Dream [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

When does a dream turn into a goal?

Lately, I’m having conversations that confuse me. Business thinking, engineer minds, make models for creation. Creativity plans as action templates and guides.

Screen writers make plans, too. Step outlines. The difference is in the process. A creative mind makes models and plans with full intent to throw them away. To discover the best story, their plan involves making space for the better idea. Open up by tossing the model. Clear the deck by shuffling the plan. Sketches and rough drafts. It’s a conversation with the muse. Muses are notoriously structure resistant until the story makes an audience sit forward. Movement first. Then, the structure begins.

The engineer mind works in the opposite direction. The dream must wear the mask of a goal or it is considered invalid. Too squishy. Construction begins immediately with targets and tasks. Order. It is, in fact, the same process as the creative mind, only it is less forgiving of space. It forces the muse to move. Time is of the essence. Structure first. Then movement. Efficiency is a tree with shallow roots.

It confuses me. Dreams do not wear ties or leather shoes, yet, scrape the blueprint and you’ll find a dream every time. Perspective requires stepping away from the canvas. Standing too close for too long and loss of vision is the result. Every time. It’s not a mystery or voodoo. It’s physics. Great ideas and idea-break-throughs happen in the shower or walking on the trail. A clear mind. A different focus creates space. Too tight thinking, too close in for too long, sucks energy.

Once upon a time I worked with organizations and educators. They also confused me. Squeezing the air out of their space they’d gasp, “We can’t breathe.” A little bit of space, some play, a refocus on the relationships was good medicine. Fresh air. Step back and see the painting. The point of perspective is to see. The secret: permission to remove the status games and need to be an authority and, for a moment, reconnect the players to their dream.

At the nucleus of every goal beats the wild heart of a dream.

read Kerri’s blog post about DREAM

Dump The Suit [on DR Thursday]

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” ~ Lao Tzu

Lately, I’m on a Lao Tzu quote kick. Have you noticed? An advocate for a simple life, his words – or those attributed to him – appeal to me at this moment in my walk.

The outstanding characteristic of my working life is that I have mostly been a sore thumb, the person in the collective who doesn’t belong to the collective. That’s been my value: I am the consummate outsider. I do not sit on the mountain so I can more clearly see the mountain. The alternative perspective. I’ve not always found that to be a comfortable role. For instance, alternative perspectives are invited into conversations but the alternative perspective, when voiced, is rarely welcome. The first response to the alternative perspective is almost always an emphatic whisper, “Conform!”

I have, my entire life as the sore thumb, been told that, “Our people will never do that!” or “They don’t think that way, therefore you must conform-modify-edit…” The emphasis is placed squarely on the limit, the notion that “They can’t…” or “They won’t…”

And, I’ve never found that to be true. In fact, that’s precisely the perception that a sore thumb is hired to challenge. “They” can. “They” will. The job of the alternative perspective is to emphasize the possible, to open paths to the not-yet-imagined, to the revelation of, “We didn’t know we could do that.” Or see that. Or feel that.

In order to walk in an alien world, the sore thumb necessarily steps into the unknown. The first step is to listen and learn: to open to the possible within themselves, to challenge the inner-limiter. The alternative perspective lives on a two-way-discomfort-street with their client.

It is never comfortable to “not know.” It’s never comfortable to say, “I have no idea what that means.” However, it’s a great exercise, a necessary practice. And, it’s actually what the alternative perspective is paid to do and to model. “We didn’t know we could do that,” are words that come after a step into discomfort, a step beyond the known limits. “We step together because we both know how this feels.”

The alternative perspective is never right or wrong, it is simply an alternative. “These are the patterns I see. They may be useful or not.” Conformity bristles when the unknown beckons. Conformity is safe, and the emphatic whisper, while meant to maintain comfort for all, is the line that a sore thumb is hired to help the whisperer cross, “The possibilities we seek live beyond this line.”

The first day I put out my consultant shingle, I bought a suit. It’s what I thought I was supposed to wear. I bought my suit because I’d snagged a client, a financial advisor who wanted me to work with his staff. He’d seen my work – he’d seen me work – in another context. After the job, he asked me, “What’s up with the suit?” I’d always been told by well-meaning teachers that I should “dress for the job I wanted,” so I told my client that I’d dressed for the job. He gave me some great advice: dump the suit. “I want you to show up as you are, not as the person you think we want to see.”

His words became my mantra.

Truth: I hated that suit. I felt like an imposter wearing it. My client gave me a great gift. Be content to be yourself. Challenge the inner-limiter. Inner-limiters are very loud, and like outer-limiters, are generally not worth listening to; they will always advise you to conform, say nothing, and put on an ill-fitting suit.

