To contact Gika Rector, call 713.213.7643 or send e-mail.

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Grief and Gratitude

I don’t like to think of myself as greedy, but it does occur to me that I want a lot. A whole lot. As in, maybe too much to ask for. I want a long, full, rich life. And I want all my friends and loved ones—including you—to have long, full, rich lives.

What I’ve noticed lately is that I’m afraid I’ll miss out. I recently lost a few people who were near and dear to me.

Empty chairsOne was 86 years old. He had a long, rich, full life and knew it. He seemed satisfied with his life, but he would have happily welcomed more. He was my father-in-law, and I can’t begin to express how much richer my life is because of his life and the way he lived it.

Another person I lost was half my father-in-law’s age and died suddenly. She lived a rich, full life, but it was much too short for me to get to know her as I would have liked. My life was richer and fuller because of my brief acquaintance with her.

I’ve also lost two of my brothers recently. They were younger than I, and they missed out on some things that I hold dear. It makes me sad to think that their lives might not have been as rich and full, and certainly not as long, as I would have liked. And, again, my life is richer for having been their sister.

Grieving is a curious experience. I find myself feeling sad and tired. And then I find myself wanting to reach out and go for the gusto—do the things I’ve always wanted to do, go the places I’ve always wanted to go, live life to the fullest. And there’s also the realization of what I don’t want. I don’t want to lose any more friends and loved ones.

I keep everything. I’m not a hoarder, but I don’t let go of stuff easily, and I feel especially determined to keep my friends and loved ones. The odd thing is that when I hold on too tightly—to people or to stuff—my life feels less full. When I enjoy the moment, enjoy the presence of others, even when I experience the sadness and grief and confusion, my life is richer, fuller, better. As far as how long a life ought to be, that’s a mystery. It can seem very long indeed, and yet, no matter how long, it’s the blink of an eye.

Thanksgiving is next week, and I’m thinking about gratitude. Gratitude for life in all its mystery and confusion and grief and grace. I’m so lucky. I wish you much to be grateful for and a very happy Thanksgiving celebration.

Have I told you lately…?

Telling storiesHave I told y’all lately that I love coaching? Well, I do. I love it. I get to listen to people’s stories—the stories they want to tell, the ones they’re afraid to tell, the ones they need to tell. Sometimes I share some of my stories. Sometimes I ask questions—okay, I always ask questions.

And in the process of telling stories, listening to stories, and asking and answering questions, new stories emerge and lives are changed. These stories are not fairy tales, where our heroes ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. These are real lives and real stories in which people move in new ways and in new directions. They live more happily, and the people around them get happier, too.

Thank you to all of you who help me to do what I love to do.

What’s Wrong With Being Right?

Not much, of course. Or maybe a lot. Hard to be absolutely certain, which is the point. What’s wrong with being right is that we can’t always know—in the big scheme of things—what’s really right. And if we’re too concerned with being right, we lose sight of just living our lives.

If I’m right, then usually it means that someone else is wrong. It might just be my job to show them that they’re wrong. Would that make me self-righteous? Would that be wrong?

And if I’m wrong, maybe I should feel guilty. And if I don’t want you to know that I’m wrong or have been wrong, then I’ll need to do some cover‑up. Not outright lies, just cover up my flaws. That surely wouldn’t be wrong. It’s just making things nicer for both of us. Right? Right.

Or maybe not. Maybe that approach keeps me from being my very best self, and keeps a barrier between us. You might want to hurt me or judge me if you knew I was wrong. And I might have to hurt you to defend myself.

What if we all reserved the right to be wrong? What if we acknowledged that we don’t always get it right? What if we could focus on doing good work, living life to the fullest, doing our best, without fear of being wrong? Wouldn’t that be a relief?

Maybe even when we were wrong, we’d be closer to getting it right.

What do you think? Am I right about this?

One for the Money, Two for the Show

Two birds high in tree

One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go‑o‑o‑o. It’s a counting game that reminds me of my dad. Not sure why it comes to mind now, except it somehow seems to fit some of our ideas about showing our work as artists.

  • One for the money. Who wouldn’t like to get some money from showing their work?
  • Two for the show. The Show? Who’s it for? What’s it for?
  • Three to get ready. Oh, my—the getting ready. So much easier said than done. What does it take to get ready to show your work?
  • And four to go-o-o-o. Go where? What’s next? Somehow, when my dad said the last bit, there was a sense of adventure. Something exciting was going to happen. Anticipation, curiosity, eagerness.

