Receive The Message [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

We just made a pact to lighten up. It’s not the first time we’ve made this pact and it probably won’t be the last. What’s important in this particular version of our pact is that we are growing more capable of keeping it.

The week before Columbus died, my sister-in-law sent some pictures of him. He was at the very beginning of what would become a rapid decline. She sent the photos to reassure us but they had the opposite impact on me: I was shocked.

Those photos threw me into a pendulum: some days, nothing seems worth getting riled up about. This ride is short and it ends. I know my mind can whip up a fruit-smoothie of drama in a nano-second but that doesn’t mean I need to drink it. And, on the other end of the pendulum, everything seems worth getting riled up about. This ride is short and it ends. Both/And.

I know the pendulum will settle. I know equilibrium is merely a matter of not indulging in the swing but stepping back and watching. The thoughts will sway to-and-fro and I need not sway with them. To lighten up, as Don Miguel Ruiz advises, “Doubt everything that you think.” Or, as someone once told me, “What we think is the mother-lode of comedy.” Changing a mind begins with realizing that a mind, although it will tell you otherwise, is not the keeper of truth.

We hit the trail for many reasons but first and foremost a good walk serves to restore our balance. Someone has been leaving good spirits along our favorite trail and we delight in discovering them. We leave them for others to find. We’ve encountered happy messages, halloween goblins, and folks just like the red and orange googly-eyed fellow that made us laugh. He was sitting with his back to us in the middle of the path. Kerri did a photo shoot with him; he was a willing subject.

I’ve decided that he crossed our path to affirm our pact: he is the spirit of lighten-up. He is the messenger of you-are-not-all-that so enjoy the day. A trail jester to remind us that nothing we imagine or create compares or is more real or important than the step we are currently taking. “Alas, poor Yorick…” he had his time and so do we. What we decide to do with it, how we decide to live it, is not happenstance; it is completely up to us.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOGLY EYES

Try To Explain [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s nearly impossible to explain. I’ve had the conversation a thousand times and I know it’s fruitless from the outset. Why did I choose a life without a safety net? A life with stability and benefits? Why was I willing to work 80 hour weeks for not-very-much-pay? I’ve heard more than once that “Artists are indulgent.” Or, “Artists are fools.”

Maybe. I’ll never know because it is impossible to explain to someone who operates from a different imperative. I’ve thought myself foolish more than a few times, and, usually, when I measure myself by the standards of 9-to-5.

For me, like all the artists I know and admire, there has never been a distinct line between work and play. Given any amount of free time, I’d rather be in the studio than anywhere on earth. When I was directing plays and running theatre companies, I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and get back to work. The time between productions or studio time, what most people call “vacation,” was-and-is meant to catch up on sleep and fill up the well for the next project. Often, this thing called ‘vacation’ was an opportunity to visit museums, drink in art/inspiration or stand in a castle or sit in the city where the next play is set.

For most of my life, even before I really thought about artists or artistry, vacation involved a sketchbook. I sat in the back of the station wagon and drew Colonel Sanders from the bucket of chicken or tried to copy a photo from the National Geographic magazine. Fun and play involved a deep dive into the world I could create/discover through a pencil on blank pages.

I can spend hours sitting and watching people. Small dramas. Gestures. Manipulations. Kindnesses. A little burst of love that would otherwise go unnoticed. Traveling for work meant time spent in airports, a goldmine of observation-time. Work or play?

Perhaps that is why there is no line between work and play. I see it in Kerri, too. We are constantly noticing. Paying attention to what is beautiful or interesting. Feeling what is needed and what is not. We’ve talked endlessly about being empathic. Feeling what others feel. I’ve watched Kerri walk into a rehearsal and “know” where there is pain, where there is joy, know when she needs to wrap some humor around a bruised community. Many years ago, a wise-old-artist told me that I had to learn to distinguish between what was my “stuff” and what was not. What were my feelings and what was not. Sage advice. I’ve been witness to many artists imploding, carrying other people’s garbage as their own.

When we walk, Kerri takes photographs. “I’m sorry,” she says, stooping to focus on a leaf or stone. Why does she apologize for noticing? Here’s a hint: all of her life she’s been asked to explain why she stops to notice. What value can there possibly be in stopping forward motion, especially in a world hell-bent on “getting there faster.” What is the value-proposition of noticing? “Can you please explain why you have to stop and see and, of all things, make it into music?” Or a story. Or a painting. Or a dance.

“Why did you climb that tree?” the adults asked. “It’s where I write poetry,” she explained. Work or vacation? Is it play?

Every Saturday we go through Kerri’s photos from the week and choose five as prompts for our Melange. We collect phrases we hear, words that inspire or disturb. Those end up in the Melange, too. Are we working? Is this play? We delight in sitting each day and writing together. We laugh at our Smack-dab cartoon. They are fun to write and draw and color. None of this makes us any money. Is it work or is it vacation?

