Listen To The Sound Of The Wind [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.” ~Frederick Douglas

I began cleaning out old files, something to fill the time. I knew the job had come to an end but the formal announcement had yet to come. The file of voice recordings I made with Tom surprised me. I wondered why I’d stashed it in folder that had nothing to do with The Lost Boy project. I opened one of the recordings and spent a few minutes with Tom. His deep bass voice telling a story of hardship and perseverance. “His daughter’s carried his body out onto the flood plain,” he said, “where they could find softer soil to dig a grave.”

It threw me into a memory with Columbus. Sitting at the table out back, the evening was coming on and he was having a lucid moment in his path through dementia. I asked him what happened in his life that he shifted jobs and started working in construction. A tale of hardship and perseverance. Impossible circumstances. Stable ground was fleeting. A neighbor offered him a job that seemed ridiculous at the time. He took it. A strange unknown land. He loved it. He thrived through adversity. Just before disappearing back into the muddy waters of dementia he whispered, “That man taught me how to be a man among men.”

Today we sit in uncertainty. Life review. “Why does our path have to be so hard?’ she asked in the aftermath of the announcement. “Why can’t we have just a little bit of stable ground?” We are carved in hardwood. We are a study of perseverance. “We’ll find a way,” my only reply.

I stood with Tom in the cemetery. He wanted to show me a grave that he’d shown me several times before. In his dementia, he couldn’t remember so we returned again and again. Frankie, another lost boy in a story of lost boys. This time was different. I knew it would be our last trip. I took him to the grave. I told him the story of his ancestor Frankie.

As I finished the telling, a farmer, a big man, came into the yard, ham-sized-hands clutching a tiny bundle of store bought flowers. He didn’t know we were there or didn’t care. He kneeled at a fresh grave. He wailed his grief. Tom heard the sound of the man’s sobs and stood still, listening. Finally, glancing at me, his voice quiet with awe, he said, “Listen to the sound of the wind.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about YOU’LL MAKE IT

Call It A Life [on KS Friday]

Seven years ago today, Beaky passed. The last time we saw her she was clutching a blue notebook to her heart. “You found it!” she exclaimed, rocking back and forth in glee. The journal she kept of a special trip to Europe. A memory, a connection to Erling she thought was lost. We searched the house high and low. We stayed an extra day knowing that meant a 24 hour drive/sprint home. In the last bin, truly , the very last, tucked in the far recesses of the garage, we discovered the notebook.

What I recall about that search is how many times we stopped, dust coated and tired. We sat in the middle of boxes, stacked papers and bins and said, “We’re never going to find it.” Or, “It’s not here.” And then we’d go to the next room of the house, open closets, pull out boxes, the search resumed.

As you might imagine we found more than the blue notebook. That night Kerri told me many stories of family and events sparked by something we’d unearthed. “Oh, my god!” she’d exclaim. “Look at this!” The vet papers for the dog named Shayne. A photo of the family at the house on Long Island. Good times. Stories. Our search became a connection for Kerri to times that she thought were lost.

Memories. Legacy. Doing what is yours to do, looking back and calling that a life.

Eric recently wrote in our Slack channel about my play, The Lost Boy: Your introduction — chronicled on Skips blog — stuck with me, and comes to mind frequently in daily interactions. “This is a memory, after all. It all happened. Though because it’s memory, it probably isn’t factual. So, if I contradict myself, if you catch me saying the opposite of what I just swore was true, if you find me standing smack in the middle of a paradox, it’s not that I’m lying to you. It’s a memory.” The Lost Boy was a story told to me by Tom. Originally, it was meant for him to perform, the story of doing what was his to do. It only became possible to produce after he had slipped into the land of memory. It became mine to do.

And isn’t that the magic of life. What is mine and what is yours to do is never separate. 50 years ago Beaky and Pa took a trip to Europe and she kept a journal of the trip in a blue spiral notebook. 7 years ago Kerri and I spent a long day and night scouring a house to find it. I am now part of the memory of her journal. Her journal is now part of the story of Kerri and my past.

