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Posts Tagged ‘purpose’

Being the Banana

In Creative Living on February 5, 2015 at 9:15 pm

By Angela Nicolini

People tell themselves all sorts of reasons why they shouldn’t embrace their creative sides. “I don’t have time to paint or write.” “I’m too old to try something new.” But the biggest excuse seems to be, “I could never produce a true work of art.” But who gets to decide what art is? If it brings enjoyment to your life and the lives of others, isn’t any attempt at creativity worthwhile?

I’ve thought for a long time that I want to be a writer. I love to put pen to paper. And having lived a well-traveled and curious life, I have many anecdotes and facts to include in my stories.

I spoke three languages by the age of five. (Four languages if you include the ‘twin talk’ my sister and I made up.) I’ve had the good fortune of living in such fabulous countries as Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. I’ve traveled by plane, train, hot air balloon, riverboat, and even by camel in these exotic places, and many more.

Photo by Tammy Werner Zimbabwe

Photo by Tammy Werner

My aspiration is to write a fictional book for spiritual people who are not necessarily religious. I have lofty goals. My dream is for this book to be a shining beacon for all who read it. Then I’ll get to go on press tours and talk about my book. And having it made into a movie would be a fabulous cherry on top!

But several things stop me from attaining my goal. Mostly it’s the anticipation of the incredibly hard work involved, if I’m completely honest. It can take three years or more to write a novel. And I’ve heard that the endless revisions are the hardest part. My personality doesn’t respond well to sitting alone for hours at a time, working away at my computer. I also waste a lot of time with a running dialogue in my head: Is this a dream I want to follow because I really love writing, or simply because I want to feed my ego?

When I feel inclined to beat myself up over this world-changing book that has yet to materialize, I remind myself of a talk given by a wonderful Hindu speaker who came to my small, West Texas town several years ago.

The speaker’s message was simple: We are all part of God. And God is inside each of us. Our job as humans is merely to learn as much as we can about ourselves, and to strive to be our best selves. And in doing so, we will get closer to God.

He went on to say that we can change the world using this same strategy, and he illustrated his lesson in the most beautiful way. He explained that ripe bananas emit chemicals that make nearby fruits ripen faster. “If you have green bananas in your refrigerator, and you place them in a drawer with a ripe banana, they will ripen faster. Our job in life is simply to be that ripe banana for those around us.”

I believe the message he was giving is that by recognizing our true nature, embracing ourselves, and honoring those around us, we are emitting ‘goodness’ that those around us can soak up. And they, in turn, will also emit good vibes. And so on.

Photo by Mary Gregory West Texas

Photo by Mary Gregory
West Texas

This took all of the pressure off me to try to change the world in one, singular way. Instead, I decided to take a few extra seconds each day to smile at whomever served me at restaurants. I made an effort to ask the person ringing up my groceries how their day was going. If my friend was telling me about her bad day, I listened with my whole heart, instead of planning what I was going to say next in response. And I decided to make a deep, concerted effort to look at myself with open eyes.

Here’s the thing… after I embraced this new way of thinking, I started getting many opportunities to write in a way that actually fit my personality! Three years ago, I was offered a job teaching a class at a local university. While writing a curriculum for an entire semester was admittedly tedious, it only took one summer to do so. And each semester afterward has been easier than the one before. The most rewarding part was getting to include all of those fascinating facts and stories I’d collected throughout my life, to make the lectures more interesting.

Because of my new contacts at the university, I’ve also had several opportunities to give one-time guest lectures. I get to use ‘both sides’ of my brain to create presentations that offer the students facts, as well as fun.

I have a plethora of stories to draw on when composing my talks.

From my days as a student at an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school,

… to peeking into one of the great Pyramids in Egypt,

… to staying in a tree house in Kenya, that lies on the path of an ancient elephant migratory route (the spot in fact, where Queen Elizabeth found out on her honeymoon that she was to ascend the throne following her father’s death)…

And here I am, writing this article for this fabulous blog thanks to meeting its creator at a local non-profit where we both volunteer.

Don’t get me wrong. I might still write my world-changing book someday. But if I don’t, I know I can still make a difference in this world in other ways that may appear smaller, but are just as important. In short, I’ve learned that we don’t have to pressure ourselves to create masterpieces of art, literature, or music in order to believe our lives are worthwhile. We just need to be the ripe bananas. The rest will take care of itself.

