Skip The Handbook

We walked some great beaches this summer. In this post are my three most recent paintings. Kerri calls them the start of my Beach Series. This one is called, They Draw The Sunset In The Sand

I just made myself laugh out loud. “Lol!” I’d have texted to myself had I not been breathless from my guffaw. No one can accuse me of needing to be entertained.

I was writing about my history with curators, galleries and their consistent criticism of my work: I am stylistically all over the map. And, it’s a valid criticism! I am stylistically schizophrenic. I was overcome with laughter by what I wrote after using the words ‘stylistically schizophrenic:’ If I didn’t know myself (and, most of the time I am the last person to see in myself what is obvious to all – so it is a solid argument to make that I do not know myself)…. Wow. I might have made a good lawyer had I not been so dedicated to seeing things from multiple points of view. My paintings reflect my dedication (as it should be).

When I was younger I tried repeatedly to squeeze myself into a stylistic box. I thought that the advice and feedback I was receiving from gallery representatives meant that I was somehow lacking or out of control. In the handbook of real artists it must say in bold print something about possessing a consistent style. The youthful me looked all over creation for a copy of the handbook but could find it nowhere. How could I call myself an artist if I had not first read the handbook?

This one is titled, A Day At The Beach

My attempts ‘to fit’ into the single style rule made me miserable and, worse, made my work stale. In my mind, achieving real-artist-status meant I must learn to contort myself yet the price of contortion was very high. Twice in my life I took a year long hiatus because my attempt to fit into a single-style-box left me with deep aches and no creative fire. Once, so burdened was I by the pain of my contortion, I burned most of my paintings.

Fire is cleansing. Creative fire is clarifying. I have learned through my fire that the real handbook is internal and uniquely personal. As John once said to me, “Your job is to paint the paintings not to determine how or where they fit.” The painters I admire and feel a kinship with are stylistic pantheists. They are more visual explorers than technical geniuses.

There is a bridge that every artist must cross. It comes in the moment when the inner compass is no longer at odds with the necessities of learning technique, when the well-meaning comments of teachers and mentors and agents and representatives are just that: well-meaning comments. The compass, your internal rulebook, will let you know without doubt whether the comment needs to be considered or discarded. Growth happens either way.

This one is untitled at the moment…

visit to see the full extent of my stylistic pantheism.




Meet The Fire

a work in progress. this one is slow going!

a work in progress. this one is slow going!

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 – and each had suffered a devastating wound or loss en route to fulfilling their healing power. The journey through the wound was necessary to turn on the power. The heroes cycle, the belly of the whale, the quest through the wasteland, finding joyful participation in the sorrows of the world; growth 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, to protect yourself from it, but to be alive in it, to know what it is to be reduced to ashes and know somewhere deep inside that the phoenix will always rise just as spring will always come.

Remember The Fire

this is the first painting in a triptych I did for The Creatures Of Prometheus, a performance I did with The Portland Chamber Orchestra. special kudos to Jen and Brad for housing these enormous paintings for me.

This is the first painting in a triptych I did for The Creatures Of Prometheus, a performance I did with The Portland Chamber Orchestra. Special kudos to Jen and Brad for housing these enormous paintings for me.

With the spring the storms have come. Brilliant blinding flashes of lightning followed by thunder that rolls and rolls for minutes without ceasing. Joseph Campbell once posited that the voice of the thunder was humankind’s first experience of the godhead; as I listen now to the sky roil and rumble, watching Tripper-Dog-Dog-Dog look for a safe place to hide, I am grateful to be inside protected from the god’s displeasure.

Last week I learned that the phrase, “blinding flash of lightning” was more than poetry. Kerri and I were taking our usual late night stroll. There were distant rumbles of thunder, but nothing close or threatening. The crack and flash seemed to come from nowhere. I ducked. Kerri screamed. It felt like we were inside the lightning rather than beneath it. The ground rumbled in concert with the sky. For blocks around us, car alarms whooped and beeped like Chicken Little. I imagined the cars were as taken by surprise as Kerri and I. For several moments after the flash, I was literally blind.

