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Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

GETTING MY GROUP ON AND FLYIN’ SOLO

I had an awesome experience this week.  My friend Andrew teaches a course in “Advanced Group” at Laurier University.  It’s a postgraduate course teaching Social Workers to facilitate groups…everything from parenting to addiction.  He asked me to come and talk about my experiences as a member of various groups that were lead with different styles – some great – some…not so much.

I always love talking about myself so Andrew and I drove to Kitchener where I met with the most amazing group of people.

Before Andrew asked me to come and speak, I wouldn’t have thought that I had been much of a resource on this, I tend to work solo, especially on things like personal growth.  Then I got thinking.  I realized my growth both as an artist and as a person has been constantly involved working with other people, sometimes in a group situation, sometimes one on one.

This interplay between working with others and working on my own has been playing with my mind ever since.

We think of the great artist of the world as individuals who worked on their own, and they did (generally), but it can’t be a coincidence that so many of the world’s greatest artists worked in the same cities and had overlapping careers: Mozart and Beethoven, Michelangelo and Leonardo.  It extends outside the find art community, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison both said their friendship with each other was a tremendous increase to their creative and industrial output.

The interplay between working together and working alone is essential for our growth. We develop our skills, hone our craft and find our true voices alone, together we push each other to greatness, encourage each other to do better and keep each other grounded and sane.  We need both.

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Aside

M*A*S*Hing it up with friends

M*A*S*H cast season 2

M*A*S*H cast season 2

M*A*S*H cast seasons 8 - 11

M*A*S*H cast seasons 8 – 11

I’ve been thinking a lot about friends lately, how much I love and cherish the people in my life who drive me crazy and keep me sane.

Thinking back about friends who have come and gone, and those who have been consistent, I realized that a circle of friends is like the cast of a long running TV show.  There are a core of regulars, cast members who are in every episode; we can count on them being in every episode, if one of them is missing you know there’s a reason why.  Then there are semi-regulars, people who are part of the character’s world but don’t show up every time we tune in, then there are characters (sometimes great characters) who show up for an episode and then disappear.  Sometimes these one shot character makes such an impression that they keep coming back, and sometimes a semi-regular becomes a main character.  I think the lesson here is pretty obvious; we have people who are permanent fixtures in our lives and people who come and go, and people who show up for a short time and then disappear.

When I was in High School one of my favorite Television shows was M*A*S*H.  It mixed comedy and drama seamlessly, the acting was brilliant and the writing was some of the best in the history of Television.  The show handled the replacement of lead characters better than most, M*A*S*H took place in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.  The show ran 11 years (8 years longer than the Korean War) and had some major cast changes.

Here’s what M*A*S*H did right when someone left the show; they replace them with a totally new character (who filled the same basic role).  As an example: for the first five years of the show the main antagonist was Frank Burns (Larry Linville), an irritating, whining wimp who kissed ass, slavishly followed rules (except the one about cheating on his wife) and irritated everyone around him.  When he left the series, he was replaced by Charles Emerson Winchester the Third (David Ogden Stiers), a pompous, rich snob who looked down his regal nose at everyone around him…he still irritated the hell out of everyone, but he was anything but an ass kissing wimp.  We missed Frank, but Winchester was a great character and the show took on some super new directions with him on board.

Here’s the sucky truth: our circle of friends is going to change, especially during times when our whole lives are changing (finishing schools, new jobs, moving, marriage, kids).  Strangers become acquaintances, acquaintances become close friends and sometimes close friends move out of our lives.  The secret to surviving it all is to M*A*S*H it up.  Let new people in.  They can’t replace the friends we’ve lost, but they can keep us laughing and touch our hearts, if we let them be who they are and not who we think we need them to be.

What I know about graduating… 25 years after the fact.

I had a note from a student who will be graduating from college in a few weeks.  Graduating and going out into the job field was getting a bit threatening.

I’ve been teaching at the college for 18 years, suddenly I’m having a flashback to 25 years ago, when I graduated from college.  WOW a quarter century later.  Have I learned anything?

For what it’s worth, here’s what I know about graduating:

1)Keep the people who matter close to you. It gets a little harder to stay connected after you graduate – do it anyway.  Those people keep you motivated, supported, connected, grounded and sane.

2)Zoom in on your strengths.  At school there’s a LOT of focus on fixing your weaknesses, STOP IT.  Do what you do best.  If Michelangelo had spent all his time trying to fix his crappy his social skills we wouldn’t have the Sistine Chapel or David, Florence would have had a frustrated artist with a fake smile on his face.

3)If you’re not sure what your strengths are– that’s cool, we’re all still sorting that out, but here are a few tips:

Ask the people around you; we have a tendency to dismiss our strengths because the things we’re really good at are easy.

