USA Trip May-June 2016

My USA trip was a real zinger.

Coming on the beginnings of a new relationship with a generous, caring, successful, playful and creative woman, conferences, courses, projects, visiting with my son, and chilling out, was interspersed with lengthy viber or skype conversations that were flirty, jokey, intellectual, dissonant, honest, vulnerable, happy, and teary.

The Landmark Global Transformation conference, my entry event in San Fransisco, rode on the theme of ‘Wonder’. One of my all time favourite topics, wonder would anchor the whole trip and come back, specifically, again during the Alba Emot Course in Asheville, North Carolina, a couple of weeks later.

Although Global Transformations took the ‘Wonder’ theme, it was a wondering about leadership that took my ear. Gladly, presenters I had met a couple of year ago, facilitated a couple of beautiful engaging structural movement communication work. I attended those sessions for my work in dance and it gave me another access to my hearing on leadership. Initially that hearing on leadership was all about what I need to be a leader of my rEvolve project. As my trip comes to a conclusion, that has transformed into rEvolve being the possibility of a leadership training program, ‘Moving into Leadership’.

The idea of moving into leadership is a more clear consolidation of the work I am doing around sustainability and climate change, men’s culture, and dance, into an integrated work, a leadership training program.

From San Fransisco, I flew over to Denver, Colorado, for a few days, to catch up with my friends in Art as Action. Staying at an Air BNB nearby, I was able to ride a hire bike into the city, and even on the light rail to Jefferson County where I could ride to hiking paths. As with my previous experience in that part, life at one mile high can make the legs ache in bike riding unusually earlier than at my home altitude in Australia of half a mile. I learnt how to use Lyft.

It seemed that each time the past two years I’ve seen my friends in Art as Action they have been grieving over the loss of a loved one. Last year the grandfather of the director had passed away. This year one of their music/dance colleagues and his partner were killed in a car accident. I want to make some bigger sense of this coincidence. It only mattered that I could be some community of listening around the grief. Sarah Leversee welcomed me into her Reconnect Class based on Dance for PD and it was wonderful to see the liveliness of that ‘older’ dance class.

It was a special treat to spend a few hours over lunch with Wayne Gilbert, performance poet, retired literature teacher, and recent (having Parkinson’s Disease) dance performer with Art as Action. Wayne is a volunteer poetry teacher to the State prison to the north of Denver. His experience of the attraction of poetry to some hard men, has been profound. At one of his earliest classes, having delivered a poem on Parkinson’s Disease, he was astounded that a hand immediately shot up. The owner said, “Yeh, I get that poem. It’s like how I feel about being in this prison.” I find myself amazed by the nature of the human being around their limiting circumstances, their authentic relationship with those limitations, the access they find to some expansion of those circumstances and they contributions they choose to make, nonetheless. There is some inspiration there, for all of us, and I store that idea away for a way to provide access to that inspiration for everyone.

It was great to spend a week chillin’ at my son’s place in Riverside, California. We had a number of social outings together including a Baha’i meeting. We played an hour of table tennis every night. I got a little heat stroke doing a hike in the desert hills at the back of his place, and the effects of that took quite a few days to remedy, reminding me, among other things, that I’m not as young as I used to be. It was lovely to spend a sedate four hours with my son in the UCR library while he played with an assignment for his masters degree in social work. Sometimes I think I should be in conversation with my son, seeing that we can’t see each other much across the seas, but I profess one of my greatest joys is just to be in proximity.

The next phase of my travel was to spend a few days with Sue Blythe on the Sustainable Farm, Hampton, Gainesville, Florida, around her Future Flash Climate Change Project. Sue’s work has expanded to engage commitments from some fabulous environmental players in Florida, including the manager of the ‘Sustainable Floridians’ volunteer training program out of Florida University, Lanny the Earthman, Actor Jan Booher, and Dave Room San Fransisco based creator of Pacha’s Pyjamas. As I write this I’ve just finished a Skype conversation with Dave Room, opening the way for his work to find expression for children environmental education in Australia.

From Gainesvile to Asheville to the Alba Emot course with Laura Bond. What a fantastic 9 days, learning and training in primary emotional expression, Feldenkrais movement, and exploring related experiments in life story, text, voice and dance with an extraordinary teaching team. So much to bring back to my dance and theatre work but also into the possibility of leadership training.

And so, this week another chill out and exercise at my son’s place in California. It’s a hot summer week in the desert, 113 F early in the week. Time to meditate, play with movement training (God I need it), and have dozens of small conversations with him around his life. He became an American citizen while I’ve been here. Looks like another feather in his global citizen’s cap.

Two nights ago I woke in sadness. My time here is slipping away. Today, I’m prepared for a great weekend with my son, at the beach, in LA. It is time to go home.

