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Improvisation: Language Beyond Words

Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars burning above;
If you’re in love, show me!
~ from My Fair Lady (lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner)

Think about the last time you played with a baby.

How enthralled you were. Hypnotized by its cooing, humming and buzzing. By its direct gaze and private language that needed not one iota of your attention and yet held you spellbound.

Baby talk is a vast arena of exploration, curiosity and delight. A universe of tools of engagement – splendid, pure and free. Babies vocalize in volumes, effortlessly sliding scales with their tiny instruments, bending notes up and down, articulating every impulse and sensation as it comes to them. Pure, abandoned, nonsensical gibberish. With no self-consciousness, hence no self-censorship. All this is who we were and what we had at our tongue and fingertips before the first grown-up came along and said: “Ma-ma”, “Pa-pa”.

Can we return to this magical garden?
We can.
We can improvise.

Singer Bobby McFerrin built a career around the use of nonsensical sounds to evoke his thoughts and feelings. His language is beyond words. In a 2012 interview with Omega Institute founder Elizabeth Lesser, he said this when asked if it was his conscious choice not to use words: “When I was figuring out how to perform solo, I wanted to move back and forth between bass riffs, melody, and harmony, so I often used sounds instead of—or alongside—the words of a song. I found that if I sang a line using the consonants, vowels, shadings, and inflection we recognize as human language sounds, people responded as if I were talking to them. There is a human connection even though there are no words. If I sing “you broke my heart, you left me flat,” everyone knows exactly what that means—they know the story. But if I sing a line that’s plaintive or wailing, people can experience their own set of emotions and their own story. Each of us might give that phrase a different meaning. It’s open to interpretation, and one song becomes a thousand songs.”

The word improvise comes from the Latin improvisus (not foreseen, unexpected) and providere (to make preparation for). Improvisation is on-the-spot performance, in-the- moment self-expression. Our improvisers in jazz are like our street and subway musicians the world over. They noodle around a theme or phrase, dig into, dip and bend their melodies in a way that sounds like they’re talking. And they are. Words are superfluous. What matters is feeling. One smile of recognition becomes a thousand smiles of recognition. We all know it when we see it, when we hear it. We’re spellbound.

In my Story Chord workshops, I use improvisation tools to loosen the story from the lips of us storytellers. Okay, minus the baby drool. For a few minutes at a time, we release the limits we’ve placed on our expressions and drop into the wordless realm that we, as master improvisers, have known since birth. Alone in a monologue, in dialogue with a partner, or in a playful call and response with another instrument (like drums, accordion, harmonica), this kind of toying brings a fresh focus to our truth-telling.

Freed from finding the right words, our minds make other parts of us move. We gesture more clearly and boldly. Our posture changes. Some of us uncurl as if from a shell, unwind like a spring, or uncork with a burst. Others find the missing puzzle piece that gives new expression to an old idea, or the permission to say something for the very first time. This nonsensical, sing-songy, grunty babble opens a portal in the brain through which thought and feeling flow first. Words and language come later.

Improvisation uncovers the fears in our hiding and holding back. There’s no right or wrong way to do it; no being good or bad at it. In a flash one impulse is gone and another is at hand. The experience of making something up on the spot, something silly or outrageous, something risky or dirty, is liberating. When did making a fool of ourselves become such a bad thing?

It was German-born jazz pianist and composer, Uli Geissendoerfer, who got me improvising around my songs and creativity. He was my first partner in my cabaret act honoring Marlene Dietrich, an homage for which I had a very particular vision, an exact sense of how to enact each song and awareness behind my gesture. It was all well and good until I’d get myself hung up on an idea, or stuck in a corner of the stage, frozen. Uli would stop and have us improvise the tune. Playing around with melody, harmony and storyline without actually singing words was liberating. I found out quickly that I’m lousy at scat singing. But I could open easily into this abandoned sense of play and call forth my inner goofball. We’d improvise until I could detach from what was sticky and not working, make new choices and re-establish my ground.

This tool has stayed with me all these years, releasing me time and again from the trap of self-consciousness and crafting my work too carefully, too mentally. It’s a powerful instrument in our tool chest as creatives. And, might I say, it comes in handy for living life too. Life itself is one long improvisation. Every moment of every day is unscripted and delivers itself to us while we’re there trying to control events and interactions.

