Wednesday, July 14, 2010


We had a party last night. The occasion was the final meeting of our artists' group before we all break up and go our different ways for the summer. The weather seems to have at last concluded that it's time to provide us with some summer. For weeks now--a good deal longer than the familiar "June gloom"--the marine layer of clouds, fog, mist and even a light rain has hung around the Southern California coastline, refusing to budge even later in the day. It has noticeably affected the mood of those who were not--like myself!--brought up in England, where this is the almost normal climatic condition: everyone has been immersed in dismal self-absorption, complaining to anyone else who will listen about how dreadful the weather has been.

But for the last two days... sunshine! The sun has appeared in the early morning, and our usual blue skies have prevailed throughout the day. This welcome break in the weather contributed to last night's festive mood, and we were able to celebrate outdoors, in the warmth of the summer evening. Everyone brought food and drink, and we started out with a glass of wine on the balcony and our customary check-in--for which we proceed in order around the circle, to affirm our presence and get settled in for further discussion.

On this particular evening, I expressed the wish that we should all take a moment to look a little deeper than we might ordinarily do, and risk putting out some truth about ourselves that others might not yet know. Of course, Ellie turned this around immediately on me, and put me on the spot by asking me to model what it was I was looking for. Okay. I looked a little deeper and talked for a few minutes about that sense of losing steam, after the big push of the past six months to get Persist off the ground; the fear that I might not have the energy to push still further; and, truthfully, the disappointment that I had not been able to take it as far as I would have wished. To which, to complete my check-in, I added my sense of a new and growing head of steam around this new collection of essays that I'm working on, my increasing understanding and acceptance of the genre as the one that is the best fit for me at this time of my life, and my intention to shape a new book, not unlike Persist, but different.

As the tag line for The Buddha Diaries suggests, I'm all about "getting to the heart of the matter"--no matter how uncomfortable the reality I find there. This was my intention during the check-in. I want to hear the answer to that question I return to constantly, in all my thinking about art and artists and in my own writing practice: "Tell me who you are." I wanted to hear something more and different about each of the artists in our circle, and was grateful for the effort each one made to share something of importance and relevance to their lives. For me, this is what creative work is all about: discovering more about what it means to be a human being in this world, about what we share and where we differ in our experience, about what we have to teach each other about how to live our lives.

I notice--and I noticed again, last night--that we have a tendency to want to rescue each other, to spare each other discomfort and pain. It's in some ways an admirable instinct, an expression of the compassion we feel and our desire to make life easier for those around us. But it's also a means of self-protection, a way to spare myself the necessity of hearing someone else's pain so that I don't have to look more closely at my own. I'm always grateful for the right opportunity to open my heart, and when I do, I want to have my feet held to the fire (excuse the mixture of metaphors!) I want my authenticity to be tested, the truth I have shared to be questioned for its validity. I want to be held accountable for the bullshit I'm perfectly capable of uttering, and perfectly capable of believing when it goes unquestioned.

So I was glad that my check-in prompted some of this response. I needed to dig a bit further to recognize how much my sorry ego is at work, how it can easily nudge me into self-pity rather than honest self-examination; and it was good to have the help of others in the group in coming to this recognition. Others, after all, have a better perspective, seeing me from the outside. Their perceptions offer an essential correction to my own. I noticed, too, that desire to rescue, to remind me of my good fortune and my success, to relieve my disappointment and leave me feeling better about myself. Thinking back on it, I was worried that the discussion had dwelt too much on me. But I remind myself that we are all talking about ourselves, and that the reason my check-in became the focus for later discussion was that everyone one found some piece of their own experience in what I had to say. We all "do each other's work."

Anyway, I was grateful for the experience and the depth I felt we reached. And equally grateful to move on to the feast. Such a great evening, sharing good food, a glass or two of wine, in the community we have watched grow over the years, in which such talk is possible. It leaves me wanting more...

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