Step Into The Ripple [on DR Thursday]

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I’ve never understood faith as a religious term. Look up the word in the dictionary and you’ll come across trust, belief, and conviction. Rather than a lofty word reserved for worship day, it has always struck me as an everyday something – that becomes extraordinary when you realize how ever-present-and-ordinary it actually is. Stepping blindly. Blindly stepping. Each and everyday.

We surround ourselves with calendars and lists and routines and rituals and patterns – all necessary mechanisms to plan our days but they also serve to protect us from the truth of our walk on this earth: there is not a moment, an hour, or day that is actually known before it is lived. Every moment of every day is a step into the unknown.

The real practice of faith is not about an abstraction.  It is a recognition that walking in faith is an essential part of the human condition. The real practice is in realizing it. Being right where you are, open to the reality and empty of the illusion of certainty that you know what is coming. You do not. The true spiritual practice is to empty yourself of the need for the illusion of control.

Fully inhabiting the moment. Standing at the crossroad of past and future without the map of ‘I-know-what’s-going-to-happen’ dulling the experience.

Spiritual practices are not meant to be other worldly. They are, at their best, concrete relationships found at the intersection of past and future, in that tiny slice of infinity called “the moment.” It is a miracle of unknowns and surprises.

The practice of faith is the practice of putting down what you think you know – dropping the notion that you know what will happen- and stepping fully and with intention into the rippling unknown.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FAITH

 

 

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Find The First Principle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I don’t know about you but the moments in my life that I am the least proud are the moments that I was steeped in anger. In anger, I have said things that I didn’t mean and done things that I now regret. There is no real strength to be found in anger. There is only blindness and weakness.

We live in the great age of the misnomer. In anger we slap a label of virtue on the mad face of vice.

Step outside and you’re likely to be trampled by a stampeding herd of verbal misdirection. If your brain is not pulped by rage and you are curious enough to question, you just might survive the stampede. But do not think you are safe! That roaring that you hear is nothing less than an avalanche of obfuscation.

Occam would have a field day using his razor on phrases like “alternative truth.” What are the odds that a lie is a lie and not an alternative at all? He would roll his eyes at us. “What entices you, ” he would ask, after slicing the alternative from the truth, “to willingly swallow so much word-gumbo?”

The answer is easy and readily apparent: anger. We are an angry nation getting angrier. Angry people rarely ask questions. Anger and Reason are never seen sitting at the same table. Angry people are especially gullible, easily whipped into an frenzy, and led by the nose into concocted fights. People are made angry in order to focus their blood shot eyes on made-up-divides. There is nothing that bonds an Us like the perception of an invading Them.

If you survive the avalanche of obfuscation, duck, cover, and roll as the squadron of conspiracy theories are certainly swooping in to drop their fantastic story-bombs. Misdirection. Obfuscation. Cries of “Hoax!” and “Witch hunt!”

Anger, so we’re told, is a secondary emotion. It is a cover-up emotion, a protection against feeling the primary thing, like fear or loss. Anger is what happens when the metaphoric dog is backed into the corner. It’s better to bark and snap than to feel shame or sadness or otherwise vulnerable, especially in public. It’s easier to punch, to blame, to rage than it is to deal with the first principle.

What we-the-people have in common, our first principle, is suffocating under all of this anger.

Sharpening his razor, Occam might ask, “What would happen if you dealt with what you were really feeling instead of covering it up with so much fury? What’s beneath the anger? Deal with that.”

History teaches that when a leader fans anger into a red hot flame, the purpose is to forge the gullible into a thoughtless mob. These are the necessary bellows: obfuscation, misdirection, conspiracy theories a-go-go. Blame. Blame. Blame.

Mobs are not really strong. They are flashes in a vapid leader’s pan. They return to their strength when the fire burns itself out, when their eyes clear, and they once again become capable of asking, “What’s going on?”

Anger and strength – despite what the stampeding herd would like you to believe – are not the same thing. One requires the presence of mind and clear sight – and the other is defined by blindness and the absence of thought.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ANGER AS PROXY

 

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Scream Into The Mic [on KS Friday]

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During the healing time of Wristgate, as Kirsten called it, Kerri and I have been spending much of our time on the raft [our bed – it is where the broken wrists are most comfortable].  We work from the raft. We eat from a tray on the raft. We plan life from the raft. And, because it is cold winter, we reminisce on the raft. We talk about what might have been, what choices we’ve made, what storms blew in, wreaked havoc and gave shape to our lives.

No Balloons. It is one of the first studio recordings of Kerri. It is from 1980, smack dab in the era of Joni Mitchell, when a cassette tape was the latest and greatest technology. I recognize her very young voice, shaky and not yet rooted, trying to find itself. Sitting on the raft, although I’ve heard the backstory of the song before, to hear it again made me weep.

No Balloons is a song about rape. Kerri’s rape. A young woman, hopeful and trusting, trying to find her voice, a violent storm that blew in, a man twice her age that altered the course of her life. When she sought help she was met with a solid male wall of See-No-Evil-Hear-No-Evil.

