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mprvmnts Posts

Giving beyond myself

The lump—that deep twist in my gut.
I am holding too tight, even as I let go.
Scooping out my melon of a belly,
emptying it of everything, including hunger.

She doesn’t care for watermelon
but I continue to present it, bowl after bowl.
An offering,
a show of just how far I am willing to go.

As unappealing as my misplaced entrails
and the hunger that is and isn’t.

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Everything Is Waiting For You (David Whyte)

David Whyte’s writing speaks to me.

A few months back, I wrote about anger, and my journey with it over the years. My friend Brian replied in the comments, suggesting I pick up a book called “Consolations, The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words” by a poet named David Whyte.

I have long respected and admired Brian’s thinking process and philosophy of life (even when we’ve disagreed) so I did the most obvious and easy thing to do: I bought the book, read the short essay on “Anger,” remarked to myself how poignant it was, and put it on the coffee table book pile never to open it again. But the name David Whyte gained a place of esteem in my head, and I’m glad that it did, because when I saw that Sam Harris had a conversation with David Whyte in the Waking Up app (which I use for daily guided meditations and recommend), I took notice. Last week I finally listened to it and it absolutely blew me away. Within the hour long conversation, David read two of his poems (“The Bell and the Blackbird” and “Everything Is Waiting for You”) and an essay on the word Vulnerability from “Consolations.”

Have you ever had the experience of hearing someone plainly, succinctly describe a concept that has been tumbling around in your head, amorphous but forming, slowly slowly solidifying? For me, as I listened to David and Sam talk, it was like bombs kept going off in my brain. David’s words turned a plethora of personal inklings into fully formed, fully realized (and actionable) concepts. These types of moments are unique, but not entirely rare for me, and I realized at once that something significant was happening.

Like a fighter pilot who has been hunting down it’s target, circling and chasing, David’s words through the hour were the missile lock, the final poem he read flipped the safety cover off of the firing pin. Locked and loaded, ready to fire. Insight, ready for action.

Here is the poem, which I share as a window into my experience, an incredible moment that was years in the making. Read it, but also take a moment to hear David read it in the video just under the poem.


Everything Is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

By David Whyte, from River Flow: New & Selected Poems.


I’ve begun reading David’s book, “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship” and I am certain I will write more about how David Whyte speaks to me in the coming months.

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Father’s Days

Fatherhood has changed me, and continues to change me. It is the greatest privilege and deepest joy. It has also been heartbreaking and humbling. It is always changing, and I am so thankful for the love that remains constant between these beautiful people and me, and also the love between siblings that takes its own form.

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I take it as a sign that I am truly living

I take it as a sign that I am truly living, that all at once I am experiencing

terror and joyful excitement

acceptance and hopeful ambition

deep laughter and slow tears

pride and regret

I am standing at the top of a hill ready to roll down, and I am at the foot of another hill beginning to climb.

I take this as a sign that I am truly living.


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Differentiation of self

Self portrait. 18×24 inches, acrylic on paper

A few years ago, I came to realize (through hardship and a great therapist) that I had a problem with self-differentiation. In my most important relationships I was being driven by a deep-seated fear of rejection and abandonment. My sense of self was WAY too tied up in others and outside forces.

Self-differentiation is a concept introduced by Dr. Murray Bowen, and here I’ve copied some text from The Bowen Center to describe a well-differentiated self.

A person with a well-differentiated “self” recognizes his realistic dependence on others, but he can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotionality. Thoughtfully acquired principles help guide decision-making about important family and social issues, making him less at the mercy of the feelings of the moment. What he decides and what he says matches what he does. He can act selflessly, but his acting in the best interests of the group is a thoughtful choice, not a response to relationship pressures. Confident in his thinking, he can support others’ views without being a disciple or reject others’ views without polarizing the differences. He defines himself without being pushy and deals with pressure to yield without being wishy-washy.

thebowencenter.org – Differentiation of Self

This is hard shit if you didn’t grow up in a family with healthy attachments. Honestly, it’s hard shit for anybody.

With the help of a this therapist, I began to try and rewire my brain, in what I now recognize as my first steps into mindfulness training. It began with a constant reminder that became a mantra: Orient Self To Self. My aim was to move away from looking to others/outside to see if i’m okay, Rather I can look to myself (hello, mindfulness!) and also commit to being the kind of person that I am proud to be, giving myself grace and forgiveness when I don’t live up to my own expectations or the commitments i’ve made to others. To be free to be okay when others may not act in the way I expect or hope for.

I’ve made some progress. Most day’s I earn a “B” in this category. Some days and strings of days, I really lock into a healthy mindset that’s even better. But on the occasions when my more intense anxiety surfaces, and my ability to access these new skills becomes compromised, I can actually observe myself getting pulled away from wise mind, sucked into fear and muddled thinking, feeling unworthy and unloveable.

Tara Brach, in her excellent teaching on the RAIN of self-compassion, refers to this as a trance, “a narrow, distorted reality that lasts for a time.” The trance narrows one’s focus to only see what’s wrong, forgetting the larger context of life. She proposes that the only way to widen perspective from the narrow focus on what’s wrong, is to shine a light on the trance itself, which I suppose is what i’m attempting to do here.

