Is it really 2011?! Have I truly finished a year and three months in the new land? Those of you who have been in tow know that there isn’t “muchmore” I could have packed into 2010 (sorry for the pun–it’s for Philip). You have to admit, I kept up with the stories for most of it– at least until fall when the iceberg of obligations became all I could manage. After Thanksgiving, I realized that I had forgotten how to edit.
Editing: It’s Not Just for Writers
A long time ago in a life long gone, I was introduced to the concept of commercial writing. Thirty to sixty seconds — no more, no less. In the commercial world, there are ideas that need to be conveyed in that short period of time. Well-crafted prose was and is an unaffordable luxury. I admit, I was attached to some of my clever copy—but making the message fit in a small space was the only thing that counted. Being forced to do so, I began to understand, appreciate, and hone message in a way I never did before. This was my first lesson in being a better writer. Other notable lessons came in writing my thesis and dissertation.
Until you try it, you will never know how truly monumental it is to commit to project the size or scope of a book. There is something even more impressive in creating pages that clearly, cohesively, and creatively push forward an idea. During my graduate writing, I would tenaciously pour over what I’d written. Was it easy to understand? Any ambiguity to be addressed? Anything extraneous to distract from the thesis? Yes, I became a better writer. More than that, I began to understand the metaphoric importance of editing at a higher level–in life.
Life editing is about clarity and boundaries. In the fall, I found I lacked both in building my new Cincinnati life. If that sounds uncharacteristically aimless, it wasn’t. I had tried to figure out where I would find my people—and logically began by interest. My first fall, I joined the theatre group down the hill and began ushering to meet people. In January of last year, I made connections with big bands and began to sing with one. Early summer, I auditioned for a musical and was offered a role. In the fall, I auditioned for and joined MUSE, Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir. It all made sense on paper. But by November, I was overextended and wondering why I wasn’t enjoying myself.
Revisiting Old Lessons
Balance, patience, responsibility, and trusting my instincts have always been challenges for me. By early November, I realized that life was out of wack. (Seeing my hair stand on end should have been evidence enough.) Too much work, too many commitments with MUSE, too many frustrations with the big band, too many time slots filled in my calendar, too little personal time, free creative time, and time to be.
- I can’t decide which has had the biggest impact, but it is probably a combination of less energy, less discretionary time, and lack of satisfaction with my outside initiatives that has resulted in an uncharacteristic “downsizing” of my commitments. The job is all consuming right now, and I’m working on figuring out where I draw the line. As far as my personal life, I have several people that I interact with socially. So, if I want to go hiking, dining, or to a movie with another human–there are people. And, of course, I haven’t lost those of you who’ve been part of my life for much longer. My big aha in this editing process is that maybe the opportunity here is to not try so hard to replace home. As I looked at the quiet, lovely place I decided to settle, it occurred to me that this is a place for a different experience. Maybe I’m supposed to focus on creating–to finish the books I’ve started, the play, the paintings and legacy projects I never get to. I’ve decided to go with the thought that the Muchmore period may be much more about reflection and creativity than trying to become part of a community that moves faster and away more often than the one from which I came.
Mt. Muchmore: The Creative Sanctuary
What are the current fruits of the Muchmore creative retreat? I’ve cleaned my house and begun looking into the boxes that have been unopened since the move. Hey, it’s fun to rediscover things you forgot. None of this sounds creative, but it all started with a definite creative objective–finding my journals.
Last weekend I wanted to do something I just couldn’t manage to do over New Years–print a stationery card with a painting I did last May when visiting Sue and David King in Colorado. It’s of the Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain Park. This summer, I was surprised when a verse about my Dad came to me while I was designing the card. There’s a Van Bogaert history of fascination with the mountains I seem to have inherited from my Dad and Grandpa Van Bogaert. My one and only trip to Yellowstone was with my grandpa, parents, and brother, Ken, when I was 5. Those may be the earliest memories I have. The icy cold mountain streams, collecting rocks (beginning a lifelong habit), and breathtaking climbs up steep, narrow mountain roads that kept my Mother cowering in the back seat praying for a safe descent.
The fact that a poem came about Dad and the mountains got me thinking about the other poems I’ve written. I don’t recall writing poetry until after the divorce. About five years ago, I had assembled all the verse I’d written in an electronic document that I printed and lost along with the electronic file in some ill-fated transfer of information from one computer to another. In a panic, I contacted two friends with whom I’d shared the print out. Neither could find it and I was upset with myself for not being more careful about saving them. When the self-loathing subsided I realized that in all likelihood these poems began in my journals–and so I set out to find the stash of pretty books filled with my innermost feelings. I hadn’t seen them in a year. Where had I put them?
