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 confines…

I suppose, in a way, I’ve been thinking a lot about space and time lately. Not from a scientific perspective. I’m not necessarily talking about astronomical space or universal time, but rather the “spaces” that one finds in their life and in their time, and the latent possibility and potentiality that lurks there.

Since my ex-wife and I separated in early January, I’ve found myself with an abundance of space and a seeming surplus of time. At first the oncoming flood of space and time was overwhelming and even disconcerting because I didn’t quite know what to do with it, didn’t know how to utilize it. I was being met with a jarring emptiness,of space, a vexing vacuity of time.

At some point it began to feel a bit more like a blessing. I now had all this time and space in which to create and be creative. Space in which to experiment with possibility. Time in which to explore potentiality.

But, there still remains this creeping feeling in even this creative space and time, an unexplained eeriness that waxes and wanes amongst the open terrain potential and possibility. I am coming to grips with a sense of constriction and confinement.

Even in meeting with a kind of freedom and liberty I feel a tightening, a recoiling. The blankness upon the upon the horizon is terrifying. The openness is alien.

Sartre said that “man is condemned to be free”. That says a lot about us as species when we can somehow manage to turn freedom into confinement. I think its because we implicitly and inherently crave any semblance of security we can be afforded. And more often than not, we find that security in being confined. As John O’Donohue suggests, it is “the security of confinement and limitation that we know” that grants us a sense of safety.

Perhaps, there is a latent terror always-already hidden underneath freedom. I feel that sense of condemnation that Sartre speaks of, and I don’t yet have answer for it, or a way to be fully at peace with it…

I’m trying to recognize that every day we are gifted with space, an infinity of creative space. A lush expanse of space in which to breathe in the blankness. We are graced with the presence of open possibility. We are greeted by the invisible potency of potentiality. And yet we often respond with resistance, choosing the paralyzing restraint of self-confinement.

And I’m also trying to recognize that, as O’Donohue says “To go beyond confinement is to rediscover yourself.”

2019 Reading List

Every year I set a reading goal for myself. Some years the goal is more prodigious than others. This year I wanted to keep it fairly simple. I wanted to read two books a month. I didn’t reach my goal but, I came close.

These are the books I read this year in chronological order. Some struck a deep chord. Some were only mildly interesting. But, each and everyone taught me something. Each one imparted something, and for that I’m grateful.

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…

Cold Coffee, Moving Forward…

I am sitting at my desk too fatigued to type, too tired to try. Neither my spirit nor my flesh are even willing, much less able. I know that if I do not write now, I will not write today. This is my only window to create.


In an essay called “On Living Behind Bars” Nancy Mairs writes:


My brain is frayed with the need to produce, but I am paralyzed…I feel pent up, desperate. My ability rides me. My lack of it tortures me. I am torn apart.


I can only second these sentiments.I desperately desire to make something. I look over the to-do list of projects and ideas I could work on but I cannot muster the motion. I cannot manage the movement.


The microwave beeps continuously, reminding me that the coffee gone cold and already reheated twice is ready once again, hoping that this third time will be the charm. I sit unmoved by its provocations. I cannot muster the motion. I cannot manage the movement. 


I wonder if I am the coffee cooled to room temperature through melancholy’s wanton disinterest.


I take a sip.


It is not as warm as I’d like but it will do.


I find a few words. They too are not as warm as I’d like but they will do.


Some days are like this. 


The coffee gets cold. We drink it anyway because we’ll take what we can get, and we let that be enough.


The “heat” wanes more than it waxes. The “spark” is only strong enough to flicker, and it fades before it ever becomes a flame.


It’s strenuous to scribble words into sentences. We write them anyway because we’ll take what we can get, and we let that be enough.


We worry so much about “moving forward”, about “making progress”, about “moving the needle”. Maybe any move, moves us forward. Maybe every movement makes progress.


Perhaps, if we are moving at all, then we are moving forward…

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…

Outcomes & Results: Face the Fear, Abandon Hope…

Adam Savage writes:

Nothing we make ever turns out exactly as we imagined; that this is a feature not a bug; and that this is why we do any of it. The trip down any path of creation is not A to B. That would be so boring. Or even A to Z. That’s too predictable. It’s A to way beyond zebra. That’s where the interesting stuff happens. The stuff that confounds our expectations. The stuff that changes us.

The fact that our work defies all our imagined expectations, and often becomes something dramatically different than what we previously anticipated is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn. In fact, that previous sentence gives me a slight cringe. Not only because it contains the sting of a harsh reality, but also because it seems to imply that I’ve “learned” the lesson. I haven’t. Confronting the unexpected outcomes of my work is a lesson I’m still in the process of “learn-ing”. It’s ongoing, and I’m far from done.

