A New Start


 

by Neal Lemery

 

Organizing

Straightening, thinking through

Planning ahead

Pushing away the detritus, the distractions

Taking out the trash

Visioning the vision

Seeing the possibilities

Options for change, renewal

The essence of what could be

What could become, could evolve into.

 

New thoughts, new values, goals

Aspirations

Looking over the clouds

Tomorrow’s sunrise

Next year’s promise, potential

Twenty years from now

A hundred years later

Could start today

Now, this minute

A step in a new direction, on a new path

With one footprint in a different, unexpected place.

 

A slight alteration, deviation

Far from the norm, the usual

The predicted, the expected

The status quo—

An opportunity, today.

 

I just have to make that first step

Now.

 

8/5/2020

Moving Away From Rigidity


 

 

 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

I can be a very rigid thinker, following the rules, the expectations others have for me, and the expectations and boundaries I set for myself.  If I am, instead, open and not following pre-set boundaries, I actually do better in life. By being independent, willing to look at different paths, different and unexpected approaches to problems and thinking, I find new possibilities.

Not that I don’t think that structure and framework are important for a purposeful, successful life.  Being organized and focused is very often essential in getting the work done that needs to be done. In me, that need for structure and “rules of engagement” can often come before that additional element of doing the work, that of being spontaneous and open to the Muse and the creative process.

Others have weighed in on this dichotomy of rule-driven motivation and discipline, and spontaneous creativity.

“Men like us often had a lifestyle guided by either/or logic. We think we must either conquer the challenge we see before us or we will be failures. We think loved ones must either meet our needs or they do not love us. We think we must either be perfect, or we are unacceptable.

“Let us now step back from the rigidity of such unhealthy logic. Most of human experience and many answers to our problems don’t come in neatly tied packages. As we learn to think and feel in more flexible ways, we find life gets better. Using our intuition at times, rather than always following rigid rules for life, improves the recipe. The arrogance of our thought processes has sometimes told us we had the answer, but it closed us to growth which only comes by trusting our feelings. If we make mistakes, we can learn from them and go on. Many of the most ingenious inventions came not by rigidly following rules but by following an inner feeling.”

Touchstones: Daily Mediations for Men, May 28

In getting out of my ruts, my “tried and true” ways of approaching a problem or a situation, I learn more about myself, and I find myself opening up, becoming the artist I want to be.

I’ve been working on a painting, trying to be spontaneous and fresh. Yet, my rules and set formulas weighed heavily on my process and my work felt heavy and cumbersome. I struggled against myself and my old patterns, trying to break away and be bold and fresh.

I decided to act “outside of the box” and try new methods. I started the painting with acrylic paint, and then, the next day, “overpainting” with oil, thinning down the colors with additional oil, and moving my brush across the canvas boldly, spontaneously mixing colors and oil with abandon, playing with the light.

The carefree voice said “Oh, give it a try.”

“What if I screw up?” the critic in my head kept saying.

I might, and I probably am.  I can fix my “mistake” with a paper towel, or a dry brush, removing some paint, or rearranging what I had just painted.  Besides, I thought, maybe my “mistake” is the gift of creativity and spontaneity I had been looking for in this work. Let me be bold and innovative here.

I heard a poet say the other day, as they were struggling with their poem, “Let the poem form emerge and lead you.”

Ah, let the work lead you and reveal itself to you.  The creative work will find its form and will express itself.  I need to give myself permission to let go and let the creation find itself and become itself – unique and a creation in and of itself. It is OK to be gentle with myself and my creative spirit.

Creating art is always a lesson in letting go, of not being in control, letting things flow and come into themselves.  I can be both an observer and an instrument of the creative process, and not the final authority on what is being made here. I can give up being in control. Creating art is a meditative practice of cutting ties, going beyond boundaries and letting myself and what I am creating be unfettered by my preconceived and “absolute” limits.

