sweat it

30 no one flies all the time 1

When it comes to creativity, popular culture can offer a picture of gifted people being inspired and followed by a swoosh of activity to produce what they have in mind.  Thinking it doesn’t quite look this for us, we don’t follow the ideas we have and the energies we feel.

We see the product but not the process of blood, sweat, and tears.

When we give ourselves to the graft of process something very beautiful can emerge.

Italo Carvalo tells the story of Fedora, a city in which there is a museum wherein each of it’s rooms there is a glass sphere containing someone’s dream of what the city might have become – ‘the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was no longer the same as before.’

What if this were a picture of our lives, a museum of rooms containing missed opportunities for living out the things we have dreamed about?

What if, instead of creating perfect little models of what would have to be to begin, we go ahead and create the real thing in some little and imperfect and incomplete way?

Whoever it is who inspires you, behind the products of their creativity will be found sweat, desperation, blank expressions, frantic activity, all contributing to the process which eventually ends in some scrubbed, highly coloured and glossy, boxed something or other.

Every morning, I get up early, hide myself away to read and reflect and journal: paper and fountain pen, trying not to come to conclusions, trying to let whatever may come emerge from the spaces between many books and scripts and thoughts.  Then, before the urgent things of the day, I force myself to write some extract and abstract into a “new post” for my blog.  I press the save button and walk away to begin thinking about some cartoon to accompany it, gt on with other work – emails, “to-do” lists, and then, later in the day, a third attempt to write something, include the cartoon, and press “publish” (which is just a grand word WordPress uses to make me feel better).

I have no delusions about what I am doing, it’s simply my challenge not to not do anything.  It took me to 54 years of age before realising I need to sweat it to push forward something I love, and each day to repeat.

A year ago, I scribbled out the following thought in my “Backlog” (ideas I might come back to).  I’m indebted to Hugh Macleod for unknowingly pushing me to blog and cartoon about the stuff I love.

30 backlog

Here are some helpful reads from my ra-ra! cheerleaders (in addition to those you’ll find hyperlinked in my posts – gratefulness flowing to all of them):
Ignore Everybody by Hugh Macleod
Poke the Box by Seth Godin
Accidental Genius by Mark Levy
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Steal Like an Artist by AustinKleon


invisible lives

29 slow

John O’Donahue tells the story of a journalist who wanted to interview a native South American chief.

Before acceding to this request, the chief asks to have time for the two to be together beforehand.  On meeting he begins to stare intently into the journalist’s eyes.  At first deeply unnerved, the journalist enters into this deep gazing and for two hours the two look upon each other in silence.  The interview then didn’t needed to follow.

O’Donahue makes the intriguing allusion, ‘In the human face, the anonymity of the universe becomes intimate.’

We are the strangest of animals thrown out by a universe which appears to be accidental in nature: the Human face looks out on the vastness of the universe and ponders the “infinity of interiority” amongst the many infinities of the macroscopic and the microscopic, many worlds and universes.

It is perhaps in the coming to see and understand these worlds we find in one another’s lives, we come to see and understand our own life.

Italo Carvalo has his two characters Kublai Khan
and Marco Polo at the end of a day ‘silent, their eyes
half-closed, reclining on cushions, swaying in hammocks,
smoking long amber pipes,’ each in a train of thought,
sometimes meeting across a presence they inhabit together.

Polo has been describing to the Khan the cities he has visited which turn out to be one, or one part of a city where he was born (I share this at length because it’s a lovely, illuminating passage):

Marco Polo imagined answering (or Kublai Khan imagined his answer) that the more one was lost in unfamiliar quarters of distant cities, the more one understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive there; and he retraced the stages of his journeys, and he came to know the port from which he had set sail, and the familiar places of his youth, and the surroundings of his home, and the little square of Venice where he gambled as a child.

Can it be, in the meeting of many new lives into which we gaze intently, we come to know and understand our own life?  If it is so then it is a strange thing, in a universe as cold and indifferent as we believe ours to be, there should be found such shocking warmth and intimacy – hardly yet explored.

