Sunday, January 29, 2006

Painted Birds

The human spirit is larger than the life a person ordinarily leads. The human spirit vibrates at an heroic pitch and yet there is almost no heroism that a person can engage in on most days, except the not-insignificant heroism that it takes just to meet our daily obligations and live life. Those everyday heroic efforts, however, do not provide us with the felt sense that the poignant cry of our human spirit has really been answered.

How do we try to answer that cry? Most often, by seeking out vicarious means. We live a vicariously heroic life by reading a book about a heart-stopping adventure, watching a movie about saving the world, listening to music that enflames the blood, playing a game of poker “as if” something were really at stake. Much of life can be explained as the human spirit’s restless attempt to meet its need for heroism in the real world—and its repeated inability to do so.

Because of this (often complete) disjunction between the grandness of our human spirit and the paltriness of ordinary life, spiritual discouragement sets in. This spiritual discouragement, and not the many tasks that we tackle, causes people to feel preternaturally tired. This spiritual discouragement, and not too little fiber or too many sweets in our diet, makes people sick. Squash down our human spirit in the way that it is squashed down in the course of an average day and by day’s end we are lucky to still be breathing.

Consider the plight of a good friend of mine. She has worked in the non-profit world for more than twenty-five years, toiling in the fields of good causes. About ten years ago she became executive director of a nonprofit that dealt in environmental issues, then she moved on to become the executive director of a housing nonprofit that helped low-income people buy their first home, and now she is the executive director of a nonprofit that supports scientific research by handing out grants to young scientists. Each of these non-profits adds value to the world—no doubt about it.

What is most true about my friend’s time at these nonprofits is that her spirit has not been served. The same seems true for a great many of the people she comes into contact with on a daily basis in the nonprofit world. They know that they are “on the side of good” but what they feel, as they go about their business of saving this bird from extinction, finding that family the money for a first home, or supporting this young scientist on his dissertation research, is an abiding sense of drudgery, boredom, and smallness. This is not true of all of them; but it is true of a surprising number of them. Why can’t the human spirit soar simply by virtue of the fact that its goals are laudable? Because the human spirit really needs more.

By contrast, an artist who paints images of birds or who conjures with bird energy on canvas may feel her spirit soar, even if, as happens, she isn’t pleased with the result, isn’t sure about its meaningfulness, and isn’t sanguine about its reception. The challenge was somehow appropriate to her spirit: that is the long and the short of it. She might agree with you that her painting did nothing to save actual birds from extinction; she might go on to have a nice chicken dinner, her conjuring notwithstanding; she might destroy her painting by nightfall, reckoning it a failure at the level of craft. Nevertheless, as she painted, her spirit felt satisfied.

This is interesting. In the first case, the fundraiser actually helps save birds. In the second case, the artist only has a feeling of heroism: no actual bird has been saved. Yet the artist feels better than the fundraiser. So the question arises, what should have primacy in an ethical person’s hierarchy, doing work that saves actual birds or doing work that provides her with a feeling of heroism, actual birds be damned? I hope that you are laughing a little and also reeling a little. A little ironic laughter is appropriate, given how the universe has built us, as creatures who need to earn our sense of heroism and who, at the same time, are provided with only convoluted ways of doing that earning.

An interesting answer is the following one: paint the painting, if that is what satisfies your soul, sell it, and donate a portion of your sales to the nonprofit, essentially having your cake and eating it too. Feed your spirit and save the actual bird. This might be a fine, rational solution to the problem of how to meet our felt need for heroic engagement and we should look closely at it. But one thing should strike us immediately. If everyone with a human spirit—that is, if everyone—took this route, there would be no nonprofits to support. Every nonprofit worker would be “following her bliss,” child-advocacy lawyers would be samurai, emergency room doctors would be troubadours, school teachers would be wandering in the wilderness, looking for new worlds and large adventures. Maybe you and I have permission to find ways to allow our spirits to soar—but we can’t give everyone that permission! No one would be left to do the work of civilization.

It looks like it may be the case that the way to relieve spiritual discouragement in the individual can’t also be the way to relieve it in society in general. But that remains to be seen, as we are just at the beginning of our conversation. Next Sunday I want to chat about the following idea: can our spiritual discouragement, rooted in the need to feel heroically engaged, be met by the Taoist/Zen ideas of mindful presence and fully inhabiting the moment? Chat with you then! Read more!

Call for Painters

I am looking to work with twenty painters on a book project. We would work in the following way. I would send out a “creativity prompt” each week and everyone in the group would produce a (necessarily quick) painting provoked by the prompt, along with their written thoughts about the process. Some number of these images and some amount of this commentary would go into the finished book and everyone who participated would be represented.

If you would like to participate in this project, please get in touch with me at I would need to see a couple of your images or visit your website before inviting you aboard. I think this will be an exciting and eye-opening adventure for those of you who choose to join me, especially if you are curious about trying out new techniques, working with new ideas, or producing new subject matter.

Please let your painter friends and colleagues know about this opportunity. If you are able to post this message to a likely group and feel comfortable doing so, I hope you’ll do just that. Thanks!

P.S. As this message may get passed around to folks who don’t know me, let me add the following. I am a creativity coach and the author of many books in the area of creativity, among them Fearless Creating, A Life in the Arts, The Creativity Book, Affirmations for Artists, Coaching the Artist Within, and A Writer’s Paris. You can learn more about me and what I do at Read more!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Phoebe Writes A Novel. 3. Phoebe Chooses

When she got home, Phoebe found herself wondering whether she should write a short story or begin a novel. A story had the virtue of being short, pithy, and perhaps doable before dinner (which today was tuna fish sandwiches and potato salad, the kind of dinner you could be late for should your story take all afternoon to write). A novel, which would take months to write and could not possibly be finished before dinner, had the virtue of allowing your characters to have the kinds of adventures that could only be found in, well, novels. This matter was taxing Phoebe and she sat by the window in her room thinking and thinking.

Harold Spider crawled by along the window ledge.

"Harold," Phoebe said. "I was wondering. I am in a writing mood and I thought I might write a story about laundry drying out of doors on a clothesline stretched between two trees. It would be a very atmospheric story full of starch smells and the inner lives of shirts and jeans. But I was also thinking that I might work on my novel set in the South Seas, having to do with an all-girl band stranded on a remote and scary island. The girls all have to play acoustic guitar, as there is no electricity! Isn't that clever? What do you think?"

"About?" Harold replied.

"Harold!" Phoebe scolded. "I just told you. Should I write the story or begin my novel?"

Harold scratched his head with several different legs. "I confess I am in a confused state of mind today. Why couldn't you do both? Or am I missing something important?"

Phoebe thought for a moment. Finally she nodded. "I suppose that's a reasonable question. On the face of it there's no reason not to do both. Yet there feels like there must be a reason. Wouldn't a muse know?"

