Get To Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On page one of the despot’s handbook is this instruction: silence the artists. Mute the intellectuals. Authoritarians have power only when people become sheep. Silence in the face of abuse is tacit agreement. Permission to bully.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve stood before a school board and explained that art is supposed to be powerful, that it plays a very important role in a healthy society, I’d have a lot of nickels. I was generally called to speak when a play or a painting upset the apple cart, when the art made the community confront a truth or look at a reality. Brecht’s Epic Theatre or the plays of Artaud were/are meant to shake the irrational in people, force them into discussion and revelation.

Art can be beautiful, poetry can soothe, but that is only one side of the coin. It can also shine a light and expose an ugly truth. It can give voice to what is not-being-spoken. It can work out problems on the stage instead of sending the violence into the streets. It can ask us to take a hard look at ourselves and our motives. Picasso’s large painting, Guernica, a response to horror wrought by fascists on the people of a town in Spain, is a powerful art-mirror.

The conscience of a community, like the conscience of every individual that comprises the community, lives beyond the superficial, it bubbles in the place beyond words. An artist’s job is to reach into that place, pull the veil for a moment, root or re-root the community in its values.

A despot’s job is to secure a unanimous vote, no questions asked. Sheep.

Art is not superficial. It is not the image or the words on the page. It is what the image, the words, the dance, the music, touch. Hearts. Souls. Conscience.

Without it, what remains is propaganda. Propaganda is never news, it is the opposite of art. It snuffs the question, it prevents the quest for meaning and deep-felt-truth. Without it, communities flatten, lose their center, wither, and fall apart. Silence, eyes downcast or sideways glancing. Permission to bully. Sheep.

It’s time for the artists to get to work.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS

Fly The Middle Way [on DR Thursday]

a watercolor sketch for Icarus

My call with Norm could not have been better timed. For some reason I’d recently dipped my toes into an old thought-pool and our conversation was like a ripple across the water. He is working with a team dedicated to self-empowerment, articulating purpose, making better relationships and a better world. I laughed as he reminded me of a younger version of myself.

A few days ago I wrote a phrase twice on a piece of paper. My Whole Life. My Whole Life. The phrase could mean “my entire life.” It could also mean “my flawless life.” I’m hard-pressed to conjure up a single example of someone who considers their life-story whole.

The words “purpose,” “power,” “voice” and “strength” populate the contemporary quest through the wasteland. We seek our power. We search for our unique voice. We hire coaches. We consume curriculum. We attempt to tune ourselves to wholeness like we tune our cars for the road.

There is a profound lesson in all of the great stories [stories are terrific guides…] and it is simply this: you can’t find “it” out there. You already have “it” and will, if you are lucky, realize “it” when you give up the search. Stand still. Feel the sun on your face.

The penny dropped for me while working with a group in the Netherlands. Everyone – every group I’ve ever worked with – wants to know “how?” There must be a prescription! What are the guaranteed six techniques to personal power? John O’Donohue wrote,“The gateway to our deepest identity is not through mechanical analysis.” In other words, there is no prescription. There isn’t a list. There are no tools to fix what is broken.

Parcival had his illusion shattered. The more he fought the dragons the worse the wasteland became. The grail castle came back to him only after he took off his armor, only after he completely relinquished and forgot about the fight.

None of this is to suggest that the search is ridiculous. It is not. It is a necessary process step in the cult of the individual. It is a necessity for people who believe themselves to be powerless to climb on a warhorse and ride into a personal hero tale. The knight will also need to flee from or fight with the inner-dark-anti-hero, the one who cries “fraud” or “loser” or “worthless” that serves as the shadow, the balance point of every power quest. The more he fight the dragons the worse the wasteland becomes.

“Let go of the hero,” Harald taught me, “and the anti-hero will also disappear.” Then, and only then, do we find the the middle way and the selflessness that comes with it. Some traditions call “it” presence. Some call “it” illumination. Some call “it” self-actualization. Some call “it” getting neutral or detachment. Some call “it” wholeness. Most locate “it” in the middle way.

Icarus did not listen to his father who warned him not to fly too close to the sun as it would melt the wax holding together his wings – and to not fly too close to the sea as the water vapor would make the feathers of his wings too heavy for flight. “Fly in the middle,” Daedalus cautioned. “Fly the middle way.”

Icarus, so the story tells us, became enamored of his ability to fly, so lost in his new power, that he soared toward the sun. Only when he was plummeting from the sky did he remember his father’s caution, “Fly the middle way. Fly the middle way and live.”

read Kerri’s blog post about ICARUS

Icarus, acrylic, 30.5 x 59.5

icarus ©️ 2004 david robinson

See The Break [on KS Friday]

a double haiku:

She crawled in the tube,

face down, arm above her head.

