Starting the New Year early

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My birthday falls on the 15th of December, and it always feels natural for me to start my new year’s resolutions on this day, a full two weeks ahead of the norm on January 1st.  This year, I decided to push it even earlier and start my personal new year on December 1st with this intention: I will walk the dark path guided by my own light.

It felt like no coincidence then to wake up today to a TED email invite to a special subscription to 31 days of Ideas: A good idea delivered to your inbox, each day in December.  I would’ve passed up on the offer if I didn’t see Pico Iyer’s name on the page.  As one of the most quoted writers in my circle of friends, his name feels synonymous to modern monk.  He writes with precision and context on the things that matter: silence, clarity, external and internal shifts.

Sharing his essay about his favorite TED talk (I can’t find it on the TED website) below. Especially relevant to me now as I grapple with the economic realities/necessities of choosing a creative life. Highlights are mine:

The talk that changed my life

By Pico Iyer

Thirty-four years of working in the mass media have taught me one thing: never to trust the mass media. Not because of any hidden agenda or conspiracy but simply because the media is in the business of giving us what we want. And what we seem to want these days is wild gossip, distraction and entertainment ’round the clock. The only way to follow what’s going on in the world is to never pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV, but merely to try to observe it on the human level first-hand, unmediated by screens.

So you’re probably not surprised that I was liberated, blown open, when I heard Ricardo Semler’s TED Talk, “How to run a company with (almost) no rules.” Really, its title should be, “How to live with the exactly right, emancipating rules.” The minute the Brazilian CEO walks onto the red circle and says, as easily as hello, “On Mondays and Thursdays I learn how to die,” I know I’m in the presence of a line of thinking that can change my life.

Mr. Semler’s not young, and melanoma runs in his family, so he has reason to think about the end, perhaps. But as he begins to unfold his vision of how to transform a company — by encouraging workers to come and go as they please — and then extends that vision to our schools, I realize that this highly practical, successful man of the very real world is simply challenging us to think about what’s difficult, and therefore necessary.

I haven’t occupied a company setting since 1986; nothing could interest me less than profit curves or office management. But the grace of Mr. Semler’s talk is that he’s speaking about the “graph” of existence more than of spreadsheets; about making a life as much as making a living. And there’s something invigorating about seeing this wisdom brought to us not by monk or formal philosopher or saint, but by elegant company director in black jacket. Leading a good and considered life, he shows us, need not be incompatible with laboring in an office block.

As those of us lucky enough to listen to the talk live, in a tent on the beach in Rio, heard Ricardo Semler at the end of a long day, after maybe sixty talks over the previous three days, many were stunned by single lines. He wasn’t asking himself, “What do I want to be remembered for?” but “Why do I want to be remembered at all?” He was reminding us that we’re always ready to turn to our work-related e-mails on Sunday evening yet slow to go to the movies on Monday afternoon. He kept taking us back to how “we measure ourselves, as humans,” knowing that such a measure has to do with something deeper than the rocket fuel propellant systems, income-tax preparations and M.I.T. classes by which he’s long gained his livelihood.

It’s the same message that the Buddha and Marcus Aurelius and Montaigne pass along, because Mr. Semler goes to cemeteries even on his birthday, as they might have done, thinking about what he’d do if he had only a few months to live. But he brings such ideas to the boardroom, the bedroom and the classroom, exactly the places where we’re most inclined to overlook them.

And nothing could be more urgent in an age when we spend less and less time addressing what’s lasting and what’s real. We’re always being told, rightly, to tend to our forests and to clean up our air; but we’re less often reminded to try to protect the wild spaces inside our imaginations (where the future will get made) or to clean up the skies in our souls (where toxins can be more poisonous than any external pollution). Even as we’re so proud of filling our bodies with locally sourced, farm-to-table, organic food, we fill our minds with junk.

The world is as full of beauty and wisdom and hope as ever; I’ve seen that everywhere from Burma to New York City these past few months (and, in the past few weeks, in Bhutan and Alberta and Varanasi and rural Japan). Humans are no worse than we’ve ever been, even if we’re not necessarily any better. And the only way we can imagine a better world is by going within. The only way we can make it happen is by bringing that imagining out into the world. Ricardo Semler inspires me as only a wise man can, and he gives me hope about translating his bracing wisdom into real life as only an accomplished master of the corporate sphere can do.

