Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bravo, America!

It's wonderful to feel patriotic again. I had actually forgotten what it felt like, until the night of Barack Obama's election. Joy and peace reigned in the city of Oakland that night, in a way I have never seen it before.
When I decided to write a blog entry about this happiness, though, I found that it was amazingly harder to write about than my complaints and disgust with the previous administration. The darker emotions are such powerful muses that they seem to write about themselves; I hardly have to do any work at all. But happiness, now there's a slippery fish!
I'm sure that our new president will give us plenty of things to complain about, we can't imagine he will please all of us all of the time. So when he does, I'm sure to speak quickly, and hopefully with some eloquence and critical wit. For now, I am just happy to breathe in the autumn air and kick colorful leaves along the curb.
Mostly I'm writing today to say "Bravo, America!" Thank you, thank you, for recognizing a good and intelligent man. Thank you for discerning the subterfuge of some, and the inadequacies of others.
Maybe the film industry played a part in teaching folks how to judge a good performance from a bad one. Then, thank you Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, along with those other nameless film professionals who taught us to recognize bad acting when we see it.
May the great creative spirit who goes by many names bless our country, and our planet.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Debate, what debate?

The longer I live, the more fascinated I am with the human mind. I wonder if there aren't some physiological factors that determine the vast differences between opinions and observations. I mean, is it possible that the shape of our ear canals, for example, make words sound different to each of us. . .so much so that they take on different meanings? Our current presidential election campaign is a good field of study in this regard. What makes one person hang rapturously on every memorized cliche that comes out of Sarah Palen's mouth, while another person wonders whether Sarah hasn't begun mocking Tina Fey, and is waiting for everyone to get the joke.
During that so-called debate, for example, I thought she might have been auditioning for Saturday Night Live, (hey, T.F. watch out or yer gunna be out of werk here darn soon).
But seriously folks, it wasn't Saturday Night Live, it was only Thursday, and God knows she wasn't funnin' us. The wise cracking, repetitious, self-determined monologue we heard from Mrs. Palen was only punctuated with peripheral dialog from the moderator and Palen's opponent. She listened to him just enough to pick up the key words that set her off on the next rehearsed, commercial-like message.
As a person who grew up learning to debate in actual forensic competitions, and who has taught and prepared students for the rigors of forensic debate, I was dumbfounded to see that poor facsimile of a debate qualify as part of our process for selecting national leadership. If the debates are truly for the sake of informing the American people, it seems to me that the moderator should have been able to request or direct Governor Palen to answer the question at hand.
Clearly, Senator Biden had prepared to debate a peer. He had given his adversary the highest respect in planning for an exchange of ideas and factual counterpunching. What he was given in return was a person of limited knowledge and experience who was groomed to combat reason with slogans, falsehoods, and innuendo. The press was waiting to catch Biden disrespecting his opponent because she was a woman, but when that woman disrespected him, her bad manners and wise-cracking comebacks were hailed as political accuity.
Of course, I must give her credit for her pre-debate strategy. She did such a brilliant job of preparing the world for a Burns and Allen experience through her television interviews, that all she had to do was stay at her podium repeating campaign slogans to win kudos from the press and Republican viewers across the country.
So I am still wondering if there isn't some physiological component to the vast difference in human comprehension. I know about nature and nurture, but there still seems to be a missing link in determining what makes us look at the same cow and argue about whether it is a black animal with white spots, or a white animal with black spots. At least we agree on the name.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Trickle Down Theory has married the American Dream

