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Book club

Week 7, by Joan Sherwood

Here we go!

Mark Nepo is challenging me so much.  I love it, and I know I could spend a year reading and processing this book. I feel an urge to stop with each sentence and talk to someone about it. Thank you Tracey for the opportunity to share this experience with this wonderful group.  

In the section Living a Making, I love the opening quote by Ansel Adams.

The professional photographer takes assignments from “without”…the creative photographer takes assignments from “within”. The conflict from assignments – from “without” verses those from “within” often perplexes the serious photographer.

Nepo follows with the difference between making a living; how we survive and living a making; how we thrive. He writes, “we are most alive and happiest while loving and creating, continually shaped by our total involvement.”

During my teenage angst, I spent a good deal of time with a Kodak 110 camera photographing the sunsets. There is a park a few blocks from my childhood home that overlooks the Mississippi River. I had hundreds of photos of sunsets. When I had to choose a college, a degree, a career, I unfortunately did not choose photography. Although my parents bought me a Nikon for graduation, they also encouraged me to choose a path to “make a living”.  So, I have a Marketing degree and an MBA, with which I made a living. However, looking through a lens has always been and remains where I love to live a making. I spent some of my college years in a darkroom and all of my children’s soccer games far away from the parents on the bleachers, looking through my Nikon.   

In the section Looking at Life Together, again the opening quote!

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James Baldwin

There are more examples of this for me than I care to dig up. The one that resonates at this time involves my children. For the most part, my children have been close, even though their ages are not. In the last few years, there seems to be more criticizing of each other. Although I know this happens, it breaks my heart. I fight the need to defend whoever is being criticized. It is the fact that they will not address it with the person with whom they are critical, they just tell me or the other siblings. It makes me crazy.  I can see that it is themselves that they need to confront. It has nothing to do with the other person, but that is a hard lesson to learn. It’s the old “noticing the speck in the stranger’s eye and ignoring the log in our own”. In full disclosure, I have lots of logs in my eyes!

Nepo’s exercise of examining the harshness and beauty braided around me in the world and bearing witness to the truth is quite challenging for me. I will go with the obvious current subject of 2020/21, which is COVID. I refer to it as the global pandemic, and others to refer to it in a variety of ways; the CCP virus, the flu, the vaccine is the mark of the beast, and some people refuse to acknowledge that it exists at all. The harshness with which people are treating one another is shocking. The last 18 months for me can be described as the good, the bad, and the ugly. Several of my children work in the medical field, and it has been a very stressful place for them. My husband was suffering from renal failure, which made him extremely vulnerable. His health was worsening, the kids were stressed out at what they were seeing in the hospitals and scared to be around us. Now add in a son getting engaged and planning a wedding. My husband’s condition was getting worse, and I had/have family members who find it inconvenient to wear a mask. I could go on and on. Instead, I will fast forward to my husband getting on the transplant list, me being tested and determined to be a compatible match for him, and successful transplant surgeries on July 8.

So, in the midst of the harshness going on inside and outside our family, we found the beauty. 

In the section, The Power of Art, the story of the mugging and its moving someone to write a poem rather than stop the mugging is a frighteningly accurate example of current life. As Nepo writes, we separate ourselves from the life going on around us to comment on it. Today on the Neighborhood App, someone posted a Nest video of a woman screaming at 4:00 a.m. this morning. The comment was, “I hope someone helped this woman.” What?!! We document the hell out of our lives and comment ad nauseam. We may be forgetting the part where we engage with others in actual life. 

Although the last section was Drifting in the Immensity, and it was as beautiful as the other sections this week, I will close with a quote from The Power of Art because it is remarkable.

During his imprisonment, Solzhenitsyn composed all twelve thousand lines of the poem, writing a few lines each day on a bar of soap and memorizing them as his daily shower washed the lines away.

What struck you about this week’s reading?

zoom meeting

Save the date

What: Mid-way Zoom meeting

When: Sunday, October 24 at 1 pt/3 ct/4 et

Zoom link will be emailed to you ahead of time. Reminder: there will be no reading assignment or post for the week of Oct. 21 so you can spend some time that week thinking about what you’d like to discuss on the Zoom.

The duration of the zoom is dependent on the conversation, but you should feel free to hop off when necessary.

Preparing for the zoom

I hope you’ll spend some time this coming week to review the book thus far. Remind yourself of the earlier sections and what really struck you. Pick 1 thing that is striking your heart, that you’d like to bring into discussion with the group. If you’d rather, you can email me and I can introduce the topic to the group.

Please alert me ahead of time if you need to hop off early, or can’t make it. I don’t want to be the only person getting on Zoom that day!

Any other thoughts/suggestions for our group meeting are welcome. I will not be recording this session and we will remember to keep the confidence of the conversation off social media.