“Never underestimate your power to impact or influence another person’s life,” Paul said to his actors. Doing what is yours to do. Never really understanding or knowing the impact of the simplest action. Calling it a memory. Calling it a life.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about BARNEY

legacy/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Touch Back. Look Forward. [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In stories of impending change, as in life, it is common for the protagonist, before stepping off the edge of the known world, to first turn, reach backward in time, and touch their past. When Tom Mck knew he was en route to leaving this earth, he took me on drives to show me the location of his family ranch, the creek he played in as a boy, the cemetery that held his ancestors. We spent long evenings together as he told me and my tape recorder stories, that, although were meant to be stories of the lost boy, Johnny, they were more accurately stories of the lost boy, Tom. The keeper of the legacy. “I have a promise to keep to Isabelle,” he said of his great grandmother, a woman he never met but knew as intimately as if their lives had crossed. “I have a promise to keep.” We spent many, many days and nights reaching back so that he might have some peace when taking his next step.

I came down from the upstairs office to find Kerri, a dedicated holiday-white-light girl, untangling strings of colored lights. “These were my mom and dad’s” she said with more than a little excitement in her voice. “I’ve put together a strand with bulbs that still light up! I think we should put them on the railing out front.” What could be better, as we turn our eyes to the future than having Beaky and Pa alight at our front door.

Touch back. Look forward. Build a bridge – live a bridge – from one dot to the next.

This morning I dug through Columbus’ record collection. We brought it home with us and, quite suddenly, I wanted to find his holiday albums. I took out our little suitcase record player, and put on the carols of my youth. Julie Andrews. Vic Damone. A Firestone Christmas album sang to us through our breakfast. Columbus filled our house with his good music.

Now, with Beaky and Pa at the front door, Columbus filling up our home with cheer from Christmas past, we relish our touching back. And, I think we’re both ready, as we breathe-in what was, to turn and take a solid step toward what will be.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLORED LIGHTS

Follow The Conversation [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I met Horatio on an airplane. With his wife, Teru, we were seatmates on a flight from Washington D.C. to Seattle. I’d just finished facilitating a workshop at the Smithsonian about story, he was stepping toward directing films, and Teru is passionate about writing life histories. We talked about storytelling clear across the country and our conversation continues to this day.

David and I sat next to each other at a conference. I’d only just moved to Seattle, I knew no one. I saw a sign for the conference and wandered in. It was my good fortune to pick a seat next to a brilliant visual and theatre artist. We started talking about life and art. Years later, every gallery I enter, every play I attend, I have conversations with David in my mind – and hurry home to write him or call him and share what we talked about.

To this day, MM is my greatest collaborator. We used to sit in my office and dream big dreams – and then go out and make them happen. He is the ultimate player-of-infinite-games, playing-to-play. When I need my mind opened, my pot stirred, or my obstacles surmounted, I turn to MM.

I was visiting Tom McK at his ranch. When he asked me to help him tell a story I had no idea that his simple question, the story that he needed to tell, would take more than a decade and would only be possible after his death. His story became my story to tell.

It was Tom’s story that I told to Horatio that day on the flight from D.C. to Seattle. It was multiple good conversations over many years with David about writing plays that finally brought me to clarity. MM was my constant companion. With his band, Mom’s Chili Boys, he composed the music that supported the telling of Tom’s story. He built the world of the play and then, together, we stepped into the world and fulfilled Tom’s request.

Fortuitous seat assignments on a flight. Following an impulse into a conference and taking any old seat. Playing an infinite game. One good conversation, again and again, and nothing will ever be the same.

read Kerri’s blog post about ONE GOOD CONVERSATION

Find Another Door [on Merely A Thought Monday]

dream copy

Roger and I used to discuss life and career. He would say, “There is a time of becoming and then, one day, you realize that you have become it.” He was right. I wanted to be an artist. For years I chased it. For years I practiced it. And then, one day, I realized I was it. Not because I’d arrived at a place called Artist, but because art was my practice. Art was my pursuit. Art called me.

It’s a paradox. You become the thing that you pursue on the day that you realize it is not an achievement. Becoming is a choice of practice, a dedication of your limited time on earth to an exploration. Follow the Siren long enough and she will claim you.

