Monday, August 2, 2010

Improving on the Silence

This past weekend, The Tofu Muchacha and I ventured to the delightfully temperate and not-at-all humid North of Southern Michigan for the First Annual Three Oaks Creativity Weekend.

This event was organized and hosted by the great Gregg and Caroline Fraley. They invited creative minds from around the country (and the world, really) including myself and the TM, and had 19 of us RSVP. I admit to feeling a bit of trepidation about the weekend in the time leading up to it. I like to think of myself as being creative, but there's a big different between a self-gloss and being thrown into a group of people who make their livings being creative and teaching other people to be creative. It's daunting.

Well... I can say unequivocally that while it WAS intimidating at different points, when I was confronted with something truly profound (I'll get to it), it was also the most warm and encouraging group I've been a part of in a really long time. If there was ever a group in which to take some big risks in creation, this was it.

TM and I did a cold read of a small portion of a play we're thinking about presenting to our local theatre group, and we got truly invaluable feedback, support, and suggestions. I feel that we now have a much clearer direction in terms of how to make this, basically unpolished, play work for a real audience. In that completely selfish way I really couldn't be more grateful.

Aside from our personal contribution to the group, we also experienced some really interesting workshops. Units presented by people at the absolute peak of their creative fields.

I will talk about what I feel I can fairly discuss without betraying the privacy of the proceedings...

I learned, on an extremely basic level, how to paint on water or "Suminagashi". Let me tell you that this is something that BLOWS MY MIND. I am so drawn to it as an art form, and yet after seeing the advanced, amazing professional prints by our teacher (Amy Lee Segami) I realize it's an art form where there is no pending mastery. I have the basic idea of it, and yet I look at her work and think "How in the hell did she even start to do that?". That's the kind of art I want to be a part of. I have already ordered my first bottle of Sumi Ink.... It's just the combination of technical, beautiful, metaphorical, and meditative that I really seek in an art I want to work at. I really look forward to e-mailing Amy with my questions and continuing to explore the world of suminagashi.

I learned about the brainstorming technique known as the "Cafe". It's a method of creating a dialogue that is less about solving an ultimate problem, but coming up with as many possible factors. I like that the interpretation of ideas and more of a dialogue ABOUT ideas. I don't know that I'm really explaining it in any real coherent way, but I really found the freedom of dialogue without being tasked to find solution very liberating. This was led by Paula Rosch, who was there with her husband Frank... two of the nicest people I've met in quite a long time, and both of home contributed a great deal to my experience over the weekend.

I have never been much of a meditation guy... I have a very difficult time leaving my mind out of my mind.. if that makes sense. I have a tough time clearing my head. Well... I met a guy named Joe (from New Jersey... I wish I got his last name... I hate being inconsistent), who is essentially an expert at meditation, with his preferred vehicle for it being the Labyrinth. There are many kinds of Labyrinths... Gregg and Caroline have one (originally laid out by Joe himself) on their farm. TM and I missed the initial "Lab" session on Friday because of a long drive after work, but I had one of the most interesting meditation sessions I've ever had the next day in what was more of a quadrant labyrinth. Joe has this interesting way of starting the process, that I found more effective than any other I've tried... Basically putting yourself into the labyrinth and then taking yourself back out of it. I know that doesn't make sense on the page, but it worked. I found myself working into some real moments of clarity. I think the process Joe laid out really engaged a more logical part of my brain by breaking down the meditation into steps. I'd not experienced that before, and I found it very useful..

Perhaps the most interesting experience I had was the one I can probably discuss the specifics of the least. Mark D'Alessio was someone I would have liked to talk to more over the course of the weekend, as he nearly always said something of value, but spoke about half as much as anyone else. Maybe he's the smart one. Mark, it also should be noted, seems to get a lot out of Silence retreats. Something I'm not sure I could do at all. He's getting ready to do an 8-day retreat, and I wish him luck. Anyway... He introduced us to a method of problem solving that is so simple, you feel like it's been around for hundreds of years... Oh wait... It HAS been around for hundreds of years. He introduced us to the Quaker concept of the "Committee". The most simple explanation is that a person with a decision, problem, question, issue selects a "committee" of his/her peers to essentially act as interrogators, without the interrogation. The committee is only permitted to ask "honest" questions, which means that they are questions for which the asker has no agenda and doesn't already know the answer. The questioning is intentionally paced with pauses for silence and the Focus Person has the option to take as much time as needed to answer (or not answer). There are never any suggestions or opinions given. It's primarily intended to provide the person with the problem with the means to work out the problem on their own, using questions asked of them that have no agenda and no desired response. It was incredibly powerful as a way to work out a problem, and I found it really interesting. I can't go into the specifics of this particular experience, but I hope to have another opportunity to be a part of it.

I'm leaving people out, and experiences out, but it's late and I'm not sure I could really get more in depth even if I wanted to... I'm still processing a lot of it.

It was a really interesting and valuable weekend, and I hope that I justified my spot in the group in some small way... I hope to get a chance to go to another of these in the future, and experience the full retreat. Good times. Good times.

Oh...and the picture at the top is the result of a group painting exercise presented by the very interesting Whitney Ferre... She didn't arrive until they day we left, and I wish she'd arrived sooner. She seems to have a really interesting viewpoint on the place of art in the overall creative process.


Gregg Fraley said...

Wow, nice post Dan, and thanks for this, and, just for coming. I'll be writing a post as well but have not been able to settle down and do it, still processing all the input myself.

Joe Miguez is the Labyrinth/Meditation expert from New Jersey.

Everyone who came is on a creative journey; we are all learners after all.

Best wishes to you and TM, particularly with regard to the staging of the monologues/play.

Whitney Ferre' said...

Hi, Dan! Thanks so much for posting the picture and mentioning me in this blog! What a great summary--so wish I could have been there the entire time! Here is a link to the next Creatively Fit Marathon! Painting is rtruly a portal to entirely new ways of thinking! Cheers!

Caren said...

I definitely have to try Suminagashi. I do a lot of stuff like that, don't know if you remember that. I've made my own paper (large wall decoration type pieces 18x24), marbling paper, paste paper. Fun stuff. If it's fiber I want to try it!

Do you know that Grailville in Loveland has a labryinth. I'm sure there are others around here but that's the one I know about.

Beefy Muchacho said...

Suminagashi is really amazing... And Segami talked a lot about how it has similarities to marbling.

I didn't know about the Grailville Labyrinth, but I've been to the giant outdoor one at St. Anne's Convent in Cold Spring, KY. it's pretty cool.

Penny van der Lith said...

Wow! It sounds wonderful!

I participated in a session by Mark D'Alessio held at the South African Creativity Conference (ACRE) about a year and half ago, and know exactly what you mean about your experience of the "Committee". It was absolutely profound. One of the best sessions I have ever participated in. Mark is amazing.

Thanks for reminding me of it!