In my book, the tool of improvisation is key to authentic storytelling and stagecraft. It knocks out the finite shoulds and brings in the infinite coulds. Nothing has to happen and so anything can. We can follow this impulse and that one, reach out and catch a notion, let an idea simmer or send it scuttling to the sewer. We can stand in silence, we can lay out loud. We can wait. We can go. We can stay. We can flow.

We can trust that the instant we drop the mask, a clear path emerges that teases forth our intuition, vulnerability, resourcefulness and charm. Our one-of-a kind essence that never really left.

It’s amazing to see the transformation sometimes and the fine focus and emotional resonance that emerges after a session of improv. All at once the truth inscribes itself on a singer’s song, a speaker’s script, or an author’s written word. It’s this element of surprise that opens into recognition.

We see ourselves again.
We see and are seen by others again.
We’re back in the crib, giggling, gurgling, gazing. Bound to enthrall.
Bound to connect.


Edge Play: Creating Art that Challenges

Performers are revealers; we lay a thing bare.

To cultivate as broad a landscape of potential revelation as possible, we venture from the center of familiarity and recognition to the edge of mystery and uncertainty. Just as there are edges to the stage space, there are edges to us performers too. I consider the edge that place where there’s nothing to hide behind and where I feel I can’t hide even when I want to.

As a woman, I live to take myself from the center of my being out beyond myself. From center to edge and back again. With every exploration in life and every lived experience that has made it into a song or monologue, my center has expanded and my edges have pushed outward.

I’ve reveled in this edge play, in voyaging outside of my known comfort zone into a place of sticky aliveness, like that pup who is well fed at home and yet finds peculiar pleasure in the bone he sniffs out of a garbage heap at the far end of the street.

Through my work as solo singer-actress, ensemble leader and director-producer, I have endeavored to flow between these poles, always looking to push at the boundaries of the form and force the box to be wider. So in effect, my life and my art are dance partners. Sometimes life leads, sometimes art leads.

Historically, the cabaret of the French and the Kabarett of the Germans have used the mediums of music, theater, social and political satire, clowning, burlesque and erotic dance. The boundaries in this artform have been fluid, taken by artists and bent to fit any kind of light. Know where you are, so you can be somewhere else.

Freedom is what attracted me to the cabaret artform in the first place. I felt a spaciousness that I hadn’t encountered in my forays into other musical forms – classical, opera, musical theater, folk, pop. Jazz promised freedom, but only to the singer in me. Jazz didn’t scratch my acting itch. Cabaret did.

With this freedom has come the opportunity to play with the boundaries, and the responsibility to break them up. Cabaret has taught me that while something solid may frame my work, like a wall or a shaft of light, the real boundaries are imaginary. The genre itself is a challenge to existing forms, and so everything and everyone inside it is too.

As a cabaretist, I feel free to stage something known alongside something unknown, something secure behind something dangerous. To express pretty songs and ugly ones, bring comforting messages and distressing ones. As muse I may interpret, I may echo, I may rally.

One of the great benefits of daring myself to make challenging art and take challenging art is that I come through on the far side with always a greater feeling for my craft, for myself, and for my audience.

I have always respected my audience’s intelligence. Humor may vary from one culture to another, but intelligence is universal and I feel a responsibility to that intelligence, mental and emotional, in myself and in my audience. I try to be sincere in my work and that means pleasing and entertaining myself first, and challenging myself first. For when I am willing to risk my own sensibilities and expectations, I create the opening for my audience to do the same. And the circle is made.

My job as a theater artist is to remind people of what they’ve dismissed, forgotten or buried. Performance is not about only pleasure. It’s actually about ritual and sacrifice. You have to go through something as an audience member. It means you will be uncomfortable and that’s okay. You’ll also be taken care of.
– Taylor Mac

I’ve been fortunate to have producers who have given me a job and a stage, and then stepped away. And I’m excited as hell to work with these people, because they don’t know what they’re going to get. They’re going on a hunch with me…”give it to Kohler, she loves that shadow stuff.” Their trust is immensely empowering and freeing. They’re the brave ones, and immediately the collaboration feels honest and promising. It’s the only way I really like to work, really can work. I have to have that liberty or it becomes about pleasing someone else and that necessarily entails self-censorship. Feeling beholden to someone puts a sure brake on the vehicle of art.

