The tension began to leave…

When I started working on this, it came from a place of sheer creative desperation to find something, to make something. I’ve said more than once that the muses are capricious. The night I was making this, they were exponentially so.

I had first attempted to record a podcast, a process that is, under normal conditions, relatively easy. I usually record in one sitting, and in one take with minimal, if any, edits. But, I also live next door to a house that functions as an Air B &B. From time to time there are guests that are rowdy and boisterous. On this particular night, the Air B & B guests were also exponentially so.

I’m not sure if the noise actually came through in the recording or not but, it was certainly distracting. And, truth be told, I probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind to record anyway.

Needless to say the recording process didn’t go well, and it became abundantly clear that it just wasn’t going to happen.  I set that project to one side (a seemingly healthy response) but, the frustration remained and lingered. I NEEDED to make something (perhaps, a not so healthy response).

I began experimenting with this piece after coming across a video on the Adobe blog. I decided to try my hand at do something similar. It didn’t go so well…

I suppose my drive to make something overtook my aspirations to throw my phone across the room, punch a hole in the computer screen, and give up making art forever. However, I should say that so far this year, I’ve only quit art forever a couple times a month. My therapist, if I was still seeing her, would surely this is as progress…I should probably give her a call.

After several hours, this piece made it to a place that I was happy with. 

To a greater or lesser extent, the tension began to leave. For now…

New Podcast Episode – “Glimmers of Hope in the Kitchen…”

the possibility claimed meaning

Madeleine L’ Engle says that “An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith”  – a faith that some minute piece of the manifold mystery will become material for a moment. A faith that some small substance of the things hoped for will become manifest albeit in an ephemeral way. A faith that we will uncover the evidence of things unseen, the evidence of the possible, and that the possibility will claim meaning.

We are full of secrets. We contain a multitude of mysteries. We are breathing inkblots, walking Rorschach tests. Perhaps, its in experiencing the weight of our own untold secrets that we are driven to create and compelled to keep creating.

Maybe art, itself, is an external attempt to touch our deepest secrets, the secrets buried so deeply that we don’t even know that they’re there. And maybe, these are the secrets fighting the hardest to be unearthed.

We stand poised upon the precipice of a sacred unknowing. We don’t know what comes next for us as a culture, as a society, we don’t know what our civilization will become, but we know that there are glimmers of hope in the kitchen, and maybe that’s the secret sauce.

If You’re interested in pre-ordering “The Unusual Collections” mentioned in the show which contains a t-shirt, a Mala, a signed copy of Jim Martin’s book, The Practical Meditation Journal, and one of my Art Prints – click here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/special-offer-37125633

Shout out to my patrons:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/thepplspriest

Julianna Minotty – https://www.instagram.com/wellinformedish/

Bob Clubbs

If you’d like to support the podcast and all my other creative work, consider becoming a Patron on Patreon.

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The Art of Experimentation: Embracing Risk and Failure…

At the time of this writing my kids are ages 14 and 11. Throughout their time in elementary school I’ve lost count of how many science projects we’ve had to do. It has to be 10 or more between the two of them, but that could also be the exaggerations of a frustrated parental brain talking. Regardless, it’s been a lot. 


I think about how every project begins with a question, a question we may only moderately understand, and a theorized or hypothesized answer to that question. From there, the experimentation begins. We design a series of trials with changing or alternating variables and conditions, and we run the tests over, and over, and over, and over, and over, again, and again, and again, and again…because that’s the only way the data gets clear.


It is laborious and monotonous, and sometimes painfully tedious.


Yet, the interesting part is that, even though we are testing a hypothesis, our goal is not necessarily to prove whether we are right or wrong. The goal is to observe and gather data. The goal is to see what happens and to see what we can learn from it.


In order to truly learn something we have to be open and able to receive data that runs counter to our preconceived ideas. We have to be willing to go through what feels like countless trials, knowing that most of our experiments will “fail” most of the time. The more experiments we subject ourselves to, the more tests we can take, the more trials we can stand, the more data we can collect – the more we learn.


