Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Simplicity Pump

 

"Keep it simple." How many times have you heard that? "Don't complicate it, keep it simple." I do like simple. Too many items on a restaurant  menu drive me mad. Too many check boxes on a medical claim form produce the same results. "Keep it simple stupid," an art teacher once told me. How insulting I thought at the time but the older I get the more I keep coming back to that wise phrase. 

The air pump pictured above is one example of simple. It's located at a gas station where I fill my bicycle tires. Not only does it cost just twenty-five cents to use compared with double or three times that amount elsewhere, it's simple to use and it seems to stay on forever. I know it sounds strange but every time I take the hose from its cradle I smile with pleasure. It's so simple: a quarter goes in the slot, air comes out the hose, my bicycle tires inflate. I am very grateful for this simple tool. (I do own two hand-pumps but they can't create as much pressure as the electrical ones do in the same amount of time.)

Alexander Pope said, "A work of art that contains theories is like an object on which the price tag has been left." The more I think about a painting or drawing project the less simple it gets. I've read recently of an artist who said that she has spent her entire adult life learning how to paint like a child again. Children do keep it simple until they start thinking like adults. 

As I paint and write I try to keep it simple by keeping critical thinking and judgements at bay. The same goes for walking the galleries at art museums. I'm not interested in the theory behind the paintings until I've been with a painting for a bit. If it interests me enough I may look further into the artist's thoughts or motivations behind her work. Too much talk about the craft complicates the experience for me.

So, like the simple twenty-five cent air pump I will try to keep my work simple by turning it into play just like a child. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Let's Get It On!

Recently, I started to paint and draw again after a three decade hiatus. I never stopped creating but my painting and drawing tools had been in a drawer for a long time while I pursued other mediums. Color and shaped kept nagging to be committed to paper, so I dusted off the acrylics and brushes and started to paint. Wow! What joy. What a true joy it is to get reacquainted with my old friends, brush and paint. 


My wife tells me that when I paint, I am appear to be completely immersed and utterly free. She's right, I do feel what I sometimes experience when I meditate: without mind. When I have or am in my mind it only serves my learned and often used resistance to creativity. (See Steven Pressfield's, The War of Art.) Some of the benefits of being free and of no mind extend to those around me, as I cease sharing my endless ideas, musings and wonderments by keeping my gob shut.


I do consider myself an Artist however, I want to learn technique, as I have an insatiable desire to learn how to do "that". So, I recently registered for the online class, Get Your Paint On taught by Lisa Congdon and Mati McDonough. We're in the first week of the class and so far I have enough inspiration and excitement to carry me long into the future with painting tools in hand. As a teacher, I know how difficult the profession can be. There are a multitude of learning styles, personalities, and expectations to manage. I have attended art and music classes in the past and in my experience it is the rare instructor who truly loves to share his or her passion, knowledge and experience with his or her students. Many unfortunately, pass on their frustrations of not being full-time and handsomely compensated artists to their students. The price of their bruised egos is high and charged to their students. Yesterday, a middle-aged colleague of mine relayed her experience when, as a four year old her art teacher told her that the giraffe she had so proudly drew was "completely wrong". That was over fifty years ago and the hurt still shone in her eyes. So far, I have only witnessed care, compassion and professionalism from Mati and Lisa. 


Like many others, I have put restrictions on what I thought was possible and after being on the Journey for fifty-four years I have let myself out of my self-imposed prison. I am free and of no mind, (at least when I'm painting and with flora and fauna). The only restrictions put on creativity are self-imposed for the most part. I do agree with recent research that in traditional learning settings, i.e., classroom, that the teacher is the one who really learns something. The old saw says, "If you want to learn something teach it." I completely agree. Every time I teach a class or coach I learn and re-learn. I don't know how it works; I only know that it does, so, I know that I want to share what I learn with others so that I can retain and build on what I learned. 


