Lunch with Kurt Cobain, Bob Ross, Doogie Howser, M.D., and my cousin Amy (aka – my creative process in the learning curve of the blogosphere)

Life is difficult.

In the early days of the “self-help” movement, M. Scott Peck began his classic book, The Road Less Traveled, with those three words.  My mother gave me my own copy around the time I left home for college. I didn’t get past the first page, but point well taken!

I’d like to expound on his point, and say, “No shit! It’s really fucking difficult.  And thrilling. And scary. And horrific. And beautiful. In this way, I’m finding writing a blog to be a good microcosm of life.

My friend, Leila, asked me why I was choosing to write a blog and who I was writing it for? I admit I’ve never read a blog, much less followed one. I wasn’t really clear, especially on the audience piece. I was only clear that I wanted to get somethings out of my head by placing them into the world.

What are the “Why,” “Who,” and “How” of my blog?

My first entry, “Hello Digital World,” created a container for me to write. My initial “why” was written in about 20 minutes the day before leaving for Europe. In it, I claimed this “small piece of digital land” as a room of my own, in order to write about my passions and to share: 1) parts of my past in hopes of releasing them, 2) moments in the present to savor them, 3) my dreams of the future and my place in it.

I thought this would be a great way to share with my family and friends as I traveled, while beginning to process all the ideas accumulating in my head over several years, and to use all of this content as the beginnings of a website hosting my offerings to the world (coaching, consulting, and drumming).  I figured I could explain why I believe what I believe and how it drives the way I live and work on this earth.

As I write and publish for the “world” to see, I realize how profound my birthing scene was in that first post.  I am a total blog rookie. Like a newborn, basically blind and drunk as I learn to use this tool, depending on connection and kindness from others to help me grow (Hell, I couldn’t even find the spell check until I published two entries…you may have noticed!  And in this moment, I still can’t get spell check to work!!!!! In addition, recently I accidentally published a subject line with no content. Awesome work! Sorry to those who follow and got an update saying “Almost the illegitimate ancestor of a British King.” It’s true, and funny, and is in the que to be explained).

I thought about Leila’s questions some more and images of several people popped into my mind in quick succession.  They were my cousin Amy, Kurt Cobain, “the happy painter” Bob Ross, and Doogie Howser, MD.

Huh?

Great. Thanks Brain.  What the hell do I do with this group of odd fellows (and “fella”) and how does it help me answer those questions?

So it goes with my quirky mind, a rapid fire of randomness with which I get to make meaning and use as sign posts along the “vas deferens” of my soul; leading from the loins of my creativity, out into this world.  It has taken 38 years for me to grow accustomed to it. Now, instead of labeling, pathologizing, or questioning this process, I let it flow and trust that insights will form out of abstraction. Pablo Picasso talked referred to this most essential part of the creativity as “maintaining contact with the medium.” Allowing your mind and body to move you to the point where the work in front of you matches the feeling inside you. He never knew how a painting would look in the end. He had a feeling he was trying to express and he maintained contact with the brush and canvas until he saw it before his own eyes. Watch this clip of him painting to see how he worked and reworked an idea (it begins a few minutes into the clip). Amazing! Fearless! Healthy non-attachment!

So, here is a little insight as to how MY process works, and why each of the people I mentioned above carried a message that helped me get clear on my answer to Leila’s question.

Please, be my guest and enter my world…

I love the icebreaker question, “What three figures from history would you invite to a dinner party?”  I heard this question for the first time when I was 21. My 21 year old self answered that question with: Jesus, Buddha, and Hitler.  I thought that was soooooooo deep.  Worthy of lots of admiration.  17 years later, I decided to revisit this idea, except I changed it to a casual lunch, and invited a new set of people to join me (fortunately, they were all available on short notice). Amy, Bob, Kurt, Doogie, and me: the lunch company of my current, “more mature” fantasy. As we dined on burritos and soda (at my request), and with a note pad on the table, it became clear what insights each of these figures brought to the questions of “who” and “why” and “how.”

(Now imagine me at a Mexican restaurant, at table by myself, staring out the window.  You would never know that I was surrounded by such fantastic company, engaged in thrilling conversation!)

