Friday, December 3, 2010

Pre-dawn Urban Safari

There was a chill in the air as we walked to the local artist’s cafĂ© in the pre-dawn dark.  My co-conspirator and fellow writer. the Ravendove and I made a pact to break open a new creative window and then see what escaped.  At 4 am there is not much happening at the place, one older guy drawing with colored pencils and a group of four chatty, young people apparently pulling an all nighter.  Finding an agreeable table in the quietude was easy, not like during the day when the place is filled with single individuals and their laptops.  At this hour a vibe of mystery lays heavy and the 70s funk music adds to it in the background.    Our plan was to look at the same old, same old with new eyes.  Eyes that might see new and different stories without the overlay of habit and pattern.  

We sure did see different stories; the guy doing an intense calisthenic work-out on the boardwalk, the homeless sleeping on the beach 100 yards apart, the go-getter vendors staking their place on the boardwalk, the bleary eyed kid bumming a cigarette, and the locked restrooms.   After sunrise the people of the night slowly fade away and a new crew comes out; a middle-aged couple on their morning walk, the backpacking kids lingering outside the coffee house, the street performer with his bulging muscles glistening in oil, and the salt of the earth waiting for their bus to work.  

This experiment awakened me to the need to change setting and/or set to stimulate reinvention.  Long familiar with the refreshment and renewal that comes with travel to unusual places with no fixed agenda, I consciously opened a crack in the routine reality of my home neighborhood.  Same setting with a different mind-set, the mind-set of the middle of the night.  Through that sliver emerged a ‘new’ place, new characters, with new energy.  As we age, it is common to become habituated in thoughts, habits, and emotions.  These are the default that often leads to a stifling ennui to our lives.  The relief and excitement of travel can store energizing fuel for the mundane of our lives at home.  That experience is not only available out of town but right where we dwell.  The challenge of reinvention and revival, demands a new mental set.
Thinking won’t get you there but action will.  The pre-dawn safari awakened my exploring spirit which then can be tapped for potential new passions that can get bogged down in ‘been there, done that.’  Now, I feel ready to tackle that long submerged plan to learn guitar and to take up badminton and write that next chapter in the book.  Middle of the night mind set automatically shifted the familiar neighborhood setting into an exotic locale.  I saw new people, different shops, cultural variety all on a two mile walk from my home.  The netherworld of the graveyard shift was the spark plug that stimulated me without suffering through the invasion of privacy at the airport, without the back stiffness of a long car drive, and without the hang-over of overindulging in my drug of choice.  Renewed and re-calibrated, I was back on an efficient and effective path for exploring and developing new passions and living the dream deferred.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Somethin' Happenin' Here

Teach Your Children
After the first three notes plucked on the lead guitar, the crowd of 5 thousand jumped to their collective feet and rushed the stage.  Fists pumping in the air and reciting every word to the song they had first heard over 40 years ago, this audience of gray hair, overweight and joyful fans were transported.  Transported to a time when the whole world was a concert, when the whole world was teeming with possibility, when their whole lives stretched in front of them.   When Steve Stills sang, 'Stop children, what's that sound, everybody look what's going down,' he was talking directly to that young person who is still alive, exuberant, expressive, and passionate in this crowd in October 2010.

This crowd may be over 60 with grandchildren and a paunch but they still have a spark of life that can be fanned.  Three 65+ rockers, Crosby, Stills and Nash played many of their classic songs from 'Teach Your Children' to 'Marrakesh Express' to 'Almost Cut My Hair.' It was a transcendent moment for me at the recent AARP convention in Orlando, FL.  After attending workshops on traveling smart, easing back and foot pain, finding romance later in life, investing for the long retirement, and reinvention in the third chapter of life, this enthusiastic cohort were reliving the dream of youth.  That dream born in the Sixties still lives inside each of us.  The dream of freedom, creativity, making a difference, and community.  I did not know anyone in that crowd but I was with my people.  We don't look the same but we still have the dream.  Many of the way-showers have moved on but the flame still burns, if we give it fuel.

What does it take to fan the flame?  To feed the fire?  Just as we did back in the day, the first step is CURIOSITY.  What's goin' on?  As Nash says in Marrakesh Express, 'Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind had to get away to see what we could find,' an adventurous life is possible at this stage of life.  The adventure may take different forms than before, maybe not back packing in third class train cars in Morocco or protest marching in Golden Gate Park with a hundred thousand other kids but it can be an adventure.  Exploring old passions left by the wayside, while we grew up and took care of business; paid the mortgage, raised the kids, contributed to the pension plan and acted responsibly.  Now, as Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls it, the Third Chapter (the years from 50-75) when we can stop,look, and revive the dream that was shelved.