We were already running when sight returned, we laughed and squealed and kept our heads down as if that would make a difference. It seemed as if the storm was far distant one moment and on top of us the next. The sky spit hail. It rained for a moment. And, as suddenly as it was on us, it was gone. We stood still in the wake of the storms departure. I wondered if I’d imagined it except the parked cars were still sounding their alarms.

Once, when I was in high school, I hiked with a friend to the top of a peak. We were above the timber line and although I knew enough to be off the mountain top before the afternoon storms rolled over the divide, the thunder clouds came fast and we were caught in a powerful storm in a meadow just beneath the peak. It seemed as if we were literally inside the cloud as the lightning made the hair on my head stand on end. We wedged ourselves in a sitting fetal position between some boulders, and reflexively closed our eyes and covered our heads. Each flash sent a jolt of fear through me. I’ve rarely been as frightened or exhilarated as I was that day. The storm roared over the mountain top and descended into the valley. It was gone as fast as it came. It was awesome.

In one of the versions of the Prometheus story, Zeus charges Prometheus with the task of creating creatures for the sole purpose of worshipping the gods. Zeus wants the new creatures to be crude and stupid. Prometheus, instead, creates something beautiful and smart: humans. From clay, he sculpts a female and male form. Knowing that Zeus will never give life to his beautiful creatures, Prometheus steals the immortal fire, the lightning, and sparks the human hearts to life. To punish Prometheus, to keep his beautiful creatures from knowing their own beauty, Zeus introduces them to warfare, both the internal and external variety; he makes them doubt. He infuses them with fear. He makes it easy for them to focus on their ugliness so that they might misdirect their awesome power and forget the creative fire burning in their hearts.

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

Go here for hard copies.

Go Back To Basics

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

Yesterday in my post I wrote the word “aquifers” but at first badly mistyped it and wrote “aquafire.” Isn’t that a lovely word collision! It sounds like the name of a garage band! I did a quick Google search (is there any other kind?) and found that aquafire is the name of a restaurant in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s also the name of a water heater company in New Zealand! You’ll not be surprised to learn that it is also the name of a company that makes floating fire pits, a fire protection company specializing in sprinklers, a blog about fishing, and a sauna and steam bath company.

According to western classical thought there are 4 elements that combine to constitute all matter: earth, air, fire, and water. Aquafire, according to the classical way of thinking, might be steam or lava or acid or a good jalapeno salsa. Once, I was in the ocean and was clobbered by a wave and met the rocky coral bottom with some unintended force; I could consider that experience aquafire.

I like the notion of elements as applied to obstacles; I have been known to think, “It only looks like an enormous boulder in my path. Apply a little heat and then let’s see what you look like!” The boulder calls my bluff every time but the threat of combining elements always frees my imagination so I can see the many possibilities instead of the single impediment. Problems become possibilities almost immediately when you consider their elemental make-up: problems and possibilities are both ways of seeing; they are choices. So, a good question to ask is, “What is the basic element of choice?”

The Greeks (and others) added a 5th element or quintessence. The medieval scientists called it, “ether,” which was considered to be the element that filled the universe (above our atmosphere). To the Greeks, quintessence was the air breathed by the gods and was distinctly different than the air we mortals breathe. It was pure, essential. Essence. If there is a basic element to imagination, choice, possibility, memory, intuition, and inspiration, I’m certain it must be ether, a touch of quintessence, the breath of the gods made manifest here on earth in you and in me.

Where Is Your Fire?

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

I was awake very early, way before sunrise. I sat on my balcony and watched the sky progress from ultramarine through several shades of purple before resting in turquoise. The clouds were fiery balls of cotton. The fires burning on the eastern slope are facilitating extraordinary colors in the sky. The sun rose magenta. Through the smoky filter I could look at it directly for almost an hour. Sun and I had a staring contest. I lost.

