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Instruments of Change: Community Sounds in Contemporary Classical New Music

November 4, 2017

Street Beats Band 2016. Photo: Jan Gates

For years, I have longed to make music but I had missed the opportunity to learn as a child.  Earlier this year, as I sat with a musician friend watching videos of new world music, I spotted a percussionist playing some grooves on a bottle.  “I could play the bottle!” I declared.  My friend laughed and we thought no more about it.

The next week, while looking for a woodworking class, I happened upon an advertisement to join the Street Beats Band, at the Roundhouse Community Centre, in Vancouver.  Street Beats Band is an urban percussion community band that makes grooves on found objects.  I remembered that street musician playing the bottle and decided to take the leap.

Street Beats  is a 2 year project produced by Instruments of Change, a not for profit organization founded by flutist and activist Laura Barron.  The project was commissioned by David Pay of Music on Main for the International Contemporary Music Society’s World Music Days in Vancouver, this week.

The mission of Instruments of Change, is to use “the arts as an educational tool to empower individuals to become instruments of transformative change in their own lives.  By expanding community access to cultural activities, we allow diverse populations to make and experience music and art.”

We asked Laura Barron to reflect on the inspiration for creating this platform and project:

I’ve always been a social activist but mostly not in a music capacity.  I worked as a phone crisis worker for Vancouver rape relief and women’s shelter and I taught yoga at a downtown East women’s shelter and in a women’s prison.  I did some music as a performer in hospice, doing therapeutic music, not music therapy,  but I was not finding a way to really intersect my musical expertise with the kind of empowering work that I wanted to do in a social engaged way.

Instruments of Change was born out of that interest and I took a class at SFU on exploring art for social change for mid career professional both from the arts sectors and from the social sectors: artists wanting to find a way to apply their work in social contexts and social service workers wanting to infuse their work with more art.

It’s a really great meeting of minds and I got tremendous inspiration and ideas from that course but also met probably a dozen collaborators that I’ve since done many of the projects that are Instruments of Change initiatives.

Among the initiatives are the Women Rock programme, Artist in School programmes locally and internationally, the Stick Together programme and Street Beats, amongst others.

This (Street Beats) project was born out of my constant interest to find the most accessible ways for anyone and everyone to make music.  

Surely we can all find objects and surely we all have a heartbeat and we can stick together with a groove and so it is, in my opinion, the most democratic kind of music making that I could think of.

My board member and good friend Dave Pay who runs Music on Main got the bid for Vancouver to be the host city of the International Society of Contemporary Music World New Music conference three years ago, and once he knew this big conference was going to happen here, he knew that he wanted one community engaged piece in this rather challenging, complex, avant garde music context which is not unheard of but not that common.

Community music often you know takes its form in choirs, in drum circles and other kinds of music but has very rarely intersected with this more esoteric classical new music context.

A resourceful, multi-talented musician with a multi-disciplinary team and a network of community partners, Laura Barron set about creating a transformational community music experience.

I’d already been doing some found object drumming and thought this very democratic music making form could work extremely well and of course be fused with any number of composed classical elements.

We had first just a Street Beats band to learn what community was capable of doing, what kind of rhythms were possible, how we were going to teach those, learn those together, strategies for working with the community, what sounds were possible out of these instruments.

James Maxwell, our composer, whom David Pay selected, observed that process (in the first year and a half) and let that inform the piece that he wrote for us to play collectively.

As a community band, Street Beats Band plays percussion on found objects from the city streets.  Aside from the affordability issues involved in equipping a band with instruments, we wondered about the appeal of found objects:

Duke Ellington said “You gotta work with what you got.”

Anyone…at any time…with whats available to them…can be musical and creative and artistic.

And we’re doing some pretty complex rhythms right? Look at this really complicated piece that many of you who have not played an instrument or certainly not played a drum before are able to do right?  And that’s something over my years of leading community ensembles I’ve realized is that there’s just a greater, faster learning curve when you’re just paring it down to one music element which is rhythm.  Though some people say ‘I can’t keep a beat’ or some people say ‘I’m tone deaf.’  I don’t really believe it.  I think we can all eventually connect to our own inner pulse in the inner ear.

 

Photo: Allef Vinicius

 

Teaching those who have not traditionally had the opportunity to make music can sometimes present unique challenges, particularly for a diverse and inclusive group of community members.  Through the use of pneumonics, and music theory which is stated in everyday language. Laura Barron and fellow musicians and facilitators Martin Fisk and Robin Reid, have managed to take a group of individuals who might not have made music and who did not know one another and turn them into a cohesive band.

It’s always my job to find the most skilled, multifaceted musicians who can play those roles because that does not just require that you’re a good performer or require that you’re a good teacher but requires that you have you know true facilitation skills and understand how to work with a broad demographic, understand how to work with people who might have language challenges – we have a few people in the group that are ESL – and in the first iteration we had some people with mental illness.  And those are things that when you open your doors that are possible and we really want to be as inclusive as we can so I’ve built a great team over the years for all our projects of these multi-talented artists who have the sensitivity and the skills within their disciplines to do this work well.  

The found objects that Street Beats band members play range from buckets to frying pans, thanks to the Vancouver binners’ community.

The involvement of the binners came in the nascent stages because I’ve always been super interested in trash and concerned about trash.  Since I was a little kid.  I used to have nightmares that we’d have nowhere left to put the trash, that we’d be living in piles of trash and then I went to India and realized that some places people live like that.

The binners are our foremost repurposers and recyclers in our city.  They hear and see and think in ways very different from most of the rest of us and I knew of their work and I knew of the Binners’ Project which is a non-profit which supports them was really trying to raise their profile in the city, legitimize what they’re doing, provide better income opportunities for them and I thought wouldn’t it be great if we could actually hire them and pay them to be the curators of our instruments?  So that’s what they did to create this whole inventory that we’ve held onto throughout the whole two years of the project.

 

Photo: Lakerain Snake

 

The Binners’ Project was on my radar as a passion and interest of mine and I approached them and they were thrilled to be involved, right in the early days of the project.  I walked their routes with them and went to their meetings.  You know when you build these community partnerships its all about trust, and building connection.  

And I’ve since hired them for other projects.

One of my school projects was a kind of found object project and I brought the binners in to talk about being responsible, non wasteful citizens and that was fantastic for the kids and those adults who said they have often not been made to feel welcome in those spaces.  So to be paid and asked to come in and be an expert on something in a school environment was super confidence-building for them.

 

The Street Beats project has evolved over the two years, with the first year’s performance of Street Beats Band being solely urban percussion composed by 4 community groups.

 

A sample of the 2016 grooves:

 

 

In 2017, Street Beats Band will be accompanied by professional musicians, Music On Main All-Star Band to collectively play a classical score married with a sonic landscape of the built/urban environment composed for the festival by James Maxwell entitled Eight or nine, six or seven.

 

Photo: Dayne Topkin

 

Music on Main is a fluid group of musicians that have known each other and played together for years.  It was always the concept that they would be featured in the piece.

We’ve had City funding for two years, Instruments of Change funding, partnerships with the Roundhouse who lets us have our space for free, the Binners’ Project the UBC Learning Exchange that is also in the downtown east side and let us store the instruments for free so all in all this is probably a $50,000 project so we had to work towards success.  

We never use volunteer facilitators.  One of the things that drives this is how much I value the arts and want to impart a value of the arts in everyone we reach and so by allowing participants to make and do art, of course that increase the value in their lives but paying artists commensurate professional rates is one of the most important ways I can demonstrate value for the arts.  

 Certainly there seems to be some interest in having a community found object band so we don’t know what the future might hold but this was a two-year project.  We‘ve asked for nine 3-hour sessions from you all and that’s already quite a lot for people’s busy lives.

Barron hopes that her work will encourage people to participate and support her programmes.  The more people that participate, the more it proves to funders that arts are  worth funding.

Having worked so hard for a successful performance this weekend, we wondered how Barron will know if this has been achieved:

I really hope that it inspires other people to realize that there’s music around them everywhere.  There’s the possibility to make music with things you might not have considered instruments before so that might happen to some of our audience members or participants.  

And then I think that probably all of us underestimated what would be possible merging a community ensemble and a contemporary new music classical ensemble and so all of those composer that are in the room – hundreds at least, from around the world – I imagine are going to be quite impressed and inspired not necessarily to write a piece for found object drum ensemble but to have confidence in what non-traditional music makers are capable of.  

That’s what I really hope to see.

 

Photo: Marcos Luiz

 

We asked Barron to consider that which brings her the greatest joy and for which she is most grateful:

My greatest joy in life is allowing people to find their true voices while I find my own.  And, as a passionate connector, I am most grateful for my relationships with family, friends and community.

 

Of course, you may be wondering: Has Instruments of Change and my participation in Street Beats Band transformed my life?

Making music together is a one of a kind bonding experience.  People I considered strangers just weeks ago have become a part of me and I will miss playing with them, come Monday.  Playing in Street Beats has given me the confidence to seek out new and varied ways of making music.  I have joined a community harmony workshop, joined the Vancouver folk society to attend sing alongs, as well as the Pacific Bluegrass society that hosts jam sessions for Old Time and Bluegrass players.  I am set to pick up my new ukulele – which I am told is an easy first string instrument to play –  this week.  My preference is for world music and jazz, and my bandmates  have even talked about continuing our grooves together in informal jam sessions.  Whatever the future holds, I have become a musician through this process, and I don’t intend to stop.

It has been an empowering transformation to participate in the band.

I hope that you, too, will find a way to engage with this wonderful work.