It’s a similar thing when I am in the producer’s chair. If it’s the Kabarett Kollektif I’m leading, I will come with a vision or a theme because in a group setting we have to feel our common thread. But as soon as possible I want to step away and prepare to be delighted, surprised, challenged, and moved. Directing another artist is about stewarding their vision. I grasp it, they trust me to hold it. Should they wander, I nudge them back. Mostly I witness. I am a hard boundary, a buoy, in their sea of possibility.

We players, venues, producers and patrons are all in service to the call of art. Where it’s the other way around and art is made to serve our needs, where a producer or venue sets limits on what can be expressed, all that is a set up for a slow death for everyone involved. It’s suffocating, and we all know the feeling when the oxygen is scarce. It sucks.

Art must be free. Engagement and connection happen when art is free – free to soothe and free to challenge. When its edges serve as pointers to the centermost place in each of us that we all recognize.

Art is there to be spoken.
Rules are there to be broken.
Create by rules alone.
Your art sinks like a stone.

Message in A Bottle – “Don’t Put Anything Off”

“Don’t put anything off,” is the advice of a dear friend who recently lost his wife to cancer after a long battle. Together they had been grand patrons of art in my community.

I pause to assess my life. It’s rich with all that I hold dear – my marriage, family, singing, directing, coaching, traveling, gardening, reading, learning. Still, I hear his words and follow them straight into my heart and to the place where the kernels of my being lie dormant.

What am I putting off?

My friend was not referring to the little things, those sometimes appetites, spied upon pipe dreams, and fast flirtations with purpose. He meant the meat. What part of the sirloin steak of my existence have I not cooked up yet, let alone bought…into. What delicious dish have I seen in a display window and decided, ‘oh no, that’s really too rich for my blood.’ Somewhere in these shadows, my once-dreamt-of ambitions slumber and in the light of my openness and attention, they begin to stir and whisper:

A return to India.
An arts residency in Japan.
A crew spot on a high-seas sailboat.
Reviving my Spanish.
Little Death as an album.
My poetry published widely.
My songs in my own words.
That mascara-less confession with my priest, the mirror.
That radical, no holes barred, blink-and-you’ll-miss it baring of my soul.

Sure, I’ve got my share of put-offs and beneath them all is a safety net. My fear of falling and failing. My fear of gambling away the good. My fear of becoming really good. My fear of indecision. Wait…as I write these words here in my corner coffee shop, over the airwaves Sting sends out his SOS to the world.

I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I’ll send an S.O.S. to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle yeah

What message hath my bottle? What is that thing I tell myself I can leave behind me only to find it eternally floating by from upstream? What advice have I got for the young ones in my life who haven’t yet risked big, and lost? And found?

Does someone have to die for the truth to sink in or can we bring the wisdom of those at the edge who turn back with the words “don’t put anything off” to bear on our lives this day? What does it take to put something over? Especially a high stakes something?

It takes an in-breath. The inspiration is all that’s needed for the out-breath to follow. One step. One conscious, directed next step is all that’s ever needed. And what better time is there, what other time, than now?

Isn’t it astounding that we wake up every morning with a head full of dreams and with hands ready to grasp any lever that would shift everything? Isn’t it a daily miracle? Every minute we are dying to ourselves and being reborn. In this particular minute, we might actually wake up to that fact and shepherd our deepest yearning into our next becoming.

Living and dying, inspiring and expiring, breathing in and breathing out. That’s all there is to it and has ever been. Spiriting in the next kernel of destiny. And following it downstream.

That’s the message in a bottle.

On Integrity: Scaling Rocks, Rocking Scales

One of the first really conscious tastes I had of being fully aligned and integrated as a woman occurred during a wilderness training exercise when I was 39. I had opted into the challenge of scaling a 40-foot high rock face with many purchase points, both real and deceptive. Safely harnessed and belayed from below with lots of eyes on me, my aim was to work my way up this wall of stone with my bare hands and all the wits I could summon.

