Sing [on KS Friday]

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The story is famous in these parts. It goes like this: when I met Kerri I told her that she needed to know two things about me: 1) I don’t sing. 2) I don’t pray. She gave me a sideways knowing look and said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

I had some very-traumatic-early-in-my-life-singing-experiences. Lots of shame and humiliation led me to an adamant preemptive proclamation with my musician-soon-to-be wife: I do not sing. No way. Don’t even ask. I’ll watch from the sidelines.

Of course, within a few months, she had me in a ukulele band, a choir, and a band. It turns out I like to sing. The problem, she taught me, was not in my capacity to sing, it was in how I hear sound. I hear an octave up. She taught me how to hear. I am now a confident parasitic singer (i.e. I sing just fine with others, just don’t ask me to sing alone).

I’ve spent my life teaching people to see. How beautifully ironic (or perfect) that I needed to learn to hear.

Early in the saga of Beowulf, he is caught in a swarm and blinded by bees. Because he was blinded, he had to develop other senses; his heightened senses were critical in combating and defeating the monster Grendel. Late in his life, he retired as a beekeeper. He not only made peace with bees, they become his allies. At the very end, his bees are his greatest strength. They defeat a dragon plaguing his kingdom.

The great stories are with us for a reason. They can help us navigate and craft our own life stories. For instance, the greatest wounds can be limits or they can lead to new and vital gifts. I’ve learned from Beowulf that the path you take – limit or liberation –  depends on the story you argue for, the focus you choose. When I met Kerri I was arguing for my limitation. I do not sing. Period.

Another recurring theme in the great stories goes like this: when you are ready, the right teacher appears.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SING

 

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shaman ©️ 1993 david robinson

Pull It Apart [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The thing that I didn’t write about last week, in fact I avoided, was my latest brush with coincidence. It went something like this: I’ve been moving the Prometheus paintings for years. They are big paintings! Three canvases, each 4ft x 8ft. They require a truck to move. I’ve shown them. I’ve stored them. When I moved to Kenosha they literally could not fit into my studio in our house so Brad and Jen were kind enough to store them for me.

Truth? I thought that someday I would again perform the symphony for which I painted the series. I wrote and performed the script. I painted the pieces to accompany the performance. I thought they might someday have a second life. Over the years, Yaki and I have tossed the idea around once or twice but it always fell into the maybe-someday-abyss.

Jen and Brad are doing some renovation and I needed to move the paintings. I brought them home and they lived in our dining room. I offered to donate them to the PCO – the company that produced Prometheus. I approached several organizations that might be interested in visual statements borne from literature and  performance. The paintings are too big. So, finally, last week, I pulled them apart. Took them out of the frames, disassembled the panels so I could move them down the stairs. The frames went into the garage. There was something cleansing about acknowledging that these pieces were done. I sighed with relief when dropping the illusion that they might someday see the light of day. Two of the panels are hidden behind a tall cabinet in our sitting room, still too big to make it down the curve of the stair into the studio.

The next day, Yaki called. “I want to do the Prometheus,” he said. “But, can we pull it apart? Can we make it more relevant to what’s happening today?”

I laughed heartily. “Yes,” I responded. We can pull it apart.”

Sometimes space must be made. This universe abhors a vacuum. It seems all of my life lessons these days are about letting go of what was. Letting go of how things used to work or who I represented myself to be.

Can I pull it apart. Yes. Done and done. “Cultivate your serendipity,” Quinn used to say.

And, what on earth does this have to do with lettuce? I’d never planted it before. I’d never planted anything before. 20 gave us the boxes. He told us what to do. Growing lettuce – growing anything, it seems – takes some patience. And, some luck. Sunshine and attention. From the seed, if it is tended and mostly left alone -given space – something good will grow.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LETTUCE

 

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Treat The Origin [on KS Friday]

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Yaki called. He wants to dust off our Prometheus project and give it another whirl. The Creatures Of Prometheus is one of Beethoven’s early works, a ballet that is nigh-on impossible for a contemporary ballet company to afford. Besides a symphony, it requires  scores of dancers. Twelve years ago, Yaki asked if I would write and perform a narrative – a storytelling- that would weave together the movements. It lives among my all-time favorite collaborations. Yesterday he asked, “Can we update it? Can we make it relevant with what’s happening in the world today?’

My first thought: it’s already relevant! It is a creation story. Prometheus is given the task of creating human beings, a man and a woman. Although he is instructed to make them dull and crude, he creates them to be beautiful, to see and appreciate their connection to the earth from which they were made. Angered by his disobedience, Zeus punishes Prometheus by corrupting the new creatures; he fills them with fear and division. He twists their fear into a lust for war. He makes them dull and crude. Now, Prometheus waits for them to remember and recover their original sight, to remember their capacity for pure seeing, fearless living. To drop their madness and return to their senses.

My second thought: people are notoriously incapable of grasping metaphor. It’s the Zeus thing in practice. The update has to be a direct statement. It must leave no doubt and puncture the commitment to dullness. “Gear down!” as Kerri constantly reminds me.

“How can Prometheus speak to Black Lives Matter?” he asked. We are both artists in the later stage of our career.  Yaki added, “I want my work – my art to really speak to what’s happening today. I want it to help.”

I’ve been sitting in his questions since we talked yesterday. We are standing again at a moment in time when change is possible. We are also standing at the moment when the system, a living thing, a wizard of recreation, will fight to maintain itself. Consider: we had this moment with the abolition of slavery and the system responded with Jim Crow. Segregation. Institutional racism. We had the moment again with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the system responded with a draconian judicial/policing/incarceration apparatus, disproportionate tax structures…segregation by legislation (again and again and again).