Arriving in each new city, the traveller finds again
a past of his he did not know he had: the foreignness
of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies
in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places. …  
“Journeys to relive your past?” was the Khan’s question
at this point, a question which you have been formulated:
“Journeys to recover your future?”


life after death

28 elemental rule 5

Austin Kleon admits to reading obituaries each morning: ‘Obituaries aren’t really about death; they’re about life.’

He’s making sure he does something half-decent with his life, like the people he’s reading about

Many people who’ve had near-death experiences tell of how different life looks like afterwards, how they’re going to make the most of it – the old obstacles won’t get in the way, what people think no longer matters.

I was reminded of when I went to swim at a pool – a euphemism for something extremely inelegant on my part – and, not being a very good swimmer, panicked when I couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool. I began floundering but no one noticed; I didn’t want this to be “it” and somehow struggled my way to the edge and pulled myself out of the pool – still no-one had noticed (I like to think someone eventually would have noticed).

For some time afterwards everything seemed sweeter.

Life after death.

In ancient rites of passage, one of the elementary truths a youngster faced would be: You are going to die.  The thinking was, they would face death upfront and then live life fully  as a contributing member of their society.

We get to live one life; the trick is not to waste it.  Whether we read obituaries as a way of having near-death experiences or we write one for our own life,* or we get really focused from the first moment of the day around what it is we must do to make a difference, what if we train ourselves to be life-after-death people who make it possible for others to live again?

Here are three questions which make me wonder more:

Who is my song for?
What is my question?
Where is my itch?

When you make a dream come true for yourself,
it’ll be a dream come true for someone else too.

(*You might want to try a ten-minute writing exercise, when you time yourself to create your own obituary, imagining the things you;d most want to be said about you, or, go to the future and write a letter to yourself in the present, about how your life has changed and what you are doing.)

blank spaces

27 lots of blank spaces ...

The unknown areas displayed on maps were once filled with images of fearsome creatures but then came Jean Baptiste Bourguignon and his companions, and, ‘a blank on a map became a symbol of rigorous standards; the presence of absences lent authority to all on the map that was unblank.’

The blanks became spaces for exploration; as it were, spaces to believe in and then to see.  There are in existence more blank spaces than you know, spaces you can explore and make the contribution only you can make, and they may be under your nose, .

Austin Kleon advises, ‘Find a scenius, pay attention to what others are sharing, and then start taking notice of what they’re not sharing.  Be on the lookout for voids you can fill with your own efforts, no matter how bad they are at first.’

Between all the things that are happening, because of the efforts and skills of others, there are blank spaces for you to fill with that thing you do.  When you believe in them, you will begin to see them.

Don’t try and copy what others are doing, then: do what others are not doing.


you love more, you win

26 you're a absolute amateur

These are “Ahmad’s” words; he lost everything, including his restaurant, in an Israeli airstrike on Beirut in 2006.  Now forced to work in someone else’s restaurant, he’d just been asked if he was bitter and angry at someone.*

He repeated his reply in his broken English, “You love more, you win.”

If he’s right then maybe we can turn this around: You love less, you lose?

I don’t want to cheapen the context in which these words were spoken, but I think Ahmad is right on many levels.  Ahmad is grasping the beauty of the infinite game: to include as many as possible, to keep the game open-ended (who knows where it will take us … and then more), and when the rules threaten to exclude or end the game, change them.

To love more, is to be able to love more, is to be able to love more.

We’re in need of open-ended games or journeys or story to know more of what we are capable of, and capable of together.  Since learning of the Johari window‘s fourth “window-pane” (“Pane 1” – What I know about myself and like to reveal to others; “Pane 2” – What I know about myself but conceal from others; “Pane 3” – What I don’t know about myself but others do know) has intrigued me: What I don’t know about myself and others also don’t know.  I’m wondering whether these things only begin to emerge through the unfamiliar and the stranger – liminal people and places in which we help and support each other to discover more about one another and ourselves (including our future Self) more – everyone is blind to something about themselves.