Long after his retirement, Tom continued to toss his hat into the ring for regional directing assignments. During his career, he was a force in the theatre. He was a master-teacher-director who opened the door to many of my peers, theatre artists, the people I most admire. I heard about Tom long before I met him. And, although he continued his passionate pursuit after his retirement, the world of opportunity could not see beyond his grey hair. Even his former students, those people I most admire, stopped considering his resume or returning his calls.

It was in the midst of recognizing that he had more to give but the old routes were now closed that he pulled me aside and said, “I need help telling a story.” And then he asked, “Will you help me?”

Our project, The Lost Boy, opened ten years later,  several months after Tom’s death.  The opening night audience was a packed house of Tom’s family and relatives, people who brought photographs of the lost boy, Johnny, to the theatre. They clutched them as they watched the play. After the performance, they stayed in the theatre sharing their stories until the management asked them to leave.

A dream. Tom’s practice: uniting people through telling and sharing a common story. Art in its purest form.

His final lesson for me: storytellers (artists) age but the force of their dreams does not grow old. They will inevitably hit walls and freshly closed doors and rather than sit down and throw up their hands, they simply turn, ask a few questions, and look for another way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEVER TOO OLD

 

Johnny crop copy

 

 

photo-4

The Chili Boys in rehearsal for The Lost Boy. They wrote gorgeous music for the play. I will always be grateful to them.

 

photo-4

carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

photo

50 minutes before stepping onto the stage. Kerri and I performed together for the first time.

 

bootsbythestage website box copy

Live According To Your Necessity

a detail of a painting I did in honor of Dawson's arrival on earth

a detail of a painting I did in honor of Dawson’s arrival on earth

“Depending upon the lens you look through, I have been a miserable failure at everything I’ve ever done,” I said. Arnie protested but we both knew it was, to a certain extent, true. And, since our conversation I have been gazing through that certain lens and feeling my failure acutely.

This lens is not new to me. I visit it each year as my birthday rolls around. It is a lens that most artists visit from time to time. To their peril. Recently, Chris, one of the most talented and hardworking actors I know, told me that now that he is far down the road of his career, no longer a beginner, he has surrendered the idea, imperative or illusion of economic success. “I work because I have to,” he said. It makes no sense and is impossible to explain to someone who does not have “that” impossible intrinsic driver. The incentives are internal. The rewards are internal. The achievements are mastery landmarks and not monetary rewards. It looks like insanity through the lens of a profit/loss, money=morality society.

When I look through the failure lens I’ve learned I need to visit Rainier Maria Rilke. I need to seek the advice of a master. “Nobody can counsel you or help you. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would die if it were denied you to write. This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And, if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity;….”

...closer in

…closer in

My life is built upon this necessity. No amount of comparing it to others is useful. No other lens is healthy. Since moving to Kenosha from Seattle, I am fond of telling people that in my move I committed economic suicide. That is a statement made looking through the wrong lens. Here is the truth: Since my move I have published my book, The Seer. I produced and performed in what I thought was the greatest heart-project of my life, The Lost Boy. It played to sold out houses and fulfilled a decade long journey and commitment to Tom. Two months later I did what I now think was the the greatest heart-project of my life when I illustrated and Kerri and I published Beaky’s books, The Shayne Trilogy. Beaky had an author’s reading a mere two weeks before her passing. Last year I authored drew and submitted with Kerri over 25 cartoon proposals to syndicates. We are completing work on our next play, The Road Trip. And, in the middle of it all, I’ve done arguably the best paintings of my life. I am meeting my question with a simple and strong “I must.”

What is failure? What is success? They are lenses and they matter not.

I am living and building my life “according to this necessity.”

The whole painting.

The whole painting.

 

Mix Beautiful Color

photo-6This magnet-sentiment was on Jim’s refrigerator:

It’s never too late to become what you might have been.

