In performance: Colin Roberson
In performance: Chris Knowlton and Judd Morrissey
In performance: Justin Deschamps

Photos by Grace DuVal:

 Saturday, April 7, 2018

"ATOM-r is a provisional collective exploring forensics, anatomy, and 21st century embodiment through performance, language, and emerging technologies. The work is interdisciplinary and evolves through large-scale projects . . . across a range of platforms . . ." Thus read the program notes for ATOM-r's performance of Kjell Theory at Chisenhale Dance Space in London.

The performance was spell-binding with color, movement, sounds - both human and digital, images, lighting, and detailed use of simple materials to impart stories and meaning. It's effect on me was not so much a story line which I followed but rather it stirred various feelings and reactions within me which invited thought and some of my own interpretation of what was presented to me. So when I was speaking with others after the performance, I heard myself describe it as "a visual and emotional spectacle."

I was struck by this phrase: visual and emotional spectacle. It offered comment on what I had experienced through the show. I believe it also offers comment on the ways we may be living our lives.

We have heard the expression: Don't make a spectacle of your self. This can go a couple of ways. If we are in a restaurant and get upset and turn our table over and leave without paying, that certainly is making a spectacle of our self in a negative way. It draws the attention of others and may well invoke feelings of fear or anger or disturbance from others who experience what we did. A chaotic expression of emotion and behaviors is a problem for both others and for self. It can result in deep feelings of shame, regret, and guilt and damage our self.

On the other hand, a centered, well-considered presentation of what we believe and want and feel can be very effective. A visual and emotional spectacle that comes from "long durations of research and practice" (program notes for ATOM-r) can capture the attention of others and invite healthy conversations and new understandings. And so it can be with self. If we stop and think what it is that we truly mean and wish to say and consider the ways we want to convey those things - perhaps with some under-control drama and illustrations - our audience of even one person is much more likely to be ready to hear us and to engage in healthy dialogues.

Next:"Nothing has a place."

ATOM-r Director Mark Jeffery consults with Lighting Technician Simon Bedwell

ATOM-r Collective before their performance of Kjell Theory
Photos by Grace DuVal:
Monday, March 12, 2018

As I hung out at the Chisenhale Dance Space in London while ATOM-r readied for their performance of Kjell Theory on January 12th, I settled into familiar sights, activities, and conversations. Being at a rehearsal or back stage before a performance is such a delight to me. It is its own little universe with things being said and done to create the magic the audience will soon experience. There's always lots going on behind the scenes.

I was reminded of this in one very particular moment prior to the show when the director was confronted with an unforeseen problem. Calm and assertive, clear and patient, he navigated the disturbance in a most effective way - not upsetting the cast just minutes before the show but doing what was necessary to keep things moving smoothly. I admired the way he handled the situation and found myself remarking to Grace, "Oh what goes on behind the scenes!"

Yes, things are always going on behind the scenes, whether that is at a performance or in our own life. Years ago I remember explaining to a friend why people come to see me for counseling. I said that fortunately for all of us, most of the world is able to operate in civilized, considerate ways in daily life. We are able to get up, put on clothes, and go out into the world to do what we do. We converse with people, enjoy their company, and raise children who are able to grow up and do the same.

But just below the surface of these functional, civilized ways are often disturbances of some sort: unhappiness, anxiety, heart break, discouragement, addiction, abuse, relationship problems. Most of us have these things at some time. Behind the scenes of our everyday life are issues that invite our attention in order to make our lives better.

Approaching these behind-the-scene issues with honesty and willingness to deal with them is a good idea. And then, using Mark Jeffery's calmness and assertiveness, clarity and patience, we can make ready for a healthier engagement with life.

Next: Visual and emotional spectacle

Speaking with Christopher Knowlton of ATOM-r before the performance of Kjell Theory
Christopher Knowlton and Justin Deschamps of ATOM-r in perfomance of Kjell Theory
Photos by Grace DuVal:

Friday, March 2, 2018

Grace and I arrived in England on a Friday morning. That same night, we went to a performance of Kjell Theory by ATOM-r ( at Chisenhale Dance Space in London. Grace costumes for this Chicago-based performance art troupe and photographs their work.

We arrived well before the start of the show so Grace could give the performers new costumes for future work and prepare to photograph the show. As she did this, we were also all hanging out and chatting. Each of the members of ATOM-r made me feel more than welcome in these back-stage times. Meaningful conversations ensued.

At some point, Grace and Chris and I were talking about dance - something I have done my entire life. I was sharing my perspectives on the value of formal dance technique, saying I have been involved in performances that were exploratory and improvisational which I thoroughly enjoyed but which ultimately left me wanting to go to a ballet class and work on my technique. Not yet knowing what an excellent, well-trained performer I was in the presence of, Chris said, "Yes, work can be shapeless without technique." His performance, based clearly in strong technique, conveyed meaning and shape throughout the surrealistic show - as did the other ATOM-r performers.

I was struck by "shapeless without technique." I understood what he meant, and I believe that applies in many areas of our life: relationships, parenting, money management, eating, recovery - to name a few. We can put some time and effort into reading and studying and practicing how to do these things well, or we can just "fly by the seat of our pants."

Many times we do have to improvise, figure things out on the spot, take a wild guess, and move forward. This might also include going with our gut feeling or instinct. No problem necessarily. But all of these more spontaneous, on-the-spot decisions and actions are best when they are supported underneath by technique.

Technique comes from an organized study of the topic you are wanting to learn about or improve. It comes from learning from those who already have "mastered" what you seek. It comes from repeatedly "showing up" to your practice so that, as we say in theater, it becomes body memory. Then when life throws something at us, our technique is there to give us strength and balance and form.

What are you doing to develop your technique?

