The unapologetic, raw, unedited interpretation of living life. Each of us is the artist of our own life, constantly remolding, reworking, and roughing out the details and applying what we've learned to the changing canvas. There are no do-overs, no take backs...just rough cuts that release what lies inside us.

I saw the angel in stone and I carved until I set him free. - Michelangelo

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Tribute to a Soldier: A battle for life, a life lived in love

I know Memorial Day is about our veterans.  I will be the first to stand to attention during our National Anthem and place my hand over my heart in honor of all those who have fought for our freedom.  But I cannot on this day of Remembrance not pay tribute to a Military spouse, wife, and the strongest woman I have ever known... my mother. 

There comes a time in every person's life when they realize they are a grown up, that life has a deeper meaning than the here and now, the daily grind, or living for himself.  That day came in my life on May 10, 2003.  I was at a bridal shower for a friend and my husband had just deployed to an undisclosed location 3 days earlier.  I got a call from my father that my mother had just taken by Medevac to Pittsburgh...she had a tumor the size of a grapefruit in her frontal lobe.  My heart froze, my knees were weak, I couldn't talk.  The events over the next few days would change all of our lives forever.  That day I became a grown up and could scarcely imagine what God was about to do in our family. 

Over the next 20 months, I watched a woman I admired fight the battle of cancer as hard as a soldier in the heat of war.  The woman who as a young teenager had trained polo ponies, then raised 3 children as a Marine Corps Officer's wife, changed the lives of all that knew her, whether at our church, school, or right at home with family and friends.  She understood that a life is about living.  That the important things in life were those people and things that she poured every ounce of her love into everyday. The weekend before God set her free from her inner war, I watched my father kiss her on her forehead and saw her look into his eyes.  At that moment, I understood love that could only come from years of relying on one another for strength, celebrating joyous moments like watching their children taking their first steps,  and promising to love one another no matter what.  In that moment, I looked at my own daughter, just 4 months resting in her seat and knew that I had a life to live and people to pour love into without holding back. 

At 3:00 AM on March 29, 2005, the battlefield fell silent.  The strong and weary soldier knelt before a graceful and mighty God and laid down her sword.  He took her in His arms and welcomed her home. 

May we all live with such passion for life, with hearts bigger than ourselves, and in generosity for one another.  For her eulogy, I wrote about her love of lighthouses and the extent to which a lighthouse represented her life:  She stood with strength and had the ability to touch even the darkest places with the light of her love and compassion.  Her beauty outside was just a glimmer of the beauty that came from within her.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Dance of Life

As Memorial Day week continues, I am sharing stories of the artistic people who have influenced my life.  The life of my grandfather was one I learned more about as a became an adult and after his passing.  He was an architect, a successful one with several major hospitals built in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as a result of his craft.  One in which he ended up spending his last days. He was eclectic and collected everything, from small bottles to trains. One of the great many things I added to my repertoire of Found Things from his collections was a book in his library entitled "The Dance of Life" written by Havelock Ellis.  The book is nothing to look at: small in size with a faded blue cloth binding, stained by water, sun and time.  I like it because it looks old and we added it to our book collection without much thought about what might be on the pages and what glimmer of wisdom it might contain.  But here is what I found one day when I decided to delicately open its pages:

The author is describing the Chinese culture according to the records of early explorers, Confucius, and other writers of the time: 
"We may understand now how it is that in China, and in China alone among the great surviving civilisations, we find art animates the whole of life, even in its morality. This universal presence of art manifested in the smallest utensil, the humblest stalls, the notices on the shops, the handwriting, the rhythm of movement, always regular and measured, as though to the tune of unheard music, announces a civilisation which is complete in itself, elaborated in the smallest detail, penetrated by one spirit, which no interruption ever breaks, a harmony which becomes at length a hallucinatory and overwhelming obsession." The author quotes another on the attitude of the Chinese culture, "for them the art of life is one, as this world and the other are one. Their aim is to make the Kingdom of Heaven here and now."

What life could you live if you lived artistically?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Breathing Life into your Life

Memorial Day is just around the corner and I thought it would be appropriate to share some Magnum Opuses that have impacted my life, in no particular order. They each bring something to the assemblage of my own work and I hope that who I am is a reflection of their influence in my life.  Let's Dig in!

