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Monday, December 30, 2013

Harley King


As the winter winds whip
about the leafless trees,
bringing snow and ice,
and you sit by the fire
with a cup of hot chocolate,
reading a thriller or romance novel,
pause for a few precious minutes
and reflect on what has happened
in your life over the last year.
What are you thankful for?
What moments do you hope
will never come again?
Who do you wish you could
give a hug to at this moment?
After you have added another log
to the fire and refilled your cup,
sit back and think about
the coming year with all its hopes
and dreams.  Who are the people
most important to you and what
will you do to make them happy?
When spring overpowers the winter cold
and shoots through the frozen earth
with green leaves and lovely flowers,
will your dreams still inspire you
to raise your head and venture
forth onto the paths of tomorrow?

— Harley King

Click here to listen to a recording of my reading: Contemplation.


May 2014 be filled with hugs, joy, 
laughter, happiness, love, and peace!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Faisal Hoque

"Creative people's openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment."

— Faisal Hoque
Bangladesh Author / Entrepreneur / Thought Leader
1969 - 

Creativity requires that a person be open and sensitive to the world around him.  Yet this same openness that ignites creativity can put a person in harm's way.  This openness exposes creative people to rejection that often will cause pain and even suffering.  Writers and artists want to capture the world accurately and creatively which requires that they be in and of the world.  We can't stand on the sidelines or we will have nothing to say.  We have to be out on the battlefield finding our way through the mud, the blood and the destruction.  We have to experience life at its fullest.

If people only experienced pain from being creative, most people would avoid creativity.  Fortunately creativity also brings great joy and happiness that outweighs the pain.  The rewards are greater than the costs.  

What do you think?  Is creativity a blessing or a curse in your life?  Have you received more joy or more pain?  Is it a gift that you hope keeps giving?  Share a story of how creativity has been a blessing or a curse in your life.  Tell us what creativity means to you.

Creative Practice
This week write a poem or short story or paint a picture about sensitivity and creativity.  What happens to the sensitive creative person in a hostile, by-the-book, as-we-have-always-done-it world?  What challenges does he or she face?  Is the creative spirit a blessing or a curse?  Does he survive or perish?

Faisal Hoque was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  At fourteen he started a business selling stereo components to raise money to study in the United States.  He left Bangladesh to study in the U.S. at seventeen.  He developed his first software product as a student of 19 at the University of Minnesota.  He has held management positions at Pitney Bowes, Dun and Bradstreet and General Electric.  He has also founded several companies.  He has also written 6 books including The Power of Convergence, Six Billion Minds and the Alignment Effect.  His latest book, Everything Connects, is scheduled for publication in 2014.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Harley King

"May your dreams be larger than mountains and may you have the courage to scale their summits."

— Harley King
Speaker / Poet / Storyteller
1949 - 

Many of us dream too small.  We don't reach high enough — far enough.  We settle for less than we want.  We settle for less than we can achieve.  Stretch your imagination.  Dream bigger than you ever thought possible.  

If you knew you wouldn't fail, what would you do?  Where would you go?  What would you achieve?  We often let our fears and doubts prevent us from dreaming big.  It is easier to settle for small dreams that we may be able to accomplish.  What are your impossible dreams?  What are your dreams that you are sure have a 99% chance of failing?  Why don't you chase those dreams?  

We all like to win — to succeed.  We hate to fail so we set small goals that we know we can achieve.  Let me give you an example.  Let's say you like to play basketball so you challenge yourself to a game of shooting 100 free throws.  You are confident that you can make at least 50% so you set a stretch goal making 70 out of 100 baskets.  This is a good goal — an achievable goal, but your dream is too small.  Dream of making 100% of your shots.  Impossible right?  Maybe.  But let's say you fail to make 100% and only make 95 shots.  You are still better off than if your goal was 70% and you made 70 shots.  Stretch yourself.  Dream gigantic dreams.  Your dreams should be bigger than life.

Creative Practice
This week make a list of your impossible dreams.  Stretch yourself.  If failure was not an option, what would you attempt to do with your life.  