Tina Seelig reminds us that “All of our paths are riddled with small and enormous failures. The key is being able to see these experiences as experiments that yield valuable data and to learn what to do differently next time.” 


Everything is an iterative process.


The process of experimentation is indifferent to success or failure. “Failure” doesn’t matter. “Success” is inconsequential. The only objective is to learn something profound about ourselves and about the way the world works.


There are no clearly defined answers to our questions. No ready-made conclusions. No concrete determinations. Everything is just a theory until it has been tested, and that includes the results of another person’s experiments. We cannot accept the deductions of their data without question. We are variables unto ourselves. The results can and will vary. We have to get our own hands dirty.


We are making this all up as we go along. Everything is an experiment, and every result is a forward motion.


I think this is exactly why John Dewey says that “one of the essential traits of the artist is that he is born an experimenter”.

Dewey explains that 


The artist is compelled to be an experimenter because he has to express an intensely individualized experience through means and materials that belong to the common and public world. This problem cannot be solved once for all. It is met in every new work undertaken.”


In fact, Dewey goes on to say that “Only because the artist operates experimentally does he open new fields of experience and disclose new aspects and qualities in familiar scenes and objects.”


To be an artist is to be in the constant throes of an experimental process. It is to be amidst a ceaseless series of trails and tests. It is to risk failure again and again and again.


Tom and David Kelley make clear that

“creative people simply do more experiments. Their ultimate ‘strokes of genius’ don’t come about because they succeed more often than other people—they just do more, period. They take more shots at the goal. That is the surprising, compelling mathematics of innovation: if you want more success, you have to be prepared to shrug off more failure.” 


This is certainly easier said than done. I have grown weary and despondent. I have found my resiliency waning. The constant bitter flavor of failure, without the palate cleansing sweetness of success, has caused me to begin to lose my creative appetite. So this reminder is as much for me as it may be for you.


We must, as Jocelyn Glei suggests, “Mine [our] ‘failures’ for valuable data about what works and what doesn’t”, realizing that  “As long as you learn from the process, it’s not a mistake.”


The risk of experimentation isn’t prompted by aspiring for successes but by the desires for discovery.


Our opportunities for growth are proportionate to our willingness to fail…

A Search to “See” the Words…

Liu Wei says that “a piece of art is never an answer to something”. The purpose of a piece of art is, rather “to pose a question” but, “the question is only the beginning”. To me, that says that art is the iterative attempt to ask better questions. It’s continuously attuning the questions expressed through the work directed at the audience, but it’s also the constant refinement of the way in which the artist poses questions to themselves.

I think that means asking ourselves questions not only about “what we have to say” or “what we want to say” in the work, but also asking ourselves questions about “how we say it”. In other words, I think it means examining and analyzing the creative processes we use that enable us to express our questions; questioning our methods of artistically asking the questions.


This kind of critical and creative soul-searching has been teaching me about myself and my own creative process. It’s becoming more and more obvious that, artistically speaking, I’m a writer before anything else. Such a realization is more an act of acknowledgement and acceptance than it is a statement of shock or surprise. The fact that I have a long held love of language is not a revelation. What is slightly more revelatory is how I’ve often neglected or ignored my predilection for literary expression purely out of vanity. In a culture that preferences the consumption of audio/visual arts, it simply isn’t as sexy to be a writer, a blogger, a poet, etc. And, rather than allow my writing to take the wheel, I have relegated it to the backseat. Sometimes even barbarously stuffing it in the trunk, bound and gagged.


But, no matter how much I try to place video, or design, or drawing, at the forefront of what I do, writing has been the tell-tale heart pounding beneath the floor boards, refusing to relent or subside.


Truth be told, when I’m being creative my thoughts turn to the language of the written word before anything else. That’s where everything begins for me.


Austin Kleon calls himself “a writer who draws”. Something about that feels right even for me. Maybe you could say I’m a writer attempting to make art, or maybe, a writer who makes podcasts, videos, and art. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue though, does it? I’ll have to work on it.


The point is that writing is the catalyst for all of my creative endeavors. Almost every podcast or video I’ve made has begun with a piece of writing. Even many of my art projects arise from something I’ve written. It’s like I can’t envision “imagery” or the “images” until I see the words. But, somewhere in the process of searching for the words, in sculpting the language, and guiding them from my head to the page, the pictures arrive.