Harold scratched his head again. "It's amazing how much we muses forget! Just last week someone I was visiting complained of exactly this problem--though that was about writing two songs, but it's the same thing really--and I know we arrived at the reason why she had to choose one or the other. But I can't remember what we concluded. She was twenty-three, by the way."

"How is that relevant?" Phoebe wondered skeptically.

"Well, I suppose I meant to imply that people of all ages find this to be a problem."

"Not just little girls like me?" Phoebe complained, trying to sound insulted. But actually she was pleased that her problem was a real, grown-up problem.

"I only meant--"

"Oh, pish-tosh!" Phoebe exclaimed. "Not to worry! But isn't this interesting and perplexing? I could write the short story today and then start the novel tomorrow. Why not? But I'm CONVINCED that I must choose one or the other and put the other one away, say in my little trunk over there, and if I don't I won't be able to get my whole head around either the laundry or the all-girl band."


"Wait! I'm thinking." She put her elbows on the sill and got into her very best thinking position, with her eyes shut.

Harold crawled away, to stretch his legs but also because it was a muse rule to let thinkers think.

"It could be the following," Phoebe said, opening her eyes. But Harold was gone. She looked this way and that and finally found him crawling up the side of her jewelry box.

"Are you off?" she said.

"No, no! Just doing my walking meditation. Shall I return to the sill?"

"Please! Otherwise I have to scrunch down. I don't think well scrunched!"

They resumed their original positions, though this took Phoebe one second and Harold a full minute.

"Here's what I think," Phoebe began. "I have one brain with a lot of brain cells. Agreed?"

"Agreed!" Harold agreed enthusiastically.

"Now, what is a brain like? Probably you will say a computer, because everybody does."

"I have never likened the brain to a computer--"

"Never mind. Grown-ups always do. But I think the brain is like a jungle full of animals. Now, when they are all going about their own business, many things happen. We have thoughts about warm buns for breakfast, maybe we have a worry about the paper we have to write about the barge canals of England, maybe we think about that new CD we so desperately want. In short, we have a common mind full of common thoughts. Are you following?"

"Yes! I know that mind."

"Exactly. Now, in order for the brain to write, all the animals must come together and form a community. The lions and dolphins must get on the same page."


"A little literary license, please! But if the lemurs and skinks--"


"An interesting animal I saw on our summer vacation in Hawaii."

"All right."

"If the lemurs and skinks are muttering about the all-girl band novel, even though they are far in the back of the circle and hardly audible at all, they will be causing a kind of--" Phoebe paused, searching for the right word.

"Upsetness?" Harold offered.

"Pandemonium! A little pandemonium. Which prevents the group from concentrating on the laundry story, even though the majority of the animals have agreed on the story."

"With the skinks carrying on so."

"And the lemurs! So that is my analogy. One has to really choose what one is writing, because if one says, 'I can write both,' that's somehow like letting skinks and lemurs loose, which produces upsetness and pandemonium."

Harold clapped. "I believe I can visualize that perfectly. The fire around which the animals gather, the exotic birds--"

"All right, Harold. I'm done with my analogy. Now--I must choose!"

Phoebe squizzled up her face something awful. It was a dramatic gesture considerably for Harold's benefit, and in fact after about three seconds she could feel a headache coming on.

"That won't do!" she exclaimed. "Choosing isn't like wrestling, after all!"

They were silent for awhile as Phoebe tried to determine what choosing WAS like. Harold cleared his throat.

"Yes?" Phoebe grumped.

"You may take this to be a bit rude--"

"Well, then don't say it! For I imagine that you know perfectly well that what you are about to say WILL be rude, so why say it?"

"Yes, yes, I admit that. But muses do have certain duties after all, and one is to point out this and that. I am pointing out the following: that in the time it is taking you to choose, you could have your laundry on the line already."

"Well!" Phoebe huffed. She had the urge to roll up the magazine beside her and give Harold one great thwump. "That was not just rude, that was idiotic! That's like saying—“ Here she paused and thought hard, because only the right analogy would sting Harold sufficiently. "That's like saying you could already be on the moon, if you didn't waste so much time building your rocket! I mean, choosing is a PROCESS, and processes take time!"

"Of course, of course," Harold agreed. "But it isn't quite so much like building a rocket! I mean, laundry or island. Not to be small-minded about it, my dear, but it's JUST a choice, not literal interstellar engineering."

Phoebe's feelings were bitterly hurt. "Well," she said, a tear or two angling to venture forth from her tear ducts. "So you think I'm just a slacker. A slouch. A sloth. That I am just AVOIDING writing. That I am just talking the talk and not walking the walk. Well. I am quite sure that you are a very bad muse bearing very bad news and I wish you would crawl away and evaporate."

"Now, now--"

"Go away, you mean little spider!"

Harold waited for Phoebe to recover but she looked greener and purpler by the second, so finally he trotted off. Phoebe threw herself on her bed, which wasn't so much of a throw that she was likely to injure herself, and smuffled for fifteen minutes. Then she sat straight up.

"Well. There's something to what that spider said!" she said to Lexington, the closest cat. "But he was also wrong. Right and wrong both, I say! Choosing IS a process. But perhaps I lingered and dawdled a bit too long. Maybe I WAS delaying, not really wanting to start anything. Plus, I'm not sure the laundry story was really my cup of tea. I think I liked the SMELL of it more than the story. Because I could smell that fresh laundry, which was really very delicious. So I suppose that I wanted to write the novel all along. But maybe I was secretly saying to myself, 'What girl writes a novel?' I fear that I WAS saying such a thing, so familiar does that question sound! Well! Who knew. I had NO IDEA I was doubting myself!"

This realization was really breathtaking and Phoebe had to catch her breath. She never consciously thought that there was anything she couldn't do. To learn that she had some doubts about her ability to write a novel staggered her.

"Well, I'll be the skink's pajamas!" she exclaimed. "On to the novel immediately! I will eat late! I will write and write! Where are my pen and pad!"

She was indeed talking in exclamation points, which made Harold smile. On the ceiling, quite visible if you were looking that way, Harold waited another few seconds to see if Phoebe would open her pad. When she did, he trundled off, stopping only to nibble a red ant appetizer. Read more!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Fanciful Back-Up Plan

From The World of Matisse by John Russell

“At seven in the morning he would rise and make his way to a remote bathroom where he would practice the violin for two hours. Matisse loved this instrument and never painted anything more tenderly than the sky-blue silk lining of its case. But he also had a favorite notion that if his eyesight should ever fail him, he could support his family by playing in the street.” Read more!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ari's Oasis. 3. The Famous Rock Band on the Verge of Collapse

One day a whole rock band arrived at Maya's shop. The band was very famous and caused a great stir in the bazaar. Maya had to sternly remind the crowd that gathered to be quiet and respectful.

The band milled about the shop, as Ari wasn't ready to see them. The leader of the band apologized to Maya for making the appointment on such short notice but they had been in a nearby city on tour and decided on the spur of the moment to come to the oasis for help. They needed help badly. Maya replied that no apology was needed and that her father would be with them shortly.

