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Monday, February 28, 2011

Vincent Van Gogh

"I have a more or less irresistible passion for books and the constant need to improve my mind, to study if you like, just as I have a need to eat bread."

Dutch Painter
1853 - 1890

Do you have a passion for learning?  Have you read a book in the last month?  Or are you, as some people tell me, too busy to find time to read?  If you read one book a month you are in the top one percent of the population.  Van Gogh was a lifelong learner.  If you are interested in seeing some of the 29 books I have read in 2010, check out my list on Goodreads.com.   


Learning does not just come from books.  You can learn a lot listening to the people you come in contact with.  In the last couple of airplane flights I have had the privilege to engage in conversation with two interesting people.  One was a minister who has spent 15 years in Japan.  We shared a love of Japanese culture.  The other was a recent college graduate who found a job within a month of graduating which given the state of the economy was an amazing feat.  People from other walks of life can teach you a lot.  Do you limit yourself to communicating only with people you know?  Or do you seek out interesting people and learn from them?

Don't limit yourself to just learning about your field of interest.  Explore new topics.  If you are an artist, you should know everything you can about art, but you should also explore other areas of interest.  Take seminars and workshops.  Listen to audio books.

Here is one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings.  

Potato Eaters

In one of his letters, Van Gogh described this painting:  "I have tried to make it clear how those people, eating their potatoes under the lamplight, have dug the earth with those very hands they put in their dish, and so it speaks of manual labor, and how they have honestly earned their food."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Harold S. Kushner

"If we put our soul into our work, if, rather than just going through the motions, what we do flows from the deepest part of our being, then after a burst of creativity, we need to replenish our souls."

American Rabbi, Author
1935 -

Sometimes we need to rest — to replenish our spirit.  We cannot work all the time.  How do you replenish your spirit — restore your energy?  Exercise?  Walking?  Reading?  Visiting friends?  Loafing?  Good farmers know the importance of leaving a field fallow so as to restore the nutrients in the soil.  How do you restore the nutrients in your soul?  Do you take the time to be with yourself without the noise and chaos of the world in which you live?  Do you spend time with your soul in meditation and prayer?  Have you learned how to relax — to slow the pace of your life?  Take time today to pause for a few minutes and listen to the spirit within your flesh.  Find comfort in the small acts like the dance of a child, the breeze in the trees, the scampering of a squirrel or the hug of a friend?  Gently love the world in which you find yourself.

Harold S. Kushner wrote a book, The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm, in which he meditates on the meaning of the twenty-third psalm.  The words I quoted above come from the chapter entitled: He Restoreth My Soul.  Kushner tells the story of a group of people who were on safari in Africa and hired porters to carry their supplies.  After three days the porters insisted on stopping for a day to rest.  The porters claimed that they were stopping not because they were tired, but because they had walked too far too fast and they needed time for their souls to catch up.  Have you traveled too fast and left your soul too far behind?  Do you need to wait for your soul to catch up?

As a speaker, I travel a lot — both by car and by plane.  I am currently in the midst of five weeks of travel.  Every time I return home, it takes me a day or two to renew my spirit and allow my soul to catch up.  And sometimes I feel like my soul does not catch up with my body before I am back on the road chasing the tiger.  In my case, my writing of poetry helps my soul to find its way back to the body and restore my sense of who I am.  

The Twenty-Third Psalm

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul.
He guides me in straight paths for His Name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil
For Thou are with me.
Thy rod and Thy Staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil,
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gloria Steinem

"Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.  Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning."

American Journalist, Author
1934 - 

Most of us underestimate the power and importance of dreaming — whether we are talking about day dreaming or sleep dreaming.  Sleep dreaming is one of my favorite times, especially in the twilight world between being awake or being asleep.  Dreams can feel so real and meaningful.  Years ago I kept a dream journal where I would record my dreams.  I have documented proof that I dreamed of marrying my wife a month before I met her.  So I do believe that dreams can predict the future.  I have experienced the excitement of possibilities.  Dreams are small windows into our souls.  