Photo by Laurel Greszler England

Photo by Laurel Greszler


Thoughts on Beauty

In Art, Nature on August 5, 2014 at 10:51 pm
Photo by Laurel Greszler

Photo by Laurel Greszler

By Heila Rogers

There is such beauty and creativity in the natural world around us.

It makes me think, “Why?!”

What purpose is there to all that beauty and limitless variety? If things are just functional, for use, if life has no meaning beyond the grave, or beyond self-satisfaction or acquisition – then why should there be ten different varieties of colorful koi fish, or different multicolored hummingbirds? Those hummingbirds could all be gray (but also amazing), and it wouldn’t matter, if there weren’t some purpose to beauty. If one looks at life as if there’s no eternity we can somewhat appreciate the beauty of flora and fauna – but there’s no reason for it.

If we see natural beauty as a clue to the existence of an extraordinarily creative God, what does the beauty then also say about this possible Creator?

I think it says that this God is the ultimate Artist … and I think that it says this God is Loving. Because why else would the One who made them, make these myriad creations we’d enjoy, except that this God cared about us? And knew … that we’d draw strength, enjoyment, and even spiritual encouragement from looking at and seeing these beautiful things.

That we’d draw hope from experiencing the amazing way they live, and move, and have their being. I think it also means that this God can’t help it. This God is who this God is.

laurel - cobweb

Frosty Cobweb | Photo by Laurel Greszler

A person’s acts out of Who they are. We people are all flawed. So when we’re angry, sometimes we hurt ourselves or others. When we’re happy, we sometimes sing. This God acts out of Who and how this God is.

People say, “But bad things happen.” This is true. But I’m noticing that the bad things are perversions of the good. Nothing has been created bad in the first place. All human beings, even with perhaps deformed parts (which is all of us, to some extent) have beautiful, precious souls. Each blade of grass, each sparrow, each hair of our head matters and is beautiful in its way.

In the documentary film about his life, the unusual artist Wayne White has this to say about beauty:

It’s embarrassing.

What does he mean by that?

I think he’s touching on the grand, beyond-us, divine aspect of it. He’s explaining somewhat its power. He’s examining how we interact with it when we find it.

By beauty I mean the visual, emotional things that strike our eye, ear, nose or thoughts and we feel… comforted, amazed, speechless, satisfied or invigorated and calmed at the same time. We delight, and yet a part of us almost feels not worthy of it sometimes.

Photo by Blaize Wilkinson

Golden Aspen | Photo by Blaize Wilkinson

Becoming a Life Artist

In Art, Creative Living on February 15, 2014 at 6:46 pm

By Heila Rogers

What if someone has a wonderful talent, and works to paint an amazing painting, mold a glorious sculpture, or write a magnificent, universal character?

Certainly that person as an artist is contributing greatly to society by adding beauty to it.

What if that same person cuts you off in traffic, exploits or curses others, or lies habitually?

What if someone else creates then in a different form? This one consisting of small gestures, or actions that make good grow in people’s hearts?

Someone say, who slows down without bitterness when they’re cut off in traffic, someone who strives to thank people and lift them up, someone who honors others with truths — like the one that they matter to the world?

Actually we all fall into both categories, I think. We’re all both creators and destroyers.

What I want to explore is how we can create in miniscule ways throughout each day. How we can all become better Life Artists. Weaving, or painting, or sculpting beauty and love  into and out of each day.

Although we all appreciate great art, don’t the small moments of kindness we’ve experienced in our own lives stand out more brightly? Can’t we recall moments of forgiveness, warmth, and sacrificial care more quickly than we can remember the best painting or movie we’ve ever seen?

So the question is, does Great Art – also consist of kindness, forgiveness and love?


Is beauty always a recipe that contains some measure of the above?

Back to the small acts and kindnesses.

I appreciate genuine smiles so much.

Even just “the dignity of notice” is something that is supremely valuable.

Watching the documentary, Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present made me think a lot about this kind of thing. Then I read an article about Fred Rogers of the PBS children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, that made me think even more about how to create, by loving people individually.

What the artist Marina did, for this performance art piece was sit in a chair for hours at a time in a museum and face the person who sat in a chair opposite her. All day long, she did only this. She didn’t eat or drink during that time. She spent the nights during the show, drinking and going to the bathroom.