This will go in the books as the summer of fire. I was in Colorado when fires burned across the entire state. Now, there are fires everywhere in Washington State. In May, Alan asked me a question that would give rise to the summer’s theme: he asked, “Where is your fire? Where is your rage?” I am too nice, apparently. Later, while in Colorado, I reminded him of his question and he said, “You are taking this a bit too far, don’t you think?” So, my meditation these many months has been on fire. Where is my fire.

All of the elements are transformational; they work at different speeds. Nothing beats erosion for leveling a mountain. Have you seen what wind and rain created in Bryce, Zion, and the Grande Canyons? If you do not understand the word “sacred,” go to Bryce, get out of your car – in fact, get far away from your car – be quiet, and after a few moments you will understand. The world is in constant motion.

Once, a few years ago, I stood on the lava fields, newly cooled, and watched the bright orange lava pour into the ocean, steam hissing a welcome. Lora said, “This is an island being born.” Later, as the sun set, a storm thundered down the mountain like an invading horde; I was drenched in an instant, laughing as we ran to the car, pummeled by rain. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with the power I felt all around me: the lava, the ocean, and the rain.

And then there is the earth. While living in Los Angeles I rode through a few earthquakes but none so impressive as the Northridge quake. It came in the wee hours of the morning and is the only time I’ve awakened in mid-flight. My dog was flying next to me and I will never forget the look on his face. I can only imagine the look that he saw on mine. I thought I might be dreaming until I hit the wall. It is awesome to consider the transformational power of the quaking earth. In addition to the destruction it opened symmetrical paths of beauty. Neighbors talked. People helped other people. The city rebuilt itself in record time.

I thought about all of these experiences as I stared at the sun, magenta through the smoke and haze and asked, as I have asked every morning this summer, “Where is my fire? Where is my rage?” The sun stared back, silent, grinning a knowing grin, like a good teacher, refusing to offer an easy answer.

Truly Powerful People (477)

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

I am meditating on rage. Call it fire in the belly or call it “enough already.” This is not a meditation on simple anger; it is an internal forest fire. It is nature cleaning away the debris, opening channels of blocked energy, and making way for new life.

Rage, at first might look destructive – the forest fire rages out of control – and the aftermath of this rage is nutrient for the soul, rejuvenation of a landscape, and the long-term health of an ecosystem. The fire serves a purpose. The rage is an energy released. It is the fire of alchemy. It is a natural cycle.

I am not talking about road rage – people snapping because they feel so powerless that they explode – that is not the rage, I mean. My meditation is on the ferocity of love, the mother bear protecting her cub. The rage I am pondering assumes power is already at the center, it is the forge and hammer. It is the love of self sufficient to say, “This is the line and you will not cross it.” It is the love of self to say, “This will not stand.”

Where is our rage? Where is your rage?

I recently watched an interview Bill Moyers did with Thomas Frank about money in politics. The question implicit throughout the interview: where is our rage? What happened to the people in these United States that we now so willingly participate in the rape and pillage of our political system? Rather than rise in our rage like a fire and burn away the clutter and abuse, we took a seat, turned on our televisions and asked for more. We sighed, “Oh, Well,” when our supreme court sold our political souls in the Citizens United ruling. We tuned into Fox News or MSNBC and divided ourselves, turning our impotence on each other. It’s an old strategy of control called the giddy masses: If the people turn their rage on each other they will cease to focus it where it will do any good.

I was a little kid in the 60’s and my first memories are of a neighborhood with no fences. There was one big backyard commons where people talked and watched over other people’s children. There was rage stomping around the adult’s conversations – and their love had teeth. I had the sense that my parents cared for their neighbors and I know the neighbors certainly cared for me (literally). It seemed to me that we were in something together; agreement was not a requirement of the community; disagreement was catalyst for conversation and action. I’m certainly romanticizing a childhood memory. There were 4 billion less people on the planet so perhaps it was easier to talk to your neighbor – though that equation makes no sense. People are spatially closer and communally farther apart.

It leaves me wondering where’s the rage? What happened to our self-respect?