One of my favorite mid afternoon things to do when I was young was to turn on PBS and watch an amazing man Breathe Life into his canvas.  His name:  Bob Ross.  What I remember most, before his soothing voice sent me off into an afternoon nap, was how we described his paintings.  He didn't just say here is a tree, here is a blue sky.  Each additive, stroke of the brush was applied with careful attention and he walked you through building a painting that told a story.  "Happy Little Trees" added whimsical character to a forest and "little friends" crept in the shadows.  Rivers had life, they trickled and flowed, they brought movement to a landscape.  I don't know that I ever looked at art work without trying to figure out the story it was trying to tell. He breathed life into his paintings.

When I began creating art myself, the finished piece was more about what it added to the overall experience than just being something about me that couldn't be understood by anyone else. It took years for me to uncover how to live a life in the same intentional manner. 

Finding Breath: My Story
There was a season in my life when I struggled to find breath to breathe into a life I didn't think was going in a forward direction.  It was a dark place and I felt trapped by the suffocating walls in my mind.  I was claustrophobic mentally and blindly followed any sign of light.  One day, I began to draw this space and me inside it; the process was healing.  My hands were breathing life into this mental "box".  It was then that awareness poked its way in.  As I began to breathe, God found me and set me on a path of Freedom and the air I breathe now is fresh and clear and life giving.

My lungs filled with understanding and awareness of what life I needed to live.  I began asking the questions and God kept providing the answers about where my "happy little trees" needed to be placed and how I could best breathe life into my work, my home, and the life of those around me.

Air is Free:  Share it with your team
Breath is an amazing thing.  We all breathe from the same air and yet in some cases we need to breathe life into others to keep them alive, literally and figuratively. If you lead a team, take a look at your "followers" are there some turning blue because they can't catch their breath?  Is anyone suffocating?  What are you doing to breathe life into your team?  Keep the air clean:  have open conversations.  Share the air:  make sure everyone on your team breathes the same passion for your mission as you do. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Assemblage - Found Things

Assemblage: n:// a sculpture constructed from found objects. Typically an assemblage does not disguise the original objects used, rather it either tries to show them in new light, or forms a figurative sculpture from the collection of shapes.
When you finally get the plan together and begin allowing life to take shape, an amazing thing begins to happen...creation.  Over the past several years, I have dreamed of writing a manuscript.  I planned topics, formulated outlines, and spent an abundance of time reflecting and absorbing life.  Then the day came to put the pen to paper (fingers to keys). I wondered, "How will I ever find enough to write about? Will it be interesting? Will it all make sense as one organized and well thought out design?"  I have found that sometimes, you just need to begin.  The first step is truly the hardest and the most gratifying, because every step afterward seems to fall logically into place.  What came out of the past several years of start-stop conviction was the ability to "find things" and allow them to sit next to one another in a pile of disordered paper and doodles.  Apparently they began planning too, because those found things, seemingly mindless unrelated ideas are now writing this blog. They are now putting to life the reality of writing from the heart and releasing parts of my mind that I for so long repressed and told to "Hush! There will be time later for you."  Luckily my mind doesn't always listen and is about as wildly crazy and loud as my inner child.

Did you ever spend an afternoon as a child just collecting things?  There are few things as fascinating as the ground as a kid.  I was the one collecting shells on the beach, rocks anywhere I could find them, and I would twirl fall leaves for autumn afternoons on end.  As I moved away from dirt and things that made my hands smell, I focused more on those things that had meaning: a movie ticket from my first date, my horoscope that said something "amazing was going to happen", prom tickets, letters, creatively folded notes that would have made origami look like trash.  Now some of those things still "found" their way into my attic storage that I recently relinquished to the round file, however the habits developed in those early years are very much present in my life.  I collect everything from stories, to quotes, scribbled ideas on napkins, and files full of cards. 

These found things, combined with the idea one day to just begin assembling the menagerie of text, provided the channel by which these found things could come together in a harmonious and creative way.  Certainly a testament to timing and preparation, allowing creative energy to begin connecting the dots.  The result? A transformation from separation to collection, parts to a whole, clutter to assemblage.  Together these parts:  ideas, thoughts, experience make up my story, my Magnum Opus and I hope that one day each part can be seen for what it is simply because of the role it plays in the completeness of a life fully and creatively lived.

