Go To The Mountains [on DR Thursday]

For Mike, it was the ocean that called. For me, it was the mountains. When Columbus passed, more than a service, more than any gathering, I needed a walk in the mountains. I needed the quiet of aspen, the smell of pine. A moment in time, time that keeps moving through the monumental and the everyday. The trees and stream were here before I was born and they will be here after I am gone. I went to the mountains for perspective.

I am working with brilliant people. We are developing something that we hope will help people. Our conversations are genuine. Our intentions are pure. And, yet, how easily do we get lost in the minutiae. How often do we spin out into abstraction. Right now I have a unique perspective on life. I am in no hurry to get anywhere. I easily let go of my end of the rope in any potential tug-of-war. Will what we create actually help others? That is like asking, “Will they like my painting?” That is not for me to decide. Mine is to paint it. All I know is that our conversations are genuine. Our intentions are pure. None of the rest really matters.

I’ve decided to put two paintings into a local show. I’ve only shown and sold online since moving to Wisconsin eight years ago. I was tired. Before I moved, I had paintings in galleries or office spaces or bars or restaurants every single day for over a decade. I was moving or mailing paintings all of the time (and my paintings are mostly large). Once, I took 15 paintings, loaded on a cart, on the light rail. I arranged for a truck that did not show up and I had to deliver the paintings that day, within a specified time-window. I wheeled 15 large paintings down the street, onto an elevator and maneuvered them onto the train. The train-police came to make sure I meant no harm. We had a nice chat and I showed them my work. We laughed heartily at my delivery method. I wheeled them off the train and through a neighborhood to the gallery. “I’ll never do that again,” I said to the train-police when I wheeled my empty cart back onto the light rail. It all seemed so necessary, important.

A specified time-window. We only have so much time. The clock is ticking. The funds may run out. Will we get there in time? Will our/my work matter? Is the message clear? What is the message? What am I willing to do and not do?

And, so, I went to the mountains for perspective.

read Kerri’s blog post about PERSPECTIVE

Chasing Bubbles © 2019 David Robinson

See Through It [on Flawed or Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

Light passes through. Transparent. Trans; across or beyond. A prefix of movement.

Last night we had snacks with some pals. Our conversation turned to politics and how resistant we are as a nation to tell our full story. Opaque. The opposite of transparent. Impenetrability of light. “It’s just history,” someone said. “History is history.”

Narrative. With a point of view. The winners of wars tell one story. The opposite side has another tale to tell. History is never just history. A country as deeply divided as ours is warring over its history. What happens if we actually tell our full story? Who are we if we acknowledge our shadow? Shine the light or snuff it?

Boiling our times down to the essence, we’d arrive at these two words. Transparent. Opaque. Isn’t it always the way that people who have something to hide proclaim transparency? Isn’t it always the case that people who lie claim to be holders of the truth? Opacity is a tricky business.

I recently watched again Simon Sinek’s first TED talk. He said, “There are leaders and there are those who actually lead.” We could call it a simple truth: we know those who actually lead because they boldly shine-the-light. They are not afraid of being seen or seen through. They are, however, a threat to those who call themselves “leaders,” those that fear the revelations of light. Reveal-ations. Those leaders will fight to-the-death to maintain their opacity. They will sacrifice the greater for the lesser if necessary to remain opaque.

We are watching – and participating in – history being written. Our question – as has been true from the beginning: will we shine the light without fear of transparency or hide behind the wall of opacity? It’s just history.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRANSPARENCY

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

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

Stand In The Narrow Place [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Western civilization has been a 2,000 year long exercise in robbing people of the present. People are now learning the joys that hide in the narrow place of the hour glass, the eternal moment.” ~ George Leonard, Mastery

The observation has become something of a yearly ritual. Every 9/11, I hear or participate in this conversation: one day, people got out of bed, drank their coffee, brushed their teeth and went to work or boarded an airplane. And then, they never came home.

