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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Head, The Heart, The Gut

This post has turned out to need a lot more thinking and writing than I initially thought it would. That is often the case but this has been a bear. What I think happened was that I never really tried to vocalize some of these ideas before but they exsist in the abstract for me, and for the purposes of being clear I can't go around being coy and just touching on a few topics. Forgive me if this is not clear to you and please let me know where you might have questions, additions and/or omissions.

We as human beings have been given the unique gift of the brain. With it, scientists claim that, we are able to  master languages, and problem solve, I personally don't think either of those things are uniquely human but for the sake of argument I'll just leave it at that. The brain is a gift, and for recorded history it has been useful in solving problems although I would argue that the problems it has solved have not necessarily been problems. Maybe the brain is more useful in creating problems than solving them, but let's not get too far afield.

The brain is just one part of the whole system that makes humans unique, and some of us use that part wonderfully. Those that were born to use their brain, use it almost to the exclusion of all other abilities, for instance look at Stephan Hawking, even with ALS he is still effective in inspiring and changing the world with thought. HIt should be said that he is lucky to be living in a time that really honors that sort of activity, but he is on his path and he lives, and was born, to use his brain. That cannot be said of all of us, me for instance, I do not use my brain half as effectively as he does. My heart and gut speak to me louder and than my brain does. My brain wants to be loud but it's really just a mess most of the time. When I speak to people, if I were to think first I would not lonly upset others I would confuse them as well, not because I would say the wrong thing but I would not say everything and it would be a mess that I would have to explain every thime I opened my mouth.

Instead of trying to communicate some thought, I step aside and allow myself to speak, or allow myself to be the deliverer of the message I hold. I have learned through my portrait facilitating that we are all connected, this is not new to any of us, and by stripping away the cognitive and allowing that connection to control the interaction leads to furthering relationships as well as personal growth. When I have an urge to communicate, for me, trusting in that intention to communicate is the first step to successfully reaching others. That intention reaches the consciousness of all things and so it is not always necessary to have to explain why we did  or did not say what was or was not said, we are saying what we were called to say. Under these circumstances it is important to listen very carefully , not just to those we are communication with but to that which is guiding our communication.

Listening happens all the time, we listen to others and we listen to ourselves. When I listen, I open myself up to receive, rather than trying to anticipate what will come. By allowing myself to hear and speak I have to shut out my brain, because my brain is much more comfortable knowing something than it is not knowing. It can not be overemphasized that I am speaking strictly of and for myself here. Some people relish the brain and thought puzzles are intriguing, but for myself contradiction is necessary for balance, there is no absolute and my brain really likes to have absolutes, that in itself is a contradiction and one I carry with some trepidation.

It is much easier for me to connect with others when I allow myself to not over think. My brain can not adequately process what it doesn't understand, it relies solely on past experiences or of learned knowledge, it regurgitates and revisits what it already knows. When my brain is given new information it can look at it and find new information but I am lead through that process by my gut and heart. The brain produces hormones just by thinking, our bodies responds to that immediately often throwing us off kilter and into a reactive state. But that is only the brain. It sounds like the life of a teenager sometimes aware and fully in tact and at any moment they can fly off the handle with an emotional reaction to something, anything. The teenage years is when the head brain, the one we most often call "brain" matures and asserts dominants. But that brain does not work in a vacuum and, all in all, it does have a lot of use alone, obviously.

There are two other neurological centers we use, neither of them "think"  in the way the head brain does, which is lucky for us, the last thing we need is 2 more brains looking to solve problems that don't exist or react to threats that don't exist.. These brains to which I am referring are the heart and gut. They are developed before the head brain and are much more in balance with the rhythms of the universe. Unfortunately these brains have been given little or no value in our current 1st world society and so developing them is not easy. May parents in the United States actually don't aid their children in developing these aspects of their personalities at all. Who could blame them? The competitive nature of scholastic achievement in the first US today has taken precedent over metal, spiritual and physical health.

It is not easy to shift away from rewarding children for being "smart" (meaning being cognitively adept) because we have no way of rewarding other types of growth. It is common to chastise children when they take risks and push their physical abilities to the point where they may get injured. Unfortunately that is exactly what they are supposed to do. In the United States we protect our children because we see them as little mechanistic brains but they are spirits that need to follow their instincts. Children are exploring the world and if they are afraid of it they will not make it. When a 7 year old wins a spelling bee and gets rewarded for their cognitive ability they are learning a very dangerous lesson that is more suited for a 14 year old.

