See Mike [on Flawed Wednesday]

Sometimes I think I am way ahead of the game only to realize that I am so late to the party that the party is actually over. When we chose this phrase for the melange about the current president’s re-election strategy, I knew exactly what I was going to write about: Mike the chimpanzee! Mike’s story is from Jane Goodall’s book, My Life With The Chimpanzees.

Mike was not an alpha male but for a few short days assumed the dominant role when he learned that kicking kerosene cans and making noise frightened his rivals. No substance, all noise. I thought I was so clever, my analogy spot on! And then, I found this from an October 2016 article in the Atlantic about the debates with Hillary Clinton:

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks…”

In the 2016 article, Jane Goodall mentioned Mike. I’m so late to the party. So late. My clever analogy is nothing more than yesterday’s news. If the world still believed in print media my pages would already be yellowed.

There are two definitions of audacity. The first is “willing to take bold risks.” The second is “rude or disrespectful behavior.”

Creating confusion and noise as a campaign strategy fits both definitions. Loud sound without substance is a bold choice if you assume a big enough slice of the populace is grossly ignorant and will be wowed by stamping and slapping the ground. Rude and disrespectful behavior is no more or less than what we’ve come to expect from this kicker of kerosene cans. It’s a daily event and it must be since, without an over abundance of disrespect and piles of rudeness, he might be met with expectations of policy or perhaps a few ideas on governance.

Perhaps I am not as late to the party as I imagined. It occurs to me that Mike-the-chimp kicks cans and makes noise to frighten his rivals. Good analogies are familiar. They express an abstract idea in terms of a familiar one. The current prez kicks cans and makes noise to get a rise from his base. Like his allies in the senate, they, too, like loud sound but eschew substance. They cheer deconstruction because it is a fun thing to do but I suspect will disappear when the time of reconstruction comes. Building takes ideas, a blueprint, a commitment to a bigger vision.

Vision is the sticking point. Mike, like the current prez, lacks vision. Mike wanted to feel like he was alpha and achieved his dream and temporary rule through frightening his community with strange and thunderous noises. The community soon caught on when no vision, idea, or leadership materialized. Communities of chimps and communities of people are susceptible to noise for a time but soon catch on.

I learned many good and useful life lessons during acting training – of all places (actors deeply study people and history). Most useful in governance is this: a real leader, a good leader, need not make noise. They need not raise their voice. Their power is assumed, never imposed. Authority, real authority, is a blossom of respect and a respected leader is never fearful of challenge. A great leader need not kick cans or scream or rage or name call or lie. Those are the sure signs of a pretender.

read Kerri’s blog post about CAMPAIGNING BY AUDACITY

Knead And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

rustic bread copy

I am now among the legion of people that turned to baking bread during the pandemic-stay-at-home era. This loaf is gluten free, made with rice flour, since Kerri is allergic to gluten.

In truth, I’ve wanted to bake bread since I knew Brad the baker in California. He was a genuine hippie, a believer in peace and simple living. “Bread is a living thing,” he once said as I watched in fascination his kneading of the dough. You can tell a true master craftsman at work by watching their hands. They feel something in the dough or the wood that the rest of us do not.

My loaf was not made by a master. Not even by an apprentice.

Bill sent a photo of his first loaf and I asked for the recipe. It came as screen shots and I scribbled them into a recipe on notebook paper. Easy steps to follow but I knew from watching Brad that I would not find in my recipe any easy guidance on how to feel the life in the dough. That would come with time. Maybe. If I was lucky and diligent and practiced listening through my hands.

I’m not surprised people are turning to bread during this time of pandemic uncertainty. It is essential. The making of bread, the cultivation of wheat, made civilization, as we know it, possible. It is, therefore, a central symbol in many belief systems. Separate the chaff from the wheat. A time for harvest. This is my body. Eat.

Brad told me that the dough kneads you as much as you knead the dough. It’s a simple relationship between living things and requires complete focus. Mutual respect. Attention must be proffered.

Perhaps that is why we turn to bread in times like these. Simple relationships of attention and mutual respect are increasingly rare. Bread reminds us of what is possible, what is healthy. It reminds us of the patience that is required if we are to find our way to harvest. It reminds us of the necessity of knowing what is chaff and what is wheat, or remembering that there is a direct relationship between what is planted and what is grown.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BREAD

 

ely website box copy

 

Respect and Protect [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

birds and turtlesHH copy

For a critter that imagines it has dominion over and responsibility for all other critters, we are mostly doing a lousy job. We are the root cause of 99% of species currently threatened by extinction. And, the rates of extinction are up to 1000 times the natural or “background” rate. It is staggering.

And, so, it gave me pause to walk the beaches of Hilton Head and see the lengths that residents are going to protect the sea turtles and the piping plover.

At ten o’clock every night, all the outside lights on all the beach houses go out. Shades are drawn. Inside lights are dimmed. The hatching turtles know to go toward the moon. The safety of the water is in that direction. The lights on the houses used to confuse them. So. Participation. Protection of an endangered miracle. The locals take great pride in their cooperation. It seems the respect they give the turtles has blown back on them; they respect themselves.

Great swatches of beach are roped off. Signs are posted. The plover’s habitat is off limits. I watched people navigate these vast patches of sand for over a week and not once did anyone wander in. No dogs were left to roam the protected areas. The people were vigilant in their deference to the plover.

With all of this consideration, protection and respect, – and active understanding of the responsibilities that also must come with dominion fantasies – the world felt…aright. And oddly right-side-up.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Respect and Protect

 

shadow in surf HH website box copy

 

Honor All Perspectives

my latest painting. Hope asks, “What do you see?”

