Do you pay attention to light? This morning I woke up a little after sunrise, and the sun was slamming the sides of the trees outside my window with colorful warm light in the early glow. Parts of the tree were in shadow, while little spots were illuminated with color. Little twigs and leaves popped out against the dark purplish distant background and lit up like little firecracker explosions.
In the distance I see the silhouettes of trees in front of a brightly lit pasture of glowing greens and slight reds against the fog. The morning dew reflects little moisture bombs on every blade of grass, making them glow with light.
Years ago I was attending a broadcast convention, walking down the streets of Boston with friends, when the golden hour approached and illuminated the sides of the brick buildings with a pink-orange glow. The clouds above were gleaming with yellow. I stood and marveled at the light, but when I pointed it out to my friends, they just said, “What is it we’re supposed to look at?” At that point I realized I had been given the eyes of an artist, and that my friends weren’t likely to appreciate what artists see.
It wasn’t always that way — I’d never noticed light and color. But a couple of years after I started painting, I saw everything through new eyes, and life became even more enjoyable.
My first instinct this morning was to rush to my easel to capture what I saw for that fleeting moment, but alas, Sunday Coffee calls.
Sometimes I think we’re appointed to our roles and the way of seeing the world that goes with them. We develop a bias that influences everything that enters our brain.
Playing the Hits
When I was young and on the radio playing the hits, my bias was radio and music. Somehow my radio-colored glasses impacted how I saw the world.
What is your bias?
“Bias” can have a negative connotation, when in fact it’s simply a filter. I look at the world and ask how I can paint it. If I’m into woodworking for a season, I may ask how I can build it. If I’m practicing medicine, maybe it’s how I can heal it?
People are often critical of others because the others cannot see what they can see. It even says so in the Bible:
And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Luke 8:10
If we like what we see, we want others to experience the world through our filter. I wanted my friends to see the color, but they first needed to develop an appreciation. They expressed no interest and probably thought I was nuts.
How much better would our relationships be if we tried to understand the filters of those around us?
We can be dismissive of others because we feel we’re so well read, and we pity others who don’t grasp what we’re saying.
We can destroy a lifetime relationship because we don’t bother to dig deeper to understand and listen more closely.
Seeing Color Differently
Many years ago I took a class from artist Camille Przewodek. She would point out colors she saw and paint them, but I could not see them — until she taught me how to see by making me toil over hours of painting colored blocks in sunlight. Suddenly I could understand what she was trying to say. I put in that effort because I had interest. But how much effort do I put in to understand my friends, those I meet, or the needs of my own family?
I need to listen more carefully, not only to the words, but the filter behind the words.
How many times have you felt something was off, and you ask if everything is OK, and you hear “I’m fine.” But the body language says, “She’s not fine.” You can choose to accept it, or peel back the onion a little more.
People want to be heard and understood.
How would you rate yourself on your hearing? I’d probably fail the test.
Listening with Your Eyes
Recently a discussion with an employee stood out because I was hearing everything was fine, but I was seeing it wasn’t. I could have let it go, but I sensed that I needed to probe gently. One layer at a time, I discovered the employee was unhappy, thinking about leaving because she wasn’t being heard. She cared deeply and was not feeling as though I was doing something that needed to be done. By tuning in, listening carefully, not being eager to have all the answers, I was able to resolve the situation. But I almost didn’t go down that path, because I was busy, focused on something else, and not hearing.
Where are you not hearing?
What is your pride or ego preventing you from hearing?
Who in your family, or who in your life, needs you to hear them, understand them, and hear things from their perspective?
Are you truly listening?
PS: The next time someone says something that makes you recoil, ask yourself this: Am I respecting them? Am I automatically ruling them out because I don’t buy into what they are saying? Is this something I need to understand more? Should I listen more deeply and try to understand?
There are things in my life I was never receptive to that I later embraced.
There are also roadblocks in our heads, because we don’t see ourselves in these things. But what would change if you opened up to listen and explore? What if instead of telling yourself, “That’s not for me,” you instead say, “I wonder why this person is trying so hard to get me to pay attention to this. Maybe there is something they understand that I can’t see. Maybe I need to open myself up to exploration before ruling it out.”
Are you listening to yourself? To your heart? Or are you letting other things cloud your decisions about what is good for you?
