Holidays are nuts!

almond


It’s interesting to watch people suddenly realize the world is bigger than they had previously thought.


The holidays are upon us. I was recently at a holiday party (uninvolved with the “War on Christmas,” I call the party what the host did). At such a party, I noticed a couple of kids sitting in the sun room of my friends’ lovely house, deprived of the electronic devices that distract them so effectively from reality. In other words, in keeping with time-honored tradition, they were bored out of their skulls. The only amusement in the room appeared to be a bowl of mixed nuts, still in the shells.


I remember these types of parties when I was that age. The grown ups may have occasionally addressed us, asking us boring questions about school or hobbies (not the cool stuff like TV or superheroes), but mostly, they wanted to go drink and laugh loudly, talking about stupid grown up stuff like jobs and history and sports and stuff. Our job as kids was to stay out of trouble, don’t fight too much, and eventually we would find ourselves sitting at the kitchen table, in front of a bowl of mixed nuts. We’d crack ‘em and eat ‘em. It was a great activity since the payoff was greater than say, a sunflower seed (way too labor intensive for the amount of food inside) or peanuts (too quick to shell, therefore too quick to fill up on) but the shells created an activity to keep us occupied: cracking the nut, picking the bits out of shell; spitting out the bits of shell accidentally eaten, sifting through the debris for little tidbits, sweeping the pile aside, repeat process. Pre-shelled nuts are too easy to eat mindlessly and move on. This was a keep-kids-out-of-trouble activity.


I recall every year for a few years, at some point, some grownup, Aunt Irene or Aunt Evelyn would pass by the table, see me and my siblings poking through the nut bowl and they would ask, “Do you know your nuts?” “No,” we would say, and they would lay out the five or six different varieties and tell us the names of each one. This is how I learned how to recognize my nuts.


(Pause for peanut gallery remark to run through your head.)


(Pause to realize a peanut has nothing to do with this story, as it is not a nut. It’s a legume.)


(Ready? OK, allow me to resume with my wholesome Christmas memory.)


I hadn’t thought of this in 30 years or so, when I walk through the sun room, a 13-year old holds up a walnut and says, “what kind of nut is this?” “That’s a walnut –” I say, then ask, “Do you know your nuts?”


“No.”


So I sat down gave them the tutorial. It was weird; like suddenly I was seen as a grown-up. It was spooky, passing on arcane knowledge that I just take for granted. We covered walnuts and Brazil nuts and pecans and (she knew the hazelnut) and … I held up an almond. “That’s an almond?!” she exclaimed, “Shut up!” (which, though it sounds rude, is merely Teenagerese for “I find what you just said to be somewhat remarkable, and therefore am uncertain of its veracity.” Quite erudite, these teenagers.)


She grabbed one and a nutcracker, hastily cracked it open and said — music to my ears moment — “ooooOOOOOoooohhhh!”


It may not be much, but the opening of her eyes on this one account … who knows; maybe this will get her interested in Botany. Or baking. Or the physics of nutcrackers. Or nutrition. Or maybe she’ll forget it all as soon as she gets plugged back into her computer. Which is kind of how I reacted, 30-something years ago. Now I am older and I know my nuts. What good is it to have that knowledge in my head? Will it get me a better job? No. Will it allow me to live till I’m 150? No. But, at least for one brief moment, it got a 13-year-old girl to tell me to shut up.

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Deadlines are deadlines.

Sticking with my schedule, here I am at the tail end of Wednesday. No real time to write, as I spent the day watching a good friend’s solo clown show at the Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Hall, then planning the 2014 season for our theater show, delivered another speech at Toastmasters (about procrastination — I am fast becoming a world authority on the subject), and various housework projects I’ve been putting off.

My new book, “The Procrastinator’s Guidebook” will be written and available for purchase. Eventually.

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Step one: find box of to-do lists

to_do_box

Yes. Literally. I throw nothing out. Ever. I have gone to great lengths to stop accumulating things I don’t need. I discourage birthday and Christmas gifts. I live in a small house and constantly am redefining the razor’s width line between pack-rat and hoarder. Fortunately my wife hasn’t yet put arsenic in my toothpaste (one of my half-used tubes).