Magnetic portrait.

Miraculous hand,

as seen from the inside-out.

Tiny bone, big soul break.

read Kerri’s MRI haiku

Kerri’s music – what she makes with her hands – is available on iTunes

Approach The Edge [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It was nearing sunset when we saw the signs for The Royal Gorge Bridge and decided to jump off the road and investigate. We knew the bridge would be closed but thought it might be a nice break to get out of the truck and walk along the canyon rim as the sun went down.

It was a great idea with this single caveat (and minor confession): I. AM. AFRAID. OF. HEIGHTS. Canyon rims are not the most comfortable places for someone like me, especially in waning light.

I grew up in Colorado and visited The Royal Gorge Bridge as a child. I remember stepping onto the world’s highest suspension bridge, grabbing my mother’s hand, and running. I’m sure my poor mother became kite-like as I raced us to the other side. I have no memory of how we got back across the bridge. I’m certain I was not teleported so I must have crawled on my belly or passed-out and been carried. I survived, that’s about as much as I can say of my previous Gorge experience.

We parked the truck in a picnic area and walked a trail to the rim. Kerri ran to the edge and began snapping pictures. I entered a full-blown existential crisis. High edges feel to me like they are alive; they are a force that pulls me toward them. I have to grab trees or wrap my arms around rocks to resist the force. Worst of all, when I see other people approach the edge, I feel the force pulling them, too. In me, it amplifies the yank toward the abyss.

While Kerri cooed and danced on the rim snapping brilliant photographs, I grimaced and writhed, bound myself to a tree and resisted the siren call of the void. I couldn’t help but think of Alex Honnold scrambling up the face of El Capitan without a rope. “Expand your comfort zone!” I chanted to myself as I watched Kerri, a famous stubber-of-her-toes, zip to-and-fro along the rocky ledge with nary a thought of falling over.

The sun dipped beneath the horizon. It was dark and time to go. Have I yet expressed how darkness compounds the pull of the rim? Edges that can’t be seen are yawning maws that view me as a tasty snack. I had to release my grip on the tree, turn my back to the dark hungry mouth, and pretend not to sprint for the safety of the truck.

That was amazing!” Kerri exclaimed as we hiked back up the trail. “I can’t wait to show you all the pictures!” She was invigorated.

Exhausted, I nodded my head. “Yes.” I stammered, happy to be alive. “That was truly amazing.”

read Kerri’s gorgeous blog post about TINY/VAST

Go All In [on Merely A Thought Monday]

They tell us that the aspens peaked a week ago but I am no less in awe of the flaming yellows and oranges that pop across the mountainside.

On our drive to the mountain we talked about the extremes, the hallmark this time. “Vote as if your life depended on it.” “Vote or you’ll lose your rights.” Fascism! Socialism! Two walls of a crevasse with nothing but emptiness between. Thoughts of shared democracy must have fallen into the void. We passed a sign for a casino, “Go All In!” it declared. “That’s the perfect statement for our times.” Kerri said.

Go all in. Leave nothing on the table. Every subculture has its language. Place your bet. Double down. Crap.

I sit on the balcony and stare across the valley at the fiery hillside. The morning light makes the autumn electric. I close my eyes, bask in the sun.

I looked up how the USA votes relative to other nations. It is enough to say that we are not even close to the top of the list of voter turnout. We are either a glass half-empty or half-full, depending on your level of optimism. Apathy. Disbelief. Wasted votes. Voter block/blocked voters.

Voter suppression. Free and fair election. Another crevasse. A system of extremes. Gerrymander. Electoral college. Politicians picking their voters rather than voters picking their politicians. Jim Crow.

Winner-take-all.

Two deer just meandered across the meadow. I wonder what it must feel like. I doubt they despise the other deer for their particular point of view. People are funny. Given to story, sorting to the negative. Attached to the ugly. Lost in illusion. If you believe the Greeks, we were created to appreciate Zeus. Nothing more, nothing less. If Zeus is a metaphor for all-of-nature [and not a hairy-thunderbolt-hurler], then I am fulfilling my purpose sitting on this balcony.

