Month: April 2016

“The artist cannot be rushed” (Chapter 2)

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IMG_3699The artist cannot be rushed”. Is this the worst excuse, ever? Or is this a statement of truth about The Creative Process?

This is an expression that came to mind as I was preparing to depart for a friend’s house party in Sydney’s Northern Beaches earlier this year. My friend had asked everyone to ‘bring a plate’, and we would share the fruits of our collective cooking abilities. I had known about the date of the party for easily three weeks.

In my fridge I had some left over nectarines. A box of apples from the markets was sitting on the dining room table. Prior to Christmas, I had baked a Tarte Tatin apple pie for another party. My friend asked if I would cook the Tarte Tatin pie again. It was the obvious thing to do. It would be simple. And after all, the box of apples was sitting there ready to be used.

But for some reason, I wanted to try something different. My appetite for the creative pursuit took over, and I started thinking about what I could bake. This was a mistake. I was thinking about doing something but never taking action.

I awoke the day of the party later than I had intended. I had just enough time, but not the right ingredients. I realised that I lacked some puff pastry that I would need to cook a Tarte Tatin if I was going to do what was easiest. I needed to find a solution.

As I was trying to work out what to do, my friend Tony texted me. “Would I like a lift?” he offered. A lift! How perfect, and so I accepted. The party was about an hour’s drive by car from Sydney, and a lift would mean that I wouldn’t need to take public transport. One less thing to worry about, but accepting a lift meant that I would would be constrained by the time I had available.

I raced off the go to the shops to buy some puff pastry, and was kicking myself that I had been closing the door to serendipity. How much time I had earlier to prepare for this party? Opportunity favours the prepared mind, and I had failed to fix a problem when it had arose earlier.

I arrived at the train station only to learn I had to wait another 15 minutes before I could travel to the supermarket to buy some puff pastry. It was too long and it wouldn’t work. I started to enter a mild panic, and was clutching at options that might work. It was a classic moment of lacking mindfulness, and being unaware towards a solution within the resources at hand.

I didn’t wait for the train, but instead visited my friend’s bakery nearby. I mumbled something to him about needing puff pastry and looking for a substitute. He responded with the best Korean politeness he could muster, not really knowing what I was exactly asking for or how he might be of help. I could have bought a cake from his shop, but my desire for creative output demanded that I cook for my friends myself regardless of the time available. I searched the internet quickly, and suddenly stumbled across a recipe that might just work.

All of a sudden, a brainwave! The conviction that I could do it! The recipe required me to make a base from thick-crusted bread into which a stewed fruit compote of apples and apricots would be filled. I had nectarines, and decided to use these as a substitute for the apricots.

But let’s just pause in this story for one moment. Why only at this point did I become so certain of my ability? A few minutes earlier I was stressing at the lack of time and ingredients, and saw the task as near impossible to achieve. Self-censoring and worry are such useless actions.

Arriving home with thick-crusted bread, I began cooking with pleasure. The nectarines were crushed in my hands with the juice and pulp messily wetting my fingers. Cutting the apples became a meditative process. My sense of hurry seemed to disappear. The fruit began to change colour in the pot where it was boiling, which was an act of modern day alchemy at its simplest.

I had to cut off the crusts the lovely fresh and thick bread which made the soft, white fluff crush together. A memory of playing with my food when I was a child.

Melted butted was painted into a golden, oily film on each side of the bread using my basting brush. The moist and sponge-like bread was then encrusted in a cinnamon and sugar dust. A bowl was lined, and the compote inserted before baking in a hot oven.

I texted my friend Tony. Time was against me and I was not going to make the lift he had offered. I would meet everyone at the party, and instead travel on the bus. Truth be known, this was my plan all along, and an option I preferred. But why did I prefer to travel alone? It wasn’t really because I enjoyed the solitude, or because I had the opportunity to ‘do some things’. I realised that I was embarrassed of my past failures. I felt like I was all backswing, and no hit.

The irony was that I was focusing on my past failures all the while creating a delicious dessert people would later crave. What is that if not success? It is also worth noting that the success was only possible because of the chemistry that came through the enjoyment of others. No one stands completely alone.

The pie was ready, and came out of the oven. I painted the surface as if my canvas with apricot jam which I had cooked the previous week. My basting brush moved in broad strokes that would be invisible to others. Those enjoying the dessert would only see the completed whole, and not the workmanship involved.

I was ready. Before leaving home for the party, I posted a photo onto Facebook for my friends at the party. I was coming, and had the pie to prove it, even if I was going to be a little late. It was then that I invented this quote to caption the photo: “The artist can never be rushed.”

