Sit In It And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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When the world seems upside down – as it does often these days – we retreat to one of our favorite sanctuaries, a place of quiet where we can walk for an hour or so beyond the noise and division of the day. Our beloved Bristol Woods.

A few weeks ago, we retreated to the woods and came upon two curiosities. First, something that looked like a large wooden dunce cap, like some bratty giant was made to sit in the corner for disrupting class and, after his punishment, tossed his cap into the woods. We climbed in it and wriggled through it. We sat in it and absorbed the autumn sun. Napping in the dunce cap, we made up outlandish stories about what it could possibly be and how it came to be in our woods. If not a dunce cap then certainly it was a megaphone of epic proportions!

And, it turns out that we were right. The naturalist told us at the nature center it is a nature megaphone. Sit in it and it amplifies the forest sounds: leaves rustling, squirrels scampering, trees swaying, branches clicking, chipmunks darting. Disgruntled, the naturalist said, “They moved it so it points toward the highway and now it mostly amplifies the road noise. There couldn’t be a worse spot for it!”

Curiosity #2. Why would they move the megaphone to the worst spot? To a place where it amplifies road noise instead of the sounds of nature as intended?

Pocking our route through the woods we saw trees marked with red tape. Red and green flags were planted in a line cutting across the woods. Occasionally, trees were marked with ‘caution’ tape. “I think they’re going to tear down the woods,” Kerri sighed. Not possible, I thought. It’s land set aside for sanctuary. It’s written into their slogan: ‘Putting People In Touch With Nature.’

But, it turns out that Kerri was right. An aerial adventure park is coming soon. “The board says it will bring more people -what the means is more revenue – to the woods,” says the naturalist, her face turning red.”Does it make any sense to tear down the woods to bring more people to the woods?” she asks. “It has nothing to do with the woods. Do they think we’re idiots? It’s all about the money.”

And, it turns out I was right, too. Well, I was partially right. A bratty giant is disrupting the classroom but instead of being made to sit in the corner and consider the ramifications of his actions, he is quite simply removing the classroom. No self-reflection  required. He will eliminate Bristol’s reason for being. Horatio jumped into my mind with a simple and sad statement, “It’s all upside down,” he said. “If it doesn’t make money, we don’t value it.”

I didn’t say it. Wittingly or unwittingly, the megaphone is now a metaphor. It is in the perfect place to amplify what is now most valuable in our very upside-down world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BRISTOL WOODS

 

 

 

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Pivot [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I learned many things following Skip through the curious world of technology entrepreneurism. Peculiar terms like ‘incubator” and “accelerator,” once reserved for premature babies or the gas pedal in my car, were reassigned to ideas: ideas in need of nurturing or, more remarkable, ideas pumped up with steroids and released ravenous upon investors (who were also ravenous but more composed by virtue of their power position).

Among the most important lessons was this: despite the best incubation, even with warp speed acceleration, the best idea, the best product, was probably obsolete the day it hit the market. Someone, somewhere in the world, had already improved upon it. A better mousetrap has little or no shelf life. And so, I also added to my vocabulary a new understanding of the word ‘pivot.’ I love how similar an entrepreneur’s terminology is to a ballet dancer. Pivot, move, fluid, flow, swivel, turn, revolve. Keep your center. Keep your eyes on the spot or you will grow dizzy and fall. The spot is not the individual product, the single idea. It is the business spawned from the idea. It is the ongoing relationship with relevance/obsolescence.

Those in my age group are distinguished by our dance with obsolescence. Graphic designers, publishers, musicians, educators,…artists. We are distinct in having one foot in an analog world – I prefer easel and canvas to stylus and computer screen –  and the other foot in the digital tsunami. The art is innate. Relevance is another story entirely. Reinvention (another word for pivot) is a necessity. Entrepreneurs and artists are not so different.

After seeing our melange post on Surfing Uncertainty, Master Marsh  reflected that surfing uncertainty was more than a design, it was my credo. Horatio jested that I was either a dilettante-from-hell or a bodhisattva. I laughed. Illumination seems a bit out of my reach. I think technology makes dilettantes of us all!

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read Kerri’s blog post about ART ALREADY IN ME

 

www.kerrianddavid.com

 

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i was came into the world with art already in me ©️ 2016/2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson

 

Enjoy The Chase [on Chicken Marsala Monday]

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It’s always an interesting exercise to revisit past work and see it through eyes of the present. It ‘opens’ in ways that were unavailable when the work was first produced. That’s true of my paintings and Kerri’s music. It is also true of our Chicken Nuggets. We created most of these single panel “nuggets” two years ago – along with a full cartoon strip for proposals to syndicates.

My present-day eyes see essences. For instance, this Nugget perfectly encapsulates the the work I do with most of my coaching and consulting clients. The growth happens when the sheer enjoyment of the chase takes precedence over the obsession on the catch. The catch is temporary, passing. The chase is infinite. It’s the chase that matters.

