Live Like. Reach For. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

These messages are everywhere! Marketing tags, song and book titles, posters and billboards. memes. A sentiment also found in poetry, plays, and religious texts. Live like…

Live like you were dying (title of a studio album by Tim McGraw)

Live like a monk (title of a book by Daniele Cybulskie)

Live like there’s no tomorrow (A ubiquitous quote and set up for follow-up sentiments like, “Tomorrow may never come!”)

Live like.

Live. No guarantees. Dance like no one is watching. Be here now. If I was the rain.

It’s the message human beings like to deliver to other human beings. Don’t waste your one precious life. Realize it. Consider the lilies.

So the story goes, the Buddha was asked, “What’s the biggest mistake we make in life,” His reply: “The biggest mistake is to think you have time.”

It’s as if we were trying to wake each other up. Or, wake up to each other. It’s as if we need to say, “Don’t miss it!” It’s as if we are asking, “Will you help me see it?”

These days there’s plenty of fear-mongering spinning around the word “woke.” I wonder at this collision of universal message and partisan agenda. After all, what is the opposite of “woke”? Why would anyone want to walk through life dulled or asleep? Why would anyone want to walk through life with their eyes closed, uneducated, filled with answers but empty of questions? Why would anyone want you to close your eyes and mind and heart to the fullness of life?

An amazing thing happens when near death kisses open the eyes: all the perceived divisions drop away. People throw themselves on bombs to save other people, people give up their seat on the life boat and, in those moments, skin color, sexual orientation, or politics matter not at all. In Highland Park, while the bullets were flying, decisions made in helping others to safety and the promise of one-more-day-of-life had nothing to do with division.

In the real moments, the awake moments, people reach for other people.

Perhaps that is why we are appealing to each other in beer commercials and bibles, lyrics and legislation, to wake up.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LIVE LIKE

Taste The Sound [on KS Friday]

Toadshade trillium. Say it out loud and taste the sounds. Toadshade trillium. Yummy words worthy of e.e. cummings.

I am working in a tech space and keep a document on my desktop: Terms in this Unknown Land. Tech folk speak in acronyms, PAI and SMB, SERP and TAM. Although my colleagues are mostly left-brainers, they are remarkably poetic in their language, peppering their acronym-speak with tasty terms like “cluster calculations” and “stemmings.” I admit to losing the sense of the conversation in the sound. They are, despite the stereotype, passionate and creative and unconsciously poetic. “Plots a curve of probability.”

Toadshade trillium. Plots a curve of probability. Forget the meaning and taste the sound! What might Mary Oliver have done with those syllables!

My lesson this week: I cannot stand and work at my computer all day. I can do the standing (I have a stand-up desk) but staring at a screen eventually shuts down my brain. Across from my stand-up desk is my drafting table. I think better with big pieces of paper and a pencil and then translate back to the computer. I need to move to think but that’s only part of the lesson. When at the drafting table I’m more likely to take things less seriously. I free myself. I get snarky and funny and scribble and draw big arrows and make fun of myself and the logjam in my thinking. I play.

And, while I play, I talk aloud, and hear the sounds of the shapes that I draw. Poetry and motion. Taste the movement. One and the same. Free the thinking. It’s enough to scare the dog but it’s liberating to my kinesthetic necessity. I scribble notes in every direction and dance back and forth between word and image. Consequently, I produce better work.

Thank goodness I finally tasted a few word-sounds that sent me tumbling into a productive scribble dance.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TOADSHADE TRILLIUM

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Shape The Vessel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

George Ohr was one of the great ceramic artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Like Van Gogh, he died unknown, never experiencing the success of his work. Robert reminded me of George Ohr’s story and I reminded Robert that Ohr would be a terrific story for him to tell through a one-man play.

What is it to follow your art-call with heart and dedication with nary a hint of financial reward or success on the horizon? Vincent Van Gogh would have been called an amateur during his life since the making-of-money is the flag we plant in the sand marking the line between being a professional and a dilettante. Those lines do not exist for artists with a deeper call. The money does not the artist make.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, quite a journey for the unseen work of George Ohr’s life to find so much vibrant admiration after his passing. Had he known it would have changed nothing. He’d have spent his days at the potter’s wheel either way.

“Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut out doors and windows from a room; It is the holes that make it useful. Therefore, profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.” ~Lao-tzu

Profit and usefulness. Shape and space. Mary Oliver asked the question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? It hits the nail squarely on the head. It was not the pots that George Ohr made or the paintings that Van Gogh painted, it was the space they entered while throwing pots and painting paintings. It was the world they entered through their artistry, more expansive than financial success, more necessary than renown. A wild and precious life lived wildly and with avid appreciation.