Harley King is a professional speaker who has delivered over 4,500 motivational presentations and workshops on leadership, customer service, writing, art and creativity to audiences size 10 to 600. He is a poet and writer and has written over 4,000 poems and more than 100 short stories.   He have published 12 books of poetry and 2 books of non-fiction. 

"We all wear masks of various
shapes and sizes." — Harley King
During his more than sixty years on this illustrious planet, he have been gainfully employed as a carpenter, street sweeper, car hop, corn detasseler, hospital orderly, radio announcer, book editor, publisher, freelance writer, bus driver, sports writer, bookkeeper, policy and procedures writer, forms designer, marketing vice-president, corporate executive, professional speaker, facilitator, salesman, trainer, organizational development consultant, ad writer, storyteller, poet and communications executive. Some jobs he has held for a few hours and others he has held for years. He has also worked for more than thirty different bosses.   


by Harley King

I write
a few words
on a torn sheet
of paper
while listening
for the sound
of your voice
calling me to dinner.
Sometimes we dream
of listening
to ourselves talk.
Sometimes we forget
we were born
to cry.
I dance
in the moonlight
and remember
the darkness
that holds
my delicate heart.

Here is Harley King reading one of his poems, Indecision.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Claribel Alegria

"Sometimes it's a great joy to write poems, they sort of come.  But other times I suffer when a poem dies in my hand; it's terrible when a poem dies a premature death."

Claribel Alegria
Nicaraguan Poet / Novelist
1924 -

Have you ever had a poem or a story die?  The inspiration faded away and what remained was a burnt out structure — a failed thought, a hopeless dream.  Creative leaders have lots of ideas, but only a few come to fruition — only a few hold our attention long enough to finish them.  Have you ever started a creative project only to abandon it on the scrapheap because something more exciting came along?  Have you ever been excited and thrilled to start a new creative project only to find a few weeks into it that it won't work?

Creative leaders are blessed with bushel baskets of ideas, but often fail to finish most.  Creative leaders fail more than they succeed.  Failure is a fact of life.  And that is okay.  Even the most prolific artists and writers have unfinished paintings and novels.  I have read stories of people who work on a creative project for five to ten years only to abandon it in the end.  I worked on a novel for 4 years before abandoning it for a non-fiction book that has been published.  I don't think of the time spent on the novel as hours as wasted.  It is important to plow the subconscious — to till the soil of the heart.

I recommend that you never throw anything away, no matter how bad it is.  (I know I am a hoarder.)  Some day when you reread the work you may find a line or a paragraph that inspires you to write something new.  Unfortunately, I have read stories of writers and painters who destroy their work because they are not satisfied.  To me that is a mistake.   You need to keep all your work, not just the best.  Don't let your need to be perfect to get in the way of exploration and failure or even history.  All work has merit.  Sometimes we have to write badly to prepare the way for the brilliant work.

Creative Practice
This week read and review old material.  Look for a line or a paragraph that inspires you.  Write a new poem or short story or paint a picture.

Claribel Alegria was born in Nicaragua to Salvadoran parents who had been exiled because of their human rights work.  She spent most of her childhood in El Salvador.  At nineteen she moved to the United States and earned a degree from George Washington University.  Like her parents, she also spent several years in exile.  She currently lives in Nicaragua.


by Claribel Alegria

In the sixty-eight years
I have lived
there are a few electrical instants:
the happiness of my feet
skipping puddles
six hours in Macchu Pichu
the ten minutes necessary
to lose my virginity
the buzzing of the telephone
while awaiting the death of my mother
the hoarse voice
announcing the death
of Monsignor Romero
fifteen minutes in Delft
the first wail of my daughter
I don't know how many years
dreaming of my people's liberation
certain immortal deaths
the eyes of that starving child
your eyes bathing me with love
one forget-me-not afternoon
and in this sultry hour
the urge to mould myself
into a verse
a shout
a fleck of foam.

