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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

Monday, September 23, 2013

D. H. Lawrence

"The human soul needs beauty more than bread."

— D. H. Lawrence
English Novelist, Poet, Painter
1885 - 1930

What does your soul need? Beauty? Bread? Creativity? Silence? Freedom? Faith? Love? Peace? Chaos?  Dignity? A connection with humanity?  What does your soul seek? God? Humanity? Hope?  What does your soul create? Beauty? Pain? Art? Poetry? Stories?

I think it is a privilege to be a creative leader.  We are doubly blessed.  Our creativity feeds our soul and our soul feeds our creativity.  Through the process of writing, painting or dancing, we cleanse and heal our spirit — we restore our soul.

Creativity is water for the soul and nourishment for the spirit.  Drink deeply that the fruits of your labor will grow and flourish.

Creative Practice
Feed your spirit this week.  Do what makes you feel good.  Take care of yourself.

David Herbert Lawrence was the fourth child of Arthur John Lawrence, a miner, and Lydia Beardsall who worked in a lace factory.  He spent his youth in the coal mining town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire.  Lawrence received a teaching certificate in 1908.  He taught at the Davidson Road school for a couple of years.  His mother died from cancer in 1910.  Lawrence was devastated by her death.  His first novel, The White Peacock, was published in 1911.  

In 1912 Lawrence met Frieda Weekley, a married woman with three children, who was six years older than him.  They ran off to her parent's home in Germany.  Lawrence was arrested and accused of being a British spy, but was released due to the intervention of Weekley's father.  Lawrence and Weekley left Germany and walked across the Alps to Italy. In Italy, Lawrence finish Sons and Lovers which was published in 1913.  Lawrence and Weekley were married in England in 1914 after she obtained a divorce.

During World War I, Lawrence and his wife were accused of spying for the Germans and harassed by the authorities.  After the war, Lawrence went into voluntary exile returning to England only twice for brief visits.  He and Frieda spent the rest of his life traveling to Australia, Italy, Ceylon, United States, Mexico and France.  They arrived in the U.S. in 1922 and bought property in New Mexico.  While on a visit to Mexico in 1925, Lawrence almost died from an attack of malaria and tuberculosis which forced him to return to Europe.  He died in France from tuberculosis.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Miles Davis

"My future starts when I wake up every morning.  Every day I find something creative to do with my life."

— Miles Davis
American Musician
1926 - 1991

How do you wake up every morning?  Are the creative juices flowing?  The life of the creative leader is about creating — about finding new ways of seeing the world.  About living the creative life.

The creative life is an attitude — a way of embracing the world.  Are you open to the possibilities?  The new beginnings?  Or have you closed your mind and heart and see only a narrow path before you?  Miles Davis, the musician, was always changing, exploring the music, finding new pathways, seeing new possibilities.  Whenever he felt himself growing stagnant, he would change directions, take a new path.  As a jazz musician, he improvised, played off of his fellow musicians, and changed the notes.

Are you living the creative life?  Or are you stagnant?  Do you hide behind what you created?  Or are you growing?  Improvising?  Exploring alternative paths?  Are you open new ideas?  

Creative Practice
Try something new this week — a new painting technique, a new form of poetry, a different style of music.  Do something you have never done — work with clay, write a song, learn to dance.  Wake up the creativity inside.  Develop a creative attitude.

Miles Davis was born in Alton, Illinois to Miles Henry Davis and Cleota May Davis.  His father was a dentist and moved the family to East St. Louis in 1927.  Miles thought of going to medical school, but his love of music was too strong.  His father gave him a trumpet at the age of thirteen and paid for music lessons.  By sixteen, Miles was playing professionally when not in school.  At seventeen, he spent a year playing in the Blue Devils, Eddie Randle's band.  In 1944, the Billy Eckstine band, which included Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, visited East St. Louis.  Miles had an opportunity to play with the band for a couple of weeks because the regular trumpet player was sick.

In the fall of 1944, Davis moved to New York to study at Juilliard School of Music.  He eventually dropped out to play music full time.  In 1945, when Dizzy Gillespie left Charlie Parker's band, Miles was hired to replace him.  He recorded and traveled with the band.  During these years Miles played as well as recorded with various bands.

In 1955, Davis had an operation to remove polyps on his larynx.  He damaged his vocal tones and consequently, he had a raspy voice the remainder of his life.

Davis recorded 48 studio albums and 36 live albums during his life.

Spend some time listening to a discussion of the Miles Davis Kind of Blue Album, created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the production of the album.  Then listen to the album itself.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mitch Albom

“. . . there's a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother's story, because hers is where yours begin.” 

― Mitch Albom
American Author / Radio & TV Broadcaster / Songwriter
1958 -

A few years ago, I wrote the story of my mother's life.  I told her story as I knew it from her point of view.  I imagined what her thoughts were and how she would respond to the events that happened in her life.  It was a fascinating experience and gave me insight and understanding of my mother.