A Deposition Meditation
Today I found a penny
Today I found a dime
A parking spot was waiting
A wise one gave me time
I took each single item
A gift or as a sign
For taking care of mine
These paths that gently opened
So kindly gave me care
To gain from such a simple source
I never thought to dare.
The simple grace of gratitude
Is easy to dismiss
The fence that borders all despair
Sits side by side with bliss.
Buried at the bottom of a large box in the “Florida” guest room was the open topped basket containing 18 volumes. I had no idea there were so many. All written since my separation before the divorce. Journaling is one of the most life changing discoveries to come out of the divorce. In the beginning, it was the only way I could tell I was recovering from the unimaginable sadness of having my marriage fail. As I continued, it was a place to start exploring what I was feeling, doing, and thinking about life and my place in the world order. Over the years, it has become a treasure of those simple, unspectacular moments of life that get lost with our fading memories. While looking for the lost poems, I found passages filled with sweet and funny things the boys had done or said. I sent them each an excerpt and thought about compiling the rest for a later occasion.
In the reading, I realized that though the divorce was a time of great pain it was also a period of enormous change. It got me actively looking for meaning and an understanding of who I am and where I think I’m supposed to be going in life. I rejoined a creative part of me that had been set aside for “real” life. The process of journaling has profoundly shown me that to be creative is an intrinsic part of life and, for me, a guiding philosophy of how I look at opportunities, challenges, and purpose.
But back to the creative retreat. Though cleaning doesn’t sound creative (if you don’t break something dear in the process), it is surprisingly meditative and as I bring order to my environment — I’m reducing the chaos that distracts from being creative. It has also finally sunk in that exercise, which always seems to be a necessary evil, is essential to having enough energy to create. Besides, all you students of creativity know that, like cleaning, exercise can be a meditative act. The repetitive action of the walking or lifting weights can move your brain to a theta state in which your mind makes creative connections more difficult to negotiate in the typical wakeful beta state.
But what have I done? I’ve copied 15 poems. More are waiting. I printed the Alluvial Fan card. Another Bauhaus inspired oil painting is in the works (see below). For the first time since the move, I’ve arranged my library and rediscovered some books that I want to read again. I’ve bought illustration board for making my own journal and, in between, gotten some laundry, cleaning, and bookwork completed. I’ve spent time with the new book about the brain and music that Bonnie gave me at Christmas and the two books on fauvist art that Judy Hanne sent after a discussion about the short supply of fauve books in the local libraries and book stores. I’ve been reading Gandhi’s autobiography and watching/listening to Ken Burn’s documentary on Thomas Jefferson, The Civil War, and National Parks. The result? New ideas are brewing and beginning to take shape. More later as they come to fruition. For now, I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.
Putting the Old Year to Bed
As some of you have noted, I was scarce after Labor Day. Lots of big things going on and little free time. I went to Vermont for my goddaughter’s wedding, then Washington, DC to work with a client and to see Sue and Jim Wilderotter. I’ll get back to those stories eventually but somehow I’ve managed to collect my thought on October. So catching up begins at the end of September.
On the 29th of September, I officially passed probation. The director is a man of few words, but when he decides to share them–they’ve been sweet. I received the highest ratings for my first year and told I’d exceeded expectations. At our retreat in November after saying we needed to focus on developing our personnel, he added that he had not believed that IRDB staff was capable of the changes I’d made last year. It’s good to work hard and better to have it recognized and appreciated. At any rate, in federal terms, they will now find it hard to get rid of me (a benefit I am focusing on as they talk about freezing our wages for three years).
The probation milestone came only two weeks before a huge event for my branch–the first ever IRDB Open House to introduce our services to the rest of the Institute. The chronic pessimists on my staff muttered for months their concern that no one would come and all the work we’d invested would be for naught. I’ll admit to some “opening night” jitters–what if you build it and they DON’T come?
The IRDB’s Big Show
The idea was to demonstrate communication best practices (in woeful short supply at this institute full of left-brained researchers). Also, to introduce some very interesting innovations we committed to in my first 90 days including a Knowledge Database for our CDC INFOline interface (designed to be a knowledge management, succession training tool, quality assurance system); four new web architecture products; a new custom designed institute conference/show exhibit (using my graphics skills).
I was told by one of the executive team that ours was the biggest turn out for any internal event—ever. People came and, based on the feedback, marveled. Another veteran executive squeezed my arm, told me I was a breath of fresh air, and that was what the Institute had been needing. My staff gave 18 presentations—1 to 3 from each of the six teams. We showcased the new exhibit, introduced an animated campaign character, had computer/media active tables for each team, great refreshments — all connected by message and design themes. We’d rehearsed the presentations. Had well-done powerpoints to support them and people came and listened. Folks wanted to know how we created a fully functioning knowledge database in 10 months and commented with awe about our innovative and progressive exhibit design. My people strutted around with a new sense of pride and wonder at the fact we’d pulled it off. In the end, about two-thirds of the Cincinnati campus came. When it was all done, we celebrated at my house and I looked forward to being done, done, done for a while. Ho, ho, ho.