Day dreaming is a way to explore your options and find the right path.  Day dreaming helps creative leaders make decisions and take action.  As Steinem says, day dreaming is a form of planning, a way of preparing for what is to come.  Our minds are very powerful and we can see things our mind's eye before they happen.

Have you ever gone to sleep thinking of some problem and wake up with the answer?  You need to learn to harness the power of your dreams to help you creatively solve problems.  You need to increase your involvement with dreams.  My wife at a very young age discovered that she had the ability to consciously change her dreams.  If she did not like where her dreams were going she would change them while dreaming.  Today we call it lucid dreaming

Friday, February 25, 2011

Havelock Ellis

"Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself."


British Physician, Writer, Psychologist
1859 - 1939

Dancing has never been my strong suit.  I grew up in a church where dancing was considered a sin.  I sinned in the seventh grade when I danced at a sock hop, but I have never felt comfortable dancing.  I have no rhythm. 

 I have learned that dancing is an art that touches the soul.  While I may never have rhythm, I can appreciate it in others.  I took a movement class 5 years ago that used movement to explore your purpose in life.  We created our life story through movement.  Some day I would like to participate in a workshop that combines dance, painting, storytelling and writing.  Who knows maybe I will create it myself. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Martin Luther

"Music is the art of the prophets, the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us."

German Priest, Theologian, Bible Translator, Hymn Composer
1483 - 1546

For those who have not heard of Martin Luther, he was a Catholic priest who inspired the Prostestant Reformation in 1517 by nailing his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.  He helped change the course of Christianity.  I heard about Martin Luther early in my life, but I never knew that he translated the Bible from Latin to German or that he composed hymns.  He had a creative nature.

And I believe as does Martin Luther that music heals the soul and takes us to a whole other world.  Do you listen to music when your write or paint?  What kind of music inspires your creativity?  And if you compose music, are you ever inspired by a painting or a novel?  I believe the arts are intertwined and interconnected and touch our souls at a deep level.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Irving Stone

"Art is a staple, like bread or wine or a warm coat in winter.  Man's spirit grows hungry for art in the same way his stomach growls for food."

American Novelist
1903 - 1989

Lust for Life
A novel about the life
of Vincent Van Gogh
Many people treat the creative spirit as a luxury, something that is not needed to live life.  And they are quite wrong.  Creativity is a crucial part of living.  If I did not have an outlet for my creativity, I would either go crazy or die.  Creativity is at the very core of who I am.  If I go too long without writing, without putting words on paper, I begin to feel a hunger growing inside me.  I have a strong need to create, to produce something either through writing or painting.  It is as important to my life as water, air, food, shelter and companionship.  Without it my spirit would shrivel and die.  We need food for the body and food for the spirit.  Creativity provides the food for the spirit.

Here are scenes from the movie, Lust for Life, based on the novel by Irving Stone.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

"A painter can turn pennies into gold, for all subjects are capable of being transformed into poems."

French Artist
1780 - 1867

The Valpincon Bather
Some people believe that art is only about painting beauty.  Other people believe that writers should not write about certain subjects.   And still others seek to censor artists and writers.  Think about books that have been banned in school districts or art that is considered pornographic.  The American Library Association publishes online a list of 100 novels that have been banned from time to time.

What subjects do you avoid painting or writing about?  In what ways do you censor your own creative tendencies.  Do you paint to please others?  Do you avoid writing about certain events because it could hurt others?  How do you choose the subjects that you paint or write about?  Or does the subject choose you?  Do write about what interests you or do you write what you think the world wants to read?  Consider how many writers now write about vampires since the success of Ann Rice.  Or how many writers follow in the footsteps of the Harry Potter books.

Do you think Ingres is correct?  Can a painter can turn pennies into gold?  Can a writer make any subject poetic?  

Louise de Broglie

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jackson Pollack

"The painting has a life of its own.  I try to let it come through."

American Artist
1912 - 1956

Many painters and writers talk about the work of art as having a life of its own.  For me, this is one of the joys of the creative process — that moment of discovery when I am following the story, waiting to see where it will take me.  If the creative leader gets in the way of creative process, the work of art can be disfigured, paralyzed or even still born.  Don't let your idea of the painting or the story prevent the true work of art from being born.  What is in your mind's eye may not happen on paper or canvas.