For example, the picture at the top of this post came to me after I had written an essay called “Gratitude is Mutinous“. Interestingly enough, even the image I created for “Gratitude is Mutinous” came from another piece of writing as well.
That’s how it happens for me. Sometimes the simple turn of a phrase is the key that turns the lock to the door of a secret I’ve never seen.


In a way that’s gratifying. When it comes to writing I’ve always wanted my words to paint a picture, and it seems like it does, if for no one else than for me.


Suffice to say, whenever pen gets put to paper, I’m home…

The Weight of Secrets, Fighting to Succeed…

I think the job of the artist is to make the experience of mystery palpably vivid in a way that does not resolve the mystery but, instead reveals the mystery as more profoundly mysterious than we realized.


I think of the way that James Victore alters and modifies his brushes and paint pens to make them less predictable, less precise, less controllable.


Or, the way that George Condo draws; seemingly random, almost erratic, and often more concerned “with the diagonal motion of the drawing, caring more about “where it goes on the paper, without much concern about “what it is”. 


Or maybe even the way that Aaron Draplin‘s favorite pass time is “junking”, scouring thrift stores and estate sales looking for bits of old design, logos, and type, searching within them for the forgotten stories and hidden tales that will spark his imagination and catalyze his creative process.


The purposeful imprecision, the uncontrollable brush strokes, the unpredictable discoveries, in each case, the artists delve deeply into a “mysterious” pursuit, searching for secrets.


Maybe I’m grasping at straws but, there seems to be parallel between the pursuit of mystery and what Austin Kleon calls “dumpster diving”.


Kleon writes that 


Dumpster Diving is one of the jobs of the artist – finding treasure in other people’s trash, sifting through the debris of our culture, paying attention to the stuff that everyone else is ignoring, and taking inspiration from the stuff that people have tossed aside for whatever reason.


These are the things that draw me into all of my creative endeavors, whether in writing, collage, digital art, or even in my recent forays into more analog mediums and projects. In “sifting through the debris” of old magazines and newspapers, finding inspiration in “tossed aside” books, moving paint and pen with a seemingly unsteady hand, I am searching to revel in something unknown. I am forced to give up control, to exercise awareness, welcoming the imperfect and the imprecise. Searching for treasure without a name, guided by a map that can’t be written, I can’t foresee what I’ll find, what images will spark something, what words or phrases will whisper secrets, and what mysteries will come to light as the pieces are put together, shifted, and rearranged. I am simply doing the work of finding “the work”.


We are full of secrets. We contain a multitude of mysteries. We are breathing inkblots, walking Rorschach tests. Perhaps, its in experiencing the weight of our own untold secrets that we are driven to create and compelled to keep creating.


Maybe art, itself, is an external attempt to touch our deepest secrets, the secrets buried so deeply that we don’t even know that they’re there. And maybe, these are the secrets fighting the hardest to be unearthed.


The stray hairs of lacerated bristles, the hidden treasures of another person’s trash, the gems found amidst the junk, the stories pieced together with paper and glue, all bear the weight of our secrets, fighting to succeed to the surface of awareness…

…As a $2 Bill…

This morning was a momentous occasion, well that’s probably an exaggeration.

I’ve been trying to get into the habit of writing every morning after I meditate and before I bring my daughter to school. Yesterday, I filled the last remaining pages of a notebook, which means that today was time to open a new notebook.


I took out a fresh journal. I always keep a few around, who doesn’t? Right? I pulled the cover back, cracked the spine, eager to enter the freshness of the notebook’s beckoning blank pages, I noticed two crisply folded $2 bills. What else could I think but “that’s weird”? I don’t remember when or why I put them there but, I’m glad I did.


I’ve often quipped that I’m religious but not spiritual. I don’t have an affinity for the “other-worldly”, the supernatural, or what some might call the transcendent. I think “this-world” has more than enough amazement and wonder to offer. I think the “natural” is plenty “super” on its own, and often my most profound experiences of “transcendence” comes from deep experiences of the immanent.