Speaking of redefining, I consider disorganization to be one of my super powers. Not that it provides any benefit toward vanquishing evil or promoting survival of mankind; I’d just rather think there is a positive spin to it. Every now and then, I get the termite in my sphincter to “reorganize,” which usually ends up with a quarter of my office temporarily habitable by more than just one adventurous, clumsy cat. Those are times my productivity increases. Those times don’t last long: another project comes in and disturbs the delicate ecosystem of my piles of papers, books, DVDs, art projects, clown props, costume pieces, shoes and shoes and hats and shoes, and the materials to make more.


About six months ago, I delved into the pile to organize, and I started to find various “to do” lists from various points of history. Not everything on them gets done, though without a list, far less normally gets done. I threw them into a box. Additionally, I’ve kept notes over the last 25 years. Notebooks, sketchbooks, scraps of paper, bar napkins, etc. full of funny observations, doodles, cartoons ideas, art project notes, etc. Then there are the computer files with the beginnings of novels, standup routines, theatrical ideas, short stories, jokes, and “wouldn’t it be cool if’s.”


About two months ago, I realized I had about a half dozen projects in my head, with subprojects, to keep straight, so (lo and behold), I went into MS Word and made a list. I realized I’m about halfway through my life and I have a lot of lists of things I haven’t done. So I gave the file a name: “Master List.” And I made the first item, “Find box of lists.”


I realize, as a scatterbrain (some would call that ADD), I don’t multitask well (though I can juggle fire on a 6-foot unicycle while telling jokes and dodging the occasional crazy drunk homeless person). What I do well is, once an activity/project has taken my my interest, I can go without food, sleep or human interaction for long periods of time. ADD specialists call that “hyper-focus,” whereas I call that “productivity.” So my hope, my aim, my overall project, is to get that master list made. Then I plan to prioritize (triage) into three categories: a) imperative; b) want to do; c) I can die happy without it.


How do you prioritize the stuff you want to do before you die?

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It’s Technically Tuesday


cutting_a_treeContinuing my struggle to do a “new post every Tuesday,” I realize my idea of Tuesday may be different from the rest of the world. As a night owl, generally I am the most productive after the world sets its sights on sleep. That is, if I’m being productive. I define Tuesday (or any day) as from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. So I may go to bed 3am on Wednesday morning; that still counts as my Tuesday.


Today, I walked through the woods and encountered the tree that fell across the path a couple of months ago. Then, I had started to cut through it with my Leatherman’s saw, but it was slow going so I figured I’d come back to it and do a bit more. I don’t travel that route with the dog much, but today, I passed by it and took out a few minutes again. And next time I come by, if I have my knife, I will again. Maybe Nature will help me out with some termites. Until it’s done. And this is how I hope to write my novel.


I realize I have a novel to write and I’m not moving forward on it, and I have a blog which needs content, I have decided to “pet two kittens with the same hand” (my vegetarian peacenik wife doesn’t like that expression about the birds and the stone) and thusly move forth and do a twenty-minute writing exercise here. It may or may not end up in the book.


I realized, and I’m certain the science will back me up on this one: If you don’t work on a project,  it won’t get finished. So, here is 20 minutes of blathering. I hope something emerges. The story is of a late Medieval traveling performer, who is recovering from a “clothing mishap.”



The glow of the candles in front of the tavern beckoned Bimo up the path. The twilight added weight to his eyelids and feet.  Thusly, he dragged his rope and his rumbling stomach that much further from Framstadt. With his purse empty, he had no idea how to pay for a meal and a bed, but this was the place to find them.


The music and laughter warmed his soul. Two figures sat at a table outside the door, drinking and arguing. One silhouetted hand tossed a small crust of bread to the ground. Bimo rushed as quietly as he could to pick it up. Reaching under the table, he found a handful of dirt. He pawed around and found it, surrounded by fur and a cold, wet snout. The dog’s low growl put a chill down his spine. He drew his hand away, now wide awake. And dressed in a fern.


“Oy, Dungle!” said a low voice, “a little wood fairy wants to be stealin’ food from yer dog!” 