Finally Ari let it be known that he was ready. One by one the band members traversed the narrow hall and entered the consulting room, which was dark and cool and always had its back door open.

"Sit. Please," Ari said.

There were five of them—five lean, intense young men.

"My name is Brian," one of them said. “We're the Lime Death Squad. You've heard of us?"

Ari smiled. "No. I'm sorry."

"No matter! Just as well. We're having this incredibly terrible tour. Jason [he nodded at a redhead twisted up in pain] got sick and needed an emergency operation. Andy [he nodded at a sullen, violent-looking fellow whose head looked like a muscle], well, Andy will have to speak for himself. Mike [Mike smiled when introduced] just got married and misses his wife badly and is bitching all the time about being away from her. Moses [he nodded at a young man who appeared to be a soldier in the Devil's brigade] can't think about anything but sex and is always bringing two or three girls around and doing it in our faces. I write the songs and I haven't had a good idea in about two years. It's all hit the fan on this tour and if we don't kill each other it'll be a bloody miracle."

Ari nodded and turned to Andy, the angry one. "What drugs do you use?" he asked mildly.

"Man ... " Andy growled.

"Don't worry. I have a terrible memory."

"Yeah. Right. I use a little of this and a little of that. But I didn't come for a lecture!"

"Crack cocaine, meth, alcohol, marijuana," Brian said.

"Screw you," Andy replied.

Ari nodded. He turned to Moses the rake. "Why don't you write songs? Don't you have songs in you?"

Moses made a face. "That's not my talent. I like to stand off to the side and watch the girls."

"So, Brian. You're the glue? You hold everything together?" Ari continued.

"I suppose so. Though I've just about had it!"

Ari grew quiet and searched each man's face in turn.

"What's your question?" he finally said. “What do you want from me? You look to be a rock band on the road, in the middle of a tour, plagued by stardom, the traveling blues, your own personalities, too much time together and too much time on your hands—all the usual. What's new?"

No one replied. Then Mike, the man with the new wife, broke the silence.

"We used to enjoy ourselves," he said. "We used to have fun. We were light-hearted. Now everything feels dark and unmanageable. Something's changed. Five years ago we rode in a van and were happy. Now we take over a whole floor of some great hotel, we get whatever we want, and we're miserable."

Ari nodded. "You had a dream, to become rock stars, and you achieved your dream. Then you came up against a meaning crisis, which you are now in the middle of. You are without meaning. So you fall back on old, second-rate meanings. Andy does drugs and has his rage, which comes in handy. Moses does sex. Brian creates, but poorly. The group’s meaning has died. The beautiful dream of becoming a famous rock band vanished … by coming true. You are bereft of meaning."

The band remained silent. Finally Brian spoke. "That feels exactly right," he said. "We play our old songs, we work very hard, we take pride in our performance, but it feels utterly meaningless."

"There are five things you must do," Ari said. "First, you have to help others. That is the best--sometimes the only--road to recovering meaning. You might meet with the Mothers of Charity in the city in which you now find yourself. They are very pious, bad-tempered women who minister to thousands of our country's saddest, sickest people. You could give them a million dollars and your tour would improve instantly. Second, each of you must fall in love with two things. You must fall in love with music again. And you must love a real person. Third, you must grow up, which means doing battle with your own disinclination to change. Fourth, you must respect how far you have come and honor the band. Fifth, each of you must create. Not just you, Brian, but all of you. Each of you must go deep inside and provide personal music for your next album. Each of you must contribute like an artist and a hero. If you do these five things, you can survive."

The band stayed for three hours. Ari worked with them as a group and as individuals, prying, pushing, healing, instructing. He made them laugh and he made them cry. When they left, they said the thing that so many of his clients said upon leaving: "We have a lot to think about." Ari simply nodded. As lost in their thoughts as they were, they wouldn't have heard him anyway.

Maya appeared a few minutes later.

"They left you five thousand dollars, father."

"Good. Go on the Net and buy their albums. I'm curious to hear what they sound like."

"You won't like them!" she laughed.

"Their music? Probably not. But I like them. And I think their next album will be very surprising." Read more!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Creativity Coaching Update. Sunlight Strikes Ft. Worth

It has been a real pleasure starting up with a dozen new creativity coaching clients this year. As we tend to chat every other week, the majority of them now have had their second session with me. Last week I posted before-coaching and after-coaching images from Gabrielle Swain, images that she produced shortly after our first session. Today I am posting some images that arose several days later as she continued the process of breaking free of her previous iconography and previous artistic identity.

Gabrielle is also in my “meaning group” in cyberspace and has been adopting some of the incantations that I am teaching to that group as aids in her exploration process. You will hear some of those “meaning prompts” in the email she sent me about her process. Gabrielle wrote:

“Even though my hard drive crash created a great deal of chaos, I managed to find some time in the studio. Certainly released plenty of anger with this time. While I had to force myself to do the work, once I started working ‘centered’ the energy became focused and calm. The first two pieces didn't make the cut. I realized I had not done any incantations before starting the work. Quickly, I stopped, left the studio and took a few moments to do ‘meaning is a wellspring,’ ‘I nominate myself,’ and ‘I make my own meaning.’ Back to the studio, I started a new piece with a completely different energy.

“What was the difference? An awareness that my studio is not just a room in which to work but a sacred space. The meaning lives within me but there has to be an atmosphere in the place where I work that encourages and allows the meaning to be released. Even though the studio is in good working order organizationally, when I return home from Australia I am going to focus on some areas as inspirational space.”

Here are the four images that Gabrielle sent me. The first released anger. The second and third continued the releasing-and-exploring process. The fourth did something else: it settled into an experience of a shaft of light cutting across Ft. Worth, rendered in a way entirely new to her.

If you would like to get in touch with Gabrielle, she can be reached at and visited at

Read more!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

David and Genevieve in Paris. 4. Color Frenzy

David draws—but his eyes are inflamed by color. Drawing keeps him honest but color keeps his soul alive. Color is his passion, his enthusiasm, his fire. The thousand blues in his mind’s eye are like a harem; the act of painting like a night of endless love.

Of course he has his favorite colors, like every artist. “What a horrible thing yellow is!” exclaimed Edgar Degas. Alexander Calder loved red so much he cried, “I wish I could paint everything red!” Winston Churchill lamented, “I am genuinely sorry for the poor browns.” The teacher Fernand Corman scolded a student, “Wait, where is the ivory-black? My God, you aren’t thinking of making black by mixing blue and red?”

David, inflamed by the palette of Paris, gorges on the color that every stall provides and returns it, digested, onto a primed canvas waiting to be fed. Read more!

Friday, January 20, 2006

David and Genevieve in Paris. 3. Atget and Sadness

The reality of Paris collides in Genevieve’s heart with the sepia-tinted dream. Is she living or is she dreaming?

The question makes her think of hardship. Atget’s photographs, those sepia-tinted wonders, are etched in her mind, as is his story. Born in 1857, he did not see his photographs appear in print until 1926, when his neighbor Man Ray published a handful in La Revolution Surrealist—without giving Atget credit. To wait 69 years!—and then not to get credit!