Translated from the Spanish by D.J. Flakoll From FUGUES (Curbstone Press 1993)

Moyers, Bill.  The Language of Life.  Doubleday, 1995.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jack London

"You can't wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club."

Jack London
American Novelist / Adventurer
1876 - 1916

Do you write or paint only when you are inspired?  Or do you make a habit of writing or painting every day?  If you wait for inspiration, you will produce very little work?  If you write every day, you will be surprised by how much you create in your lifetime.

Set yourself a goal.  Write or paint for 3o minutes a day . . . 6o minutes . . . four hours.  Or 200 words a day.  A thousand words a day.  Commit to doing a little bit every day.  Most of us will never have the time where we can devote 3 months to working on our novel.  We have to write a little bit every day.

Jack London committed himself to writing a thousand words a day, good or bad, and he produced many novels, non-fiction and short stories.  He wrote and published over 50 books in the last sixteen years of his short life.

Creative Practice
This week commit to writing or painting a certain amount every day for a month whether you are inspired or not.  

Flora Wellman
London's mother
Jack London was born in San Francisco, CA, the illegitimate son of Flora Wellman and William Chaney.  Chaney left before Jack was born and was not involved in his life.  Even later, when as a grown man, Jack wrote to him, Chaney denied being his father.  His dominating mother later married John London, a Civil War veteran, from whom Jack took his last name.  Jack was also raised by Virginia Prentiss, an ex-slave, who was an important influence in his young life.

The Londons were poor and Jack worked from a young age, helping to support the families, often for $0.10 an hour in canning pickles and often for 12 to 18 hours a day.  Child labor laws did not exist at the time.  At thirteen, Jack became a oyster pirate and late worked with the California Fish Patrol to capture pirates.  

Although he finished grade school, London was mostly self-taught.  Ina Coolbirth, a librarian at the Oakland Public Library, encouraged Jack to read and guided his early education.

At sixteen, Jack sailed with the Sophie Sutherland, a sealing schooner, to Japan.  When he returned in 1893, the nation was in a recession and there were not many jobs to be had.  London became a hobo, riding the rails across the country, meeting people who would be friends for years.  He was arrested in Buffalo, New York, for vagrancy and spend 30 days in jail.

When Jack returned to Oakland, he entered high school and contributed articles to the school magazine.  He won a $25 prize for an article he wrote on his sailing experiences and it was published in a San Francisco newspaper.  At 20, Jack was admitted to the University of California at Berkeley but left in 1897 and never finished.

At 21, Jack joined the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon.  He developed scurvy and was forced to return to Oakland.  While on this trip, he committed himself to becoming a writer.  He was paid $5 for his first published story and $40 for his second.  His first novels, The Cruise of the Dazzler and A Daughter of the Snows, were published in 1902.  The Call of the Wild appeared in 1903.  The Sea-Wolf was published in 1904.  White Fang came out in 1906.

Jack and Charmian
in Hawaii (1915)
London married Elizabeth Maddem on April 7, 1900.  They had two daughters together, Joan and Becky.  After divorcing Bessie, London married Charmian Kittredge in 1905 and they remained together for the rest of his life, but had no surviving children.  Charmian and Jack traveled extensively including trips to Hawaii and the South Seas.  Jack learned to surf in Hawaii.

In 1905 London purchased a ranch in Glen Ellen, CA which became his home for the rest of his life.  While he traveled often, he would always come back home.  He build a stone mansion on the ranch that was destroyed by fire before they moved in. 

Jack London died on November 22, 1916 at the age of forty.  He was suffering from dysentery, uremia and late stage alcoholism.  He may have accidentally caused his own death with a morphine overdose.  London has been quoted as saying, "I believe that when I am dead, I am dead.  I believe that with my death I am as much obliterated as the last mosquito you and I squashed."  Yet, Jack London continues to live and inspire others with his stories and novels.

Haley, James L., Wolf. (I recently finished listening to this excellent biography of Jack London and recommend that others read it.)