Hope Hughes, Kerri’s longtime assistant and voice of reason in all-things-business, passed through my studio and flung herself in front of the painting I was working on. “Stop!” she cried. “Don’t touch it! It’s finished!”

“Finished? I just started,” I whined. She laughed at the perplexed look on my face.

“Put down your brushes,” she smiled, “and listen for a minute.”

Over time I’ve learned to listen to Hope. She makes sense of the world through her feelings which comes in handy to an over-cerebral artist like me. She has no inner-editor in the early stages of communication so I’ve learned her heroics are pure. She sees something that I do not. This is not the first time Hope has thrust herself between me and the painting I am about to destroy, so when she asks me to ‘look’ there is usually a good reason. I set down my brushes, cross my arms, and huff as if to say, “I’m listening but make it fast.”

Each time she begs me to stop work on a painting, a great debate rages in the household. This time was no exception. I sit in my chair and listen to what she sees. It is always diametrically opposed to what I see so I pretend to pout (I secretly love this process because it is EXACTLY what I adore about art in general and painting in particular). She tries to get me to tell her what I intended to paint, coaxing me to talk about what I see but I refuse. As Joseph Campbell once said, “If an artist respects you, s/he will not tell you what a painting means. ” Art is always about a relationship between the piece and the viewer and the artist needs to stay out of the way. If the artist has no respect for you (or themself), s/he will tell you what the painting means to them. I respect Hope so I stay out of the way.

In this painting, Hope sees deep humility in dual fatherhood.

My refusal drags other people into the fray. She snaps a photo of the painting and then shares it with others, asking what they see in the painting, what descriptors they would use. As is always the case, the replies sometimes align with her perception and sometimes not which further fuels the debate. 20 had the misfortune of coming over for dinner and he was subjected to the photograph test.

In this painting, 20 sees grief and loss. In this aspect he agreed with Hope: the painting is finished.

When I first started showing paintings I would follow patrons through the gallery (they did not know I was the artist) and listen to their perceptions. They rarely saw what I intended but what they saw was marvelous – almost miraculous to me. It was an advanced course in understanding the futility of trying to determine what another person perceives. Art, I learned in those days, is a living relationship. Perception is personal. No one is a blank slate. Paintings evoke. The meaning is made between the patron and the painting.

I enter into the studio to drop out of my many descriptors and over-cerebral tendencies. I go to the studio to engage in a pure relationship with…my muse(?) I am never more alive than when I am painting. I am never more quiet than when I am painting. The images that emerge from my quiet are sometimes incidental, always surprising, and are sometimes just a map of a moment in the greater relationship of my life. Only a moment. I feel that I have never finished a painting because the paintings themselves are not distinct, separate from each other. They are living things. They change over time. They are moments, marks in the sand in a greater ongoing relationship in the long-body of my life.

What do I see in this painting? It is not important to know. Is it finished? For me, never. And, and for Hope, yes.

Every artist needs a Hope Hughes. Someone they trust, someone they respect to step in front of their work and without editor, tell them what they see. Hope reminds me that the true value/purpose of art is to create a commons capable of affording multiple perspectives and the rich opportunity to discuss the differences in what we perceive.

See Your Angels

angelsallaroundyou-jpeg

Products with this and other images available at society6.com

One of my favorite rituals is the reading-of-the-calendar on the last day of the year. It is no ordinary peruse through an ordinary calendar. Kerri, every day, writes in her calendar the events, the important calls, the amazing sightings, the simple and the profound moments. The day we first spotted the owl, the ice circles in the harbor, the generosity of the clerk at the store; they find a spot in the calendar. The tough stuff is in there, too. It is a habit she picked up from her mother. Calendar-as-diary. With a hot cup of coffee and nothing but time, we read through and talk about the days of our life.

It is probably not surprising that our most common exclamation is, “I’d forgotten about that!” I’m always amazed at how many of the years happenings are lost in the stream of time. The review not only helps me remember but also refreshes my appreciation for all that we navigated, discovered, survived and created in a mere 365 days.

At our gathering that night I laughed when Mary Kay told us that she dislikes New Year’s Eve because it always makes her feel as if she hasn’t done enough. I recognized Mary Kay’s disdain because earlier in the day I’d levied the same judgment against myself. The ritual reading of the calendar put my self-judgment to rest. After reviewing all that we’d done in a year, Kerri looked at me (tired of hearing my endless self-criticism) and asked, “Now, doesn’t that give you a greater respect for what we’ve done?” Yes. It did.

Although we didn’t say it this way, we told Mary Kay and Russ, Linda and Jim, John and Michele that they had made it into the calendar. This year was tough for us and when I was ill, when things were going badly, they brought us food, they offered to carry some of our load, they showed up to shovel our walks. So, rather than thinking of the year as bad, in our ritual we read about year of generosities extended to us.

Mary Kay said, “But that was nothing.” Kerri responded, “That was everything! It changed our world.” We were reminded in our ritual that the world is changed for the better everyday, not by the grand gesture, but by the small things, the passing kindnesses. From the point of view of the doer, they are often too tiny to remember. From the standpoint of the receiver, they are monumental. Opening a door can change someone’s day. And who knows how far a kindness-ripple will travel?

From the archive: 'Angels At The Well.'

From the archive: ‘Angels At The Well.’ This painting is available at zatista.com

Fun products featuring details of my artwork are available at society6.com.

 

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