Friday, April 3, 2015

Love Letter to Jerry

Today I said, “I love you,” to a man I’ve never said those words to, a man who has been one of the biggest influences on my life, a man I have loved for years without telling him that. I think he has always known. I think we both have always known that we had a special bond even though the years often passed with only infrequent phone calls. Life was always busy and our paths which once were parallel, now went in different directions.

Jerry McNellis appeared in my life as a seven-foot god towering over my future. He was a thought leader in the field of creative collaboration and I was writing my second book. I timidly approached him for an interview and, while he remained rather gruff during the interview, he generously gave me insight into his process of “Compression Planning” which became an important part of the book.

A couple of years later when I decided to create a conference on creativity and innovation for business people (this was in the early 1990s when there were no conferences like that), Jerry was the first person I wanted as part of the conference. I remember that first heart-pounding, stammering call … asking him if he’d like to be part of a new conference, produced by someone who had never done a conference before, travel all the way across the country … and, oh by the way, would he mind paying his own way?

No one was more surprised than I when he said, “Yes." It was like God had spoken, parted the clouds and said, “This is going to work!” I knew if Jerry McNellis was going to be part of the conference, it would be a success.  And, it was.

When Jerry and I finally met, I discovered that he wasn’t seven feet tall. He was actually rather short and his body was twisted by childhood polio … plus he was just recovering from a life-altering health crisis as well as the ending of his thirty-year marriage. I was humbled by the confidence he had shown in my fledgling undertaking … and I think for him, the conference was his coming back to life party.

After the conference, I wanted to send Jerry a present but nothing seemed right. Finally, I settled on a pillow I had needlepointed many years before with the words, “This, too, shall pass.” It was old and worn but I thought it might bring him some comfort. We’ve laughed often about his reaction to receiving an old, frayed pillow as a present, but I think it sealed our friendship.

Today, Jerry is facing another health crisis, presumably his last. I know that he will handle this part of his life with the same humor and zest that he has brought to every aspect of his life. HIs son, Pat, called me with the news and told me that one of the first things Jerry said was, “I guess I can drop my Weight Watchers membership now.” That’s Jerry. 

Several years ago Jerry wrote a book about his remarkable mother that helped me understand more about how he became the man he is. When Jerry was stricken with polio at age three and required four months of hospitalization, his mother told everyone, “Don’t pick him up!” Let him fall and find his own way to get up. Reading this book you become part of his early life, watching him learn how to pick himself up ... part of the 17 surgeries and dozens of body-casts ... part of the endless doctor visits, hospital stays, home exercise routines ... but, mostly you get to watch the development of a soaring spirit that never saw disability, just a need to do things in a different way.  Jerry played football, rigged a contraption that allowed him to ice-skate, climbed trees ... and fell out of them ... with a cast on ... danced, dreamed and lived life on his own terms.

I love you, Jerry McNellis … I should have told you sooner. You have been a gift to so many people and you have always been one of my heroes. May you be surrounded and loved by family and friends during this last stage of picking yourself up. You will be so missed.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sourgrass Song

Sun-yellow sourgrass 
Spices the fresh green roadside,
Singing, "Spring …spring at last!

Coming back from the Bay area yesterday was slow going ... too many photo stops along the way. There is just something about spring in the Sierra foothills.

Especially when you live in a place made magic by nature and the creative spirit.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Kaleidoscopic Fodder

Stained glass ceiling in Mérida, MX
A friend recently had a series of health tests that have revealed dark spots on her brain. The diagnosis she expected yesterday didn’t arrive, but in our email this morning, she told me how much she was enjoying the sunrise.

It made me think … this is all just fodder … it’s the paint and metal and glass and canvas that we use to create the art we call life.

And, as life artists (all of us!), we have to be grateful for our materials, however they come to us … whether through travel to a foreign country or exploring our own back yard, through joyful reunions or broken relationships, engaging new projects or cleaning the same window one more time, wins or losses, births and deaths. It’s all we have ... this kaleidoscopic tumbling of life forces, giving and taking, swirling and changing, laughing and singing, weeping and wailing.