Shift your focus. Said another way: It’s not the achievements. It’s the relationships that matter. It sounds like so much hoo-ha, a Hallmark card philosophy. Yet….

Joseph Campbell said that people think they are looking for the meaning of life but in truth they are looking for the experience of life. The experience of life is found in the moment, in the relationship, in the chase. Meaning is always found in the experiences, not the other way around.

On this Chicken Marsala Monday, shift the focus of your eyes. Embrace a simple dose of hoo-ha, enjoy the chase. It is what matters.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post on IT’S NOT THE CATCH, IT’S THE CHASE THAT MATTERS

 

www.kerrianddavid.com

 

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it’s not the catch, it’s the chase that matter/products ©️ 2016/18 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Ask Why

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a detail of my painting, Know That You Are Waiting.

Marilyn told me that she spent the day with her 3 year-old granddaughter. The little girl, like most children her age, peppered Marilyn with the question, “Why?” In her reenactment, after trying to answer the multitude of “Why?” questions, she laughed and said, “I don’t know! That’s the way it’s always been done!” It’s a perfect loop! Sometimes there is no answer to the question, “Why?”

Many years ago Peter Block wrote a great little book called The Answer To How Is Yes. A lifetime of corporate consulting left him perplexed by the pervasive leading question, “How should we do it?” None of his clients ever asked, “Why should we do it?” “Why” was nowhere in the equation.

Asking “Why?” takes time. It slows things down and often requires some soul searching. It lives on the vertical axis of experience, the axis that reaches into the depths and knows no black and white answer. Also, asking “Why?” sometimes leads to the scary profit-challenging twin question, “Why shouldn’t we do it?” The question, “Why?” moves a business and the people that populate it out of reactionary practices and into intentionality. With intentionality comes ownership of action, responsibility. The legal department is dedicated to keeping the conversation away from “Why?” Responsibility can be costly.

People are no different than the organizations they create. We avoid the same questions for much the same reason.

In my life I’ve sat through countless meetings while boards-of-directors asking, “How do we get more people to buy/attend/support our art/business/cause?” I finally made it a practice to stop asking the troubling questions, “Why should people buy/attend/support you?” and “Why are you doing what you are doing?” Usually those questions invoked embarrassed silence or worse, a regurgitation of the company’s value statement. We are valuable because we say we are.

Skip used to tell me that a company isn’t valuable until it serves the customer’s customer. I liked that sentiment a lot: value is service as expressed through two degrees of separation. It is also an orientation according to what is given, not what is received. Serve. It’s a loop with a natural answer to the question, “Why?”

Artists of all stripes, churches, politicians, etc. might find a different understanding of value if they (we) applied Skip’s rule to their (our) plays/symphonies/paintings/dances/businesses. Why? To Serve.

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a detail from my painting May You

Maybe we all just need to be three-year-olds and ask “why?” more often. Maybe the best questions, the ones that make the most sense, are the ones that can’t be easily answered but require us to slow down and challenge doing what we’ve always done.

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Put Down The Hammer

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The woman behind the counter at Starbucks, someone I’d never seen before, leaned forward, and chirped, “David! I loved your wedding!” She laughed at the look of confusion that must have crossed my face and added, “No, you don’t know me.” One of our invited guests brought her as a date. “Best wedding ever!” she exclaimed as Kerri joined us. Because the day is a blur, Kerri and I enjoy hearing people’s accounts of our wedding day and she enthusiastically told us of her experiences. It was nice. It was personal.

We took our coffee to a table and joined some friends. After a few moments, the woman behind the counter came to our table. She brought some samples, some health supplements and cosmetic products, “I only do this Starbucks job for the health insurance,” she said, “This is really my business,” she said, sliding the tiny packages in front of Kerri. “You never know who might be interested,” she chirped and blushed before making an exit. It was awkward. It felt awful. We went from personal to prospect in one inelegant step.

There is an old saying that came to mind: When the only tool you have in your box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Many years ago, in a time of great financial desperation, I worked with some financial folks who recruited me to sell their stuff. I learned their processes, got my licenses in record time, and for a few horrid months, tried to sell their wares. I hated it. The work was highly profitable but the cost was highly destructive. Everyone looked like a prospect. To every social encounter, every friendship, every casual meeting, I brought an agenda. For a few months I looked through a lens that made every person, every circumstance, a commodity-opportunity. It reduced life (my life) to an ugly basic. It was toxic. Anna taught me the very appropriate word for what I felt: vampiring. It was a great lesson. It made me pay attention to the intention I bring to my life.

It’s what the woman at Starbucks felt, too. She was desperate. She, like a former version of me, sold the greater need to satisfy the lesser. Vampires are insatiable and stuck in an untenable lifeless-lens: everyone looks like a food source. Desperation is like that. It is easy when desperate to sacrifice friendships for prospecting. No one likes to be a food source.

