Glance Sideways [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It came as quite a shock. Our beloved plant, Snake-In-The-Grass, was hosting a community of Gnomes and Faeries. We haven’t actually seen the Gnomes and Faeries – they are notoriously hard to spot. They are not fond of human beings since we are famously territorial and also so easily eschew our imaginations. Fearing all things “wild,” we generally erect fences and street lights, build dams and make management plans for “nature.” If we could see them, I suspect we’d notice how often they roll their eyes at us.

When I was playing the role of consultant in public school systems, I took note of a central mandate of the adults, playing the role of teacher or administrator: clamp the imagination of the young people, those imaginers playing the role of students. The students would enter the system with wide-open imaginations, free from limitation, and the oldsters found it necessary to kibosh or contain that wide-open meadow. This is not meant to disparage those actors playing the role of adults; when young, they’d been recipients of the imagination whammy, too. They were simply carrying on the tradition. The imagination is apparently considered a wild-thing so necessary of damming.

Dammed imaginations do not die, they distort. Imagination, as a wild thing, will run in circles when put in a cage. It will gnaw its leg off when caught in a snare. It will invent monsters and madness as it paces to-and-fro. It will get angry as it descends into madness. You might say that millions of Americans are gnawing their legs off, angry at the swirl of dark imagining run amok in their caged craniums, seeking reasons and someone-to-blame for their dark imagining. The caged imagination will lead all the lemmings over the cliff with the shout, “Where we go one, we go all!” It seems that we are awash in imprisoned imaginations howling to be freed.

I took it as a positive sign that the Gnomes and the Faeries took up residence in our house under the good protection of Snake-In-The-Grass. While the world outside our doors goes deeper and deeper into the cage-of-its-own-creation, the world inside our house seems to have become a refuge, a safe haven, for those beings still alive in their imaginations.

David recently wrote that he was dedicating himself to being a better artist. He’s been making art with his son again, a wild imaginer that has pulled his daddy (and me, too) out of our cages and into the open meadow. I can’t wait to see what David will do next. Who he will now become. What role he will shed. He’s already a great artist so the possibilities are…wild.

I confess that I regularly wander into the sunroom and glance sideways at Snake-In-The-Grass. Sideways – so they say- is the only way we humans can catch a glimpse of the Gnomes and Faeries. I want them to know that I’m looking.

read Kerri’s blog post about TINY MUSHROOMS

Listen To Claude [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In his 60’s, the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet went blind. Cataracts were removed, restored his sight, but also changed his capacity to see color. He painted in blues because he couldn’t perceive red and yellow. He was not fond of the paintings that he produced. He painted what he could see. Historians, on the other hand, credit his blue paintings as an important link to abstract painting.

We never really know the impact of our actions or our work.

The path paralleled a stream. As we walked up the mountain, she stopped often and took photographs. The sun on the water was enticing so she aimed her camera at the stream. “Look!” she said, showing me. “These look like abstract paintings!”

“They look like Monet,” I said. “Gorgeous.”

Whether they know it or not, artists are always having conversations with their artistic ancestors. I was amused at the idea that Kerri and Claude were having a chat. The world of a master painter, living before ubiquitous photography, meets they eyes of one who sees and quickly captures.

I was also amused that, through Kerri’s picture, Claude and I were having an exchange. “I love your blues,” I say. Claude responds, “Ah, but it’s the reds and yellows that make the blue so vibrant. Contrast principle,” he winks.

Excited, she returned to the stream to take more photos.

I turned my face to the sun. I breathed in the mountain air, the aspen leaves fluttering. I have not finished a painting since the pandemic began. “I feel empty,” I say to Claude.

“We paint what we see, ” Claude whispered. “Sometimes we simply cannot see.”

“Yes,” I said, “I am blind. But my cataracts are not in my eyes.”

“No,” Claude replied. “You are not blind, you see well enough. You’ve closed your eyes.”

“Lookit!” Kerri smiled, “These are so cool!” She shows me more water close-ups, a symphony in orange, blue and gold.

“Don’t worry,” Claude smiled. “When you are ready, you’ll open your eyes again. You’ll see a whole new world. New colors and shapes. More than blue.”

“You think so?” I ask.

“Isn’t it beautiful!” Kerri glowed.

“Do you see?” he smiled and faded into the photograph.