A mountain of muscles, leather and dirt (but few teeth) stretched skyward, and the table was thrust aside by an immense tree-trunk thigh. “What for ye takin’ ma dog’s food?” boomed his  greasy, crumbed, hairy orifice. He lunged  down toward Bimo’s neck, who rolled backward into a handstand. Dungle stopped in his tracks.


“Please don’t hurt me,” Bimo said. “I’m just a hungry traveler…” 


“Well, eat my liver!” said Dungle, “He really is a wood spirit! The gods must’ve built ‘im upside down!”


Bimo stood, motionless, on his hands. “Uh, yes. Yes!” Bimo thought quickly, “I am a wood spirit! And I require crusts of bread! Bring them to me!” 


“Right away, wood spirit!” Dungle and his friend rushed toward the door. 


“And sausages!” Bimo added.


They went in. Bimo came down from his handstand. He cautiously put his ear to the door as he rubbed his shoulders. He could hold a handstand for just over five minutes on a good day, and today, he was tired. Inside, he heard laughter. The music stopped suddenly. The sound of fist on flesh and the sound of a body hitting the floor. Footsteps. Many footsteps. Bimo rushed back to his handstand.


The door opened and a crowd of people rushed out.


“Here ‘e is,” boomed Dungle, “like I told ye — the upside-down wood spirit!” Out rushed the tavern keeper, the musicians, three whores, townspeople and a few traveling merchants, all eager to see the wood spirit. A hushed circle formed around Bimo, whose fingers strained to keep himself erect. 


“Er, hello.” he said.


“He talked!”



And that was 20 minutes. Plus some extra time for research, a stop or two by Thesaurus.com, dreaming, and editing-as-I-go. Not much, but the wheels have moved, just slightly out of the mud.


What are you trying to get done that is a daunting task? You think you can sit down now and put in 20 minutes, to the exclusion of other distractions? Or ten? Or five? One step forward is one step further. No steps is no steps. A writing rate of 20 minutes a week may take 10 years to get the book written, but it’s a start. And maybe Nature will step in and help me along with random firings of the brain.

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New post every Tuesday, part 2

OK, nobody’s perfect.

I stated what I’d be doing (a new post every Tuesday), and I stumbled out of the gate.

I bet nobody else in the world has ever done that. So here I am, 28 hours late in the wee hours of Thursday morning, for my first deadline. I’ll try again next week. Until then, I leave you with this:

Procrastination is a dish best served cold. Because you didn’t get around to paying your utility bill.

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New Post Every Tuesday

Hello blogosphere.

I have nothing to say, just got back from the beach and am rejuvenated as I hit the ground running.


I just discovered this guy’s blog, “Wait but why” through his post on procrastination. And its sequel. It’s awesome. He is also awestruck by stars, but that’s another topic. Squirrel!

It’s weird; when I saw the two rather long posts on procrastination, I wanted to drop everything I was doing and read the entire thing. OK; maybe not so weird. Actually, tragically normal. One strategy he proposed was making little victories in the battle against self-defeatism through attention-deflection. Not grand plans; just little victories that become habits. One way to do this is what I’ve told other people for years: creating deadlines for one’s self is a great way to have that panic which creates productivity. He said, If you’re trying to write a consistent blog, put “new post every Tuesday” at the top of the page… Hence the title of this blog post.

deadlineIt reminds me of this beloved cartoon I clipped from … I think The New Yorker about 10 years ago and stuck it to my wall.

In addition to the “New post every Tuesday” however, (I paraphrase so it sinks into my brain in my words) “people who plan to write a book don’t. People who write just a page a day, after a year, have a book.” It’s funny because the day before I read that, I met my dog-walking friend John who thanked me for advice I’d given him a year ago. He was having trouble getting his second novel written and I told him, “write just 10 minutes a day.” After a year, he’s way into his second book and all I have to show for it is being able to say, “good for you.” It seems I give great advice, but don’t take it unless it comes from someone else.

So, this time, two someone elses have given me similar advice. I have a novel to write. I have a show to write. I have clients to call. I have paintings to finish. I have a couple of to-do lists to get to. I doubt I’ll get it all done in this lifetime, so I’d better go find a religion that guarantees I’ll have another lifetime or two. I’ll get right on that.