Last week Terry and I were sitting on a park bench when a toddler wearing a long green wool coat and a blue hat that matched is piercing blue eyes looked up at the equally blue sky, raised his hands over is head and shouted with excitement and awe, "Wow! Wow! Wow!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Down's Syndrome Punished in Business Class




After eight hours of being bumped, pushed, pulled, prodded and stripped searched, the powers-to-be at London Heathrow’s Airport finally consented to allow my wife and I to settle into the aeronautic nirvana of our comfy and roomy business class seats. Ah finally, peace, quite and civility. Or, so we thought.
            Sweet serenity quickly turned turbulent when a boisterous and bouncy toddler came running down the aisle after being pushed by her father’s firm hand.
            “Oh God,” I thought. “Please don’t let that child be sitting near me.” She was and did: directly in front.
            My wife noticed the not so subtle grimace on my face and offered, “Maybe she’ll sleep the entire flight.”
            “She’ll probably talk and cry the entire flight,” I complained at which point a pile of blonde hair slowly surfaced from the little girl’s seat followed by a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and a tiny torso. I immediately dropped all snobbish business class airs, as her Down’s Syndrome energy radiated innocence – she was adorable and I was smitten.
            And just as quickly as she appeared, her father grabbed her shirt collar and tossed into her back into her seat.  He fastened her in, threw a bag on her lap and said, “Here, keep yourself busy.”
            The little girl, Emma, pulled out a supply of DVD’s, coloring books, First Readers and two pounds of Gummy Bears all of which her father hoped would keep his daughter occupied, entertained, and out of his hair for the six hour journey.
            For sometime, Emma managed to occupy herself coloring and occasionally peering between the seats to say hello or to entice my wife and I into playing a bit of “peek-a-boo”. But it all took a tragic dive, as daddy’s pain and Emma’s purity and innocence collided mid-air. At thirty-eight thousand feet somewhere over the Atlantic the movies, sugar and crayons failed to keep Emma’s attention away from her father who, sat stoned faced and moored to his bourbon filled glass.
            She yearned for her his affection and gently leaned her head on his armrest. Inebriated and outraged, he flung all of Emma’s forty pounds clear across her seat to the window. A recognition of shock shown on Emma’s face as she held her breathe, but her Down’s told her that daddy was playing a game and volleyed her arm to her father where it smacked his left ear. His retaliation was swift and brutal.
            Furious and filled with rage, I imagined my hands wringing his neck but I was paralyzed with shock, horror and indecision. The man sitting directly across from Emma’s father who too witnessed everything was struggling with his own involvement and chose to feign sleep.
            “Say something!” I screamed at myself.
            My wife stared at me crying, “Do something.” And I just prayed. I prayed, “Please, Emma, please, sit still. Don’t say anything, be quiet, go to sleep, please little girl, please!” But she can’t, because she’s Emma and she doesn’t know. For Christ sakes, she’s only four years old.
            Her father’s violence mixed with Emma’s ignorance made it impossible for her to stay quiet and obedient and I leapt from my seat and pushed all of my weight into the back of his own, forcing him forward until his forehead met his tray table and I said, “Excuse me,” as I glared at him and I went searching for a crew member.
            A worn out stewardess met my urgency and said that unless she saw him being violent there’s nothing she could do. She promised to keep an eye on him.
            I protested and I was told that if I ‘didn’t calm down’ I would be ‘arrested upon arrival at JFK.’
            Returning to my seat, Emma’s whimpering mimicked a puppy’s and I wanted desperately to envelope her, release her, but I can’t. I’m limited. I am powerless.
             Moments later she poked her head between the seats and saw me shaking from the injustice and blew a kiss and I caught it, clasped it to my chest and I returned the love. She batted her eyelashes and her crying gave way to relaxed and peaceful breathing. Her eyes flickered until they shut and she fell into a deep and innocent sleep with her head wedged between the seats.  


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Waste Knot Want Knots

I can't let good trash go to waste. It pains and pleases me to see so much of what people toss out. (I'll save my thoughts on all 'have-to-have-it' consumerism for another post.) You've heard the idiom before, "One man's trash is another man's treasure" and I for one am always on the look out for trash treasures.

There isn't a better city than New York for trash picking. On my weekly hunts, I've lassoed the following great finds: a four poster bed, two cane backed chairs, an antique rotating and folding desk-dining table combo, three 46" color televisions, two french-door kitchen cabinets, three brass and marble lamps; and a full length, hardwood church pew found in front of Yeshiva University. This is not the complete list, just some of my favorites that after a little renovation became permanent fixtures in the apartment.

Chicago has yet to yield anything close to the dumpster finds New York coughed up. Maybe it's because I'm looking in the wrong neighborhoods or Chicagoans are more frugal than New Yorkers. I don't know but I am happy to report, that at least five-hundred pounds of wood was saved from being thrown into a Chicago land fill this week.