Our means of venturing into this unknown is often what we love.  Here, though, I don’t want to do wrong by Ahmad, but to do more of what you love is to win.

Amateur is French for lover, Austin Kleon‘s definition fitting really well in our infinite game: ‘Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results (David Weinberger comments, ‘The new abundance makes the old abundance look like scarcity’).  Amateurs (meaning lovers) are delivering more creatively than professionals (think Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and the Homebrew Computer Club over IBM, or my friend Julie Dodsworth over Royal Doulton, or BrewLab over Starbucks).

There has never been a better time for you to pursue what you love.**  Leah Robb’s triangle theory of art suggests craftsmanship, substance, and innovation are important elements for delivering great art – and they’re all available to the amateur in just about any field.  The means to develop skills, to connect with others, to deliver what we create has never been so available as now, and everything suggests these will only increase.

The shortage is in people willing to do it.  To
take a leap. To walk onto the ledge and start.

You love more, you win, as Ahmad said.

(*”Ahmad” also works as a loan officer with Al Majmoua (“the Group”), a partner organisation with micro finance charity Kiva, seeking to help rebuild the lives of others whilst also rebuilding his own.)
(** There are many things which the amateur probably is not able to pursue easily: you’re not going to pursue your ideas about the Higgs Boson without access to the Large Hadron Collidor.)

cities and scenii

25 a friend is a loved one ...

Scenii?  Is this the plural of scenius,* Brian Eno’s word for ‘a scene of people supporting each other – a mini-city of sorts.**

Invisible Cities is Italo Carvelo’s masterful tale of Marco Polo‘s descriptions to Kublae Khan of many cities, gradually revealing the one city he is revealing again and again to be Venice.

That a city is not one story but many is true for all cities.^  A city can be described over and over again, each time differently – thin-sliced as another story, rich and telling, even to the point where it becomes your story, where you are the city.  What I’m trying to say is that your story, your contribution is important.  Whether we call it scenius or city, this is an environment in which your way of relating, of seeing, of thinking, of doing, is important – there are no strangers in a city which understands itself in this way:

The stranger does not come accidentally;
he brings a particular gift and illumination.

We each have something to contribute which another do not.  A scenius begins with two people – so you can be the founding mother or father, welcoming and encouraging the contribution of everyone who brings their gift.  Then there is yet another story of the city, the place, in which you live.

A scenius can be anything from people coming together to explore the idea that everyone has something to share, through to people working on projects in parallel or a project together.

Time to tell another story of the city.

(*The plural of genius is genii, so I guess this may be right.)
(**David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know is a fascinating look at how we have come to know what has always been true: there is too much to know – now the “smartest person in the room is the room.”)
(^I use the word city to describe how people decide to live in close proximity to one another, rather than a densely populated conurbation.)


24 scenius ...

This is Brian Eno‘s word for where genius lies – not in the individual, but in ‘a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas.’

Whether acknowledged or not, every “genius” of mythical proportion has some kind of scene of people.

Scenius requires openness – openness towards ideas, towards others, and towards what we can contribute (action) within, or as a result of, the scene.

Another word for openness is awareness: to be aware of what we have been previously blind to.

Another word for openness and awareness is presence: open and aware in ways which allow deep connection.

The first hurdle is to see and understand there is more than we see and know – we have to suspend our usual ways of seeing and understanding.

The second hurdle is to see and understand the Other, through whom we can see and understand more.

The third hurdle is to put into action what we are experiencing as change within.

Everyone and anyone gets to be included in a scenius, even geniuses – it is an infinite game.

The alternative to openness and awareness and presence is to miss out: ‘Sadly, it is often loss that awakens presence.’

the future is (more) connected

23 i still peel a banana ...

With literacy came letters and postal services.  Then the telegraph came along and telegrams passed urgent messages to and and fro; the telephone followed soon afterwards and reduced the costs and urgent messages were overtaken by people phoning up for a chat (and if you couldn’t have a phone in your home, there was one on the street corner).

Even if we were to pause here we might conclude: Humans love to be in touch, and turn whatever method of communication into a means of connecting.

