I treated myself to an “Artist Date” last Saturday.  Please know that every manly fiber in my being protested that first sentence.  It has a very Oprah ring to it.  (It wasn’t Oprah…it’s Julia Cameron’s fault.) That first sentence tromps all over so many norms I’ve allowed to grow up around my life and work.

From very early on in our childhood, all of us have submitted something we have created to the harsh lights of the public.  A stick figure drawing shown to a friend.  A color book sheet submitted to the refrigerator exhibit in the kitchen of your childhood home.  Homework or exams turned in to the teacher seated in the front of the room.  _W6C8430

Some of those creations from our childhood days of naive confidence were received with encouragement and affirmation.  Some were ignored.  Some were ridiculed and pronounced as “dumb” or “you traced that!” or “what is that?”  Some were judged based on the harsh scale of a grading system.

And so, more and more we decided not to submit our “art” to the public.  We decided it wasn’t worth the risk.  But, what tends to happen is that much like a plant that is stored in a closet, the impulses begin to wither and die.  We assume that creative impulse is for someone else.  Very early on, we begin to reserve the term “artist” for those other people who can draw better than us or write better than us or sing better than us or play an instrument better than us.   And there is always someone better.

_W6C8434So, why an “Artist Date”?  A couple of personal reasons.  I rediscovered the first 5 words of my copy of the Old Testament the other day: “In the beginning, God created…” —Genesis 1:1.  And when I got on down to vs. 26, I read, “Let us create humankind in our own image…”.  It really seemed pretty obvious that if I’m created in the creator’s image I might just be creative too.  Simple to the point of simplistic, but it was a good place for me to start.

The next reason was I heard yet another “artist” I highly respect refer to some practices they discovered in a book that I’ve heard mentioned dozens of times by other artists I respect.  Through the magic of my Kindle and my purchase impulse, I downloaded “The Artist’s Wayimmediately.  The first two practices introduced very early in the book are Daily Pages and Artist Date.

_W6C8450The Daily pages are 3 hand written pages of stream of consciousness thoughts for no ones else’s consumption.  Technically, not even my own.  Its sort of a written form of meditation.  I’m about 30 pages into that practice and it is challenging but very rewarding.  The Artist’s Date is something I haven’t fully wrapped my head around yet.   It’s a block of time set aside each week to nurture one’s “inner artist”.  (The Oprah gag reflex is rising up again…but I’m holding it together!)

_W6C8451So one Saturday, a  week into my reading of this book, I packed up my journal and my camera, got on my motorcycle and rode up to Sewanee via Roark’s Cove road for my first Artist date.  I took photos of the cars on the way up.  I stopped at the Blue Chair Cafe for a bowl of oatmeal and some coffee, and then continued to the Sewanee Natural Bridge  with a stop by the cemetery and a short visit to Mr. Garner’s grave.

I humbly present some of my photographs from that day as well as these reflections to the harsh judgement of the internet.  But I also am indirectly submitting the creativity of those who informed my little artist date:  the artist who installed our small version of the “Cadillac Ranch” on Roark’s Cove Road; the graffiti artists who did their thing on those cars; the creativity of the Blue Chair Cafe offering up great food and atmosphere for all who enter; Mr. Garner who someone recognized as “the best damn moonshiner who ever lived” and all the creativity involved to earn such a title; the stone carver who created the monument commemorating Mr. Garner’s art; the person who created the cherub perched on top of the neighboring marker; and finally the great Creator who provided the Sewanee Natural bridge and the trail I was able to hike and contemplate the other natural art on display.

_W6C8457I would also like to challenge all of you to nurture your own inner artists.  Creativity is what moves us forward in the world.  It provides fresh perspectives on everyday things we tend to take for granted.  Exercising those impulses strengthens muscles that we need in our everyday lives.  And having the courage to share your creativity boosts all of our courage to do the same.

Create something strictly for your eyes only.  Or, How are you going to reach that kid that isn’t interested in school? How can you increase the efficiency of this jet engine your team has been tasked to design? What’s made your lawn mower difficult to start? How could you make that birthday cake reflect that little girl’s personality? What’s the win/win solution to the conflict you are having with your friend/spouse/coworker/democrat/republican?  Etc.

All of these questions are answered through creativity.  And all of the human beings involved have been made creative by their Creator.  Go get ‘um.

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Rembrandt Coffee Shop

Rembrandt Coffee Shop
Rembrandt Coffee Shop

I was able to grab a quick cup of coffee at my favorite Chattanooga cafe Tuesday before an appointment.  It’s located in the Bluff View Art District near the river, between downtown and UT Chattanooga.