Science and Art Go Hand-in-Hand

From the Scientific American blog, by Steven Ross Pomeroy | August 22, 2012 |  assistant editor for Real Clear Science, a science news aggregator. He regularly contributes to RCS’ Newton Blog. As a writer, Steven believes that his greatest assets are his insatiable curiosity and his ceaseless love for learning.

Su Song pic - Art meets science in this early star map drawn by Su Song. (public domain)
Su Song pic – Art meets science in this early star map drawn by Su Song. (public domain)

In the wake of the recent recession, we have been consistently apprised of the pressing need to revitalize funding and education in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math. Doing this, we are told, will spur innovation and put our country back on the road to prosperity.

Renewing our focus on STEM is an unobjectionably worthwhile endeavor.  Science and technology are the primary drivers of our world economy, and the United States is in the lead.

But there is a growing group of advocates who believe that STEM is missing a key component – one that is equally deserved of renewed attention, enthusiasm and funding. That component is the Arts. If these advocates have their way, STEM would become STEAM.

Their proposition actually makes a lot of sense, and not just because the new acronym is easy on the ears. Though many see art and science as somewhat at odds, the fact is that they have long existed and developed collaboratively. This synergy was embodied in great thinkers like the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci and the renowned Chinese polymath Su Song. One of Carl Jung’s mythological archetypes was the artist-scientist, which represents builders, inventors, and dreamers. Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, twelve times as likely to be a poet, and four times as likely to be a musician.

Camouflage for soldiers in the United States armed forces was invented by American painter Abbot Thayer. Earl Bakken based his pacemaker on a musical metronome. Japanese origami inspired medical stents and improvements to vehicle airbag technology. Steve Jobs described himself and his colleagues at Apple as artists.

At TED 2002, Mae Jemison, a doctor, dancer, and the first African American woman in space, said, “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin… or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.”

By teaching the arts, we can have our cake and eat it, too. In 2008, the DANA Arts and Cognition Consortium, a philanthropic organization that supports brain research, assembled scientists from seven different universities to study whether the arts affect other areas of learning. Several studies from the report correlated training in the arts to improvements in math and reading scores, while others showed that arts boost attention, cognition, working memory, and reading fluency.

Dr. Jerome Kagan, an Emeritus professor at Harvard University and listed in one review as the 22 most eminent psychologist of the 20th century, says that the arts contribute amazingly well to learning because they regularly combine the three major tools that the mind uses to acquire, store, and communicate knowledge: motor skills, perceptual representation, and language.

“Art and music require the use of both schematic and procedural knowledge and, therefore, amplify a child’s understanding of self and the world,” Kagan said at the John Hopkins Learning, Arts, and the Brain Summit in 2009.

With this realization in mind, educators across the nation are experimenting with merging art and science lessons. At the Wolf Trap Institute in Virginia, “teaching artists” are combining physical dance with subjects like math and geometry. In Rhode Island, MIT researcher Jie Qui introduced students to paper-based electronics as part of her master’s thesis exploring the use of technology in expressive art. Both programs excited students about science while concurrently fueling their imaginations. A potent blend of science and imagination sounds like the perfect concoction to get our country back on track.

Celebrated physicist Richard Feynman once said that scientific creativity is imagination in a straitjacket. Perhaps the arts can loosen that restraint, to the benefit of all.

Review “Often I Find that I Am Naked”

While there is part nakedness in this play, it is not graphic. The behaviour of the characters, is, however, overt. This play is raw and funny. And both these words are useful for holding at bay, the full meaning of this play. In trying to express the feelings this play invoked, I find myself, in polite company using phrases such as ‘to the bone’, and admitting both laughter and tears, often simultaneously.

But in searching for a way to describe the meaning I found in the play, I, oddly, find myself looking at the BBC production, “Being Human”. Those who are familiar, will know that this series deals with the trials of a vampire, ghost, and two werewolves to become a part of human society. The angst, anger, graphic violence, and subterfuges deal with what it means for humans to become human through that timeworn technique sometimes called a fairy story.

“Often I Find that I am Naked” is not a fairy story. It does not use some foreign other to hold our attention and define our allegiance, while we avoid reflecting whether we might be more like the wicked stepmother than the forlorn princess. “Often I find that I am Naked” is a reflection of the spiritual malaise that has settled across our modern society, in the form of sexual gratification without love. This wasn’t a play glorifying the sexual revolution. It was a play that forced the audience to watch the self-denigration of a successful career woman, through sex. It made me feel a little disgusted and more than a little ashamed. Right here, in those feeling provoked by the play, I believe, “Often I Find I Am Naked” has its success. For, during my own life, it has not been unusual to meet people struggling in this same way, and the state of mind that leads to the self-denigrating behaviour, touches, I suspect, nearly all of us.