Genenvieve knows too many stories like this one, stories of the hard artist’s road. Everywhere in Paris she sees Atget’s subjects, the peddlers, garbage collectors, the road workers who toil away at their jobs just as she toils away at hers. She feels kinship and sadness. Not that she needs life to be easy. But must it be as hard as the history of art foretells that it will be?

Still, what are her alternatives? After all, she is an artist. Read more!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Walking Day

Today got away from me as I raced to get a chapter of the new “meaning book” off to Janet Rosen, my agent, for her feedback; and then Ann got off a little early, so on this beautiful San Francisco day we had to go out walking, from Bernal Heights into the Mission to Puerto Alegre, our Mexican haunt, for nachos, guacamole, and margaritas (rocks, salt); and then on to Eagle Donuts, to finish our trek with one glazed and one chocolate. Cheers! Read more!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Phoebe Writes A Novel. 2. The Frog and the Bee Almost Come to Blows

The first week of spring passed uneventfully. Saturday morning dawned and Phoebe discovered that she had a lot on her mind. A few days before she had begun wondering why the eye should consider blue and yellow complementary colors, which had caused her to start reading Newton, of all people. She associated Newton with gravity and such-like things but she came learn that he was also 'the father of optics' and, like Phoebe, extremely interested in color wheels.

She also learned that Newton was an odd duck. This caused her mind to wander from optics to madness and, as a consequence, she had begun skimming Newton biographies. This landed her at Lieb and Hershman's Manic Depression and Creativity, one of whose subjects was Sir Isaac. What they had to say about Newton made her shake her head. They adduced his mania from behaviors that didn't sound so pathological, like running for Parliament and promoting the careers of young mathematicians (a behavior Lieb and Hershman called "the generosity of the manic"). How strange!

Something about all this didn't make sense to Phoebe and, feeling intensely restless, she took herself to her favorite cafe (which was also the only cafe she was allowed to frequent, as it was just down the block). She ordered her customary hot chocolate, her brain filled with odd and random thoughts--about Newton's fight with Leibnitz over the authorship of calculus, about whether flavored Fig Newtons were really Fig Newtons at all, and so on--and wandered out back to the patio where it was bright and quiet.

The patio was mostly empty and she could have sat entirely by herself, but, being a writer (among other things), she preferred to sit near people (or whomever) and eavesdrop. She chose to sit next to the frog and the bee, two muses of her acquaintance. Although they were being quite loud and quarrelsome at the moment, which put Phoebe off, their animation piqued her interest. She smiled as she sat down but they took no notice and continued their grumbling.

"Art for art's sake!" the frog was bellowing. "To quote Faulkner, a great poem is worth the lives of any number of little old ladies. And Picasso--didn't he claim that if he ran out of firewood for his kiln he would throw his wife and children in?"

"That's ridiculous!" screamed the bee. "Just what you'd expect from an alcoholic like Faulkner and an entertainer like Picasso! Art is for the sake of PEOPLE, not itself. For the sake of the art maker, his daughter, the eleven people who read his poem, maybe even the executor of his estate who comes upon it after he is dead. But it can't be for its own sake! It doesn't HAVE a sake, for Gosh sake!"

"You want art to have utility! It mustn't! It oughtn't! It shouldn't! Art exists! It just is! It mustn't serve any purpose!"

"You are one stupid academic frog who has lived too long in muddy water!" the bee buzzed, loud enough to scare a couple right off the terrace.

Phoebe couldn't help herself. "Excuse me," she said. "Would you call what you are having a 'philosophical discussion'? I've thought about studying philosophy in college and I'm curious if this is an example of what I might learn."

"I would call what we are doing 'fighting,'" the bee replied.

"I would call what we are doing 'educating a bee'," retorted the frog.

"I would call what we are doing 'listening to a stupid frog," shouted the bee.

"I would call what we are doing 'humoring an idiot bee'!" the frog shrieked.

Phoebe shrieked even louder. The muses turned in curious if not stunned silence in Phoebe's direction.

"Well," said Phoebe, gathering herself. "This strikes me as the biggest waste of time two muses could ever dream up. Is this an object lesson for me about how not to live? Did you know that I would be coming here for a Saturday hot chocolate and stage this conversation for my benefit?"

"Little girl, we have this fight every day of our lives! This is what we DO," exclaimed the frog.

"And I have made thirty-three more excellent points than this nitwit frog and am currently ahead 982 to 949. At least. When I reach a thousand--"

"That is entirely wrong!" cried the frog. "Absolutely incorrect! I am ahead 961 to 709!"

Phoebe shook her head. There had to be a way of talking about creating that wasn't as silly as this!

"I have another point!" cried the frog. "A wonderful point! An excellent point! The BEST point! If you look at art from a Taoist perspective--"

"Not the Taoist tactic! I won't PERMIT it! I will STING YOU first."

"Watch it, you insect!"

The frog puffed up to twice its size and the bee buzzed like a smoke detector. This was probably the way gods on Mt. Olympus squabbled, Phoebe guessed, finally frying each other with lightning bolts and drowning each other in tsunami tidal waves. How silly of muses and gods!

"I have a question," Phoebe shouted above the din. "Shouldn't you be helping an artist, not fighting?"

This question looked to thoroughly perplex the warring muses, who scrunched up their respective faces into serious frowns.

"What do you mean?" croaked the frog.

"What are you implying?" buzzed the bee.

"Well, take Shostakovich," Phoebe replied. "During World War Two he wrote several war symphonies. Each one has a remarkable story, remarkable in the way that Shostakovich butted heads with his putative patron Stalin, remarkable in the way that he gathered musicians in the middle of such unbelievable hardship so that his concerts could be performed, remarkable in the way that starving and homeless people came and filled concert halls to listen to his symphonies. Remarkable in the way that his music unified and helped so many Russians in the middle of a terrible war. It seems to me that that is what an artist is for and I just wonder why you aren't helping some artist somewhere who is trying to do some good work like that?"

There was a long silence.

"Ridiculous!" the frog finally exclaimed.

"Stupendously ignorant!" agreed the bee. "What an idiot!"

Phoebe sat stunned. She was sure that she had said something true and beautiful. Their reaction was incredible!

"But why not?" she cried, close to stamping her foot.

"You haven't asked the right question," said the frog. "Therefore it is pointless to try to answer."

"Plus," added the bee, "activism is such a tired idea! If you won't take the postmodern into account, there is just no hope for you!"

Phoebe turned back to her hot chocolate. "Well," she muttered, "who knew how disappointing muses could be." She buried herself in her drink and drained it down past the dregs. Finally there was nothing left to do but go.

"I am leaving," she said. "Good day to you!"

She turned away quickly. Therefore she didn't notice that the frog and the bee were stifling smiles. When she was out of earshot, the frog spoke first.

"Very effective! Good work, bee. We did her a real service this morning."

