Save Your Nickel [on Merely A Thought Monday]

where you can actually hear copy

We walk on snowy trails through the woods because it is quiet. I retreat to my studio to work because it is quiet. It inspires quiet. Quiet evokes quiet.

Scrolling through her news app, Kerri said, “Everyone in the world is angry.” It certainly seems that way, especially if the news is the lens through which the world is defined. Headlines shout. The advertisements flash and disrupt.  Tom used to say that watching television, plugging into the news-of-the-day, reminded him of his childhood. The circus would come to town. Carnival barkers and bright signs, lots of noise and distractions. The one sure moneymaker, the tent everyone clamored to get into, lining up to pay their shiny nickel, was the freak show. Two headed cows in jars of formaldehyde. Things that gross us out or make us mad. “Nowadays, they call it reality television,” he’d say, shaking his head. “Or the news. It’s a lot of noise.”

Here’s a simple truth: conversation is impossible in too much noise. People shouting to be heard. A room full of shouting people actually makes listening more difficult and conversing impossible. It’s a feedback loop. Noise evokes noise. And, noise isolates. It is a perfect recipe for being alone together.

The Five20 is a little bar at the Stagecoach Inn in Cedarburg.  Their tagline, “Where you can actually hear your conversation” is refreshingly accurate and seems a throwback to another era. People valuing conversation; a place, a space, intended to facilitate interaction sans noise. Our group, 10 people strong, the up-north-gang, began and ended our yearly trek to Winterfest there. Sitting at the far end of the long table, I could hear every word spoken at the other end. Even when the bar was packed.  And, the best part, today, I can’t tell you what we talked about – the simple stuff  of life – but I can tell you that we laughed and shared and left the Five20 full of friendship, warmed by sharing rather than exhausted from shouting.

As Tom would have said, “Save your nickel.” Sometimes the thing you seek is not in the tent amidst the noise but outside, far from the circus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHERE YOU CAN ACTUALLY HEAR

 

 

boots on frozen river cedarburg website box copy

 

Have A Conversation

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

Yesterday I learned that my conversation with the stained glass window was only on hiatus. Several months ago we simply stopped talking. In the silence I thought the conversation was complete. For almost two years we had a weekly chat. I took lots of notes.

I recognize that one is not supposed to have chats with windows – at least not admit to it. Master Marsh teased me saying, “There’s help for things like this.” I’ve decided that my conversation with the window is more ordinary than odd: plenty of people around the world talk to statues. Most of us have had silent reckoning with the sky. I’ve witnessed mechanics talking to their tools and bakers wooing their dough. Who hasn’t cursed the object of a home fix-it job-gone-wrong (plumbing regularly gets a tongue lashing from me!) or praised a project done well? Traffic gets a regular talking to. In this region, at this time of year, more than a few brides make deals with the weather. A soul in exchange for sunshine.

Who hasn’t, in a moment of turmoil, looked inside themselves and asked for help? Who hasn’t uttered a quiet thank you or asked for guidance or made an appeal? Call it prayer, meditation, epiphany, catharsis, intuition, gut instinct, reading the signs, hearing the call, or communing with nature, it’s a conversation.

I’m not the only artist – or scientist for that matter – that, in moments of flow, feels as if something bigger is coming through. In that sense, all of my paintings might serve as the record of a conversation with something bigger. Writers often speak about having the experience of the characters writing themselves, of following rather than creating. Following, surrendering, allowing, listening, responding, getting out of the way. Play the chords long enough and you no longer need to think about them. In the land beyond thinking about it, music becomes possible. It’s a conversation.

Sitting on the chancel, listening to Kerri play, I stared as I often do at the morning light pouring through the colored glass. I studied the symbols. Birth and death. Tree of knowledge, Tree of Everlasting Life. The Grail standing between two flames. It’s a repetition in symbol of the same idea. Born into an experience of duality and distinctions, a world fighting over its differences, we have the opportunity to walk the middle path, the unity consciousness, the “something bigger.” “Between the two, one,” I the heard the window whisper. “It’s simple, really.”

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

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Have A Chat With Erling

Kerri with her dad.

Kerri with her dad.

It seems as if the theme for the week is lost conversations. It occurred to me that, after writing yesterday’s post, there is, in my life, another conversation that I wish I could have but never will. And, because I never will have the actual conversation, I am reaching into the void and having another form of dialogue.