I found this outline on the Preserve Childhood website:

GUT BRAIN PRIME FUNCTIONS (development years 0-7)
  • Core Identity: A deep and visceral sense of core self, and determining at the deepest levels what is self versus not-self
  • Self-Preservation: Protection of self, safety, boundaries, hungers, and aversions
  • Mobilization: Motility, impulse for action, gutsy courage, and the will to act
HEART BRAIN PRIME FUNCTIONS (development years 7-14)
  • Emoting: Emotional processing (e.g., anger, grief, hatred, joy, happiness, etc.)
  • Values: Processing what’s important to you and your priorities (and its relationship to the emotional strength of your aspirations, dreams, desires, etc.)
  • Relational Affect: Your felt connection with others (e.g., feelings of love/hate/indifference, compassion/uncaring, like/dislike, etc.)
HEAD BRAIN PRIME FUNCTIONS (development years 14-21)
  • Cognitive Perception: Cognition, perception, pattern recognition, etc.
  • Thinking: Reasoning, abstraction, analysis, synthesis, meta-cognition, etc.
  • Making Meaning: Semantic processing, language, narrative, metaphor, etc.
I Try not to think about these as different "Brains" as much as different parts of us. I was working with a great friend of mine Allen Baker and he suggested, to explore these different parts to allow myself to think of something from my gut alone, then the heart and finally with my head. This separated all the gunk of a situation.

My gut spoke to me of fear and safety and addressed where I belonged both spiritually as well as physically in relation to the subject I was focusing on.

My heart brought me together with with others allowing me to be more emotionally invested, or aware, of the bigger picture and not only one side of that bigger picture.

My head took a much more cold view of things, which I can appreciate but separating it from the gut and heart made it much more difficult to care about others and the outcome. My brain is pragmatic and we all need to be that way on occasion but it is not the only way forward and it is not what we ought to be rewarding. But how can you reward empathy, when it is learned it can be faked. What can't be faked is the feeling one gets when they really care and share in this life experience and have goals that include the world around us.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Early "Memories"

In my practice I see many people who are looking to deepen their self-reflective gaze in order to better understand themselves and how they interact with the world. Although everything in the universe happens for a reason and there are no coincidences, it is not always easy to see how we are related to it all. It is important it remember who we are at the time we are looking. That is not so easy to discern as many of us, I am sure, can attest to. My portrait process is special in that it allows the subject that unique ability to look at themselves from the outside, as the observer.

When I get to certain point in our sessions where I feel there has been a  number of significant things shared, this can include deaths in the family, major triumphs or traumas, goals past and present, and a host of other sorts of interactions with the world whether they be in the past, future or present, I have a host of questions that could be asked. The one that I get great responses from is "What is your earliest memory?" It has been the case that knowing what the earliest memory is helps considerably with where conflicts between belief systems arise.

The earliest memory is interesting because I, personally, do not care if what they tell me is actually their earliest memory or not, what I care about is the memory that comes up. In my work what is perceive is way more important than what would be "fact," because that is the world in which they are living and creating, fact is usually just a perception from an outside source. We primarily live in a world built by faulty memories. Memories make up the world around us much more than the world around us does. Everything that is of the world is neutral, we define good/bad beautiful/ugly and so no. Nothing has a definition other than what it happens to be, and neither do we. People choose to be "something"

We choose to be angry, or happy. We choose to be grateful or greedy. It is easy to say the world and our surroundings made us who we are, and in effect you would be absolutely correct in saying that. On the other hand if you decided to choose differently you can change your situation, but it is not easy. When you do accomplish that change, and you say I made myself this way, again you would be correct in saying that. Neither of those statements, "The world made me" or "I made me" are true mind you, but you would be correct in making them.

The earliest memory question does a lot of things, first it allows the person being asked to say anything because I, as the facilitator, could never prove or disprove an answer. It also allows subconscious links to past memories on subjects that we are covering. We all have specific memories that are very important to us that, for whatever reason, are vivid and clear, but others involved in the memory don't recall at all. For my own health and self reflection, I take note at what I may have learned about myself or others, these have rarely been positive things. I feel that, for myself, if a memory lingers it is against my nature and may be a place that needs clearing. So many signs are stored inside us and it doesn't always, if ever,take a huge Ah-Ha moment to get beyond them, sometimes it just takes recognizing them and taking note when we give in to them.

It has seemed like everyone, when asked, has known their earliest memory prior to being asked it, but it always has ties to some of the biggest conflict areas in their current lives. Its a difficult task trying to figure out the brain and its relationship to the universe, which is why I do not question the answers I hear. They may only be the answer for the time I ask it, and that is fine, the is perfect actually, because then it is honest, and that is what facilitation requires.