There was a moment in time when I was introduced to painting. I was interested, but I lacked belief that I could do it. So when an opportunity came up, I came to a crossroads. If I had listened to the negative noise in my head, I would have turned left. Instead, I went the other direction, even though I was uncomfortable and afraid.
That single decision at a crossroads changed my life forever. Not only did it help me see the world through the eyes of an artist, it helped me launch a whole world I would never have anticipated. A world where we were able to create art magazines, newsletters, retreats, conferences, video training, online events, and so much more.
Turning left would have taken me in a different direction. Turning right actually resulted in helping millions of others discover how to see the world through the eyes of an artist. It’s helped them become part of something bigger, part of a community, and it appears to have enriched their lives.
When you feel your heart tugging, listen. It may be God telling you something that will allow you to enrich your own life and the lives of others.
I’m stubborn. I want to control everything. But I’ve learned that I have control of nothing. I have to listen, I have to ask for guidance, I have to pay attention to those little voices in my head. Yet I have to decide which voices are for good and which are for evil.
Thirteen years ago, that little voice told me to relaunch PleinAir Magazine. I had closed it years before because it was bankrupting me. I was broke and out of money. So I changed its name to Fine Art Connoisseur, and we survived. (I’m also passionate about realism.)
When that voice told me to relaunch it, my advisers told me not to do it. They told me I would be bankrupt. It was a bad business decision. But my heart was tugging at me. And it was tugging at me to launch a convention with the relaunch. Again, my advisers told me not to do it.
It was like going to Vegas and laying all of my life savings and all my efforts in business on red, spinning the wheel, and hoping I’d win.
Thankfully, things worked out, and now we are about to celebrate 10 years of the Plein Air Convention (keep in mind, we had to cancel two different years).
COVID came along, and in one day, we went from having 1,200 people signed up for the convention to having almost everyone cancel. Again, it almost killed my business. We had to refund all the money, but the hotel was still insisting on being paid. Plus we canceled our FACE event and the hotel decided to sue us for breach of contract. It cost us a fortune to resolve that. And we got hit with $50,000 in credit card fees. The little voice told me that it would not be right to deduct the fees from the refunds. So we got stuck.
We were hanging on by a thread. Our response was to launch online virtual conferences, and it saved us. Otherwise our ability to help out the plein air world would be over, and there would be no more Plein Air Convention, no more PleinAir Magazine, no more Fine Art Connoisseur, no more anything.
We dodged a bullet.
Thankfully, a lot of people have signed up for the Plein Air Convention, but we’re not yet at our pre-COVID numbers. If you were one of those people who signed up, canceled, and has not come back, I’d appreciate it if you’d consider joining us. This is the last time we will be in Colorado.
And if you’re new to this and want to understand the plein air lifestyle of painting outside, making friends, and being challenged and creative, consider coming to find out what this is all about. You’ll learn everything you need to know to get started — you’ll see all the things you’ll want to buy at the convention — you’ll watch hundreds paint together in amazing beauty, and you can choose to paint along or not. You won’t regret it.
You might be saying “someday,” but if everyone said someday, someday would never come. Last year a woman told me she had been meaning to come for years, but never got around to it. She told me she was so thrilled to be there, it was much better than she anticipated, and she had a great time and made lots of friends. And I’m glad, because I heard from her husband that she passed away unexpectedly a few months ago, and that he is happy she decided to go.
If your heart is telling you to do something, listen and do it. There is never enough time, there is always something else you have to do, there is never enough money, conditions are never perfect. If your heart is telling you that you need to be there, you need to find a way. pleinairconvention.com
It’s amazing what gets into our heads. I used to travel most of my year. Yet I have not traveled too much since COVID. I did do my annual June Adirondacks and Fall Colorretreats, and I did take a group to New Zealand. But for some reason I’ve been telling myself I need to cut back, travel less.
On Tuesday I decided to travel to Las Vegas to see one of my key employees receive an award of major importance from the Broadcast Foundation. I received their Broadcast Pioneer Award a decade or more ago, and Deborah Parenti was due to receive their Broadcast Leadership Award. I wanted to be there.
But as I was packing, I found myself reluctant to travel. I found myself looking for excuses not to go. But I went.