I’m going to write more another time about how I’ve been attempting to integrate the RAIN concepts into my life this year. It is slow and vulnerable work, and rewarding.

These last couple of weeks I have been battling the trance with some big wins and some sad losses. Wish me luck.

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Returning to painting

Just above the tree line on the trail to Chasm Lake. 24×18 inches, acrylic on paper.

Has it really been nearly four months since I started this painting? In this period of quarantine stress, lockdowns, social upheaval, and massive shifts in my daily life, I have been without the motivation to paint. Like a fool who has learned nothing about self-motivation I have waited to feel it again. But for me, action precedes inspiration and motivation. Surprise, surprise… just getting started was all I needed to reconnect. Returning to painting has returned me to painting.

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Landscape sketches

Bierstadt Lake, Colorado. Paint on paper, 18×24 inches.

Took a little dip into painting again today. The quarantine energy has been the opposite of what motivates me to paint, but today as i was setting up a painting station for my daughter, i decided to flip open the big pad and do some quick, monochromatic paintings.

Backyard. Paint on paper, 18×24 inches.

It was fun, and i felt things click for a bit, which was reassuring.

There is a mind state I find conducive to making landscape paintings. The best way i’ve found so far to induce this state is by working to certain kinds of jazz. I am going to explore this more in future writing, but for now I’ve got a handful of records that bring me right there.

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Dorian’s

I made this blind contour drawing while waiting for Jeff Parker to play at Dorian’s. It was my last night out, and the last live music I witnessed before the stay at home orders hit Chicago just a few days later.

The show was exquisite. I can’t wait to get out and see live jazz of that caliber again. I have a new list of acts I have to see and I’m willing travel to make it happen “whenever this coronavirus thing is over” (as my daughter Ingrid would say).

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On optimizing my evening commute for speed

Most evenings I walk from my office through downtown Chicago to catch a Metra train home. The walk is 1.1 miles, heading South and West from State and Hubbard to Union Station’s Madison Street entrance. The direction I’m heading cuts diagonally across downtown, which creates a lot of flexibility when it comes to route choice. Regardless of which streets are taken, there are at least eleven intersections to pass through and upwards of 20 navigation decisions to be made along the way.

There are essentially three factors that impact how fast the entire journey will be.
1. How fast I’m walking
2. Weather
3. How much time I must wait at intersections

The real opportunity here is in defining a routing methodology that minimizes time not walking. I’m in direct control of my walking speed, and the weather bows to no man.

Over time, I’ve developed the following guidelines for route taking to minimize time not walking per trip to an average of 18 seconds.

Never wait by choice*
Every intersection choice point has two valid directional options—South or West. In most cases, waiting is not necessary because if one direction is blocked, the other is open. *This guideline must sometimes be overruled in order to stay away from the perimeter of the route.

Hop to it!
If I can run a few paces to make the tail end of a “walk” sign, I’ll do it. The extra benefit is that when crossing near the end of light, I can immediately turn and cross again when I get to the other side.

Maximize choice points
Every intersection that is not on the perimeter of the route contains 1-2 choice points, each with two valid directional options. For example, let’s say I’m coming south on the east side of Dearborn and I arrive at Wacker Drive. My first choice point is to either continue South on Dearborn (crossing Wacker), or to turn right on Wacker, (crossing Dearborn). Once either of these moves are made, I cross the street and immediately encounter my next choice point, continue or turn.

In most cases, choice should be made entirely by the “Never Wait” guideline, but there is another principle at play that makes it advantageous to wait for short times (if necessary) in order to stay away from the perimeter. The perimeter of route is where waiting happens, because there are no longer any choice points and directional options that don’t increase the overall distance of the trip. If the light is red, I’ve gotta wait. The guideline I use is to avoid the outside perimeter and the next block in from it until I’ve reached the Lyric Opera at Washington and Wacker. I may wait 8 seconds or less at an early intersection to ensure that I avoid perimeter woes.

Avoid multiple Wacker drive intersections
All intersections are not created equally. Waiting, if necessary, takes longer on intersections where at least one of the streets are two-way. I try to head quickly to cross the River, then if I’m not lucky enough to cross Wacker right away, I’ll walk west until I get to an intersection where I can cross without any waiting.

In conclusion
If I am optimizing for speed, this is how I do it. I may make another post some time about optimizing the same walk for beauty, which I have thoughts about too. Enjoy walking!

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More painting experiments

I’ve had the Sayre Park painting hanging in the living room to observe for the past few weeks. It’s been a great reminder of the kind of work i don’t want to do. Through talking about this with Zion and Josiah last weekend, we decided it looked more interesting turned on its side. Once I did that, the painting was crying out to become an underpainting for something new.

A couple of days later, an artist named Katie Vernon posted a painting to her instagram that inspired me to start my new painting in a particular way. Here is her painting:

Last night I found just the right photo source for the new painting and got to work. I starting blocking white, then gray, then blue and brown and greenish grays. I made a few passes over it and really got into a flow and had a lot of fun. I’m absolutely loving the direction this took and I’m looking forward to digging back in to it.

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