Create Calm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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This word, calm, is a rare bird among words. It is a triple play of words: an adjective, a noun, and a verb. A descriptor, a thing, and an action.

If I had a superpower, it would be to calm. To create calm. To inspire calm hearts. Soothe, make peaceful, generate calm within and beyond the eye of the hurricane.

Last night we watched The Barkley  Marathons, a documentary about a wacky ultra-marathon trail race in Tennessee. Very few people finish the race. One of the racers, an unlikely finisher, told the story of how he came to be in the field. His dad did what he was supposed to do – he worked and saved all of his life so he might retire and then go have experiences. But – you know the story – he died one year shy of retirement. “I decided not to wait,” the runner said. “I want to suck the marrow from every moment of this life.”

Usually, the center of a delayed life smolders. Henny Penny races around the center-cage of a fearful life. But, you’ll know someone who is fully in their moment, who is sucking the marrow out of this tasty life, when you see them. Their center is calm. They are not predetermining their experiences. They’ve stripped off their “should” and “can’t.” Rather, they step onto the unknown field and open their arms to what comes. They play an infinite game, they play-to-play, and perhaps learn a little bit about themselves along the way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CALM

 

 

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classic ©️ 2013 david robinson

Put A Face On It [on DR Thursday]

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Strange times. The ukulele band that used to meet every Wednesday evening on our back deck now gathers on Zoom. The time delay makes it impossible for everyone to play and sing together but everyone has adjusted, adapted, and accepted the obstacle; the out-of-sync noise we make is beautiful because we are making it together. For me our noise has become an affirmation of the best of humanity in a time of celebrated ugliness: people are capable of reaching the essential when they want to. It is not the sound of the music that matters, it is the togetherness that is necessary.

It was a rough morning. We’ve been trying to find a way to safely go to Colorado to visit Kerri’s daughter and my parents. It’s been over a year. Kirsten wrote and asked us not to come. “It’s a COVID hotbed here,” she wrote. “With how cautious you guys are trying to be it doesn’t make sense to go to a place where people don’t care.” She lives and works in a mountain town, a tourist destination. “All the respectful tourists stayed at home like they’re supposed to so we have all the a**hole ones here, lol.” In the store where she works, people yell at her when she asks them to put on a mask. “It’s the law right now,” she wrote.

People, as we know, are capable of missing the essential. All across this land they are capable of not caring. The latest projection of pandemic deaths in America by November stands at 208,000. That grim number drops by an astounding 45,000 if, today, people started wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing their hands. If people, today, started considering the impact their actions have on the lives of other people.

45,000 lives. 208,000 people. Those numbers are derived from the best science, from data – you know – the stuff we choose to ignore. The real trouble with numbers is that they don’t have faces, they are without story. They are sterile. Their family groups do not mourn when one goes missing. A simple number: 45,000.  Never was there a massacre so simple to prevent.

Celebrated ugliness. An demonstration of all that is wrong with us.

The music is out of sync. People are capable of reaching the essential if they want to. But first, they must want to. It is the togetherness-in-action that is necessary, even if our togetherness means to agree to stay apart, to mask our faces. Caring. It is an affirmation of our humanity.

Without that, what is left? Numbers. Just numbers.

[This is a sketch of Kerri conducting one of the Zoom rehearsal. It is next up on the easel. The canvas is already primed and the charcoal image is in place.]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SKETCH

 

 

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winged ©️ 2018 david robinson

Read Marc’s Notes [on DR Thursday]

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One of my most prized possessions is a handmade notebook, stitched together by a young DeMarcus Brown, mentor of my mentor, in a time before corner drugstores and readily available school supplies. It is filled with the fading pencil notes Marc made when he was a student learning about color, probably in 1918 or 1919. It occurred to me as I wrote that guesstimate of time that he was scribbling notes about color during a pandemic.

It reads like an enthusiastic discovery of miracles. On page one the word COLOR is triple underlined. “Light is a form of radiant energy transmitted by wave movement through SPACE and is perceived VISUALLY. Opposite is DARKNESS. Qualities of Light: 1) Physically – Life giving. 2) Mentally – Intelligence. 3) Spiritually – Divine Wisdom.”

From Marc, on page one, on day one of his study of artistry, I learned that color is life giving, intelligent, and a source of divine wisdom.

“Objects reveal light.  All forms and substances REFLECT or ABSORB LIGHT. THINK OF COLOR AS LIGHT REFLECTED.”

There are other words and phrases: vibration, proportion, visual sensation, light is individualized by its contact with substances into color. COLOR is Light PROPORTION.

All of this awe is written in block letters on the first two pages. His enthusiasm is palpable. As you move through Marc’s notebook of discoveries, his writing shifts to cursive, he matures in color and intention. His passion intensifies. He is beginning to see.