And yet, I have a relishing fondness for ritual. I think most creatives do. We are often meticulous and almost superstitious in the observance of our creative routines. We take great care to create at the same time and place everyday. We drink out of the same mug. Some of us are compulsively particular about the notebooks and pens we use, as well as the ceremonial ways in which we use and prepare them. It’s interesting that the near monastic ordering of our creative ritualizations becomes the opportunity for the expression of our weirdness.


In a lot ways I think that’s exactly what creative practices are, the routinized rites we methodically perform in honored observance of our weirdness; the ceremonious celebration of our peculiar strangeness.


In fact, James Victore goes so far as to say that “the things that make you weird as a kid will make you great tomorrow”.


On a daily basis we are bombarded by a legion of outside influences and forces all vying for a chance to smooth out the unevenness of our peculiarities, so that we can better fit into the current cookie cutter shape of normalcy.


We need to find, formulate, and routinely carry out rituals that remind us of our strangeness. 


Today one found me…


I think from now on, whenever I open a new notebook, before I ever dot an “i”  or cross a “t”, these $2 bills will be ritualistically paper clipped onto the pages of the journal to instruct me that no matter what happens here, no matter what you do…Keep it weird…

Art in Pieces…

Nietzsche says that “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” I can relate. While I can’t say for sure if I’m actually able to “give birth to dancing star”, I can say that everything I create begins in chaos, an inner chaos that manifests itself into outward expression. That physical expression of an internal anarchy is what I call my creative process.


Everything that I make begins its life as a fever of a thought typed into Evernote, a jagged idea roughly hewn and scraped into a notebook or across a Post-It, like the photo above.

The line inscribed on the pictured Post-It note first appears in a conversation I had with Brady Hester on an episode of his podcast. It then took up residence as a random annotation. And, would eventually find a home in an essay called “I Am Grateful for the Insight of the Other.”


This leads me to wonder…


What if it’s the Post-It notes, the scaps of paper, the unseemly assortment of uncured ideas, that are more important then the completed essay?


What if it’s the sketches, the rough drawings, the drafts, that are of greater value than the finished painting?

What if “the process” is the place of artistry?


What if it’s all the various “pieces” that make up a piece of art that are the real ‘masterpieces”? And what if we treated them that way?


What if we created a Gallery of First Attempts, a Museum of the Primordial?


What if we framed the early iterations and filed away the finished product?

Maybe that’s what it means to be liberated from the “outcome”…

New Video!”The Child Who Survived Adulthood” w/ Jerome Shaw

This is a special episode/video for me because not only is Jerome Shaw a talented creator and an inspiring podcaster but, he’s also one of my Patrons. His support and his encouragement means the world to me, so I’m excited to share this conversation with you!

We talk about his theater arts background, his metamorphosis into a marketing Entrepeneur, and his creative journey into podcasting. He offers details about his meditation practice and gives us a glimpse into his creative process. This dialogue takes a lot interesting twists and turns, and ultimately I think its a beautiful adventure. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

If you want to listen to the full podcast you can find it here:

Be sure to check out Jerome’s podcast – https://anchor.fm/jshaw

And be sure to connect with him on Social Media:

https://twitter.com/jromeshaw

https://www.facebook.com/jerome.shaw.9

https://www.instagram.com/jromeshaw/

https://www.youtube.com/user/Peralisis/videos

Shout out to my Patrons and Supporters:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/revjerryhtx/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Rajan Shankara – https://rajanshankara.com/

If you’d like to get a shout out in podcasts and videos then be sure to check out my Patreon page – https://www.patreon.com/duanetoops

For $3/month you get all the behind the scenes blogs, videos, and photos, plus shout-outs, plus early access to all my YouTube videos!

Keep showing up, Keep Doing the Work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful

“A Purposeful Purposelessness” – Transcript

Hey friends! This is the transcript from one of my most recent podcast episodes titled “A Purposeful Purposelessness“. If you’d like to listen to the episode you can click the link above, listen below,

or you can find “The Process & The Path” on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and any where else you get podcasts. Enjoy!