Witnessing is easy. The crevasse is easily made. Bridge-building takes some courage and ingenuity. Apathy is easy. Participating takes some care and effort. Reach. Give voice. Go all in and vote. Or, as my pal MM once said, “You have no business complaining.”

read Kerri’s blog post about ALL IN

Turn Around And Look [on Merely A Thought Monday]

A few years ago, while swimming in the world of entrepreneurs, I wrote a short book entitled The Seer. It was in many ways a process summary of the work of my life to that point. All of my work – whether in the visual arts, the theatre, diversity and intercultural facilitation, systems change, teaching…driving a bread truck, shoveling dirt…all of it, has in one way or another orbited the moon we call ‘story.’ Occasionally, I pull my little book from the shelf and read what I once knew because it seems more relevant now than when I wrote it.

For instance, the white house recently pulled the plug on all diversity training in government agencies. The reason is simple and explicitly stated: they do not like the story it tells of these-once-united-states. The story, they claim, is “anti-American.”

I structured my book around 9 Recognitions. The first is this: You do not have a problem. You have a pattern. We don’t have a problem. We have a pattern.

Our pattern, generation after generation, is the lengths we will go, the violence we will suffer, to ensure that we exclude a significant part of our story from the national telling. It is untenable to maintain a nation-story built on the ideal of equality that began with, among other things, the institution of slavery and the annihilation of native peoples. To avoid the full story guarantees a schizophrenic national persona. It perpetuates division. Ours is a pattern of adamant story avoidance.

The story works well for the white aristocracy that created it. It’s an exercise in celebrating Doctor Jekyll while denying the existence of Mr. Hyde. Those good guy settlers had to eliminate those pesky “Indians” because they stood in the way of a destiny that was manifest. What is the story as told from the Native American point of view? Or from the point of view of the black American that, to this day, everyday, navigates institutions designed to repress them? They have lived this history – this story of slavery, Jim Crow, and new forms of institutional violence. They are located in the story as the obstacle or the bad guy. The less-than-human.

Diversity training is nothing more than an attempt to tell the full story from all points of view. It is only made necessary because we have a deeply ingrained pattern of either dismissing the full story or pretending that our inequality is in the past.

We cannot become whole until we look in the mirror and reflect on the full picture. It is as ruthless as it is hopeful. It is as dark as it is bright. The path to health for any individual is to first admit that they have a dis-ease. The same is true of a nation.

In the recent actions of the white house, the response to the BLM movement, we are witnessing the latest in our pattern to severely edit our story made the more violent because diversity is percolating its way into the halls of power.

The slogans “Keep America Great” and “Make America Great” only make sense or have appeal to those committed to the Jekyll part of the story. They are the pattern. They are a rally cry to those who feel that in real equality they have something to lose. It’s an “all hands on deck” siren that will tolerate all manner of violence, ugly rhetoric, shaming, dereliction of duty, undermining of judicial integrity to avoid admitting the full story entrance into the American narrative.

The good news is that it is possible, once the full story is realized and the pattern is seen and told, to change the story. The tension is, after all, between conserving what was and progressing toward the ideal.

America may one day become great.

First, we must tire of our schizophrenia, our commitment to division and a system that works for the few. Doctor Jekyll must turn and take a good honest look at Mr. Hyde and stop pretending that the horror that follows him isn’t really there.

read Kerri’s blog post about GRRRREAT!

Listen To The Crows [on DR Thursday]

“Sculpture,” they said. “We think you need to do some sculpture.” They were pushing me to get out of my painter-comfort-zone. It was our agreement as an artist collective: help each other grow. Our group shows were driven by a clear intention. Challenge the art-wheels to exit the art-rut.

All of my life I’ve had a special relationship with birds. Owls show up at auspicious moments. Hawks visit when I need to step back and take the long view. The surprise turkey on our roof, harbinger of good things to come. At the time of my sculpture challenge, I was, each and every day, assaulted by crows.

I read that crows have facial recognition so I told myself the daily assault was a case of mistaken identity. I’d never done harm to a crow. Yet, everyday during my walk, I was dive-bombed. Once, a crow was so relentless that I took refuge in a coffeehouse.

The worst was the day, lost in thought as I approached the door to my studio, at the last moment, I saw a baby crow perched on the door step. I heard them before I saw them. An entire murder of crows came to the baby’s defense. I leapt over the baby and into the studio. They pounded the door and pecked at the windows. They circled my studio for hours. Angry cawing. It was a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock.

Crows seemed like the obvious subject matter for my first stab at sculpture.

I decided to use found objects: wood, wire hangers, newspaper, string, a plastic clamp. India ink and glue.