Next step is COMMITMENT to the journey.  Just as when I traveled to Europe at nineteen with a one way ticket and a few hundred dollars in American Express travelers checks and a forty pound backpack.   I was committed to staying til I got to to Marrakesh.  Not fearless but confident that I could do it and in those days the only connection from home was a letter every month at the local American Express office.  If you lost your checks, which happened to me, you take a menial job.   No call home, no ATM.  Passion for adventure ruled the zeitgeist of the day.  Dig down and discover and nurture a passion, set the goal, and do it.  Perhaps you take an acting class or sign up for a tour to the Ganges or volunteer overseas.

As in the group catharsis at the convention, the dream is not solitary.  It is revived and sustained by COMMUNITY.  Enroll your support group of fellow travelers who get it and who are also on the quest for the fire of life.  Remind yourself and your friends that is not about being fearless, it is about courage.  Courage comes from the root word coeur--heart.  We take care of our physical heart with working out at the gym and eating right, but how about the soul's heart?  Keep it well by building community to sustain your heart's dream.  Where do you find these fellow travelers?  In a class, at a community center, at the AARP convention, at the gym; anywhere active and vital people congregate.  You are not alone and you might find that if you take the first step and say something about your dream or your passion it may awaken something in an acquaintance.  That acquaintance may become your accomplice on the road to Marrakesh.

We all have the flame and now is our chance to be ourselves and as Nash said, 'teach your children well...we all have a code we must live by.'  Demanding a half hour of encores the crowd at the concert was not going quietly into the dark night but with fists in the air, voices shouting, feet dancing for what its worth.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kooks and Creativity

Last week at a well known southern California surf spot, a new costume was draped on a local statue.  The statue called the Magic Carpet Ride is of a surfer, riding a wave.  The overnight prank was to build a papier mache shark’s mouth engulfing the surfer.  The statue is in a pose that is inimical for a good surfer and was originally mocked by locals.  Then, not long after being erected a few years ago a series of such pranks were perpetrated on this community landmark.  The statue, known locally as the Cardiff Kook ago, has been draped in a variety of costumes from clown to female stripper.  

Kook is surfer slang usually used as the ultimate put down.  Writer and surfer, Peter Heller wears that label proudly and states  “ Being a kook is a way of life. ..It’s about being willing to learn something new, to make a fool of yourself and just go for it.”   What I gleaned from the Cardiff Kook pranks is to be free to try on different personae and share them in public.  It regularly gets attention from local media with praise from passers by and surfers alike.  The dressed up statue is not viewed as a problem but entertaining and fun.  Viewing the kook is fun for the community. 

Some lessons about creativity can be gleaned from this oddity.  As a novice creative expresser (artist), I noted my tendency to resist trying the new, out of character activity.  Holding back or worse giving half effort short circuits the fun of creativity.   And as an older beginning artist it is easy for me to come up with excuses to not ‘go for it.’  My litany includes; the learning curve is too steep, I am not talented, and who cares if I do it?    Each of these cop outs are eschewed by the Cardiff Kook.  
·     Lesson #1: His kook-ness is proudly displayed and loved by the community. Being a beginner is not necessarily going to face public approbation. 
·     Lesson #2:  Recognizing his unskillful style the prankster gives the kook a variety of roles to try on.  Experiment with new and personal approaches to the new art.
·     Lesson #3:  Great public acclaim and interest accrue to the kook’s variety of personae.  Sometimes the different, unusual, and original are enjoyed by others.

        Creativity can and should be fun and the prankster and the Cardiff Kook are great exemplars of the courage it takes to actually do and practice creative expression.  Especially for those of us who were labeled at a young age that we couldn’t draw or sing or act or?  The clear cue is just do it, do your thing, express yourself.   The authenticity you bring to the art is more important than any talent you may think you don’t have.  Sure there may be a long period of skill development.   And yes, you may be seen as a ‘kook,’ but don’t let that stop you.  The community may be waiting for the kind of kookiness you share.   And who knows you may get to wear some fun costumes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Get Thee Behind Me Satan

Sitting and staring at the unknown vista of a new work or new city or new house, I start to get vertigo.  My usually sure balance is shaky as I reach for a foothold of anything steady to push off from.  The transition to what is sometimes called retirement has brought up huge insecurities around change.  The changes may be big like choosing a new career or moving to a new city.  Or low risk such as publishing my poetry and even just building a new patio in the back yard.  There is a field of industrial psychology called 'work-life balance.'  This is more like life-dream balance.

Where were these emotional mines hiding before the 'retirement?'  In regular employment there is always a rush to get to the job, to get the work done, to promote or at least protect one's career and then when it is done there is great relief.  For awhile.  Then after a few months and margharitas, a wild trip, or whatever you do to change set; in the quiet a new new anxiety emerged.  Many changes can come up of course; physical aging, making new social connections, starting a business, moving to the dream house and seeking the dreaded 'meaning of life.'