We are fairly smothered in sentiments about appreciating life, seizing-the-day, living in the present moment, take nothing for granted… “You never know.”

Quinn gave me his copy of Mastery. As was his practice, he underlined significant passages in red pen – and the book was a festival of underlined passages. For years I kept the book on my desk or beside my bed. I’d flip it open and read the red sections. They served as a daily meditation. They gave my busy mind something generative and hopeful to occupy.

George Leonard called presence, “the plateau.” Eckhart Tolle calls it “the now.” In one of the gospels NOT included in the bible, Jesus is reported to have said, “The kingdom of heaven is on earth but men do not see it.” The Way of the Buddha leads to the present moment.

What do we see if we stop thinking long enough to experience the present moment?

2996 people died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. These people could do nothing about what happened to them on that day. They brushed their teeth. They left for work or got on an airplane.

“You never know.”

This year, there was a new river-of-thought that ran through the annual ritual observation: the daily COVID death toll last week in these un-united states was above 1,000 a day. On January 7th, 2021, 4,147 people died of COVID. In the divided-united states, more than 660,000 people have died of COVID. World-wide 4,550,000 people have perished.

It’s impossible not to look at the numbers and wonder why-and-how we became our own terrorists.

In the past year, with the availability of a vaccine, with the proven effectiveness of masking and social distancing, these people, had they united with the help of their friends and neighbors, had choices. They – we – could have done everything to save their lives. We did not. We divided. 1000 yesterday. 1000 today. 1000 tomorrow. And growing.

Sometimes we know.

Appreciating life is – and always will be, at the narrow place of the hour glass – a community affair. In presence, on the plateau, the line between me and you blurs. It is the reason why all of those firefighters and first-responders ran into the towers that day. My life cannot be precious if I cannot see that yours is also precious. Why – on earth – on any given day – would I not do everything possible – anything possible – to protect your life? Why would you not do the same for me?

read Kerri’s blog post about BLESSINGS ABOVE GROUND

Offer The Chair [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Indeed, the effect of the forum is all the more powerful if it is made clear to the audience that if they don’t change the world, no one will change it for them.” ~ Augusto Boal, Games For Actors And Non-Actors

Many of my pals in the theatre turned their noses up at me when I began doing work in corporations. They thought I was yet another theatre artist doing improvisation-games with the terminally neck-tied. I was not. My work was more in the tradition of Augusto Boal than Keith Johnstone. Some of the best plays I’ve ever facilitated, some of the most profound pieces of theatre I’ve directed and witnessed, happened in board rooms, classrooms or conference spaces. Here’s how I know: the actors and audience were one-and-the-same. Their play was personal. When they left “the theatre” they did not leave the nice story behind and end the evening with a cocktail. They were disrupted. They had seen something that could no longer be ignored or deflected. The hard work was about to begin.

People yearn. People entrench. People plant their flags and claim the most ridiculous territory. I’ve seen teachers come to blows over an overhead projector. I’ve seen lawyers undermine colleagues to gain dominion over a swiveling chair. And, the chair or the projector are never really the issue. The issue is usually an abstraction. Pecking order. Boundaries. Alliances. People have killed each other over a pair of shoes. It’s not the shoes but the status the shoes represent. Abstraction and illusion.

People are generally unconscious about the reasons beneath their passions. I’ve met a score of dedicated meditation practitioners who meditate to control their thoughts rather than realize them. Once I led a group of teachers through the ritual they enact each morning before the arrival of their students. The question was, “What are you preparing to do in your day?” Their answer was unnerving and revolutionary: they were preparing to control the kids. Teaching and learning were secondary.

We are witness to a country-wide communal piece of theatre, an unconscious play. The issue is not the mask. The issue has never been the mask. The issue is, I suppose, people feeling out of control, imposed upon. Fearful. They are, with their bare faces, making a stand. Drawing a line in the sand. That “no one can tell me what to do” might as well be “I am losing control over my life.”