 

James Maxwell’s Eight or nine, six or seven will be performed (free) by Instruments of Change Street Beats Band and the Music on Main All-Star Band on Saturday 4 November and Sunday 5 November at 11 AM at the Roundhouse Community Centre, at the corner of Davie & Pacific, Vancouver, BC.

 

 

 

Milestone

Into the 4th Year…

August 28, 2017

Photo: Melanie Magdalena

As we enter our 4th year of Gratitude Practice, a word of Thanks….

On the 17th of August, we marked the 3rd year of this gratitude practice.  We had a party to celebrate our first year on 20 August 2015, but I started this practice on Facebook on the 17 August, 2014.

In prior years, I’ve looked back at what we’ve achieved, but this has not been an easy year for me.  I have to admit that I’ve struggled to stay positive and to be grateful.  Depression, panic, and anger  have been my companions as much as gratitude, joy, and oneness.  I’ve been stuck in my own pain more than I have been able to serve, it seems.  And, because its been such a difficult year to keep that balance a positive one, our anniversary passed, without me noticing it.

But, as much as I – and maybe you – have struggled with a personal or professional life that have been painfully disappointing and faced, every day, the darkening of the world news, we have stayed the course and we deserve to celebrate that.

I have always said that I am personally most inspired by moments of gratitude found in the darkest hour.  And frankly life is always a dance with adversity as much as it is with ease and joy.  We started this journey of gratitude on Facebook when I was terribly ill.  Daily gratitude practice helped me to overcome that challenge and to inspire others.  Internal challenges are not as cut and dried and progress as easy to see as when it is when the issue is physical.  I understand that.  And yet, we are still here.

We are all still here!

I have learned that frequent practice is essential in difficult times.  During the year, I returned to a daily practice on Facebook, with friends, and I’m sorry that I was not in a place to be able to write publicly as much as I would have wished I could.  Most of us are not able to give our best when we are struggling and I urge you to go gently with yourselves in your own times of sorrow.

I have also learned that grief is a lonely place.

I have faced judgement for being depressed or angry or for experiencing anxiety this year.  Not for the experience itself, but because it stretched on too long for the patience of others.  When someone dies, people are, for example, sympathetic for the first week following the loss.  But compassion fades.  From experience, those who are in touch with their loss and their emotions surrounding loss do not generally get over it within a week, or even a year.  It is usually that second week, second month,  and second year that is the loneliest for those who are struggling to put their life together again after the shock of a loss.  When one has truly grieved a loss, life will never, ever be the same again.

I never aimed to create a saccharine site where all we did was write ‘It’s all good,’ and then stuffed our suffering down into the depths of our souls where it could ferment and cause illness.  To me, the most meaningful offering I can give to others is to say ‘My life is difficult and I’m feeling awful and I can’t seem to want to get out of bed.  But I’m working these tools of gratitude (and joy, oneness and service to find meaning and purpose) all with faith that this low moment will pass.’  I invite you to witness as much of my journey as I can bear to reveal and you can bear to witness, so that you will know that you are not the only one who sometimes struggles with loss and grief and anger and panic that seems will never end.  I applaud anyone – including myself – for trying each day to apply the tools, even when it feels impossible.

I will never judge you for your grief.  Instead, I hope that you will find a place of solace, here.

Let us never use our commitment to these practices to shame one another for not doing as well at our work as someone thinks we should be doing, or for having difficult and dark emotions or for cursing or otherwise behaving imperfectly in times of distress.  We know when we are not doing as much as we wish we could.  We are all doing the best that we can.  I will never judge you for trying and falling down on your gratitude practice.  I will, if only by example, try my very best to encourage you to keep getting back up again when life sucks so hard you don’t know where to turn.

Fall 9,999 times; Get  up 10,000 times.

Together, we WILL make Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.

 

As I do each year, I re-affirm my commitment to living a grateful life through 10,000 days spent observing that for which I am grateful, and making my life one of service to life itself, living a life of joy, from a sense of purpose, and of Oneness experienced through the awe of nature, art and spirituality.

I will tell my story of this journey because I believe that storytelling is how life’s meaning is revealed.  And I invite you to share your stories, in the comments, in an interview or in some new – as yet unknown manner – because it is in mutual sharing that community is forged and a new culture of grateful living can spread.

I’m grateful to readers who have stayed the course with me, through the dark times of winter and the strange and curious death and rebirth that is currently in process.  And I’m grateful to all who have shared their stories with us over these past three years.

I acknowledge and remember the friends and loved ones we’ve lost this past year.

And, I am truly thankful for another trip around the sun, together.  I look forward to our 4th year…

 

Photo: Joshua Fuller

For what are you most grateful?

Ten Thousand Days

Paddle

August 28, 2017

Photo: Aaron Burden

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1090 – 1108)

I have found that the overwhelming task of re-orienting to life after the fire can sometimes cause me to panic.  After the young man threw a bomb into our relationship, I learned that one of the things we do when we are caught in our grief and cannot move out of it is to search for the lost person everywhere and to try to re-establish order.  I remember when my mother died, I would go to pick up the phone to call her, or set an extra place at the dinner table and I would think I saw her face in a crowd.

I’ve been searching since the fire ritual, and I’m working to just get dead calm like a still day on the ocean.  As I try to adjust to being just the space between the ashes of who I once was, I have been searching for what will come next.  Even as I bury the babies and I cry my tears for what has died, I have been searching.  I have been trying to put my life back together and try on new lives like new sets of clothes.  Nothing seems to fit.

And then I remember that in re-birth, just as in birth, we are in the water, alone and naked.  This vulnerable time is a necessary part of real transformation.

The only thing that calms me is a return to the ocean.  Yes, early on I started walking by the sea.  That is still enjoyable for me but I’ve learned, in this process, that I love to be on the water, or in the water.  I can’t afford to sail, so I’ve taken up sea kayaking.  And I do it as often as I can.

When I was a child, I was a long distance swimmer.  For me, the constant repetition of the stroke and the breath was a meditation.  Life was not always easy for me, as the youngest sibling whose older sisters often resented her presence and bullied her, as siblings do.  But swimming, I was free.  I swam for hours and because my sisters would hold my head under water at the public pool to taunt me, I grew stronger from the constant practice of breath, stroke, breath, stroke, treading water and holding my breath.  I stayed calm in a world that was turbulent for me.

 

The young man is going through a similar process of trying on lives, and I saw him recently.  He told me that “I have time” to figure it all out.  While we share this in common, and that is a comfort, I am the only one of us who can see life from both sides of the age gap.  I have been where he is in life. But where I am – that is a place he cannot yet know.  I am alone, trying to fathom its depths.

At times, I feel quite lonely, here.

I think it was Soren Kierkegard who said that “Life can only be understood backwardsbut it must be lived forwards.”  And even as I paddle, I know that I can’t know what is ahead of me but I can know what is behind me and yet, life is flowing.  We can never go back to a point that has flowed past us.

For a long time after the ending of our relationship, I tried to make sense of things.  After 7 months, I came upon one thought that I had never thought and only then did the pieces come together.  Having the pieces come together, however, does not make the fact of the situation any easier to bear.  When things hurt, understanding why they hurt doesn’t take away the sting.  All it does is put the mind to rest, and possibly provide insights for what can be expected, going forward. It doesn’t change anything.

I’ve seen him and I’ve talked to him and I feel strange.  There are just so many emotions that run the gamut from ease to sadness to a distant observation of what is.  I’ve been in this place before and it is very internal and intimate and I wouldn’t want to describe all that is going on – to him or to anyone else.  Something has died and I’m watching “what is,” with detachment.  This won’t last, but I am surprised by my lack of desire to rush in and re-order the universe.  What is, is.  What the meaning in it is – well – maybe I’ll only know in a year or 10 or 20 or at the end of my life.  Or maybe I will never know.  And maybe it doesn’t even matter.

Perhaps this is wisdom – the ability to let things be what they are and just be the observer, adjusting the rudder and accepting the tide.

I’m sure that, in time, I will get caught up in the future or the past or be somehow out of the present moment.  But for this brief window of time, I am so incredibly present in the moment, and I am grateful for that gift.

I panic about my own future when I look to buy a home and see prices rising 4% a month and I wonder how soon I will be completely priced out of the market.  And then I paddle.  And I wonder if this is where I’m meant to be.  If life is like paddling against the tide all the time, perhaps its time to stop and float and see where the current is directing life.

I am not good at just being. But I am grateful for the discovery of how calming and central to my rebirth the kayak has become.  Like lifestyles, not all kayaks are the same.  Some are meant for long ocean tours and some for whitewater paddling.  Some are meant for lakes and rivers.  Some have long and narrow bows and some are wider and each one has its own ease of entry and exit for the individual.  No kayak is good for all weather and conditions and so we must choose wisely and we must know what is most important to us.

I spent the day with a friend that I’ve known all of my adult life.  I wondered why it is that as we get older, our energy gets less directed at the big issues in the world and we become more tender and focused on our own little world.  The young man might call this “small mindedness.”  I know that I am one of the most broad minded people I know.  And yet, I no longer have the energy to fight the system.  I know that true influence comes from within.  Like any ecosystem, we are all connected.  And it is the understanding of this Oneness that makes me want to focus inward, at this point in my life.  The change I want to see in the world must begin with me.  If I change, it all changes.

And with every stroke I take as I kayak out against the tide, I know that I am fighting a losing battle.  The best we can do in a kayak is to use our paddle and our rudder to work with the flow of the currents and tides and get into the flow of the whole-body stroke to reach our destination with ease.  When I am racing, and paddling so hard against the tide, I miss the heron and the seals and the ravens and eagles that populate the coast.  When I am gentle with myself, my course, and when I  allow whatever time is required to reach my destination, with ease, there is joy in the journey.