My favorite part of creating and sharing content are the conversations that follow. The conversations mean the most to me. Those conversations are where I learn the most. It’s that learning that is most important to me, it’s learning from those conversations that inspire me the most.


I was fortunate enough to receive some great feedback and some really interesting push-back from Jerome Shaw of The Open Palm Podcast.


He was struck by something I said in one of my previous podcast episodes titled “Something About Nothing“. I was talking about how I’m almost addicted to being busy, addicted to always doing something, or working on something. And, that sometimes I implicitly equate my worth and value as a person with my productivity. I almost instinctively tie my identity to what I “do”, to what I produce, and to what I create.  Because of this compulsion to be productive at all times, I feel anxious and uncomfortable whenever I’m not doing anything, and I almost never really allow myself to do ‘nothing’. The one exception is my meditation practice. I said that the 20 minutes a day I sit in meditation is the only time during the day that I give myself permission to be unproductive.


That last remark is what caught his attention. He said that he wouldn’t be able to produce on the level that he does without his meditation practice. He described it as a slowing down to speed up. And, he said he feels as though he is producing tons when he sits. He remarked that even though you seem to be doing nothing, you are doing something.


First off, I really appreciate the push back. I love the engagement of curious and respectful rebuttals. Not only does is create quality conversation, it also deepens the understanding of all parties involved. Sometimes due to the constraints of the platforms we create and communicate on, we offer fast and dirty remarks, we provide our “hot takes”, when we should be more thoughtful. I feel like these moments when I get to respond to probing questions provides me with the opportunity to examine things more fully.


When we talk about the productiveness or un-productiveness of meditation, I think its really more a difference of semantics rather than a point of outright disagreement.


(I probably should say before going any further that I am in now way a meditation expert or teacher. I’m just a guy trying his best to figure all this shit out, while trying to talk about his personal experiences in a clear and understandable way.)


I agree with the image of meditation as a “slowing down to speed up”. I was in a really bad place for a few years and I had let go of any and all of my creative aspirations. It was practice meditation that awoke the creativity that I had allowed to become latent and dormant. It actually sparked and ignited a depth of creativity that I didn’t realize I had. My deepening practice of meditation was and is the catalyst behind all of my current creative work.


My engagement with meditation has been primarily within the Zen tradition. The style of meditation I practice is called “shikantaza” which translates to mean “nothing but sitting” or “just sitting”. We don’t sit to achieve something, to gain something, to produce something, or to do something. It is sitting only for the sake of sitting. It is a goal-less endeavor, a purposeless practice. It is sitting with no ulterior motive beyond simply sitting.


In fact, the instant we introduce an ulterior motive to this practice of meditation, it ceases to be meditation. In his book The Way of Zen, Alan Watts writes that “it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.” He goes on to say that “The moment a goal is conceived it becomes impossible to practice the discipline of the art, to master the very rigor of its technique.” The discipline is the art. The practice is the goal. The process is the path…


Yet, meditation is an ambiguous exercise, a paradoxical practice. It’s an enacted contradiction. When we practice this kind of meditation we are “doing nothing”  and yet, somehow, in some strange way, “something happens”. It reminds me of something I read in Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. He writes that “Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying…Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.” He says that “When we sit…we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. insights accrete.” 


When we put in the reps and build the muscle memory, when we consistently show up, for the sake of the discipline, for the sake of the practice, and for the sake of the art alone, something shifts within us. We find a flow that feels both foreign and familiar. We have changed and yet we have never been more the same. Everything remains in its place and yet somehow everything has been dramatically altered.
So much of my time is spent striving towards a goal, pushing towards a desired end. I pray to more fully comprehend the practice of a purposeful purposelessness.  

A Blog About Nothing


I’ve made a few videos for my YouTube channel recently that are different from what I normally make. Maybe we could say they’re a bit more experimental, at least for me anyway. Whatever adjective is best suited to describe my burgeoning video work, its certainly been a departure and its certainly taken me out of my comfort zone.


I’ve come to realize that I’ve been taking myself and what I create too seriously, and I haven’t been giving myself room to experiment or space to play. So, I’ve been making it a point try to have a little more fun in the process.