We live in the #metoo era. Even though it’s still very hard for young women – any woman – to get the world to listen, to be taken seriously, it was exponentially harder in the 1970’s. The woman, so our sad history goes, was to blame for her own violation. Kerri did what most women did in that time. She internalized it, swallowed her bile, and covered it up. She ran from it, ran from her attacker, ran from a man-world that couldn’t be bothered to listen. She candy-coated her ruin and made it a shameful secret.

After listening to the recording, the sweet quaking voice, the flute floating over the top of the band, the disjoint between the composition and the lyric, Kerri gazed into a dark corner that I could not see and said, “I should have been screaming into the mic.”

Had I not been holding space for her I might have said, “It’s not too late. Maybe the mature woman needs to do what the young woman could not. I suspect there are a legion of young women out there who need you to scream into the mic.”

 

NO BALLOONS

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NO BALLOONS

 

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Listen To Chicken [on DR Thursday]

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The original conceit behind Chicken Marsala came during a road trip. Kerri and I started talking about what life might have been like had we met when we were younger. Our conversation wandered into the question of mutual children and then became utterly hysterical when we started tossing possible names back and forth. Chicken Marsala, the imaginary child of two people who met late in life, was born.

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Chicken had friends. Chicken went to school. Chicken had a full blown imaginary life. Chicken terrified his parents, making them do and say things that they would not have otherwise done. Chicken became the inner and outer voice of two artists trying to make their way in a world where they do not necessarily fit.

All of my life people who have cut themselves off from their inner artist have asked me, “Where do I begin?” They build studios for themselves, buy supplies, and then sit, frozen. Tom McK used to tell me that there was only one answer to that question: a writer writes and a painter paints. There is no magic. The muse can’t help unless you pick up the clay and throw the pot. Write many, many bad pages and soon you will discover that you are following an impulse rather than grinding “it” out or making “it” up.

One day, someone asked Chicken’s mom a question about composing. “How do you do it? What’s your secret?” It was a question from someone desperate to uncover their long buried inner artist. What’s the secret charm, the divine key? Chicken leaned into his mom and whispered: Sometimes you just have to put your fingers on the keys and follow the music.

It is no mystery, after a few years banished in the drawer, that Chicken is suddenly pulling on my sleeve. I haven’t been active in the studio for months. ‘A dry spell,’ I tell myself. ‘All of my creative energy is going to other things.’ ‘I’m bored with my work!’ ‘I’m blank…’ Yada Yada. Chicken shakes his head. ‘Not again!’ He giggles.

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Put your fingers on the keys. Pick up your brush. Use that great imagination to play rather than plague yourself. Follow the music. It will always lead you home.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FINGERS ON THE KEYS

 

 

 

 

 

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Knit A Better Structure [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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“…the test of a civilization is how it cares for its helpless members.” ~ Pearl Buck

As a nation, we are currently enamored with tests, and it is not a stretch to say that we’d receive a failing grade on this test of civilization. The helpless members do not fare well.

As Horatio pointed out, much is lost between the cracks of the quintessential conundrum built into the DNA of these United States: the dueling philosophies of every-man-for himself versus I-am-my-brother’s-keeper. Republicans versus Democrats. Corporate greed versus social need. Black and white thinking that leaves gaping voids into which the helpless members disappear. There is no both/and to be found. Division has been a useful tool of control since the inception of the American experiment. The ideological cleaver is sharper than ever these days.

Yet, there is hope that reveals another side to our character.  Kerri said, “Look at this!” The Appalachian Wildlife Refuge put out a call for used mascara brushes. They are a useful tool in saving small critters and returning them to health. They received so many brushes, the response was so great, that they had to put limits on when they would accept new brush donations. It’s my bet that people of all political stripes and social strata sent their used mascara brushes to the Refuge. It’s my bet that the critters and the caregivers were grateful in every case.

When tragedy strikes, we rush to meet the need. When a photo moves us, we respond. Something pierces the superficial divide and reaches into our communal heart.

Robert Fritz teaches that behavior is like water, it follows the path of least resistance. If you want to change behavior, you must first change the underlying structure of the land. What might it take for us to challenge this superficial concocted divide, to reach deep  into our DNA and knit a better structure of the land – something more useful and more profound than perpetually dueling philosophies? What might it take for us to put down our cleaver and pick up our mascara brushes? What might we imagine and create together that would help history give us a better grade on our test?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IMPACT

 

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Tickle Open The Closed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It used to be one of my favorite exercises to facilitate. Ask one person in a small group to tell a story of blame. Ask the rest of the group to invest in the story. In no time the small groups would be indignant, talking over each other in disgruntlement. A klatch of agitated victims, howling.  They’d laugh in their aggravated frenzy. They’d devise clever revenge or ways to torment the object of their blame story. They’d grow a monster.