Novels & Short Stories Online:

To Build a Fire

Gutenberg ebooks

While I have seen some of the movies based on Jack London's work, I have never read any of his novels or short stories.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bill Moyers

"Poets live the lives all of us live with one big difference.  They have the power to make the experience of life both magical and real.  The life they reveal is our own."

— Bill Moyers
American Journalist
1934 -  

While Bill Moyers is talking about poets here, I think his statement applies to all creative and artistic leaders.  Creative people are normal people with the challenges, opportunities, successes and failures that all people face.  The difference is that creative leaders see the world through magical lenses and are able to show others what those lenses reveal.  The power of magical lenses rests in what the lenses reveal about the world and those who inhabit it.

What do your magical lenses reveal about the world?  What do you see that others cannot?  What is your unique vision of how things should be?  What doors can you open for others?  What gifts are you giving the world?  What insights are you sharing with others?

Creative Practice
Follow your vision and reveal the world as seen through your magic lenses.  Paint that world.  Write about that world.  Compose the music of that world.  

Bill Moyers was born in Hugo, OK and grew up in Texas.  His father, a laborer, was John Henry Moyers and his mother was Ruby.  He began his career in journalism as a cub reporter at the age of sixteen.  When he was twenty, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson hired him as a summer intern.  He graduated in 1956 from the University of Texas with a degree in Journalism and worked for radio and TV stations owned by Lady Bird Johnson.  In 1959 he earned a Masters Degree in Divinity from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He served as a Baptist minister in Weir, Texas.

During the 1960 Presidential election, Moyers served as an aide to LBJ and also served in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  He was the White House Press Secretary from 1965 - 1967.  After his experience in politics, Moyer worked for PBS, CBS and NBC.  In 1986, he and his wife started their own company and produced documentaries such as Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth.  

Moyers has written several books of non-fiction including The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, transcripts of his conversations with 34 poets. 

Here is the trailer for the Language of Life video.

Here is the trailer for Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Oscar Wilde

"The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer." 

— Oscar Wilde
Irish Poet, Novelist and Playwright
1854 -1900

Have you ever had the desire to write full time or paint full time?  If you answered, no, then you are probably not serious about your art.  Most beginning writers dream of being able to write full time.  It was my dream for over 30 years — something I longed to be able to do.  Only now that I have passed the sixty mark is it no longer a serious desire.  I spent a lifetime working to provide for my family and myself.  I have also spent a lifetime writing.  And one can do both if one is committed.  

Even if I suddenly had the financial means, I don't think now I would write full time.  And soon, in a few years I am retired, I don't believe I will write full time.  Oh, I will continue to write — probably until my dying breath and beyond if there is pen and paper in heaven.  

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, the second son of Sir William Wilde and Jane Francesca Wilde, Irish intellectuals.  His mother wrote revolutionary poetry and a lifelong Irish nationalist.  His father was ear and eye surgeon who was knighted for his services.  He also wrote books on Irish archaeology and peasant folklore.

Wilde was educated at home until he was nine.  He learned both French and German at a young age.  He studied and read the classics at Trinity College in Dublin.  He also studied at Oxford.  After graduating from Oxford, he returned to Dublin unsure of what to do next.  

Oscar Wilde explored various media for his creative work.  His first book of poems appeared at the age of 27.  In his early thirties he contributed journalistic articles to various journals.  At 33, he became editor of The Lady's World magazine.  He published his first collection of short stories in 1888 and two more in 1891. His novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, first appeared in a magazine in 1890 and a revised version appeared in book form in 1891.  His play, Lady Windermere's Fan appeared in 1892.  His last play, The Importance of Being Earnest, was performed in 1895 and published in 1898..

Monday, November 4, 2013

Morgan Freeman

Acting means living, it's all I do and all I'm good at. If I weren't getting paid well, I would still be acting in a small troupe somewhere.

-- Morgan Freeman
American Actor, Film Director
1937 - 

The question all creative leaders must face is whether they would still create if they didn't get paid for their work.  And the answer is in the affirmative for true artists.  Many of us will labor for a lifetime without financial reward or recognition or fame.  The joy we find in the creative process in the end is our reward.  