I am doing some very deep inner work at the moment and I am grateful for this moment and the transformation that is in process.  I have no energy to paddle against the tide.  But the changes I make within myself may be the most powerful impact I can have in the world.  Changing myself and letting go of at least a layer of ego, holding the light of my soul shining – that is the greatest service I can do for the world though there will be no accolades or worldly appreciation for this.  But the forest knows when I sing to her and the waters know when I am there.

I don’t know what will fill this space that has been left by the death of so many things. But, I trust that the Divine does.  I hope that it will be a new understanding of what is important in life in order to live a meaningful and purposeful life.  Although I can find calm when the storm gets too turbulent, I feel quite lonely in both the eye of the hurricane and when I am spinning at its whim.  This is not the loneliness of lack of friendship.  This is the loneliness of being in a place in life that few have been.

I am in my own kind of wilderness.  This is my postcard to you.

 

Photo: Noah Rosenfield

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

After the Fire

August 9, 2017

Photo: Yosh Ginsu

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1061 – Day 1089)

In the Vedic tradition, it is the mendicant who burns away all worldly attachments in the fire – they renounce all their possessions, their family and friends and even give up their identity, in order to take the most direct route to enlightenment.  Nothing is spared and all goes into the fire to purify the soul.   In the Vedic tradition all who die are burned so that all that is left is ash.  In the Christian tradition  this concept of ashes to ashes prevails,  recognizing that when all is said and done, we are all just dust in the wind.  In the mystic tradition to which I belong, one must die before dying – to give up all worldly attachments because it is all our worldly attachments that anchor us here and keep us from being able to reach the spiritual consciousness that a mystic seeks.

In many cultures, then, there is the idea of a fire ritual.  We can walk on fire to prove that we are able to overcome any obstacle.  Or, we can throw into a fire all the attachments to things that hold us back.  Most of us, however, if we are asked to pick and choose, will only throw into the fire those things that we no longer want to hold us back.

And it is the task of many spiritual teachers to help those on the path to throw not only the things we believe hold us back but also all those things we hold dear.

Two months ago I attended a fire ritual of purification.  It was a noble idea.   What I had neglected, however, was to consider that I have a mystic as a teacher.

I haven’t written much lately because I have been going through at the hands of the energetic transmission of the teacher is the first phase of a tranformation at the soul level and these experiences are ineffable.  I have been destroyed, from within.  Trying to describe this may sound very weird, so I turn to symbolic language because it is at that collective unconsciousness from which our symbols come, that we can feel as One.

In the past 8 weeks, it has not only been the things that I feel are in my way that have fallen out of my life – sometimes quietly and sometimes spectacularly – but my most cherished dreams, my deepest love, and my hopes for my identity.

All have been burned, and I am ash.

I had a dream about a woman who was covered by her teacher in ash.  It was only after the fire that she could have access to the magical forest that awaited her and there she found strange and mysterious fruit.

What will be my strange and mysterious fruit?

I don’t know what is going to come after the fire.  This time in my life – since I committed to the fire ritual last October – has been one of the greatest times of loss in my life.  I have had to watch it all burn, whether I wanted it to go or not.

When life falls apart, I think it is human nature to rely on the ego: I can fix this, I can work this out, how come this happened? What can I do to make this work?  And it is in this rush of ego, the drive to return to normality that some of the deepest grief occurs.

 

It is holding on that hurts us.

 

The Phoenix is a symbol for resurrection from the ash.  I don’t feel like a Phoenix. Spirituality takes us upward, like the Phoenix, to the heavens and to the bliss of Oneness of Creation.  The work of the soul, the work of the mystic, is first to walk through the fire and die.

The two month window I mentioned in my last post has passed with the full moon lunar eclipse, yesterday.  I feel like ash…or perhaps more acurately, like the disparate collection of empty spaces between the ashes that once held me together.

I am incredibly vulnerable and I feel like I have 3rd degree burns all over my body.  I am sensitive to everything.  And so, I continue to keep myself secluded, and I tend to my tomatoes, with love, and I sing to the forest, and I go out and kayak to keep me from losing all hope.

And, in the quiet hours, I pray and I listen.  And I wait.  This is where faith gets tested.

It’s easy to be grateful for the blessings in life.  Its easy to love someone who loves us back.  It is easy to have faith when we get all we want in life.  But it is when we can find a way to love those who cannot or will not love us, when we can surrender our will to that of the Divine and when we can see the Grace in death –  it is then that our heart and soul are truly engaged.

I am grateful for my cohort along the way who shared this road with me.  We lost a few along the way and I am grateful for their presence and wish them well as they move to rebuild their life, now that it has burned away.  Mostly, I am grateful for my teacher and for the Divine.

 

The work of the soul is not an easy path.

My relationship, along with my dreams, and now, my identity, were not things I wanted to release, but they were all beloved attachments.    I am not through the transformation…Death is complete.  Grief follows, and rebirth is yet to come.

I have been through a deep let go and I feel there are still tears to cry and babies to bury.

There is no joy in this death although I know that this lies on the other side of the process.

The last 24 hours, I feel as though I have been like Ashoka walked through the smokey fields of battle.  Like the King, I am overwhelmed with grief at what I have done and what I have not done.  And like Asoka, my heart is turning.

For some time now, I have had the growing sense that the next and final chapter of my life (whether it be 5 or 50 years) will be one of surrender to complete service to something far greater than myself.  And so, if there is any meaning in this suffering that I have faced in the fire, it is for that purpose.

 

Photo: Mads Schmidt-Rasmussen

For what are you most grateful, today?

Art, Art, Articles, Music, Nature

Jesse Narens – Composition/Decomposition/Art

August 1, 2017

Jesse Narens with artworks in forest. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Portland artist Jesse Narens is most at home in nature.  Artworks with tree motifs, raindrops and layers of mark making reflect the forests and coastlines of the Pacific Northwest.  Collected and followed by a global audience, Narens’ work is both lucid and magical, with creatures that seem to emerge, disappear and re-emerge from an ethereal plane.  What draws one to the artist’s work is an individual preference, but there is no denying an ineffable quality of being transported to another world – sometimes primal, sometimes whimsical  – vaguely familiar, if not altogether forgotten.

It is easy to make comparisons to visionary art when one looks at the works of Narens, although the artist would eschew any hierarchy – spiritual or otherwise – between the artist and other living beings.  In the creative process, Narens becomes one with both subject and object and returns both artist and audience to their wild essence of being.  Narens’ work embodies a transitory moment that is the quintessence of life, death, and art.

TTDOG met with Jesse Narens earlier this year and began a dialogue with the artist in advance of their upcoming show Asleep in A Field, opening Friday 4 August in Portland.  Narens describes the artist’s career to date.

 

I started painting at the end of 2010 after my friend and artist Jesse Reno suggested trying out some alternative techniques.  Prior to that I had never painted before.  I focused on ceramics in high school, and dropped out of art college in less than a semester because I felt like they were creating artists, not letting people just be artists.  I have always done something creative with my time.

I do whatever I feel like doing, creatively, at any given time.  Painting and music are my go-tos , but every so often I get the urge to try something else.

 

Collaboration and a sense of community with other artists has always been important to Narens.  As a teenager, the artist created showcases for their own and other artists’ works.

 

The shows I was hosting when I was 15-20 were one night music and art shows at different venues around the Chicagoland area, made up of people from the midwest that I found online, back when Myspace was popular.  I showed my own work and played music at those events.

I’ve always enjoyed sharing the things I like with friends, so when I started playing music and making art it just made sense to try and be an event organizer or curator of some sort.

 

Collaboration extends as well to the audience where meaning-making becomes an adventure between artist, subject, object and audience.

 

My paintings, titles and music never really have specific meanings.  I am trying to create a feeling.  The feeling I get when I am in the woods or on the coast in the Pacific Northwest.  Where people see bear and wolves, I just see a generic animal form, usually.

Sometimes I choose words just for the way they sound or to further push the atmosphere in the painting.  It’s also important that all of the elements (music, words, painting, etc) are taken in together at the same time to get the full experience of my art.

 

Observing Narens’ recent body of work, one gets a sense of both forthrightness and mystery that allows the artist to give birth to and express the unutterable. Whether seemingly benign or ferocious, the creatures in Narens’ works seem to belong to a world that adults, living in contemporary society, are no longer able to see, let alone access and engage.  Returning to a clarity and confusion akin to that of childhood, Narens leads us back to our own natural connection to the wild that we have distanced ourselves from, over time.  To do this, Narens draws upon motifs of the natural world.

 

Looking back on pieces I can remember making in high school, most of them were tree related; people with branch arms, bark texture on my ceramic pieces…I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and I don’t remember experiencing much nature before the age of 20 when I moved to the Pacific Northwest.  The few experiences I did have before then were all very memorable, and while I might not have thought about it then, I recognize now that the feelings I have now when I am out in nature have always been the same.  It’s the only place where I feel I can just be.  It’s the only place that feels correct to me.  When I go back home I tend to spend a lot of time worrying about things that shouldn’t matter, but we have made them matter.  I paint the places and things that make me feel good.

I find my greatest joy in nature.

 

Jesse Narens with mask. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

As an intuitive artist, Narens’ artistic process mirrors the cycles of the natural world.  The artist composes and decomposes each piece over and over again.  Each layer, rather than adding armour and complexity, seems to strip away artifice and repression and restores freedom of vision.  There is no attempt to obscure what has come before and the history of mark making, evident in the pieces, is like a treasure map the artist has left behind, to lead the audience to a sense of uninhibited being.