Others had gone before me and I had watched as they slowly and successfully navigated the terrain. I began where they did, but soon my own experience and choices personalized my path. My journey took roughly 45 minutes during which time my mind tried to psych me out several times, my body began to feel heavy and tremble, and my heart skipped a few beats. As each step distanced me further from the ground, I began making more calculated and deliberate decisions as to where to place my hands and feet and whether to move upward or sideways or both. And gradually I became aware of my heart’s intensifying commitment to the climb and my mind’s ever more calming instructions to my body.

I made the last exerted push up and onto the top of the rock and came to my feet. Stretching out before me was a glittering valley at the dusk of day. A rush came over me that ignited my whole being and I felt as though I, Karen Kohler, began somewhere far beyond the top of my head and ended somewhere far below the soles of my feet, deep inside this slab of stone and earth. I had tasted the joy of integrity, of being perfectly and wholly one with myself – mind, body, heart and soul.

It was not long thereafter that I experienced a very similar and powerful episode on stage for the first time. Then too I was in complete mental, emotional and bodily alignment, in harmony with my purpose, my voice, my songs, my story and history. Though I’d been singing since I was a child, I felt then that everything had come together and I was finally born as the artist I was capable of being. I had arrived as myself on the stage of the theater with my whole life in my possession.

Everything before that memorable stage turn had been preparation for it and everything since has been practice of it. Today I’m like the surgeon who knows how it’s done and does it again and again, always a little bit differently, always following the silent hand (and voice) that is leading and, with few exceptions, always coming to a deeply satisfying conclusion.

Integrity is pure bliss. Like scaling rocks, it’s rocking scales!

Integrity is a state of being and allowing, not an act of overdoing. I have learned to allow my thoughts, feelings, and intention to be unified rather than to actively try and steer them. When my thoughts wander, I notice how I gently nudge them back into alignment. When a feeling comes like a wave, I breathe it down to a ripple. When my will expands, I talk it into a whisper. My body follows. My movements, gestures, carriage and silhouette are the external conveyers of the inner life around my songs. The more I allow both inner and outer worlds to merge, the more integrated I become and the more compelling is my creative expression.

Integrity is the reward for the work we do on ourselves, beginning with the will to claim ourselves as artists, to accept the call, and to own the life in and around the art. All of it. Art utilizes all of our disconnected parts in service to itself.

Integrity is inner peace. Integrity is world peace.
Unfold your purpose now and begin your grand ascent.

For Anneka

Life really is a song. Sometimes it hits you from behind.

The first Basic Course of PSI Seminars that I staffed was in January 2003, right after my husband and I had been through the many advanced courses of this self-development training all within a 6-month time.

In the small group I was leading was a girl named Anneka, a very beautiful and very challenging young woman who was resistant to the exercises, quite shut down and obstinate. Fearful really. Something in her reminded me of myself and I didn’t give up on her although I wanted to heave her across the room at times because her manner was affecting others in the workshop. After that weekend, I never heard from her or any of the other attendees again until 10 years later, 2013, when out of the blue came a note to me from Anneka. She had found my website and wrote to let me know she’d made something of herself, that PSI had been huge for her and my staying with her especially. It was quite a beautiful note to get.

Two nights ago with the Basic upcoming here in New York in July, I thought I’d reach out to her to see if she might come and staff or re-audit. I had no email for her so I plugged her name into Google. Instead of an email I found an obituary.

Anneka Foushee died a year ago February from a rare kind of cancer that one gets from asbestos poisoning. She was 41.

I was up for many hours the other night. Here’s a website I found, a fundraising site to help her Mom recoup some of the costs of having her in treatment for several years. It closed only a few days ago. There are also several sites where one can purchase her work.

Until the other night I was on the fence about whether to commit to staffing and leadership or to just attend as a re-audit. Finding this news helped decide it. It was Anneka’s call from beyond…”staff, please staff…”

I’m happy she took the time to write to me. I’m happiest that she found her voice in art, her purpose and quite a bit of love. She sure burned fiercely for a time…unforgettable.