What are some conflict areas you are sorting out? Put out there, like for myself I value what I do but I do not have a drive to exchange it for money but that is a must moving forward. now ask yourself what is your earliest memory, for me at the moment it seems to be my father no being home when I was a child. For me that shows that connecting with loved ones and money, my father was always "working," do not mix. For me to sort through  that conflict is going to be important and to be sure I understand that I can just as easily connect with others while getting paid fairly as I do when I do not. I can also donate 1 full session to those who can not afford them for every full session I get paid for. This is in line with my desire to help and be open and available.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Reactions Are Reflections

There are so many things we react to, each and every one can be learned from. Of course if we attempt to learn from every reaction we have we won't have time for anything else so lets start with the big ones.

When I get angry it is a clear sign that I am not in balance and some work needs to be done. I often hear people tell me "This" or "That" thing or person "makes me angry," and I see how that can feel and seem, especially in today's world. What I want to cover is that it isn't the person, their actions or the thing that is actually making you angry, it is you, and your imbalances. I am sorry to break it to you.

When an experience comes my way in which I react with anger I first have to separate anger from what it is I might be blaming the anger on. It is not the guy who cut me off, it is not my boss telling me to rework some nonsense, or the kids who picked my pocket but it is only anger, and when I can see the emotion for what it is, not judge those the brought it about in me, I can examine it. In examining the emotions, and the circumstances that brought it about, I am in a better position to learn and move on.

Anger comes about for a lot of reasons, it is often an emotion that we use to cover up other emotions, it's retaliatory. I hear people say "I have the right to be angry" and although they are right, anger is probably not what they are feeling. I say this because, just by saying "I have the right to..." they are justifying. That statement also presupposes that there is another observer which could be the self, the one that wants to do the work of healing. Here, the speaker is just looking for permission to be angry because if they were not angry they might have to admit they are not balanced. For myself this is 100% the case, and I actively work at understanding myself enough to accept that anger is needing more balance.

Once, in my early 20's, I got so angry and slammed a heavy wooden door, it crushed and mostly severed the tip of one of my fingers. After they put my fingertip back together, for months, I couldn't help but look at how one split second change my life forever, because my finger would never be the same again, and it was all because I was angry. I don''t remember what set me off but as soon as my finger was just hanging there, whatever it was that made me angry just didn't matter anymore.

We permit ourselves to be angry for all sorts of reasons. I usually see people being angry to cover up a sense of weakness. This is associated with shame, fear, and inadequacy which can really go into that shame category, and probably a whole host of other deep seeded issues that these emotions direct us to address. Unfortunately we don't have the kind of culture that values this sort of work.

In the US we value wealth, greed and strength. All of which are also used to cover up the chasms that exist within us. Greed is fear, plain and simple. Wealth, although often disguised as a way to help others, is used to eliminate the need for faith in others and close relationships. Strength and perseverance are rewarded over weakness, but without weakness we cannot learn the true meaning of strength. We not only have lost our way as a country, or world, being lost has become the ideal lifestyle somehow, it is praised, it is valued over all else.

Because the value system is so off kilter we can't be expected to learn how to be what we are meant to be. Only a small number of people will be truly geared to excel in the world as it has been built by a small number of Europeans. That is not to say we don't all have a purpose or a way to excel in the world as it is, it just might be a bit more uncomfortable for others than the few that can just pick it up and run with it, a case for not comparing ourselves to others, but we still do. When we compare we compete, it is part of that world created by that small number of Europeans.

Competing is about seeing where you fit in some linear scale. It reinforces the idea that some belong and some don't. When we do not measure up we feel shame, to counteract that we find those that measure up even less. This is not hate, it's fear. This is not people acting as they are truly but acting as they have been taught, they have learned they will be rewarded for being stronger. They are innocent, and have never learned to reflect.

When we reflect it is our just to take the steps to be more in accord to our true nature, there is nothing to read because no one has your answer other than you. The faith you show in yourself is due to your knowing that however you react to what the universe is showing you is a message from that unique inner voice that is in concert with all the billions of other unique voices, none of any importance but the world would not be that same without.

I Am My Greatest Acomplishment

So I am writing out some life goals and outlining my plans or hopes and wishes for the coming years. I have done this loosely in the past but combining this with some vision board work and all my new ideas and all, I really feel like I can make some strides. One of the things I want to do is own a home, it's not an "American Dream" thing, although it may be, it is really about me having space. I love space, I want to host dinners, I want a garden, and not just for growing things in, although that is a must. I want to breath there, meditate and have time to be. I am also looking at being published which is odd because there is nothing that I avoid more than books, but it is something that I have in me and I will not deny it.