These changes have many facets and the one I am concerned about today is the one they don't talk about in retirement planning;  fear of failure in this new life.  Because, as I have said, this phase brings about many big changes and it is 30-40 years since the other big change of growing up and going to work.  For myself, I have pursued a dogged personal/ spiritual growth path over these years.  I was fearless in trying new spiritual practices, going on retreats and seminars, making new relationships, traveling in foreign countries, taking new jobs.   My mantra was check it out.

While in the cocoon of employment I had a secure home base and jumped into the new without much thought or consideration. Now, fear of failure in the big things looms large today while fear of small things is non-existent.  The decision to move to a new town immobilizes.  The decision of publishing my book stalls.  The decision to travel to a long awaited destination lingers.

Fear of this type is not rational.  What I am talking about is not about physical survival.  It is the emotional survival of my old life.  As I transition from my old identity defined by my job and into one that is defined by my choices, I am building a new rainbow of interests, activities and friends.  Then a while ago I hit the wall.  I used to run marathons and a common experience is running fine for 15, 19, 20 miles and then you hit the Wall.  It is like the body shuts down to about one cylinder, barely moving.  The crowd cheers and encourages and somehow you limp across the finish line.  I am at that point in my retirement transition and pulling the trigger is tough.  Pep talks and life coaches and friends and support groups can only point me in the direction.  They can not take that leap into the new, the unknown, the exciting, the growing, the satisfying.

Last year I took a big leap and had my first solo art show.  As the event approached all manner of fear and doubt arose.  What if people make snide comments?  What if no one shows up?  To comfort myself I wrote a bio and realized that I had something to share that I valued.  Buoyed by that inner truth I went to the opening and enjoyed it immensely.  Strangely enough some of the paintings that I did not think were at all good received great praise.

What causes this inhibition?  My sense is the old baggage of past mistakes or failures have piled up.  Impervious to rational analysis it is a heavy ball and chain.   Escaping from this load demands attention and awareness.  What is an old story is polluting the potential future?  Clearly seeing the limiting ideas is challenging.  What is the real bottom line fear?  For me, it is like the news everyday where 99% of events are successful and we pay attention to the aberrations.  So, I take the few incidents that did not overtly work out the way I intended and move them into the road as big boulders to avoid.

Taking that leap of faith into the new demands suspension of that version of history.  It is a choice to be excited and embrace the change, regardless.  It may look like there is less time to waste by failing now but that is a con.  There is only this moment and then the next.  One experience will then dictate the next action.  And the next.

The prescription is; 1)  Decide what you want to do, 2) Share your vision with a trusted friend, 3) Consider what is the worst that could happen, 4)  Inquire into where the fear is coming from, 5) Take only the next step, and 6) Engage with the experience, 7) Celebrate.

Hello fear of failure. Today I am taking that next step and publishing my poems.  Get thee behind me Satan.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Open the Last Gate and Wake up!!

Jump up. Lively up. Free up. Start up. Express up.

Turning 60 was a big turning point for me. It was inescapable, I was indeed one of the older generation. Coming from a generation that made a cult of youth veneration, this was a tough awakening. How could I blame the 'old' people? How do I feel young when my body has aches and pain? How can I look for a soulmate when my pictures are still 30 years old?  How do I find right home when I don't  have to commute?  In other words, how do I live my maximum life now that forty years have passed and old dreams are bubbling up?

Facing this phase of life with clear seeing and honesty and optimism and joy is a new challenge. Perhaps more challenging than the 'career' phase. Then primal needs were forefront; making money, building professional reputation, healing neuroses and buying a home and luxury car. For some marrying and raising a family.  For others traveling the world. Perhaps seeking enlightenment or at least self-acceptance. There is more to life than the job and so many of us don't know how to begin again.  Or as I say, refire.  Now what?

Is it about playing more tennis and traveling every month? Another common strategy is to come back to the job as a consultant. Learn to play guitar? Start the business? Work on that long forgotten art? Volunteer for the good cause and make a difference?

Questions such as these are vexing and common. Shifting into the 3rd Chapter, as one writer calls it, is an opportunity to at last Live that long forgotten dream. Other facets of ourselves long have been suppressed by the exigencies and practical aspects of life.  Now, we can truly liberate ourselves and experience authentic happiness in our final act. Not the retirement of our parents or grandparents, just as our kids are not like we were. Contrary to our generation the younger ones are watching and listening and learning from the older generation, us. We have had an exciting time for the last forty years, let's make the next phase our crowning glory. Let's LIVE the DREAM DEFERRED. As was once said, 'time has come today.'