Do you find joy in the creative process?  Can you get lost for hours creating a story, a painting or a poem?  I find the creative process in and of itself very rewarding.  I feel good.  If I go for any period of time without creating something, I find myself feeling down.  My mood is impacted by whether or not I have spent time creating something.  The creative process brings me joy in a negative, hostile, crazy world.

Why do you think successful writers continue to write?  Why do successful songwriters continue to write songs?  Why do successful painters continue to paint?  Why do successful actors like Morgan Freeman continue to act?  Why do movie stars who are paid millions for some of their films take roles in plays that pay them peanuts?  The answer is the emotional high they find in creating something.  Creative leaders are blessed with the joy of creating.  

Creativity is a gift that we have been given.  Enjoy the gift for itself.  Don't fret over whether you will make any money.  There are other ways to make money.  Just don't give up on your gift.  Keep creating even when you are surrounded by darkness — even when your world is collapsing.  For only in the creating to we find salvation, healing and joy.

Creative Practice
This week create something for the sheer joy of creating — a poem, a painting, a story.  Enjoy the process and don't worry about publication, selling or perfection.

Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tennessee to Mayme Edna, a teacher, and Morgan Porterfield Freeman, a barber.  He moved frequently in his childhood, living in Mississippi, Indiana and Illinois.  Freeman made his acting debut at the age of nine in a school play.  He won a statewide drama competition at age 12.  He turned own a partial acting scholarship to college to join the US Air Force.

After the Air Force, Freeman lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, finding work as an actor in various plays.  He made his off-Broadway debut in 1967.  The following year he debuted on Broadway in Hello, Dolly!  His first film appearance was in 1971.  He had TV roles in the soap opera, Another World and the kid's show, The Electric Company.  He has supporting roles in feature films in the 1980s and closed out the decade with powerful roles in Driving Miss Daisy and Glory in 1989.  He played Red, a convict, in The Shawshank Redemption in 1994.

Freeman has received 4 Academy Award nominations including Best Actor nominations in Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank Redemption.  He won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Million Dollar Baby.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Julia Cameron

"Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics.  It brings healing."

— Julia B. Cameron
American Writer, Artist, Filmmaker
1948 -

Some would say that our hearts and souls become clogged with the emotions of living.  We suffer real and imagined hurts at the hands of others.  Overtime this pain begins to clog up our metaphoric arteries, blocking our hearts and souls.  We become unhappy and disenfranchised.  We are discouraged and depressed.

One avenue to salvation is involvement in the arts — writing, painting and singing, etc.  Writing opens the attics of our minds and allows us to clean out the cobwebs, chase away the mice and restore sanity.  Painting airs out the musty smells in the basements of our hearts, removes the boxes of ancient memories and fills us with hope.  Music soothes the soul and heals the heart.

Has your involvement in the arts helped you to heal the heart and cleanse the soul?  Has creativity brought you happiness and salvation?  Are you on the road to healing the hurt of yesteryear? Are you a better person today because of your creative work?

Sometimes we fight who we are, struggling against ourselves and our natures. But we must learn to accept who we are and appreciate who we become. We must love ourselves for what and who we are, and believe in our talents.

Creative Practice
In her book, The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron teaches the powerful tool of morning pages.  She suggests that people spend time every day writing anything that comes to mind.  One is not writing for publication, but to practice writing — to aid in the healing process.  This week spend 30 minutes each morning writing whatever enters your mind.  Don't pause, stop or reflect.   Just write.  Keep the pen on the paper and write.  (The key is to write longhand, not with a computer.) This begins the cleansing process.  And if you have not read her book, now would be a good time to do so.

Julia Cameron was born in Illinois and raised in a suburb of Chicago.  She attended both Georgetown University and Fordham.  She began her career at the Washington Post and later the Rolling Stone.  She met and married Martin Scorsese in 1975 and divorced in 1977.  