Not only did I make her special event, I reconnected with people I had not realized I missed seeing. It was a rewarding experience, and I found myself meeting new people, including some people I needed to meet, and some I hadn’t known I needed to meet.
Our heads can be a deep, dark place, and we can end up ruminating on things that simply are not true. Had I not gone on this trip, I would have missed out on some very rich experiences. I’m glad I went.
I want to take a second and tell you about Deborah Parenti. She had applied for a small role as conference coordinator for our radio division. She must have called me 30 times, and, yes, I found it annoying. But once she got me on the phone, she was amazing, and I immediately was drawn to her. So, a little reluctantly, I hired her.
Deborah is that person who always overdelivers. She cares deeply about the success of those she encounters, and she always accomplishes more than humanly possible. She is so good that I decided to back away from that division, which was my baby, and turned it over to her, making her president of the division. It was one of the best decisions of my life. She is very deserving of the award. She truly is a leader.
At the award ceremony, there were awards given to a couple of people who have passed on, including Rush Limbaugh and my friend Jim Thompson, a broadcast leader. Listening to acceptance speeches from friends or family, I had a moment of clarity. Life comes down to a couple of sentences when someone is honoring you. “He did this and that with his career, started this or that company, and helped these people by working with this or that.”
In the past I’ve written about writing your own obituary in advance, so you can get clarity on what you want to accomplish in your life. This was an eye-opener for me, because I realized I’m not giving back enough, I’m not helping enough people. I don’t think life is about the companies you founded or the jobs you held, it’s about the people you helped. I realized I need to do more. I’d love your feedback on what I can be doing to help others. I’ll listen. But if I do it, I may not talk about it…
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.” Matthew 6:14
I don’t want my name on a building. I don’t want to talk about my giving, I don’t want others to know what or how much I give. I do tell my employees part of it, because they need to know we have a bigger mission than just showing up at work. But otherwise I no longer share it.
There was a time when I’d want to announce it with trumpets, but I realized that if I did that, my giving might not have been pure and for the right reasons. I don’t want to give so that I look good (though my ego tells me I should). I don’t want people to like me or pay attention to me because they think I’ll be a big donor. So I remain silent. Laurie and I pray about where we can help, and we seek to make a difference.
We are often critical of organizations, churches, ministers, etc, about asking for money. I think it’s healthy to remain skeptical. But last week in church I heard this message that was so powerful, I think everyone should watch it, because it’s not about what you give but what you receive when you give. https://austinridge.org/sermons/what-do-you-get-out-of-giving
This Texas ranch house is shaking with the thunder that seems almost continuous from the massive storms. Water is pouring down in buckets as I sit dry and well-protected on the long wooden porch. Finally I can take a deep breath without inhaling pollen spores, since they’ve been dampened down by the rain. My heart is filled with joy, not only because of this day, but because I try to find joy even on the most difficult days.
This morning my mind took me back to 5311 Indiana Avenue, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. A little brown house my parents bought for $50,000 (today its value is $233,000). It was a model home for a new neighborhood called Woodhurst.
We would color eggs in the little kitchen the night before with my mom and dad. My brothers and I would wake up on Easter morning and have to find our hidden Easter baskets, and then we would become energy bunnies after eating most of the chocolate in one sitting. Then I would put on my little bow tie and my red sport coat, and I’d strap on my hidden James Bond 007 gun holster under my jacket and head to church. The problem, of course, is that it’s hard when you’re young to sit still and listen any time. But after a basket of chocolate, it’s doubly hard.
After church, we would usually go to my grandparents’ little house at 317 West Wildwood, the house my mom lived in when she was in high school. (There should be a plaque, because my grandparents and my mom were saints!) At all holiday meals, there were always “orphans” invited, usually family friends who were alone, widowed, or visiting town. Raymond MacPeek was always there. He served in the Merchant Marines with my dad and was always single. And Dellia, an old lady who was our other grandma; we’d known her since we were born. She used to live across the street from my Grandmother Rhoads, but when her husband and kids were killed, she was left with nothing, so my grandparents gave her a room and supported her for the rest of her life. I wonder if I would be so generous.
I feel like I was raised well by good people. They were not wealthy, but they were rich. They had hearts of servants. Their radar was always searching for people in need, people they could help. They were not selfish people; they always seemed to put themselves last.