My Cousin Amy: Everyone needs a therapist and an editor

Amy is full of one liners, many of them handed down from her parents. Truly colorful characters, the lot of them. She will commonly use vivid descriptors for people like “strong as goat’s breath” or “rode hard and hung up wet” as she tells stories.  For me her anecdotes are particularly comforting, as many of them evoke the south eastern United States. My favorite of her repertoire is, “Everyone needs a therapist and an editor.” You may have noticed that this is “sure as shittin'” true for me, especially in this new digital world of blogging, where I think of myself as a “technological neanderthal toddler.” If you read my posts early, there is no doubt you will find all sort of gems of grammatical error. “Grammerphile”, I never was.

Seriously, please pardon the spelling people. I am the product of calculators and spell check and was happy to let them do the learning! When I began to operate this software, I wasn’t getting those handy red lines that shout, “Hey!!! You missed something here, holmes!” So please reframe any judgmental leanings and make a game of it. Think of it like an easter egg hunt or a “Where’s Waldo” scene. Feel free to show me what you find. Besides, it is good for me to send out a blog post with a few blemishes and zits, to confront a nasty and stifling internal drive for perfection (though you would never know this from my shaggy, casual, untucked appearance).

The act of pressing “publish” is such a profound experience and a big edge to cross. I consider it a therapeutic victory in and of itself.  I can sit and judge my work until the cows come home ( I neither own a home nor cows), and by then I have convinced myself to scrap whatever I’ve done anyhow.  Therefore, enjoy me in all my misspelled glory. It’s going to be messy for a bit (I’m putting on “Cee Lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections” to help me push through!).

Thank God for this tradition; great medicine for the critics in my head.
Thank God for this tradition, “kintsukuroi,” filling cracks and broken places with gold; great medicine for the critics in my head.
Kurt Cobain : If you read, you’ll judge

Sometime after Kurt Cobain’s death, his journal was published. It was a simple, red, spiral bound Mead notebook. Ever the voyeur, I bought it, eager to see inside the mind of a generational game changer. I did give pause before opening the book, as I read the cover, where he fortuitously wrote a simple phrase. “If you read, you’ll judge.” Who knows what he was thinking as he scribbled that disclaimer, but it did send a haunting feeling through me. He was right. This was years before his art and voice gained a worldwide audience. He was not used to the process of releasing something from deep within, out into the world where judgment and criticism circle like sharks. Also, he probably didn’t intend for this particular work to be shown publicly. Who knows?

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But what I appreciate and have taken from this disclaimer is the need to truly consider the difference between public and private spaces and the reality of an audience. More specifically, the diversity of reactions that come when releasing a part of your essence into the world, forming a relationship with the public. I took a closer look at the process of witnessing (and the all too frequent judgment in tow) that is central to the relationship between the subject/artist and the witness/audience. What does the work say about the subject and what does the reaction say about the audience? What does my blog say about me and what does your reaction say about you? Both good questions to consider and for which I have no answers. I do know it is a space to take seriously, being prepared for anything possible in return (I’m thinking Aikido could be good for me at this point). Look at what it did to Kurt and countless other public persona.

Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, cuts to the heart of what I feel about this. The title is from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, from his speech “Citizenship in a Republic.”  It separates people into two camps, actors on stage, and the critics in the stands. He is less interested in the claims of the critics shouting from their seats, and wants to be in relationship with the actors in the middle of the arena, who are attempting to express their essence in some form. So, I hope that you as my audience can do some of your own great work while you read my words, looking inside, as well as at me, bringing some of your own daring quality to this space.

I can hear a critic saying, “I’m fine here in my seat at home. It isn’t courage that makes you want to be seen publicly, it is your extraversion, vanity, and insecurity that compels you to go out into the public seeking validation. You want people to like you and say good job.” To which I’d say, that is partially true, indeed. And I can relate to wanting to stay in safe quarters. I’ve done that most of my life.

At this point, I AM writing this blog primarily for myself and would love to hear how great you think I am. Even deeper, I know that I can only do so much on my own, in my journal, or in private behind closed doors (safe quarters). My journey of healing over the last five years has been a wonderful laboratory for many moments of public and private healing alike. In moving on from the story of my past, I have been most successful in moving grief and negative energy (shame and guilt) when I was able to be my most vulnerable, authentic, and honest self in front of other people. I am convinced the real secret ingredient was the role of “the witness.”

I don’t think we can be our own witness nearly as powerfully and completely as we can be for each other.

A Slight aside:

Not to veer too far into pop-physics, but physicists are finding that the role of the observer is apparent at microscopic and quantum levels, as well as, the interpersonal level. Tiny particles begin to behave differently as soon as they are observed. Check out this link! The “double slit experiment” first brought this phenomenon to light (pun intended) in the realm of science.