Cameron is best known for her book, The Artist's Way, in which she explores creativity as a spiritual path and helps people to unlock their creativity.  She has written 30 books  including the novel, The Dark Room, and is an award-winning poet, playwright and filmmaker.  You can find out more information about her and her work at:

Here is a video of Julia Cameron talking about the spiritual path to creativity.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

by Susan Cain
American Author
1968 -

I am a closet introvert. Most of my life I have functioned as an introvert, but in my work I take on the persona of an extrovert. Susan Cain calls me a pseudo-extrovert -- someone who for various reasons takes on the identity of an extravert. Cain's thesis is that for most of the 20th century, Americans worshiped people who were extroverts and discouraged introverts. We see this in a school system that encourages socialization. In the last 30 years parents have taken this to the extreme with extra-curricular activities almost every day of the week. Outgoing, friendly people are celebrated. The book worm, the loner, is discouraged. 

My wife of 40 years, on the other hand, is a classic extrovert. She was born talking. She has never met a stranger who she couldn't start a conversation with. We can be sitting in the Drs. office and she will strike up a conversation with someone sitting in the next chair. In the mornings, I prefer silence. Since I don't talk, she turns on the TV so she hears someone talking. She is outgoing and friendly. Everyone falls in love with her. People when they first meet me see me as grumpy and grouchy even though I am not. I am just very quiet. We are opposites that were attracted to each othe
r. What has happened in the last 40 years is that I have taken on some of the behaviors of an extrovert and she has taken on some of the behaviors of an introvert. We have learned to live together.

Susan Cain has amassed an enormous amount of research demonstrating that society, business, communities and even marriages need and benefit from having both introverts and extroverts on the team. Steve Wozinak, inventor of the Apple computer, needed a Steve Jobs to market and sell the computer. 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingWe are all to varying degrees somewhere on the introvert - extrovert continuum. If you are an introvert or an extrovert or in a relationship with one or the other, then you need to read this book. Business people should read this book to understand their employees, their bosses and their peers. Teachers should read this book to understand the differences in the personalities of the children they teach. Husbands and wives should read this book to understand each other. 

If there is only one book you are going to read this year, it should be Quiet by Susan Cain. This book could save your marriage, your job, and your life.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Jane Kenyon

"I think that writing . . . was my effort to understand and control what was happening to me.  For me poetry's a safe place always, a refuge, and it has been since I took it up in the eighth grade, so it was natural for me to write about those things that were going on in my soul."

Jane Kenyon
American Poet
1947 - 1995

Is your art a safe place for you — a place of refuge from the chaotic world in which we live?   Does it give you control of things you have no control over?  Does writing help you understand who you are and why you do the things that you do?

Why do you write poetry?  Or paint?  Or tell stories?  I keep going back to this question in my life.  And I still do not know the answer.  I can mouth the  platitudes with the best of them.  "I do it because I have to."  "I have no choice.  Something inside has to get out."  Yet, those really don't answer the question.  All I know is that I write.  Why I write remains a mystery.  I did not have a miserable childhood.  I have not suffered physical or emotional abuse.  I have had a normal life — a safe life.  The paradox is that the secure life gives me the freedom to be wild in my mind.  My mind can go to places my body would never venture.

Does writing create a safe place for me?  I would not say that it creates a safe place for me.  I think writing creates a happy place — a peaceful place.  And probably most important — a creative place where limits do not exist, where I can go crazy, where I can pretend to be somebody I am not.  What kind of place does art create for you?

Unlike some writers, most of my writing is not autobiographical.  I enter the lives of characters I invent.  Even the poet writing the poem is a character.  The poet is not me.  Maybe a facet of me, but not me.  Are you the writer or the persona of the writer?  Does the writer exist or is he only the vessel through which the writing flows?

Creative Practice
This week pretend to write from the point of view of someone who is not you.  Pretend the writer is not you.  