Watch “How to run a company with (almost) no rules”
Subscribe to 31 days of ideas

Painting in delight: nudes from life

Montalut Life Nude Session Nov 2016 (1)

Last Saturday a lot of people were downcast and angry from the sneaky Marcos burial, but I’m thankful I still got to end the day in delight. Saw the Nutcracker ballet for the first time (happy music and smiling dancers–sure to uplift!), and went to a live nude drawing/painting session that lasted til 11pm…the kind of geeky thing that makes me super happy!

I painted over 10 works, in full appreciation of the human body. This is a great hangover from reading Big Magic earlier this week, which really brought me back to making delight a part of my daily life. I think it is possible to fully engage the difficult (ie climate change, politics, economic strife, uncertainty), and yet find joy in the everyday. It is not self-serving escapism when seeking joy is done consciously, and it can even be considered a radical response or protest to the difficult.

Montalut Life Nude Session Nov 2016 (23)

In college I came across an interview with Pope John Paul II which asked him how he remained joyful amidst so much suffering and hate in this world. He said that the worst has already happened–we killed God–and yet something beautiful came out of it–we were saved.

Montalut Life Nude Session Nov 2016 (25)

Even if you frame that in different words, the message is the same. Joy and delight are powerful ways to actually engage fear and helplessness. We don’t forget or cast aside the difficult, but we go to battle, all in, and with an armor built from within.


Nude drawings and paintings from this session are available for purchase. 


Here’s a slideshow of the rest of my loot (click on the arrows to view next):

Life Drawing/Painting

We all need extra hugs these days.

We all need extra hugs these days. from @montalutartstudio -  I don't think I'll ever tire of giving hugs. Here's a baby hug and restful sleep to go with it... The world surely needs it especially after the crazy turn of events this week. Baby hug and sleepOil pastel on board9 x 11.5 inchesNovember 2016#drawing #oil #sleeping #baby #rest #hug - #regrann

From @montalutartstudio – I don’t think I’ll ever tire of giving hugs. Here’s a baby hug and restful sleep to go with it… The world surely needs it especially after the crazy turn of events this week.

Baby hug and sleep
Oil pastel on board
9 x 11.5 inches
November 2016

#drawing #oil #sleeping #baby #rest #hug

Tree cutting day

Got to my parents' house today and saw workers about to cut off big branches of this tree, which was overgrown and causing damage to the wall and fence. I've never witnessed a tree cutting before and, not to be dramatic, but I felt a sadness come over me. I asked mom if she talked to the tree first and we gave it our thanks and kindness. I felt the clear sap from the first branch that fell--parang umiyak siya! We collected the branches and made trunk stumps that will be sure to get lots of TLC. Thank you, tree.#tree #down

Got to my parents’ house today and saw workers about to cut off big branches of this tree, which was overgrown and causing damage to the wall and fence. I’ve never witnessed a tree cutting before and, not to be dramatic, but I felt a sadness come over me. I asked mom if she talked to the tree first and we gave it our thanks and kindness. I felt the clear sap from the first branch that fell–parang umiyak siya! We collected the branches and made trunk stumps that will be sure to get lots of TLC. Thank you, tree.

#tree #down

WIP: Revisiting Rembrandt

Yellow really makes me happy! When the kids left I picked up my fattest palette knife and just went crazy with this new piece. #wip #acrylic #painting #women #yellow

Yellow really makes me happy! When the kids left I picked up my fattest palette knife and just went crazy with this new piece.

#wip #acrylic #painting #women #yellow

It's happening more or more these days that the title of a piece comes to me in the middle of painting it.

It’s happening more or more these days that the title of a piece comes to me in the middle of painting it. I think it helps complete the work or bring it to where it should go. Photo is from a trip with two of my dearest friends some years back…and even if one of them is not in the picture (he took it), he still is very much part of this poignant moment of friendship.

Friends
Acrylic on tarpaulin
24×36 inches
Work in progress

Retiring it for the day. Excited to pick it up again with fresh eyes tomorrow. ????

#wip #acrylic #painting #women #yellow #friends #friendship

Started this with the intention of sticking to the Dutch palette of browns, reds, yellows and black. I even put my Rembrandt drawing next to it for inspiration...but what kept showing up were blues, greens and grays. I realize I'm still wishywashy when it comes to shadows and darks! Got to work on allowing the darkness to come and set in, in order to bring out the light. Will be interesting to see how this turns out. ????#figurative #painting #acrylic #women #rembrandt #wip

Started this with the intention of sticking to the Dutch palette of browns, reds, yellows and black. I even put my Rembrandt drawing next to it for inspiration…but what kept showing up were blues, greens and grays. I realize I’m still wishywashy when it comes to shadows and darks! Got to work on allowing the darkness to come and set in, in order to bring out the light. Will be interesting to see how this turns out. ????