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Seed Your Soul

If you search for your soul you won’t find it.

Search for anything — power, talent, time, romance, riches, God — they will elude you. Instead evoke them. Call them forth. In the case of your soul — recall it and then seed it. Uncover who you already are. Bring forth who and what you already possess.

Who you are at birth is given. There is no going after it. The path leads back and under and over and through as you birth yourself again and again to this already established fact.

True artistry is a pure kind of channeling and emerges from trials endured, from deep engagement, and from recall. Recall is remembering what you know. Recall is deep listening. As soon as you know, you go. As soon as you learn how to let go, you find.

What comes effortlessly to us has significantly less meaning than what comes with effort. This is true of a lot in life and in the arts too. We see it in raw talent that doesn’t come close to realizing its potential, or in the effort expended in the name of talent without any real investment in self.

It is not a given that a performer will display their interior life. They put up a flag that points to it but their work does not come from the riches they hold, and so the performance feels needy, grasping and flat.

You have to make the effort. The onus is on you — then it will have meaning for you. Then it will seed your creativity. You can learn technique in schools and workshops and from books and coaches all the live long day, but what will eventually come out of your throat, eye, hand and foot that is of any real resonance is that which flows from your own experience and from the integration of your life fully lived.

Talent seeded with courage and curiosity will always come to something. Messing around in the roots of ourselves, breaking up our entanglements and watering our ground will allow the old spent shoots to die off and the new ones to come through. The elation, satisfaction, confusion, anger, sadness, doubt and ennui that this probing and examined living engender are what it means to be human. And they are the essential ingredients and fodder for our craft.

Something old is constantly dying in you and something new is taking its place. It takes guts to live and breathe from your depths and use the highs, the lows, and the illusive in-betweens of the performing life as fuel to get to the core of your artist heart. Happiness and suffering are equal and necessary parts of the drilling in, the sifting through the patterns, the confronting of demons and shadow play, the affirming of divine energies and illumination. Until you are accessing the whole of yourself, true art expression will not come forth.

So at regular intervals, stop. Stop and express right where you are. Produce something, say something, move someone. Yourself. Once this is played out in you, a new time of probing will set in. You will call it to you in some way — an event, person, triumph, struggle, illness, journey — some play with fire, some transformative agent. This will be followed by the gestation, by the new seed anchoring in the new ground.

And that’s how it goes — this tilling, planting, reaping, planting, tilling, reaping — throughout your life and career. You seed your soul to the end when, in having recalled your nature and shared the truth of who you are and what you know, you’ve connected others to the truth in themselves. That fuels the world. That is immortality.

Love Letter to Fear

Dear Fear,

It has taken me some time to get around to this, but with Valentine’s Day having recently passed and the world evolving the way it is, I’ve been thinking a lot about love, affection and their opposites. It’s high time I wrote you this letter.

The world is full of teachings that would have me confront you, tame you, control you, overcome you, silence you and be free of you.

Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.
– Mark Twain
The whole secret of existence is to have no fear.
Where fear is, happiness is not.
– Seneca
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.
– Mahatma Gandhi

It’s tough to argue with sage souls.
Even Marilyn has no love for you.

We should all start to live before we get too old.
Fear is stupid. So are regrets.
– Marilyn Monroe

Life has taught me something else. It has taught me that if I make an enemy of you, Fear, I make an enemy of me. If I disown you, I disown what it means to be a human woman and breathing, living artist. What has it ever cost me to acknowledge you and own you? Have I been irreparably defeated or have I only ever gained from your lead? You who has the uncanniest way of showing me the path not by leading me along it, but by pointing me to it. You, who are not my leaping and my flying, but the miles of ground leading to the edge of everything that has ever been extraordinary and, in retrospect, essential.

I used to believe it was you who kept me from crossing the street, but really it was you who kept me from staying where I was. The tight feeling in my mother’s hand as she stepped off of the curb with my tiny hand in hers, that was her fear. I learned that fear feeling from her. I learned it so I could recognize it. I’ve heard it in the faint-hearted gasp of someone not coming along with me, or someone looking back over their shoulder. I’ve seen it again and again in the eyes of people, in animals, in the movement of crowds, in the gestures of evangelizing egoists. But I’ve never seen it in babies. Fear, you are not our first response, you are our learned response.