But then came the internet and the world wide web – and we’re just beginning to discover what we can do with this.

Yesterday I was listening to someone in their seventies describe how she was being taught to use a computer she’d been given – she didn’t really want it.  She was delivering a brilliant stand-up comedy routine on the arguments she was being fed for messaging and using Skype.  Fair to say these weren’t very good, much like the efforts to take any kind of picture on a new camera just to be able to use it: the coffee table, the half-drunk cup of tea, the disinterested cat licking its bum.

This scales up into having hundreds of friends on Facebook (Facebook knows we’ll only connect with a small group regularly*) and a race to get to 100, 500, and 10,000 followers on Twitter, but we love connecting and something quite astonishing promises to emerge from this, ways and means of delivering courage and generosity.

John O’Donahue offers:

Though the human body is born complete, the human
heart is never completely born.  It is being birthed in
every experience of your life.  Everything that happens
to you has the potential to deepen you.  It brings to
birth within you new territories of the heart.

We already know there’s more information in the world wide web than we can deal with, but beginning to appear are connections of hearts, like-hearted people finding each other and dreaming of making a difference in a world of need.

We have another way to do what we’ve always wanted to do as a species: connect.

(*’80 percent of our phone calls are to the same four people’.  It’s the way the groups of friends form which is interesting – friends, friends’ friends, friends’ friends’ friends.)


tribute to friendship

22 okay … better … boom

In his very readable book Makers, Chris Anderson lists three of the free benefits for 3D printing.*  Whilst 3D printing is not scalable – each item costs the same – it does make it possible to offer variety, complexity, and flexibility without extra cost.

And so does friendship.

If that’s a crazy leap to make, let me backfill a little.

Last night my wife and I were out with a group of people whose friendship we value.  Then, this morning, I read the John Donahue’s suggestion that ‘Friendship is a creative and subversive force.  It claims that intimacy is the secret law of life and universe.’

Some of last night’s friends are working together on an initiative.  Some might think this is a risky thing to do – what do you do if something goes wrong?   Others may say it’s about completing the work: “I’m not here to make friends!”

Of course, we can’t be friends with everyone we meet – this cheapens what we mean by friends.  Most of our “friends” on Facebook aren’t really friends.  Yet, if we were to meet any of them, we could express friendship towards them.

One source suggests there are different kinds of friendship we can offer: building people up in their talents, being companions through the problems of life, mind-openers to new possibilities, navigators through challenges and circumstances, collaborators on projects, champions standing up for others, connectors joining people up in significant ways, and, energisers creating positive environments.  There’s a lot of possibility in these friendships, and they all come free with variety, complexity, and flexibility.

Friendship is the sweet grace which liberates us to
approach, recognise and inhabit the adventure.

(*Anderson’s book argues for the new industrial revolution being with us because of new means of production make it possible for the designer of a “product” owns this through to production.)

the opening life

  21 questions open up spaces for listening

Determinism is the idea or notion that the universe has some purpose or destination towards which we are moving.

Some believe it has, others do not.  Whichever side of this we fall, we find ourselves in the thick of pondering determinism, our minds served by what William James termed “teleological mechanisms.”

What James has identified as a philosopher, those with the heart of a poet have added colour and shape to:

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

I was undone by these words this morning, and few more besides, halted a poet’s vision, word-smithing what is Thin|Silence for me:

It is strange to be here.  The mystery never leaves you
alone.  Behind your image, below your words, above
your thoughts, the silence of another world waits.  
A world lives within you.

The infinite artist lives an opening life.  It is the opposite of closing down creativity and possibility with an explanation – like the up-and-coming artist my friend Leah Robb mentions, closing down the conversation about his work by comparing his work with that of artists whose credentials could not be argued with.

The enemies of the opening life are closer than we think, inhabitants of everyday life: to win an argument, to take over shared office space, to monolopise conversation, to abuse holiday/sick day systems, to bully with “I say it as it is” – all closing life behaviours.

I am still learning the opening life: an open mind, an open heart, and open will.

This life suggests the only thing determined is an openness which means we do not know what we can be yet.