It is particularly poignant because both Jim and I are surprised, dare I admit, disoriented, after finally producing The Lost Boy. It was over a decade in coming. I’d stopped believing that it would ever find a path to the stage and, instead, would remain a good story for dinner conversation. Now that it’s out of the box and rolling around in the world of possible-next-productions, I hear Tom’s voice ringing in my ears, “Readiness is all.” It couldn’t happen until it was ready, until I was ready.

For the past decade, coincident with the development of The Lost Boy, I have been telling stories at conferences, with symphonies, during organizational trainings, and other random stage performances. I have inadvertently learned to tell a good story (or better stated while slaughtering all grammar: to tell a story good). 5 years ago I couldn’t have performed the play as I did last week. I didn’t have the chops for it. I do now.

Years ago, after being wowed by Jim Edmondson’s performance of King Lear, I asked him what he’d learned from doing the role. He replied, “I don’t have enough colors in my paint box to do it justice. Not yet.” This giant of American theatre blew my socks off with his performance, but felt that he fell short. He couldn’t yet fulfill the demands of the role. He knew there was more to grasp and his artistic arms were not long enough. He knew he was not yet ready. No amount of accolade or sock-less fans would change what he knew: there was more to the role than he could reach. More age, more life, more skill was needed. He taught me in that moment what it meant to be an artist. The compass is internal. The capacity is ever expanding if you work at it.

I now believe that, to produce The Lost Boy, I also needed to find the right reason before readiness was available. For years I thought I had an obligation to Tom. I thought I had to finish it for him and tell his story. That was only partially true. The real obligation was to myself. I had to finish it for me – and it took a good deal of readiness for me to see that. It had to become my play. And, in becoming my play, I can now see that I have a world of color in my paint box – and a world of color that I still need to develop. That is the name of this game of mastery. There is never an end. There are just more and more beautiful colors to find and mix and share.

 

Step Into The Field

photo-5[continued from “Jump!]

I wrote this phrase: “The one facilitates the journey for the many.” And, today, I would add: the one facilitates the journey for the many so that the many can experience the one. This little phrase is the point and the purpose of the theatre.

I’ve come to believe, at this stage in my artist life, that all processes of art-making are actually exercises in presence. And, presence, for me, has come to mean transcending any experience of separation. For instance, when I am fully engaged with painting a painting, “I” am nowhere to be found. Time disappears. There is only rolling creation. To use a cliché: something comes through me. Language is incapable of grasping what really happens and all we are left with is “something comes through” – a statement of separation.

A week ago today we were preparing to perform the closing of The Lost Boy. This play is unique in my experience for many reasons (it would require a book or two to explain the many layers of this cake), one of which was that we only had two performances: an opening and a closing. We hit our stride on the closing – and by that I mean we let go of thinking, preparing, adjusting…, and entered presence. We stepped onto the stage with no thought of “what’s first” and “what’s next.” The play happened with no effort. The Chili Boys played like never before. We were, to use another cliché, in the flow. I have never felt more alive, more connected, more present. It was fun!

50 minutes before stepping onto the stage

50 minutes before stepping onto the stage

Years ago, I had the opportunity to assist Jim Edmondson in a series of plays and I riddled him with questions. He introduced me to the notion that the art of acting was the art of presence (though he used a different language). He taught me that words like “focus” and “intention” are merely tools for cultivating the capacity to be present. Presence is the portal and the actors’ (artists’) job is to step into presence so the audience can join them. Literally, join with them in the field of the present, the place of common story. To be. Together, in a single story. And, although he did not say it this way, he taught me that “to be” is infinitely more powerful than “to become.” “To be” is not an arrival platform; it is an experience of the many recognizing itself as the one [could you ask for a better definition of art!].

Mike, our stage manager extraordinaire, came down from the booth and told us that our performances were different than the first night. We were more potent; we found nuance and greater depth. He was right. We were finally able to surrender to the work, get out of our own way, and step into the field of shared story.

Jump!

photo

The set for The Lost Boy

Once, I stood on a ledge. I wanted to jump into a river several feet below but I was afraid. I’d watched kids do it all day. They told me in excited tones that it was only a 70-foot drop. I’m a bit afraid of heights – okay, I’m a lot afraid of heights – and from the ledge it looked to me more like 1000 feet. I jumped but have no memory of it. After investing in my fear for many minutes, I remember making a decision, standing and walking toward the edge. I remember bobbing to the surface and laughing aloud.