We all have stories to tell — some easy and some difficult — and we need to be telling these stories.  As Albom says, there is a story behind everything whether you are talking about the painting on the wall or the scar on my hand.  I have a scar on my hand which resulted from being silly.  When I was in my early thirties, a friend and I were chasing each other around the apartment acting silly.  I was carrying a glass of beer in my hand.  He slammed the door on me and the glass broke in my hand.  I had to go to the hospital for stitches.  Often it is the small things that happen in our lives that blossom into larger stories.

What stories are you not telling that you need to tell?  We need to listen to our own stories because in the listening we gain understanding and wisdom.  On my wall in my office hangs a drawing I made with colored pencils in 2006 in the midst of a personal health crisis.  I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery.  The drawing is entitled, All Eyes on Jesus.  The title for the drawing came to me before I ever put pencil to paper.  The drawing is of a cross surrounded by masks.  The hand of God is reaching for the cross and the fires of hell are burning up the masks.  For me, the drawing captures my struggle with religion.  The drawing  tells a story.

Creative Practice
This week write a story or a poem about your mother in her voice.  Tell the story in the first person about a particular incident or event in her life.  Maybe you could tell the story of your birth from her perspective.  Or tell the story of her father's death through her eyes. Choose a particular event and tell the story.

Mitch Albom grew up in New Jersey in a middle class family.  His parents encouraged his siblings and him to see the world which he has done.  While working in New York, Albom developed an interest in journalism and became a sports writer.  He was a full-time feature writer for the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel.  He then moved to Detroit and became the lead sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press where he still writes 2 columns.  He has won more than 200 journalism awards.  He has written two sports books — one with Bo Schembechler, U of Michigan football coach and the other about the Fab Five U of M basketball team.

His breakthrough book was Tuesdays With Morrie about his conversations with a former college professor who was dying.  He wrote the book to help pay for the professor's medical bills. Rejected by several publishers, it was eventually published by Doubleday in 1997.  The initial printing was 20,000 copies.  The memoir has sold over 14 million copies and has been translated into 41 languages.

Albom followed up six years later with a novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which was published in 2003.  The novel has sold more than 10 million copies.  His next novel, For One More Day, was published in 2006 and spent 9 months on the New York Times Bestseller list.

As if writing is not enough for Albom, he also hosts a general radio talk show on WJR in Detroit 5 days a week.  The show is also televised and simulcast by MSNBC.  He has appeared on numerous TV shows.  He is also a playwright and songwriter.  He has also founded 7 charities.

Here is Mitch Albom discussing why he thinks his books have been so successful.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mahatma Gandhi

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

― Mahatma Gandhi
Indian Lawyer /Activist
1869 -1948

If you knew that you would live forever or at least as long as the universe exists, what would you do with your life?  Would you still write?  Or paint?  Or sing?  Would you obtain  a hundred college degrees?  Write a thousand novels?  Paint a million paintings?  What would you study?  History?  Science?  Religion?  Literature?  Why would you study?  For knowledge?  For wisdom?  Why would you create anything?  You would outlive the shelf life any novel you wrote or painting you painted.

Does the fact we know that we will die influence what we do in life?  If you were told that you had only six months to live, what would you do?  Spend the time with your loved ones?  Withdrawal from those around you?  Finish that great American novel that you have been working on for thirty years?  Travel the world and see all the places that you have wanted to visit?

There are only 24 hours in any given day.  What did you do with the last 24 hours of your life?  What are you going to do with the next 24 hours of your life?  Are you focused on what is important to you?  Or are you procrastinating?  Do you believe that there will always be a tomorrow?  If you don't have time today, maybe mañana?  We choose how we spend every minute of the 1440 minutes we are given each day.  What choices are you making?  Are they the right choices?

Creative Practice
Study how you are spending the 1440 minutes of your day?  Are you wasting any of those precious minutes?  Can you find an extra thirty minutes to focus on your creative work?

Mahatma Gandhi was born in India and studied law in England.  He became an advocate for the rights of Indians, first in South Africa and then in India.  He became the leader of India's independence movement, organizing non-violent forms of civil disobedience.

After studying law in England, Gandhi returned to India where he failed to establish a law practice in part because he was too shy to speak in court.  At 24, he accepted a job in South Africa with Dada Abdulla & Co, an Indian firm.  He worked as a legal representative for the Muslim Indian Traders.  Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa where he formed many of his political views, ethics and leadership skills.  Gandhi represented the legal rights of wealthy Muslims and indentured Hindu laborers.

In South Africa, Gandhi faced discrimination.  He was thrown off a train for refusing to move from first class.  He was beaten by a stagecoach driver for refusing to give up his seat to a European passenger.  He was barred from many hotels.  The racism, prejudice and injustice against Indians in South Africa shaped Gandhi's social activism and awakened him to social injustice.  His fight for the rights of Indians in South Africa helped him to develop his non-violent forms of civil disobedience.

Gandhi returned to India permanently in 1915.  He joined the Indian National Congress and became its leader in 1920.  He spent the rest of his life working for the independence of India from England.  Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948 by a Hindu nationalist.  Over two million people joined the five-mile long funeral march.

Gandhi was a prolific writer.  His complete writings were published in the 1960s and comprised about 50,000 pages published in 100 volumes. His autobiography is called, The Story of My Experiments with Truth.