Dance!

A painting called JOY

A painting called JOY

“A dancer’s body breaks down,” she said, “Painters can paint all their lives. Musicians can play until they are old, but a dancer’s instrument, her body, gives out.”

To be a contrarian I responded, “And then there is Martha Graham. She danced into her 80’s, didn’t she?”

She wrinkled her nose and said, “Not very well.”

The lights dimmed, the movie started, and our conversation ended.

She was, in her youth, a dancer, classically trained. She’d spent the bulk of her adult life teaching and choreographing. And, as she told me, “Those things are all you can do when you can no longer dance. They are what’s left.” Had our exchange not bothered me so much I might have felt sadness for her.

Like an art-mantra, Tom used to say, “A writer writes and a painter paints.” I wanted to say to my seatmate, “A dancer dances.” I thought immediately of Linda who dances even when she is not dancing. She is a riot of movement, joy-in-motion; her need to dance is infectious. Even non-dancers find themselves jigging across the floor when Linda is dancing at the party. I once told her that she is my secret weapon for throwing a successful party.

I imagined my seatmate as a young girl. Before all the training, before the technique and expectations, there was enthusiasm. There must have been joy. There must have been lots of joy. She must have known the world by moving, twirling, spinning in it. Artists – before they call themselves artists – make sense through sound, through scribbles, through spinning. They only way forward in life, the only way to make meaning and to learn, is to scribble more, to engage and translate through movement. Lazy educators write off this imperative as self-expression.

The great artist deathtrap is called technique. It is a paradox. It is necessary. It is a kind of language mastery. It is, at first, a struggle of control. How do you say what you need to say when your language is visual, aural, or kinesthetic? Training is necessary. The path to full expression is always paradoxically through constraints, control of breath or brush. Yet, too often, as is the case with my seatmate, technique replaces the enthusiasm. It can turn joy into judgment. It can make an artist forget their WHY and replace it with a too rigid HOW. It is how artists limit themselves with their artistry. It made my seatmate, a healthy ambulatory woman, believe that she is not capable of dancing.

Later, I told Kerri about my conversation at the movies. She said, “That’s why fewer and fewer people are going to symphonies or galleries. People draw lines. Artists not only limit themselves with their artistry but they also limit access to their artistry.” Joy is infectious. Artistry without it is not very interesting (and, arguably, not artistry).

Unbridle Your Enthusiasm

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog's trophy collection

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog’s trophy collection

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog is tough on toys. He does well with hard rubber Kongs and rawhide bones but the stuffed animal variety haven’t got a prayer. We long ago stopped buying them for him. Even as a small puppy he’d make short work of anything that squeaked or resembled a creature. More than once, moments after giving him a new toy, I found him sitting happy and content amidst a nest of fiberfill with the empty body-shaped sack of toy remnant clutched firmly between his paws. Dog-Dog has several admirers who are unaware of his destructive talents and bring him stuffed animals as gifts. Like offerings to a high priests in days of old, Tripper graciously accepts their offer and removes to the backroom for immediate slaughter. For reasons I can’t explain, we keep the heads from his sacrifices. We use the heads as sleeves for our knife set or as wine bottle covers; it’s our own little version of Game of Thrones.

I’m learning much from master Dog-Dog. Lately his lessons are about faith and exuberance for the sheer pleasure of being alive. For Tripper, every doorway is an opportunity for bounding, every fence an opportunity for discovery. Even if he hopped at the fence 30 seconds prior, his return to the same spot is no less enthusiastic. He does not assume that he knows what he will find there, in fact, he assumes that the world is new no matter which way he looks. He does not blunt himself with notions of knowing like we bipeds. He is a four-legged master of beginner’s mind. If he had an inner monologue I’m certain it would be, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,…”

During our late night pre-bed visits to the backyard, Dog-Dog routinely stops and stands very still (unusual behavior for an Australian Shepherd), and for several moments he listens. He feels the breezes. He smells the air. He checks in with me to make sure that I am standing firmly rooted in the present moment. When he is certain that I am present with him in his quiet enthusiasm for life, that I have given up all of my stories and distractions from the day, that I, like him, am breathing in the miracle of existence, revels for a moment longer and then lets me know that I am ready for sleeping. He turns and prances toward the house, satisfied with my progress and exhausted by the sheer wonder of it all.

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Run With It

The criminal with the evidence. Tripper with Kleenex.

The criminal with the evidence. Tripper with plundered Kleenex.

Tennessee Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog is a fantastic pick pocket. I’m certain he is kin with the Artful Dodger and the other sticky-finger street boys who lift wallets and jewelry without detection. Dog-Dog’s preferred target is Kleenex. With his snout he can reach into the deepest pocket and disappear into a crowd, Kleenex in mouth, and his poor victim is none the wiser. Lately I have had a nasty cold so my pockets are prime targets for his crimes. More than once I’ve reached into my pocket, alarmed by the rising tide of an inevitable sneeze, and found that my pocket has been picked. “Dog-Dog!!” I scream (and then sneeze). He always appears with tiny bits of evidence in his whiskers.

I first noticed his pilfering when he was still more puppy than dog. He was adept at undetected napkin snatching. I knew it was a crime scene when dinner guests started looking on the floor for missing napkins and came up empty. Although publically I’d hang my head and make Tripper confess his misdeed and return his plunder, secretly I was impressed by his stealth and wondered if he would grow up to become a Ninja.

Tripper Dog-Dog does not suffer guilt. He does not question his choices. He rarely debates whether he should or should not do something. He does not mask his confusion or blunt his awe. He races across the yard in full celebration of his speed and how good it feels to run. He does not run to win, he runs to run. Were I still working with actors I’d have them study the pure intentionality of their pets. I’d have them study what undiluted commitment to action really looks like.

One of my favorite themes running through the books of Paulo Coehlo is to find your enthusiasm and follow it; there lives your treasure. Joseph Campbell famously said, “Follow your bliss.” One of the post-it notes on our Be A Ray plan wall reads: Dream big dreams. The sub note adds: Run At It. The other day we heard a man say, “At least when I die, I’ll know I took my shot and gave it my all.” I sat up and wrote his thought as two questions: What is your shot? What would it look like to give it your all?

And then, finding my pocket empty of Kleenex, I added a third question: If “it” was a Kleenex and I was Tripper, what would I do? I’d take “it” with great enthusiasm, no apology, and without doubt or question. And then I’d run with “it” just because I liked the way it feels.

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

Or, go here for hard copies.