Although her motives for doing what she did are perhaps not completely clear, it is evident that she operated on a plane where she was seeking to receive and communicate truth. She was also willing to be uncomfortable in the process.

That was it. She met their eyes, she communicated as much as she could without words. She tried to “listen” to them on a deep level. She tried to see them. Just the act of giving attention was powerful. No touching or speaking was allowed.

Someone commented:

“She is treating each person that she encounters with the same attention and the same respect and that is pretty shocking.”

Isn’t it sad, that it’s shocking? That to, “treat each person that we encounter with the same attention and the same respect” is so unusual?

She and the others involved in different live art pieces actually prepared heavily in different ways for their performances. For example, they practiced being still and slowing down their breathing. They confronted things within themselves, in anticipation of being in front of people and offering up something. They spent a lot of time in silence, thinking.

I think that every person needs something like this, to be able to give to others in any way. We need strength from outside ourselves.

Another thing about this particular performance art was that everyone was watching the whole thing. People came to the museum to see the exhibit, which was two people sitting across from one another in silence.

Another aspect of note about it was that people practically hurt each other rushing into the museum, trying to compete to be the ones to sit in the empty chair.

My favorite moment is when two young kids replicate the performance and are cross-legged, sitting on the floor right there facing one another, staring. Of course they would copy the adults, but they also create something new of their own in that moment.

We can create in this way.

In contrast to the above, but with some of the same elements, check out the following private moment behind closed doors.

This excerpt is from a wonderful article written by Tom Junod in Esquire magazine, and it’s a story about Mr. Rogers and his minister whom he asks a favor of, and then includes the journalist in the interaction.

Mr. Rogers began creating the moment he met this journalist. He began looking at him and really listening. He tried to really see his life. He cared about him and expressed that. He also was simply himself in the process of interaction. Doing what he did in his own particular way, even when that could’ve been seen as geeky or peculiar. The article is entitled, “Can You Say … Hero?”

The below example to me, is an amazing one of the quiet art of living. Of being a life artist. Attuned to others and oneself, free in the knowledge of one’s value, and that one has the ear of God. After getting to know both the journalist and the minister, Fred Rogers was in a room with just the two of them, behind a closed door. They all touched.

The next afternoon, I [writer Tom Junod] went to [Fred Rogers’] office in Pittsburgh. He was sitting on a couch, under a framed rendering of the Greek word for grace and a biblical phrase written in Hebrew that means “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” A woman was with him, sitting in a big chair. Her name was Deb. She was very pretty. She had a long face and a dark blush to her skin. She had curls in her hair and stars at the centers of her eyes. She was a minister at Fred Rogers’s church. She spent much of her time tending to the sick and the dying. Fred Rogers loved her very much, and so, out of nowhere, he smiled and put his hand over hers. “Will you be with me when I die?” he asked her, and when she said yes, he said, “Oh, thank you, my dear.” Then, with his hand still over hers and his eyes looking straight into hers, he said, “Deb, do you know what a great prayer you are? Do you know that about yourself? Your prayers are just wonderful.” Then he looked at me. I was sitting in a small chair by the door, and he said, “Tom, would you close the door, please?” I closed the door and sat back down. “Thanks, my dear,” he said to me, then turned back to Deb. “Now, Deb, I’d like to ask you a favor,” he said. “Would you lead us? Would you lead us in prayer?”

Deb stiffened for a second, and she let out a breath, and her color got deeper. “Oh, I don’t know, Fred,” she said. “I don’t know if I want to put on a performance….”

Fred never stopped looking at her or let go of her hand. “It’s not a performance. It’s just a meeting of friends,” he said. He moved his hand from her wrist to her palm and extended his other hand to me. I took it and then put my hand around her free hand. His hand was warm, hers was cool, and we bowed our heads, and closed our eyes, and I heard Deb’s voice calling out for the grace of God. What is grace? I’m not certain; all I know is that my heart felt like a spike, and then, in that room, it opened and felt like an umbrella. I had never prayed like that before, ever. I had always been a great prayer, a powerful one, but only fitfully, only out of guilt, only when fear and desperation drove me to it…and it hit me, right then, with my eyes closed, that this was the moment Fred Rogers—Mister Rogers—had been leading me to from the moment he answered the door of his apartment in his bathrobe and asked me about Old Rabbit. Once upon a time, you see, I lost something, and prayed to get it back, but when I lost it the second time, I didn’t, and now this was it, the missing word, the unuttered promise, the prayer I’d been waiting to say a very long time.

