Capture The Beauty [on DR Thursday]

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The day was stormy, the lake was unsettled, steel grey and roiling. Kerri walked to the water’s edge with her camera. I opened my sketchbook and caught a quick sketch. Perhaps a notation for a someday-painting. Perhaps a gesture with nowhere to go.

A few days later I looked at this quick sketch and laughed. It is a metaphor for our time on island. Standing at the edge of a storm not of our making. Witness to the turmoil. It blows us to and fro. It messes our hair. The sand stings our faces.  We are taken by the colors of its violence. When the winds grow too powerful, we retreat to the safety of our littlehouse. We wait for the latest flurry to calm, the waves to soften.

It is tempting to want to be done with it. To rush through a month of life. Each day I remind myself to be in it, not simply get through it. Life on this day may be stormy. It might be upsetting. Stormy and upsetting are colors on the palette. They are worthy experiences. Amidst the chaos there are instances of utter beauty –  like the moment Kerri walked to the edge of a roiling lake and I looked up, caught my breath, and reached for my sketchbook so that I’d never ever forget.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A SKETCH

 

 

 

 

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Give It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Janus is a Roman god with two faces. He looks to the future and peers into the past. He is the god of beginnings and endings, transitions, doorways, and passages. He is the god of gateways, the liminal spaces, the between.

Janus must certainly be the god that we dance with on this island, a community defined by divisions, married to its conflicts but also, at least rhetorically, desiring peace.

Kerri and I are the stewards of a performing arts center that is, as Julian Dawson said, punching above its weight. It is the symbol of division in the community, the epicenter of discord, the rope in a very ugly tug-of-war. All of the fault lines run through it. Yet, as Janus would remind us, it then must also hold the path to unity, the potential for common ground.

All in the community want the doors to be wide open; none want the responsibility that comes with access. They want the center, the art, to serve them. They do not yet comprehend that any alive and vital art space is, in fact, the opposite: a place of service to others. Arts spaces and the artists the enliven them are keepers of the commons, the stewards of the stories that unite.

In another life I ran an educational theatre company. It boomed into life the day that the artists, the students, grocked that art was in fact a gift given to others, something they brought to people, not something (like attention or fame or a spotlight) that they got from people.

This island, this center, will someday boom into life. They will discover that the rope in the tug of war goes slack when they walk toward each other. Pulling in opposition exhausts everyone. They will come alive when they cease asking, “What do we get?” and start asking, “What do we bring?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EDGES

 

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Constellate [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Just outside our favorite island gem, Fair Isle Books, is this poem by former Wisconsin poet Laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen. We have stopped at the shop more than once and reread the poem.

our lonely stars though bright
and strong will quickly fade

unless we string the stars
together   choose illumination
then in constellation hope is ours

bring on another day
sing light in common song
~constellation by bruce dethlefsen

It is a lovely poem and captures perfectly how we now see our work on this island. In our short tenure it has become abundantly clear that the people in our sphere most often work as “islands.” Islands on island. That is, although very well intended, few actually recognize the impact of their actions (or inaction) on others. It is part of the evolutionary dna of the place. Everyone works multiple jobs. Divisions and territory define the island arts organizations.

I have long held (and experienced again and again) that the arts cannot thrive in a community until the artists turn to a common center, recognize a shared purpose, and realize that one cannot thrive without the other. Thriving is a team sport. If one theatre creates a large audience then it creates audience for all. If one painter sells a painting, a market is created for all. Reaching into the common space, facilitating shared experience, is what art is meant to do.

If an arts community falls into the mistaken notion that its members compete for limited resources, they will inevitably define themselves by their limitation.  The center turns to a battle ground and the art is diminished. Dog-eat-dog has no place in the sacred space of art.

It is why we visit the poem. The necessary guide star is already here. “Our lonely stars though bright will quickly fade unless we string the stars together – choose illumination – then in constellation hope is ours.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CONSTELLATION

 

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Look Up [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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An evening sky awash with salmon pink and orange. Walking down the middle of the road. Strolling home.  We heard the snap of twigs and stopped. The deer was very still, suddenly aware of us. We found ourselves engaged in an old Viola Spolin acting exercise: you look at us and we’ll look at you. Who is the audience? Who is the performer? Who is the watcher? The watched?