“Yes,” I laughed and nodded, “It’s really beautiful.”

read Kerri’s blog post about MONET WATER

images of water © 2021 kerri sherwood

Place It In The Hollow [on DR Thursday]

For some reason, people need to leave a trace of their passage. We paint on the walls of caves. We erect monuments to ourselves and our heroes. We build cairns to mark the way for those who come behind; we build cairns so others will add stones to the marker. We put plaques on benches and engraved bricks in walkways. We graffiti bridges and walls. Banksy has made a fortune tracing his masked passage.

Growing tired as we hiked up the trail, we sat on an old log. We looked over the valley, turned our faces to the sun. And, as we stood to continue up the trail, Kerri pulled a sharpie from her bag. We left two small dots on the log. “We were here.”

Our work in the world not only can be a marker, it is a marker. Every little action is a stone on the cairn: we contribute to the whole whether we like it or not. The person who delivers packages to my door makes my life better. Easier. The score of people who created this computer, invented this software, manufactured the chip that makes it all work, have made my life better. Someone coming behind us will see the cairn we’ve constructed and add to it. Improve upon it. The first computer I touched was a toy compared to this miracle sitting on my lap.

I’m an artist and sometimes wonder if my paintings will live beyond me or will they end up in the Goodwill as so much used canvas. I hear the advice, so often offered to me: “Yours is to paint them, not decide what happens to them.” Too true. Mine is to make the offer. I have no control over the acceptance.

Returning down the trail, Kerri peered into the hollow of a stump. It was filled with stones! Hikers, just like us, had left a note that also served as an ancient invitation: I was here. We picked up stones, the sharpie came out of the bag, scribbled a heart and a peace sign on our rocks before placing them in the hollow. “Do you think anyone will see our stones?” Kerri asked.

An ancient question. Deeply human. Heart and Peace.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE HOLLOW

three graces © 2012 david robinson

Know Why [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I’m working with a software start-up company. Upon returning from travels I found our conversation has shifted into articulating mission and vision and purpose. None of us are keen about writing these kinds of statements but the exercise is useful and necessary. Why do we do what we do? What, exactly, do we do? In that order. Why. What.

Why? It seems as if this should be an easy answer. To support other people. To support other people in doing what they need to do.

I couldn’t help but think of our experience last week. We shared our story of breaking down in Hays, Kansas. It was late in the afternoon. It was the day before my dad’s funeral in Denver. We hobbled into the dealership. They were jammed with customers and couldn’t help us. There wasn’t a rental car to be found. It looked bleak. The dealer recommended a garage on the other side of town. Davis Automotive. We limped into their parking lot. We told our tale. They moved heaven and earth to help. Why?

It was nearing the end of their day. They, too, were jammed. Yet, they helped. They took the time. They made our problem theirs to solve. They took to heart my need to make it to my dad’s funeral. My need became their personal mission.

I returned to work with a new view on mission statements. They need not be lofty or abstract. In fact, they should be visceral. Tangible. Everyday. Support other people in doing what they need to do. Why? Because they need it. Just like I need it. Or you need it. These good mechanics fix cars. That is their “what.” Their “why”: help people get where they need to go. Help people do what they need to do.

Help people.

It’s how interconnection works. My mission is, in a real way, to make your path easier just as your mission is to make my path easier. I need mechanics because I do not have that mind or skill set. They need software designers because cars are computers and they can no longer diagnose problems without them. I am an artist, a teller-of-stories. Mechanics and software designers need my mind and skill set to remind them that, beyond their role, their mission, their job, they are human beings living a universal story. Nothing they do will matter, nothing I do will matter – ever – if it is not in service to the support of others’ growth, or need, or desire or fulfillment. I cannot be fulfilled if my work does not support you. And vice versa.

So, why are these good men and women, these software engineers and entrepreneurs creating their software? They see a real need. They see people struggling. And, like good mechanics who encounter a brokenhearted son en route to his dad’s funeral in a truck that will not run, they know exactly what to do. And, they know why.

read Kerri’s blog post about SERVICE

Hold The Vision Lightly [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Тhe gentle overcomes the rigid.
The slow overcomes the fast.
The weak overcomes the strong.”