"Excellent work, frog. I liked the Taoist reference. Nice touch!"

"Tremendous point she made about Shostakovich. Lovely. I almost started crying."

"Very nice! May I treat you to another mocha latte grande?"

"By all means! That bickering was truly wearing."

As she walked home, Phoebe thought about self-reliance. She had the feeling that there was a Thoreau essay on the subject ... or was it Emerson? At any rate, the point was indisputable. If you were going to write great symphonies in the middle of a world war and stand up to Stalin and make people a little happier with your music and all of that, you couldn't wait for a frog or a bee to come inspire you. Certainly not THAT frog or THAT bee. Phoebe declared that when it came to creating, there was just no substitute for a person taking personal responsibility. Read more!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ah, Master, You Can Make Me Immortal

From Egon Schiele’s Portraits by Alessandra Comini:

“When I went out to Gustav Klimt’s garden house in Hietzing I was really prepared for anything, because I knew how eccentric he was with that beard and always going about in a sort of monk’s robe and sandals. When he answered the door he was wearing a big monocle in one eye and looked me sedately up and down without saying anything! Finally he said to me: ‘What do you want to come to me for? You have just had your portrait done by a very good painter.’ I was afraid that he was going to turn me down and so I answered quickly, yes, this was certainly true, but that through Klimt I wanted to be made immortal. He accepted that.”

Flattery works wonders, doesn’t it? Read more!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ari's Oasis. 2. The Dancer With Too Many Interests

Magdalene, a dancer, came to the oasis.

"I have too many interests, too many talents," she said. She had on the bluest dress, which made her eyes look wild and fierce. "First, I dance. But I also have a painter's eye. And I love to write. I've been keeping journals for years and years and have thirty fat journals filled with my thoughts. I do collages, digital photography, raku. I write songs. I want to put this all together into something, I want to figure out how to concentrate on one thing, because--" She hesitated. "The fact of the matter is, I never complete anything. I start all these incredible projects but then something else starts to interest me more and I begin on it. That's what's been happening," she ended, trailing off as if her thoughts had failed her.

"The thing you want to put together? What is that?"

"I don't know. I want help with that."

"You have some ideas, no doubt."

"Well, I thought I might do a family history, maybe an oral history or a video history of my family, with my own drawings included. I've thought of doing a novel about fifteenth century France--I've made notes about that. It would be about a young woman who stands up to the French Inquisition and is tortured and sentenced to be burned at the stake. But a young priest helps her escape. I've had the idea to do that novel for the longest time."

"You could do those things," Ari said blandly.

"I could." Magdalene fell silent. "I have so many things I want to do!" she exclaimed suddenly. "I can't seem to choose."

"No," Ari said, "It isn't quite that."

Magdalene colored. "You think I'm just avoiding--"

"No. You think that you're just avoiding choosing. I don't think any such thing. I think the problem is quite different. I think you believe that nothing is worth doing, that neither you nor your efforts matter. The problem isn't that you have too many interests and talents. The problem is that you don't believe that you matter."

"That isn't true! I know that art matters!"

"I didn't say that. You don't believe that you matter."

Magdalene slumped down. Ari noticed that a cool afternoon breeze had come up. He could smell the scent of sweet jasmine tea from the tea shop a few doors down, the scent carried on the desert wind.

"When you told your parents that you wanted to be a dancer, what did they say?" Ari inquired.

"They told me to get a job and dance on the side," Magdalene replied softly.

"They told you that dancing didn't matter."


"When you thought about showing them your poetry, what did you think the next split second?"

"That they wouldn't be interested. That they would tell me to get my real homework done."

"They told you that poetry didn't matter."


"When you hung things on the wall--"

"They told me not to make holes in the wall."

"They told you that visual images didn't matter."


"And music--"

"They hated how much money I wanted to spend on music. And the kind of music! They hated that I always listened to music. They couldn't believe that I could do my homework and also listen to music, even when I brought home straight A's."

"They told you that music didn't matter."


"Did you ever try to talk to them about anything you held as sacred?"


"Because they didn't believe in the sacred."

"They went to church--"

"Did they believe that anything was sacred?"


"Did they believe that you were sacred?"


"Neither do you."

Magdalene's eyes welled up with tears.

"What should I do?"

"Decide to matter. Affirm that you exist. Call yourself sacred."

The desert silence embraced them. At a corner of the oasis, near the Great Well that was encircled by twelve date trees, a man with one leg played a reed flute. His song drifted on the breeze and entered through the open back door.

"I always wanted to write a story about summer camp, when I had my first period," Magdalene said in a dreamy voice. "That story always felt different from the other things I wanted to do. Those other things were clever, intriguing, exciting. But this little story, it had a different feeling."

"You could see your soul in that story?"


"Write that story. Will it matter?"

Magdalene hesitated.

"That's the wall that confronts you, the thought you just had," Ari said. "That story has your soul in it. But the instant I asked you if it mattered, an existential doubt so huge that it swallowed up all of your reasons for existing rose up like bile."

"I hate that I've been ruined this way," Magdalene whispered.

"So, the question is, Do you exist?"

Magdalene began sobbing.

"You'll write this story?" Ari continued.

"Yes," she replied between her sobs.

"If you can't, you'll call me. We'll talk."

"I'd rather come back!" Magdalene exclaimed suddenly. She sat up and brushed back her tears. "If I can't write this story I will come back and see you again."

"It's more than seven thousand miles," Ari said, but not in a way meant to discourage her.

"I know! But I matter enough to make the trip!” Read more!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Exercise Sunday. Two little exercises

Here are two little exercises to try. They are actually VERY big.

1. Intending to Matter

Your ability to create is intimately connected to your intention to matter. If you don’t really think that you, your ideas, or your work matter, you won’t have the motivational juice to create. So I would like you to say ‘I intend to matter’ or ‘I matter’ twenty or thirty times a day. Will you do that?

To do right now: Say “I matter” loud enough for me to hear you. Keep saying it, out loud and without embarrassment.

2. Introducing the ‘big but’ into your life

There are always things up that get in the way of our creating. You might try using the following sentence whenever you hear yourself offering up a reason not to create. ‘Yes, I am tired tonight, BUT I will write anyway.’ ‘Yes, it’s been a stressful day and my nerves are raw, BUT I will write anyway, at least for a few minutes. ‘Yes, I can’t stand it that I’m fighting with John, BUT I will write anyway, even though I don’t feel like it at all.’

To do right now: Take a few minutes and identify two or three obstacles, internal or external, that regularly prevent you from creating Write each one down and append the 'big but.' Read more!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Eric at Home. On Not Throwing Tantrums

Early this week I got an email from my editor at Sourcebooks, the publisher of my forthcoming The Ten Second Pause, which read in part that “for various marketing reasons we are changing the book’s season, title and cover.” If you have only one thing happening in your life, this sort of news is a calamity. If you have many things happening, it is hard to even take notice. The moral: work intensely on the thing right in front of you and have many irons in the fire.