People talk about being free of feeling afraid. The enlightened teachers of our time encourage fearlessness. Is that even possible? Can I be free of the feeling of my heart racing, my stomach turning, the top of my spine tingling, my blood boiling, my mind playing tricks? How would I know these things, these life-defining things, if I were free of you? You are Life to me, Fear. Without you I am dead. Dead to myself. And fear of death? What is that, really? Is it fear or is it the absence of that other F-word….faith?

The people in my life who know me longest and best know that resistance is my gut response to any new and really worthwhile thing. I come in with a shrug, I furrow my brow, I speak with time-buying words, I step back, step around, hold my breath. It’s true that I never leap into the really good stuff, the stuff most destined to be me and mine, right out of the gate. My resistance is you, Fear, and how I’ve learned to trust it! That wall of No is how you get yourself across to me – for an hour, a day, a year if the stakes are high. It all depends on what’s on the other side waiting for my Yes.

You’re my safety, but not in the conventional sense. I’m not safely stuck to you. I know you don’t want me for yourself. You’ve gone five decades without so much as a blown kiss from me let alone a missive of love like this and look how you’ve thrived. You’re my safety because you want the utmost for me. There just near the heart of me, the core of me, the best of me, is where you are. As artist I’ve been saying it for years…fear is fuel. You are the way in to the center, not the center itself. The stronger I feel you, Fear, the closer I know I am to my jewel.

That band of prickly heat I feel on my neck on a dark street at night is you. That cosmic, no gravity, freewheeling feeling in the pit of my stomach when I look down from a very high place is you. That flutter in my heart at the sight of someone electrifyingly resonant with my being is you. In my every step up the aisle into long partnership, or downstage to the footlights, in those fleeting moments of sublime connection, in every exit visa, in every whimper of my heart beginning to break open, there you’ve been. Like a chaperone, you old chap. Because at the moment of arrival you are gone. You have no desire to own me and rule me. This is the great misunderstanding. You don’t want me to cleave to you like anxiety, hallucination, terror and madness would have me do. What are those but fear fearing fear. You want me to breathe through you, shake you off, move on from you. Your purpose in life is to see to it that I arrive inside the wondrous, elusive, and transcendent moments of being, alone.

I know you had a name once, long long ago and all but forgotten. Ireul. I know you came with wings and fire for anything seeking birth. You’ve been here always. In that fateful spark that became me, you were summoned for my journey. At long last I have the words to tell you what I know you’ve always known: that without you I don’t exist, without you I don’t create, without you I don’t breathe, bleed, feed, live and love.

The day you die, my Fear, I will die with you.
Until then, you are my compass guiding me toward all that I am meant to be and not to be.

Love always,

The bird of courage flies with wings of fear.

Give Your Gift Before You Go

This New Year’s morning, my man and I were talking about the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. And about how I have enough decades behind me now to weigh and measure. I’ve been here long enough to attend births, to steward some into their own becoming, and be with others at the doorway to their deaths. Now is my time to bring my experience to the midpoint and say:  It’s a short distance between one and the other.

You can bring birth here
You can bring death here
To this midpoint
To this center, this moment
Which contains all

We artists have a natural urge, a hunger even, to throw ourselves into the world with abandon. We’re inclined to embrace without first needing to understand. Our very pursuit of art is the way IN toward the understanding we seek.

Without our yearning, who would we be? Without our curiosity and wonder, why would we care? Without our sense of abundance and absence, how would we know where to go? We’ve gifted ourselves the gamut of emotions from bliss all the way to regret so that when the music plays, we can move.

Since birth we’ve had placed at our feet infinite treasures. From the first blink of consciousness up to this moment, who we are is a wealth. It doesn’t matter what, it matters that. We’re the totality, the beginning and the end, the first word and the last. Whatever you come across, it’s treasure and there’s more than enough.

There is enough.

