A Free Offer to My Readers

bright rainbow colored watercolor paints isolated on white paper

A note and free offer to my readers. 

I am in the process of changing my platform for doing on-line meetings and classes. Sometime next week, I will be running a free trial – a free version of a class I do, aimed at helping people who have gotten away from their creativity recover the joy and power of their art (whatever art that might be.)

Why free? Because I need testers to tell me if the platform is working well. If this is something you’d be interested in doing, stay tuned. I’ll be doing an official launch early next week.

Tom

Thoughts: How do they do it?

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Last week I was in New York City and managed to squeeze in a couple of hours at MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art). Every visit there is a mix of visiting old friends and favorites, and new art. Every visit has me looking at some new aspect of art. I don’t know why one time I will be attracted to Picasso and another time I will be drawn to someone more traditional. I don’t know why at time Pollock draws me in and holds me for long stretches of time, and other times I just shrug and say “Meh”.

This trip, though, I found myself focused on proportion and spacing. Looking at paintings and wondering what led each artist to just that mix or space and spacing, wondering what would have happened if they had done this differently. How did they know just how to get it just right?

I know from my own experience that every brush stroke matters. I can work all afternoon on a painting and then, with a single brush stroke out of place, or a single color in a wrong place, the entire painting suddenly loses life, goes flat, is ruined. In some cases, you can paint yourself out of that problem, but just as often, you’re done. Time to whitewash the canvas, or cut the watercolor into bookmarks.

What is is that makes something “right”? And what is it that one thing out of place throws all that other good work out the window? And how did these guys know (or did they know?) how to get it right? Was it instinct? Was it formal education? Or was it dumb luck, with lots of trial and error and failures and whitewashed canvases until they stumbled on the right mix?

That same thing goes in any kind of endeavor. A poet wrestles to get just the right words. One sour note and the whole poem is sour. A photographer can shoot a dozen photos to get that one that is just so. A relationship can cruise along and one thing (for some) can end it all.

I suppose part of it is education. Photographers learn some basics about composition – the law of thirds, repetition, contrast, and the like. Painters have color wheels (or at least I do, even if I refer to it rarely) and learn about layering and other techniques that help them build a painting. Poets study rhythm and style and sound. Everything we do has an element of education to it. But if all we did was follow the rules, art of all kinds would be unbearably boring and filled with dull sameness.

Instead, what happens is that people do things. Try things. Take a leap. Experiment. Fail. Play. Tinker. Go wild. Toss some rules and adhere to others. Mix discipline and madness, and come out with something. Some times it’s wonderful. Sometimes it’s awful.

I spent my hours in MOMA looking at paintings of all sorts, looking for patterns of what works, what felt right, what appealed to me, and what didn’t. I was hoping I could find something to help me in my own painting. Mostly, when I paint, I am happy with my results. I am more instinctive than smart in my painting, but as abstract as my work is, there is far more thought that goes into it than most people realize. When I blow one, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why? And what led me to think that really bad stroke or color was a good idea?

I never found the pattern. But it was fun thinking about it. It made me look at things differently. Not just in art, but in any visual thing – architecture, gardens, films. Placement. Proportion. The visual slight of hand that draws our eye here or sends our emotions there. And awareness of how much though goes into things we often pass over without thinking.

And most of all, an appreciation for people who DO think about design things. From our silverware (I bought mine because of how it felt in the hand, and someone designed that.), to our furniture, our spaces, the lights in our house, to the dashboards in our car – it was all designed. Hours of thought and inspiration and work made these things happen.

It amazes me how rarely we wonder how that design came about. What were they thinking? What were they feeling or going for? We pass it by and like it or don’t like it. Much as we do with people, never thinking about the journey that got them there.

That’s probably fine. I suspect we’d go mad looking for the “why” of everything. Our poor brains would break into overload. Probably explode. But I find life is so much richer when I do think about those things. It gives me a new layer of appreciation and gratitude. It’s why I can stop in the middle of a meal just feel the perfect balance of my fork, and smile. It’s why I can stare at a seemingly simple painting like the one above and savor it with its four colors and few lines. I do that a lot, stop and just look and think and wonder.

And I always come out with gratitude.

Hopefully, my brain won’t explode.