As I perused this years bountiful crop of ugly images of Americans fighting and crushing each other for cheap toys and electronics, the annual product-stampede/people-crush-and-fist-fight on Black Friday (formerly known as Thanksgiving), I couldn’t help but think about the Starbucks lady. Desperation wears many masks but always makes others look less-than-human. Communities thrive when they feed each other and die when they feed on each other. This is not a mystery.

Commodity is supposed to service community, not the other way around. Vampiring is the only visible path when community loses itself to commodity; it inadvertently tosses away its many tools and leaves itself with only a hammer. It’s a question of order as much as a question of values. There is nothing wrong with commodity when the order of value is respected. Without a WE there can only be a very confused, desperate, and lonely I. It should not come as a surprise that desperate and lonely people do desperate and lonely things.

This is the season of the return of the light. We need do nothing more to create the miracle than put down the hammer and look at others as if they are more than nails.

[to be continued]

Answer The Question With A Question

carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram at Changing Faces Theatre Company

Many years ago at the start of my career I bumbled into running a summer theatre company. It would become one of the great gifts of my life. At the time I decided that it would be my laboratory. I’d be able to experiment with directing processes and actor training techniques. What I didn’t realize until much later was that I would also be running an experiment in business and, more importantly, how to create a community mindset of support and empowerment (and, therefore, achievement). I was free to succeed because I gave myself permission to focus on the quality of the process instead of worrying about hard and abstract words like ‘achievement.’ My bottom line was the inner growth of everyone in the company, the inner growth of the community that we served.

When the company was up and running, when it was mature, company members swept the parking lot because they knew it would make the play better (improving the audience experience always impacts the performance). The people running the box office prided themselves on their kind service and efficiency because they knew that it would make the play better. The actors understood that they were in service to the play and not themselves. In fact, everyone in the company was in service to something bigger than themselves. That was the culture of the company. When pushed to articulate the success of what we created together, I’d say, “We’re focusing on the important stuff.”

Yesterday with great intention I sent that phrase (focus on the important stuff) out into the e-stratosphere. I lobbed it in association with the company that Kerri and I are in the process of creating to see what would come back at me. Like the summer theatre company, this new venture is our laboratory. What came back was the question, “What’s the important stuff?”

Sometimes the only way to answer a question is with another question. Take a look around your world. Take a moment to look at the difference between what you say and what you do. What do you see? What do you want to see? Big power comes to people when, like my company members (students) of so long ago, they realize that their “seeing” isn’t passive. The greatest single power any human being has is to choose where they place their focus. The greatest single revelation any human being has is to recognize that what they see impacts everyone around them. No one does this walk alone.

the very first painting in the Yoga series. It was an experiment, a walk of discovery. It's also about being alone

the very first painting in the Yoga series. It was an experiment, a walk of discovery. It’s also about being alone.

It’s easy to place a focus on an obstacle. It’s very easy to fix a gaze on the problems. It’s easy because, left alone, believing we are alone, that’s where most people default. Place yourself in a community that knows there is something bigger, something more important to see and serve, and the field of possibilities becomes easy. My company members of so long ago didn’t know what they couldn’t do so they did everything they imagined. That was only possible because they imagined it together. So, answering a question with a question, to you, what’s the important stuff?

 

Focus On The Important Stuff

an offer from TwoArtistMakingStuffForHumans

an offer from TwoArtistMakingStuffForHumans

A note from the temporary site of TwoArtistsMakingStuffForHumans:

The waxing moon was muted with fog. It made the air shimmer. Avalon was near. Although it seemed too soon, there was a hint of autumn in the air. We sat next to a chiminea talking to friends. Monica told us of her daughter working in villages in South America. She told Monica that, by our standards, the people there have nothing. They are possession poor. But, they were happy, genuinely happy. They didn’t have much money or stuff but they had the essential thing that many of us lack: peace of mind. They focus on different, more important stuff.

It brought to mind my experiences in Bali. When I arrived all I could see was the poverty. By the time I left several weeks later, I’d have given everything I own or will ever own to have what they have: presence. Ease of mind. They weren’t looking for fulfillment, status, or living for retirement. They were living. Life was fulfillment. In a world where all things are sacred, status is gained by the quality of your giving and not by the size of your piece of the limited pie. It is a different focus.

There is a hidden cost to what dominates our focus, the things that take our attention…as opposed to the things we pay attention to.

As artists, both Kerri and I believe the work of our lives has been, one way or another, to help people focus on the important stuff, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary moment, to find inside what people seek outside. We’ve both worked across the boundaries of business, art, and the fine art of living everyday, there is no lack of necessity to refocus the eye, mind, and heart.

In a few weeks we will be launching our business (details to follow). All the many aspects of our work – if you can call art a product and performing a service – are intended to support, exercise and pay forward a focus on the important stuff, the important moments…sometimes the teeniest things that in the chaos pass unnoticed.

We want to do for others what we do for each other. Check out our pre-launch coaching offer. Take us up on it! Or, if you know someone who might benefit from working with us, pass it on, pay it forward.