I’ve been thinking about Quinn lately. He taught me that there is a marked difference between concentration and awareness. Concentration is a narrowing of the mind. A blocking of other thought. Resistance. Awareness is an opening to experience. All experience. An embrace. It’s a thought straight out of Alan Watts, one of the many, many authors and thinkers that Quinn introduced me to.

Walking the roads and beaches of the island, learning the nuance of this community and the needs of the performing arts center that we now guide, for me, has become an active reminder, a literal exercise of awareness, a class in paying attention. Open, not narrow. Experience rather than judge or resist.

I can hear Quinn laughing at the younger version of me who thought he had to contain it, capture and command it. The one who thought he had to know what to do. The one with a knitted brow who thought that being good at something was a matter of controlling it. So afraid to not know. The mirth-tears would roll down Quinn’s cheeks. “Look up!” he’d say. “If you keep staring at your feet you’ll miss it!”

“Miss what?” I’d ask.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DEER

 

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Stand In The Enormity [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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When Kerri first showed me this photograph, it read to me like a minimalist painting. A subtle field of color with two splashes and a brushstroke. So much said with so little. A meditation of movement and the immovable.

The lake is different every day. Its color palette is as changeable as its moods. Each day upon awaking, Kerri walks onto the deck and snaps a picture. So far, no two days are alike. So far, no two hours are alike.

Once I stood in La Sagrada Familia and the enormity of it made me quiet. The lake is like that. Immense to the point of stillness.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TWO BIRDS AND AN ISLAND

 

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Hang It Up [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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On island, we often hear phrases like, “throwback community” or “another, simpler time.” It’s a place with no stoplights. People leave their keys in their cars. Locked doors are a rarity. People wave when passing on the road.

It is not without its feuds and divisions. The conservative impulse meets the wheels of progress with creative tension, just like everywhere else in the world. Things change through a tug-of-war, albeit slower, perhaps at a more human pace.

We moved into our summer home and found that Deb told us the truth: the dryer doesn’t work well so it’d be better to put up a clothesline. We did.

I am no stranger to mindfulness meditations, I’ve read more books than I should have on presence, attention, and awareness. None of them are as useful or transformative as carrying a basket of freshly washed laundry out to the clothesline and pinning the clothes up. It cannot be done quickly. It must be done with care. The sun warms your back. The clothes smell fresh and the breeze is heavy with lavender and lilac.  The grass swooshes beneath your feet.

Efficiency and convenience can sometimes be great robbers of the moment, and too easily reinforce a life of getting-through-it or, at best, getting-on-to-the-next-thing.

After everything is hung up on the line it is nearly impossible not to turn around, breathe deeply, and take in the day.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE CLOTHESLINE

 

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Look In The Mirror [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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A few years ago Morris Berman wrote a book, Coming To Our Senses, that jumps with both feet into the complexities of mirrors. Believe it or not, there are societies that are not singularly obsessed with self-image.

What do we see when we look in the mirror? What image do we think we ought to project? Create? Reinforce? What image do we think we ought to match? What do we think we need to hide? What about that hair or those crow’s feet? What do we look for in the image that stares back? Have we ever considered that the image in the mirror is the reverse of what’s actual? That we will, in fact, always see the opposite and never see ourselves as we are?

What amazing power do marketers possess when crafting the images that sell stuff? Models with perfect profiles, men with Greek bodies, all of those images filtered through the magic of Photoshop to heighten, hide, or somehow manufacture a more desirable perfection, an unattainable you. That is the point, after all: to create a perfection that no mere mortal can attain. To create a purchase path, a product possibility of attaining the ideal, even for a moment.

On the island, there is a terrific little coffee house, The Red Cup. Someone at The Red Cup must have read Morris Berman’s book or at least caught on to the power of a mirror. They know, even after a few cups of good coffee, when washing your hands in the restroom, you are likely to look in the mirror and find something that needs changing, something lacking. And so, as a counterbalance to the programming, they offer a simple alternative, a suggestion, in fact, a possibility for what you might choose to see in the mirror: you are so cool, and intelligent and strong and fierce.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE RED CUP

 

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