 

I don’t have the final piece in mind before it’s done.  I just start painting, whether or not I have an idea, and the piece evolves as my mind processes what I’m seeing and thinking about at that time.  Pieces get to a point where they definitely look like they could be called finished, but something just doesn’t feel right to me.  I’ll paint over “finished” pieces again and again until they are done.  Even pieces that are done might someday become unfinished again.  If I have to sit with them for a long time, at some point, my mind might be in a different place than it was when a particular piece was finished, and I will no longer feel connected to it, so I paint over it.  When I sit down and examine why I do certain things, I feel like working this way is a lesson in letting go and embracing change.

 

 

I get stuck at some point in almost every piece.  Usually when they get to a finished looking point, but I don’t like it.  To move forward, I usually have to paint over the parts I like the most.  It frees up the piece to become something drastically different at that point.  It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s almost always the answer.

 

Narens does not create artworks for archival purposes, and believes that decomposition is as valid as composition in the making of art.  For Narens, an artwork has a life that continues beyond the moment when the artist and the subject have transmuted the mystery of creation into form.  What happens beyond that moment is a part of the life cycle of the art and Narens delights in seeing, for instance, works weathered in nature or by time.  An ecosystem of its own, Narens’ art is in a constant state of flux and adaptation.

Art by Jesse Narens, placed in the wilderness, to be discovered by followers. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I don’t like making products for the sake of having things to buy.  Sometimes I draw something and want it on a shirt for myself, so I get maybe 20 shirts made.  When I do make something like a shirt or a book, I only make a small number to keep the items special to whoever ends up getting one.  I try to make things on my own, or work with friends so I can keep the prices as low as possible.

 

Narens work is primarily self expression, yet the artist aims to allow their artwork to be a catalyst for a return to the wild.  Using social media, Narens showcases the natural world through the artist’s own adventures as much as showcasing their artworks, encouraging followers to get outdoors.  On occasion, Narens has left free artworks at natural sites as incentive.  Having experienced nature, followers may be encouraged to protect the wilds.  Yet, in the face of our society’s failure to protect ecosystems and natural preserves and our failure to act to avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change, Narens accepts the limits and responsibilities of one’s own place in the lifecycle of this living planet.

 

I’m alive, so I’ll live the best life I can, but I don’t have much hope for humans.

The earth will fix itself when we are gone, if we can’t learn to live with it.

Even though I feel this way, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up.  I’ll continue to try and inspire people to care about the planet, and to share and support the work of people who I think are doing a better job than I am, like E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.

 

While humankind may provide no solace for Narens, it is to the pockets of community, cultivated by the artist throughout life, that Narens turns.

 

I am currently going through a big transition in my life, so at the moment I am most grateful for the friends in my life that have been around since I was young.

 

 

“The Moon is Made of Chalk” by Jesse Narens. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Like an old friend, Narens has returned to the artists’ roots, performing live music with art at the upcoming exhibition, Asleep in A Field.  For many of Narens’ fans, this will be the first opportunity to experience the artist’s music (performed under the name Ghost&Flower) with Narens’ artworks.

 

The last time I played music live was in 2011 and the last time I played music where my art was on display was probably 2008.

As with my visual art, my music is for me.  And with music, I am again chasing a feeling that I don’t get from anything else, and I can’t express it in words, but when I am making music I very quickly go somewhere else in my head.  I’ve recorded very little over the last 12 years of playing music live.  I make music the same way I paint.  It’s improvised, and I build layers through loops.  I use a prepared guitar instead of electronic instruments, and build most of my rhythmic parts with a contact mic to play the room.  Recording, even live, takes me out of the headspace that I am doing music for, so it’s no fun for me.

I went to a Bang On A Can marathon show when I was around 18 that had a big impact on my music.  The show was something like 12 hours of non stop experimental music, but at the beginning they encouraged you to come and go as you wanted because doing so meant that each person would have their own unique experience with what they heard.

 

Setting up for Asleep In A Field, a solo art show by Jesse Narens; music performance on opening night as Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I’ve played so many great shows that I wish I had recordings of, but I know they would have gone different if it was being recorded.  I like knowing that everyone who has seen me play had a unique experience that no one else will ever know.

 

Asleep In A Field opens Friday, August 4th in Portland and runs through Tuesday, September 5th  at True Measure Gallery.  Jesse Narens will play live music under the name Ghost&Flower on opening night, at sunset.  For those interested in purchasing artworks but who cannot attend the exhibition, contact Jesse Narens (Jesse@Jessenarens.com) or True Measure Gallery.

 

 

Asleep in A Field – Jesse Narens’ Solo Show at True Measure Gallery. Music by Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Follow Jesse Narens:

 WEBSITE,

INSTAGRAM

 

Articles, Milestone

One Thousand Days of Gratitude

February 17, 2017

Photo: Luca Upper

 

The number 1,000 appears in the Bible some 50 times.  In terms of time, 1,000 is a ‘millenia’ and when referring to quantity, the number conveys the immensity of the thing in question without the totality of it.  In health and development, research has shown that the first 1,000 days of life are what UNICEF call’s the ‘brain’s window of opportunity’ where the future health of an individual is largely set and can either set a child on the path to wellbeing or to a life of morbidity and early mortality.  The first thousand days are are immensely important for the totality of one’s life and that is why health and development agencies focus their investments in those first 1,000 days. So how do we apply this to a spiritual practice?

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali advises:

Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness

In some Buddhist traditions, 1,000 repetitions of a practice is the magic figure at which one becomes an adept.

In some traditions, it takes ten years to even begin to walk the path.  So, let’s not get carried away with pats on the back just yet.  We have another 9,000 days to tackle!

My friend and much admired colleague Alicia once reminded me that we are in such a fast paced world that we often don’t pause to take a moment to reflect and appreciate our accomplishments before we move on to the next challenge.  And although I am inclined to continue to push the envelope by explicitly adding new practices, it is a joy to reach the first 1,000 days that have firmly grounded us in the practice.  This has been the heart, soul and mind’s ‘window of opportunity’ to become attuned to a higher vibration, develop new neural pathways for positive emotions and for the practice to become habitual.

In the first 1,000 days of Gratitude practice, we organically added joy as a by-product of gratitude and then came to see that a sense of abundance led us to want to give back to the world in service.  A sense of connection with others when we looked to be of service in the world grew into our concept of looking for a sense of Oneness in our lives.  After the first year of practice, we moved to a weekly post and started to look for meaning in our experience.  Without being explicit, this has become a fifth practice.

Meaning as I define it, is the symbolic value we give to our experience.  It is the sense we make of the chaos of our lives.  It is the thread of narrative that we write out of our daily experience and which helps us to know who we are, to be in awe of our place in creation and to discover our values in this lifetime.  Meaning then, is no small thing.  It tells us the why of what we are doing. We can find meaning in times that are good as well as those that are full of sorrow.   As we reach upwards to spirit with Gratitude and Joy, we reach into our depths of soulfulness with Oneness and Meaning.

Related to the concept of meaning is living with a sense of Purpose.  Purpose, as I define it, is living in alignment with our values and using our gifts to translate those values into action with the intent to create a positive impact in the world.  Happiness scholars argue that having and working towards a sense of Purpose is one of the key ingredients to creating a life of Meaning.  And so,  the two are inextricably lined and as we formally add the search for Meaning to our practices, we will add working towards a sense of Purpose, as well.

 

 

As I  anticipate the road ahead and reflect upon the 999 days that preceded this one, I feel so grateful for all those who have been on this journey with me.  Getting through the first 1,000 days of practice was no small feat and it didn’t happen without inspiration from others.  If there was something wise that I did to get this practice grounded, it was to seek out and speak to those who inspired me, so that I could learn from them the secrets to carrying on with a difficult task when things were not always easy.  I am grateful to all those artists like Louis Masai, WRDSMTH, Food of War, Noriaki, Matthew Del Degan, Monsu Plin, and C. Michael Frey who have inspired us and shared with our community their beautiful hearts and souls through their artwork.  I am grateful to all those who are not necessarily artists but who are working in their own capacities to make the world a better place, including Alexandra Jackman, Alicia Altorfor Ong, Lord Richard Layard, Action for Happiness , Elie Calhoun, and James Wheale of the Nomadic Community Gardens. They have been an inspiration to me, and I hope they have been, to you as well.  And, because love, and music are my own personal spiritual path, I am grateful to Dan Shears, Jesse Cook, Chris Church and Josh Savage for sharing their music and their hearts with us.

I never know who is reading these posts unless you choose to comment.  But I do always write these posts with you, specifically, in mind.  I am grateful to you for coming here and witnessing this journey.  It is a joy whenever I hear that someone has been inspired to live more gratefully and even if I don’t know who you are, know that you are embraced by me, and we are a community.  You are always part of the circle of Oneness at Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.

Over the past 999 days, I have at times wondered why I continue to post publicly about my private life.  I wonder why I do what many could see as a pedestrian practice, over and over and over again.  I have come to realize that I value inspiration and one purpose of my life and my time on earth – one of the things that sets my soul on fire – is the potential to inspire others to live a more sustainable, meaningful and connected life.  Rather than just quietly living my own life of gratitude, I have chosen to make show up and make public my triumphs and my struggles with as much truth and vulnerability as I can muster.  And so, as we turn the page from 1,000 days my service is to continue to keep showing up to these practices with you.