Be well. Travel Wisely,

Tom

Thoughts: A Zombie’s Confession

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It’s Monday morning and my mind is whirring.

I work freelance and so I typically have multiple clients going on at the same time, with multiple projects. I also pastor a small church in Southern Vermont and of course on Sunday is when you get all the news of what’s happening, who needs you and what needs to be done over the next week. I have a seventeen-year-old son, and his life is busy. Sometimes, just keeping our calendars straight is a challenge. I have several relationships in my life that are important to me and require nourishing to stay vital. And on and on it goes.

In other words. I am just like everyone else.

But of course. I’m not. None of us are.

There was a time, a decade ago, when I had a lot more going on in my life. A lot more. I was like a whirling dervish, handling all these things with ease and aplomb. I didn’t think about it. Life could pile it on and like a character in a movie I just made it happen. It was like a game. How much can I handle? Bring it on. Superman is here.

Only I wasn’t. Doing too much has a price. And in my case, that price was taking care of myself. Oh, I took care of my health. But I neglected parts of myself that, at the time, I didn’t realize, were essential – my creative and spiritual self. When things piled on (and you know the law of life – the more you do, the more people give you to do.), I pushed those parts of my life aside. They were optional, I told myself. Those can wait, I told myself. I was, I told myself, “the man in the suit.” (a phrase my therapist give that version of me.). I got it done. All of it. At the same time.

There was a pride in that. But we all know where pride comes into the picture. Our grandmothers and the bible pounded it into us as kids. Pride goeth before the fall. And fall I did.

Life came apart. Completely. And with life, so did I. I lived the zombie life for a couple of years while my therapist and my pastors put me back together. Or rather, made me put myself together. One of the things I had to relearn, something I had known as a young man and had forgotten as a middle-aged man, was just how important my faith and my creativity were. They were my underpinnings.

When I talk faith, I am not talking religion. Religion is an activity, an organization that sometimes feeds our spirit, and sometimes becomes just another activity. Get too busy in the activities, and you can lose the spirit nourishing part of what feeds us. And we need to be fed. Spirituality, like a muscle, grows weak without use.

The same is true of creativity. Nourish it, or it dies. Surround yourself with art and music and people who love creative things, or it dies. Exercise it, challenge it, or it dies. It is like spirituality that way.

And I had let that go. For what? Activity? Because it was responsible. (I can hear my dad’s voice in that last one.). Because I wanted to be someone and somehow art and spirituality wasn’t “enough”.

I would have denied that last one. But I was acting like it. And like a high riverbank on the Mississippi, as the river of life slowly wore away my underpinnings, I came undone.

Because when you come back from zombie land, it doesn’t happen all at once. It comes in a slow slog, one ugly, painful, hard step at a time. You end up examining everything in your life, absolutely everything, to understand where it fits in your collapse, and whether it has value in your recovery, or not. It was a time unlike my life before. It was the opposite of multitasking. It was unitasking, an intense focus on whatever I was doing at that moment. Back then, as I dug out of the dark hole that was my life, there was no choice. It was the only way. I wasn’t capable

But it turned out to be a wonderful way to live.

Because, when I unitask, I am intensely focused on what I am doing and what I am experiencing at that moment. There are no distractions. I am focused on the person I am with entirely, and so each encounter is richer. I am focused on what I do entirely, and my work has become better. When I am with someone, one of my children, or the woman I love or the neighbor next door. I am with them, without half my mind thinking ahead to the next thing on the list that has to be done. If I go for a walk in the quarry, I am all there. There is nothing to distract from the wonder of plants and rocks and space and color around me.

And, this is the amazing thing, I am as effective in doing as I was in multitasking. No, change that. I am more effective. I am doing as much as I ever did. The quality of my work is better. My relationships are better. And I am way, way, less stressed.

I thought I was an aberration but I have sense learned that there have been study after study that confirms what I learned the hard way. That being more in tune, more focused on the moment, the now, is way more effective than living the scattered, too much going on, thinking about all of it all the time way most of us do it.

Who knew? I was way normal.

The keys, and there are two of them, are mindfulness, and overcoming resistance. They are both essays of their own, but I am not teaching here. I am, in my own wandering way, getting to a point.