In the midst of all the preparation for the open house, I dared to take off early the prior Friday for an event I’d been awaiting for nearly two months–a tour of Harry’s House. Over the summer, I talked about Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and shared pictures of my escapades there with house guests. The park was created by a very interesting fellow by the name of Harry T. Wilks. Harry was an attorney who made good decisions in the stock market and came out on the plus side. Big plus. Over the years, he’s indulged his childhood fascination with ancient history and artifacts at art auctions and bought 267 acres of rolling woods by Hamilton, Ohio. His intent? To create an art park filled with decommissioned public sculptures surrounding a beautiful Romanesque museum housing his extensive collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities. You can visit the park site at http://www.pyramidhill.org/aboutthepark.php
On my last summer guest trip, we were greeted at the front gate by an old guy in a golf cart. I introduced myself and guests and the old guy said, “I’m Harry.” We asked for tips on seeing the park. He told us to rent a golf cart and just “go.” Later we discovered Harry was “the” Harry Wilks, creator of the park and owner of the unusual estate on the park’s north end. Eccentric aptly describes Harry’s house. On the far west of his property is a gazebo flanked on the east side by a huge fountain spraying upward from a decent sized pond. Up a little hill to the east is a swimming pool that looks like a reflecting pool directly adjacent is the “house.” Built into the side of a hill, the house is built under a replica of IM Pei’s controversial glass pyramid that fronts the Louvre in Paris. To the north of the pyramid is a three or four story tower. The east entrance is prairie style and flanked by independent standing white Roman columns that tilt. It is strange and amazing and I wanted to see the inside.
When we asked to attendant at the museum about the house, she told us that Harry (now in his late 80s) invited guests to tour once or twice a year with the next scheduled October 8. I slapped down my $20 before she could finish her sentence and returned on that bright sunny October day to join about 50 others sitting in his great room under the pyramid. The two hour “tour” was mostly a tour of his yarns. He liked the captive audience and with relish recounted tales of “stealing” the palace sized oriental from the Procter and Gamble executives as well as his most notable acquisitions — a pair of Jackie Onasis’ earrings, an Egyptian sarcophogus (mounted on one wall), a priceless Steinway framed in an adjoining alcove . . . and on and on. Yes, he was a little full of himself but the stories were good. When his mouth and glass of scotch finally went dry, he let us loose on the house — a great wine vault, marbled baths, and a tower overlooking the park. The side rooms were small but full of priceless artworks and artifacts. It was fascinating. As luck (and a little planning) would have it, I was the last one there. A park worker had brought me from the museum to Harry’s house in a golf cart and arrived to take me back, but Harry said he’d take me. So we had an interesting talk about music, art, and Wisconsin. I told him I’d like to sing at one of his events sometime. He asked for my card and he invited me back to paint in the Plein Art Competition this spring. We’ll see how the saga unfolds.
Return of the Soul Sister
Through the enormous push to stage the Open House, I looked forward to Bonnie’s birthday visit. This was her third trek to Muchmore and the second of her Cinci-celebrated birthdays. In our usual manner of excess, we traveled to Pyramid Park, found a much sought after Millenial Falcon (Star Wars) for her son James, ate the acclaimed ribs at the Montgomery Boat House, watched too many Swedish films, and took a walk into town. For her birthday, I bought tickets to see “You Can’t Take It With You” at the Playhouse on the Park, Cincinnati’s resident Equity house. We did this show together long ago with Madison Children’s Theater company. Oh, the memories connected to the show. We thoroughly enjoyed playing the armchair quarterback. The sets were fabulous, but we favored the Madison portrayals of most of the roles. (Memory is forgiving.) The visit ended too quickly, as it always does but we had a great time and a laundry list of things to do next time.
By the first week of November, I had finally gotten my Ohio driver’s license and voted in my first Ohio election. (Alas, my vote was not enough. Ted Strickland was defeated as Governor.) Participated in my first division strategic planning session and then set off for Thanksgiving, a tale of which you have already heard. December was about packing in as much as possible before my two weeks vacation. The second annual Branch party had a new comfort and familiarity this year.
As I finish this chapter, I’m well aware that I have been skipping around. Logic is overrated. Two posts ago I told of the Thanksgiving drama. Then I sent a Christmas missive. Now I’ve discussed the New Year-to-date and flipped back to October when I still have September tales of the Vermont wedding, trip to DC, and the latest Cirque show left to share and then “back to the future” for the quiet Christmas with the boys. Confused? All will be revealed and much more. I have a dream . . .