In the past few years, great attention has been paid to “being happy.” We now know which countries, states, and cities are the “happiest places on earth.” But happy is only one point on the spectrum of life … maybe the bigger story is the totality of feeling.  Feeling love, joy and happiness … feeling sorrow, despair and empathy. Feeling connected, abandoned, embraced and isolated. Feeling energized, depressed, anguish and joy.

Maybe life’s job is to bring us experiences that make us feel. 
Perhaps it’s our job to turn those feelings into art, beauty, compassion, service ... transforming those emotions that rush through our human form into a flow of color and art, love, words, music, dance, food, flowers, friendship and connection.

Perhaps it’s only by understanding this cycle of experiencing and expressing our feelings that we become whole and wholly grateful for everything that comes our way.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Year of Paying Attention

Facebook header based on wall art in San Miguel de Allende
Focus on this bright, shiny new year called 2015 has been slow in coming. Today is the 19th day of the year and I’ve been distracted by endings and uncertainty. I feel like I’m already “late” since I haven’t taken time to contemplate the coming year, haven't begun my journal for the year or even chosen my word for this year.  However, this morning I was thinking about how we learn and came across this line about attention.

Often, the main reason we don't learn something or remember it well is because we weren't paying attention in the first place.

It struck me that maybe my “year of …” wasn’t about doing something but about being something … being more aware and attentive, truly noticing the world around me and my engagement with and within it.

What would paying more attention look like? Fortunately, the guru-at-my-fingertips (Google) has an answer … many answers … a plethora of take-your-choice answers. Slowly, I begin to feel the rightness of this choice, feel things start to fall into place. ATTENTION is the word I want to explore this year. Let's see what 365 days of focusing and paying attention will bring to life.

Here are a few gleanings from this new focus on attention ...

One writer began with the definition:
at·ten·tion (noun)
1.a. The act of close or careful observing or listening.
b. The ability or power to keep the mind on something; the ability to concentrate.
c. Notice or observation.

The Redhead Riter (who bills her blog as … “witty, intelligent & addictive”) gives us 15 reasons why we don’t pay attention … 
  • Too comfortable in our surroundings and take it for granted.
  • Overconfident in our abilities.
  • Thinking too much about the big picture.
  • Fear that we will not get it all done.
  • Filling our lives with too many activities.
  • Not living in the moment.
  • Having too much clutter around us.
  • Believing that true multitasking is a reality. (Can you eat a sandwich, whistle and chew gum at the same time? No, you can’t.)
  • Not having a place for everything to reside when not in use.
  • Not putting back things into their proper place after use.
  • Boredom.
  • There’s not a lot of emotion tied in with the experience.
  • Being too tired.
  • We are not at optimal health.
  • Believing that looking and seeing are the same thing.
to be continued, expanded, explored, savored, chewed on, observed and paid attention to ...

Martin Luther King, Jr.

A few days later than his actual birthday, but today we celebrate his life and also the life of Rosa Parks since their lives wove together in a way that changed us all. I post this poem every year in their honor and in the hopes that we live up to their courage and his words.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Twenty-six he was when destiny crooked its finger,
beckoning the still-green minister-scholar into the world.
Forty-two she was when she pounded on the door
Theoretically opened ninety-four years before.
It was the first of December, 1955, when history wove
Their fates together into a multi-colored tapestry of change.

“Tired,” she said, “Bone tired. Tired of giving up.
Tired of giving in,” she said and sat in the front of the bus.

Montgomery, Alabama, shivered as the temperature rose.
The old ways could be heard keening long into the night
As 42,000 people left the buses to stand by Rosa’s side.
381 days they walked: nannies, maids, carpenters, all.