What does it mean to serve?
I’m trying to learn this, trying to lose my sense of self and put myself last instead of first. I want to serve my kids, I want to serve my wife, I want to serve my friends, my community, and the people who support me in so many different ways.
My recent realization is that most conflict in my life comes from my selfishness, needing to be right, making things about me or my needs. How would we change if we put others first, before ourselves?
Look for Opportunities
Someone told me something recently that I had never considered… “Be on the lookout for opportunities to give.” At first it did not resonate with me, but then they said, “When listening to others, ask yourself how you can help them. What do they need?”
Too much of my life was focused on “How can I get them to give me something?” It used to be that way for me in business … how can I get someone to buy, how can I get someone to do what I need done? But an amazing thing happens when you flip your script away from your needs and totally focus on their needs.
It does not have to be about giving money. It can be about giving time, advice, experience.
My therapist friend tells me, “The best thing for depressed people is to volunteer to help others. Suddenly they forget about their problems and come to life by serving.”
Two weeks ago, I put serving more on my radar. Every time I talk to people I am looking for clues to how I can help them. Just last week a friend told me he had a family member involved in starting a new church. I could not stop thinking about it, so I asked him to introduce me to his family member and I called, asking how I could help. It turned out she was having a specific problem that she did not know how to solve, and though I could not solve it, I knew who could, and made an introduction. I had no idea what the need would be, but I just assumed they might need something.
Try it for just one week.
Starting today, listen for where you can help. Then offer to help. Offer to serve. See what happens. I was amazed at how much joy I felt when I looked at everything with the intent of helping others.
PS: I hope you have an awesome Easter today!!
I mentioned that I had a 007 holster I would wear. When I grew up I wanted to be a spy like James Bond. I had a toy secret briefcase with spy tools, and I had toy listening devices. It all seemed very glamorous. It does not appeal to me today; I wouldn’t make a good spy because I’d blurt out everything the first time I got caught.
I can remember my first James Bond movie, but I never imagined I’d ever meet a “Bond Girl”! I just learned that Jane Seymour was one of the early Bond Girls, so I’ll meet my first Bond Girl ever when she comes to Denver to attend the Plein Air Convention & Expo next month and help us celebrate our 10th birthday. I hope to see you there to work on your painting skills and to celebrate with us.
Nature’s colors are beyond anything any artist is capable of reproducing. The color harmony of this morning’s sky, filled with peach, pink, purple, green, yellow, and gray-blue. The spring greens on the twisty oaks, and the thick carpet of blue flowers, this year the best I’ve ever seen them.
I feel blessed to stare out at the backyard, the distant view, the deep lavender mountain, during a moment of perfect peace. I look forward to my quiet time when others still sleep, when it’s just me, my thoughts, and my faithful dogs.
Trying Something New
Two weeks ago, I tried something new. I decided to celebrate spring by asking people worldwide to join a broadcast from my backyard. I called it a global “paint-out” — a gathering of artists to paint. I invited some friends and ended up with about 30 local artists painting in my backyard, while we saw people all over the world watching and painting together. Suddenly the art world is flooded with paintings of one scene.
Doing a live event always has its challenges. Millions of tree branches were downed in the recent ice storms, and cleanup will be a yearlong process for many. And that means the quiet of this beautiful spot is interrupted by a symphony of chainsaws in all directions. For two days before the event, my neighbor, owner of a very large property, had a whole crew sawing away, so noisy I could not think.
Out of the Blue
When my producer came out to do a practice setup, he mentioned that the sawing was going to be a problem and would be picked up on the mics, which of course I had anticipated. So I walked over to the tree guys, got the name of their boss, and made a phone call, putting me in touch with the owner of the property by text. In a series of texts I mentioned two concerns: the possible change of our view, which could result in us looking into his home (and him looking at ours) and the noise during the broadcast.
My first text was not well received. He would do whatever he wanted to do, these are his trees. The tone, I thought, was overreacting and inappropriate.
My first reaction was to fight back, because bullies need to be challenged and not allowed to be bullies. But I took a deep breath and did not write what I first wanted to write.
Instead, I paused and said a quick prayer for guidance. I did not want to have a reaction rooted in my ego. Instead, I prayed for the man. I heard “Love your neighbor.”