[Happy Thanksgiving]

read Kerri’s blog post about GOURDS

tango with me © 2018 david robinson

Go To The Shoe Room [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I managed the theatre conservatory at PCPA Theaterfest, I occasionally gave backstage tours. It was great fun because the favorite stop on the tour – on every tour I gave – was the shoe room. Visitors always enjoyed standing on the stage, they were impressed with the scene and costume shop, they delighted to watch the prop master at work, but the moment we entered the shoe room, they were transcendent. Wide-eyed and giggling, pulling period shoes from the shelves to show their companions, it was as if they’d entered a candy store. The magic was released through the shoes.

The shoes, I suspect, harkened back to a time of dress-up. Childhood. The shoes touched their spirit of play. They beckoned to be worn and, as any actor knows, the shoes will inform how a character moves. The sooner you don the shoes, the sooner you will “find” the character. The shoe room was a portal to possible-other-lives.

I am more enamored by sketches than I am by final drafts. I delight in watching master craftsmen and craftswomen work. Theatre artists do not create illusions, they provide access to other worlds, unknown paths. They invite us to the shoe room to try on another life, even for a moment. The process, to me, is more beautiful than the performance.

As we walked the paths of the Botanical Gardens, the technicians were preparing for the festival of lights. Walkie-talkies crackled. Connections were checked. Battery packs were carefully placed. Multi-colored light strands ran like rivers up the trunks of trees. E-candles on armatures floated in the waterways. Magic was in the making. During the daylight, the entire expanse of the Garden is backstage – exposed wires and explicit design. At night, the mechanics will fade behind the light curtain. Backstage will become fore-stage. The light will invite us into another world. The light will touch the spirit of play.

I have always believed that people, lurking behind those serious faces, really just want to play. It’s the reason I kicked off my shoes every time I entered a room to do a facilitation. Lose your shoes and it’s no longer a serious affair. Play threatens. Play is suddenly a real possibility. The spirit of play cracks even the most harden entrenchment. Play necessitates collaboration and sharing. Pirates and Princesses need mates and parrots and knights in order for the world to be complete. Lawyers will take off their ties and wear them as headbands when the shoes come off and the serious topics are approached in socks and bare toes.

I recently – as we all have – been privy to an endless contentious debate about what this nation needs to do to get back on track. I believe it is not so complicated. We can carry on our oh-so-serious-division, but the single rule should be that no one can open their mouth – politician, pundit, and pedestrian alike – before first taking off their shoes.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT STRANDS

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

See The Spaces [on DR Thursday]

The space around and between. Shapes that share edges. Emptiness that provides definition. In art it is called negative space. Not-the-object. In art classes, students draw the negative spaces in order to see or to learn a new way of seeing. Try it. See the holes and the space around the leaves as primary. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Some folks use the term “air space” because they get snagged on the word “negative.” It’s a term of opposition when set next to “positive.” Yet, just as there is an electric field that flows between negative and positive ions, electrons and protons, there is a field that flows between negative and positive space. Yin and Yang. A dynamic polarity. A creative field of movement and energy. The air space is alive because of the perceived opposition. The positive space is not visible without the negative.

When I was a consultant, I used the phrase “the space between” to imply relationship. There are people. There is the space between people. Relationship is invisible but it defines the people. Relationship illuminates the otherwise unknowable individual. They are impossible to separate. In a community obsessed with nouns, bottom lines, test scores and individual rights, the verbs and the relationships often go unnoticed and unappreciated. As if the negative space didn’t matter. The space between is where the movement lives and the problems are solved. It is where new seeing is possible. It is created and creative. The word “community” lives in the space between.

Try it. Take a day and focus on the space between. See relationship as primary. You may experience a whole new way of seeing.

20 sent this image,a memorial. It makes the point.

read Kerri’s blog post about NEGATIVE SPACE

iconic ©️ 2010 david robinson

Exit Stage Left [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is a love story. This is how the love story began:

I knew the moment Kerri looked up from her computer that we were in trouble. She had THAT look in her eyes. She spun her computer around so I could see: a photograph of a performing arts space on a little island up north. They were looking for a managing director. “We could do this together,” she said.

I was opposed to the idea. I’ve run theatres and theatre companies. For an entire era in my life, I seemed called to restore them when they were on the verge of collapse. This felt like a step backward. It would be the smallest company I’d ever worked with. It had obvious and ominous warning signs of rip tides and undertows.

However, I’ve seen THAT look in Kerri’s eyes a few times and I’ve learned that it is best to either get on the train or get out of the way. We interviewed. We visited. The first time we stepped into the theatre I saw something – beyond words – return to Kerri. She walked the auditorium like it was sacred space. She stepped onto the stage and fell deep into imagining. Life rushed into her. How could I oppose that?