This financial crisis is a consequence of the cold civil war going on in the United States. Just as Ronald Reagan promised when he began deregulation, greed and visions of grandeur trickled down to even neighborhood realtors and bank officers who passed it on to others who believed that they too could be as affluent as those sitcom families of television. The Trickle Down Theory has married the American Dream, and now every working man and woman can know the same type of financial disaster that once was reserved for the wealthy and the would be-wealthy.
The situation with the California budget fiasco is another sign of the cold war we are living through. It's always "Us" against "Them". Left versus Right. Donkeys versus Elephants. Red versus Blue, just like the gangs in the hood. No wonder there is so much violence in our communities. We are at war with ourselves. We don't need to think about Al Qaeda to feel afraid.
It's no wonder that we cannot help the Israelis and Palestinians find peace; we don't know what peace is. This is not a peaceful country. This is a country in which people have trouble sleeping at night. People have trouble digesting their food. Watch, mindfully, the ads on your television screen for one evening (you can even watch them with the sound off). You will come away with a list of medications designed to help (but not cure) every possible malady: hypertension, acid reflux, impotence, bladder spasms, diarrhea, diabetes, headaches, arthritis, allergies, and on and on. You will see an add for a diet system, sure to make you slim, followed by an ad for seductively steaming mashed potatoes laced with gravy as a side dish to glistening crispy fried chicken, lip-smackin' good. Advertising seems to be set up like political time, there needs to be a "rebuttal" to everything. And the one thing that all ads have in common is that the truth of their message is not to be assumed. Let the buyer beware.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Your soul is a sunflower
that has grown to such a height,
you can no longer contain it.

As it bursts forth, your sun seeds fall
back into the hearts of loved ones,
to be cherished and tended with care.

A very dear friend died last Saturday. His name is Robert Rice, and he was one of the finest men I’ve ever known. If the word gentleman had not already existed, it would have been invented to describe Robert.
He was enormously talented. He had danced with the Merce Cunningham dance company, and kept dance as a vibrant part of his life. He was an accomplished painter whose work was always rigorous and beautiful. Perhaps his greatest talent, though, was as a teacher. The classroom was an exciting place for Robert. It was a magical blending of energies creating a transformation environment.
It was his courage that made him so good at everything he did. At one point he was having considerable success selling beautiful paintings, but he knew that he had taken his technique as far as he could. It wasn’t teaching him anymore, and he wasn’t excited about the prospect of the next piece. So, he just stopped. “Well, I’m not working like that anymore,” he said to me one day. “I’m going to go in a whole new direction.” And in order to do that, he made a new level of commitment to his work: he rented a little cabin with none of the amenities (electricity, for example), and he lived like a religious hermit for three years. After he’d been in his hermitage for about a year I saw him and he joyfully declared, “Oh, I’m making paintings that are so ugly! You have to see them! I’m really happy with the direction the work is taking.”
As teaching colleagues we met up in a meeting one day and he dropped into a chair beside me. “These people are so challenging,” he said. “I had my class prepared for this morning, and I started out directing them in a certain kind of movement, and they just didn’t want to do it. And I spent hours preparing that class.” I asked how he had handled the situation. “Well, I asked them what they wanted to do, and slowly they created the whole class. I followed their lead.” That ability to listen, receive, respect, and move with the creative energy of the moment is what made Robert such a terrific teacher, and an artist of life, itself.
As a friend, you could talk to him about anything. He was never judgmental, never overbearing. He was always tender, compassionate, and supportive. His spirit will live on in everyone who was lucky enough to know him and learn from him.
You can see his inevitably beautiful work on his website:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

This blog has taught me something I guess I've never realized about myself: When it comes to my work, I'm a perfectionist. I can't seem to get myself to just write something and send it out. Consequently, there are not too many blog entries, in case anybody is actually reading them. So today's blog is my first step to freeing up my own creative writing process for the sake of blogging more freely and adventurously.
Each entry is accompanied by a piece of my visual work in an attempt to bring writing and visual art together, within the Coaching arena. Some may say that these things have nothing to do with Coaching. Coaching is about achieving our goals, breaking past our limitations, and learning to be our own cheering squad. Well, nothing teaches those things like a commitment to art. I know firsthand that artists have to learn to deal with rejection, competition, and the realities of a challenging market place.
Being an artist is a little like internet dating, in that you are forced to put yourself out into the world, expressing your most personal feelings and ideas. You constantly feel vulnerable. You know that there are thousands of other artists out there (in the Bay Area: over 40,000 artists!) vying for attention and selection, and you know that your work is only going to appeal to a few viewers. You just hope and pray to reach the right people.
This is just one of the reasons that I based my Coaching on the creative process. Everyday I seem to learn another parallel between Coaching, Living, and being a committed artist.
Now, I'm going to hit the POST button (okay, I will check for spelling errors) POST!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Creativity as a Healing Force