I think of the same phenomenon happening to me and in any setting where someone is being observed. Whether it be on stage, in therapy, at the wailing wall, or in any public space, there is a powerful opportunity for change to occur merely by being seen and heard (I understand that change isn’t always smooth or positive, and that being seen can induce criticism, shame, and hiding. Therefore creating safe spaces, where critical judgment is miraculously trumped by positive regard, for people to choose to be seen, is essential).

Naturally, a mind trained heavily in science will balk at the mention of a connection between the observer at a microscopic, quantum level and the witness at an interpersonal level. I also know science has a long history of whoop’s and mea culpa’s, literally damning people for wild ideas that were proven accurate in time (Galileo and Copernicus to name a few).  The arts and sciences are all continuously replacing paradigms with “truths” that were at one point considered far-fetched or outright denied as insane (like a round earth) or “of the devil” (the heliocentric solar system). I wonder how and where this is happening presently?

So, why is it ridiculous to think this pattern won’t continue to play out, and at the end of time, we see that the age of science and reason took us on a huge detour to return to truths contained at the heart of ancient folklore and spiritual wisdom?

I digress…

Unlike Kurt Cobain’s journal, I understand I am volunteering this work to be seen. I do so because I believe in the power fo community healing and “witnessing” as central to this process. I understand there is no magic forcefield of golden light that will keep judgment away. I welcome feedback in all forms. I just hope it is honest, brave, constructive, and grounded in your own experience. When it isn’t, that speaks for itself.

I believe that the heaviest emotional, traumatic loads should not be held by one person or even two, but by a larger community as a whole. Indigenous people have held this as common practice for ages. In a community healing space, the individual(s) is doing work for the whole and the whole is holding the individual(s). Everyone has points where their story intersects the story of the ‘actor,” or person in the middle of the circle. They are able to process their own life at that point. Everyone wins. Everyone heals.

I hope there are points in my story, where you have a strong reaction, that takes you into your own life and that you are able to process and release some of the load you carry. Please feel free to share if you feel moved. I would love it if you come join me in this arena. To be in relationship with my audience is something that I want. I hope that a blog can be relational, where I can speak my truth AND receive and incorporate feedback. I dream of this new balance in all my relations.

The Happy Painter, Bob Ross: A Nice Broad, Brush-Stroked, Background Layer

Growing up, one of the staples of our public television station was a lovely man named Bob Ross. He hosted a show called the “Joy of Painting,” which on the surface, was simply him painting a generic landscape for about 30 minutes. But once I began watching, I couldn’t stop. It was hypnotic and made me feel the same sort of relaxation and safety that I get from a holiday’s nap. His voice. His cadence. His patience. His warmth. His unique spirit is solely responsible for turning what is otherwise a boring television program, into a seductive, blissful experience. I can’t think of one other person who hosted a painting show (because I find them horribly boring), but he was and is a cult legend for good reason. (He is also a facilitating human, whose artistic life was heavily inspired during his time in the military.).  Watch him do his ‘thang!

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He always began his shows with the same ritual. He chose the shades of paint he wanted to use, mixed them as needed, and began the painting by using broad brush stokes to create a base, background layer of paint. This served as something to hold the rest of the scene, and allowed him to move towards more and more detail. That is a good visual for my own creative process. I make large, sweeping strokes as I brainstorm and constantly refine them as I make pass after pass. Similar to a two dimensional spiral, approaching a more focused point with each revolution through space and time.

I was so happy to see this shape in Assisi, Italy. I had just written this part the day before.
This may as well be inside my head. I was so happy to see this shape in Assisi, Italy. I had just written this part the day before.
I see this happening within each post I write, but also with the blog as a whole. I am still working on introducing major themes and the background story, before moving into the minutia of small moments. (Perhaps in the future, I will reverse the direction, and begin with small moments to see what larger image is revealed in time.)

Doogie Houser, M.D.: Small Nuggets of Moral Fiber or “Colonblow?”

Remember this guy? I’m thinking he may be the original blogger.

Clearly, I am not the first person to make this connection. Thanks and props to the folks at Axiom Amnesia for creating this picture.
Clearly, I am not the first person to make this connection. Thanks and props to the folks at Axiom Amnesia for creating this picture.
Before there was “How I Met Your Mother” and hosting award shows, there was “Doogie Houser, M.D,” which gave us Neil Patrick Harris (God Bless that man).  What a landmark for my generation, right along side other teen-centric shows like Punky Bruster, Blossom, The Wonder Years, and Saved by the Bell.