“Everyone knows that the yielding overcomes the stiff,
and the soft overcomes the hard.
Yet no one applies this knowledge.” ~
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

If there is a metaphor on this day – or a lesson – it is that a plan or a goal held too firmly is…not useful. Tom Robbins wrote that stability is not rigidity. Stability, like all aspects of balance, is dynamic, constantly adjusting. How’s that for a paradox? Stability is fluid.

My clan is gathering. We are driving a long distance to attend so have plenty of time to talk, to think, to remember. Kerri has lost both of her parents so I have many questions about the river of complex feelings running through me. Joseph Campbell said in an interview with Bill Moyers that “No one lives the life they intend.” I wonder what life my father intended? I think he was more capable of rolling with his circumstance than I, at first, understood.

There are no straight lines in nature and it turns out that we humans, we storytelling animals, are a part of nature and not above it. Our story of dominion is just that, a story. My dad loved to be outdoors. He tried to be a school teacher but there was not enough air in a classroom. He couldn’t breathe so he made a life out in the elements. His skin, at the end, was so sun-baked that it was brittle. He achieved his desire and his desire was simple.

I am, at this point in life, ecstatic that I didn’t achieve what I set out to do when I was 20. I actually thought I was a train on a fixed track and learned through derailing (a few times) that I needed to let go of my notion of the track. I found my artist when I let go of my artist. On this drive, en route to the funeral, I fully appreciate my wanderer heart and my compulsion to step off of edges. I could have done with a bit less chaos but am now of the mind that life has given me a master class in balance. It continues to teach me to open my hand and not hold so firmly to my ideas, my beliefs.

I am currently working with software engineers. They are building a system. It has rules and boundaries and limits. It has a guiding principle. It will do what it is designed to do. And yet, it will never be finished. It grows and changes almost daily. There is a master plan, but the vision does not blind the visionary or the developers to surprises. To changes. They learn as the software emerges. On one hand it is a foreign land to me and on the other, I know intimately how this land works. There are no iron tracks. No straight lines. The movement is in cycles and circles and every time we try to force it into a line, we impede the process, we inhibit the growth.

The lesson is always the same.

We awoke this morning exhausted. And, rather than push our way back onto the road, we sat and sipped coffee. We watched the sunrise. We decided not to put our day on an iron track. We appreciated our moment. So, there is some hope, some small evidence – some – that the lesson is taking root.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRACKS

Surface The Pattern [on DR Thursday]

Steve read my book and said he didn’t really understand the thing about pattern. His comment at first surprised me but then I realized he was actually reinforcing the point: we are unconscious to our patterning. We think in patterns. We see in patterns. Culture is pattern. Pattern is invisible and making it visible is a necessary first step in change processes.

The people who surface pattern are often seen by the mainstream as deviant or rebellious. Women demanding equal pay are attempting to make a pattern visible. The BLM movement is attempting to make a cultural pattern visible. Shining a light on longstanding oppression is never welcome in the halls of power.

The people who work to repress the visibility of cultural pattern, conserve the norms, generally claim a righteous superiority. They are keepers of the culture and feel threatened, even victimized, by the sudden visibility of cultural pattern. Exposure is always a threat to the existing pattern and no one relinquishes power or privilege without a fight. The current raft of voter suppression laws – made possible by the fantasy of a stolen election – is a great example. The Big Lie is a textbook example of how far people in power will go to hide a privilege-norm. It is, for us in these un-united states, not a new phenomenon; it is a longstanding well-guarded pattern.

Change happens when the patterns are surfaced. There will always be a tide that rises to extinguish the light of exposure. In the long run, those hardy voices that were, at first, branded as deviant or dangerous, we come to honor and respect. They refused to be silenced. We claim them as our heroes. MLK. Gandhi. Rosa Parks. Cesar Chavez. Susan B. Anthony. There are so many. It is no easy task to surface the patterns. The path of a light-shiner is dangerous and difficult.

John Lewis gave great advice for those dedicated to surfacing unconscious patterns: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” He also said that, “…transformation will not happen right away. Change takes time.”

Opening eyes to unconscious pattern, to what is obvious yet unseen, is an artist’s path. Seeing beyond what you think you see…seeing beyond your field-of-dedicated-belief, being curious enough to question what you are being told – can you imagine anything more necessary – more vital – in our age of rabid-misinformation and desperate-pattern-suppression?