Jane Kenyon was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. and a M.A.   While a student, she met the poet, Donald Hall, and they were married in 1972.  He was nineteen years her senior.  Four collections of her poetry were published in her lifetime.  She died in 1995 at the age of 47 from leukemia.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
German Writer / Politician
1749 - 1832

All wise thoughts have been said thousands, perhaps millions of times by writers, preachers, philosophers and other creative leaders.  That original thought that you had has been thought before.  That love poem you wrote because of your feelings has been written thousands, maybe even millions of times before.  That landscape painting you made has been painted thousands of time before. Yet, and this is the brilliance of Goethe's statement, each of us must rethink it for ourselves.  Each of us must find our truth in the world — in our experiences.

As creative leaders we seek originality — something new to say.  Yet, what we find is that it has been said before.  Originality comes in how we say it, not what we say.  When we say something in a new way, we may open up new windows of insight - new ways of thinking.

We are taught many things as children, but if we don't question what we have been taught, we will never be truly wise.  We will live off the wisdom of others, but the wisdom will never take root in our hearts.  We will never be truly wise.

Creative Practice
This week take an old idea and say it in a new way.  Take an old story and write it from the point of view of another character.  Take an old poem and rewrite in a new form.  Take a long poem and capture its essence in a haiku.  Take the emotion in an old poem or story and paint it.

Goethe was the son of Johann Caspar Goethe and Catharina Elizabeth Textor.  His father was 38 and his mother 17.  All their children died at early ages except Goethe and his sister.  Goethe was taught by his father and private tutors.  He studied Latin, Greek, French, Italian, English and Hebrew.

Goethe published his first collection of poetry at the age of 21.  In 1774 he wrote the book, The Sorrows of Young Werther, that would bring him world-wide fame but not fortune.  His body of literary work included epic and lyric poetry, prose and verse dramas, memoirs, literary criticism, scientific treatises and novels.  He also wrote over 10,000 letters and made over 3,000 drawings.  Faust is his most celebrated literary work.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Henry Miller

"There are no perfect beings, and there never will be."

— Henry Miller
American Writer
1891 - 1980

Do you strive to be perfect in your writing, your painting, or even your music?  Perfection is a pursuit that plagues many people.  Ever since Adam and Eve were tossed out of the Garden of Eden, human beings have sought to return to the land of perfection.  As a child, I sought perfection at school, at church and in the home.  I attempted to become perfect in the eyes of God.

In fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Windley, pulled another boy and myself aside and told us that we needed to be leaders on the playground.  We needed to stop the other children who were misbehaving.  I, of course, had no idea what she meant.  Supposedly, because we behaved so well, she wanted us to influence the other children.  I had no idea how to do that.

I have tried to write the perfect poem, the perfect short story, the perfect novel and failed miserably.  Early in my career, I would spend hours and hours rewriting and revising.  I usually reached a point in my revising where the words returned to what I had originally wrote.  I had come full circle and I knew it was time to stop.

I read a story once of a Japanese haiku poet, who in his lifetime had written thousands of haiku.  When he was dying, he destroyed all but three of his haiku.  He felt the others were not good enough — were not perfect.

I have spent a lifetime struggling against the false god of perfection.  I know I will never be perfect, but a part of me still seeks to reach it.  The lesson I keep relearning is that it is okay to fail — to make mistakes, to be human.  Failure is part of the human state.

In the American society, we put people on pedestals and make heroes out of them.  They become our perfect idols.  We worship them.  And then when we discover that they are human, we vilify them.  They have let us down.  We condemn them.  We do it to our sports heroes, our politicians, our artists.  Nobody is perfect.  Our heroes have clay feet.  Our heroes will fail us.

Are you a perfectionist?  Do you punish yourself for your failures?  Do you judge yourself too harshly?  Have you learned to forgive yourself?  To accept your mistakes?  To understand that it is okay to be human? To realize the Garden of Eden does not exist?

Creative Practice
This week revisit some of your creative works that you consider to be failures and look at them through fresh eyes.  Learn to accept it.  Send it out into the world with all it flaws.  Also, take time this week and forgive yourself for the mistakes that you have made.  Accept the fact that you are human.

Henry Valentine Miller was the son of Heinrich Miller and Louise Marie Neiting.  He was of Lutheran German descent.  He was born and raised in New York City.  He attend college for one semester.