  • Week #8 <<<Break>>> pause to prepare for Zoom discussion, Oct. 21
  • Week #9 Listening through Love Your Window, Eva Tsoureka, Oct. 28

A link will remain here to week 1 in case anyone wants to review the spearheading guidance. Week 1.

17 Comments

  1. First and foremost, Joan, I am so happy to know your husband’s transplant surgery went well. What an amazing gift to have been able to give him one of your kidneys. Having had an ill husband, I can relate to the difficult times you went through. My husband’s illness, his courage and his hope taught me so much about how to live a more fulfilling life. It’s seems paradoxical that living through the worst of times can make life in the best of times more joyful than one might anticipate. It’s the reward, I guess, for dealing with our fears and embracing gratitude.

    Next, I also liked the quote about the professional vs. the creative photographer. When one is creating, having to fulfill someone else’s vision can take away the creative spirit. Fortunate are those who can create instead of only fulfill; those who live a making instead of only making a living without passion.

    And like you, I have come across posts on the Neighborhood app where someone is asking about screams, possible gunshots (that turn out to be fireworks) and such but apparantly not calling 911 first. It is a very strange phenomenon. I remember from a college psychology class, learning that when a crime happens in front of many witnesses, in general, each individual assumes someone else will make the 911 call. That’s why, in an emergency, if you have your wits about you and are attending to a victim, you should point to a witness and ask that person to call 911. And point to other witnesses to direct them to do any specific tasks that you see need to be done. I can’t say why calling 911 isn’t as obvious or satisfying for many as being the one to leak the situation on a social media platform. I personally would rather save a life than be the town crier.

    1. Thank you Sue! We are very grateful for the successful surgeries. We are just 3 months post-op and I’m feeling almost back to normal. My husband is feeling a lot better, which is amazing.

      And you’re so right that the worst makes the best better. We wouldn’t know the light without the darkness or the good without the bad. It is an interesting and difficult lesson to embrace sometimes. ❤️

  2. Wow Joan,

    Such an amazing gift you were able to give your husband. What a miracle that you were a match for him and that he is doing well.

    In reading this weeks material I am aware that I have never felt driven to create in the traditional ways as a visual artist, writer etc. What drives me the most is spiritual and emotional growth both for myself and others. This led me to become a Marriage and Family Therapist, an Integrative Body Psychotherapy Practitioner and a Hypnotherapist. So as I have mentioned in a previous post my creativity was expressed in my work with clients. ACIM states “ The purpose of psychotherapy is to remove the blocks to truth. It’s aim is to aid the patient in abandoning their fixed delusional system
    and to begin to reconsider the spurious cause and effect relationship on which it rests.”
    How to do this with each individual was the creative part. When to be silent and contain, what to say or reflect back, what technique to use that would best help each person move forward in the moment. All of it felt like an art form of sorts. I would often say a prayer before each session asking for guidance, asking for the right words and asking for the ability to be a vessel for healing. Mark says he felt driven to create almost to the point of addiction. The journey within is still my addiction, but now it is focused on self rather then other. So to again quote Ram Dass “ The 1st step is to get the mind to focus on one point. Deeper and deeper you go, through different stages. Each stage can trap you. Do you stop there or continue. Your choice. You are free when you experience these states personally not when you read about them.”

    1. Thank you Diane! I always love how you describe your work. The creative side of your practice was necessary and valuable. It sounds like your clients were very lucky to have chosen you! I’m so happy you’re focusing on yourself now, AND you possess all the perfect tools and gifts.

      It makes me smile very time you mention Ram Dass and the retreat that you attended. ❤️

    2. Diane, I love how you saw your therapy as creative. It makes sense because there is no one specific set of steps to help a client that can be written up, followed and found to be successful all the time, like how to solve an algebraic equation. When I was a systems analyst (I loved that career!) I was able to incorporate both sides of my brain, logical & creative, into my work. It may sound strange because designing computer systems and programming them seems like they require a purely logical approach. But that is not the case. What the end users ultimately see is the finished product that satisfies their business needs. Yet the path to get there can be created in an infinite number of ways. If you are looking at a database management system, you don’t see the computer code behind it. And you don’t necessarily think of other formats the database system could look like, while still providing the exact same functionality. So you could have 1,000 system designers or 1,000 computer programmers and no respective designs or coding directions would be exactly the same. My goal was twofold: 1) to make the code run as efficiently (fast) as I could, and 2) to make menu-driven systems as simple and user-friendly as possible. I think having a creative side helped a lot with the latter of those goals.