In some ways, this realization, this shift, started when I watched a video on Daniel Pascual’s YouTube Channel. He made a vlog about nothing, purposefully and deliberately about nothing. He said he did it to take the pressure off and to kind of dumb things down a bit. That may not seem like much but, it really hit home for me.
It was oddly refreshing and it felt like exhaling. I came face to face with how much stress and strain I’ve been putting on myself and my creative process. It made me recognize how little breathing room I’ve been giving myself.


I commented on the video saying that I should really try to do a video like that. Daniel encouraged me to do it, or maybe its better to say he challenged me to do it, lol. I accepted. Even though he and I are on opposite ends of the country he still scares the fuck out of me.


I really struggled to get my head around how to do a vlog about nothing. Believe me I know how ridiculous that sounds. I made more than one attempt. I hit record and tried to just go, unfortunately nothing went, lol.


After the false starts and failed attempts at Daniel’s “nothing” challenge, I took the family on a weekend camping trip. I brought my cameras with me. I was thinking that maybe I could vlog, or maybe take some cool shots. In other words, I went to accomplish something, to produce something, to do something. I felt like I needed to. Internally, there was a pressure to use this trip as a means of creating content. It felt like if I didn’t create something then I wasn’t really a creative and I wasn’t really a creator.


I took some OK shots, got some OK footage but, I just wasn’t feeling it. It felt forced and uninspired. It just wasn’t working. I started to get really frustrated about it, and started judging myself kind of harshly about it as well. I felt as though I should have been able to create something brilliant and beautiful on command.


Slowly, I realized that I needed to just put the gear away and just be present. I needed to give myself permission to do “nothing”. I needed to enjoy just being there. This moment wasn’t about creating, producing, or doing. It was simply about being; being with my wife, being with my kids, being with our friends, being exactly where I was.


If I’m being honest, doing “nothing” is disconcerting. It makes me uncomfortable. I place an extremely high premium on productivity, on producing, on doing “something”. So much so that I almost never allow myself to really do nothing.


I’m addicted to “doing”. 


The addiction to doing came up when I Interviewed Stuart Carter from the Simply Mindfulness YouTube channel on an episode of my podcast.
Stuart reminded me that “we are not human doings, we are human beings“. He pointed out that “We so often get caught in ‘I must do this to have value, I must do this to have worth’, when actually just being is all we need.”


Intellectually, I know that my value isn’t predicated on what I produce or what I accomplish. But, I still fall into the trap of equating who I am with what I do. I attach my self-worth and my identity to what I create. Daniel’s exercise showed me how much of that desirous craving for production has invaded my creative endeavors.


I returned from our camping trip with a clearer head, a clearer view of my obsession with “doing something”. But, I had no clearer idea of what my “nothing vlog” would be.


Recently my wife started doing some wood-working projects and she decided to refinish our Corn-hole boards. As I sat frustrated and bewildered, I noticed her begin to set-up for this refinishing project. The thought occurred to me that it might be fun to film her working on it. I needed the break and she welcomed my company. I had no plans for the footage, no goal, no purpose, it was just about play. It was more fun than I even imagined it would be. Once I edited the footage I knew I had to share it. I had inadvertently stumbled upon my nothing vlog. You can watch it below:

This exercise taught me about myself and my creative process. It taught me to accept the opportunities that show up; whether it seems productive or not, and whether it seems purposeful or not.


There is a way of being creative that is more about probing than about producing. There is a way of creating that exposes the limits of what we can create. There is a way of ‘being’ that gives witness to the exceeding abundance of what we can experience.


Working with the medium of video is teaching me to document the dynamic discovery of every daily detail. It does not tell me to do something different or to be something different. Instead, it tells me to see differently, to “Be” differently. We are presented with the opportunity to begin seeing in a whole new way, an opportunity of “Being” in a whole new way.


Sometimes storytelling isn’t about creating a story but, about simply finding where we are in the midst of a much bigger story.


Maybe this wasn’t the vlog about nothing that Daniel would have wanted me to make but, it’s the one that represents where I am now.