Yet “Often I Find that I Am Naked” is satirically comical. Laughter from the audience, routinely punctuated this demonstration of the trials of the main character. Jezebel’s conscience, in the form of a piano player, is quite hilarious. Sometimes that laughter was provoked while the character’s behaviour often wrenched the heart and a tear from the eye.

It was great relief to be ‘let off the emotional hook’ at the close of the play. Shakespeare might not have been so kind. It is hard to say, “I enjoyed this play”, my appreciation for it, and its actors, ran much deeper.

Landmark Forum – Immediate impressions

It is puzzling how some things bypass attention until, at the moment they come to attention, it seems right to pay attention to them. Landmark Education is one of those things. In September 2010, while discussion with a newly found friend, an opportunity for collaboration on theatre projects, she explained she was going to a Landmark Forum to see if it would help progress her own thoughts around theatre for community service. On her return, she was enthusiastic for the Landmark Forum as providing vital skill for our collaborative practice. While her explanation about the Landmark Forum was a bit hazy, my own assessment of her ethical motivations, networking leadership, strong-mindedness, creativity and insightfulness, allowed me to choose immediately to do the Landmark Forum.

It took me until Feb 2011 to complete responsibilities in North Queensland and to attend the Forum in Brisbane. It is now one week since completing the Forum. In that time I find myself, periodically, acknowledging new insights, small epiphanies. It seems right to run a review of the methodology of the Landmark Forum and the tools that the Landmark Forum has given me access.

Having never been exposed to this type of coaching before, the methodology of the forum was both daunting and exciting: daunting because I have nearly always conducted myself in a very private and independent manner, and, here, participants were being asked to expose their responses to life to open scrutiny; exciting because from the commencement of the forum, I began to hear ideas that resonated strongly but with which I had wrestled for most of my adult life and failed to clarify. I was incredibly impressed by the ability of the forum through the forum leader, to provide a safe space for the openness of the participants in front of a couple of hundred strangers. I was double impressed by the skill of the forum leader to firmly clarify several distinct thinking/language patterns that we all use, but which creates and closes us into certain repetitive behavioural responses, closing off opportunity for different, new, or creative responses. I was impressed by the profoundness of a simple but clear conversational ‘formula’ that allows the user to use their awareness of limiting language/thoughts to ‘complete’ any outstanding issues with others, and focus on declaring opportunities with the hearer.

If I understood correctly, the stated aim of the Landmark Forum is to help people ‘complete’ themselves, and thereby provide ‘space’ into the future for opportunities that can be markedly different to what has come before. The language/thought awareness to which Landmark Forums coach, is a rigorous practice leading to ‘breakthroughs’ in those aspects of life in which a person might feel stuck. A person might feel ‘stuck’ in a whole number of ways: being a husband, in a career, in a lifestyle. These ‘breakthroughs’ are not just moments of increased awareness but complexities of cognitive awareness and emotional dissolution, leading to actions (conversations) with significant others. Landmark Forum’s coaching value lies, not in the didactic expression of the model of human being they use, but in the connection between facilitating people to confront that human being by language; being increasingly intense in pointing to responsibility in action; and encouragement to that action (conversation of completion with others). I found that the intensity of the Forum, over 13 hours per day including personal conversations, was mildly disorientating at times. It seemed that disorientation came from confronting my own self, the emotional responses of that confrontation and making new conversations with significant others, a complete dissonance set. The benefit of that dissonance creating disorientation is gaining that feeling that, indeed, space is opened up for opportunities with every meaningful person into the future. Certainly, now that the intense forum is complete, the reflective techniques coached at Landmark Forums requires constant practice, a vigilance towards how I am talking of myself, a more purposeful conversation with myself, an identification of the lack of authenticity in much of that conversation, clarification and completion around how others are occurring to me, and allows me to create open space (opportunity).

There are a couple of messages that are now strongly in my story of the future: being unreasonable is now a wonderful, extraordinary presence of mind that is free of the burden of over-interpretative experiences; and choosing as a state beyond consideration, provides at once a freedom from the inertia of the world and a focus on the necessary actions in the world.

Out of the Box Theatre Workshop

Out of the Box Theatre Workshop Group PhotoThe second Out of the Box Theatre Workshop for Social Discourse was held today at a local church hall in Atherton. The 3 hour workshop on using a performing arts design approach for improving social discourse skills saw some enthralling creativity. We used a dance exercise to tune our empathy skills. We drew dynamic relationships on the floor. We wrestled with multifaceted characterisation. And through all that, we got a little out of our own box.

Out of the Box Theatre workshop was designed through a 2010 RADF grant from TRC and the Qld Government.

I can bring the ‘Out of the Box’ Theatre Workshop to any town in the Cairns region of Far North Queensland. Drop me a comment below if you have interest.