Here is the trailer of a must see Jackson Pollock movie directed by Ed Harris.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lewis Mumford

"Humor is our way of defending ourselves from life's absurdities by thinking absurdly about them."

American Literary Critic, Historian, Philosopher
1895 - 1990

Life is full of absurd, strange and inconceivable happenings that could drive us insane if we did not have a sense of humor.  My wife told me a story today about an experience she had last weekend at a Barnes & Noble store we visit regularly.  She had made three separate purchases and written three separate checks when she discovered a fourth item she wanted to buy.  When she presented her fourth check in less than 2 hours, the computer system rejected it.  When the manager was called, she acted like my wife had written a bad check and treated her rudely.  My wife's response was to laugh at the absurdity of the situation and the stupidity of the manager before politely telling the manager that she would take her money and shop elsewhere.  Sometimes all we can do is laugh, because if we didn't we would go mad.  There was absolutely no excuse for the rude behavior of the manager.

I have worked in health care for over thirty-five years and have talked with lots of nurses about how they use humor to help them cope with the pain and death they saw daily.  They call it gallows humor.  Humor is one of the best ways of coping with the absurdities in our lives.

Winner of
The National Book Award
for Non-fiction (1962)
This past week I was giving a speech and a woman came up to me after the speech and told me how I had done a great job.  Her parting words were to tell me that I needed to take care of my health.  As I watched her walk away all I could do was laugh.  I know she meant well, but the statement came out of the blue and she knew nothing about my health.

Laughter is a powerful way of coping with the challenges we face.  Have you ever been rejected by a publisher or an art gallery?  Then take a deep breath and laugh at the absurdity of the situation.  Have critics ever given your creative work a bad review?  Then take a moment and laugh.  Are you unhappy with your work?  Instead of beating yourself up with negative self-talk, take a deep breath and laugh.  Find the absurdity in the pain you feel.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Francis Bacon

"The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery."

English Artist
1909 - 1992

The Study After
Velazquez's Portrait
of Pope Innocent X
Life is mysterious and full of questions with few answers.  The job of the creative leader is not to provide the answers but to help his audience to explore the questions at even deeper levels. Life at its core is spiritual in nature.  The artist connects the spiritual with the mysterious and fills the heart with joy.  Our challenge has writers, artists and creative leaders is to reach deep within our spirits and share the magical mystery of the heart.  

What spiritual questions are you exploring in your art?  Your writing?  Your acting?  Your dancing?  What is the mysterious hidden within your creation?  What is the song sung from your heart?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Theodore Roethke

"Being, not doing, is my first joy."

— Theodore Roethke
American Poet
1908 - 1963

I must confess that being is very difficult for me.  For years I have been caught up in the culture of doing.  Setting goals and working to achieve my goals.  I find it very difficult to sit and just be.  I must at the very least doodle and who knows maybe my doodles will one day be famous.  We can dream can't we!  If I go on vacation, it often takes me a week to relax and forget my day job.  But I still feel I must be doing something.  Writing.  Drawing.  Producing something.  Rarely can I just be.

How about you?  Are you caught up in the culture of doing or have you learned like Roethke to enjoy just being?

Here is my favorite Theodore Roethke poem.  I love the first three lines.  This is a poem to be read outloud.  Listen to the interaction of sounds.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

William Makepeace Thackeray

"The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face."

— William Makepeace Thackeray
English Novelist
1811 - 1863

This is a very profound statement.  The world that we see is a reflection of ourselves.  I tell a story in my seminars about a little girl who lives in the mountains with her parents.  One day the little girl has a fight with her mother and she runs out of the house.  When she reaches the edge of the cliff, she stops and yells at the top of her voice: "I hate you.  I hate you."  To her surprise she hears a voice shouting back at her:  "I hate you.  I hate you."  This frightens the little girl and she runs back into the house and tells her mother that someone out there hates her.  Her mother realizing what happened tells her young daughter to go back outside and shout, "I love you."  The little girl tiptoes back outside and nervously tiptoes to the edge of the cliff.  She calls out: "I love you.  I love you."  Echoing back out of the valley, she hears the words, "I love you.  I love you."  The message is quite clear:  what we send out is what we get back.