You will have noticed in the way my editor worded her news that I was not being invited to discuss the matter. In fact, she did invite me to give her a call, but the clear unsaid message was, “When you call, I will just repeat this news.” I often wonder if it would be better for me to be a sociopathic, hysterical, narcissitic writer—known as “difficult” in the industry—who throws plates, threatens murder, vanishes for a year, doesn’t meet his deadlines, lies through his teeth, and is one general menace. It’s an interesting question.

If you watch the reality shows—the celebrity hair cutter, restaurant owner, new designer, faded star shows—you will be struck by how downright difficult so many of these folks are. They brazenly lie; they brazenly cheat; they brazenly sell out their friends; they are remarkably brazen and shameless and interestingly indifferent to the world seeing them for who they are. They really don’t care: and they are the winners.

Is unhealthy narcissism a prerequisite for winning in America? (Doesn’t that sound like a line that Carrie would pen in Sex in the City?) This is a very interesting question. If the answer is yes, what should an individual ethical artist do to have a chance at success? What should creativity coaches be suggesting to their clients?—that they practice throwing tantrums and threatening lawsuits? There is the potential for a deep pool of depression awaiting creators at the bottom of this investigation.

The only saving grace is that there must be exceptions to the rule that grandiosity, arrogance, and unhealthy narcissism are prerequisites for success in America. I have said before that the goal of each creator is to prove the exception. It turns out that we must prove the exception in this regard, too. It is exceptional but true that the occasional nice guy and nice gal can manage to succeed in this personality-disordered universe. Read more!

Friday, January 13, 2006

David and Genevieve in Paris. 2. One Glimpses, One Obsesses

An artist sketches. Color, composition, polemics come later. First comes the drawing. Every artist knows where art begins and praises the pure act of drawing. Tintoretto: “Beautiful colors can be bought in any shop but good drawing can only be purchased with the artist’s flesh after years of patient study and sleepless nights.” Dali: “Drawing is the honesty of art because there is no possibility of cheating.”

The artist in Paris sits and sketches because that is the honest thing to do, because it builds his muscles, because it leads him to his compositions, because it is his joy and his passion. No matter if his love is iron sculpture, totem poles, surrealistic ceramics, or the palest watercolors: he pulls out his pad and draws one line after another. So a drawing emerges, that precious thing Gauguin called “the artist’s secret.”

Genevieve is a little nervous about sketching in public. She calls this her “shyness” and suspects that it will have negative consequences on her life as a painter. Aware of her lack of boldness, she worries that she will paint second-hand art out of an inability to speak up and speak out. She envies artists who are unafraid in front of a canvas and who seem not to care what anyone will think. She wants to get there: she wants to get to that place of alchemical boldness, exactly as much as she wanted to come to Pairs. For now, though, she sketches in hiding, off to the side, too shy to make her presence felt. Everything she sketches feels like a glimpse.

David is a bundle of intensity. He is so wired and wound up that he gets rashes from obsessing about the look of this, the meaning of that. He can hardly sleep, so much is on his mind. Therefore you can find him sketching in the dark, like Van Gogh, who would tape a candle to his forehead so as to be able to sketch and paint at night. David is all in a frenzy, though sometimes that frenzy looks like absolute stillness, as he stands, stares at something—even on a pitch black night—and sketches.

Genevieve has gone to bed early, just a little sad. David has been up all night, obsessing. They will not meet today.

“Drawing is a kind of hypnotism”--Pablo Picasso
“Drawing is the basis of art”—Arshile Gorky Read more!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I wanted to use Thursdays to chat about creativity coaching as a practice and as a profession. Today, in my first chat, I thought it would interest you to see the movement a visual artist can make after a single phone creativity coaching session. I am indebted to a new client of mine, Gabrielle Swain, for letting me share some of her images and processes.

In her email responding to my request that she tell me a little bit about what she wanted to work on, Gabrielle wrote: “This year has been a transition year for me from very realistic to more abstract work. This change arose from a conversation in which I was told I wasn't revealing myself through my work. I began to wonder if I was hiding behind the imagery and playing it safe. I have always believed art should be evocative and self-revelatory, and while I believe my imagery is evocative I am wondering if I am putting enough of myself in my art and showing enough of myself to the viewer.”

Gabrielle had been producing the following sort of quilt art:




We chatted. I made suggestions. We created some incantations to remind her of the risks she wanted to take and a plan for tackling more personal work. A few days later the following three images arrived by email.




Along with these images came an email. Gabrielle checked in: “You were so right,” she wrote. “I have been all at sixes and sevens the entire week wondering what I got myself into. The first day back in the studio I was so physically uncomfortable that I finished as soon as possible and literally fled from the room. I am feeling exhausted but suddenly while doing the incantations a sliver of awareness made it between my ears. I’m still not sure that I am being personal enough in the work and I’m still not sure that I see any progress. But I am feeling a change internally.”

This is the territory that a creativity coach and his clients inhabit. Could any work be more fascinating? You can contact Gabrielle at and visit her at Read more!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Phoebe Writes A Novel. 1. Spring in Gold Strike

The first day of spring dawned in Gold Strike, California. The oleander gleamed, the pines sparkled, and the mighty eucalyptus perfumed the clean, crisp air. A brilliant sun shone over the Gold Country and a blue sky surmounted the activities of muses and mortals alike. For the hundred miles between the state capital and Platinum Lake, every available squirrel stopped for a second to usher in spring with a prayer for peanuts.

In Phoebe Barlow's house on Pistachio Street, all was quiet. Thirteen-year-old Phoebe's parents had already left for work, her mom to Roosevelt Hospital, where she was a bioethicist, her dad to Evergreen College of Arts and Ideas, where he taught classes in interdisciplinary creativity. Her sister Anastasia was off to university. Her brother Thomas was away in Iceland, playing new music with a band of wild Scandinavians. Lexington, Listerine, Hoot, and Minerva, the Barlow's cats, were around, but they were a pampered bunch and only broke the silence when their food dish plummeted to half-empty.

Usually some muses were also about, but they too made no noise. The house could be full of them--Harold Spider, Monica Butterfly, Melanie Caterpillar, Adam Snail, Myrtle Mouse, and more--and you wouldn't have a clue. Melanie Caterpillar might be lounging in your potted geranium, Harold Spider might have burrowed deep in among your books, and as far as you knew your house was tidy and muse-free. Muses were even quieter than indoor cats, which made them about the quietest creatures in nature.

And if you actually needed a muse!--well, then they became downright invisible. There might be a lizard muse right behind your bowl of vegetable soup, a whole troop of them holding a meeting in the tunnel of your rolled-up poster, and, since you needed one, since you had no idea what to write for your science paper on fulcrums and levers, you could train your strongest magnifying glass on every corner of your house and not spot a trace of a muse, not a web, not a wing, not a footprint. Phoebe understood why most people skipped creating, the invisibility of muses-when-you-needed-them being what it was.

"Muses!" Phoebe thought. "They are not nearly as romantic as people make them out to be."