Rough Cuts got a face lift this week and will continue to be a visual experience of applying found things to an ever changing, expanding, and open piece of work.  I hope that you enjoy the journey with me.  Your interaction with this space provides additional color and vibrancy that is welcome and highly encouraged.  It intensifies the experience and keeps us engaged in the threads that connect us all together.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Intensity on Living

Last week, I spent three days on the floor in my office with shoes off and surrounded by large sheets of post-it paper and colorful markers.  Not because I didn’t have anything else to do or other deadlines to complete, but because my inner energy reached a boiling point that could only be alleviated by dispersing of all of the ideas, thoughts, and connections my brain had made over the course of the past few months.  My capacity for thought reached its breaking point and my whole person became consumed with letting it all out.  Some might call it vomit of the brain, or perhaps other more vulgar descriptions that might further explain this instantaneous need for getting every thought out all at once.  I call it INTENSITY!

When you are not able to think or do anything else because of a thought, a determination, or a conviction, you pursue it with everything you are and everything you have.  This consumes me, it overrides my basic needs.  How dare my body need to eat, sneeze, or have some relief while I am trying to launch myself into the world!? The audacity of life to try to interfere with my stream of consciousness…with great distress I say, “Yes, I will pick up the kids and leave work on time today.”   And please, do not trouble me with small details such as why are the children wearing mis-matched socks or what are we having for dinner?  This is INTENSITY! 

All of the sudden the intensity reduces and I am faced with my labor of love, my pride on a wall, and …the fallout from every other area of my life.  This is how I lived for many years, in those moments when only I mattered. I felt I was creating what would one day be applauded; my family would be thankful for all of those hours, days, months I spent so focused on what needed to be done.  But what if those people don’t even show up for your first book signing, what if those who love you most are in the front row seats when you walk on stage, what if you get to the end of your life and don’t have the glory…what then?

INTENSITY on living means a daily dose of reality, balance, a re-forecast of your allotted time and energy.  Intensity can be a positive thing; it increases your ability to attract what you need, it makes you hyper focused on your specialty, increasing creativity and production exponentially.  But you have to give it a place and a purpose.  For me that means writing it down, giving it a PLACE for me to go back to later.  It is amazing that while it sits in that place, its purpose is revealed – I find that by allowing it to sit and rest, I will find where it fits or if it doesn’t fit at all. Remember it is about tools and specializing (Unpacking the Tool Box – 2).  Just because you don’t need it, someone else might – share it and see it used by someone else. What you allow to become part of your creation will determine how effective your intensity will be.  Is what you do for you or is it for others?  Do you labor out of love or selfishness?

I had a hard time asking these questions and answering them honestly.  Developing as an Artistic Leader means controlling the intensity, it means allowing “happy accidents” to become not distractions and interruptions, but part of the final product.  Be honest with your personal truth, let your life paint a picture so that when you reach the reveal of your Magnum Opus, it brings the world joy not painful memories.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Unpacking the Tool Box - 2

What are your tools?  One of the most overlooked steps in getting started as a leader, or as an artist, is knowing what tools are in your toolbox.  Could you be a painter and not have your paintbrush...maybe, but you need to dig deeper into your ingenuity to really pull it off.  Our tools tell us about what we have to offer others, and that can be really useful and the path to discovering which tools best allow you to release your inner potential can be an amazing journey. 

Our tools, once defined, also begin to tell us an incredible amount of information about what we need and what we need to say "no" to.  Let's revisit the painter analogy:  A painter knows that his most useful tool may be his paint and as we mentioned, that necessitates a means by which to apply it to the canvas.  In his toolbox, he would NEED a paintbrush, possibly a pallet and an easel.  If this painter had a lump of clay and heavy carving tools, he might become bogged down by the weight of carrying something that is not going to be useful to him as he develops his talent.  At this point, he can continue to carry it or he can experience unloading excessive weight.

We don't all have the same tools, and maybe some of us are carrying what we do not really need to be successful at our art.  This comes out of the need for a variety in leadership.  Just as their is appreciation for different types of art, dependent upon how we interpret our world.  Artistic leaders recognize there is a need for specialist leadership, dependent upon who we are leading and who is best equipped to lead a particular person or group of people.

What is in your tool box?  What would your specialty be?  A sculptor, a painter, a writer, a designer...the possibilities are endless in creating a following that is diverse as it is united by appreciation and excellence.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Additive: A Slow and Steady Process

The word "additive" is the process of material being steadily and patiently built up upon to create the final structure.  How appropriate to discuss this in the context of life and leadership.  The agony of building one layer upon another of material, experience, and life combined with the disappointment when a layer is not quite right or needs to be reworked.  Let's not forget the pain and complete anguish when it just won't adhere or it falls off!  It is a struggle and it is a long painstaking process to build and create.