In the past few weeks leading up to this milestone, I returned to writing a daily gratitude post with the audience being my friends on Facebook.  For me, personally, if there is any meaning in the writing of a 1,000 day post, and the work of the 999 days leading up to it, it is the way opening my heart to you and laying bare my life has repaid me with love and fullness beyond measure. Words today fail to express how grateful I truly am for you.  I hope that witnessing and (it is my hope) joining in these practices has and will contribute to your deeply fulfilled life, dear reader.

 
So I turn it back over to you…

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Articles, Community, Music

Josh Savage – Living Room Tourist

January 19, 2017

Josh Savage Photo: Common Spark Media

Last year,  TTDOG featured one of  London’s finest troubadours, Josh Savage as he was releasing his 2nd EP, a first french-language offering: Quatre Épines.

Savage creates a direct connection with his ardent followers through the vulnerability of his lyric, the poignancy of his voice and his virtuosity as a musician. What sets Josh apart from others in the industy is his absolute committment to intimate living room performances throughout the world.  When we last saw Josh, he had completed his living room tour of Europe to promote Quatre Épines and was awaiting the release of a film documenting his unprecedented tour.  The film, The Living Room Tour, by independent filmmaker Duncan Trevithick, follows Josh Savage as he plays 44 gigs throughout the summer.

We caught up with Savage to discuss The Living Room Tour,  a Winchester Short Film Festival Official Selection, released last month.

 Sofar Sounds inspired me with the concept.  Living Room Tours are the only way I can tour independently on a large scale and guarantee an attentive audience.

TTDOG asked Savage whether filming the tour impacted on the intimacy his audiences have come to expect in his concerts.

Being documented takes some getting used to.  it didn’t feel like it impacted the intimacy of my shows however.  I guess cameras are more commonplace in today’s society.

Did Savage have a single favourite moment captured in the film?

My optimism about chewing gum when my car was broken into.  At the time, I was in shock so I can’t remember what I said but I’m glad I’m able to see the light at the end of the tunnel in nightmare situations.

Just 24, he reminds dreamers of all ages to follow their hearts.  In a message to his fans at the launch of the film, Savage called The Living Room Tour:

A short documentary about choosing yourself as an artist.  About not waiting for the gatekeepers to say yes.  About finding your own path to your own definition of success.

.

 

TTDOG asked Savage whether there was something for which he was particularly grateful in the making of the documentary.

I’m most grateful for the wonderful people I met on the road who supported me and keep me going to this day.  It’s lovely to have a documentary to reflect back on the adventure and I hope it will inspire new artists to take the plunge and follow their passion.

 

Savage has inspired thousands through his performances and music.  His latest single, Whisper in the Snow, featuring Alice Pearl will launch tonight in London before Savage heads out on the road for his 2017  Living Room “Whisper in the Snow” Tour this Friday, 20 January.  

 

 

Follow Josh Savage on his Website,  Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, YouTube and Twitter

Ten Thousand Days

Duckie

November 29, 2016

 

Photo: Darius Anton

Photo: Darius Anton

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 915 – Day 920)

Recently I overheard two people talking about a third man who was in the throes of unrequited love. They described it as full-on “Duckie love.”

Anyone of a certain age will be taken back to the unforgettable character Duckie, played by John Cryer in Pretty in Pink.  He became not only a gay icon, but also the epitome of unrequited love.  Sensitive, devoted, and expressive, Duckie was the poster boy for the ‘outsider.’

The film came out long after I left high school but, as with all John Hughes films, like most of my generation, I could relate to it.   I was never Duckie in highschool.  As much as I wanted to punch her in her pouty lips (projection, much?) I always identified with the Molly Ringwald character, Andie.  Although I wasn’t poor like Andie, I was always the pretty girl who had boys in love with her.  When I changed high schools in my graduating year, I was with a lot of much richer kids and I got a taste of the despicable snobbery of James Spader’s character, Steff, who really did think in terms of social class, at the age of 18.  Like Steff did with Andie, a young and popular rich kid on the rugby team took a fancy to me and made advances at me at a party.  When I rejected him, I became the outcast of the school.  I guess my initiation as Andie was complete.

My mother, too, had been a young beauty.  She came from a group of people that are ridiculed in Canada, despite being admired by strangers the world over.  She, too, knew what it was like to suffer prejudice because of her background.  But she met and married a young man, and as time went on, his career took him to fancier and fancier places and she never really felt comfortable there.  Her beauty faded, as it will, with time, and she was insecure.  She learned the hard way what we all learn about our society – for women, our power is greatest when we are young and beautiful.  As we age, it fades and men gain in power through accomplishment, status and wealth.

I’d like to say that isn’t the case, and I have always been a feminist.  But all we need to do is look at the US elections to recognize just how far we really have come, as a society in accepting women – especially older women – and condoning their right to power.  And yet, we must not let society dictate our roles.

Duckie was an original, (the character Watts, from Some Kind of Wonderful, was the female version of his archetype).  He didn’t do things the way society told him to do them, and I guess this is what makes him the iconic character he is today.

I wish I’d had more Duckie moments when I was young, to build character and to prepare me for life as an older woman.  I didn’t.  I’ve had to learn the hard way, too.  We all know that feeling of being in a relationship where we love harder and more fully than the object of our affection.  It can be devastating, if we let it be.

I’ve had my heart broken and I’m grateful not for the pain, but for the resilience I have developed (even as an older woman) as a result of it.  Many people have their heart broken once and never love again.  I’ve had it broken twice.  And again, while not grateful for that pain, I am grateful for the time that preceded it and the time when I was loved.

I’m not really sure I want to put myself in the position of even one more unrequited love in this lifetime.

I wonder who Duckie would be, today.  Would he have loved again?  Would he have found someone who loved him in return?  Or, would he rent a penthouse flat and become a recluse?  Would Duckie have learned to recognize true love and tell it apart from those times when he was being played?  I hope he would have continued to grow and recognized that he deserved someone who was ready to stand up and love him, wholeheartedly and without reservation.

I’d like that for myself as well, and I still believe it is possible for me.  I am grateful for the ability both to keep my heart open and to discern between the fear of being hurt and the uneasy inner knowing when something isn’t right with a love relationship.

It was a joy to be reminded of the character, Duckie.  I am learning to embrace and to love my inner Duckie.   While his broken heart hurt, Duckie triumphed and maintained his integrity.  He was the only real winner in the whole movie, despite losing the girl.  He won, because he grew as a human.  When I think about him now, I feel a tender Oneness and communion with the character’s vulnerable young heart and soul.  Yes, Andie got the rich kid boy in the end, but we all know they probably didn’t stay together and she was probably left devastated.   But Duckie loved, he lost and he recovered.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be Duckie than any other character in that film.

And so, as we head into the most romantic season of the year, my service today is to remind us all that the only real way to guarantee the outcome of the game is to leave the field of play.  We are all human and we all want to be the first to bail in a relationship, before they bail on us.  To paraphrase John Hughes…we all do just want to let them know that they didn’t break us…

But love is always a risk; Once in a while, the risk may turn out to be worth it.  The odds really are not in our favour.  Unless we are game theory experts, the best we can do is to summon our inner Duckie,  have courage, self esteem, and an open heart as we keep doing our own internal calculus, moment by moment.  We all deserve someone who will love us wholeheartedly and without reservation.

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

The Blindspot

November 23, 2016
Photo: Oscar Keys

Photo: Oscar Keys

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 908 – Day 914)

A few days ago I had a strange dream.

I wear eyeglasses and in my dream, the glass spontaneously shattered.  When I awoke, I felt that this was one of those ‘important’ dreams in my life.  I feel that it was screaming at me about that thing we all have but simply cannot see: our blindspot.

Many of us have problems seeing what is right before our eyes.  When we are grieving, Kubler Ross tells us that there are stages through which we cycle, and one of those is denial.  When we are in denial, we cannot see what it is that is presenting itself as a losss.  We can not bear it.  The other side of seeing – being seen – is also a challenge for many of us.  I am willing to go out on a limb and say that all of us want to be seen – really seen for who we are – and loved as we are.  But it is the risk that we will not be loved, or the belief that we are unloveable that makes being seen – really seen – such an act of vulnerability.

I remember sitting in a playwriting workshop one hundred years ago and my teacher, the award winning playwright, Joan MacLeod, spoke of her best friend.  He was able to see her blindspot and she was able to see his. So, I asked around.

Before the first friend answered, I went through a list:  I love someone and it is a challenging relationship.  But, I have faith in the relationship.  Was this my blindspot?  I had a milestone birthday recently and with it, I struggled to reconcile my inner sense of youth with ageing.  Is this somehow my blindspot?  I carry more weight than is healthy and there are certainly emotional reasons for this.  Could that be my blindspot?

Friends started responding.  Some have known me longer than others, and some have known me more intimately than others.  I thought of the woman with whom I have been closest, and of my mother.  I thought of what they would say.  And then a friend said it:

My blindspot is my self worth, she said.  If I could see myself like others do, I would have a much different and higher sense of self worth.

I think to some extent, we all struggle with this.

Where do we develop our self esteem?  I suppose it develops in childhood when we are seen and mirrored by our primary caregivers.  What we developed as children is reinforced by our actions as adults.  One thing is certain: we cannot have high self esteem if we are doing things in our lives for which we are not proud.  But, looking at it now, no number of accomplishments and sense of integrity can ever completely fill that sense of lack, if we were not mirrored as children.

As a child, teen and young adult, I was applauded for certain kinds of accomplishments and parts of my personality.  My artistic side was called ridiculous and I was chastised for being a dreamer.  I was not loved for who I was, exactly as I was.  I was not mirrored.  What was seen and loved and what I could see and love of myself was like looking into a shattered mirror and seeing only parts of myself, but never the whole.

