It messes our hair. The sand stings our faces.  We are taken by the colors of its violence. When the winds grow too powerful, we retreat to the safety of our littlehouse. We wait for the latest flurry to calm, the waves to soften.

It is tempting to want to be done with it. To rush through a month of life. Each day I remind myself to be in it, not simply get through it. Life on this day may be stormy. It might be upsetting. Stormy and upsetting are colors on the palette. They are worthy experiences. Amidst the chaos there are instances of utter beauty –  like the moment Kerri walked to the edge of a roiling lake and I looked up, caught my breath, and reached for my sketchbook so that I’d never ever forget.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A SKETCH

 

 

 

 

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UpLift [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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And, what is the opposite of cohesion? Incoherence. The lack of clarity or unity. Fracture.

For a period of time my work on this earth was essentially a meditation on power. Power with. Power over. After a while I understood that power-over was not really power at all; it was control. Control and power are two very different things. They are often confused.

Power is something created with others. Control is something done to others. The equation is simple: the more controlling a person is, the less powerful they actually are. A person who understands his/herself as powerful has no need to assert control over others.

A leader invested in control has only one sure route to controlling: to fracture. To divide. It is the way of the truly powerless. Incoherence and chaos are great tools if control is the aim. Destroy the unity. Play to the disgruntled. Feed the fire of those who are feeling powerless. Promise them control. Pushing others down to elevate the self can only end badly. Everyone drowns.

People secure in their power create cohesion. They unite. They uplift. Power is a force that grows between people. It cannot be owned by one. It is always the province of the community. A person secure in her/his power generates unity. What else? The power they feel within is an expression of the power they experience with.

Community is a word that implies cohesion. To commune. Common. And, what could be more common than a central focus, the intention to support and bring out the best in all.

What is the opposite of a powerful person?

 

read kerri’s blog post about COHESION

 

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Line Up! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Sometimes the right metaphor steps directly in front of you, stops the car (and all the traffic behind you), and says, “Here I am. Pay attention.” After a good laugh there is only one thing to do: take a picture. And wait for nature to waddle off of the road.

We are, as you might have guessed, getting our ducks in a row. Life these past few years has been chaotic. We’ve been trying to force solutions. Our ducks, we’ve learned, do not respond well to force.

Having surrendered to the reality that there was no sense in continuing to force our ducks in a direction that they would not go, we faced our insanity. We stopped doing the same old thing in the same old way, and gave over to a new unknown path. Driving down the road, discussing what we now needed to do given our full surrender and new reality, we hit a full stop when the ducks appeared with their message. It is worth noting that there are three pieces to our new puzzle (no kidding) or, better, according to our metaphor, three ducks in our row.

Apparently our ducks are lining up.

Either that or, just out of frame, is a police officer conducting a duck sobriety check. The line they are walking is less than straight so it’s proper to worry about their capacity to pass the test.

Ducks in a row or a sobriety test? Both are apt straight-line-walking-life-metaphors and since it is my mess, I am definitely paying attention to the message. Or just making it up. You decide.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DUCKS IN A ROW

 

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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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Order Chaos

One panel of a triptych I did for a performance with The Portland Chamber Orchestra. This is, "Prometheus: Resurrection"

One panel of a triptych I did for a performance with The Portland Chamber Orchestra. This is, “Prometheus: Resurrection”

There is order. There is chaos. They are as intimately related as magnetic poles, the pull and push of action. Chaos is pulled into order and order is pulled into chaos, forms are thrown up and pulled down again. Life spins on this axis.

Today during my walk I made certain to step on the leaves. With the assistance of the wind, the trees are releasing leaves in great flurries of color. Orange and yellow and red swirl to the ground and then swirl on the ground, too. The movement is an invitation to step boldly on the carpet of color. I love the sound that it makes, the swirling and the crunching. What was out of reach a few short moments ago is now underfoot. Life is like that.

The wind off the lake was bitter so we turned down a side street and sought protection amidst the houses. It is rare that we don’t, as a Buddhist might say, “Eat the cold,” but today we desired presence to be warm. We scurried home, shuffling our feet through the leaves, and sipped hot apple cider, fingers wrapped around the mug to absorb the heat.

I read recently that the path to realizing our divinity is to accept our human-ness. Trying to be better than we are blinds us to how beautiful we really are. It’s a paradox. Apparently, divinity is not found in perfection but in the messiness of everyday. It is not a fixed state, but moves between the poles, sometimes wearing the mask of order, sometimes arriving in the face of chaos.

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