I’m currently drawing cartoons and tossing thought-bombs into a community of software entrepreneurs – the boss understands that I notice things and can translate what I notice into other shapes and expressions. Is there value in that? Is it work? Is it play? Will it make money?

Are there possibly other measures of value?

It’s nearly impossible to explain.

read Kerri’s blog post about VACATION

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

Live In The Middle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

not salmon quote copy

The first of Don Miguel Ruiz’s 4 Agreements is to take nothing personally. He writes that everyone (in their mind’s eye) is the star of their own movie and you are merely a bit player in their story. Their drama is theirs. Their drama is not yours. So, when they hurt you or shout at you or call you names, it is not personal. It is their story, their drama, and there is no need to make their story yours. In fact, to try and own their story or take responsibility for what is playing through their head is impossible. It is, in fact, madness.

It’s easier said than done: don’t take ownership of other people’s drama.

I laughed aloud when, many years after reading the 4 Agreements,  I read the 5th Agreement: Doubt everything you think. In other words, in addition to not owning other people’s drama, realize that your own drama is not as serious as you might think. It’s a passing cloud, a made-up story in which you are the star and other people are cast as bit players. Take seriously your story and you will yell at others, call them names, try to hurt their feelings as you attempt to force your drama on them.

Bookends. Their drama is not yours. Don’t take it personally. Your drama is not nearly as serious as you pretend. Doubt everything that you think.

What lives between those two dramatic delusion-poles is sometimes called presence. Sometimes it is called peace. It is not a static state, not an arrival or an achievement. It’s a relationship available with others (and the world) when the realization comes that no single story is central or primary or really that important. It is, in many spiritual traditions, called the middle way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NotSalmon QUOTE.

 

all of us on island website box copy

Lower The Drama

801. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

“It’s the reason we invest in all the drama and gossip!” she said. “Wrap yourself in drama and people will see the drama and because they see the drama they can’t see you. Drama is a smokescreen. It’s a way to hide.” And then she laughed and added, “At least that’s what I’ve discovered about myself. And, even better, all that good yummy drama not only keeps others from seeing me, it keeps me from seeing me. And isn’t THAT the point.”

We are the last people to see ourselves. Horatio reminded me today that I am an easy target. “People take advantage of you,” he said. “You don’t see it but those of us that care for you do see it.” I wanted to protest but he was right. I don’t see it and I am always surprised and disappointed when it happens again. How could I not see it?

What do we do to keep from seeing ourselves? What do we do to keep from being seen? What stories do we tell? What games do we play? What addictions do we claim? We beliefs do we hold.

Her parting question was priceless: “Imagine what people might see if there was no layer of drama to obscure their view? What might we see in ourselves if there was no gossip to distract us?”

Exit The Drama

668. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Sitting in the Philadelphia airport I’m thinking about Drama. I watching them unfold all around me.

Drama is the first level of Alan’s elegant and oh-so-potent model, the 4 Levels of Engagement. Drama is story without a root, otherwise known as a victim story. Gossip is drama. Drama is predicated on enabling, there is a self-righteous gravity spinning at the heart of a drama story. I just heard this: “Can you believe what they did to me… Look what they made me feel.” Drama stories are easy to tell and often feel really good; victim stories are like sugar and are addictive. They are only tasty if shared and over time you will find that you need more and more drama to satisfy the need. They are hell if they dominate your thoughts. Literally. You are without power if you give credence to or invest in your victim story, “Can you believe what they did to me!” is another way of saying, “I need to pull someone down to feel powerful.” Drama creates power-over scenarios. Drama is usually carefully crafted to relieve us of the reality and impact of our own choices. Drama blinds us to our participation and that is precisely the point of all Drama stories. Life is happening to you.

You can never know another person’s story. You can never know their point of view, their circumstances or intention. You can never stand in their shoes. It is an easy game to make another’s story about you especially when you have no way of seeing through their eyes. We see their story through our filter. We distort what we can’t possibly know. There is one thing certain, a bet you can bank on with a Drama-teller: they will never ask the other about their story because it threatens their Victim status. They will accuse, they will blame, they will concoct, they will imply, they will manipulate, but they will never ever ask.

To exit the level of Drama requires some modicum of self-awareness and willingness to own your story. It requires acknowledgment of participation; an inward looking eye at your choices. It requires a greater concern for the story that you live than the story you tell about others. Assuming positive intent is great place to start. Asking others about their point of view before whipping up a Drama tale is another healthy technique. Practice challenging your assumptions. Practice listening. Practice focusing on your story more than the story you tell about others.

Being a participant in life requires surrendering your Victim role. It engenders generosity of spirit, an open mind and more importantly, an open heart.