This week I had the task of painting a self portrait in my art class.  I’m a beginner at drawing and at painting but I do my best and my best is usually not good, but also not that bad.  So I sketched myself and painted in the glasses, focusing on my eyes and my lips.  It was an interesting and intriguing piece.  Many people suggested I leave it at that.  I thought I would.

One afternoon, my father unexpectedly bought the family lunch and I had my painting in the car.  So, I brought it in, and showed it to my family.  They looked at me, at my unfinished painting, back at me and then continued their conversation without saying anything about it.  If I had chosen to write a scene of psychic annihilation I don’t think I could have chosen a more perfect moment than that.

A few days later, I returned to the painting and decided to complete it.  Although I had used a magnifying mirror and a low angle, the resulting portrait was distorted and more grotesque than even the magnification would produce.  I look in the mirror and I know that I don’t look this way.  And yet, I am blind to myself.

In my dream, I had been standing at a crossroads when my glasses shattered.  I had come from a place where I had plugged in to ‘the source’, but my machine had been borrowed from a man.

When I was young, my father said on more than one occasion that I would never amount to anything without him.  I am sure that he probably meant that I should be grateful for the roof over my head and my tuition.  But the words went far deeper than that, for me, as a child.  I am a half a century old and for half a century I have sought my father’s approval.  Despite all my accomplishments, I don’t think he’s ever said that he is proud of me.  If I cannot amount to anything without him, perhaps at an unconscious level, I feel that I fail to exist without his approval.

Consciously I have let go of this wish, but the unconscious has a way of holding on and repeating patterns.  I love a man who disengages from me sometimes and although this is his coping mechanism, it triggers my earlier sense of not being mirrored.  When he is engaged, he is able to see so much of me – the admirable and the less admirable qualities – and he loves me as I am.  I am grateful that when he is able to stay connected, he models for me what I lacked in childhood.  When we are connected, it is a  joy to spend time with him and to work through our differences and come to a deeper understanding of one another and a deeper level of closeness.  I sometimes wonder how I got so blessed to meet someone so kind and gentle, and I cannot express how grateful I am for him, in my life.  He is working on staying engaged, and I am working on self-soothing and ‘holding space for him’ in his times of solitude. But the fact is that he is prone to disengage and not understand me.  In those moments, I feel invisible.  I don’t know where the relationship is heading but it has been a growth experience for both of us, and for my ability to stand up and ask to be seen, and for his ability to sometimes offer his gentle love in the face of my vulnerability, I am grateful.

I’m grateful for my dream because it has provided me the opportunity to consider the things that are holding me back and to which I am blind.    In my dream, I was at a crossroads, as I am now, in my life.  I am grateful for this moment.

My father was a writer and I know he had a real talent for poetry.  He wrote love poems to my mother when they courted.  He grew up in a different era and he suppressed his own artistic side in order to become a provider for his family.  I am certain that some of his insistence on gratitude conveyed in those offhand, but damning words, came from his own experience of having given up more than any of us know, in order to be a husband and father.  I know he has a soft heart, like I do, and despite his damaging messages, we are both writers, poets and lovers and in knowing that, I feel Oneness with him and I am able to love him despite the wounding of the past.

As we go into the holiday season, we return to our families of origin for at least a few days.  My service this week is to write this to remind us all that we are always at a crossroads, that most of us are blind to how amazing we truly are, and to send out this reminder that there is always a new way of seeing the hurt that we carry with us, so that we can leave it behind us, at the crossroads.

For what are you grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

To Walk Beside Me

October 12, 2016
Photo: James Bates

Photo: James Bates

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 768 – Day 774)

Albert Camus famously outlined a balanced view of friendship:

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

In any friendship there will be times when we are more knowledgeable in something than the other person and we can share our expertise.  And then there will be things we don’t know how to do that our friend will.  Last night I cooked friendsgiving and I have no idea how to make gravy.  So my friend – who is also not the gravy master of her family – gave it a shot.  I cooked the rest of the meal fine, with a little input there, a dash of advice here and it never felt like a burden to be the one having to make the decisions and get it all together.

Sometimes our expertise in an area is so much more advanced that we become a mentor to a friend.  This can be a tricky situation and can impact on the friendship.  I try to steer clear of these situations in every possible way.  But sometimes, you have to bend the rules because you have been placed in the path of greatness and you have the opportunity to be at the crossroads for someone who can either disappear into obscurity or – with a little encouragement – move on to greatness.

Sometimes, we are called to act against our better judgement.  Most times this is because oh – we want to get with that person and date them or because we want the job with the extra money and the long vacations.  Usually, there is an ulterior motive.  And sometimes, there is nothing in it for you – in fact, it costs you, in the long run.  And still, you have to step up and boost someone who will soon run past you and never look back.  Sometimes, you just know that this has been a gift from the universe and you have been entrusted with something special.  At that juncture, do we go with the ego, or do we surrender and go with what is being asked of us?

It’s not easy to surrender, but surrender we must.

I’ve been given an opportunity to exercise my non-attachment and to go beyond ego.  Not every opportunity is painless, but I am grateful that the universe seems to trust me with this one.  I’m grateful for a blossoming friendship that is powerfully intense and may soon burn out if not stoked slowly and left to a slow smoulder.  And, I am grateful for old friends who cannot see the forest but warn me of the tree that lies dead ahead as I run towards it.  They will not understand that cutting my face on the branches was what I needed to do, in order to clear the way for someone else.  It is a joy to see someone excited and fresh at something and there is a closeness and a Oneness that comes from sharing those moments.  Eventually the roles will reverse and if a balance of walking together side by side is not achieved, then I will be grateful that I was given this chance to be of service and wish him well.

In times of crisis, I have always felt that we are not in a position to understand the meaning of the moment.  And so it is in times of gifts as well.  If we are called to step up, it is not necessary that we understand why.   Faith is about trusting that we may never know the why, but that the what was profoundly important.

For what are you grateful this week?

 

Art, Art, Articles, Photography

C. Michael Frey: Heart in the Clouds

September 9, 2016

In a city like Los Angeles, whole industries are based on revision of reality.  One Georgia-born artist, turned LA native, C. Michael Frey, seeks to capture the sublime in the every day world.  His exhibition “Clouds” is currently showing in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles.  With this collection, Frey invites viewers to “get lost in a sense of wonderment and escape.”

Frey achieved a B.F.A. in painting and drawing from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia and later moved to New York City to pursue his art.  There, Frey worked in a commercial photographer’s studio, where he honed his skills in digital illustration and photographic retouching.  An award winning artist, Frey’s work has been featured in advertising campaigns, on album covers, and in magazines such as The New York Times, New York Magazine, Numéro, V, and Wired.

We caught up with Frey in Los Angeles about his upcoming exhibition of Clouds, and his other current works.

 

C. Michael Frey with his “Clouds” series. Photo: Lisa Osborne

 

TTDOG: Tell us about the move from painting and digital design to photography.  Why Clouds?

CMF:  I’ve always used photography as part of my creative process, so I don’t really feel I’ve moved away from painting.  It’s more of an exploration of another medium that has happened organically.

The Cloud photos weren’t really planned.  I moved to Los Angeles about ten years ago from New York and the sky feels so different here.  It’s expansive and seems limitless.  If I’m having a bad day or feeling stressed, I can easily escape in nature by taking a walk around the neighborhood or going for a hike.  The open sky puts things in perspective.  We seldom have clouds, but when we do the sunsets are often amazing.  I started photographing these moments and really wanted to capture the drama of the clouds and take a subject that is generally seen as pedestrian in art and reveal the sublime nature of these clouds.  Clouds are representative of the creative process itself: daydreaming and romanticism.  There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “you must not blame me if I do talk to clouds.”  This communion with and escape to nature and finding divinity in nature that the Transcendentalists strived for really resonates with me.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Romanticism is about the heart and idealism.  Clouds are great symbols of idealism to me.  I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve so not engaging my heart isn’t really an option.

 

TTDOG: When you say spirituality in this context, do you mean Judeo-Christian concepts of heaven being in the sky?

CMF: It can mean that, but it doesn’t have to.  Even in non western and pagan traditions, the sky is held in high regard, often where the gods reside.  But specifically for me, spirituality is about a connectedness to our environment.  It’s more about recognizing the power of Nature and how there’s a seemingly “other” world happening above us all the time.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG:  What is your creative process?  Does it differ for photography, art and design?

CMF: With painting I always have a clear idea of what I want to paint and a plan before I take paintbrush to canvas.  I mostly paint people and photography has been instrumental in capturing subjects and developing the image I want to create.  Usually a subject will sit for me and I take a series of photographs.  I’ll edit the shoot and pick my favourites and then start manipulating them on the computer until they are close to what I want to recreate in a painting.  I’ll print out images I refer to while I’m painting.  But it’s not so much about just recreating what I see.  It’s about the feeling.  When I paint someone’s portrait, I really want to show their essence.  Georgia O’Keefe said: “Nothing is less real than realism.  Details are confusing.  It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”  This really sums up what I’m trying to accomplish as a painter.

 

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C. Michael Frey in his studio. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

With photography it’s a much more simplified process that’s about being in the moment and being a witness to that moment.  I capture what I see in front of me.  There’s no planning and I’m not controlling the subject.  With the Clouds photo series, I’m zooming in on details to find something that’s compelling.  In a way it’s much more freeing than developing a painting that I spend weeks working on.  The tedious part comes with editing thousands of images down to the best ones and getting the printing right.  With the Clouds series, I wanted to capture the same ephemeral nature of clouds with the printing, so I had them mounted on acrylic to get a sense of lightness and light.  It also helps the colours to pop and gives the images a gem-like quality.