I learned a great lesson that day: if I put my focus on my fear I will be paralyzed. Before taking the big step off the ledge I sat on a rock, and told myself that I was afraid. I was stuck. I couldn’t move. My mind was atwitter with all the reasons I couldn’t do it. When, finally, I realized that, if I put the same amount of focus and energy into jumping as I was investing into being afraid, the jump would be easy. It would be inevitable. It would be a decision, a choice. And, it was easy. The jump was as intentional as the fear was irrational. It was enlivening.

The Chili Boys in rehearsal

The Chili Boys in rehearsal

Last week we performed my play, The Lost Boy and through the process I revisited my ledge of so many years ago. The opening night served as a touchstone of growth. A play is made complete with the addition of an audience. Boil a play down to its essence and there is an actor and an audience. One is exposed and vulnerable, the other is safe within a group. That’s what makes it work: the one facilitates the journey for the many.

The actor gives and the audience receives – and, if the actor is doing his or her job, the audience gives and the actor receives. It’s a loop. It is a relationship. For the actor, this dance of giving and receiving can be either a terrifying proposition or an exhilarating experience. It all depends upon where the actor places his or her focus. If the focus is on pleasing the audience, the play will be a miserable affair to perform. The audience will play the role of judge or worse, the enemy. It will be a ledge alive with irrational fear. If, instead, the focus is on the action of the play, the simplicity of doing, the experience will be alive and invigorating for everyone involved. The audience will be allies on a single journey with the actor. The actor will be present so that the audience can also experience presence.

When Kerri and I stepped onto the stage last Friday, there was no ledge; it was all jump…

[to be continued]

Get Back On And Ride

Guess what. I'm doing it.

Guess what? I’m doing it.

It is universally true that we must fail to learn. In fact, as absolutes and paradoxes go, the single universal lesson that we must learn is that there is no such thing as failure. To unlearn is, in fact, also to learn. Everything is a step forward when failure is out of the equation. I fell off my bike more than once before I learned to balance and ride. I made some terrifically ugly colors as I learned to paint. That is the nature of learning.

Over the past decade I’ve tried more than once to produce my play, The Lost Boy. And, like learning to ride a bike, I’ve fallen off with each attempt. The latest tumble came with a failed Kickstarter attempt. Sitting on the curb, my metaphoric bike akimbo, I asked, “What is it about this play?” It will not leave me alone and yet it has been more than difficult to produce. And, as it does, the learning followed the fall. And there is nothing to be done but get back up and ride.

And, as is also true, when you decide that you are going to do something, the way opens (note: that does not mean that there are no challenges). When we didn’t meet our Kickstarter goal, I had the option to let it go forever or, I had to decide that I was going to produce this play with bake sales, lemonade stands, or any other whacky idea that would get me to opening night. This play will not leave me alone and, as I learned in the fall, I will not leave it alone. The decision was already made and I needed the failed campaign to see it.

And the way opened. The University of the Pacific decided to donate the theatre and to help with some marketing through alumni networks. I laughed when, given their generous donation, I made my new budget. The amount I need (bare bones) to get to opening night is almost identical to the amount pledged in the failed campaign. So, taking what I’ve learned, I’ve mounted a new campaign and asked the previous pledgers to pledge again. And, since I adore paradoxes and don’t really believe in absolutes, I’m passing this link out in every way possible. Nothing is for sure – except that I will do this play in February in California.

The lesson, of course, is to ask for help and ask again (something I was not good at doing in the first campaign). The other lesson is this: a play that will not let you go is worth doing and it is worth doing whatever it takes to give it life. So help me give it life. Here’s the new Kickstarter campaign. Please support it if you can by pledging or passing the link out through your networks.

I don’t mind falling off my bike again because now I know that I will simply dust myself off and get back on to ride. Join me in California in February for the world premiere of The Lost Boy.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

Guess what. I'm doing it.

And, in case you missed it, here’s the link to the new The Lost Boy Kickstarter campaign