Members of my meetup group, The Well-fed Artist, have suggested a show, so in our second meeting on September 9, we’ll talk about showing our work. What is and isn’t important about doing that? Is the work complete without being shown? What’s the right setting for showing your work, or your work at this time?

You’re welcome to participate in the conversation! The Well-fed Artist meetups are free and open to the public, but we encourage you to join the Meetup group and RSVP for events. (Membership is free and entitles you to participate in the discussion forums, share messages with the community, and sign up for announcements about other Meetup groups in your areas of interest.)

Joining the Meetup group isn’t a requirement for attending our meetings. If you’d like to take part in a meeting but would prefer not to join the group, please call me or send e‑mail to let me know you’re coming.

And as always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below about this post or anything that’s on your mind.

Illumination in the Midst of Famine

Food in the midst of famine. Where does it come from? Who gets to have it? Who might be willing to share?

And where’s the famine? Here we are in the land of plenty. Seems like there’s more talk of obesity than famine. And yet, there’s also a pervasive sense of limited resources; certainly there are hungry people in our community, and plenty of doubt about the economy and the job situation.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

I recently started a Meetup Group called The Well-fed Artist, and the theme for our first meeting is “Food in the Midst of Famine.” How’s that for putting it out there? In all my life up to this point, I’ve never known so many artists. None of them are literally starving—at least to my knowledge—but a lot of them are hungry. Hungry for success, for acknowledgement, for a way to do what they do and get paid for doing it, for money to pay the rent, for time and space and resources to make their art, for a sense of security, and for encouragement and inspiration.

In all my life up to this point, I don’t remember ever hearing such a consistent litany about the perils of our current economic situation. So why, at this point, should we talk about the well-fed artist? Shouldn’t we move on to more practical things, like jobs and politics and tightening our belts? Maybe; maybe not. In the midst of all the gloom and doom, it’s artists who tell it like it is, and also get really creative about new possibilities. It’s artists who help us see the world and ourselves in new light. It’s artists who help us tap into the stuff we know, but don’t know that we know. It’s artists who express the feelings we’re not quite ready to admit to. It’s artists who show us the best and the worst in us and in our world. It’s artists who remind us that “man can not live by bread alone.” Artists are necessary to our well being, and they should be well-fed. That’s why I think we should talk about the well-fed artist.

So, what does it mean to be a well-fed artist? As a starting point, I’d say that the well-fed artist has food on the table, clothing and shelter, and time and space and resources for making art. Easily said, not always so easily created. Thus, the meetup group. We’ll tell it like it is and like it could be. We’ll share ideas and information, food and nourishment. We’ll look at the complications and obstacles to being well-fed. Could it be that Tom Robbins was right when he said, “Difficulties illuminate existence, but they must be fresh and of high quality.”?*

Let the illumination begin.

*Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

A Simple Thank-you Will Do Quite Nicely

Menil Magnolias
Menil Magnolias
by Gika Rector

I paid for someone’s dinner the other night, and she thanked me kindly. I made a trip to help someone with a daunting chore. She thanked me for coming, even before we got started on the work. Nicely done, and what a difference it made. Being acknowledged for doing something helpful or nice adds to the quality of the exchange. Makes it a little more worthwhile.

These experiences put me in mind of another situation, in which I’ve been both acknowledged and rebuffed. The acknowledgements help me move forward; the other stuff makes me wonder if it’s worth it, which in turn means it takes that much more energy to do what I do there.

So here’s what I want to say about this: please thank others for what they do. And if you disagree with what they do, it’s okay to communicate that. Please, just include appreciation for the efforts they make, and do it with respect and courtesy. It’ll make the world a nicer place—at least your corner of the world, for a little while.

And please let me know what kind of experiences you’ve had with expressions of gratitude. What kind of results are you noticing? Oh—and thanks for reading.

Front-Porch Conversations

It was a couple of years ago when my friend and I sat on the porch and talked about “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” He’s mostly retired, has a garden and a goldfish pond, and is very much engaged in relationships with family and friends. Somehow it was easy to talk about our lives, the brevity of them, and to be at peace with the idea that one day we would each be part of the earth in a different form.

Porch
Porch
by Gika Rector

Since that day on the porch, my oldest child got married, my younger brother died, and two of my favorite people on the planet are slowly dying.

I like the married couple, and I’m trying to be a good mother‑in‑law.