Hanna Montana who?

What I remember more than anything, was the journaling at the conclusion of each episode on his primitive desktop computer.  Somehow, in a sentence or two, he managed to wrap up half hour of drama with a perfectly wholesome nugget of morality.

As I continue to ponder, “WTF is a blog anyway, and what is the “best” way to do this?,” I keep holding myself to the “Doogie standard,” since it is my archetype for the blogosphere. Thus far, short daily entries have not been my modus operandi.

In fairness to myself, Doogie’s entries managed to be so on point because it was fabricated and produced by a huge team!!! He had more than an editor and a therapist. He had producers, directors, make up artists, gaffers, grips, and cameramen setting it up for him!!! I do not have such a team (though I am open to any of the previously mentioned), nor am I a boy genius. Therefore, I rely even more on the gifts of feedback and support from those around me.

As for the format of the blog, I alternate between wanting to offer short observations and longer stories. On one hand, I want to craft “daily nuggets of moral fiber” that are short and simple, easily digestible, and keep you regular.

On the other hand, I want to drop big bombs of printed “Colonblow.” Something a little harder to swallow, with lots of interwoven themes, that clears out the system for a while. A real good purge. In time, I will try and do both, using broad brush strokes to provide a background context for small details to have meaning.

Getting started is the hardest part and I am finally under way!!! Until I perfect my own brand of short, wholesome, morality nuggets, I’ll leave you with one from the original blogger (OB) himself, Doogie Houser, M.D.  Enjoy 1992 all over again. Relive the feelings of joy and dread as your beloved T.V. show ends and you face the reality of unfinished homework and school the following day.

Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and to what extent???

I still don’t know the complete answer to Leila’s questions. But, here’s what I do know.

The purpose of this space will morph over time. And then it will change again. Above all, I want it to be a creative process, anchored in intention, unafraid to change, with an unknown final destination. I also know, thanks to Amy, Kurt, Bob, and Doogie (Pablo and Brene, as well), that editors, witnesses, creativity, and courage will be essential ingredients for this bambino blog to blossom. Paradoxically, baby steps of broad brush strokes.

This blog is for my clarity and hopefully connection with you. I’m writing to share my thoughts about my life, and to offload old ideas and to upload new ones. I’m writing to build an interactive, creative space of passion and wonder for anyone who is attracted this way. I hope to create meaning and meaningful relationships, as I release the past, take in the present, and dream of a future where I live and work at the intersection of my passions:

Rhythm/Music, Culture, Power, Embodiment, and Stewardship

As I leave southern Italy for Greece, tracing the Mediterranean east, (three months into the journey) I can assure you these themes are all over this trip and I am slowly figuring out how to tell the story. They will remain at the heart of this blog. Behind the scenes, my notes are taking form and the next steps are becoming clear as I need them.

So yes, Life is difficult.

M. Scott Peck, completes his thought by saying that life ceases to be difficult, paradoxically, once it is accepted as such. This has certainly been true in my experience, and that has made all the difference.

 

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This life is difficult, scary, thrilling, and wonder-full, at least.

Blogging too.

I’m tired of sleeping.

Waking slowly, dreaming.

Maintaining contact with my breath, drum, pen, and Earth.

I’m grateful to be here, together.

One thought on “Lunch with Kurt Cobain, Bob Ross, Doogie Howser, M.D., and my cousin Amy (aka – my creative process in the learning curve of the blogosphere)

  1. Hi, John.
    I spent a good half hour sending you a message this morning, and may have lost the whole thing with some sloppy finger action. I hope you received it … I’m studying with the College of Integrative Medicine and it is peppered with gems like a comment about a lab that tests your DNA for how you will respond to certain medications like methotrexate. This may be too deep a dive too quickly but are clearly a thinker; you may want to check it out especially if you have the MTHFR genetic morphism (common for Euro ancestry)
    genelex.com/pharmacogenetic-tests/mthfr/
    “MTHFR is an enzyme that helps process folate, a form of vitamin B, which plays an important role in DNA synthesis and regulation of homocysteine levels. Major substrates include methotrexate, a drug commonly used in chemotherapy and rheumatoid arthritis. Patients who are initiating folate or methotrexate therapies or have a history of adverse effects or treatment failure should consider MTHFR genotyping.”

    Like

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