So, looking at the top of this blog, you will see a new blurb: “Updated Every Tuesday.” That is, if I can figure out how to change my WordPress settings before I see another shiny, pretty thing. Stay tuned.

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More Celebrity portraits #37-48

#40 Salvador Dali

#40 Salvador Dali
More paintings for this batch here

The last couple of weeks have brought more struggles with anatomy, lights and darks, colors, and sleep schedules. I paint late at night and have to keep work moving forward to the next stage if I don’t want to be up till 5am. I have ADD in the rest of my life, but if I get into an art project, I don’t need sleep, food or coffee.

Tesla. Lennon. Einstein. Wilder. Ball. Dali. And Monroe. It’s a relief to be this deep into a year-long project because now I’ve built up a momentum and a practice: kind of like winding a ball of string. At first, it just feels like an amorphous glob of string, but after a few wraps, it’s starting to look like a ball, it has form, and you see where it’s headed.

That’s how I feel now: I’ve got a month and a bit worth of paintings. The first few I called drawings, but I’ve stopped using lines. They are now paintings. Strange to think I’m using the same medium, but the new work is something different now — even the river, whose water is constantly changing, is still called a river. At this point, because of multiple requests, I’ve put some of these paintings up for sale on FineArtAmerica.com – you can order any size you want, up to 18″x24.” (30″x24″ for some)

It does require additional processing on my part to make it ready for the printmaker, so if you see something you like but it’s not yet for sale, let me know and I’ll make it happen for you!

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My Celebrity Portraits Gallery is live!

Link: Rich Potter Art Gallery ‎


#32 Fred Rogers: One of my best childhood friends

#32 Fred Rogers: One of my best childhood friends

In May of 2013, I decided I wanted to learn to better render a human’s face. So I posted a simple query to facebook: “Please name a celebrity.” Within 30 seconds, someone responded with “Neil deGrasse Tyson.” So I drew/painted a portrait. It was rough, but somewhat recognizable.



The next night, I did the same again, and then again. They say you get better with practice? As of this writing (day 35, I’m merely a month in and already feel like I’ve had a couple of semesters of art school education. I’m learning from unlikely sources: the lady I walk dogs with, a musician at a party who has “tried to draw, but can’t,” and a forensic sculptor. Just the perfect way for me to learn: random amalgamation of information.

#34 Jamie Farr

#34 Jamie Farr

One of my favorite quotes is, “all art is subtraction.” You take the Universe and boil it down to a few lines, a few colors, a few notes, a few words, or a few motions. This album is a sampling of some of my favorites. I’ve “subtracted” some that didn’t quite hit the mark. Enjoy!

Link: Rich Potter Art Gallery ‎

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Thank you Stephen King


20130610-024117.jpgIt is very strange to me to say this, but thank you Stephen King.


I mean this sincerely although you have hurt me personally and professionally, and countless other people with your writing.


It is strange for me, a clown be to be thanking you, Stephen King, a man who is singlehandedly responsible for more cases of coulrophobia than any other single human who ever lived. The majority of people I speak to about “fear of clowns,” which has numbered in the dozens, possibly hundreds in my 30-year career, trace their fear back to your book and movie “It.”


You probably didn’t realize that would be the effect of your work; you probably didn’t mean to give a complex to children too young to be watching your movie on cable TV about a homicidal interdimensional being that takes on the guise of a whiteface clown. But you did. You probably didn’t mean to shift (mostly American) attitudes against an ancient profession (older than writing, mind you), but you did.


Still, I thank you.


You see, I am working on a novel. My first novel. What I am thanking you for is a quote of yours on writing, which I just saw the other day:


“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”


Well said; succinct. Like a man who has practiced the craft, as well as the Art of good writing. You have inspired me to “get up and work.” I’ve been slacky about getting it written: “I’m not in the mood,” or “I don’t know how to proceed.” You have inspired me to push through my self-doubt and write every day. So thank you.


By the way, my first novel is about a medieval clown. That’s irrelevant, but I thought it might be interesting to you. . I’m sure it will be garbage. I realize that when learning to write, the first million words are just practice.