Creating my sculptures became something of a meditation. As I bent the wire and glued the paper it occurred to me that perhaps the crows weren’t confusing me with someone else. Perhaps their attacks were meant for me. Perhaps I needed to listen. In some traditions, crows are the keeper of sacred law. They are heralds of consciousness change, shape-shifting. They thump you on the head when you need to wake up, when you are not living in alignment with your best interests. That was certainly true of me at the time. The crows were literally hitting me on the head.

I loved making my sculptures. I love what they brought me to understand. My artist-friends were more right than they knew; I needed to do some sculpture. I needed to exit my rut and step into a scary void and, in that way, invite new seeing, new forms, and finally, a new way of being.

read Kerri’s blog post about CROW

crow ©️ 2010 david robinson

Take A Peek [on Two Artists Tuesday]

We have two frogs in our pond this summer. Their names are Epic and Tiny. This is a photograph of Epic. He’s in his safe place. When Kerri took this picture she said, “This is how I feel most of the time.”

Each day, in writing this blog, I face a dilemma. I named my blog The Direction of Intention because I desire my writing and artistry (and life) to be conscious steps toward positive creation rather than pushing against and complaining about what I don’t want. Lately, that is a tight rope to walk. I no longer feel it is possible to peek out from my safe place because I doubt in these-once-united-states that there is a safe place. Lately, each day, it seems that pushing back, peeking from my rock and croaking, “Open your eyes,” IS taking conscious steps toward the creation of a healthy spirit, nation-body and world.

I’ve long been a believer that the deep imbalances in our system, like systemic racism, cannot change by focusing on the word “racism.” The change we seek, the safety we desire, will only come when we address this completely broken and ugly system that is composed upon layers of inequity. BLM is a pressure valve. It is an opportunity to look with clear and honest eyes at the favoritism designed into our system.

At the epicenter of our dysfunction is an apparatus that pretends to be a democracy but, in fact, throws its weight behind minority rule. For instance, if the popular vote of citizens actually elected the president, Ronald Reagan would have been the last Republican to occupy the White House [George W. Bush won the popular vote in his second term but initially gained the presidency after losing the popular vote to Al Gore]. Or, consider this: even though, since 1920, more Americans are urban dwellers, the electoral system throws its weight to rural (more conservative) voters. The electoral college ensures democracy will not prevail. It goes on and on. If you want a hysterical look at the hysterical gerrymandering of the American system, visit John Oliver here.

Why would a system that purports to be a democracy knowingly allow and continually enable unfair political advantage to a minority elite? Why would a political party work so hard to gerrymander electoral maps, prevent black and brown voters from voting, whip up with no evidence the notion that, if they lose, the election will be rigged? The advantage is blatantly apparent in our tax codes, in how we fund schools and fill prisons, an on and on and on.

The gap between who we are and who we pretend to be is vast.

The game is rigged. A thriving democracy is impossible when one team, the conservative elite, do not believe in nor support democratic processes. Winning at all cost, regardless of the cost, is a tool from the fascist toolbox. it is the opposite of the democratic ideal. What we are experiencing is not an accident. It is not a mistake. It is a design. A thriving democracy is impossible when the system is designed to be undemocratic [when you are done laughing with John Oliver, weep at Umberto Eco’s list of 14 common features of fascism].

In other news, upheaval makes systems change, real change, possible. Peeking out from my rock I can only hope that we-the-people, in this turbulent time, have both the will to show up at the polls AND the courage, resolve, and clarity to stick with it until we align our words with our actions, until we pull down the institutions that keep inequity and minority-rule the name of the game – until we expect our system and our elected leaders to actually believe in democracy.

It’s epic.

read Kerri’s blog post about EPIC

Play A New Game [on DR Thursday]

“To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.” ~ Confucius

When I do not know what to do or say about the state of the world, I draw pictures. That’s been true all of my life. Apparently, when I was very young, I was in a constant state of not knowing what to do or say. I repeatedly drew an imaginary cabin in the woods. It was a place of peace and solitude. I came into this world with a bit of Thoreau imprinted on my soul.

I know things are bad when my drawings lapse into caricature. These sketches might look like nasty-grams to Mitch McConnell but they are, in truth, ruminations on our system. Last night the streets were again alive with protest. Yet another black American was murdered (in her home) and the system turned its head and looked away. A very long trail of tears. I feel like I need to climb to the top of the mountain and scream, “OUR SYSTEM IS DOING WHAT IT WAS DESIGNED TO DO!”

Suppressing black Americans, as designed into our system, is the same action as elevating white Americans. It’s a mechanism, a single action. A seesaw. This is not the first era in which citizens took to the streets to protest the inequities between black and white America. The protests are immediate and necessary but they do not come close to touching the system.