When I am in that “zone” and shut down the voices of limits and rules and earlier expectations, then I really become free and move toward the artist, the whole healthy person that I am seeking to become.

These acts of creation often become powerful metaphors for me in the rest of daily life.  In these acts of creation, I am learning not only about the world and the creative work that is emerging, but more important, I am learning about myself.  I am learning not to be afraid of letting go and more towards becoming.

 

 

5/30/2020

Connecting and Creating


 

 

This time of quarantine, social distancing, staying home is a new order in society. Our social connections can become frayed, even severed.  The many events of daily life have changed, our calendars cleared.  Routines are disrupted, and we find ourselves adrift.

Staying home and apart from others is the new social expectation, a necessity to reduce the impact of this pandemic, “flattening the curve”. Staying home is seen as a medical necessity essential to health and wellbeing, a fundamental obligation to our society.

Instead of isolating, these times are times of great connectivity. Our technological lives now grow connections. We message each other more frequently, communicate more deeply, and find new ways to meet and interact. We access more books, movies, and “off-site” encounters and conversations.  Our now rare trips to the grocery store and running other essential errands take on a new heightened satisfaction of interacting with others. We are important to each other, something we may have overlooked in the busyness of the pre-pandemic world.

I connect deeper with myself and my world. Tending to my garden and the young seedlings in the greenhouse takes on new importance as I witness the miracles of sprouting and growing, of new life as we move into spring.  Filling up my birdfeeder gives me time to celebrate the migrations of birds and to notice their lives in this quieter, more meditative and spiritually reflective time.

The morning cup of tea takes on new meaning, giving me a welcome ritual and a time of contemplation. I am finding time to breathe and connect with my soul.

This is also a time of great creativity. Times of plagues and quarantine, while socially threatening, have led to great creations.  Shakespeare wrote several of his most famous plays while in quarantine.  Newton developed his theories of gravity and motion, and invented calculus.

Now the world is taking a retreat from normal routines. We have time to pause, to re-energize our creative juices, and find our quiet space to express ourselves. This is a time of renewal and re-creation of so much of what is truly human and soul-nourishing.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”  — Stephen Jobs

This is that time to connect.  Go and create.

Neal Lemery 3/31/2020

Thoughts On Creativity


 

— Neal Lemery

 

“Creativity is just connecting things.  When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

— Steve Jobs

 

Creativity is a door to be opened, letting in fresh air, ideas to be rearranged, reordered, pursuing new ways, the old redone.

 

Becoming Evolving Changing Growing Progressing — a human being, not a human doing

Artist Creative Painter Musician Nurturer Convener Grower Planter Weeder Harvester Naturalist Scientist Poet Writer Observer Listener Sensate Kind Intuitive Patient Tolerant Righteous Advocate Teacher Healer Mediator Verbal Curious Student Activist Doer Changer Leader Introvert Parent Child Partner Journeyer Traveler Understanding Compassionate Inquisitive Thoughtful Watchful Mindful

Looking at it from all angles, taking a different perspective, a fresh viewpoint

Not satisfied with others’ opinions and thoughts

Asking why, again and again

Enjoying the stillness, before the answer

Not the easy way out, the obvious

Taking the road not taken

Hearing the different drummer

 

“…

 

“For what is man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.”

 

“My Way”, sung by Frank Sinatra  (Songwriters: Claude Francois/ Gilles Thibaut/ Jacques Revaus/ Paul Anka. My Way lyrics © Warner Chappell Music France, Jeune Misique Editions, MBG Rights Management.

 

Space will open up, allowing the mind to breathe, to ponder, to be still.  And, in that stillness, ideas which have been floating around, coming close, can be allowed to come into me and settle, to take form, and find expression, becoming thoughts.  They will find form, and allow themselves to weave and dance with other ideas, new creations, almost ready to take on a name and an identity.

 

“As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming . . . ’cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.

“The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would “continue on across the landscape looking for another poet.”