“Art” is about provocation and transformation. As creatives we are provoked to create and in the process of creating we are transformed by the work. When we’ve done our job honestly and authentically, our work will provoke a reaction that elicits a transformation within the recipients of our work. But, for this to happen we cannot allow ourselves to be bound by our expectations. We must release ourselves from the “result”. We must unshackle ourselves from the “outcome”. If the work has any chance of “changing” others, we must be changed by it. And, if we are to be “changed” by the work, we must allow the work to change.

As John Dewey illustrates, “A painter must consciously undergo the effect of his every brush stroke or he will not be aware of what he is doing and where his work is going.”

However, such a provocative transformation requires us to let go of both hope and fear.

Margaret Wheatley explains that “Hope and fear are inescapable partners”. She says that “Anytime we hope for a certain outcome, and work hard to make it happen, then we also introduce fear – fear of failing, fear of loss”.

Similarly, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche writes that “We suffer because of hope and fear” because “Wherever there is hope and fear, suffering follows automatically”. If this is the case, then, to be caught in the cycle of “Suffering” is “to be controlled by hope and fear, over and over, again and again”.

Perhaps we must begin to ask ourselves: What if there is no “outcome”? What if the “outcome” is never-ending? What if the “outcome” is simply the on-going persistence of the process?

When I interviewed Jerome Shaw for an episode of my podcast he shared a quote with me that is still reverberating in my ears, especially now:
“The reward for your last challenge is your next challenge”

The process is a kind of actively unfolding cartography. It’s making a map to a place we’ve never been while in the thick of it’s unknown terrain. Everyday is a creative expedition of which we have limited control. All we can do is explore, observe, and keep meticulous field notes of our findings. And, that’s what makes it thrilling and terrifying. As my friend Charlie MacLean told me recently, its starting “with a process you don’t know, down a path you are unsure of”.

To be sure, our work is always catalytic. It always produces a consequential outcome. But the outcome is always uncertain.


We create the iterative conditions that cause an outcome, though it may not always be the outcome we seek. Thus, to work based on outcome alone is to live in the cavernous suffering that resides between hope and fear. So work for the love of the work…disregarding the results, unencumbered by outcome.

Thomas Merton reminds us that we cannot “depend on the hope of results” because:

You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.

Let “value” be our only metric and measurement. Let the truthfulness of our work be our only guide.

As Steven Pressfield explains,

Our job is not to control our idea; our job is to figure out what our idea is (and wants to be)—and then bring it into being.

The sign that hangs above the inferno of the process reads “abandon all hope ye who enter here”. Those who dare to create enter boldly, undetered by the fear of failure…

Come with us…

Sketching in Books, because “Making is Messy”…

If you’ve followed any of my work for even a short period of time you probably know all too well how much I love to read.

Whenever I’m not working or spending time with my family, you can bet I’m probably reading.

I also love sharing the things that I’ve read almost as much as reading, itself. A good portion of what I post and share on my social media accounts are quotes from whatever books I’m enthralled with at the time. Sometimes its type, sometimes copy and paste, sometimes it’s screen shots taken from reading in Kindle.

Lately I’ve been on an unanticipated hiatus from recording and filming. The constraints of my current schedule aren’t particularly conducive to shooting YouTube videos or recording podcasts, at least not in the way that I have been doing it. I realize that’s a rather pathetic excuse but, its the truth, or part of the truth. I also have to admit I’ve not been in a great head-space.

Regardless, I’ve been looking for ways to be creative in new and different ways.

At the moment I’m enamored with Adam Savage‘s book Every Tool’s a Hammer. I almost feel like I should apologize for how much I’ve been sharing from this book. It’s like my tweeter feed is on a mission to overtake the internet with Adam Savage quotes.

One of the things I’ve been asking myself is “how can I can make sharing what I’m reading a creative act?” Here’ what I’ve come up with so far:

I’ve made a series of collages either on my phone or in Photoshop, or using a combination of the two.

And, recently, as a fast and dirty creative experiment, I’ve started adding some sketchy doodles to Kindle screen shots.

It’s not breath-taking or astounding work, but its fun, messy, and experimental. I like that, and more importantly, I need that.

As Adam Savage says:

Making is messy. It’s full of fits and starts, wrong turns, and good ideas gone bad. New Methods, new skills, new creations, they are all a product of experimentation; and what is an experiment but a process that may or may not yield expected results? WHO KNOWS?

Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.