If you are overwhelmed. If you feel essential parts of you have been lost in the busyness of life. And if you can’t see your way out, don’t despair. There IS a way out, and you don’t have to take the “wait until life collapses” route I did. There are good ways to do this. Books that can help. Classes that can help. Therapists and pastors that can help. Mentors and coaches that can help and can get you to a better place.

It begins by being aware that something is out of kilter. But then it takes one more step – believing you and the essential parts of you, those things that have been lost, are worth reclaiming. When you truly believe that, getting the help, and beginning the work is easy. But it doesn’t happen until we believe we, and our lost, best selves, are worth that work.

And you are worth it. Believe.

Be well. Travel Wisely,

Tom

Poem: One Brush Stroke

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One Brush Stroke

One brush stroke,
then another.
You feel the paint
rather than see it,
aware more of its emotion
than its line or color,
speaking somehow without words,
waiting for the inspiration you lack in the moment,
sure it will come

for there is power in the beginning,
less a setting down on paper
than the opening of a gate.

About this poem

I often do not feel very creative. Often. Most of the time. But I get to work anyway. And in the work, somehow, like magic, the inspiration comes. The trick is to believe in that magic, and begin anyway, even when I don’t feel like it.

Tom

Poem: Midnight Prayers in Chicago

Chicago

Midnight Prayers in Chicago

Even at midnight there is light. There is noise
rising from the city like ghosts.

Here you must find your own chapter house.
There are no green mountains, no empty fields,

no place to stop and find your God
except for the ones you create yourself.

This then, is discipline. To push aside the noise
and create an empty place for your muse, to resist

the benign devils who care not for your soul,
nor anything else, who are mere activity. Organized confusion.

So build your temple. One stone at a time, one prayer, poem,
song, image at a time. Create your sanctuary for peace is to be found

anywhere you will it to be.

About this poem

I travel a lot. Mostly to cities. So to create the peace I need to function well…. well I have to work at it.

The picture was taken in Chicago (duh), and yes, about midnight.

Tom

Poem: Google Says It’s Spring

Google

Google Says It’s Spring

Google says it is spring,
complete with pop up flowers
so bright you cannot help but smile

even if, outside my window
it there is a monochrome landscape of snow
and a balmy 17 degrees, with snow predicted

to begin our new season.

Never mind. It is fun to pretend,
until the reality sneaks in,
and at times, healthy too

to create your own world of joy,
child like (not childish), pushing aside
the looming dark and filling it with flowers

and laughter, off key music and play.

So today you will find me painting brightly.
loving joyfully. I will deny the dark and dance.
I will buy seeds at the store and imagine gardens.

I will ignore the weather of now,
the predictions of snow, for I am made of tougher stuff
than succumbing to now. I am made

of imagination, of belief that possibility
is real.

About this poem

Google greeted me with the animation pictured above, announcing Spring. My first day of spring is 17 degrees, and a prediction of a few inches of snow this evening. Outside my window I can see the quarry, all black and white with snow against the slate.

Life has it’s own timetables. And calendars or age have little to do with it.

Thank you Google, for being today’s inspiration.

Tom

Poem: Breaking Bondage

Chained

Breaking Bondage

Yes, this is where you hung,
the thick  chains of your own forging
binding you,
holding you fast,
gleeful tools of a well dressed Satan,
a lover,
not of your soul,
but your submission.

Well dressed, kind in his way,
the great distractor,
certain to keep you so focused on your flaws
that you cannot see
that the chains are rusted and weak,
given strength only by your own belief
in their power.

This is where you hung,
in the dark places,
with only the light you allowed,
accepting the scraps you were fed
as if they were a banquet.

How the devils danced!
How they laughed
until that moment you awoke
and the dark film fell from your eyes

and you found the God in you,
the light,
the strength that mocks chains,
the defies bondage,
full of light and color and
irrepressible spirit.

This is where you hung.
but no more.
You have risen to greet the sun,
to sing hymns of passion,
and dance, always dance
in the dawn
while your captors can only watch,
helpless before your joy.

About this poem

What holds us back from being our fullest selves? That is the question that has been on my mind this past week. This is less an answer than a declaration of independence. Bring on the fireworks!

Tom