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2018 david robinson

Feel The Rhythm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We lay awake in the night listening to the waves pound the shore. Boom. Rest. Boom. Rest. This lake that is sometimes glassy-in-stillness can rival the Atlantic Ocean in restlessness. It has many moods. It can turn on a dime. I have found great peace walking the shores. I have stood in awe as it blasted those very same shores, hurling boulders with ease.

When we were fortunate to live for a summer in the littlehouse, right on the lake. Kerri had to adjust to the constant sound. Her musician’s ears were caught in the rhythm of sound lapping the shores. Nature’s metronome. We teased about parking a piano on the back deck so she might compose an album of pieces set to the lake’s pulse.

The most striking visceral-revelation that I brought back from Bali is that we function together. Just as I am impacted by the lake, my pace and rhythm are impacted by the people around me. No one is an island. David Abram wrote in The Spell of the Sensuous that it is nearly impossible to meditate in the un-united states. We are an angry frenetic lake, fast moving wave. Changeable. I will always remember pausing at the custom’s gate re-entering the country. It was too much. Finally, I stepped through the doors and felt sucked into a chaotic turbulent whitewater river. It was months before I adjusted, before a walk down the street didn’t feel like a fist fight.

Columbus (my dad) would sit for hours each morning, on the porch. Listening. When I was younger I wondered what he was listening to – or for. He grew up in Iowa and came into adulthood moving to the rhythm of the corn. He lived his adult life in Colorado. It was a different rhythm, the metronome of the mountains. For many years he yearned to live where he understood the rhythm. He was, I think, listening for the corn.

When I return to Colorado I feel an immediate recognition. The mountains are the rhythm I was born into. Alignment. My original dance was a mountain dance.

Kerri and I are both transplants to the lake. Perhaps that is why we hear it so clearly. Jim E. told me that people go to the shore to stare into the infinite. We listen to the lake with the same awareness. The lake was here before me. The lake will be here after I am gone. The mountains, too. We are, of course, delusional to entertain the idea that we control it – nature. That we are somehow separate. Sometimes I think it is the artist’s job to bring proper perspective to the community, to pop the separation-notions – even for a moment – out of ego-brains.

This lake could hurl me like a pebble. It also brings peace to my soul. Stillness. We are not as distinct as we want to believe. That recognition is the single greatest blessing of artistry. It’s a circle dance. Just as my dad is disappearing back into the corn, I, too, will someday rejoin my original rhythm and fold back into the mountain.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

Attend To The Quiet [on KS Friday]

My studio is a place of quiet. Inside and out. It is the place where I go – where I’ve always gone, when I need to recenter myself of exit the crazy-brain. Lately, my studio has been blown to bits. Water has been a near constant invader, either from the ceiling when the pipe broke in the spring or from the floor when roots clogged the sewer main. Twice. It seems as if water wants me to take a break from painting. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Each time the water rises, the paintings rise, too. We scramble to move everything up the stairs. Mostly, they are stored on blocks so live protected above the rising tide – but pulling up carpet or clearing space for the plumbers has meant a perpetual studio deconstruction. Kerri stubbed her toe – okay, broke her toe – on one of the bigger paintings that now populate our sitting room. It’s a maze of paintings out there. Yet, she is wise. She’s insisting that we leave the paintings where they are, scattered here and there. At least for now. At least until we can clear out and rethink our space.

Kerri is much more sound sensitive than I am. I am much more spatially sensitive than she is. The sign on our deck, “Shh” addresses her need for sound-quiet. It’s all about space-quiet for me. Space-quiet means open space. It’s been that way all of my life: if there’s too much stuff, I shut down.

The water, as it turns out, is trying to tell me something. Lately, when I go down into the blasted-apart-and-now-empty-studio-space, I can breathe. I feel it every time I descend the stairs. I breathe. My space had become too impacted. Too many paintings, too many tables, too little space. “Shh.”

I’ve often written about the time, after I moved to Seattle, that I burned most of my paintings. I needed space. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was tired of hauling and storing paintings. I didn’t know what else to do. I needed air and fire brought it to me.

And, so, the water pours from the ceiling. It bubbles up through the floors. Again. What feels like a catastrophe comes with a cautionary message. No fire is needed this time. To attend to the space is to attend to the quiet. Stop. “Shh.” Breathe.