Initially, we turned the job down because it made no financial sense. It made even less practical sense; we’d have to move on island for six months every year, take unpaid sabbaticals from other work. Kerri grieved. Literally. I could not understand the depth of her loss. To me it was yet another job with yet another non-profit that was cracking below the water line, which meant too many hours for too little pay featuring a bottomless to-do list and a board of directors resistant to patching the holes, let alone reconstructing a seaworthy vessel. Standard fare, par for the course, yada-yada.

Kerri wept. What was this about? The image of her walking through the auditorium, hands brushing the seats like they were magic blossoms, haunted me. “They’ll come back to us,” I told her, “no one else is crazy enough to consider this job.”

A month later they came back with an improved offer, still impossible but closer to feasible. They could find no one else that was crazy enough to consider the position. Love is a kind of insanity.

We took the job. That is how this love story began.

Yesterday was our final day on the job. Today is the day the story ends. In many ways it was exactly as my crystal ball predicted: a non-profit that was cracking below the water line, too many hours for too little pay featuring a bottomless to-do list and a board of directors resistant to patching the holes, let alone reconstructing a seaworthy vessel. I am a systems guy; the organizational system behaved like all systems behave. In our first 3 months we had 3 different board presidents. Big battles. No surprises.

Yet, my crystal ball missed the prediction in one very important aspect. The most important aspect. This was not merely standard fare. It was a love story. The incredible people we met, the adventures we shared, the mountains we moved, the dark starry nights, the ominous power of the lake, the deer, many lessons we learned…Kerri stood on the stage and fell into deep imagining. Everyday. Life rushed into her. Everyday.  This may be the day the relationship ends but we leave, she leaves, filled with new imaginings, her heart breaking, full of love for this magic space, brimming with life.

 

[Kerri made this as a parting note for TPAC]

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EXIT

 

 

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Constellate [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Just outside our favorite island gem, Fair Isle Books, is this poem by former Wisconsin poet Laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen. We have stopped at the shop more than once and reread the poem.

our lonely stars though bright
and strong will quickly fade

unless we string the stars
together   choose illumination
then in constellation hope is ours

bring on another day
sing light in common song
~constellation by bruce dethlefsen

It is a lovely poem and captures perfectly how we now see our work on this island. In our short tenure it has become abundantly clear that the people in our sphere most often work as “islands.” Islands on island. That is, although very well intended, few actually recognize the impact of their actions (or inaction) on others. It is part of the evolutionary dna of the place. Everyone works multiple jobs. Divisions and territory define the island arts organizations.

I have long held (and experienced again and again) that the arts cannot thrive in a community until the artists turn to a common center, recognize a shared purpose, and realize that one cannot thrive without the other. Thriving is a team sport. If one theatre creates a large audience then it creates audience for all. If one painter sells a painting, a market is created for all. Reaching into the common space, facilitating shared experience, is what art is meant to do.

If an arts community falls into the mistaken notion that its members compete for limited resources, they will inevitably define themselves by their limitation.  The center turns to a battle ground and the art is diminished. Dog-eat-dog has no place in the sacred space of art.

It is why we visit the poem. The necessary guide star is already here. “Our lonely stars though bright will quickly fade unless we string the stars together – choose illumination – then in constellation hope is ours.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CONSTELLATION

 

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Play Again Please [on KS Friday]

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I just broke the first rule of the melange. I peeked over Kerri’s shoulder to see what she was writing. It’s true, she misses her piano. It’s true, last night, as we were closing the theatre, after a day of high anxiety, she walked onto the dark stage, opened the 9 foot grand piano delivered for the chamber music festival currently performing from our TPAC, and began to play. I sat in the dark and listened. Her anxiety and frustration transformed. She nurtured herself into artistry. And, once again, as I always do in these moments, I thought what a pity it is that I am the only person on this planet privy to the full breadth and depth of her artistry.

Streaming services, although great and free for listeners worldwide, have filled artists like my wife with a gigantic Why Bother. The streaming services are making a great living off of her music. More than a million people each year listen to Kerri’s compositions. She profits not at all. The streaming services stand between her and the money her music produces. They toss her less than a bone.

She just wrote that she misses her piano but I think it is more than that. I think she misses the vitality, the good heart that grows inside an artist when they produce, when they challenge themselves, when they explore new territory and bring what they find back for the rest of us to hear. It nurtures the artist. It nurtures the audience. Left unexplored, an artist’s heart fills with anxiety and depression, it closes against the pain.

Last night, after the chamber music had died, in a dark theatre, I listened to a second concert. It was more powerful than the first because it was pure. It was an artist talking to herself, reaching through the Why Bother door and touching, even for a moment, the answer: because it nurtures you to play. It nurtures you to create. I know it nurtures me to listen.

 

NURTURE ME on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART  is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NURTURE ME (and don’t tell her I peeked)

 

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nurture me/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

cropped head kiss website copy

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!

if you'd like to see TWO ARTISTS copy

 

 

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