Toward the end of his notebook, in his growing sophistication, you’ll read these phrases:  “Train our eyes to DEGREES of Neutrality. Establish relationships of Intensity. Hue. Value”…and a reminder “vibrating surface!”

The stitching that holds the notebook together is impeccable. Beautiful. Careful. Considered. It took him time to make his notebook. It mattered.

I can’t help my metaphor mind from finding a universe of guidance in Marc’s notebook for a nation that perpetually struggles with color – or, ironically, the negation of color. The fear of color relations. A commitment to a narrative of dominance, this or that but never both. A palette of loss. We’ve limited our color study to a polarity and eliminated the infinite shades of possibility in the picture we might paint. Insistent chiaroscuro.

What happens when the door of possibility opens? When change, that big blank canvas, sits on the easel?

In the middle of his 90’s, Marc gave me his paint brushes, his paint box. “Use them!” he said, “Don’t save them for remembrance.” He knew I was sentimental. “Reverence is off limits. These are not meant to collect dust on a shelf.” He laughed, “Use the damn things. Don’t be safe!”

Color. Vibration. Relationship. Proportion. Life Giving. Intelligent. Divinely Wise. Walk into the unknown. Learn to see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COLOR

 

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Gather Around The Fire [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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An unseasonably cool June evening. We sat around the fire. At social distance and wearing masks. Friends. “It’s so odd,” we said more than once. Eyes and assumed smiles. Muffled laughter. “I’ll never again take for granted a hug or being able to sit close together around the table,” she said. “It’s the little things that I miss.”

Fire is elemental. Water. Air. Earth. And, sometimes, Spirit though I think the 5th is always implicit. Friendship is elemental and spirit-full. Especially when the world is off center. It is a forge for strength and determination. Our friends, so generous, feed air into the fire. Support. Encouragement.

As we talked through face coverings about our newest daily obstacles, I wondered how hard it must have been to communicate across distance with smoke signals. Measured fire. Kerri said, “My mask is slipping again! There must be something wrong with my face.” We laughed and made up problems with her nose.

So much fire on the streets across the land! Transformation is afoot! Creative fire is out of the barn and teasing the status quo. This hot fire illuminates. It smacks of a ritual fire and, if properly honored and tended, can set us on a new path. Dark corners revealed and more than simply acknowledged, truly addressed.

Prometheus stole fire from the gods to spark life into his new creatures.  To ignite breath. Humans, made from earth and water. Four elements, come together. He was punished for his transgression. The spark lit an entire forest fire of humanity and creative potential. Beings capable of looking at the elements within themselves, at asking each other in magical moments, “How can we be better?”

All of this wonder and wandering on an unseasonably cool summer evening. Meeting with friends across a fire. A sip of wine. In earnest, we ask the question of each other, through our masks and across our distance, “How can we be better?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KEEP THE FIRE BURNING

 

 

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Pop Your Bubble [on KS Friday]

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There is a sad mantra in the not-for-profit world: people don’t give money, time, or attention to “causes” until the cause impacts them personally. It has to be personal – it has to be MY son-with-cancer or MY daughter-who-was-shot-at-school or MY community-that-has-no-grocery-store in order for us to care beyond the superficial.  In other words, it is someone else’s problem until it knocks on MY door.

The word “cause” provides some cover – it keeps the cancer at arm’s length. It abstracts and sanitizes. The word “poll” does the same thing. Throughout this pandemic we’ve actually reduced the reality of the virus to a number that indicates personal belief, which has nothing to do with the virus and everything to do with whether or not  it has penetrated your personal bubble. To date, there are over 2 million bubbles impacted and, of those, 113,000 deaths. That is 113,000 people who, on New Year’s Day 2020, had every reason to believe they’d see 2021. Their belief number sits solidly at 100%. Their family’s belief number is way up there, too.

Masks have become a split symbol – or perhaps better stated, a symbol of our split. Wearing a mask is meant, as we all know, to protect others. It is not a measure of personal protection which is perhaps why it is so messy an issue here in these United States. We’ve somehow managed to transmogrify a gesture of protecting our neighbors into an assault on individual rights. It is not merely a consistent problem, it is a national pattern. The pattern plays itself with great symphonic insanity every time we have another mass shooting and can do no more than offer condolences to the dead.  It is the river that runs beneath the richest and most innovative nation on earth and its inability to provide affordable (or any) health care to its citizens. We keep ourselves brilliantly schizophrenic by insisting that this abundant creative citizenry is only capable of considering two choices. EITHER individual rights OR what’s best for the community! BOTH/AND is nowhere to be found. “We” is the word we run from.

This morning Kerri read an article about a server going back to work at a restaurant. She does not feel safe. Her customers are solidly in their bubbles caring only for their dining experience and not their server’s health. Our daughter supplements her life by bar tending and serving. Kerri cried. It’s personal.