My newest venture in my art practice is actually focused more on facilitation than it is on art. I have always been drawn to help others. I would actually help others before I take for myself, and that is something I have been examining for a long time and want to be both at peace with it while also open to it shifting as I grow. My making of art has never been real cut and dry, I do oddball things to put me in contact with others. My Portrait Project, or my ChicagoArts interview series, for both I was driven by my desire to connect, but for both I made no money, there is a combined 22 years of creative practice that I didn't charge anyone for. Now I am moving into a facilitation practice to help people self reflect, and I am charging for that and I get to connect and make art because the facilitation work starts with a portrait. I really have to open up to how that is going to work, how it will afford me a home and peace of mind. It is new and I have been put through the ringer enough over the past few years.

All of this is to say that as part of the writing work I ma doing is spelling out what my greatest accomplishments are. It is an odd question because I don't feel like anything I have done is done. I never got a degree from a school, which could be a focal point for many, TRANSfiguration barely ever got off the ground, my Portrait Project was open ended and I continue to explore that, so that is not an "accomplishment." I used to be represented by galleries, but that all changed and now I don't even make work that is intended for showing. The interview series or Our Cultural Center were things I did as well but they both kind of ended without being resolved in a way I was happy with. Everything, for me, has been a lesson, one learning experience after another. There is no accomplishment.

I could laundry list what I have done, because I have done a lot, and it has all been fun and my life is really one giant adventure. But that doesn't change the fact that this answer eludes me. I see that it is because I do not value what I have done, not because it has no value but because it is currently not a currency within my day to day. It all has made me who I am today though, It has made me the person that is loved by so many, and seen so clearly. I really do love who I am. Sure I have a long way to go, I still hold shame and desire, two things I want to get under control, but for the most part I am a great person. I don't know anyone who I would rather be. There are things I want to have more of in my life but I can get those things. The important part to all this is that I am happy with who I am and able to be who I am everywhere I am, this comes from inside myself.

I am privileged to be able to be me, and I recognize that. I do not know how I became to be me but here I am and I am extremely grateful for that. So I guess it turns out that my greatest accomplishment is me. Now, although that is great, try putting that on a resume lol.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Onion, The Actual Onion

When we look at symbols, and as a artist I look at them a lot, there are some that pop up in today's meme world that throw me off. Actually this one has been more than a meme for me, its been a verbal reference for years used by all sorts of people. At first, because the symbolism doesn't resonate with me I was confused then after realizing their point I let it go thinking they had it wrong but nbd. I found that in fact everyone uses this symbol in a way I would never and although I love to use symbols in my language I would never use this one.

My contention here is with the onion, it's all layers, so the meme, or assumption, is that "to get to the core we must peel back the layers." Although it is true we must peal back our own layers to find our true nature, our core, I would argue that the onion is the worst item to compare this to.

Different cultures see things differently so I accept it when others say "it's like an onion" meaning that things are getting more complex or deeper as the layers get unveiled. For myself the symbolism the onion holds is shallowness, as you peel back that layers of the onion there is no change the next layer will be what the last layer was and there is no core, only the smallest little layer. This is why The Onion is called The Onion, although news and politics are rife with information there is nothing there, no content no purpose, it is there to add complexity to lives by offering shallowness, layers that do not differ.

When the onion became a symbol for complexity and depth we inadvertently sided with shallowness and subconsciously accept shallow distracting layers as opposed to meaningful substance.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Quantum Portriture


This portrait was done of @instantBanana 


 As an artist I follow my instinct, I lay down a number of marks without a reason other than it belongs there. This may resonate with more people when we are talking abstraction than when talking about portraiture or a work that has a narrative. But it is not really not different for any of that when it comes to my making. Of course when artwork become formulaic things change dramatically and this idea breaks down pretty quick so I will not be addressing artwork made by assistants or in a factory format. For me, in my practice, I try to make very few choices, it starts with mark-making and grows from there. I can tell thoughts are coming in and some of my marks become reactions to what was put down that is okay as far as I am concerned. If my mind wanders, that also is okay. Where it stops being okay is when I like or don't like something, when arbitrary rules get in the way of the creation process, and when I have preference or revert to formula.

When it comes to portraiture it is no different than any other artwork except everything on the page will be organized in a specific way. After observing my surroundings for 41 years I have a lot of material in my mind all stored up that I can use.  If you were to ask me to draw a specific eye or nose, in all honesty I probably would not be able to do it without a bit of frustration with trying to get it right. The problem is there is no "right." In the hypothesis the request is outrageous. If I as an artist set out to recreate something there will be inspiration behind that driving it, there will be purpose. If I am setting out to make something beautiful, I will, as far as I am concerned, if my goal is to make something you think is beautiful I will research what you think is beautiful and let go knowing that I will find that which you think is beautiful.