Creativity as a Healing Force

In 1989 I was invited to be on the Community Advisory Board of an upstart non-profit called Health Through Art: Signs of Recovery. I thought I’d volunteer for a couple of years, just to get the project started. Instead, since then I have become increasingly involved, and am now the only original Board member still on the Community Advisory Board.
The Project has evolved by conducting focus groups every two years, asking people in Alameda County about the burning health issues in their communities and neighborhoods. Then the Project distributes a brochure with the results of those focus groups and a call for art submissions meeting the themes named by the public. Winners receive $500 and their work displayed on billboards, buses, benches, BART stations. Consequently what began as a billboard campaign to combat addiction and racism, has become a multi-media force supporting healthy choices, non-violence, an end to racism, sexism, and all physical and social disorders contributing to unhealthy lives and environments. This is a unique and challenging task.
The Health Through Art Project takes on the challenge of transforming billboards from inner city blight to inspirational messengers of wellbeing. Beyond ad campaigns, billboards are powerful tools of manipulation in the formation of public attitudes. Sexism, racism, addiction, and consumerism are the stock and trade of billboard campaigns. Subtle messages, images, and situations sell unhealthy products and attitudes, for the sake of a profitable return. All that, and the professional skills of the advertising industry make the HTA vision an ambitious crusade.
Over the years the Project has provided such uplifting slogans as: “The best thing about a person you can’t see from the outside”, and “Stay sober, you’re life is riding on it.” One five year old gave us the benefit of his wisdom with a happy face surrounded by a circle of peas and carrots; “Surround yourself with good stuff”, was his simple, Zen-like slogan. I never saw a single person look at that poster without smiling (and now neuroscience is beginning to recognize that a smile has the power to heal the mind). Ever since the discovery of endorphins, even scientists have started to realize the healing power of images, prayers, and intentions.
The Health Through Art Project is always in need of financial and volunteer support. I can tell you that you will always meet good people at events, board meetings, and office visits. You can see the history of winning designs (which you’ve probably seen on an AC Transit bus or in a BART train, if you live in the Bay Area), and learn about our distinguished awards by visiting the Project website: Perhaps you know of a venue for the HTA Roving Art Show, or maybe you’re looking for a worthy volunteer project. Call 510 549-5990. Donations are tax deductible.
I believe in this project so whole-heartedly that I invite all my friends to our events, I hope to meet you there, too sometime.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy New Year!

Just in case you have forgotten or abandoned those new year resolutions you made in January, Chinese New Year allows you to reconsider and redetermine your priorities. So today's the day to set one new goal or one new habit. Tomorrow is waiting to receive you, this is the day to
Fall in love,
Take a stand,
Make an impression
Be a star!

Do Something Different for a Change

On November 18, 2007 one of my dearest friends, Michael Grbich, celebrated his 75th birthday by tap dancing across the Golden Gate Bridge. He did it to embody the message “you are never too old to do exciting, fun, and unpredictable things.” Michael also walks a tight wire (that is stretched across his living room), and he creates fabulous paintings incorporating discarded materials.
Many of you may be saying, “oh, he’s an artist,” as if he were born with an extra set of hands or two brains. Michael is unusual alright, he is unusual because despite the losses he has suffered (and they have been considerable), he refuses to be overwhelmed by the swells of life’s stormy seas. His greatest “weapons” against depression and malaise are gratitude, creativity, and a strong spiritual connection to his physical being.
Those “weapons” empower Michael to joyously entertain the idea of creative risk. He’s willing to risk making a bad painting, or falling down in public for the sake of physical and mental adventure. This keeps life interesting. It keeps him engaged and fully present in every moment. It’s no wonder that people admire and love him.

So how does your life compare with Michael’s? What was your last creative risk? When was the last time you did something out of the ordinary, just for the sake of spontaneity? Just for fun!
Routine and habit are great for making us feel secure and sane, but if we want to keep growing throughout our life, if we want to live joyously, we must be willing to open the doors of chance by welcoming the unpredictable.
You can start with small risks. Buy a vegetable you don’t like, to pique your culinary creativity. Challenge yourself to cook that vegetable in a way that makes it appealing to you. Smear peanut butter on it, or grill it with you favorite barbecue sauce.
Try parting your hair on the other side of your head. Get a henna tattoo that will fade in a week. Wear your t-shirt inside out. Do something different for a change.

Add unexpected choices into each day. Surprise yourself! This will prepare you for dealing with the improbable when it’s thrown at you, and that could happen any day now.