“Thank you, God,” Mister Rogers said.

No one else saw or experienced this moment, even though we’re all now getting a chance to read about it. The moment itself however, was experienced between only those present. It was made possible by brushstroke after brushstroke, so to speak, of friendliness, of building trust and mutual enjoyment, of kind words and attentive actions and time spent together.


By Tom Junod – “Can You Say … Hero?”

Originally appeared in the November 1998 Esquire. Find the complete article here.


In Art on January 30, 2013 at 4:27 pm

By Bekah McNeel

The question has been posed: is the act of creating inherently selfless? I don’t know the answer, so there is no cohesive argument here presented. But, here are the thoughts that led me toward no conclusion…

In 2006 I saw Kevin Spacey perform in Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten at the Old Vic in London. All of the actors were wonderful. They were clearly well-trained, believable, evocative, and committed. But then Spacey came on stage. Or rather it was as though he grew out of the stage. Like some sort of fleshly vine winding around the dialogue and blocking. The cast was full of exquisite actors…but he was James Tyrone, Jr.

Afterward, like good American celeb fanatics, my girlfriends and I headed to the rear stage door (a cheery split door in an atmospherically dodgy alley) and met the estimable actor when he popped his head out like the doorman of Oz to sign autographs.

Kevin Spacey, or the specter thereof, looked haggard. He was clearly utterly spent by the wrought performance. Or perhaps from years of such performances. We stood and chatted with/at him, got our photos and left.

It’s common to hear creative people say that they are doing the thing that they can’t not do. In other words, they must do. I must write. My husband must design. It’s our gravitational pull and to deny it would be misery. So in some ways it might look selfish, like we’re just doing the thing we like to do, regardless of the fact that we’ll never be “finished.” Like the only reason we create is to throw pennies into the void.

glass sculpture sky

Photo by Roger Brown
Glass Sculpture

But what separates this telos, this mysterious gravity, from selfishness is that its pull on me has absolutely nothing to do with how much I like doing it or hope to benefit from it. Some days it is all out war. Some days I avoid it. Some days I feel sort of “eh,” about it. I have no idea if it will render me rich, famous, and happy; or if this passion will slowly eat away my soul and leave me mumbling about the greatness that just slipped my grasp.

Whatever it was made Kevin Spacey look like he’d been run over by a truck.

Two years later, I witnessed this drained, vacant face again, this time on a much younger man. A friend of mine was playing in his final recital for his doctoral degree in piano performance. While he was on stage, the energy was incredibly similar to the organic fusion of performer and medium that I had witnessed between Spacey and the stage. Afterward, we all filed backstage to congratulate and gush over the 27-year-old pianist. Rather than the jaunty buzz of a performer enjoying applause and accolades, he was propped against a wall, barely upright, and rather pale. His gracious wife ushered us all through, helped him give polite words of thanks, and then escorted him home.

Creativity at its best, is painfully exhausting. It’s the sort of thing that leaves one staring into the void, emotionally wrung and utterly satisfied.

resurrection bay

Photo by Roger Brown
Resurrection Bay

The painter Jacinto Guevara told me that he has to get his ego entirely out of the way in order to paint anything worthwhile. When he’s trying to impress people he can see it in his work, compromising the subject.

It’s not thankless work, though. Looking at something you’ve created is incredibly gratifying. Knowing that something exists that did not exist before is a really awe-inspiring thing. If this sounds a lot like how parents view their kids sometimes, that’s not surprising. Often generativity is treated as a creative act, hence the term procreation.  And certainly there is an amount of selflessness involved in parenting.

In the end though, parenting is different in that if it is done well, it is eventually unnecessary. A painter cannot paint so well that one day she comes to her studio to find colors appearing on canvas without her consent or design. Yes, some artists, especially actors and writers, talk about the work taking over, about the characters doing things that surprise them. But in a physiological sense, the hand of the artist cannot leave the brush if they want the paint to be on the canvas, while a parent’s hand must leave the child’s shoulder if he is to properly grow. Paintings can take on “life” but not volition.

So in some ways, creativity is like having a constant infant in a constant state of need, and while it gives great joy it also uses every bit of energy.