Graphic design is a totally different animal that requires a mindset that is often the opposite of what I’m doing when I paint or take photographs for myself.  With design, I’m always trying to communicate to a specific audience for a client.  It’s not about my message.  I may be using many of the same tools, but the goals are different.  In creating art, whether it be a painting or photograph, I’m trying to inspire or challenge a viewer to think about things or view things differently, which can sometimes be uncomfortable.  With graphic design, you generally aren’t trying to challenge the viewer.  It’s more about positive engagement and commerce.  Good design usually makes the viewer feel good whereas good art may leave the viewer crying in the fetal position.

 

TTDOG:  Goodness! I’m not going to your gallery with you!

CMF: I meant that more figuratively but I did have someone start bawling in front of one of my paintings, once.

 

TTDOG:  I think if I were to start bawling in front of your cloud series, it would be in a healing way; they are full of joy and love and even innocence.

CMF: Yes, and it’s actually a big change in the subject matter of my work.  The paintings of my earlier years are very dark, intense and melancholy.

 

TTDOG:  To what do you attribute this change?

CMF: Mostly, deciding that being an artist doesn’t have to be about suffering.  At 41, I’ve also become content in who I am as a person.  Presently, life is more about what I can accomplish now and being happy in the moment rather than struggling to figure it all out.

 

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Frey in his home with his French bulldog, Lola. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

TTDOG:  I know that you paint from a sense of deep connection to something bigger than yourself.  Do you experience the same connection with photography?

CMF: They are very different experiences.  When I’m painting I can go into a very meditative state where I lose track of time and really just start feeling what I’m creating.  There’s a flow to it where I feel like I start to channel that creative muse.  There is also a lot of time spent just looking and thinking.  There is something very therapeutic about it that I don’t experience from anything else.

 

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Frey, at work in his studio. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

Photography is much more about a single moment in time.  It can actually be frustrating because the camera separates you from the subject.  The real challenge in photography is capturing what the subject is making you feel.

 

TTDOG:  How much of the feel of the cloud photos is from digital manipulation?  What do you make of those purists who define photography as only that which is captured in camera?

CMF: For the Cloud photos, there is very little digital manipulation beside some colour tweaks to make prints match what I’m seeing on screen.  For the most part they are cropped the way I have shot them.  I try to find the most interesting moment happening at the time and shoot many frames so I have options.

I can understand why some people define photography that way, but I’m no purist.  It gets boring to have too many rules.

 

TTDOG:  Your photographs in the cloud series have a painterly quality to them.  Some of them have a feel of a Rothko or an Agnes Martin, in that the colour and subtle gradations draw the viewer in to a meditative state.  How, if at all, do you think your painting has influenced your photography?

CMF: That’s a very flattering comparison.  Thank you.  My most recent paintings have been minimalist portraits that use colour gradients.  I’ve become interested in the way colour and subtlety can have an impact, rather than spelling everything out with great detail and realism.  That interest has definitely carried over to my cloud photos.  I like the idea of breaking things down to their most basic parts.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Minimalism is very freeing, I think.  It allows you to see things you’ve never noticed before in a new way.  It’s amazing to me how a single colour can evoke emotion.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I want people to have an emotive response through colour when seeing my work but it’s not as simple as if I paint someone’s portrait in blue that I want them to feel sad.  Mostly I’m using colour, when I paint, to relate to the individual I’m painting.  I guess it’s more about how I see them and the aura they give off.  With the clouds, I don’t have any control over that.

Of course I’m in control of what I choose to photograph.  But how the subject changes while I’m photographing, I have no control over.  I love the ephemeral nature of the Clouds for that reason.  If I’m not fast enough I can miss out.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

And definitely through the editing process, it’s all about what speaks to me and what I find interesting.

I have a long work history working in print so I’ve learned the technical ins and outs of how to get a print to look the way you want.  But, having a printer who you are confident in is definitely vital.  Luckily most printers these days have colour profiles available if you are making digital c-prints.  But, there is still a lot of trial and error.

 

TTDOG:  Who are your influences?

CMF: In general, I really love old masters like Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Jacques-Louis David.  I’ve always been drawn to figurative work and especially artists who know how to manipulate light and expertly render the human form.  Cindy Sherman has been a big influence on the subject matter of my painting.  I used to primarily paint self portraits and have always been drawn to exploring the concepts of identity and perception.

 

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“MIKHI” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

The cloud photos have been a big change in the type of art I make.  When creating the cloud photos, I thought a lot about William Turner’s cloud study paintings.  His expressive use of colour captures the power of nature in a way that I wanted to communicate through these photos.  It also made me think a lot about color theory and has influenced my recent portraits which are much more minimalist in colour.  I’ve developed a great appreciation for modern minimalist artists that play with colour and spectrum like Josef Albers, Elisworth Kelly and James Turrell.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG:  You mentioned colour theory before, when we were looking at some artworks together.  Can you explain more about that for those of us who are unfamiliar with it?

CMF: Color theory is understanding how different colours relate to each other and how they interact when they are combined.  Color created by light and color created by pigment work very differently.  It can get rather technical and complicated, especially when you are trying to get a photograph to match what you are seeing on a digital screen.

Colour created through light is additive.  If you combine Red, Green and Blue, you get white and there are millions of colour variations.  The opposite is true with paint, which is subtractive.  Mixing those colours together in pigment would leave you with a muddy mess.  And the spectrum is much more narrow with pigments:  there are only thousands of colours that can be reproduced.

 

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“LISKA” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

TTDOG: You have some pretty exciting work that has come out of this collection.  Tell us about that.

CMF:  Yes, Urban Outfitters recently contacted me about doing an artist partnership with them using some of my Cloud images.  The images will be printed on a variety of products like tapestries and bedding as well as clothing.  The first pieces of the line will be available this coming holiday season.

 

TTDOG: Will there be more photo series?

CMF:  I intend to continue photographing clouds as long as they are in the sky, which is hopefully a few more years, at least.  I’m not sure where this series will lead; I’m just going to see where it goes naturally.  I’ve been thinking of ideas for how to mix the Cloud images with painting.  But in my heart, I’m more of a painter than a photographer.  Ideally I’d like to be able to work successfully in a variety of mediums, and for there to still be a common thread that can be seen.

 

TTDOG: Artists have a certain reputation for being free spirits and promiscuous.  But you are married, settled and stable.  How has this helped or hindered your work?

CMF: For the most part it’s given me the space and ability to work freely without having to worry so much about income.  My husband, Tim, is very supportive of my work.  If anything I’m sure he wishes I were more prolific and spent more time painting.  It is challenging to work as a freelance designer and manage my time so that I have time to paint.

 

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“TIM” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

In western culture we have a very romanticized view of the ‘starving artist.’  When I was younger, I had the notion that one needed a lot of drama and sadness in their life to be an artist.  That’s not very sustainable or interesting after a certain age.  I’m very grateful for the happiness I’ve found being in a happy, long term marriage.  It’s been freeing for me to let go of my preconceived notions of what life as an artist and particularly a gay man, should look like.  I’m not really one to look back and question what could have been.  Life is a journey about learning, and I’m grateful for the choices I’ve made that have led me to the life I have today.

 

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Portraits by C. Michael Frey. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

TTDOG: You have exhibited Clouds in a West Hollywood shop at now an Eagle Rock craft beer tasting room.  They are not conventional venues.  What made you choose to show this collection in this way?  Why do you suppose more artists are exhibiting in this way?

CMF: I originally showed my Cloud series at TENOVERSIX in West Hollywood.  The owners are great friends of mine and I’ve been doing design work for them since they opened.  They’ve an amazing eye for everything from fashion to housewares to art.  I was honoured that they showed my Cloud photos.

Craft Beer Cellar, where I’m showing the Clouds from Saturday night is in Eagle Rock, a couple of blocks from my house.  They opened about a year ago and recently started showing art.  I’ve become friends with the owners and asked them if they would be willing to show my work.  Eagle Rock has a unique art and social scene and in many ways feels more like a small town than just a neighborhood in LA.  I haven’t been showing my work in Los Angeles until recently.  I’ve mostly been focused on my graphic design business and haven’t been putting my art out there.  Honestly, I find the art world extremely intimidating, but I’m getting over that and am taking the first steps to have my work seen.

 

C. Michael Frey hanging his Cloud series at Craft Beer Cellar in Eagle Rock. Photo: Lisa Osborne

 

I think more artists are showing their work in unconventional spaces because there is so much competition out there for gallery shows , and there are also just a lot more interesting spaces that people can interact with your work these days.  But non-gallery spaces like coffee shops and restaurants have always been great starting points for getting your work out there so people can see it. You have to start somewhere.

 

TTDOG: What’s next for you?

CMF: I really hope to show more of my work in the coming year, get in some group shows, and hopefully have a solo show in a gallery.  I’m going to continue to grow my portrait series and cloud photos.  I’d love to create a book with the Clouds, but the expense of printing a fine art book is rather prohibitive.  If I could find a publisher, that would be wonderful.

 

TTDOG:  Where do you find your greatest joy and for what are you most grateful?

CMF:  I find my greatest joy in sharing food with friends and loved ones.  I love to cook – it’s a quick creative outlet that helps me be more social and share my talents with other people.  There’s something very comforting about providing nourishment for others.  We host a weekly potluck for friends that has become something I look forward to each week.

 I’m most grateful for my relationship with my husband.  Tim is my rock.  He’s my biggest support, but he also grounds me, gives me very practical critiques in my design work and art, and keeps me balanced.