      1. Sue,

        Reading about your computer programming days reminds me of my college days of programming. In the old days when computers were as big as buildings, we had to type the lines on a machine that punched holes into individual cards. We turned these cards in as bundles to have our programs run through the giant computer. If you received the ERROR message, it meant you missed something, one side of a parenthesis or any number of possibilities. Then, you searched every card to find the ERROR. It makes my brain hurt thinking about it. Haha!

        1. Yes, Joan! I remember the days of punch cards! I was introduced to them in college. So time consuming, especially if you made an error! Luckily, by the time I graduated, they were a thing of the past.

  3. Thank you for all of your posts ladies. Your honesty and bravery in the face of adversity inspires me and I relate to so much of your stories and strength. I think Tracey has good taste :). Again this week’s reading had so many nuggets of wisdom. I wanted to journal but feel blocked when it comes to writing. It is not my gift so to speak. I spent all week about the intriguing prompt come with a Native American name. ” A friend is person you tell your true name”. I suppose you don’t only tell it with words. I certainly cannot. But what repeatedly came to my mind was fierce. Which doesn’t sound so friendly! But I think that captures it. Of course I understand the reasons fierce is my name. I have had to work over the years to temper this a bit. I know early in life I was told I scared people. And now I have been known to get on that soap box and speak up for what I perceive to be right or just.
    And then the next section just tells my story again. “Bearing Witness”… well that is my life’s work on one hand, being a therapist but it is also my calling, to be an actress. Both are forms of bearing witness in different ways. Page 124 Nepo talks about “listening to the space in between is what allows the meaning of life to find its deeper expression though us”. Whoa! That is beautiful and articulate. I often talk with clients about finding the space to pause and he talks of the space between. That is where the beauty lays. It is often non verbal and powerful. Continuing on I wanted to write about the braiding of the harshness and beauty to reveal the whole truth of what “you see” and again I could not find words. But I think a few found me. I wrote a list that said “parenting, marriage and aging”. These three places in my life that are full of everything good and bad and ugly and beautiful. I settled on aging and wrote the following:

    This aging body hurts
    It cannot do what it used to
    It’s rounder, softer and weaker
    yet it still carries me

    I used to curse its imperfections
    Only to find out they were only my perception
    Now I curse its dysfunction
    and pray my body does not betray me

    It can make the future appear dismal
    Until I PAUSE and reflect
    In the space in between a new point of view
    It is not the same, but it has overcome a lot

    I begin to appreciate its experience and flexibility
    I can see that I trust what it tells me
    It has given me my children
    I can see the gifts

    Namaste

    1. Kim,

      Your poem is beautiful. I relate to every line. The last year I have had to think a lot about my body. It was subjected to a lot of testing to qualify as a donor. The physical tests made me nervous, and the questions asked by the social workers and coordinators were also challenging. I just kept pushing down my fears, praying a lot, and trying to “let go”. My body accepted the challenge and it is now performing for two of us. It’s all so strange. I’m a bit tired and I’m allowing my body some extra healing time. I’m trying to accept the aging factor in all of it, but I don’t really want to do that. 🙂 Thank you for your insights ~ Namaste

  4. Sue, I love the description of your work. Everything we do is creative. The mind cannot stop creating even if we want it to. Our only choice is to create more consciously.

    Kim your poem was amazing. I related to every line. My aging body is hard to appreciate sometimes with all it’s aches and pains. Your poem displays much wisdom.

  5. Gosh you guys. I’m a tad behind getting to the commenting here and I’m actually glad because WHAT YOU ALL SAID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you, each of you, for these wonderful and thought-provoking additions to the conversation. Wow.

    You know, when we gather for our art get-togethers and when I talk about creativity and say that just about anything can be creative–your comments have proven it! computer programming! therapy! Being creative is as unique as your fingerprint. I’m so appreciate for these reminders that creativity exists literally everywhere. And as Diane pointed out, we can’t help BUT be creative. I wonder how that manifests for people who don’t consider themselves creative? People have come to art class, having squelched their creative selves for a long, long time, and they can be reduced to tears when they allow themselves the joy of creating. I feel sad for people who shut down that part of themselves (myself included!)..this dialogue has me wondering if their creativity is “leaking” out in other ways they just haven’t identified…hmmm. Like a beckoning…”please see me.” This makes me think of the respect we show ourselves when we create. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I guess to me it’s part of rebuilding trust with ourselves as we go through all of these parts of our journey.

    Kim, your poem was just beautiful. Thank you for sharing it. I have a complicated relationship with my body (as I imagine most of us do…I sort of wrote a book about it 😉 ) and giving homage to our aging bodies in a culture that would rather we disappear is, indeed, a fierce act. So thank you again.

    Joan, thank you for sharing about your surgery and your witnessing with your children. I still wish it wasn’t true that beauty and pain are so inextricably linked, that we could simply know these truths from the very start. Alas, I guess that is not the point of being alive.