“And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, on the poet, Ruth Stone

 

I dare to be different, to think outside the box, or not even believe in boxes, to imagine the “unbox” or the “anti-box”. I strive to celebrate my differences, to be and act different.  Just me, without the need for others, for their defining of the creative, the becoming imagined, the shaper of the creation. It is enough for all that to be within and through me; the undefinable.

The Muse will come.  The Muse has come in the past, and is present, or close enough to be felt in this here and now. I am merely the provider of the space, the place, the keeper of the kindling awaiting the match.

I am often only the vessel, the instrument, the mover of the pen or the brush, the picker of the guitar, the hand, the embodiment of the vibrations, the something through which the work is passing through.

And that is enough, in a moment. I am a holder of a space, that which embraces and gives shape and movement, the true expression to that which is moving through me in a certain space and time.

 

 

February 13, 2019

 

Fearing Commitment


Fearing Commitment

 

“The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love.  The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation.  To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.” –Anne Morriss

 

I’m afraid of commitment, of taking that decisive step and telling myself I can do this.  With commitment comes responsibility, and the toughest of any responsibility is that I’m obligated to follow through, and what happens is on all me.  I own it.

 

Yet, as Anne Morriss points out, there is that freedom you gain.  Other tasks and activities can fall by the wayside, and I don’t have to do things that I’m really not invested in, and that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of life, the frivolous things, trivial, inconsequential.

 

If I am going to do something really well, with all my energy and creative talent, then I need to be completely committed, and engage my heart and my soul into the task at hand, my eye firmly focused on the goals I have set for myself.

 

And allow myself to be relaxed in that emotional space, to take it easy and let it flow.  That’s when I’m at my best.  So why not give myself permission to go to that place within me, where my creativity and spontaneity can be let loose, and thrive?

 

There’s that old fear, that I’m not good enough, not able enough, not competent. But, all that is on me, what I think, and what I believe about myself, my capabilities; my commitment.

 

I need to own it. And, when I own it, and pour my energy into it, I find myself in that state of being where my task and I become one, that what I am doing is really the essence of me, and my creative spirit.

 

Lately, I’ve been trying to focus on my music and my art.  And, I’ve found again, and am relearning again, that when I am engaged in that work, I do best, and find the greatest satisfaction, when I am completely in the moment, completely engaged, and committed. Not only on the conscious level, but deeper, on a soulful level, subconscious, intensely internal.

 

I try not to listen to those old voices, the naysayers, the doom and gloomers. Instead, I need to embrace my commitment, and rejoice in that liberation.

 

–Neal Lemery, 11/4/2018

On Creativity


 

 

I’ve always felt that what I create isn’t really much about me. In what I do, the writing, painting, gardening, photography, and music, I feel that I am often only a conduit for what comes out of the word processor, the paint brush, the guitar, the camera lens, and the garden trowel.

I don’t “own” my creations; I just put them into a form for others to experience. And I certainly don’t want the responsibility for what people might think about my art, or how to react to it and apply it, or not, to their lives.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful way of expressing this idea:

“…my deep and lifelong conviction (is) that the results of my work don’t have much to do with me.  I can only be in charge of producing the work itself.  That a hard enough job.  I refuse to take on additional jobs, such as trying to police what anybody thinks about my work once it leaves my desk.” Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, (2015, p 123).

I’m just the curator, the presenter of an idea, a concept, perhaps a new way of looking and thinking about something.  It passes through me, and goes on to others. They can do what they will with the idea, the experience. Or not. It is out of my hands.

Looking at my art this way takes a burden off of me.  I’m really not responsible for what people do with my art, what they experience and where they go with it.  My job is to respond to the creative spirit in and around me, and create.

As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Just keep doing your own thing.”

 

–Neal Lemery, August 23, 2018

Valuing Art


Valuing Art

 

(First published at Art Accelerated’s Blog, July 30, 2017)

 

By Neal Lemery

 

What is the value of art in our lives? Does it have an impact?