What we expect to find in the world is what we find.  If we think the world is a negative hostile place where our competition is seeking to destroy us, we will find examples to prove our world view.  If we think the world is helpful and supportive, we will find examples to prove our vision of the world.  The world we see is a reflection of the person we are.  Have you looked in the mirror lately?  What kind of person do you see?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nikos Kazantzakis

"I fear nothing, I hope for nothing, I am free."

Greek Novelist
1883 - 1957


Years ago I read the fascinating novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis.   The novel is an attempt to put a human face on Jesus Christ and take him out of the spiritual world where he is God.  The book has since been made into a movie.  I don't recall if this quote is from the book, but it could be given the storyline.

What kind of person would make this kind of statement?  Who among us is not afraid of something?   Who hopes for nothing?  And does freedom really mean having no fear and no hope?  Should the creative leader fear nothing?  Should the artist hope for nothing?  Can a novelist ever be free?  And what is freedom, anyway?  Every society places constraints on its citizens.  Society by its very nature has rules and regulations to govern interaction between people.  Artists often attempt to step outside the boundaries laid down by society.  Some are successful and others are destroyed in the process.

Is Nikos saying that if we have hopes and fears that we are not free?  How can a creative leader function if he does not have hope?  Wouldn't he stop living?  While many of us wish that we did not have fears, there is a positive aspect of fear.  It can protect us from real danger.  Would you want to live without fear?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Linus Pauling

"Satisfaction of one's curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life."

American Scientist
1901 - 1994

Are you curious about the world around you?  Are you searching for new information and ideas?  Are you asking questions and looking for answers?  Creative leaders seek out new ideas and new ways of seeing the world.  We want answers to our questions.  Part of our thrill in life is learning something new — figuring out something we didn't know.

Creative leaders need a strong sense of curiosity about the world they inhabit.  They are not satisfied with the pat answers of the past.  The challenge is in finding new answers to the age old questions.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Alan Alda

"Be brave enough to live creatively.  The creative is the place where no one else has ever been.  You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.  You cannot get there by bus, only by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing.  What you will discover will be wonderful: yourself."

— Alan Alda
American Actor, Director, Screenwriter
1936 - 

Have you visited the wilderness of your intuition?  Have you listened to the voice within your spirit?  Have you descended into the depths of your soul?  Have you discovered the nature of your existence?  Creativity is a journey of the spirit to realms not seen by the ordinary eye.  If you have been blessed with the opportunity to travel this road, then you understand the healing power within your soul.  God walks with each of us.  We must learn to decipher his voice from the chaotic noise so we may enjoy the majesty of beauty.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Anwar el-Sadat

". . . the gravest injustice done to the Egyptian people was the cultivation of fear . . . rather than trying to build up the inner man, we did everything we could to make him feel frightened.  Fear is, I believe, a most effective tool in destroying the soul of an individual — and the soul of a people."

— Anwar el-Sadat
Egyptian President
1918 - 1981

Many years ago I read these words in In Search of An Identity, the autobiography of Anwar el Sadat, President of Egypt from 1970 to 1981, and since then I have been sharing his words with my audiences in my motivational speeches on leadership.

Fear is a powerful tool for destroying the soul of a person and the spirit of a creative artist.  Rulers have used it for centuries and so have parents.  "You better behave or the bogeyman will get you."

Ask yourself what you are afraid of?  What fears control your actions?  What fears are holding you back?  Are you afraid of snakes?  Heights?  Success?  Math?  A blank piece of paper?  Silence?  A blank canvas?  The neighbor's dog?

Creative leaders must learn to shake off the chains of fear.  Fear can prevent us from taking risks, trying new ideas, exploring new ways of thinking.  Each of us must find the courage to do what we desire to do despite our fears.