Later that day while sitting alongside my friend Greg at lunch, we stumbled into a very engaged conversation about this quote in the context of my seeking to make this pie. Reflective conversations are important, and in that moment Greg became more than just a good friend, but a mentor as well. Even the hero’s journey is about the engagement with others. There are no lone heroes. To hit the ball, we first must be playing with others to make our own experiences worthwhile.

Too often, I believe we use the anxiety that comes from the hardship of creation an an excuse that that artist cannot be rushed. This hiding behind delay is complete rubbish. The bottom line is that we must crack on. We must get things done. We must push and strive if epic journeys are to be achieved. And only in ourselves can we become that person who ultimately demands that which comes from within.

This book applies to all endeavours regardless of how artistic you might think that they are.

Delaying and not being rushed are different, and this is the point I am making. Take the time to create, but do whatever you need to do to protect yourself from indulging in unnecessary delay.

Do what you can. You can’t do all things. Seek opportunities for collaboration. Be open to the expansive and generative process of creation. And get on with it. The world needs what you can bring into existence.

No Hit. (Chapter 1)

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IMG_3496Can we be honest with each other just for a moment and agree that failing hurts?

Failing sucks. Failing makes liars out of ourselves.

All of us at some time have tried something that didn’t work out. The reasons we tried that thing and the reasons it didn’t work out often will reveal more about ourselves than we care to stop and examine. In part, that is why this book was written: to examine something that didn’t work out as I expected, and to share the learning from that experience with you, the reader.

Before I get into this in too much detail, it is worth noting that what I did was in many respects a litany of failures, however it has culminated into something that is of some worth and value. If I were to cut my losses now and walk away, it might well have been wasted effort. It is as though I am now at a point of being able to effect change. The question is what will happen next. Let’s leave my story until a little later, for now I want to make the case for why this book is necessary.

As children, we fail constantly, and we also keep trying. And hopefully, we find some success along the way. Along with success, maybe more importantly than the success itself, is the encouragement we receive from others. The reality is that too often encouragement becomes devalued as lip service or otherwise no effort is made to extend a word of inspiration because we think we have nothing to offer or that the input is unnecessary. How wrong could we be! Later in this book, we’ll pick up the reason why encouragement is perhaps an overlooked jewel, as well as having a crucial role of putting success into perspective. But for the moment, this is a book about a difficult and somewhat unpleasant topic: failure. So please join me as we embrace it, try to define it, and fathom how failure is as much our friend as it is a necessary part of the process in achievement.

There is such optimism and excitement at the point of trying. And conversely, often such crushing defeat at the point of failure.

Failure. One of the great taboos. The question which I really want to explore though is not how to make ourselves immune to failure, as much as it might seem to be good to be able to limit failure. There is some need to protect ourselves from failing unnecessarily and in costly ways, but even so, all failure does bring with it the seeds of opportunity. This is the true meaning of disruptive intervention, and is also reflected in the Chinese word for crisis where this word is mixed with the word for opportunity.

There is a sense at which limiting failure makes good sense. By no means am I promoting failure as an enjoyable experience. The irony is that by protecting ourselves from failure we increase our capacity to create, to push through points of resistance, and enable our ability to be vulnerable, to learn, and to experience those things that will lead us towards new growth. But as much as we need to protect ourselves from the destructive influences of failure, it is also true that only through the experience of failure can we really find the hidden potential that drives our survival instinct to create. Vulnerability is interesting territory. But what is really interesting is what do we do at both bookends of this experience- both the domain where we shield ourselves from loss and failure, and the other end of the spectrum where we are completely out of control in an environment which is mercilessly ripping our expectations and dreams apart. Perhaps most importantly is now we respond in the events that happen after that point of failure which seems have shattered our plans and stopped us in our tracks. What we do after failure is the most important and difficult part of this journey. And it is also the part of the journey where we can exercise the most control, even though we find ourselves in a place often with the least amount of resources.

Inherent to the human condition is the capacity for resourcefulness. Imagination, grit, faith, hope, love are abstract qualities that we all possess, and too often we take for granted. We get to a position and feel as though we are finished and ruined, but often it is in those times that we are just getting started.

“What we do after failure is the most important and difficult part of this journey.” Let’s return to this sentence from the previous paragraph and examine the implications that this holds for us all. If the journey continues after this poignant place called failure, it would then follow that failure is not final. Of course, this is a decision that we must chose to make, and choosing not to make a decision is still a choice. In many circumstances, it is the toughest decision that people will ever be confronted with. It is at the rock bottom of our experience, and can be among the most hauntingly lonely existential places to visit. Some never return from that place. Some chose to remain there, alive but living a soulless existence for the rest of their seemingly pathetic lives.