SILENT DAYS on Kerri’s album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL, available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about SHH.

silent days/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Look At The Display [on Flawed Wednesday]

Del and Dorothy’s house sat on the side of a mountain. It was small. The kitchen table accommodated two and was placed close – very close – to the front door. Dorothy cooked on a wood burning stove. The house listed to the downhill side. It had a small yard that seemed carved out of the mountain. Del’s WW II jeep sat close to the edge. Dorothy populated the yard with blue glass and hummingbird feeders. It was a quiet home. A peaceful place.

Artifacts of a time gone by. Del fought in the second world war. He kept a corner display cabinet with things he’d brought home from the war. A Luger. Nazi insignia. A flag. Patches and medals. Booty from the enemy. It seemed out of place, especially in a home dedicated to simplicity and peace. The display was a curiosity for me. Why enshrine in your home objects from an enemy-of-the-past? I wanted to ask Del about it but he was not a talker. In fact, while, 50 years later, I would recognize Dorothy’s voice if I heard it today, I have no recall of the sound of Del’s voice. I can’t remember him uttering a word. I never broached the subject of the artifacts.

Each day we receive an alert on our phone. Exposure Notification Available. Recently, when Kerri officiated a wedding, we both took two Covid tests to make certain, while also vaccinated, that we were negative. Dangling from a clip on the side of our refrigerator are masks. Many, many masks. We put in our special box the flag they gave us on the day we were vaccinated. Wave the flag if you have a question or need help. The artifacts in a time of pandemic, now so normal that we barely see them.

This weekend, with all of the observances of 9/11, I watched a tour of the 9/11 museum. A crushed firetruck. A shoe. Xerox pages with faces and the word, “Missing.” Del whispered into my ear, “Pay attention. This is why I kept my display.” The tour guide said, “So we never forget.” The Luger. The Nazi flag and insignia. The medals and ribbons. The reason Del and Dorothy retreated to the mountainside, the reason they simplified and built a life of quiet and peace, the reason he kept his glass-cabinet-display. So they wouldn’t forget. The horrors that people enact upon each other in the name of…righteousness, control. Superiority. The madness people embrace when they are angry or scared. The lies so easily told and so hungrily gobbled.

People are capable of great things. We know because those things are meant to draw us together. They unite us. Great art.

People are capable of appalling acts. We know because those actions are born of and meant to divide. They rend us apart.

Del lived through the full savagery of what people are capable of doing, one to another. He came home and with Dorothy lived an intentional life of quiet, on the mountain, out of the main. I’ve noted of late that Kerri and I talk often, dream, of a mountain retreat. We are witness of what people are capable of doing, one to another. We are also witness of and generators of the beauty meant to draw people together. Her music. My paintings. The things people are capable of doing, one for another. We are surrounded by artists and art. Both/and.

History repeats itself. The story is told – again and again – through the art and artifacts we display, the symbols we keep. The memories we carry forward. Guernica. Empty shoes. A simple mask.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTIFACTS

Compose [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago I attended a workshop facilitated by Sam, a brilliant landscape painter. I was delighted and amused when he demonstrated his technique. Rather than paint what he observed, he took great pleasure in rearranging the elements. He moved the trees, altered the hills, relocated the barn. He laughed while mixing up his elements. His eyes sparkled with mischief. Rather than a workshop on painting, the day became an exercise in joy-in-art. Seeing and playing with what we see.

This morning I read that the word ‘composition’ means “putting together.” Definers-of-art-terms associate composition with freedom. “The artist has freedom when choosing the composition of their artwork.” It is a mistake to believe that compositional freedom is the sole province of an artist. If the mind is a canvas then thought is a composition. It is patterned and composed. Arranged and rearranged. We choose where we place our focus. Point-of-view is cultivated, it is not a default setting. We design the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves. And, then we project it onto the world.

The trick in both art and thought composition is not to wear ruts in the road. Sam was joyful in his art because he was constantly challenging and engaging with what he saw. Art was fun, not morbid tradition. Art was delight-full, not rule-bound or laden with the pressure to capture. Recall that stepping out of the rut was the first lesson in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Morning pages and artist’s dates are meant to both see the ruts and open new paths. The same process applies to the thought-canvas. See the rut. Step out of it.

As Sam taught me so many years ago, seeing and playing with what we see begins with letting go of what we think we see. It begins with a blank canvas, an unfettered mind, and the freedom to choose the composition.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMPOSITION

Unfettered ©️ 2018 david robinson