In 2010 my daughter and her husband moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota without jobs.  This is something I have never had the courage to do — to simply pick up and leave.  It took them six months to find jobs, but they did it.  I am sure there were many moments of fear, but they had the courage to keep going.

Anwar el-Sadat, Jimmy Carter
and Menachem Begin
at the signing of the treaty
at the White House.

During these days when Egypt is all over the news, it is important that we also remember history.  Anwar el-Sadat was one of 13 children born to poor Egyptian parents.  Sadat participated in the military coup that launched the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.  He served under Gamal Abdel Nasser who was President until 1970.  He became President when Nasser died and served for eleven years until he was assassinated in 1981 by military officers.  His vice-president, Hosni Mubarak, became president.

Sadat signed the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1979 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  He said at the time: "Let us put an end to wars, let us reshape life on the solid basis of equity and truth."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Robert Henri


"Let a student enter the school with this advice:  No matter how good the school is, his education is in his own hands.  All education must be self-education."

American Painter
1865 - 1929

I believe that each of us is in charge of our own education.  We choose what we want to learn and what we don't want to learn.  Even in the best of schools, students fail because they don't apply themselves.  And in the worst of schools, students still graduate and go on to accomplish great things.  Yes, a teacher can inspire you and mentor you, but in the end you are responsible for your own education.

And I believe learning is a life-long process.  When a person stops learning, he stops living.  What are you doing to further your education in your chosen field?  What are you exploring outside your field of expertise?  When was the last time your read a new book?  Or talked to a stranger?  Or developed a new habit?

Tam Gan
This week while traveling, I met a minister who had lived for fifteen years in Japan.  I learned about his life as a minister and living in Japan.  He shared how he had witnessed the cremation of a dead person.  The Japanese custom is to wash the body and then have it cremated.  The family gathers at the crematory to witness the burning of the body.  Then the family is given a portion of the ashes and bones in a small box and the remainder are buried in the ground.  I learned something new by listening and asking questions.  And who knows, maybe some day the material will appear in a short story. 

Creative leaders need to be constantly learning new things.  What have you learned recently that you can incorporate into your writing or painting or acting?  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Marquis de Vauvenargues

"Great thoughts always come from the heart."

French Writer
1715 - 1747

The heart is powerful, intelligent and intuitive.  Most of us have been taught that our intelligence resides in our brain, but this is only partially true.  Logical and analytical thinking occurs in the brain.  Intuitive, sensitive and compassionate thinking occurs in the heart.  Often, though, we let our brain override our heart.  We need to learn to listen to voice of our heart as it reveals a deeper truth.  Reason may dominate our thinking, but compassion should govern our actions.  While the brain is busy analyzing the options, the heart knows intuitively what road to take. 

Years of experience have taught me that my heart knows the answer often before the brain has finished its analysis.   I have learned that it is better to trust the small voice inside my heart then the loud voice inside my head.  Do you trust your intuition?  Are you listening to the voice within your heart?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Walter Inglis Anderson

"Our lives improve only when we take chances . . . and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves."

American Artist, Writer
1903 - 1965

Life is about taking chances.  Risk is a key part of success.  And, I think, most creative leaders understand this.  The very nature of creativity is risk taking.  In order to create something new, we have to break down old patterns and rebuild in a different way.  But if we are being honest with ourselves, we must admit that we do not take risks in every area of our lives.  I for one will not risk my financial stability and security.  I am an intellectual risk taker.  I will explore new ideas and new ways of thinking.  I will question my beliefs and those of others, but I am not an entrepreneur.  I will not gamble the financial security of my family and myself.   I will take risks with my writing and my art, but I won't risk my relationships with my family and friends.

Where do you draw the line?  What are you not willing to risk?  I am not willing to risk my money.  If I gamble at a casino, I am only willing to lose five dollars.  I work too hard for my money to throw it way. 

Anderson is right.  The most difficult risk is being honest with ourselves, admitting our failures and our weaknesses.  What are your blind spots?  What are you not willing to admit to yourself or to others?  What do you want to keep hidden from the world?  It takes courage to be honest with yourself.  To face your fears and failures and honestly assess your weaknesses.