This is a city that has done a fantastic job in revitalizing its downtown area and lots of folk are noticing.  One thing that stood out in my very quick and quite incomplete google research was it’s rank as #2 Arts Destination (midsized city) by American Style Magazine (2009).

Where the Hell is Matt… I really love this video!

I discovered this via Ray Waddle’s column in the Tennessean this morning.  As was Ray, I’m pretty late to this party and also, like Ray I was moved by the video.  Check this out…   I would love to read some of your thoughts about this.


Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Burning Bush or Blackberries?

In many ways, we live in “Disney Land”. I’ve thought about some form of that statement at various times for a couple of years now. It first hit me while walking through the Morocco Pavilion in the World Showcase at Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando. We saved our money and took our family to the resort for the first time during fall break in 2006. One spot I was looking forward to visiting was the Morocco Pavilion. I traveled in Morocco several years ago and found it to be an absolutely beautiful and exotic place. I loved the people, food, the noisy markets, and the beautiful and diverse terrain. I was hoping for my family to get a taste of that experience at Epcot, figuratively and literally.

However, I had entered Morocco by way of the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, traveled by car to Fez and then roamed the streets of the ancient medina before sitting down tired and very hungry to an amazing meal of fresh bread, Tajine, and great wine. Those sharing that meal together were collectively reeling from cross cultural overload. It was one of the most memorable 24hour periods of my life. (I still have the wine cork from this meal on my desk to commemorate this wonderful experience.)

Contrast that with our journey to the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot: We arrived by way of a mono-rail car en route from the station not far from Cinderella’s Castle. We walked under the Spaceship Earth pavilion toward the World Showcase, past Disney versions of Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, America, and Japan and entered the Morocco pavilion. Behind the facades we found pretty much the same restaurants and shops found throughout the park. The food was overpriced, very poor imitations of the “cuisines” of the respective countries. I had an absolute blast with the family and we all enjoyed our simulation to the fullest. But I found myself thinking that for the same amount of money, we could have actually taken the family to MOROCCO.

In a book of daily readings, (365 Tao), Den Ming-Dao wrote, “It is good to have holy places in the world, and it is good for us to go on pilgrimages…To visit a place is minor; to change within yourself is greater. …When it comes to the sacred sites, its better to be a pilgrim than a tourist.” Much of our western culture is geared to create/lure tourists. Think of the simulations of actual experience we encounter everyday: video games rather than actual sports, treadmills rather than sidewalks, restaurants with “family” themes rather than sitting down and eating as a family, “reality” TV programs rather than actual reality, etc. (add some more to the comments if you like)… Simulated experiences can only aspire to be a vehicle for tourism; entertaining to be sure, but never providing opportunity for pilgrimage. (I’m praying that the “Bible Theme Park” doesn’t come to Tennessee).

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush aflame with God.
But only those who see take off their shoes.
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

By all means, HAVE FUN this summer! Be a tourist! Pick some blackberries! Go to Disney world!! But, plan some time for pilgrimage. It might be a journey all the way to the family dining room, or to the hiking trail around the corner that you know is there but have never visited,…(suggestions welcome!). Take off your shoes! Take notice of the “common bush aflame with God.”

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Little Pink Houses…

Slums on the hillside in Rio de Janeiro

The beach outside the Sheritan Hotel, Rio de Janeiro

The stark contrast of these images haunted me during my entire stay at the Sheratan Hotel in Rio de Janeiro. I took these photos from opposite sides of the hotel property, no more than 50 yards apart. If you were in a corner room in the hotel, the view from the window to your left would be the beach; your view from the window on the right would be of the houses.

I thought of several things to say in this post and found it rather difficult to select any particular direction. I could speak about the beauty of the ocean and the wonderful time spent on my balcony listening to the waves. I also had some rather sanctimonious comments about poverty that were very close to spewing from my keyboard. All were true…it was just difficult to decide…

Ultimately, what kept returning to my mind was the pink house in the middle of the top photo. There in the middle of the squalor of urban poverty and hopelessness was a brilliantly pink house! It was totally, obnoxiously PINK! And it was AWESOME!

I can only speculate on the motives of the owner. What I see is a home that refuses to blend into the hillside. While the circumstances this family negotiates each day are doubtlessly no different than that of their neighbors, the obstinate decision to stand out, to bring color to the neighborhood was simply amazing to me. Another distinguishing architectural feature is the back porch and the patio on the second level. Both of these areas opened toward the gorgeous view of the Atlantic ocean and the breaking surf I enjoyed only as a tourist.