Standing amidst the brilliant orchids, some of the flowers were in their last days. Their beauty fading, they cared not a wit. It is not in their nature to stretch their faces and pretend that the cycle of life is more valuable in the early bloom than it is in the late retreat. All is treasured, beguiling. Every last moment, not to be stalled or held onto. The root as necessary as the bloom, the winter as indispensable as the spring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FIREWORKS

With Fresh Eyes, See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In retrospect, many of the experiences I used to facilitate were meant to pop people – even for a moment – out of the fog of their life story. It’s a curious intention for a guy whose career was/is centered around the telling of stories.

I loved working with masks, especially with people in corporate settings or lofty educational towers. They feared the exposure that a mask might bring so they approached it with eye rolling and whatever-ego resistance. Yet, in every case, they put the mask on with reverence. There is a sequence, after donning the mask, that the wearer “wakes up” and looks at the world for the first time through fresh eyes. Everything is new. Everything. Their hands. The movement of their arms. The color and feel of the carpet. Jaded people, blunted with puffy assumption, through the eyes of the mask, are astonished by the miracle of their fingers. And then, imagine the moment that they discover each other. Their discussion during the debrief would make you weep. It was quiet. Respectful to the point of sacred. In every case the people, newly out of the mask, had to tell of their astonishment and discovery. Their eyes wide with the utter beauty of the world in and around them. And, their new eyes never carried further than the next day. The old mask, the one worn daily, the one full of fear and inflated self-importance, is powerful, too. As they say, masks reveal and masks conceal.

Masks reveal and masks conceal. The phrase refers to the wearer but it also applies to the world seen or not seen through the mask. New eyes are astonished with the ubiquitous beauty of the world newly revealed. Eyes fogged through been-there-done-that stories are dulled to the point of inattention. The magical world is concealed from their sight.

I am working on a script for a piece that I’ll perform in the fall. I realized in my latest draft that it is really about masks. The astonishment of seeing – and seeing is nothing more than or less than the revelation of connectivity. Paying attention is a step toward the eyes that see crackling vibrant color, ears that hear the birdsong. When the dull eyes open, even for a moment, the next impulse is to reach, to “call attention” to the connectivity. “Do you see that?” “Listen, isn’t it gorgeous!”

read Kerri’s blog post about PAYING ATTENTION

Choose [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“It’s a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” ~ Mary Oliver

Were I to have been born in an earlier century I would not be alive today. Twice on my life-path doctors have declared that, “You are now a miracle of modern medicine.” Leeches and blood-letting would not have cured what ailed me.

This thing called ‘science’ is what gave me more days of life. It is the same science that developed vaccines for a pandemic but also made possible the technology that makes mass-media-misinformation possible. Here is the medicine. Here is the disease. It is exactly as Sophocles wrote: Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.

One morning, deeply tired, I arose to go do a job that I did not like. It was a means to an end and I dreaded the day ahead of me. Stepping out the door, the cold morning air stopped me in my tracks. It slapped me awake. The air was crisp and clean, the neighborhood was quiet. The light in the sky was brilliant. I drank it in. I vowed never again to dread a day of my life. In truth, I had no idea what the day held for me. Why then, would I story my day with a frame of dread? Why tell myself a tale of just-getting-through-it? Why not open to the possibilities of surprise and miracle? Why not embrace the already-stated-obvious-thing: I had no idea what the day held. That simple fact would be true every single day of my life. Dread was a choice, not an inevitability.

To be alive on this fresh morning. It is a serious thing. In this world, broken by the little story of us-and-them, the tiny tale of power-over. Choices. The miracle of the new day is present whether it is seen or not. We can cloak it in dread or gratitude, in support or division. It doesn’t care either way. The miracle of the new day, the gift of being alive on this fresh morning in a world that is broken or healed, whole or fragmented – it all depends upon the story-frame we wrap around it. The story we tell is a choice, not an inevitability.

read Kerri’s blog post about JUST TO BE ALIVE

Practice It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“…our brains are prime to notice and remember negativity – things we don’t like or abhor doing – while barely registering the positive. Because of this negativity bias, we have to make a special effort to get our brains to notice, register, and savor the good.” ~ Kristine Klussman, Connection

It is not some special gift nor is it reserved for the select few. Seeing the positive is a practice. It takes practice. It requires cultivation.

I am fortunate. I am surrounded by people who point their cameras at beautiful sights, special moments, a lovely meal…the point is not capturing the photograph. The point is to practice seeing the positive, the gorgeous, the moments of gratitude and appreciation. A camera is a great support in practicing seeing the positive. “This blossom is elegant!” Kerri whispered. Master Miller regularly sends me photos of finger painting discoveries or sunsets over the river. Judy paints the most exquisite flowers; she is a master of seeing the sunshine.