Legislation will not touch it (a system never assaults itself). Police reform will not change it as systems are great shape-shifters; a new form of suppression/elevation will arise. A system has to be acknowledged before it can be addressed and the acknowledgment can’t come from the angry people in the streets – it must come from the people in suits-and-ties who deny systemic racism exists, the ones who fear the loss of their supremacy. [Isn’t it remarkable that leaders in a country founded on slavery, celebrated lynching with picture postcards in a Jim Crow era, while a terrific battle was being fought en route to civil rights legislation were rigging tax codes and redlining and on and on and on, can deny the existence of racism? That IS the system talking].

The system is dancing right in front of our eyes. While the streets are alive with BLM protests demanding justice and equal rule of law, Mitch McConnell, awash in hypocrisy, is doing what he wants to do with no regard to precedent, rule, or ethic. The system is Lindsey Graham and his fellow red senators following their leader without shame. Laws are made of words – so are creeds and constitutions – as are ethics and morality. Words have no meaning when they are so easily discounted.

We’ve built our crumbling castle on a foundation of Manifest Destiny. A chosen people who believe they can do what they want to do to whomever stands in their way. Native Americans will tell you that government treaties were made to be broken. Words mean nothing when winning-at-all-cost is the name of the game. Laws are made of words – so are creeds and constitutions.

Winning at all cost IS the name of the game. It is the system. It is a game that cares not for who is thrust through the meat grinder. To watch Mitch is to see the system.

Winning at all cost is not governance. Undermining elections is not governance. Gerrymandering electoral maps is not governance. Suppressing voters is not governance. Whipping up fantasies about voter fraud is not governance. How is it possible that the people occupying the seats of a representative government do not believe in the democratic process?

It’s not new. It’s the system.

Our constitution and creeds will matter when our words matter, when we can say what we mean and mean what we say. Black lives will matter when the words written into our creeds and constitution guide us rather than disguise us. In the meantime, we will take another step on the road of cowardice, all the while pretending to be righteous.

It’s enough to make me return to drawing pictures of my cabin in the woods.

read Kerri’s blog post about MITCH

Honor The Line [on DR Thursday]

“We often need to lose sight of our priorities in order to see them.” ~ John Irving

Walking down the trail a few days ago, Kerri and I had a hysterical conversation. If you could go back in time, who would you tell to f**k off? There was a long list and some seriously funny stories of misplaced tolerance. We laughed at the moments when younger versions of ourselves were silent, when we should have spoken. We groaned at the moments that we let someone run over us. When we should have held a boundary but did not.

“Why didn’t I say something?” We chortled. Grace comes with time. What was years ago a violation is now head-shaking-story.

The next day, about to enter the local corner market, someone called Kerri’s name. Before she could stop it, in the middle of this pandemic, a time when we’ve been religious about social distancing, a woman threw open her arms and locked Kerri in an embrace. It was an awkward and short-lived hug; Kerri was like a stone cold post, her hand that was rising for protection was squished in the unwelcome clutch. The woman shrunk and retreated. We ducked into the store.

“Why didn’t I stop her?” Kerri asked as we walked home. There was no time. “Doesn’t she know there’s a pandemic?” A space violation.

Context is everything.

I was delighted when Kerri chose this snippet of a painting for the Melange. For her, it represented the moment that she could have interrupted the unwanted hug. She named this little morsel “Back Up!”

For me it is something entirely different. This full painting is called Pieta With Paparazzi. I’d mostly forgotten about this painting since I only showed it one time and that was over a decade ago. It is more relevant today than it was when I painted it. It is about the flattening of importance, the loss of perspective. It is about how – even a decade ago – everything seemed to be a media event. Mary contemplates the body of her dead son while the media circus swirls around her.

The shorthand phrase for our time: nothing is sacred. The line between a simple truth and a manufactured event has been blurred, perhaps irreparably. Lies are celebrated and vehemently defended. Truths discarded. Boundaries crossed. Hugs taken. Shots fired. The other day I heard someone say, “People say things on Facebook that they’d never say in person.” Too true. Social discourse and public policy are tragedies enacted on a social platform for a ready-made audience. All the world’s a stage.

In time, we might ask ourselves, “Why didn’t we do something?” or “What were we thinking?” Perhaps, in time, we’ll have the distance and the grace to see why we should have stepped back and stopped this incessant crossing of boundaries, this white house media circus. Perhaps, in losing sight of our priorities, they will someday come back into focus and we will see them again.

pieta with paparazzi

read Kerri’s blog post about BACK UP!

pieta with paparazzi ©️ 2010 david robinson