My senior year of high school could have been summed up with a Batik project assigned to me.  The concept of this project was to create a picture on a piece of muslin using bees wax, broken crayons, and cotton swabs.  The beez wax is heated and mixed with the crayon colors and applied to the muslin with small dots made with the swab.  Once the wax hardens it can then be cracked, dyed, and then finally laundered to create a final piece.  Because the dye will not touch the areas that contain the wax, once dry and ironed the fabric looks cracked and is full of rich color and texture. Once I finaly decided on a concept, I began the many hours of mixing color (did I mention I was doing a portrait? Skin color is probably one of the hardest) and then spending lunch periods, study halls, and class time applying the wax. 

I would  love to tell you that it all worked out and I ended up with this amazing portrait on fabric to frame, but we all know that stories of leadership and life don't always have blissful endings, they are more likely to teach us something about is wonderful in that sense.  After the lengthy process, I received my project and was ready to iron it flat when I noticed that the gorgeous deep blue I had chosen now covered 90% of the muslin.  Apparently in all of my diligence, I had applied too much pressure to the cotton swab, leaving exposed muslin in the center of each one of those tiny meticulous dots!  I now know that on that day I realized the power of layers, of a strong foundation and building upon it. 

Leaders, particularly the artistic leader, understands the "additive process".  Each layer is carefully applied, with just the right amount of intensity to get the job done, the right amount of application so adjustment can be made quickly, and just enough commitment to ensure each layer of experience, knowledge, and lessons becomes part of the developing person.  They know this for themselves and they demontrate it in their ability to apply layers to those they lead.  Some layers are painful, some we enjoy incorporating.  Releasing what lies within cannot happen overnight. It takes vision, diligence, and the ability to transform an ounce at a time.   

As a result of my naive and in experienced application, the project was titled "The Blue Peasent"  -it worked, what I discovered was that the finished piece and I both reflected a need for layers and the process of additive in my life.  I was about to head to college and was about to fully understand what dealing with the layers would truly mean.  What in your life are you rushing through?  Could you make changes quickly - what would that look like?  Have some layers fallen off or maybe one is not sticking so well, what will you do to maintain the integrity of your foundation?

If you are a leader, what is your role in applying steady, patient layers to develop the strength of your followers and create leaders for tomorrow?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Unpacking the Tool Box - 1

My first real art project I recall from my childhood was a life sized leprechaun in Kindergarten.  What I remember most about it, besides the awkward size and vast amount of green, was the amount of extras I added: rings, facial features, decorative buttons, eyeshadow...the works!  When I looked at it next to the other five year old-sized leprechauns, I was envious of how simple and well patterned some looked compared to my own "bedazzled" version.  For most of my childhood, my artwork seemed to reflect this need to include every material available to me in my work.  I am sure my mother never had to ask what materials we were given to make a project, it was all there!  And Glitter?!  Oh forget it, that could be an entire subject heading.  Maybe we'll hang on to that for later.

What seemed to follow immediately after this gorging of art supplies, was remorse, guilt, a feeling that I should have been more selective, more diligent in planning.  This is exactly what began to follow, as many young artists begin to mature in their style and taste, so did my overzealous resource usage.  I now monitored color, pattern, and glittery adornments and thought about placement before the glue hit the page.  I now had a plan.

I find this trickles over into who I became as a leader and how I lived my life, wanting it ALL!  Why would I want to say No? it would mean concentrating on one skill, honing just a few things to really become something magnificent.  It made more sense early on to be good at many things so I could be the go to person for anyone who asked.  This, like the bedazzled leprechaun, leads to wishing I had a better plan.

Artistic Leaders have a plan, something to ground them.  They have a vision for what will be and are able to adapt to changes and incorporate them into the final piece.  They do not scrap the idea if it isn't going according to plan, instead they manipulate the resources and fashion them accordingly to the structure that holds it all together.  We'll call this the armature - n// the internal frame or skeleton which supports a modelled sculpture.  Without a foundation, a sculpture has nothing to keep it erect, without this internal structure, the form would crumble and possibly topple to its demise.  Leaders know they need some framework, something to cling to and reference if a plan goes awry.

Do you have a bedazzled leprechaun in your life?  What if you took a moment to create a plan? What would that look like, what would be the first step in creating your framework?