Thursday, August 27, 2015

Returning in Stages

A couple of days after I got back from California, last week, someone asked me if I felt like I was back in Madison yet. I'd been in Europe, then Texas, then California, gone for over a month of the summer, which is not unusual for me.

Feeling a bit spaced out, not quite landed anywhere, I replied, quite spontaneously: "I am working on just arriving in my house. Can't arrive in Madison yet."

Friday, August 07, 2015

The Power of Narrative

Earlier this week I taught a day-long contemplative arts compendium - presenting practices like haiku, Miksang and contemplative writing all in short hour or two-long snippets. In the micro haiku workshop, which went surprisingly easier than I thought, one woman came back from her perception walk with a few photos and a few short narratives in haiku form. Though I had encouraged the students to cut as close to direct perception as they could, viewing their thoughts as another set of sensory data, I had not explicitly said to avoid narrative. I find it better not to say "don't do this," especially in a short workshop.

And paired with the photos that the narratives explained/interpreted, her work really shone. One shot was an abstract, textural photo of part of a tree trunk, beautifully shot and totally simple, with a lot of space. Her haiku referred to an elephant that she saw there. By itself, the haiku would be too metaphorical, too abstract. By itself, the photo was really more of a texture shot. Together, they made something quite poetic - not haiku, other than in form, and not quite Miksang, other than in form. I told her so, as she apologized when she heard others' haiku and realized that she has a penchant for narrative. I said that her pairing was simply less haiku and more senryu (human-based experience, with more room for metaphor/narrative) and/or a haiga (an image and haiku matched together). In other words, forbidding narrative would have cut off this experience for her, which was rich and affirmative. Especially in a short workshop, where they are going out for a first pass to just see and smell what they experienced.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Separating Truth from Shame

Loony Lunettes, Paris, 2015
Like a lot of people, I find it very, very tricky to engage with people who dislike me. Especially those who refuse to admit that that is the core issue, affecting their judgment of things such as "my unprofessional manner."

Yes, it is true that part of it relates to me wanting everyone to like me - survival skill! However, there's also an element of relentless meanness that sneaks in under the radar under the guise of shame. I often experience it as them exposing something "real" about me, something I feel ashamed of, my embarrassment flushing up. But I have come to see that actually when I feel that way - red in the cheek - that's actually a sign that someone is being excessive. Sometimes even bullying. Basically, mean for the sake of being mean. Trying to make me feel bad. And for awhile, it works.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fear of Dying

Bandaged heart graffiti by Beni, Paris 2015
Travel takes me close to death, but not in the way you would think.

When I board a plane to Europe, when I find my seat on the Eurostar, when I climb down the steps of the Metro to ride the No 1 line to La Defense, I am not thinking about death. Not even remotely. When the metro car stops mid-tunnel when it is supposed to be moving, when the train slows down for a moment and the lights go out, when the plane jostles through some rough clouds, maybe I think of death just a bit. Never conscious, always under the surface, some sense of knowing the truth peeks out and makes itself known.

But when I really really think about death is when I am with the people I love. When I look at the face of a friend across the dinner or breakfast table, when I take my wife's hand on the sofa and share a smile, when I tightly bind myself to a heart another in a deep hug, at these moments, often something fleets across my awareness: this may be the last time. We never know.

This is the thing: we never know. If having lost my parents when I was young taught me anything, it taught me this. It did not teach me what to say to others when they have dramatic loss. It did not teach me how to feel or what to do to assuage grief. But it did show me that we really never know.

This is an odd kind of knowledge. Unfortunately, unlike memorizing the conjugations of the verb "to be" in a foreign language, it's not the kind of knowledge that comes back easily. When it arises in my consciousness, as it did this morning in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, I want to bat it away. I want to know what happens next, even if I know that that knowing itself causes me more harm in the end. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Bridging the Gap of Shame

I met with a client this week via Skype. She lives in another country. We have been emailing weekly for the last six months or so. After she took some writing classes with me, first when I was visiting on retreat, then online, she realized she wanted to get back to other kinds of making. Writing isn't her main form - getting a regular writing practice got her into realizing she wanted to get back to other kinds of physical making - sewing, drawing, photography.

She was the first "client" really, the first official person to take me on in my newer capacity as creativity coach. I was nervous - could I help her get her creative juices flowing? I had all kinds of doubts - self-doubts, not about her - and went forward anyway. I am so glad I did.