And, as is always the case, as with the office chair and the overhead projector, refusing to don the mask does not really address the real issue, it merely deflects it. The energy and action is focused on non-sense. And when non-sense rules the day, the action taken actually brings about the thing-most-feared. Loss of control. The pandemic continues, the children are being taken, the economy suffers, the community fractures. It’s a lengthy list.

The lesson in the office chair wars and the overhead projector games is always the same. No one wins. Everyone loses in a toxic tug-of-war. The chair might be yours today but it will be theirs tomorrow. The game only ends when one of the players offers the chair to the other or the projector becomes a reason to share. The same will be true of the mask wars. People will die, the pandemic will continue until the mask becomes a generosity. Then, low-and-behold, the virus will abate and real control over our destiny will be within our grasp.

I hope that, like the lawyers or teachers who were brave enough to walk into the real story, to stand face-to-face with a dysfunction, that we meet our story and ask, “Why would so many sacrifice so much over a little piece of cloth?” An overhead projector. A pair of shoes. A chair that swivels…

read Kerri’s blog post about MASKS

Meet The Saw [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As the magician saws the woman in half, he tells her that, “Magic is not an exact science.” It is among my favorite Flawed Cartoons.

“There’s nothing sadder than a forty year old production assistant,” she said, sipping her drink, looking across the room at a man she clearly thought was a loser. I was living in Los Angeles and was at a party with movers-and-shakers. The gathering also included a few of the people who carried the cables, loaded the trucks, moved the electrics – the lowest rung on the ladder. The runners. I swallowed hard. At the moment she said it, I was thinking the exact opposite. There is nothing more interesting than a forty year old production assistant. I wanted to be standing with the very man she considered a loser. He’d have stories to tell. Experiences to share. The movers-and-shakers bored me. Dulled by their dedication to security, thoroughly protected from the unknown or surprising experiences, they sneered at the people who’d actually lived. I found my way across the room and spent the rest of the evening sitting in the kitchen talking with a man who traveled the world.

Were I at the party today, she would look across the room at me and whisper, “Sad.”

Life is like magic. It is not an exact science. Ideals collapse. Dreams implode. Yet, the luckiest people I know are the few who have stepped out of their seats and volunteered to climb on to the stage. They’ve taken chances. Built wood buses or put their lifeblood into starting a theatre company or went boarding instead of dying in a cubicle. They’ve stepped beyond traditions and expectation. They’ve been cut in half, opened, challenged, surprised, disappointed, scared, triumphant, awed. They’ve learned. They’ve questioned their beliefs and perceptions. They’ve made titanic mistakes. They’ve stared down their demons. They’ve opted for curiosity rather than being right. They stepped off the edge. They followed, “What if…”

There’s no shortage of people who watch life from the safety of their seats. As Tom used to say, “They paint with a limited palette.” There are those lucky few who, if you see them at the party, most likely the people serving drinks, who’ve been cut in two and know from scary experience that there’s nothing more numbing or illusory than certainty. Follow them into the kitchen and ask about their lives. You’ll be amazed at the full spectrum of colors you find in them.

read Kerri’s blog post about SAWED IN HALF

flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson

Make Life Better [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately, the universe has pitched me headlong into a master class on efficiency. Maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort. A useful concept in certain arenas and an intensely destructive concept in others. For a person who’s spent his life in a study of curiosity, art, and the creative, it’s an unexpected study at this stage of the game. It is sometimes uncomfortable but I consider it an opportunity for balance. Artists rarely meditate on efficiencies. We’re more of a discovery clan and efficiency is generally the enemy of discovery. No one ever sailed to the edge of the world with efficiency-on-their-lips.