She chose her song for this week’s melange in that moment. EVERY BREATH. And, ironically, it is found on the album AS IT IS. The present condition. Every breathe; as it is. It reads like the I-Ching: The air you breathe. The air I breathe. No difference.

One bubble. And, like it or not, believe it or not, we all inhabit it.

 

EVERY BREATH is on the album AS IT IS. Find it on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERY BREATH

 

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every breath/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

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Stand Still And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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~Beloved by Sam Magill, from his collection of poems, Fully Human

Today my thoughts return again and again to Sam, a secret poet, a bard, a believer in the goodness of humanity. Sam knows that a wound, when properly honored, can lead to something far greater than mere healing.

He would look, as we do, with awe at the ferns. He would giggle at how quickly they change color with the light. He would delight in the frog that magically took up residence in our pond. He loves, as we do, the things of this life that live beyond explanation.

If you asked Sam what we need do as our cities burn, as a pandemic rages, as leadership fails and the face of inequity stands naked and unmasked, he might tell us to do nothing. To stand still and listen. “The hard crusty soil is cracking open,” he might say, “there is new growth struggling to push through.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FERNS

 

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Face The Sun [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Walking the river trail I couldn’t help but whirl in the contradiction: everything has changed and nothing has changed. While the world of people is awash in pattern disruption, the rest of creation is following the script exactly.

Spring. The muddy season. The world pops green just as we knew it would. Just as it did last year and the year before and the year before. I believe our backyard ferns are growing 6 inches a day. Even the daily Dog-Dog assault cannot deter their reach for the sun. Life returns from darkness. Demeter sings at Persephone’s return.

If you seek an affirmation of life come sit in our backyard. The bird song will lift your spirits, these flying shocks of color will make you giggle with delight. Vibrant yellow, a cardinal more salmon than red. My eyebrows cartoon-pop in disbelief. We sit facing the sun in our broken Adirondack chairs and drink in the warmth.  “This doesn’t suck.” I say, eyes closed, basking in appreciation of the sun as it reaches to my bones. I’m certain I said the exact same thing last year and the year before that. Rituals of renewal need not always be solemn.

Sometimes I think this game of life is really an exercise in focus placement. I can choose to see the world as the work of Hieronymous Bosch– and sometimes I do. Beautifully horrific. Or, I can swivel my lens to Georgia O’Keefe and look at the wondrous small things, the miracle of nuance and the close-up. Sometimes, when I am at my best, I turn my eyes to see as Ellsworth Kelly did, when he imagined his chapel of light. “I think people need some kind of spiritual thing,” he said.

And so, with the vibrant greens popping, the screaming yellows flying, the blue-blue of a cloudless sky, tender lettuce leaves breaking through topsoil, I find myself surrounded by a Hieronymous Bosch narrative cycle but with just a little refocus, I am stunned by the grander cycle of marvel and mystery in this Ellsworth Kelly world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

 

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Let The Pieces Fall [on KS Friday]

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“It is the paradox of spiritual growth that through such bleak midwinter journeys we eventually come through a hidden door into a bright field of springtime that we could never have discovered otherwise. This is the heart of the mystical. It is not about building protectionist armour of prayer and religion; it is, rather, the courage for absolute divestment. In the sheer vulnerability of Nothingness everything becomes possible in a new way, but there is an immense temptation to flee back to the shelter of old complacency. Now could be the most important moment in life to steel our courage and enter the risk of change.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

Parcival returned to the place in the deep woods where he’d stripped off his armor. Was it yesterday? A year ago? Two? He couldn’t remember. While he searched for the place he remembered with satisfaction the battles he’d waged, the ogres he’d defeated. The mission he’d served. He longed to once again inhabit that simple clarity, that single focus.

His old armor was not hard to find but it looked nothing like he remembered it. No longer shiny and hard, it was brittle with rust and covered in moss and vines. Nature was reclaiming it. Still, he wanted to put it back on. He wanted to forget the reasons he took it off in the first place. The loneliness. The fear. Forever fighting the lost cause, the imagined foe. He wanted to remember the good and ignore completely the painful parts of the story.  He could go back! He could be the great knight once again.

His vision crumbled like his armor when he attempted to pick it up. Going back was a fantasy. Retreating back in time, donning again his old armor,  was perhaps the final ogre to fight. Like all of the other ogres, it, too, was an illusion. He let the rusty pieces fall back to the forest floor.

Now, allowing the full force of his vulnerability, the utter absence of role or definition, he no longer yearned for the tight closure of what was, but wholly surrendered to the expansive, the infinite and uncontrollable new.