I am fortunate. I am surrounded by people who, in the middle of difficult circumstances, point their minds and hearts at the positive. Mike’s Changing Faces Theater Company is a master-class of making lemonade from a pile of lemons.

Read any poem by Mary Oliver. Each verse a suggestion to see the magic in this mystical world, to place focus on what is too easily missed. The grasses in the breeze. The kind gesture. The geese in formation. “I ask you again: if you have not been enchanted by this adventure – your life – what would do for you?” Evidence

It is very easy to focus on the negative, too easy, to latch onto the one critical comment in the midst of an avalanche of praise. To dwell on the single moment of wound in a lifetime of helping hands. It’s too easy to sit in the dark alone and complain about being lonely. It’s too easy to miss the precious moments of this life [they are everywhere] mired in a dedicated misery. It’s a hard step to rise out of the misery-chair and decide to place your focus on what is bright, what is right in the world, to offer a helping hand, to accept one. To practice savoring. It is hard to step from a darkened mind into a gathering of strangers, a new world, by bringing unguarded kindness with intent to see the best in others.

It’s hard, no doubt, at first, to refocus the eye. But it is much harder not to make the effort. It is so much harder to live a life bound by a practice of seeing only the negative.

There’s a simple truth, a secret, to seeing the positive, found in The Beatles lyric, The End, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Bring it and you will receive it. Practice the positive and you will evoke the positive. No one walks this path alone unless they choose to. The positive, just like the negative, is created in your mind, by where you decide to place your focus, by what you decide to bring to your life.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNPRESCRIBED SINGING

Snap [on KS Friday]

“Whenever the question comes up,/ the poets all say the same thing:/ the only poem we are interested in is in the next room,/ the one not written, the poem of tomorrow.” ~ Billy Collins, The Next Poem

I am trying not to focus on the next. The next chapter. The next day. This is a day of my life even if it is unfolding in a time of pandemic, of jobs lost, careers collapsed, broken-wrists-not-healing and my father’s slow disappearance.

Yesterday was hard. I made it so. Even before noon I was wishing the day away. I was anxious to get to the next. To stick a fork in it. Then, when the truck wouldn’t start, it was all too much. I could have shaken my fist at the sky but instead I decided to stop trying to be someplace else. I decided to feel the hurt. Be in the day.

I miss my studio. That’s not quite right. I miss myself in my studio. I miss how I feel when I am working in it. Timeless. In that place, there is no next. In that place, I feel good, all things become possible. It is a staircase away. These days, it might as well be on the moon.

Mary Oliver wrote, “Next time what I’d do is look at/ the earth before saying anything.” This seems to me, as I approach a birthday, an age marker, a sunrise unlike any other, to be sage advice. See the miracle before I diminish it with my thinking, before I jam it into sackcloth with my opinions.

Once, on a bitter cold day, feeling blue, I leaned back against a red brick wall and closed my eyes. I felt the sun warm my bones and, in a snap, wanted to be no where else on earth. Try as you might, you cannot take that from me, the sun. The warmth against that wall. The absence of next. The boundless power of the snap.

read Kerri’s blog post about NEXT

Blink [on Merely A Thought Monday]

it flies by as it drags on copy

Yesterday was Father’s Day. 20 showed us a photo. His children when they were kids. “Where does the time go?” he asked. Thirty years. “That was the blink of an eye.”

We put together a video collage for my dad using images dating from the time that Kerri first met him. Seven years. “Doesn’t that seem like yesterday?” We had a hard time remembering the order of events; what visit came first? We looked for clues. The length of my hair. The color of stripe on my dad’s shirt.

In one of the photo sequences we are in Iowa, the little town where my dad grew up. In the photos he is showing us the house his grandfather built, the house where his father grew up. It is tiny. Today, it is someone’s storage shed. To my dad, it is holy ground, the place where as a child he ran free. This was his last touch. His final visit.

We  had a phone conversation with my sister. Her pandemic experience is vastly different from ours. To her, it is a minor inconvenience. “People just can’t stay in forever!” she exclaimed. “I’m worried more about the suicides than this virus.” Time, 100 days, to her community, is an eternity. “People gotta live!” she says.

Eternity. “What day is it?’ I ask. Kerri looks off into space. Weird calculus. “Thursday, I think.” she says from some far off place.

Locating ourselves is not so easy in these times. The landmarks are covered over. The geography is changed.

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver asks.

What did you do with your one precious life? With this day, this time, pandemic or not?

We look at each other and laugh. “I’m getting old!” We cringe. Look at me!” We wear our age and it surprises us.

“Time,” Kerri sighs, looking in the mirror. “It is so strange.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TIME

 

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