My brother’s life was shorter and tougher than anyone would want, but he seemed to have made peace with much of it, and was spending time doing what he loved to do. He died suddenly, apparently in his sleep.

The part about the people who are slowly dying is hard to sort out. They’ve lived rich, full lives, and are leaving the world a better place because of their presence. Certainly they’ve enriched my life in lots of ways. The slowness of their dying means that we’ve already lost much of who they were and how they interacted with the world. Their brains just don’t work the way they once did. Short term memory is gone, and odd fixations have emerged.

They mostly look the same, but every now and then I’m startled by how old they look, and wonder how strangers might see them. How could a stranger know the intelligence and passion and drive that once lived here? Could a stranger see the curiosity and dedication and learning? Probably not.

One of them is quite confused; the other depressed, perhaps even suicidal. How can this be? Hard to watch, and hard to understand. The one who is confused is trying hard to work it out. Trying hard to get organized, have important meetings, and prepare for a trip. The other is quite unhappy, resentful of the situation, struggling to find a way to make things different.

There are still moments of ease and clarity, warmth and good will. Intellectually, I can see that this is a time of withdrawal, winding down, and letting go. Emotionally, I’m wondering why it has to be so challenging and why I can’t “make it all better.”

My front-porch friend once said that we each choose our own way to die. I’ve puzzled over that concept for a really long time. Is it true? If so, what does it really mean? My best guess is that how we live is a part of how we die. Are we curious and present? Are we responsible? Do we look outside ourselves for someone or something to take the blame or to fix it? Are we response‑able? Do we resist the reality of our living and dying? Does that take us away from our purpose on the planet?

Do we have a purpose? I’ve heard and considered a number of answers to that last question. We’re here to love one another, or to learn to love one another. We’re co-creators. We’re here to be fully human.

I like that last one. We’re here to be fully human. Another meaty morsel from that same friend. And again, something to puzzle over for a long time. To be fully human means so many different things. To live, to breathe, to laugh, to love, to die—maybe slowly or maybe quickly. And perhaps the best way to be fully human is to experience the richness of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The fullness and the wonder. As sad as I am to watch dear ones wind down their lives, I’m equally grateful for the richness and grace that their lives have added to mine. I think they know that, and I hope it brings a little richness and grace to their current experience.

And for all of us, my favorite quote, from a stone somewhere in India: lift your heart, open to grace.

Feelin’ Stupid

I did something this evening that made me feel stupid. And then I did it again. Still stupid. Actually, I did it at least three times before I figured out how to correct the problem. Well, darn. I’m a smart woman. I really am. I made good grades in school. I figure things out pretty quickly. Most people who know me will tell you that I’m smart.

And yet I did something pretty stupid. Granted, it was related to household mechanics, which is not even remotely in my comfort zone. Granted, I was tired. Too tired to think through what I was doing, to be a bit more careful. Granted, “someone” should have explained the process a little better.

But there you go: I was tired, doing something outside my expertise, and neglected to get a full explanation, and I did something really stupid—three times.

I didn’t want to clean up, but it needed to be done, and so I did it.

Photo credit?

And then I cleaned up the mess. I was too tired for that too, but there was no getting around it. It had to be cleaned up, or the consequences would make me feel “even more stupider.”

And then I figured it out. I figured out where my mistakes were and what I needed to do to accomplish the task. I did it. I got it done.

Still feel stupid. Still wonder what possessed me. And I feel stronger. The cleanup was hard work, especially for a tired person. And I feel disciplined. I didn’t want to clean up, but it needed to be done, and so I did it.

Winding down afterward, I listened to a talk by Seth Godin. He mentioned telling an employee that in a full five years, the employee had never failed at anything. Sounds like a compliment, right? Nope. Seth told him if he didn’t start failing soon, he’d be fired. And he meant it. Failing, you see, means we’re stretching, trying stuff we don’t really know how to do. Taking risks. It’s where we have to go for exploration, creativity, innovation. And, once we get over wondering how much more stupider we can possibly be, it’s downright fun.

Have all the fun you can. And let me know if you’ve done something stupid lately, especially if it turned out to be fun.

Other People’s Projects

When you’re a kind, generous, and concerned person, it’s easy to take on other people’s projects. You like to help. You like to utilize your knowledge and skills, and you like to make other people’s lives better. Being helpful is great, except when it’s not.

I was watching Paul Rubin set up a table in preparation for a Feldenkrais lesson. I asked if he’d like some help. He thanked me, but indicated that he preferred to do it by himself, “This way, I know what the ‘other fellow’ is going to do.”