Recently, the building we live in replaced the wood wall coverings in the lobby and threw the three hundred or so planks behind the dumpster in the garage. "Can I have this?" I excitedly asked the Super. "You want that shit you can have it." I carted that "shit" away so fast it made his head spin. Now, what was I going to do with it? 

A blank page or canvas can be a daunting thing to look at and so too can five-hundred pounds of laminated wood planks. I was determined to do something with this "shit". I took out the X-Acto blades and started cutting and carving and presto! Carved and  painted panels from shit. (See accompanying images.) All it took was one small step and the Process took over.

I'm still not sure what I'll do with the remainder of the four-hundred and ninety-five pounds of planks but rest assure that their knots will not be tossed in the trash.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Laughing With the Head Hunters

What's so funny about Executive placement? Well, did you hear the joke about the head hunter who walked into a bar with a parrot who said....?

Last week I had the extreme pleasure of being interviewed by the wonderfully affable, competent and contagious laugher, Kathleen Kurke who, along with her many talents host a radio podcast Truth From The Trenches which, focuses on topics of everything in the Recruiting industry. Kathleen was interested in how she and her colleagues in the field of employment placement might incorporate Laughter Yoga into their practices.

One of the 'tips' that I shared with Kathleen about the use of Laughter Yoga in conducting interviews, was to ask applicants to state a skill or competency and then laugh. Repeat. Laugh. This works especially well when the interviewer senses that the applicant is nervous or not presenting their 'true' self. I also suggested that the use of laughter for both the interviewer and the applicant or job seeker in preparation for the meeting will reduce stress and induce what I like to call tickling bubbles throughout the body. There's nothing wrong and everything right preparing for an important meeting with a few minutes of laughter.

I hope that you get as much out of listening to the interview as I received by participating in it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Group Power!

The power of the group never ceases to amaze me. The happy, joyous faces pictured here caught my attention after my long run today. Children, of course, are great emotional-vanes; that is, that they are very honest in the way they feel. What you see is what you get. If they're unhappy they'll let you know it, if they're gleeful, they show that too. Then they grow up and the adult masks slip on and cover what's really going deep inside. Still, we humans like any other animals prefer to group. Some in small groups such as lovers or in marriage and others in larger groups like religious or political communities. There's power in groups; there's energy too, generated when shared passion, desire, creativity and electricity all come together. This is why I joined a running group.

It's bleak in Chicago during the winter months and having the motivation to lace-up and get out the door has been a big challenge for me. Especially, when the wind speeds are in access of twenty-five miles per hour. I have several races coming up and I am under trained and under motivated. The Internet combined with a confluence of shared needs and passion, we found each other: The South Loop Running Club ands it's energetic, kind and passionate founder, Allen Patin. The power of group demonstrated itself from the start, when on a very cold and windy Saturday morning a handful of runners got together to attain one simple goal: run. The group was eclectic, varying shapes, sizes, and levels of experience. Some ran slow, some fast, and others combined walking and running. But there were tow constants: the desire to run and the welfare of the group.

Knowing that there is a group of like-minded people that are friendly, committed and generous, that I can tap into on a weekly basis has provided huge benefits. A long time ago I identified with the character Alvy Singer in Woody Allen's Annie Hall said,"I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." But I was wrong, I think I'm a good group member and the quality, energy and personality of any group is determined by the individuals who make up the group. So, if you're looking for motivation to learn something, to attain a goal or just to get out from under your blanket, consider checking out a group with similar interests. It's very powerful.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Laughing at AIDS

When I think of the friends that I lost to AIDS along with countless others around the world, laughter is not the first things that comes to mind. And yet, that's what Nigerian director Bolanle Ninalowo is attempting to do in his movie, "Rebirth".

As reported by the Temple News Online, (Temple University, Philadelphia) Ninalowo’s script tells the tale of a "young Nigerian man whose hedonistic lifestyle comes to a sudden halt when he discovers he may have contracted HIV. While it may seem strange for a film with such a serious topic to elicit laughter, that was the goal. By entertaining the audience, “Rebirth” lets viewers approach the sensitive issue more comfortably."

“I thought it was very funny,” said Adedun Aderemi, an Arcadia University student who attended the premiere. “It had a lot of information and talked about living with HIV, which a lot of people are really scared about.”

Not only is laughter one of the best medicines, it's also a great vehicle for teaching and sharing important, life saving knowledge. Who knew?