Two hundred years of anger rose up to shatter the silence
And from this deafening roar came a molasses-rich voice
Spinning a song of hope with a melody of peace and love.
“I have a dream,” boomed and echoed across the land.

The young minister-leader painted a picture of a life
without color lines, a world without violence.
His voice lifted the dream: Richmond, Little Rock,
Dallas opened their buses, took down their signs.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent
about things that matter," he said, never silent again.
He took our hands and led us step-by-step onto a new path,
Brothers and sisters connected by heart rather than skin.

“Always avoid violence,” he said.
“If you succumb to the temptation …
unborn generations will be the recipients
of a long and desolate night of bitterness,
and your chief legacy to the future will be an
endless reign of meaningless chaos."

Thirty nine he was when one man with a gun silenced the voice,
But not the words …those four words branded into our brains:
“I have a dream …,” saffron-rich messengers left behind to
Carry forward the dream of a color-blind world of hope and peace.

Dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. born January 15, 1929;
Assassinated April 4, 1968.
And Rosa Parks, civil rights activist, born February 4, 1913
Died October 24, 2005

-- Joyce Wycoff, copyright, 2011

Friday, January 16, 2015

If I only had a chair ...

I had a chair.
It was a bright, shiny chair.
I put it in the center of my room
where everyone could see it
even passersby in the street.

I cared for my chair,
dusted it, polished it,
told everyone who would listen
about its lines and curves,
how remarkable it was.

My chair had one short leg,
wobbled a bit,
My friends and I laughed
about our wobbly chairs
and the shims we used
to make them stable.

I painted my chair 
in bright colors,
shared pictures on Facebook,
dutifully liked pictures of theirs,
felt part of the tribe, 
felt part of the whole.

I seldom sat in my chair,
it was a bit rigid and stiff,
rubbed against my bones,
caused my back to ache,
set up an unease in my spirit.

A day came when I needed rest,
needed comfort and support.
Decided to sit in my well-polished chair, 
displayed and brightly lit
in the center of my room.

The legs wobbled, then buckled,
the pieces fell apart,
Leaving me sitting in a pile of dust,
in the center of my room
where everyone could see
there was no chair,
only a chairlessness and
an empty room,

If only I had a chair … 

Sunday, January 11, 2015


It is eleven days into the new year and I am still stuck between the old and the new. I have not made the transition; I have not glitter-doodled my journal for 2015; I have not collaged my intentions for the year; I have been stuck in old stuff that I carried with me into this bright, shiny new year.

Today a friend sent me a copy of Brain Pickings, a rather amazing collection of wisdom and thoughts, and it shook me out of my stupor and offered me a resolution … walking, or more accurately sauntering. Now, I have been an avid walker for as long as I can remember but suddenly I realized I have been only half-walking … walking in body and mind but not in spirit and connection with the world around me.

The realization that I have been missing much in my walking was sparked by Henry David Thoreau’s treatise on walking where he says (quoting from Brain Pickings) “(Thoreau) sets out to remind us of how that primal act of mobility connects us with our essential wildness, that spring of spiritual vitality methodically dried up by our sedentary civilization."

"Thoreau argues that the genius of walking lies not in mechanically putting one foot in front of the other en route to a destination but in mastering the art of sauntering. (In one of several wonderful asides, Thoreau offers what is perhaps the best definition of “genius”: “Genius is a light which makes the darkness visible, like the lightning’s flash, which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge itself — and not a taper lighted at the hearthstone of the race, which pales before the light of common day.”) An avid practitioner of hiking, Thoreau extols sauntering as a different thing altogether:

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

So, my first resolution for the year is to practice sauntering, to treat walking as a holy act and to allow the world to unfold in front of me.
About the image: I think while I was in San Cristóbal de las Casas, I did spend a fair amount of time sauntering, wandering aimlessly through streets and neighborhoods, following sights or sounds as they appeared ... finding my way to the sea. This wall art was one of the things that captured my attention.