Blame stories are like sugar. They are easy to eat and highly addictive. There’s rarely any real substance, so much gossip-cotton-candy, but there is an odd pleasure in playing the role of  “the injured party.” The groups would always reflect that the exercise was fun. So much so that they’d often forget it was an exercise. Commiseration and validation, after all, are the point of a blame story. That, and making someone else responsible for how we feel.

Ask the same groups to tell a story of choice or opportunity and most times, after only a minute or two, they’d sit in silence. Their, “Great. That’s really great,” support would dwindle. Feeding an idea is not nearly as easy as feeding a story of blame.

Quinn used to tell me that creativity is not for the faint of heart.

The groups were always shocked to discover how much of their lives were spent chewing the gristle of discontent, of feeding the notion that someone else was to blame for their choices or their circumstance. They’d generally comment on how easy it was to commiserate and how difficult it is to question, challenge or stop the blame-game. Mostly, they were shocked to discover how little of their time they dedicated to feeding ideas, theirs or another persons.

Blame stories are easy because they are reductive. They engender tight little balls of closed minds and closed circles. They close hearts. They take almost no energy at all to spark but, once burning, like a wildfire, they are capable of consuming entire forests.

Idea exploration is expansive. Seeing possibilities requires eyes that look up and out.  It takes much more energy to imagine, to question, to ponder. To try. To experiment. To ask. To challenge what you think you know. Opening minds, opening circles and hearts requires a deep sense of self-responsibility. It requires an even deeper sense of responsibility to others.

One of the purposes of the artist is to open closed circles, to tickle open closed minds. To help their community see anew and entertain never-before-imagined possibilities.

It takes more effort and courage to sail to the edges of the known world than it does to hang out around the water cooler and complain about others. Great minds do not have more capacity than any other mind, but they do require a very different focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GREAT MINDS & IDEAS

 

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FaceTheRain

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Do Like Duchamp [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Roger used to say that Picasso’s paintings determine the shape of our cars. He meant that “seeing” is not passive. Just as audiences in a play wiggle in their seats at seven minutes into the play, the usual time for a commercial break on television, our visual sensibility is also patterned and mostly culturally uniform. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that eye has been conditioned.

One of the great moments of visual conditioning came in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp entered his “readymade” sculpture, FOUNTAIN, in an art exhibit. FOUNTAIN is a urinal. He signed his readymade scultpture R. Mutt. It is possible to spend many days of your life reading about FOUNTAIN, the symbolic meaning of a toilet, the then-new art term “readymade” and the challenges readymade-as-art posed to the art world, how Duchamp came to enter a urinal in an art exhibit. In that moment of time, a whole new genre was born: conceptual art. The idea behind the work is more important than the finished piece.

You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s toilet to the recent banana duct taped to the wall by Maurizzio Cattelan. And, you might ask, just what was the idea behind the banana?

You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s FOUNTAIN to Kerri’s out-door-voice-exclamations in a gallery, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” The idea behind the conceptual work generally needs a curator’s explanation. “I WANT TO EXPERIENCE IT, NOT HAVE IT EXPLAINED!” she gestures wildly, sending other patrons fleeing. In that moment, my wife becomes exquisite performance art.

You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s urinal to my inability to walk through an antique store and not see elegant design worthy of Louise Nevelson. Racks of door knobs. Stacks of suitcases. A wall of bric-a-brac, the wall composition more meaningful and beautiful than any of the individual pieces displayed.

A statement from Captain Obvious: artists live in a time and the art they produce is an expression of that time. Duchamp put his toilet on a pedestal in 1917, the year the world was nearing the end of the first war to end all wars. It was a horror story. The manufacture of stuff was hitting its stride.  The Royal Academy had a lock on determining what was considered art and what was not. The rules of polite society felt dangerous and suppressive. Duchamp, like all change agents, pushed against the norm.

There is composition and design in the everyday. There is human-created beauty all around us. We learn in school that form follows function and form is design. We learn in school that one of the purposes of art is to create beauty. Another purpose is to shock people out of complacency, to see what is in front of them and not what they think is there. Beauty usually lives beyond what we think.

We live in very confusing times. We are asking fundamental questions about truth, about social norms and what is acceptable. We are asking questions about who we are and what we believe. You can draw a straight line from Duchamp’s FOUNTAIN to our current confusion. Is it art? Is it not? If the idea is more important than the final expression then what happens when all that is left to see and touch is absent of the idea? What happens when the curator is gone and only the urinal remains? Sense breaks down.

What happens to  the eye and ear that is shocked open but refuses to see what is right in front of them and, instead, retreat behind the fortress of what they think?  What happens when form no longer follows function but things flip the other way around? What happens when form IS function? Propaganda, mostly. A naked emperor and plenty of people passionately swearing that they see clothes. Readymade thought.

We live in those times. Sense breaks down. We tape bananas to walls and issue a certificate of authenticity.

 

read Kerri’s much-less random blog post about DOOR KNOBS

 

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