Point Lobos

Photo by Roger Brown
Point Lobos

How do we reconcile this with the popular image of the self-absorbed artist dressed in black, brooding on about the hollowness of society? Or the drug-addled starlet talking about her “process?” Or the basic hedonism we expect to see from the artistic community?

Well here are some theories on how the arts got a reputation for selfishness:

1)     Celebrity often makes people behave badly, whether they are artists or not. The only reason we are hearing about the great icons of art behaving badly is because they are icons. They are famous. It’s not painting or singing or acting that makes them act badly, it’s the fawning.

2)     Artistic temperaments are prone to introversion and/or iconoclasm, which renders them largely misunderstood. The assumption is that they are saying, “Screw you, I do what I want.” Some are, but they are more politicians than artists. Artists, if and when they are off-putting, are probably just saying, “I’m not sure I get you, and you sort of scare me. Please go away.”

3)     Artists can be a bit needy. But then again, when your life work is judged only by critics, ticket sales, and public opinion, the need for affirmation is probably stronger than, say, a job where doing well means taking home a fat bonus check.

4)     A lot of people like the image of the arts more than the arts themselves. They were once called imposters, in a more romantic era. Later the vogue term became frauds, phonies, fakes, jerks, posers, and tools. By any name, they are the unfortunate trolls under the front porch of the arts community, waiting to greet visitors and tell them all about their “craft.” The magic word to make them go away: “so show me what you’ve been working on.”

5)     Some artists are selfish.

Theory number five highlights an important truth. An artist is not his work. An artist is a person, and most people struggle with selfishness to a degree. However, the process of creating doesn’t demand that a person be a creator all the time. Only in the moment of pen going to page, voice going to ear, and chisel going to stone does the artist need to be free of ambition outside of one singular goal: this piece, this song, this scene. Unless you are wholly devoted to it, then something else crams itself onto the canvas and muddles the picture.

Art is not about altruism, wanting to give something to the universe. That would be far too high a demand. If universal goodwill were required in order for anything to be created, then the body of worthwhile work would consist of a cross and a crown of thorns, because that’s pretty much the only act I know of wherein the agent correctly assessed his power and desire to save the world. If artists thought that they could “give something to the world” the hubris would do as much damage as any amount of selfishness. Ego by another name. It’s how we get preachy art.

Inherently, an artist must believe that what they are doing is noble enough. If their goal is to create something good, true, and beautiful, then that is, in my opinion, enough. Let them use the rest of their life serving self or others. But the surest way to create a load of crap is to create something that aspires to be more or less than the best book ever written, best painting ever painted, or best song ever sung. (It is also my opinion that when done in the knowledge of God’s presence that this is worshipful.) The art will demand all. Make no mistake, the rest of the world will benefit as it sees fit.

All this being said, I have to acknowledge that there are people so skillful, so talented, so at the top of their game that they can create really great stuff with their ego and world-saving ambitions all crammed into the frame. There are some people who make pretentious art, and it’s good. Some didactic movies that are fun to watch.

At the end of the day, creativity is not a magic virtue that belongs to a special class of humans. It’s a basic trait, endowed in varying degrees to flawed creatures. And while talent, vision and inspiration are rare, the ability to create something is common. All humans have it.

In The War of Art, Pressfield describes a creative process that is more akin to chaining oneself to a desk than sitting by a bubbling brook and waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s certainly this way for me. It takes two hours of writing total garbage to crank out a sentence or two of my best work. Hard work is the courtship of the muses.

As much as I want to believe that some art is special, that there’s a raw, real, gut-wrenching purity to the best art, I don’t know. I love the Rolling Stones. I think they’ve got soul, and energy and all the good stuff. But they’ve been performing for 50 years. Surely not every one of those nights was magic. Piet Mondrian painted squares and lines. They are brilliant. They are provocative. They are visionary. But I could not point to Composition No. III Blanc-Jaune and say, “this has the spark” and to Composition No. 10 and say, “this one was done with selfish motives.” Who could?

Somewhere within the complex mixture of practice, talent, inspiration, skill, and desire, there’s bound to be fits of selfishness. However, there is a great deal of potential for generosity, sacrifice, and devotion as well. Without those latter things we would have art, but what good would it do us?

dew drop

Photo by Roger Brown
Dew Drop