My dad used to say you never know what’s going on in someone’s world. If they are having a bad reaction to something, it may be because of other things going on in their life.
In Another Man’s Shoes
I don’t know this man well, I’ve only met him one time, but I know he co-owns one of the world’s biggest companies, has tens of thousands of employees, and lives in a pressure cooker environment. He has to make tough decisions every day, and the last thing he needs is some neighbor blowing up his texts with another problem to solve, probably in the middle of a meeting. And who knows what else is going on with his family or his health?
So my response was firm, but in a nice way, not allowing him to bully but also loving and understanding. And the outcome was positive and unexpected.
My ego wants to fight. I don’t want to be told what to do. I want to be right all the time. But had I gone down that path, I would be at war with a neighbor. Instead, the situation was defused.
Does this sound familiar in your life?
Communication is one of the hardest things to learn. It’s always easier to just slam someone or be the bull in the china shop. But the breakage is high, and often irreparable.
Looking back, I can see dozens of times when my reaction was too harsh, or I was too rushed to take proper time to respond. Usually I was not being mindful of what others were going through or how they might perceive what I said.
Too many times it’s been a harsh e-mail, other times an e-mail or text not intended to be harsh, but taken that way. And the breakage has, in some cases, never been repaired.
“Take a deep breath,” I tell myself. Say a quick prayer and pray about the situation. And pray for the person you think is doing you wrong. Because when you do that, you are bound to see a perspective you had not considered.
Vulgar and Hurtful
I was once communicating with someone by text when suddenly he laid into me, saying some horrible things. It was the worst encounter I can ever remember in my life. It was vulgar, hurtful, and shocking. I honestly did not know how to respond. And I don’t remember now how I responded or if I just went silent. But a few days passed, and an unsolicited apology came in, stating that the man was an alcoholic, had fallen off the wagon, and had anger issues when he drank. It took a big man to admit that, and to apologize. And I said a simple thank you and have had no contact since — because, I suppose, I assume it will happen again. (And this is why it’s dangerous and foolish to drink and then get on your phone.)
Ego Out of Control
We are imperfect humans who often have a high opinion of ourselves. “Don’t you know who I am?” has been uttered by many of us far too many times. “I need to speak to your manager now!” “I’ll own this place!” “I’ll never be back!” and other silly things we utter in anger like spoiled children, usually to powerless employees at the restaurant or store we’re visiting when things don’t go well. Or we lash out on Zoom calls or drop F-bombs in meetings.
Stupid Management Tricks
I used to think, “My way or the highway.” I used to be the manager who had to have my way always, and I’d lash out when it did not happen. I’ve disrupted people’s lives by firing them on the spot when they were angry and stirring things up. But, thankfully, I grew out of that. Sometimes I want to do it, but I bite my tongue and try like crazy to be patient. And if appropriate, I’ll talk to them later, when I’m calm, to use it as a learning moment.
What if instead of reacting, you pause? Rather than firing back with a scathing e-mail, you tell yourself to wait 12 hours? What if rather than getting back or getting even, you simply stop, say a quick prayer, and try to see their side? What might they be going through?
The Biggest Loss You’ll Ever Know
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is to lose myself, lose my ego. Ego can be good because it can push you to do great things, but it’s also one of the most destructive forces on earth. If we can lose ourselves, focus on the needs of others, look for ways to love the unlovable, we’ll see new things open up in our lives that we never imagined possible. We can either be impressed with ourselves and try to impress others, or put all that aside and just be loving to everyone. I’ve never said it’s easy, but it changes your heart, changes everything about your life, and makes life so much easier.
Ultimately, my event still had the sound of chainsaws. For whatever reason, someone along the way decided to keep them going anyway. And another neighbor had a leaf blower going. It may have made the broadcast less pristine, but I wasn’t going to let it ruin an otherwise perfect day.
If someone ruins my day, I can live with it. My goal is to not ruin someone else’s day. What about you?
PS: The global paint-out was a big success. We had about 4,300 people sign up to watch or paint along, and we had people around the world taking part. It was fun, and different, and I learned a lot from it. I learned that I miss being around people; having local painters here at the house was wonderful. As a result, I can hardly wait to be at the Plein Air Convention, and a reunion of old friends and new.