In this book, I have drawn upon my reflections, and the first thing I was us to recognise is that failure is part of a process, and not a singular event. Time as a continuum exists well beyond that dark moment of failure. It might be hard to see at the time, but it is true.

Whatever it takes, we must find a way to keep going. This might mean that we have a requirement to surrender our dreams and expectations in accepting a new reality, but even if that is the case, we must keep moving forward.

The title of this book is taken from a saying I overhead once. I don’t know who said this saying, and I have rarely heard it since, but it stuck in my mind. Even searching on Google, I have not been able to find this saying in the lexicon of modern parlance. Was I mistaken in hearing this saying? That could have been the case, but even so, it still makes sense as an expression which captures the theme of this book. What was this saying I overhead: “All backswing, no hit.”

Can you make sense of this saying? It paints an image of a baseball batsman who is taking all the time to wind up in preparation to hit the ball, and in doing so looking spectacular awaiting to receive the ball that is about to be thrown in a pitch, except that the batsman never follows through to hit the ball. Or maybe it means that the batman does follow through, but completely misses the pitch. It is an expression of someone being of no substance, or no ability. In this regard, it might also be seen as a personal reflection of being unable to ever hit the ball and only ever striking out when at the plate awaiting the pitch to be thrown.

In sport, there is actually a correlation between not hitting and hitting. This is well documented through sporting statistics, and even the greatest sportsmen will tell you that there is a lot of failure that needs to be pushed through before finding greatness. Natural talent only counts for so much. Of course, there will always be those people who are much better at something than others, but there is a time when everyone experienced times of learning. Everyone had their seasons of not hitting and striking out in some way early in their careers. Even the best of those who walk among us have seasons of seemingly catastrophic defeat when they seem to be at their finest hours.

I have also taken this saying to explore the relationship between the wind up of the bat and the follow through in swinging at the pitch. Sometimes, when we have been held back by endless winters of failure, we can lose our resolve to follow through. Sometimes even winding up is an effort. Mostly, we get to a point where we will got through the motions of winding up, only to give up at the time of follow through and so there is never any potential for hitting. Defeating ourselves is the worst form of failure, and often it is understandably done because it at least seems in the short term to be less painful.

But don’t take my word for it. Go an look at some of the baseball statistics of some of the worst hitters and the big hitter so all time in the big leagues. The same holds true for cricket as well, as it does for basketball and for receivers in American Football.

Is this science? Probably not, but it has merit as anecdotal evidence that there is a pattern worth further examination.

The thing to remember is that not everyone is going to be a big hitter. Why is this? Is it genetic, luck, application, talent? And why are people who seemingly just as applied never suited to baseball? Is hitting big across the diamond the only measure of worth?

After a recent epic quest, I related more and more to this saying, often associating this with my own performance in my own internal dialogue. Initially, I heard it as critical and censoring. But then I saw the glimmer of hope and opportunity which is hidden within this expression. I want to explore that together, and I go further to suggest this illustrates how searingly deep this runs into our psyche: “Because no one likes to strike out.” It is a baseball metaphor. And through this book I want to unpack it with you.

So lets begin this journey. And as we do, let’s proceed by recognising that we, too, can be big hitters, but first we need a better understanding of what this means.

NOTE: I think this is too long for a single chapter. Ideally, I want to keep every chapter under 1,000 words. Your thoughts?

Dedication

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Inge inadvertently enabled something worthy out of utterly tragic circumstances.

There are many people who have impact in our lives. Inge was one of these people in my life.

Her influence was modest, and she was only ever a friendly face in the crowd, but someone who would always take the time to make sure I felt welcomed.

It is worth us all reflecting that in moments of hopelessness, that our impact extends far beyond what we might ever know.

She protected me from a ferocious social setting, and the nastiness of convention. An unparalleled kindness, and a trait that was celebrated too often after the fact.

Let’s be mindful of the support others bring in our lives while we can express it directly to them.

A great Australian once exhorted a group assembled in Kalgoorlie of which I was also a part to “never, ever give up” in our pursuit of realising the justices that are warranted across society. By his own example, he has demonstrated this fact, and his words have echoed as inspiration through the lives of many more since then.

Inge almost certainly would have known this Australian who spoke at this conference at Kalgoorlie, and it is likely that he too benefitted from the reassuring counsel that she would deliver to all those in her orbit as an expression of encouragement to maintain a sense of resolve with a cheerful smile in spite of difficulties.

This journey described in this book could never have been mapped in advance, and was mostly an exercise in misadventure. Even so, but for the kindness of Inge this might never had been possible.

She was always here for us, and it is a shame we could have done more in her time of need.

Her death was a trigger that set me off on this journey, and her legacy remains something I wish to uphold through my dedication of this book (which I am presently writing).