Phoebe had six classes in eighth grade--math, science, history, English, French and P. E.--a free period, which twice a week she filled with Lincoln Middle School's Freethinkers' Club--and lunch. Next for her would be Wilson High School and a good state college. But in her heart of hearts she dreamed of going to Presidio High School, the special high school for gifted students in the capital, and then directly to Paris and the Sorbonne.

She had already decided not to live on either the Left Bank or the Right Bank but instead on the island in between, where Notre Dame and several excellent ice cream stands could be found. From there she would hop right or left according to her mood, right to the Picasso Museum and the bird markets, left to the book stalls, the Rodin museum, and, well, school. In her mind, Phoebe had frequent encounters with her cruel concierge, who always complained and criticized. "No painting allowed in your room!" she would cry at Phoebe's passing figure. Or "Good girls never wear that shade of red!" Phoebe was thrilled to have a cruel concierge in her future.

Phoebe wondered if Paris got snow. Gold Strike definitely got snow. Even with spring arriving, you couldn't be sure that a snowstorm wouldn't materialize out of a clear blue sky. The highest Sierras were snow-capped year round and Gold Strike was only three thousand feet below the Donner summit, where legendary tragedies occurred in the days of wagon trains and pioneer settlers.

Phoebe got together her math homework for Mrs. Knievel, her history homework for Mr. Teasdale, her English homework for Mrs. Edison, her science homework for Mr. Soo, and her French homework for Miss Labelle. As she picked up her French homework she revealed Harold Spider.

"Good morning," Phoebe said.

"Morning," Harold Spider said, stretching. "What beautiful light! Quite Alpine."

"Only 48 more days of school, Harold. The eighth grade takes forever!"

"Wait until your junior year of high school."

"Thank you very much!"

"Sorry," Harold Spider apologized. "But college is quite nice. Particle accelerators and classes that don't start until eleven in the morning."

"I will certainly have no need for a particle accelerator," Phoebe replied crossly. "I mean, don't particles travel fast enough on their own?"

"Good point," Harold Spider agreed. "Though I'm not much of a physicist muse."

"Are there physicist muses?"

"Of course. Where there are physicists."

"So what kind of muse are you? Because that would tell me what sort of artist you muses suppose me to be. Wouldn't it now?"

"My dear, that is a bit of secret. Excuse me while I hunt up a fly."

Phoebe shrugged. It was the kind of answer you expected from muses. In her own mind she supposed that she would become a writer, or maybe a writer and a visual artist (children's books sprang to mind), or maybe something she couldn't visualize, a rasferatu or a krangwingbu, something that didn't even exist yet, a new kind of artist. After all, the traditional roles were so stale: painting images on rectangular panels for hanging on walls, writing arch short stories for literary magazines that nobody read, hopping around half-naked in music videos for screaming teens. No, even if new genre public artists were doing things that were strange and downright silly, like making ice sculptures and photographing them while they melted, or creating arty upscale shopping carts for the homeless, at least they were trying to break free from the conventional, the tired, the moribund.

Lost in thought, Phoebe filled up her backpack, made herself some cinnamon-apple instant oatmeal, and ate her cereal by the window nook with its view of the wild back garden that no one tended.

"But the novel isn't dead," she heard herself say. "At least, I hope not! Because I do want to write my novel about an all-girl rock-and-roll band stranded on a desert island. I am looking forward to writing that novel and I would HATE to think that I might write a fine novel whose only problem is that novels are old hat!"

It was time to leave for school. Phoebe had to switch her mind to conjugating French verbs. "Je suis, tu es, il est, elle est," she began, in that sing-song way known to all conjugators of French verbs. She had a French quiz, probably a pop science quiz, and who knew what other indignities waiting for her at school. "Can I survive until Paris and the Sorbonne?" she groaned, letting herself out and shutting the front door behind her.

A bright morning sun shone down on Gold Strike. Phoebe passed one nut street after another: Peanut, Walnut, Pecan, Macadamia. She passed the High Country Diner, Miss Alma's School of Dance, the All Things Golden antique store, the Sutter's Mill real estate office, and the Gold Strike Collective ceramic studio. The High Country Diner was already full of tourists who had spent the night in Gold Strike and gotten up early, their appetites whetted by the mountain air and the beautiful spring morning. Now it could rightly be called a beautiful spring morning, Phoebe reckoned, since spring had officially arrived. That made her think of the naming and dividing of things, like years into seasons, which made her think of Vivaldi ...

"Paris!" she cried spontaneously. Then, mustering every ounce of will power, she returned to her conjugation. "Je suis, tu es, il est, elle est ... " Finally Abraham Lincoln Middle School appeared. Phoebe picked up her pace, suddenly in a rush to get another day of eighth grade behind her. Read more!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Two Pistols, One Expected, One Unexpected

Thomas Eakins meets Rosa Bonheur.

From The Life and Works of Thomas Eakins, by Gordon Hendricks:

“From Tom’s acquaintance with Germain Bonheur we were invited to his parent’s home. His sister Rosa Bonheur was there on a visit from her home in Fontainebleau. Below she wore skirts but her upper attire resembled that of a man. She was very bossy and dictatorial with the family, and when Germain differed from her on any point she would tell him to go to bed! Tom was speaking of our national mechanical skill and to illustrate the point he pulled out from his pocket his Smith & Wesson revolver. (I know of no other person in Paris who carried one!) Rosa put HER hand in her pocket and pulled out one of the same make. She acquired the habit of carrying it during her sketching at Fontainebleau.”

An artist may be sensitive. That doesn’t mean that she has to go unarmed! Read more!

Monday, January 09, 2006

ARI'S OASIS. 1. The Writer Who Craved Discipline

A market town had flourished at this oasis in the desert for more than two thousand years. Travelers from the East and the West stopped here to shop the twisting alleys of the Bazaar, to buy blown glass, spices, and oil, to sit in the deep shade and sip sweet tea, to buy and sell treasures, to sing songs, and to write poetry. Some made the trek, even from thousands of miles away, just to meet with Ari, a man with a great beard who saw clients in the back of his daughter's bookstore and gallery.

His daughter Maya was a glass artist who sold her art--along with scented candles, totems, musical instruments, and books--in a dark shop with a curtained entrance at the center of the Bazaar. It took you twenty minutes to get to Ari's room at the back of Maya’s shop no matter which entrance to the Bazaar you selected, and kings and beggars, talk show hosts and hermits, each had to make the same pilgrimage, past the rug merchants and the stalls with their hammered brass lamps and filigreed incense burners. There were no short-cuts, no special treatment. Ari's clients knew that intuitively, without having to be told; they knew that each would be treated alike and that each had to make the same journey.

Ari would counsel you by phone or by E-mail, if that was your preference. Many creators chose that route, since their lives were busy and the desert was far away. But a surprising number came in person. Creative and would-be creative people from every corner of the globe negotiated the narrow, teeming alleys of the Bazaar and arrived at Maya's shop--writers came, entrepreneurs came, rock musicians on tour came, scientists came. All found their way to the shop at the center of the oasis.