Having faith in inspiration is how these will be created. I do not want to question if something is right or wrong, that is not a natural thing to do. Animals act to what is and if that changes they change. How much proof do I need know that I am making the right decision or doing the right thing? I know I am doing the right thing because it is what I am doing, but still I doubt it all the time. I look at myself and ask "What the fuck are you doing?" "How the hell is this gonna work?" mired in doubt I continue to move ahead. To what? To where? I could not tell you and that seems to be the best because anything is possible from there. I may be delusional but if I am it is fun none the less, but stressful at times as well.

So my new portrait adventure is to do portraits of people I am connected with but never seen. I feel like I am up for also doing portraits of people I have met before of course, at this point though I think knowing what they look like would be a bit of a hindrance. It is not easy to let go to inspiration completely when I also have ideas of what I ought to be doing. Reach out to me if you want to have a portrait session with me, especially if we have never met.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sharing Economy My Ass (Part #1)

Lyft, Uber and Air BnB are some of the biggest and most notable names in the business of sharing. I agree that they are opening up money making opportunities to thousands of people, and every day they are adding on new members willing to share what they own with the world through a company that has an app.

The companies that are leading the way in this new sharing economy have hit at a very interesting time. These days people want to, as well as want others to, get paid well, feel elite or special, engage in technology and save money. Each one of these traits can be seen individually and traced back to how society views and judges itself.

For example the "People want to be paid well" idea, which seems innocent until we look further into that: What does being paid well mean? $10/hr or $15/hr, those both sound great but one is 50% more than the other, how is that a way having a wage argument? When we look to paying the lowest earning people more, how do we then adjust the people above? It is not that I do not want a living wage for everyone, I do, it is just not that most direct conversation to be having. It is the conversation to reduce the top earners take home, and here I am speaking about the .01% of the population in the United States, we need to engage. When our argument for years is that we want a $10/hr minimum, by the time we get it there $10/hr won't hold as much value in it as we expected it to. Then the fight will immediately start over again for a new minimum. By fighting over and over for higher and higher dollar amounts that argument can, and will, become described as greedy, by the people who are the greediest.

Our culture is ripe with greed and we are okay with it, because we all want a deal and to have more money. This is cultural, and it may exist all around the world but here in the United Stated it is special. So special in fact that we torture our children so that might have an edge on making more than another child. We are competitive not collaborative, which can only be detrimental. I see people in the search for money turning on their neighbors which is a horrible reality, "just doing my job" is not an adequate response to the question "Is this right?" or "Am I happy with myself?"

In Chicago we have common citizens give parking tickets to other citizens. That sort of practice doesn't support a tight-knit community. Nevertheless it is done and only to help one company make a lot of money while those giving tickets make an hourly. To further complicate things, and I do not know their pay structure but, they also may get quantity bonuses. If that is true, and I do not see why it wouldn't be, a person giving tickets would then pit their needs and fears against their neighbor. The argument of "well they parked illegally" wouldn't stand too long when you look to people who receive erroneous tickets. How is making money more important than integrity? This I may never understand but I would venture to say it is because as a society we reiterate that it is more important in almost every interaction we have.

The idea of feeling elite and special, well Andy Warhol was speaking about that 50 years ago and that train has never slowed. Social media and the idea that "viral" content is important somehow has just added fuel to that fire. Today we see journalists like Anthony Ponce here in Chicago grab his Lyft credentials to drive people around and interview them for the shameless "Backseat Rider", further marketing our culture and devaluing life as something that can be summed up. Not that what he is engaging in is bad or good, it just seems more like one person using others to feel fulfilled. I think connecting with others is honest and healthy, but doing that with a microphone between the connecting parties may very well taint that. I have been making portraits of people for 15 years connecting with them but it is a personal not a public connection and the portrait, upon completion, is given to that sitter. This sort of connection is about the connection, I am taught and I learn, that is not to say that Anthony doesn't' but there is a bit of this elitism and specialness question arising in his work.

There is obviously a lot to look at to see how we got here and to look at it honestly without all the assumptions that we all take for granted within our society. First off which is more dangerous, success or failure? Success, for all it has to offer, does not always lead us to see the moral high ground. even the greatest people in our culture can be traced back to making deals, cheating, using their influences to be in a position of abusing their power, we are human so that is okay, but it is not okay for everyone. That is what I mean about taking in the whole, the big picture. And that picture is BIG and getting BIGGER all the time.