The book will probably be 50-80,000 words when all is done. So, doing the math, it will be around my 12th novel ––the one where I really am able to use the English language with the precision of a surgical laser and readers are dying to read my every word –– that I will write a story in your honor, for which this is the synopsis:


Working title: “That”


Early 1960s. The story opens with a sort of nerdy child stopping on the curb in front of his suburban house after school to read a book. From the bushes, he hears a voice: “Child — child — would you like some free books?”


Enter the imposing figure of the bespectacled Featherweight the Dancing Horror/Fantasy Writer. Featherweight really only appears to be human; “That” is actually an interdimensional creature that feasts on the flesh of outcast children. After a series of bloodbaths, the children of the town beat him back to Dimension X by hurling at him a barrage of split infinitives and broken metaphors.


(Flash Forward)


Featherweight returns in the late 1990s, having gained his strength back over the ensuing 30 or so years. Like a bad simile, he always turns up –– largely rejuvenated by the inexplicable fame of The New Kids on the Block. Unfortunately for him, but fortunate for Mankind, he is immediately squashed once he reads the level to which writing has sinked in the then nascent World Wide Web. Forevermore thereafter, the world is safe from homicidal interdimensional horror/fantasy writers.


The end.


Mr. King? I look forward to being seen as a professional in your eyes.

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About those clowns…

Horrible Sambo-level caricature of a clown, left, encounters (but does not notice) a more subtle, natural clown.

Horrible Sambo-level caricature of a clown, left, encounters (but does not notice) a more subtle, natural clown.

When I first started this blog, I had the intent to talk about creativity. I got sidetracked by all this boring “productivity” stuff. Granted, it’s very important to be productive if you want to be creative, but I’m going to shift gears a bit here. As stated elsewhere, I am a comedian. A variety artist. A juggler. A clown.

Clown.

It’s a loaded word. It is generally considered an insult. “You clown,” “those clowns in Congress,” “quit clowning around…” and the relative neologism, “ass-clown.” However, in theater (and circus, which is an extension of theater), the “Clown” is generally a welcome relief from tensions (Hamlet’s gravediggers, for instance), or between death-defying acts in the circus. This has of course changed with motion pictures putting Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan and Ollie, Abbott and Costello, Dick Van Dyke, Red Skelton, Steve Martin and Jim Carrey on the screen, where the clowns become the protagonists. The everyman. Even the hero.

What is a clown? The term is believed to possibly come from Icelandic klunni meaning clod, or Low German (a great source of our basic English vocabulary). The theatrical tradition can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where a dwarf was known to perform tricks for the court. Of course, that’s only recorded history; who knows before that? Certainly as long as humans laughed as a release of tension, and manipulated objects and bodies to create music, art and dance, the intentional inducement of laughter must have been included in there somewhere. That’s what clowns do. And more.

Just as early civilizations saw art, dance and music as a way to connect to the spirits, laughter, often a Sacred Clown has been part of the ceremony. That idea has popped up in many civilizations, and one could argue that the beloved Trickster character of many a folk tale is an extension of that. Whether it’s the Wise Fool of King Lear, the completely laughable idiot Curly of the Three Stooges, or the trickster Till Eulenspiegel with a wry penchant for defecation, these characters have touched culture after culture in generation after generation.

So again, I try to answer: What is a clown? There are many different definitions, even within a theatrical context, from “a comic character in a play” to “the people in those costumes in the circus” to “M. Night Shyamalan, after his first two movies.” In simple terms, it is a type of actor who specializes in physical or verbal comedy who plays the role of him (or her) self with comical adjustments to certain personal affectations. But still, I find that/those definitions unsatisfying.

After nearly 30 years being a clown on stage and in the ring, I still haven’t fully answered the question myself and I don’t think I ever will; every time I have thought I knew, I’ve learned more to expand my definition. If you held a pie to my head and demanded I give an answer, I would hem and haw and deliberate. In the end however, I would eventually say something like this:

We are all idiots sometimes. We all see the world slightly differently in our private moments when other people can’t see. Many of us are embarrassed by these differences. We are all different from each other and that is beautiful. We are all highly competent at some things and horribly incompetent at others. We try to hide our incompetence and highlight our competence, but when we relax too much, it leaks out. And that is normal. That is funny. That is beautiful. That is the Clown.

The Clown is you.

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