“Astoria” and How to Be Death-Defying

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“Astoria” tells of Herculean effort: the dual expedition to the Pacific coast in 1808 shortly after Lewis and Clark made their journey. When Artistic Director Chris Coleman first came across the book unveiling this history, he asked, “How have I never heard of this?” And in typical Chris Coleman-genius-fashion, he found a way to adapt it for Portland Center Stage.

It’s a sweeping tale. One expedition sets sail, seeking the Northwest Passage via South America, while the second expedition pushes across land by foot, horse, and canoe. The adventures are harrowing, and the miscalculations and misery and deaths along the way are ominous. The man behind this two-journey scheme is John Jacob Astor, an entrepreneur determined to cash in on the Northwest’s number one resource: fur. He’s in such a hurry to get on with things, he makes less than optimal choices of leadership, while ensconced in his stuffed armchair back east.

Astor appoints Jonathan Thorn as the ship captain whose staunch military training takes black-and-white thinking to a horrifying extreme. Ben Rosenblatt plays the role compellingly. As for the land expedition, Astor appoints Wilson Price Hunt, a greenhorn businessman barely qualified to lead a camping trip. His constant waffling makes every bad situation worse. Another great performance here, by Shawn Fagan.

I imagine Astor to say: But what can you do? Brilliant, courageous, survivalist, self-sacrificing, resourceful, ambitious, determined, daring, death-defying, hardscrabble, relentless, mountaineering-and-seaworthy leaders are hard to come by these days.

Near-misses, hard choices, selfishness and self-sacrifice all come into play. It’s a harrowing saga which recounts many near-deaths: being scalped, or gulping down moccasins to avoid starvation, or swallowing seawater in a storm-tossed rowboat.

Why would anyone sign up to go through that? I kept asking, witnessing the perils of each crew. How can greed be such a compelling force? But it wasn’t greed for everyone. It was survival. The hirelings who made up these crews were dirt-poor immigrants or persecuted natives or out-of-work sailors. So they made up their minds about what they had to do.

To not risk, meant dying.

As the play closed, I stood with the rest of the packed audience in a resounding ovation. I felt relieved that I didn’t have to fight fatigue, starvation, disease, hypothermia, attack by natives, treachery. How comfortable my life is.

I have nothing compelling me to take my life in hand and journey across an unknown world under brutal conditions.

Being a creator, my mind quickly goes to the landscape of my writing. I’m okay, so I don’t write as if my life depends on it. If I don’t get my stories or thoughts out: so what?

Creative discoveries may be awaiting as if on a jagged peak or along a swollen river, or in a meager encampment. These are things that deep down I believe I was meant to experience, but may not, without conviction.

Could I willingly sign myself up for emotional peril: pain or embarrassment or the mental anguish of writing my story?

In Letters to a Young Poet (translated by Stephen Mitchell), Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”

I don’t want life-or-death choices, I want my hot bath and my lavender chamomile tea. I don’t want to reveal my stories if it means rejection, judgment, scoffing, or the worst: being ignored.

Those who move the world are these brave ones underneath it all, acting because they must, carving pathways, creating change, for better or for worse.

Time to rethink what I want, and to want risk.

What this reminds me is that it’s time to take the lead of my own creative journey. There’s only one choice of leader. And if she’s going to be a good one, it’s entirely up to me.

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Photo credits: Kate Szrom

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Teachers Who Help You Be You

Lee's art

Watercolor by Lee Baughman

Thinking today about my art teacher, Lee Baughman, who has made such a difference in my creative life. The best teachers are the ones who support you being you. They don’t insist that you become carbon copies of their work or that you echo their preferences.

Lee has helped me discover my own voice through watercolor, collage, and mixed media. Although Lee is specifically a watercolor teacher, his focus is on helping each student find the tools to develop her own unique voice. With this support, I’ve found immense freedom to grow and play and experiment, and I’ve recently discovered a new teacher who has infected me with the joy of pastels. Thrilled to be learning from Jane Aukshunas.

Teachers and mentors like Lee remind me how much I want to help writers become more themselves. Not to travel the path that I would like or expect, but to lean into their own storytelling vision and follow where it leads.

This is why I get excited when my writers “graduate” from working with me, and move on to other classes, teachers, writing styles, and schools. I don’t own their growth–I’m simply here to witness and boost as they build on their strengths.

No matter where the creative journey takes us, we always hold our first teachers in our hearts. They are our angels.

Similarly, when I run into a student from a class I taught years ago, I revel in our shared connection. It never ends.

Heroes like Lee Baughman have granted free reign to my artist soul, and I’m grateful to offer the same freedom to my students and clients, those beautiful writing souls in my world.

Thanks, Lee!

 

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My Creative Journey: Gratitude for A New Guide

I feel beyond lucky to have a new teacher in my life: Jane Aukshunas. Her paintings are magical and vibrant and playful and nature-inspired and radiant. (Those of you who know my art will be able to see right away why her work resonates with me.)

Whenever you try something new, that old, badgering critic waits in the shadows, ready to pounce at the first mistake. Poised to tell you how unpoised you are. Crouching for the kill.

When a gentle, inspired, positive, passionate teacher guides your process, the critic doesn’t get a chance to criticize. What I loved about working with Jane was that she kept offering new materials, ideas, and perspectives. She showered her students with possibilities, so the creative sparks could fly.

So even though I felt awkward about working with pastels for the very first time, Jane ignited my confidence.

X Marks The SpotEvery hour or so, I was learning a new material, throwing down new lines, making a discovery. It was intoxicating.

Jane offered timeless artist quotes as well as her own wisdom. She can see what color is needed in a painting, just by stepping back and becoming aware. I love adapting her techniques and inspirations. They make me feel brilliant!

Also, having many beginnings meant that I could take them home and continue working, continue practicing.

The emerging creations make me happy.

A good teacher is one who colors your world.  Thank you, Jane!

Creative Storm by CJKrug

Art on Exhibit – Gallery 360

I’m tickled pink – and blue, and gold, and scarlet – to have my  watercolor and collage at Gallery 360 this month.  I hope you’ll come and enjoy the stunning work of many Clark County artists and mosey on over to my three pieces, too. Here’s the announcement post card:

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