 

“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” (Pablo Picasso)

 

Art is a way of finding and expressing the truth in our lives. It allows us to explore and find things within ourselves we may not have realized are there. Art allows us to discover who we are.

 

“Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world,” said Dana Gioia, chair, National Endowment for the Arts. “There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions.” (Commencement address, Stanford University, 2007)

 

Working in high school art classes, researchers Hetland and Winner found that arts programs teach a specific set of thinking skills rarely addressed elsewhere in the school curriculum—what they call “studio habits of mind.” One key habit was “learning to engage and persist,” meaning that the arts teach students how to learn from mistakes and press ahead, how to commit and follow through. “Students need to find problems of interest and work with them deeply over sustained periods of time,” write Hetland and Winner.

They found that “the arts help students learn to ‘envision’—that is, how to think about that which they can’t see. That’s a skill that offers payoffs in other subjects, they note. The ability to envision can help a student generate a hypothesis in science, for instance, or imagine past events in history class. Hetland and Winner, Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Art Education (2007).” Karin Evans, Arts and Smarts, Greater Good Magazine, UC Berkeley, (December 2008)

 

“Along with the perks of enjoying and experiencing art, there are real-world benefits to making the art with your own two hands. According to a 2014 study, producing visual art improved psychological resilience and increased brain activity for the participants by the end of the experiment.” Gabe Bergado, Mic.com (December 15, 2014)

 

“Art allows children to express emotions that can be difficult to discuss with others.

 

“According to research conducted by the Childcare Education Institute, ‘art offers children an important outlet for emotional expression and the assurance that their feelings are valuable,’ which is particularly critical for disadvantaged children whose feelings might have never been validated. Expressing emotions such as anger or fear through artistic expression such as dance or writing allows children cope with aspects of living in a healthy, safe space. It also enables them to release difficult emotions instead of repressing them.” K. Nola Mokeyane, Information on How Art Helps the Behavior of Disadvantaged Children, (oureverydaylife.com)

 

Does art have value? I would argue yes.

 

“When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply asked,’then what are we fighting for?’ ” (Kazuo Ishiguro)

 

In my own life, art has had a tremendous impact. By allowing myself to be creative, and to have space in my life where I can explore and play, I have greatly expanded my view of who I really am.

 

I’ve always been a photographer, exploring light, composition, and “seeing” the world in a different way. That creativity helped balance my life in college and law school. I played in school bands, and loved music.

 

My interest in art, and my hunger for a creative outlet brought me to look at my love for gardening as a way of expression. Years later, I took art classes at my local community college. In that work and discipline, I found a sense of freedom and self expression.

 

Over time, I’ve learned to give myself permission to experiment, to “let go”, and be uninhibited with my art. In many ways, it is a return to the spontaneity of childhood play. Now, I play my guitar, and pick up my paintbrushes with a sense of excitement and limitless possibility.

 

And, in my art, I have found a self I never really honored before, and am getting acquainted with my soul, a person I really enjoy.

 

A Month of Writing


National Novel Writing Month participant

National Novel Writing Month participant

Whew, it is quite the month, writing wise. Going over the first edit from my editor, for my upcoming book, Mentoring Boys to Men.

And, then, I jumped into the National Novel Writing Month project. The goal: bang out a rough draft of a book, at least 50,000 words, in the month of November.

That seemed, at first, formidable. It still does, but it is becoming doable. It has taken some organization, and the guts to just start out, getting some words down, and moving ahead. I follow my rough outline, but then, as the Muse inspires me, I start to really tell the story of my young man in prison, and his adventures, trying to find some sanity in his life.

It is going well. I remind myself that it is a draft, that I will revise it and probably rewrite a great deal of it. But, it is started, and it is moving ahead. Eight more days, and only 11,000 words to go. That means I’ve written 39,000.

I’m OK with that!