Norman Kennedy

Norman Kennedy

My friend Norman Kennedy was warping a loom, while I stood idly watching him. When I asked if I could help, he bristled. Among the “old people” in Scotland, where he learned to weave, it was considered an insult to try to help someone do something that they were perfectly capable of doing singlehanded.

I’ve taken on some big jobs that in retrospect were other people’s projects. What I notice—mostly in retrospect—is that they were not my projects. I saw a better, grander, more elegant, more Gika-like way to do them, and generously stepped in to help. What I also see in retrospect was that I got to do a lot of “heavy lifting.” I got to nudge and poke and prod and persuade, in order to get things done. I even found myself occasionally being resentful of the amount of work “I had to do.”

I’m a little humbler now. I know that the Gika-like way is just that: the Gika-like way. Not better or worse than someone else’s way; it’s just my way.

The greatest thing about getting carried away with other people’s projects has been that in between the bouts of heavy lifting, there’s been a lot of room for fun and learning and growing. Some great stuff got done, no one died in the process, and now I’m really clear that I want to work on my projects.

How can you tell that a job is not your project? Were you invited to work on the project? Did someone give you permission to work on it? Are you finding yourself re-inventing or redefining the work at hand? Are you resenting the amount of work involved? Was it your idea?

It’s not always easy to make the distinction between collaboration, genuinely generous assistance, and minding your own business, but it’s worth doing.

Chances are you have some projects of your own that are hanging around waiting for you. How can you tell which ones are yours? The following are clues that you’re getting warm:

  • You get excited, maybe even nervous at the idea of doing them.
  • You wonder if you really could do them.
  • You’d love to, but it makes you anxious, because it’s a stretch.
  • It feels selfish to consider these projects, because they’d be so much fun, so satisfying.
  • If you had the means, you’d pay someone to let you work on this stuff.
  • It makes you happy to think that maybe you really could do this.

Here’s the best part: when you work on a project that is really yours, and you know it in your heart, then, inevitably, what you’re doing is kind and generous and makes the world a better place.

That Attention Thing

Guest
Blog Post
Campari poster, circa 1960

Attention changes the way we see the world around us.

A few weeks ago, an odd series of experiences reminded me of the power of attention to change the way we see the world around us.

I was meeting with a client to prepare materials for a special event—a vendor exposition. We were designing a poster to display the names of the vendors, and working from two different source lists, we discovered a discrepancy: a moving company called Max Movers was on one list but not the other. We placed the name on the poster, but asked the event coordinator to follow up about whether Max Movers belonged on the list.

Three days later, as I left another client’s office, I drove past a truck bearing the now-familiar Max Movers logo. I had no memory of ever seeing a Max Movers truck before in my life. I thought about this strange phenomenon, the by-product of focused attention. I suspected that I’d encountered their trucks dozens of times, but that I’d never seen one.

Over lunch that afternoon, I told my cousin about that experience and “the attention thing.” In the course of the same meal, we moved on to the topic of some projects that my company had worked on several years ago—programs for National American Miss pageants. The work was chaotic, disorganized, and difficult. With a bit of gallows humor, my staff referred to the summer of National American Miss programs as “our time in NAM.”

After lunch, my cousin and I went to an art museum. We’d only been wandering the galleries for a short while when we walked into a room where a huge canvas depicted two life-size people carrying a banner bearing the word NAM. My cousin pointed at the painting. “NAM! If we hadn’t talked about ‘NAM’ at lunch, I wouldn’t have even noticed this. It’s that attention thing again.”

The next day, my cousin and I stopped at a liquor store to pick up a few things for a party. I picked up a bottle of Campari, a bitter Italian apéritif. “I’ve always wanted to try this,” I said. “Have you ever had it?” She hadn’t. We bought the bottle.

On our way home, we stopped at an icehouse to meet some friends for drinks. After a while, my cousin paid a visit to the ladies’ room. When she came back, she had a grin on her face. I asked her what was funny.

She said, “There was a poster on the wall of the restroom…advertising Campari!”

That attention thing again.

Gika says: You get what you focus on. Ed’s guest post covers the idea nicely. The only thing I’d add is to notice what you notice. Where is your attention, and what is it getting you? What might happen if you shifted your focus?


Edward F. Gumnick is a writer, graphic design, and communications consultant based in Houston, Texas. You can find links to his work at EFGumnick.com.