The next time you’re asking yourself “Why can’t they just get this, it’s so easy?” PAY ATTENTION…that’s a unique strength of yours.

4)All change is good and bad.  You decide what you focus on.

5)You’ve heard that success means sacrifice – it’s true, but NEVER sacrifice your integrity, your dreams, or your authentic self.  Giving up on those serves NO ONE!  Trust me on this one.

6)You and your dreams are going to change a LOT in the next few years.  Learn the difference between changing your dreams and giving up on them.  One is about growth, the other is death.

7)Never stop learning.  The best learning is accidental.  We were NOT your best teachers.  I like to think we were good, but Life and your own intuition will teach you FAR more than we ever could.

8)You’re not entering “The Real World”.  School is real, what you have here is real.  You’re just moving into a different place.

9)In the end, don’t listen to me – trust yourself.

Adventures with The Goonies

Sooooooo if you’ve been paying attention, you know my theory:      
          The art we love is trying to teach us something.  
It’s been working for me, but I had a chance to test it a few days ago.
My cousin Bonnie is one of my favourite people in the world; she’s having a rough time.  Life is throwing her some nasty curve balls these days.
We talked for hours while our kids played wii in the basement.  We chatted a little about Animating Your Life and suddenly I thought I’d see if it would actually work for someone who wasn’t me.
The conversation went like this:
Me:   What’s your favourite movie?
Bonnie:  The Goonies.
          I haven’t see The Goonies yet.  
Me:  Tell me about The Goonies.
          She did – took about four minutes. 
Me:    Sooo, in a word or two, what’s it about?
Bonnie:   Adventure.
          She didn’t even hesitate.  
Me:   Do yah think maybe you love The Goonies because you need some adventure?
Her face lit up, she started to laugh and now she’s getting her kid’s passports – they’re going to Disney World.
A trip to Disney World isn’t going to fix her problems, but Bonnie’s been feeling trapped in the “good sensible” decisions she’s been making for years.  They’ve served her well, but as soon as she said “Adventure” we both knew she needed one.
I think The Goonies are leading her well…and Bonnie is now convinced I’m a smarty pants…I’ve always know she was a smarty pants.

Breakin’ out with my favourite Ogre

Story telling (animated or otherwise) depends on character arcs.  We’re all on some kind of journey; life is never static (even when we want it to be).  The character arcs we are most drawn to are the ones we need to learn from to help us on our own journeys.

My favourite is Shrek.  I’ll tell you why at the end, but you’ll probably figure it out before then.

Shrek starts his journey as a loner, he’s built some pretty serious walls around himself to keep everyone out . . . quite frankly, from the way the locals treat him, I don’t blame him.  People can be so freakin’ mean sometimes it seems that life would be better without the whole nasty stinkin’ lot of them.

He finishes surrounded by community, married and singing some rather rockin’ karaoke.

It didn’t happen by magic.  He took some very definite steps.  He had his trip forced on him, we don’t have to.  We can make decisions and take action that will take us to real friendships and love before the fairy tale creatures invade our swamps.

Sooooooooooo what did he do and more importantly, what can we do?

He accepted a deeply flawed, irritating, friend – who didn’t judge him.  Let’s face it, Donkey’s irritating, he has no concept of personal boundaries, or social norms and he doesn’t have a clue when he’s not wanted…but he’s a friend.   If you’re looking for a perfect friend/partner/spouse, you’re going to be very lonely.  There’s a difference between dangerous toxic people and people who can drive us crazy at times.  One of them needs to be avoided at all costs, one of them is . . . human (or a Donkey in Shrek’s case).  Some brilliant voice work here by Eddie Murphy By The Way.

He leaves his comfort zone.  Shrek doesn’t go willingly, he’s forced out, but he goes.  He moves into places that are uncomfortable, places he’s avoided in the past.  Do I have to explain this one? Nothing changes if nothing changes.  We can’t grow if we keep doing the same things we’ve been doing all along.  Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  Get out of your comfort zone.

He wins.  He lands in Duloc just in time for a tournament and he wins (with the help of his irritating friend).  We all have something we’re good at.  Often it’s something we dismiss because it’s so easy . . . for us.  Even small successes will yield amazing results to our self-esteem if we don’t totally dismiss them.

His journey continues and includes some really important points that I’ll come back to at some point, but I want to keep the Blogs short.

Accept people for the deeply and beautifully flawed individuals that they are, while you’re at it accept yourself for the same reasons.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Celebrate small successes.

I grew up feeling deeply alone.  I had very few social skills and suffered from a magical combination of pretention and low self-esteem.  I convinced myself I was happier alone and put a LOT of effort into proving I was right.  It’s taken decades to learn what Shrek learned.  I wish I’d learned it earlier.  I wish for you a whole community of irritating, loving friends . . . are there any other kind?

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