    When I talk about my experiences with mental illness I think it’s the hardest part to explain and for people to see…that surrendering to that pain is a way to find what it means to commune in humanity. Words fail to adequately describe this truth, which is, I guess, why it’s so hard to grasp. But once you’ve felt it, you can never unfeel it, and this can change almost everything about day to day experiences. Nepo writes, “It is the place Robert and I were reduced to in our suffering, the place where beauty lives under all its disguises.” Whoa.

    In the invitation he goes on to point out, “when you opened your heart to someone because of a joy or pain that you had in common.” I think it’s so important to remember that joy/pain are two sides of the same coin here. I often forget that joy can have the same effect. That is something I plan to work on…I feel more joy now, for sure, than I used to..so as was mentioned, it’s about cultivating the consciousness around that joy in the same ways as I did/do around the pain.

    1. I couldn’t agree more Tracey about joy/pain the same coin. So grateful for the lessons but I now I choose to grow and learn through joy. I m not afraid of pain anymore. We are friends now;)
      I accept that is just another face of joy.

  6. Omg! how I love this book! Thank you all for sharing your stories and keeping me focused on actually moving forward with a book and not giving up after the first chapters due to a million distractions and obligations, as usual.
    Pff, again this voice in my head, always ready to judge. “I’m doing my best OK?Shhh.. Be quiet, let me go back to the book.”

    The chapter “Living in making” reminds me so much of my beloved partner.
    He arrived in New York City 14 years ago to follow his dream of becoming a visual artist.
    I remember the day he came to find me at the restaurant I was working in the Lower East Side.
    It was just a few days after we first met, when I walked to his table to announce the specials of the day. “You are Greek, right?” He immediately asked. I do. I replied. Sorry, I mean yes!

    “Have you seen that guy? I asked my coworker, he’s Greek and he seems super interesting. Too bad he’s on a date.
    And there he was now, by himself, at the bar ordering a beer.

    I was at a point in my life, at which for the last year, I was trying to put myself back together.
    2011 was a tough year for me. At the beginning of the summer, I had broken up with a guy with whom I was supposed to have an endless fairytale romance…
    It was love at first sight, so powerful and intense that a few days after we met, we decided to move in together and extend our stay as tourists in the Big Apple, in order to try and make a living as artists.

    Long story short, a recipe for disaster. Bad idea. A lot of drama. Completely pointless, especially since a few days after our breakup, my dad passed away within 14 days after he was diagnosed with cancer.

    Anyway, death, which is one of my favorite topics btw, is not the issue here
    .
    I had spent almost an entire year just contemplating death. Meditation, reading and writing were my only outlets. Pain my familiar state. Facing what’s in, were my best Saturday- nights out. It’s so true, James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until is faced.” Sometimes, I wish I could scream to the world. TAKE A DEEP BREATH IN AND JUST DO IT!

    For me, it was an urgent need. I had to understand life, understand breath, that was my only priority. Nothing else mattered.
    I remember myself saying, at some point, “OK, don’t you think you had enough of these? Come on, enough with this solitude thing. Don’t you think it is about time?

    Next thing, he’s there, at the bar talking about his art. Sacred symbols, mysticism and occult.
    I knew from that moment that his dream would come true, I had zero doubt about it.
    Oh and trust me, he had plenty of it.

    I’m so grateful that he allowed me to partake in his dream, helping him achieve it while being a force of action and trust.
    There are moments still, that I feel, I believe in him more than he does. I guess it’s ok.. I guess that’s his path.. I followed his path with my eyes closed purposely, ignoring all the beliefs that in most cases are carried by artists. There are so many beliefs in a collective consciousness, that makes it even harder to keep believing and trusting.

    During a conversation I had with the director of a gallery in west LA, while asking her how she explains the fact that the paintings were going for 1milion dollars, all sold within a couple of hours of the event, her response was just “He believe it”
    We spent three years in LA, me working as his personal assistant, together 24/7, overcoming obstacles, finally we achieved the goal of making a living as artists.
    Then our paths took separate ways.
    As Mark writes in his letter to Eli, I discovered that living is the original art..

    I decided to simply focus on choosing to do whatever brings me joy and let God do the rest. Having joy as a compass and following the signs is my only plan.
    And listen. Listening to the space between as Mark describes is what allows the meaning of life to find its deeper expression. Thank you Nepo for that, it couldn’t be described better

    1. Wow Eva, thank you for sharing part of your story with us. I’m at a loss for words, per usual. It’s just so beautiful to me, the depth of the stories every person has to tell and the journey we each walk through life.

    2. Eva,

      This is beautiful and complex and simple. You, my Dear, are another Nepo. Thank you for sharing your stories. ❤️

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