LONGING on the album AS IT IS is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LONGING

 

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longing/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

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See The Whole [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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The joke from my master’s program was that you couldn’t graduate until you could explain in a sentence what the degree meant. Whole Systems Design with an emphasis on Cultural Mythology and Transformational Art. I designed an individual track so I named the emphasis myself. Just don’t ask me what it means. I’ll kill the party going on and on and on. You’ll never get to the snack table. Really. Don’t ask.

Whole systems is the study of how everything – everything – is interrelated. It is only a trick of our brains and the limitations of language that anything can be compartmentalized and understood as separate. Everything interacts as a single system. Roger used to say, “When people hurt their toe they say that it is only their toe that is injured. NO! It’s their whole body that is injured.” Walking funny with a broken toe always gets you in the back and then becomes a pain in the neck. And then you become a whiny pain in the neck and create headaches for everyone in the family. The family complains to their friends and the broken toe spreads discord throughout the land.

Roger’s statement is a whole system’s statement. It highlights the illusion language places on our interrelated world. Language necessarily reduces. It provides the funny fantasy that we are separate, individuals, having little or no impact on the world with our individual actions. If you want an example of the fantasy in full force you need look no further than doubters of humanity’s impact on climate.  All you need do is breathe and you are interacting with the environment. 7.6 billion people driving 1.4 billion cars, not to mention the over 100,000 planes in the air each day, the deforestation of the Amazon…and it is gob-smacking that we require science to state what should be obvious with every breath we take.

I found that the real challenge of defining whole systems design to people at dinner parties was not the reality of inter-relatedness. The notion evokes the inner Mother Teresa in everyone at the table. We all matter and can have an impact. No, the real challenge was that the concept places us – humans – within the system and not sitting atop the creation pyramid. It makes us participants and not landlords. It makes us responsible to the system.  We matter. We have impact.

There is no greater teacher of interrelation than this pandemic. There can be no denying that our actions matter, we are intimately connected, that the smallest choice impacts the whole. Stay at home. Wear a mask. All you need do is breathe and you are interacting with the rest of the world. Literally. Everyday is a master class in interconnection. The polluted air is clearing, the animals are reveling in our quarantine.

And, we’re experiencing the magic language-compartmentalization-game in full force: words like “economy” are being placed against words like “health” as if we need to choose between one and the other. Who lives. Who dies. We’re hearing a ridiculous (and dangerous) framing of reality: the cure can’t be worse than the disease. There is no separation. The system is whole, dynamic and supports the actions and choices of all members in the system.

The toe is pandemic-broken. The whole body is hurting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TO BEE

 

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Find The Deeper Impulse [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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See a penny, pick it up. All that day you’ll have good luck. 

I saw a penny in the parking lot of the UPS store and, wanting to have a full day of good luck, I swooped down and picked it up. Kerri, horrified, said, “What are you thinking? Put that down!” I was marched back to the truck and slathered myself with hand sanitizer.

My penny swoop debacle in the parking lot of the UPS store is how I mark the beginning of the pandemic. It was the first time that the danger of a simple action, touching what someone else had touched, penetrated. The penny dropped [sorry – I couldn’t help myself]. It was early in this experience called pandemic, before masks, before social distancing. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. And, above all, leave the good luck penny on the pavement.

And it seems like years since I touched that penny.

My penny swoop was an impulse. Kerri asked me what I was thinking but I wasn’t thinking. I was riding on the instinct train. The child-rhyme ignited my luck desire and I went in for the grab. And, isn’t that the real hardship of this pandemic? Quashing the impulse to hug your friends, to walk toward your neighbor to say hello, to let the kids play together, to stop in the store and chat with acquaintances? 20 stands outside  his mother’s assisted living apartment; she stands on the balcony and they shout to each other. Each day I watch Kerri override the deep-mother-instinct to run and find her children, all-grown-up-and-moved-away.

It’s unnatural, this veto of instinct. And, it is what makes us human. It is natural to run from danger and yet doctors and nurses everyday walk into hospitals during this pandemic. They walk into exposure. First responders, police and fire people, everyday put the public safety above their own. It is what lifts us into our humanity; placing the needs of others above our own. It is what we celebrate, what we admire. What we claim as our highest ideal. People giving of themselves for the benefit of others.

We call that sacrifice. We call it service. We call it sacred. We  call it grace and generosity. We go to houses of worship and proclaim it. We make movies about it. Frodo must destroy the ring of power for the benefit of all. Otherwise, he twists in his selfish personal power lust and becomes like Gollum. This tale is universal for a reason.

And, I suspect that I am wrong. The survival instinct has a deeper nature. Soldiers talk about it just as first responders do: in the moment of real danger there is not a question about throwing themselves on top of their companion, sacrificing self to save the other. It, too, is an impulse. A purer survival instinct. It is not an override.  It is, when all else is stripped away, what we are.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PICKING UP SPARE CHANGE

 

 

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