Ari's wife, Rose, took care of unwanted babies, hugging them, kissing them, singing to them and playing with them. That was her job and her life. Ari's daughter Soledad, two years older than Maya, lived in Barcelona, where she taught bioethics at the great university and wrestled with life and death issues at Barcelona's main hospital. Ari's son Abraham was a foreign correspondent whose bravery and hatred of petty dictators was legendary. Ari, for his part, loved strong coffee, which he took black, baklava, the smell of cinnamon, and truth, beauty, and goodness.

One day a young writer named David, pained that he had not completed a single one of the twenty stories he had begun in the past year-and-a-half, came to see Ari.

"I am so undisciplined!" David blurted out as soon as he was seated. "What is discipline?"

Ari stared at the young man without smiling. Then he replied, "For an artist, the word 'discipline' has a special meaning." He fixed David with his gaze. "Let's say that the urge to write about something welled up in your soul. You understand that feeling?"


"What are your two possible responses?"

David thought for a moment. "To say 'no' to the urge or to say 'yes' to the urge."

Ari nodded. "If you said 'no' to the urge, maybe you would go out and exercise. Maybe every time you said no to your creativity, you would exercise, one time jogging, another time lifting weights, and so forth. If you did that all the time you might get very fit. What might people say about you?"

David pondered the question. "Well, I think that people would say ... that I was very disciplined!"

"Exactly. But would you be writing or completing your stories?"


"Would you be a creator or something else?"

"Something else."

"For a creator, discipline means creating regularly. It can have no other meaning. Being disciplined in some other way, like doing yoga every morning or doing superb work at your day job, is not only not an artist's discipline but it may even be avoidance of an artist's nature. So, you ask, what is discipline? For an artist, it is artist's discipline and no other kind of discipline, not even the very important discipline of the alcoholic artist who maintains sobriety or the depressed artist who maintains hope."

"I understand!" David pulled on his short brown beard. "But how can I acquire artist's discipline?"

"Imagine that you've been placed on a spinning beach ball and that you can just maintain your balance. It takes every ounce of effort to keep yourself upright, every ounce of mental and physical dexterity. Could you also write?"

"No. Not as you described it."

"No, you couldn't. What would artist's discipline mean in that context?"

David thought for some time. He imagined that if he got very skilled at riding the beach ball, maybe he would then possess the wherewithal to also write. He could picture a great acrobat twirling on the beach ball and also drinking lemonade and writing War and Peace. That image was very seductive. The great acrobat's mastery was impressive and also looked easy, effortless. Why couldn't he learn to handle life, no matter how chaotic and demanding it might be, and also write? But in the pit of his stomach he understood what riding on that ball would feel like. It would never be possible to write, not so long as he had to maintain his balance.

"I would have to fall off the ball first," he murmured.

"Or hop off!" Ari laughed. "Yes. On and off, on and off, one minute in the whirlwind of spinning life and the next minute in the deep quiet of not riding the ball. The first step is hopping off the spinning ball. Then you will meet yourself, in stillness, in all your nakedness, without that balancing act to distract you or occupy your thoughts. What will be spinning then?"

"My stomach!" David blurted out.

"Exactly. Then and only then will you get to create. Then you will find yourself in the very best anxiety, in real quiet, married to your own thoughts. Then you will write and finish things."

David nodded. He knew what Ari meant. But he didn't know how to acquire that discipline.

"Go now," Ari said before David could ask his next question.


"You have the idea. Now master it."


"Go now."

David got up reluctantly. A few seconds later he found himself back in the tumult of the Bazaar. Just as he emerged from the shop, a shaft of mid-afternoon desert sunshine completely blinded him. Read more!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Episode 1. Two Cokes, Two Cafes

Paris is the artist’s home. An artist, arriving in Paris for the first time, instantly feels as if he’s returned to a place he has known and loved his whole life. The writer John Holmes explained: “So deeply embedded in the world’s dream of freedom, youth, art and pleasure has this city become that, when you arrive, you feel a strange pang evoked in you—a pang of nostalgia.”

The ordinary sights of the city are rendered extraordinary because of these associations. It is therefore the ordinary sights that visual artists endeavor to capture: the look of a bench, the façade of a building, the Seine at night, a flower market. These simple sights tug at an artist’s heart. He is compelled to grab his sketchbook, set down his easel, or pull out his camera and capture what he is feeling. An artist’s heart is set to beating by the simple sights of Paris.

Yesterday or the day before one such artist arrived: his name is David. So did another: her name is Genevieve. Will they meet, make love, and stay together for a few wild hours? Will they last longer than that? Or will the fates roll out a different story, leaving David to take up with a café singer and Genevieve with an Italian? Well, we can’t say yet. Each has just arrived—and is already completely immersed in the dream and the life of Paris.

An artist comes to Paris to be charmed. She is ready to smile, to nod at strangers, to let down her guard. Genevieve crosses Boulevard Montparnasse, her sketchbook and pens at the ready in her portfolio, and glances up: the café in front of her is called “The Dog Who Smokes.” Exactly right!

She has come for the cafes but she has also come for the café names. She has come a long way just for the sake of the cafés, for the legendary ones like Le Procope, Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, and Brasserie Lipp, but even more for the sake of the ordinary ones like The Dog Who Smokes. She has come for the ordinary café that will become her personal spot, the place where she sits and sketches and watches the world. That is her real living room, her real Parisian home, the café on any corner.

Genevieve buys a Coke.

David is out walking at dawn, at midday, at dusk, and late at night. A student of light, a child of the Impressionists, he holds light as his subject, his very reason for being. Midday it is sunlight—at night it is moonlight and light cast by the lamps of Paris. His first look at the nighttime Seine took his breath away. He had seen it a million times in films, books, photographs, and even as genetic memory but nothing prepared him for how this first glimpse felt. He may have his own way of working and his own way of seeing that appear to owe nothing to any tradition but when he saw the Seine last night he felt like a living link to something very ancient.

In Paris the artist sees art everywhere. No matter where he has come from, he has never experienced an art environment like this. There are the great museums, the art galleries, the architecture, and the street art. Like every artist before him, David rummages through the bins of old prints at the stalls by the Seine, taking in images whose faded glory remind him that art has been made here for a thousand years.

Here a sixteenth-century map whose calligraphy is art, there a Belle Epoque print of princesses at the ball: the images may make him smile, so far has art moved in the ensuing centuries. He may paint in a way that would flabbergast these bygone artists but he is still their good friend. He handles this Seine-side art lovingly. Then he moves on, stopping after awhile to buy himself a Coke. But it is at another café, not at The Dog Who Smokes.

Will David and Genevieve meet soon? Check back and see! Read more!

Welcome to my blog!

This is my first blog post. I am very excited! This is a view out the bedroom window of the apartment Ann and I will be renting in Paris for the month of July. It seemed to me that I couldn't start this blog with a better image! Read more!