#figurative #painting #acrylic #women #rembrandt #wip

Paddleboard in the city

Here's a close up of the second work, done in colored charcoal. Had to rework it today to bring out the colors and the whites but it really made me smile to see it come alive again. Wouldn't it be great if we could just paddleboard our way to work everyday?#lifegoals #sup #drawing #charcoal #dailycommute #paddleboard

Here’s a close up of the second work, done in colored charcoal. Had to rework it today to bring out the colors and the whites but it really made me smile to see it come alive again. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just paddleboard our way to work everyday?

#lifegoals #sup #drawing #charcoal #dailycommute #paddleboard

Framing

Which frame do you think is better: Black or white? I'm always at a loss when it comes to framing. Any help much appreciated! #art #frame #black #white

Which frame do you think is better: Black or white? I’m always at a loss when it comes to framing. Any help much appreciated!

#art #frame #black #white

Been experimenting with framing, and ended up with these two today. What do you think? Do they look happy in their new clothes? ????#frames

Been experimenting with framing, and ended up with these two today. What do you think? Do they look happy in their new clothes? ????

#frames

WIP: Taal Volcano after a hike

Here's my friend, Billy, holding a #wip portrait I did of him after we hiked the Taal volcano in Talisay,  Batangas last month. Known as the world's smallest volcano, it is actually a crater within a crater, with many other volcanoes next to it inside this big lake. Been wanting to do the hike for ages, so I was thankful to have an outdoorsy visitor agree to join me.???? Needed more time to work on the features of his face, but I really miss working outdoors like this! How's your Saturday coming along?#outdoor #portrait #acrylic #painting #pleinair #wip #taal #volcano #lake #taalyachtclub #boat

Here’s my friend, Billy, holding a #wip portrait I did of him after we hiked the Taal volcano in Talisay, Batangas last month. Known as the world’s smallest volcano, it is actually a crater within a crater, with many other volcanoes next to it inside this big lake. Been wanting to do the hike for ages, so I was thankful to have an outdoorsy visitor agree to join me.???? Needed more time to work on the features of his face, but I really miss working outdoors like this! How’s your Saturday coming along?#outdoor #portrait #acrylic #painting #pleinair #wip #taal #volcano #lake #taalyachtclub #boat

Behind the scenes pics of that hike:
Finally hiked the Taal volcano and even got to boil an egg on the shore of the lake! The Philippines has so many hidden gems like this-- so thankful to be living here.  #taal #volcano #crater #hike #egg

Finally hiked the Taal volcano and even got to boil an egg on the shore of the lake! The Philippines has so many hidden gems like this– so thankful to be living here.

#taal #volcano #crater #hike #egg

Studio Visit: Painting with kids

It was an afternoon of giggles, Pokémons and ice cream at the studio today, with special visitors bringing their bursts of sunshine to the space. Was a great push for me to use paints again...and despite the dreary rain, I kept picking up my yellows ????#thankyou #painting #artday #children #visitors

It was an afternoon of giggles, Pokémons and ice cream at the studio today, with special visitors bringing their bursts of sunshine to the space. Was a great push for me to use paints again…and despite the dreary rain, I kept picking up my yellows ????#thankyou #painting #artday #children #visitors

Art Study: Expressionist to Contemporary Selfie

Here's my expressive self-portrait done from memory. #selfie #drawing #blue

Here’s my expressive self-portrait done from memory. #selfie #drawing #blue

SelfiePastel on paper12x18 inchesOctober 2016Our final studio session for the art retreat was to do a self-portrait in the now, to find the thin line of quiet between the art that pushes and the art that pulls (according to James Joyce, this is where proper art resides). Using a photo reference as an initial guide, I just let myself play and this came out. It's like an amalgam of all the recent art periods in one, with the 21st century felt in the selfie pose. The nagging questions that I still carry with me: what is contemporary art? Even modern art is old already! And how do we, as artists, create art that is future-oriented?#selfie #contemporary #art #artph #drawing

Selfie
Pastel on paper
12×18 inches
October 2016

Our final studio session for the art retreat was to do a self-portrait in the now, to find the thin line of quiet between the art that pushes and the art that pulls (according to James Joyce, this is where proper art resides). Using a photo reference as an initial guide, I just let myself play and this came out. It’s like an amalgam of all the recent art periods in one, with the 21st century felt in the selfie pose. The nagging questions that I still carry with me: what is contemporary art? Even modern art is old already! And how do we, as artists, create art that is future-oriented?

#selfie #contemporary #art #artph #drawing