Once, I made the argument to a school board that daydreaming was highly productive. It seems a no-brainer to me that exercising the imagination should be highly valued in a learning environment. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity came to him in a dream about cows. It is not an accident that many insights and revelations come in the shower or while driving or peeling a carrot. Newton’s apple did not fall on his head while he was exercising maximum productivity. The mind, to be efficient, needs space to breathe, fields to roam. It is the most elegant of paradoxes but mostly lost on worshipers at the altar of efficiency. In the modern business world, efficiency is all about time since time is billable. You know the mantra: time is money. Do more with less. Somehow, we’ve turned that nonsense into a virtue, a thing to be desired. A reason to squeeze.

There’s another, more admirable side to efficiency-seekers. How to make work less arduous. Grease the wheels and remove the friction. Relieve the burden. Not faster but easier. Ann used to say, “Find a need and fill it.” She’d look at people toiling and ask, “How can I ease their struggle?” Beaky was that way, too.

Near our home there is a stretch of shoreline with an ineffective seawall. It was built with stones and debris that become projectiles when hit by forceful waves. The locals know to avoid that stretch during a storm. It’s deadly. After the storm, it has become our ritual to walk the path to see the destruction. It’s always impressive. How far can a wave throw a heavy stone? The answer: farther than you think. Mother Nature yawns when we think we can control her. The seawall has become my metaphor for human hubris but also masterful inefficiency. It would cost money to build a proper wall. So, instead, after each storm, crews collect the rocks and pile them back on the shore, readying them to be hurled by the next storm.

We saw a double-rainbow and turned toward the shore. Kerri never misses an opportunity to capture a little miracle or a slice of beauty. We parked in front of the seawall-of-inefficiency and I laughed out loud. A budding Banksy sprayed a message on the rubble: love. The secret message-maker could not have found a more appropriate word: Love. Can you imagine anything more inefficient and, at the same time, more potent? Love moves mountains but is not billable. It transcends time. What better reason to do anything? Well, perhaps reason has nothing to do with it and never has. Reason has the worshipers-of-the-efficient perpetually re-stacking stones.

It’s easy to be seduced but let’s face it, life reduced to billable hours is not life at all. On the other hand, there is nothing more inspiring, nothing more curiosity-invoking than asking, “How can I make life better for everyone?”

Love on a rubble pile. What could be better? On second thought, what could possibly be more efficient?

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVE ON A ROCK

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

Sit On The Curb [on DR Thursday]

As much as our wily-ole brains would like us to believe otherwise, we can be nowhere else but in the present. Everything else is imagination.

Years ago I belonged to a support group of independent consultants. We met once a month to discuss our business challenges, insights, and to give and receive some advice. One of the members of the group was a Byron Cady coach. I have no memory of the discussion that prompted her to offer this Byron-thought-metaphor: “If your house burns down, rather than race around in panic, the best thing you can do is sit on the curb and appreciate the moment.”

To the consumer-mind, wisdom often sounds like bad advice. That you are alive, that you have this moment, means that no real possession was lost. The question is, in the face of calamity, what will you make of the moment?

Brother Joseph told the story of holding a woman wearing expensive furs, each finger was diamond encrusted, as she died on the street. He was, in the moment, overwhelmed by the worthlessness of her stuff. The illusion of value once life has gone.

Life. This moment. Calamity is certain to come. Sit on the curb and see what is there, beyond what you think is there.

We’ve had our share of adversity these past few years. I would like to report that we laughed heartily in the face of lost jobs and broken wrists and pandemic madness and civil unrest. We did not. We shook our fists at the sky. We made up words and ran loops like Chicken Little. We invested in all manner of fear-of-the-future and ran from monsters-of-the-past. None of our racing around or fist-shaking brought comfort or change.

But, the moments that we took a breath, walked a trail or sat on the back deck and listened to the cardinals and crows, sipped hot coffee on cold mornings, held hands – sat on the curb and appreciated the undeniable truth of our moment: we have everything. We have this moment – the only moment of life that we’ll ever inhabit. We have each other. The rest, the fear of future, demons of the past, are pure imagination. In those moments, wrapped in a circumstance of calamity, we laughed at the beauty of it all.

read Kerri’s blog post about LAUGH IN THE FACE OF CALAMITY