Miller was married five times (talk about failure) and had three children.  He worked for Western Union.  He wrote his first novel that was never published at the age of 31.  His second and third novels were not published until after his death. (More failure.)

Henry Miller painting
In 1930 Miller moved to Paris and began working on Tropic of Cancer.  He met Anais Nin who became his lover and financed the first printing of Tropic of Cancer in 1934.  The book was banned in the United States on the grounds of obscenity.  He continued to write novels that were banned. (More failure.)

Miller moved back to New York in 1940 and then to California in 1942.  In 1961 Tropic of Cancer was finally published in the United States by Grove Press.  The publication led to a series of obscenity trials that tested the laws on pornography.  The U. S. Supreme Court 1964 declared the book a work of literature.  Eventually his books were all published in the U.S.

Miller also painted more than 2,000 watercolor paintings in his life.  He was a friend of French painter, Gregoire Michonze.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bertolt Brecht

"We're spongers. Spongers. The last human beings not to be servants.  What's a poem worth?  Four shirts?  A loaf of bread?  Half a cow?  We don't make merchandise; we just make gifts."

— Bertolt Brecht
German Poet / Playwright / Theater Director
1898 - 1956

What is a poem worth?  How much are you willing to spend to read a poem?  Can you put a price on a poem?  Is it a commodity like milk or eggs or a new car?  I can buy a gallon of milk for $2.99.  Is that what a poem is worth?  This week on my trip to Baltimore I rented a car for $44 a day?  Is a poem less valuable then one day of transportation?  My hotel room cost me $109 a night excluding taxes?  Is a poem more valuable than a hotel room for a night?

The American society puts a dollar value on almost everything.  The price of weddings are going through the roof, but be careful, divorce costs even more.  What price is love?  How about sex?  Even dying costs thousands of dollars.  Should I have you bury me in a coffin made of poetry books?  It would be cheaper. 

We now can pay $.99 for a song?  How does that compare with a hair cut?  Or a pedicure? Or a day at the spa?  So what is a poem worth?  Or a short story?  I bought two hamburger patties to grill today for almost $6.00.  Are you willing to pay me $6.00 to nourish your soul instead of your body?  A Swedish massage will cost me $65 for one hour.  I could probably buy four books of poetry for that amount.  The poetry could nourish my soul for years.  The poetry can change my life and teach me to see the world differently.  So what is a poem worth?  

In the words of Bertolt Brecht, "We don't make merchandise; we just make gifts."  Whether you paint, draw, sing or write.  What we do is a gift.  What we create is a gift that we give to the world.  We can't measure our gifts with price tags.  Some things can not be sold; they must be given.  Not all success comes wrapped in dollar bills.  What gifts are you creating?  What gifts are you giving away?

Creative Practice
This week give away a poem, a painting, or a song to a stranger, a friend or even a family member.  Ask for nothing in return.  Share a small piece of yourself.  Give the gift that keeps on giving.

Brecht was born to a Protestant mother and a Catholic father in Augsburg, Bavaria.  His home was a comfortable middle class.  He studied drama at Munich University.  He wrote his first play, Baal,  in 1918 and his second, Drums in the Night, in 1919.  A collection of his poems, Devotions for the Home, was published in 1927.  Brecht went on to write over 50 plays in his lifetime.  He was one of the most influential and important playwrights of the 20th century.

Here is one of Brecht's poems.  Accept it as a gift.

On the Term of Exile
By Bertolt Brecht

No need to drive a nail into the wall
To hang your hat on; 
When you come in, just drop it on the chair
No guest has sat on.

Don’t worry about watering the flowers—
In fact, don’t plant them.
You will have gone back home before they bloom,
And who will want them?

If mastering the language is too hard,
Only be patient;
The telegram imploring your return
Won’t need translation.

Remember, when the ceiling sheds itself
In flakes of plaster,
The wall that keeps you out is crumbling too,
As fast or faster.

Translated from the German by Adam Kirsch