 

***UPDATE:  Clouds will be showing again from 6 Feb-12 Feb at Space 15 Twenty, 1520 N Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028.  Closing event  will be held on 12 Feb 11am- 2pm***

(Previously, there was a Clouds opening event Saturday, 10 September, at Craft Beer Cellar at 5 p.m. as part of the NELA Second Saturday Art Walk.  Craft Beer Cellar is located at 1353 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041.  Tel: 323-206-5164.)

 

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“Clouds” by C. Michael Frey, exhibiting 10 September – 30 September at Craft Beer Cellar. Photo: Lisa Osborne

Images from the exhibition will be on sale at the shop and tap room and via Frey’s website.  The show runs now through the end of September.

 

For more on C. Michael Frey, follow him at:

Frey Art and Design;

Instagram; and

Facebook.

To commission Frey, send him an email at:

michael@cmichaelfrey.com

Articles, Milestone, Ten Thousand Days

Voices of the TTDOG Community: A Gratitudeaversary

September 5, 2016
Photo: Ian Schneider

Photo: Ian Schneider

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 725 – Day 738)

Last month we celebrated our first year as TTDOG and 2 years of personal gratitude practice.  When we reached the first milestone of a year of personal gratitude practice, I threw a party in London.  This year has been much more subdued in terms of celebrations.  This milestone comes in the midst of the most stressful, chaotic and manic-paced 4 months of recent memory.  The pace may slow down soon (I hope) and while I had anticipated this would be a challenging time, and tried to set things in motion to cover my absence from TTDOG, things don’t always work out as we plan.  We haven’t been posting much here at TTDOG.

When we hit 365 days, I was grateful for all the people in my life because without them, there would be nothing to write.  I am even more so, now.  We knew that keeping up with the website during this challenging time would be difficult but we wanted to do something meaningful to mark the milestone.  Since community has been a key theme in the past year, we put a call out to the community to help create a milestone post and you responded.

With gratitude, we are delighted to present the voices of TTDOG’s community on our gratitudeaversary!

Photo: Annie Spratt

Photo: Annie Spratt

URSPO is one of TTDOG’s most dedicated readers and a writer in his own right.  We have followed one another’s writing for nearly a decade.  I am personally delighted each time he takes a few moments to write a comment.  His words are always well considered, insightful and advance the conversation.  Candidly, it means a lot to me to know that the time I take in reflective practice and in writing about it publicly is having an impact on others – even if it is only one person.  I would still do the practice, but doing it publicly is a vulnerable action that I need not undertake.  While there are likely lurkers out there reading and not commenting, it is satisfying to know that it means something to someone.  We are grateful for all the comments from URSPO since our first day of practice and we asked him to share a little about what being part of this community has meant to him:

“I have been a regular reader of TTDOG for some time. I am very glad to be part of the blog. I’ve had many delights from reading its prose; I have greatly benefited from the entries. The chief lesson from Tania’s blog is gratitude, of course. She continually reminds us to look for the gratitude in all that happens in our lives. 

There is always something for which to be grateful. This is not mere complacent wish-thinking. Studies show when we focus on the positive it trains our brains to think positively and be healthy in our approaches.

A happy consequence of her posts is I do not lose touch of gratitude. She comforts me; she stiffens my spine when I feel despondent. I start each day with the prayer “I thank thee lord for thou hast given me another day’. When I need help I evoke Tania and find the gratitude. I feel grateful for her and her journey. I am honored to be part of it.”

 

Photo: Joshua Earle

Photo: Joshua Earle

 

At the annual gratitude celebration, our friend Faith Romeo took on the task of making sure that everyone wrote 3 things for which they were grateful on the wall at the Canvas Café.  For many people this was easy.  For some, however, this was deeply challenging and brought up all sorts of emotions.  Faith helped me to identify the people who were facing emotional challenges with being grateful so that we could sit together and could come out the other side. Everyone left the event with an understanding that gratitude isn’t about having an ideal life or even a fulfilling life but that by working through the small wonders in our day, we can build our emotional resilience to be able to take on the challenges that keep us from being fulfilled.  I would like to believe that the event was the start of a transformational journey for some.

Faith shared with us her thoughts on the journey she has taken alongside TTDOG:

“When I attended the launch of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude in the Canvas Café last year, things were going well in my personal life but could have been better in my working life. I had left my job as a teaching assistant to look after my son who’s behaviour had become unstable following a diagnosis of ADHD and was working in a unsatisfying job that was personally unrewarding.

Following the party, I decided to adopt a more positive approach to life, an attitude of gratitude, if you will. I applied and was accepted as a volunteer youth wellbeing trainer for a charity that delivers mindfulness and wellbeing sessions to young people. Part of this scheme is that I have to develop my own mindfulness practice, which has been very beneficial to me but also to those around me too. In the last year since the launch of TTDOG there have been a lot of changes in my life.

I got married in November to my long term partner and have never been more happy or fulfilled. I feel very fortunate to have a loving husband and son and never forget how lucky I am to have both. I returned to teaching assistant work in January. It took working under a terrible manager for me to realise that I needed to leave a job I didn’t like. Since returning to teaching assistant work I am working in a lovely school, with some amazing children. I can honestly say that this is my vocation and I feel incredibly lucky to be working in a job that I love.”

Photo: Daniel Watson

Photo: Daniel Watson

Seeing gratitude practice transform others has been one of the highlights of the last two years for me, personally.  With gratitude, we added joy, when a long time friend, Paula Montgomery started posting about moments of joy in her life.  We noticed that gratitude practice created that joy and so, in the first year of practice, we made that connection more explicit in our writings.  TTDOG is grateful to Paula for that prompt.  And in turn, it is rewarding to hear that she, too, has gained something from the experience:

“Since being part of the Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude community and having the chance to reflect on gratitude on my life, I have become less angry and judgemental. I find that having gratitude for what I have in my life, instead of focusing on what I don’t have, takes the edge off my demeanor and makes me more understanding. I have some unhappy negative people around me who complain about everything and everyone, and knowing that we all have allot to be grateful for helps me keep a positive perspective, and to feel better about my life.

I am very grateful for a community that reminds me everyday that I have much to be grateful for! Thank you.”

Photo: Thomas Kelley

Photo: Thomas Kelley

I am delighted to present to you some of the key voices that have been part of this journey.  The community that keeps me accountable to keep coming back to the basic practice.  This summer has been tough.  The last 18 months have been tough.  Honestly, the last 3 years have been tough.  But this practice really has been like drinking an emotional energy drink.  Without taking the time to come back to and reflect upon those things for which I am grateful, the moments of everyday joy, my sense of oneness with something greater than myself and the reminder to give back, life really would be meaningless, for me.  When we have meaning, we can withstand any temporary trials, stresses, health concerns and problems because we are living a life of purpose.  My purpose, I hope, is to make the world a better place, by the way that I live.

This year, I chose to feature several people who also seem to be living their life on purpose to make the world a better place and to build up that community of positive change makers.  And so, we went back to the seminal moment that prompted that series – an article about the charitable work of Dr. Alicia Altorfer-Ong.  Writing to us from Asia, she said:

“I think you are the community.  The value of the springboard that you’ve given each person is in affirming, encouraging, incubating.  I often enjoy the “work” — the gritty and backstage bits — but not so much talking about it, because of the attention.  Yet if we don’t tell people about what’s being done out there, we might miss an opportunity to teach touch or inspire.  

The world needs connectors: people who seek nothing else than to bring others together.

I am grateful for the chance to have shared an episode/a belief/an anecdote in my life on TTDOG.  I also appreciate the power and energy that I felt from reading about the others who were profiled.”

It has been a great journey for me, personally, these last two years.  In many ways, the first year was so much easier.  I was buoyed with the next milestone – one month, three months, six months, a year!  Then the spectre of more than 27 years (Ten Thousand Days) of practice hit me, in the second year.  This cannot be a project.  This must become a way of living, if I am to achieve Ten Thousand Days.  And so, in year two, the hard work began.

None of us is an island, and we need to draw inspiration from others.  I have been so fortunate to have been able to bring you feature articles about artists and musicians and people living their lives on purpose to make the world a better place.  James Wheale completed a crowdfunding campaign to install a sustainable pedal power energy source in the garden, and has brought new life into the world with the birth of his first son, this month.  Action for Happiness has celebrated their 5 year anniversary and continues to grow its membership worldwide.  Alexandra Jackman has become a contributing writer for Huffington Post and honoured with a university scholarship to be able to continue her education that will ultimately involve advocating for people on the autism spectrum.  Elie Calhoun completed her crowd funding campaign and together with Code Innovation, is working on developing a rape crisis counselling app for survivors.  Wrdsmth, Matthew Del Degan and Louis Masai have continued to thrive as artists, bringing their messages of inspiration, love and animal welfare across North America and Europe.

There are so many good news stories out there and so many good news moments in our lives.  I don’t expect that the next 365 days will be easy.  In fact, I anticipate that they will be very personally challenging with changes in my circumstances and personal life.  But nobody said that living gratefully was always easy.  I am individually grateful to CM, FR and LK who always remind me to come back to my practices when things get too difficult.  Although it is difficult to carve out time to sleep, let alone write at the moment, it is a joy to sit with you readers and disclose myself each time.  I feel a sense of communion and oneness with you, known and unknown readers and it is my ardent hope that if you’re having a bad day, week, month, or year – coming here gives you that sense of community as well.  My service is simply to dedicate myself once again to keep showing up and together, I hope that the process creates meaning, for both of us.

Who knows where we will be in another 365 days?  I hope that wherever it is, we arrive gratefully, safe, and together.
Photo: Evan Kirby

Photo: Evan Kirby

For what are you grateful this week, month, year?