Amos 5:21-24 taken from The Message:

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice – oceans of it.
I want fairness – rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

All Backswing

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IMG_4134The next series of posts are essentially draft entries in the soon to be published book “All Backswing” which I am aiming for launch at the end of June 2016.

All Backswing will feature 100 chapters to talk about a manifesto for change by examining the motivation for what eventually became the 10 City Bridge Run, commentary about the journey itself, and importantly lessons learnt as it relates to undertaking epic endeavours that seek to make a difference.

Your feedback counts. Please edit, share, comment, or illustrate in any way you know best.

The book is being written for you. If you like something, please let me know. If you have questions, please ask me. If you think I am off the path, tell me. Your feedback is like oxygen to me. Thank you in advance.

The Next Step

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It’s been a while, in fact too long.

I’m not sure I posted since December around the time I completed an art work that was on display at the local art gallery. The work titled “All Greatness Stands Firm In The Storm” was part of an exhibition themed “Turning Point”.

This art work featured my interpretation of the naval signal flag for “I require assistance (non-distress)”. This flag is identified by a red diagonal cross over a white background. The point of the work was that through the painting and exhibition of this canvas, I was signalling my acceptance that I could not do this journey on my own. It was an admission that I need help.

I need help. Three words that are easy to write, but difficult for me to express. As a statement, it is fine. As a request, it is as though I even need help to ask for help. I think that qualifies me for the category of lost causes and basket cases…

More on that painting later. Not in this post, but later. Here, I want to talk about what I have been doing in this past few months, and update you about this project: the 10 City Bridge Run.

So firstly, what have I been doing? I have been taking stock of a few things, as if I needed to allow the momentum of the previous journey to reach its culmination and come to a halt along that trajectory before riding the fresh movement towards the the next steps. That sounds like complete claptrap, and if that is what you are thinking then you are probably mostly right. Those who know me best would sense my idiosyncratic avoidance.

So why avoidance? Why didn’t I hoist the painting on this blog?  What was holding me back?

All good questions, and to be honest I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I do know, deep down. There has been some make and mend needed. But epic questions are epic because they are inherently hard. If there was no struggle, it wouldn’t be worth writing about. Hiding from difficulty is I think a fairly common experience among humans. I’m guessing that you might have done this too at some point in time. If that is the case, then maybe you can relate to what it is I am trying to describe here.

The painting is still here. It is sitting in my living room, and as I promised I will write about that soon, but not right now.

I want to tell you what else I have been doing in relation to this journey.

If you have been following this blog in the past, you might remember that I was going to describe this past journey with 100 photographs. It became an overwhelming aspiration, and clearly that has not yet happened. In fact, that tapestry of 100 photographs ended up becoming the simply expression of the artwork featuring the naval signal flag for “I require assistance” which I mentioned above.

And so what happened to the 100 photographs? Well, those have taken the form of a book I am writing that reflects on what I have learnt from this journey to date. I am probably about half-way through, and I am keen to finish the book before the end of May, which is possible to do. The book features 100 chapters that outline the motivation for what became the 10 City Bridge Run, a commentary of the journey itself, and a third part which examines some of the lessons I have learnt about seeking to do something in order to make a difference.

I was going to wait until it was complete before I started sharing this writing, but I now realise that in the spirit of the collaborative process, that it is much better to put some of what I have written out there here for you to read as I set about this task. I welcome you to read, comment, correct, share, add to, and even help illustrate with you own examples or art.

My aim in sharing this book here is to write with more gusto, knowing that some people are reading. I am writing it for you, not essentially for me. I would like to have this book finalised and published, ready for launch at the end of June. I think that is ambitious, but achievable.

And secondly, what has become of the 10 City Bridge Run? Let me again first express my thanks to everyone who has supported this journey. None of this was possible without your help. Thank you.

At the beginning of 2015, I completed the running journey for the 10 City Bridge Run. I have yet to publish the book “Life Bridge” which I owe all of the supporters. And I am less than satisfied that I have been successful in convening the conversation to address the question: “how might we use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival?” That conversation was the point of the whole endeavour. I see the journey as still a work in progress, even if that means it is long overdue.

So what comes next? This book I am writing turns out to be necessary for me to complete in order to allow the other things to happen. It is a big undertaking, and I believe it is worthwhile. Thanks for giving me this space to explore this territory.

Without linking this to a timeline, the book “Life Bridge” will be completed this year and distributed to all the supporters. I also see a renewed effort taking place to pick up this conversation about child survival, again using running as a stunt to draw attention to what needs to unfold. At this point in time, that is all I want to say about what is ahead. The only other point is to say that the journey continues, and that it could not have been possible without your help.

I need your help. That is both a statement and a request.

Thank you. Let’s get to work.