Take any experience at all…take a negative one: a betrayal, a theft, a broken bone. The one who sees only the experience suffers many times. The one who sees the gift in the experience suffers only once. The victim is resigned. The maker sees the bounty and gets busy. Experience is a treasure trove. It’s fodder for the craft. We know this.

Make your life your work of art. You’re at the helm, master of brush and baton, mistress of ink and film and marley.  Play with what you’ve lived. Use it with abandon. Draw it back, pull it forward…recreate it. Be selfish, be reckless, be courageous. Be honorable, be humbled, be happy.

If in life you’re an artist, you’re an artist of life. At irregular intervals you stop to consider your time, your distance to events and people, and you begin again. You make anew what you were taught and given, and what you learned and received.

Share what you’ve lived and lay it bare for us. Create a new way for us, a new world of possibility for yourself and for us. When you open, we open. When we discover, you discover. When you are, all can become. This is art. This is also wisdom.

Give to your life the voice of its author.
Your life is your gift.
Give your gift before you go.


I am swept away by the story of the Rosetta Mission and our landing on Comet 67P!

That it took over 6.4 billion kilometers to reach this landing strip, including all the gravitational assists needed to get our spacecraft there. That it all happened in just 11 years, barely a blip in the history of our species. Like the thousands of years that passed between our first cave etchings and our communication technology today. Also just a blip. Yet right now we’re receiving images from a place we can barely make out with technology we’ve dreamt up, built and sent out there into the vastness of space, to monitor and to study. Staggering. How many years was it from when the Wright Brothers first flew to Philae’s landing yesterday? 111 years. Hm, the number keeps repeating, 1-1-1…

Pure inspiration. I feel wonder and awe, curiosity and pride and love. I sense a deeper inner knowing, vibration and resonance in myself. Like something is calling. An echo…from the future. From inside the mystery. And again, someone has figured out a way to listen. So we can all listen.

Today I’m preparing my home for winter, my small rooftop apartment in Brooklyn and tuning into the live coverage from Europe as I go. It seems superfluous to spend time in this way, except that I have my hands in some dirt and that feels nice. I stop and gape at these photographs that are coming to me live. I see them the moment everyone else does, not a week or a month from now in a science journal. That alone blows my mind!

The rest of the news is there. The places on earth where this event has not touched down, where a man and a woman have not put down their arms and armor. That is the way of it too. Our heads are in the sand until they’re not. And every now and then we humans give ourselves a giant gift that says – Look Up!

This project was organized for no other purpose than to learn. Vision and science, hand in hand with technology. The ESA joining with teams in the U.S. and Asia, countries in every hemisphere. No political agenda, no race to be first, no “us-them” competitive underpinning. Pure exploration, pure curiosity, pure devotion. The best impetus in us.

But this is what I love thinking about most: how at this very moment in the hearts and minds of very young children all over the world something of a future purpose is being born. A switch is being thrown right now in this one and that one which will begin to grow and glow. That’s how it starts. Inspiration, then ignition. From the Latin inspiratio – with divine guidance.

A switch was thrown in me a long time ago. Artist, called to art. I did not heed the call for some years and then I did. Artists are being born right now, this second, over this event. Scientists, musicians, filmmakers, writers, philosophers, explorers, climbers, visionaries, dreamers and creators are all being turned on by this glimpse into the heavens and our deepest yearnings. We need all these switches thrown. All the switches that would lead us beyond ourselves and back again. All the flames that would illuminate our pathways, and make of night our days. That would take us beyond the “I am I” and “you are you” and just simply orient our eyes on the stars which did surely birth us and to which we will surely return. One, by one. One.

I see in Rosetta a mirror for all that is available to be sought and explored, in the world outside and the one in here. This achievement, this determined and carefully stewarded mission and all that are like it, shows us just how far we can travel outside ourselves, peacefully and openly. And how far we can go in the other direction, peacefully and openly. For the mystery is one and the same. I believe we can revel in the mystery of space out there because we in fact can revel in it inside ourselves. We sent that probe because we are that probe. We are that return. And, in the span of a few days of life when measured against it all, we are the landings. All of them.

“Contact light.”
The actual first words spoken from the surface of the Moon, by Buzz Aldrin on 20 July 1969 when Apollo 11 landed.

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