I wear on my right wrist, wrapped three times to form a bracelet, a pull chain for a light fixture that I found on a workbench. Kerri wears on her left wrist, wrapped three times, the rest of the chain. I found the chain during our first trip to Florida. We were visiting Kerri’s mom in an assisted living facility and, in the evenings, cleaning out her parent’s home. Kerri’s dad, Erling Arnson, died a year before we met, and she’s often said to me, “I wish you could have known my dad.”

I found the chain on Erling’s workbench. He was a watchmaker and a jeweler. He worked with his hands, rebuilt cars, machined new parts for things, and was the master of a quick fix. He liked to build things. He liked to tinker. You can tell much about a person by the way they keep their space and I spent a long time standing at Erling’s workbench. It had been mostly picked apart, scavenged, but the organizing principle was still in tact. He liked to re-purpose things. He liked to make things out of things; every bolt and scrap was filled with potential. I could feel (and understand) the simple joy of creation apparent at his bench.

When I saw the chain (discarded by the scavengers) I knew it would be a way for Kerri and I to bring her dad forward with us. We secured the chains on our wrists and because it is there, I think about Erling everyday. I wonder what I might have learned from him. I like to tinker, too. I like to make things.

Me at Erling's resting place.

Me at Erling’s resting place.

On the second anniversary of his death, Kerri said, “Daddy will show up, today. I don’t know how, but he will.” A few minutes later the faucet in the kitchen broke. Evidently Erling had a wicked sense of humor. As I replaced the faucet (the first faucet replacement of my life), a lengthy affair requiring a call to the neighbor for tools, I felt a deep sense of patience. I remember my grandfather telling me that a person can figure anything out if they just take the time to do it. “You don’t need to know how, you just need to give yourself the time to figure it out.”

Kerri was on the phone with her mom when I finished the job. I was feigning machismo, peacocking my plumbing prowess. Kerri’s mom said, “I think he passed Erling’s test.” She smiled and I thought, “Thanks for the help, Erling. Now, how do I fix the plaster on the ceiling?” His response: I don’t know. But, let’s figure it out.

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Have The Conversation

A painting I did twenty years ago of my dad. I call him Columbus.

A painting I did twenty years ago of my dad. I call him Columbus.

When Bob died I wrote his wife, Ruby, a note saying that I’d give anything to have another conversation with Bob. Just one more conversation.

When Jim wrote to tell me of Doug’s passing, we had an email exchange.

I signed off the email with this phrase: “Yet another conversation I will never have….” Jim answered with a warm reminiscence of Doug, a recounting of their meeting as young teachers, watching Doug navigate and ultimately heal the psychological wounds from war. Jim signed off with this thought:

War is not just hell.  It is eternal hell.  Particularly for those with first hand experience. Why the race continues to tolerate it may be the greatest mystery. Another conversation I will never have with Doug.

I remember in vivid detail the last conversation I had with Tom. He was already sliding into the hell of his dementia and knew it. He desperately wanted to tell me a story, something that was vitally important for me to know though he did not know why. I sat attentive in his small cabin home as he told me the story of the lost boy, a story that together we’d spent years developing into a play. I’d heard the story a thousand times and he no longer remembered. He forgot everything but the imperative to tell me the story, to transmit the history to me. So we enacted the ritual as our final conversation.

Columbus fishing at his 80th birthday celebration.

Columbus fishing at his 80th birthday celebration.

Many years ago I traveled home to spend time with my dad. I wanted to know who he was and felt as if I’d missed it, as if I didn’t really know the person behind the role. He was generous and vulnerable and spent three days with me answering all my questions, sharing the inner sanctum of his thought and being. It was the greatest gift I have ever been given and, at the same time, the greatest gift I have given myself: I asked if he would spend time with me.

One of the things I learned during those days with my dad is that there will always be the yearning for one more conversation. There is no bottom to the magic and mystery of the people that we love and who give order and richness to our world. This year I am learning that although there will always be the yearning for just one more conversation, there will of necessity be a last exchange. And, because that is an inescapable truth, there is nothing more important on this earth than to take the time, make the space, to ask, “How are you doing? What’s happening in your world?”

title_pageGo here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Or, go here for hard copies and Kindle.