Next: Behind the scenes

Prior to flying out of Dulles in Washington, DC

Friday, February 16, 2018

I am not a great flyer. In fact, I can be quite anxious about flying. I don't fly often, but I have learned various ways to manage/not join my anxiety when in an airplane at 30,000+ feet. Sudoku puzzles help me a great deal, and I had one close-at-hand as we settled into our seats for my first trans-Atlantic flight.

With all of the data in front of me about our soon-to-be-flight, something in me shifted from anxiety to joining this great adventure. Recently I have been realizing that the work I have been doing on my own behalf all these years may in fact really have changed my neural pathways, just as neuroscience is telling us. More on that at another time. The point here is that I was not anxious. I was present and ready to be where I was: on an airplane in flight.

Our flight was through the night. So after they served us our late meal, the plane lights were dimmed and we were "put to bed" to have our "airplane sleep," as someone described it to me. I rested in 30-45 minute blocks of time, waking to rearrange myself, drink a little water, and drowse back off.

Sometime late in the night, in some time zone well east of the US and miles above the north Atlantic Ocean, I woke. The plane was silent with its sleepers and device-watchers here-and-there. As I looked out of the window by my seat, I saw a sliver of a moon hanging in a familiar way in the distant sky. I smiled at what a lovely jewel I was seeing. I felt closer to the moon than ever and simultaneously further than ever from all that I know.

Here was this constant object - the moon - holding me in place while I was being catapulted through the sky to a foreign country.

We all share the moon. We all know the moon and its phases. The moon that we see in the US is the same as the one in the UK. We are all on one world. We may have different languages, traditions, governments, but we are connected by the natural world and its wonders.

I appreciated that waning crescent moon that night. I appreciated the way it connected me to the familiar in the midst of the strange. And I appreciated that my mindful presence allowed me to take all of this in.

Today as I write this blog, I Googled what was the moon's stage that night, and here is what it says:

Friday, January 12, 2018
Waning Crescent
Illumination: 18%

On this day the Moon was in a Waning Crescent phase. In this phase the Moon’s illumination is growing smaller each day until the New Moon. During this phase the Moon is getting closer to the Sun as viewed from Earth and the night side of the Moon is facing the Earth with only a small edge of the Moon being illuminated. This phase is best viewed an hour or 2 before the sunrise and can be quite beautiful if you're willing to get up early. It can also be a great time to see the features of the Moon's surface. Along the edge where the illuminated portion meets the dark side, the craters and mountains cast long shadows making them easier to observe with a telescope or binoculars.

What stage is the moon in tonight? Will I get to see it and appreciate it?

Wherever you may be on our Earth, it is good to remember that we all share this same, precious moon and the experience of its presence.

Next: "shapeless without technique"

Sunday, February 11,  2018

As I packed to go to England, I considered taking a large book with me which I am reading in preparation for some new writing. I imagined having time to work on this new project in between things as we traveled.

Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that was not what I wanted to do. The size of the book alone was a ridiculous item to add to my suitcase traveling through airports and customs and trains. That's what stopped me first - the size of the book.

Then, I realized I did not want to be thinking and writing about things which I carry with me from my work and life. I did not want to spend my time and present moments traveling in brand new places with mental ideas, concepts, and preoccupations which I was importing from America. I realized I wanted to let new thoughts and experiences in as fully as possible. I realized I wanted to be present to my unfolding trip and take in some new input - whatever that might be.

The input did not have to be in specific categories or related to anything I am working on or have in mind. The input was to be what came to me in any moment as I was on this journey with Grace.

Grace was aware of this Input (restorative) plan. I carried a small blank notebook with me, and sometime during most days, I made a note or two about what I was noticing. Sometimes we both commented that a particular sentence or experience we shared was Input: "Wandering through St. James Park;" "It's a good day to wear the same clothes as yesterday;" "There's a limited amount of daylight."

The subtitle of this piece of writing is (restorative). The more I am in the present moment, the fresher I can become. New experiences enrich. I want to really let them in, to seep in as I say, and to let them help me to grow in all ways.

Are you carrying around any large books that are keeping you from the input of the present moment?

In the following blogs, I will be writing a brief essay on each of the Input (restorative). I look forward to learning what I have to say about them and sharing those experiences with you.

Next: Input (restorative): "In flight; slivered moon"

In flight from Dulles to Heathrow
At the Roman Baths in Bath, England

At the Apollo Victoria to see "Wicked"

Sunday, February 4, 2018

I know. I have been away from blogging for a very long while. I don't quite know what to say about that. I do have things to share with you. I think of writing here, and then I don't.

I find that can be the way with self-care: I think of doing it, and then I don't.

Awareness + intentional action are everything.

So here I am - back from an amazing first-in-my-lifetime trip to England with my dear daughter, Grace, the same one you hear me speak of in my books. Now 29-years-old, Grace is quite a world traveler and invited me to join her on this working/traveling trip. So I moved through many of the things that hold me in place and keep me from growing more fully and got my first passport at age 65.

We had a wonderful time, and I will have a number of things to share with you from that trip. Yes, a few photos and touring recommendations, and also short essays that come from a list I made while traveling called: Input:(restorative). I did not want to spend a lot of my time writing while in England, but I knew I wanted to be in touch with the writer in me. So as we moved around that lovely country, as we interacted in our daily adventures, as we made mistakes, as we celebrated successes, I made a list of things I learned and want to remember.

Future blogs will be from this Input "manuscript" of mine, but in this blog, I just want to show up and to let you know that while I was in London, Noel Bell, a psychotherapist there, recorded 2 podcasts with me:

"What is Codependency?

 "Working Therapeutically with Codependency"

What a very fine souvenir to bring home with me ~ professional interviews with a colleague interested in codependency. Thank you Noel.

I am bringing them home to you, too.