In our current moment, in this latest moment, how can we make the necessary changes that are not merely the existing system putting a new face on a 400 year old mechanism? Real change requires steps in unknown directions [the rule: if you know where you are going you are merely re-creating what already exists]. How can Prometheus speak to that?

We focus on behavior when we need to stare at the underlying structures. Behavior, as Robert Fritz reminds us, always follows the path of least resistance – the sub-structure determines the path of behavior.

In the story, Prometheus is in it for the long haul. He knows his creatures are made for beauty and will inevitably see beyond their made-up fear and return to their source. They will one day stop listening to the fear mongers and race baiters. They will wake up and recognize that they are not made to be dull and crude and divisive. In fact, quite the opposite. They were made to appreciate and participate in the creation of beauty and betterment. Nature.

Prometheus is in no hurry. He waits for his creatures to remember. He plays the long story. What will that look like?

 

 

IT’S A LONG STORY is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S A LONG STORY

 

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it’s a long story/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

Know The Pet Peeve [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Kerri has a pet peeve and because she is from New York she expresses her annoyance with all of the out-sized force and bluster that comes with her east coast roots. “OH MY GOD! DO YOU SEE THAT?!!!” She gales as we drive down the road, gesturing wildly, letting go of the steering wheel. I close my eyes because I do not want to see the fiery crash that we are most certainly about to experience.

“DID YOU SEE IT?!!!” she repeats, demanding an answer. I open one eye to see if she’s regained control of the car or if she is still gesticulating with gusto. She looks at me with disdain, “YOU DIDN’T SEE IT?” I shake my head. “HOW CAN THAT NOT DRIVE YOU CRAZY?!!!” I shrug my shoulders and secretly look for a way to safely exit the car.

The offense? The horrid transgression that causes such wild arm flinging, finger pointing, and loud outdoor-voice-exclamations? A license plate renewal sticker placed on the wrong part of the plate. “DO YOU THINK THEY CAN’T READ?!!! she bellows. “DO YOU THINK IT’S TOO HARD TO FIGURE OUT WHERE THE STICKER GOES?!!! She snarls. I slide down in my seat. I practice my cloak-of-invisibility act.

Once, early in our history, before I realized this peeve was her pet, I said, “Maybe they are being creative, like trying to color out of the lines.” My perky suggestion was not welcome. It was as if I whispered the magic words that unleashed all the demons from hell. Smoke came from her nostrils. Lightning from her eyes. My perky backpedaled and disappeared leaving me all alone with no place to hide. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!! she growled. “IT’S A STICKER!!!!!!!! IT’S SUPPOSED TO GO IN THE RIGHT SPOT!!!!!! THERE’S A SPOT AND THE STICKER IS SUPPOSED TO GO THERE!!! WHAT’S SO HARD?!!!!!!”

I had no answer. Or, more to the point, I dared not have an answer. I had better run away from anything that looked remotely like an answer. Pet peeves are best left alone!

In that moment I knew only one thing for certain: the path to a happy life was predicated on one small action – I simply need to place the sticker in the right spot when it was time for the license plate renewal.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on OH MY GOD!!!

 

 

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Don’t Go Home [on DR Thursday]

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House on Fire. 2004-ish. Watercolor. And, yes, I was all over copying Guernica.

“The continual retreat from the discomfort of authentic racial engagement in a culture infused with racial disparity limits the ability to form authentic connections across racial lines, and results in a perpetual cycle that works to hold racism in place.” ~ Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

I confess to rewriting this post. What I wrote initially was pedantic and preachy. So, this is a second go-round.

We’ve been hearing this question much in these past days: why don’t things ever change? Here’s an answer I learned in school: a society is a living system and, like all living things, it will fight to the death when threatened with change. Why we can’t seem to “solve” our problem with racial disparity and the dehumanization of black people? It’s built into our system. The system, a complex and living thing, will fight to the death to keep the injustice securely in place.

That’s a heady answer and somewhat hopeless. Its abstraction makes it a safe and somewhat antiseptic response.

I lived in Los Angeles in 1992. My apartment was in the hills so I had a good vantage point to watch the rioting and the city burn. When it felt too unsafe, I fled the city. I had a safe place to go.

A few years later, working with a school district, the head of the Black Student Union asked me to come in and work with her students. MLK day was fast approaching and the students, preparing presentations for the day, were in rebellion. They were mad. They didn’t want to read speeches about peace and justice when those ideals were nowhere on their horizon. I thought it was my job to help them give voice to what they wanted to say. It was my first conscious lesson in my white-blindness. The frightened parents of the students descended. I’ll never forget the mother and father that pulled me aside, saying to me, “You don’t understand. If they say what they want to say they’ll be killed.” Their terror was real. They had to teach their children a lesson that was the opposite of what my parents taught me.

To call it a problem is to reduce it to the level of mechanics. It is to pretend (or hope) that a few changes in the law or better policing will do the trick.  To treat it like a problem guarantees that we’ll recreate it. This is not a problem, this is a pattern. It is a cycle. It is a relationship.

The pattern is currently in our faces. The pattern is not only the death of another black person. The pattern is also what white America chooses to do – or not do-  with the knowledge of it. What is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves that makes it possible to stand in the fire with people of color during the protests but walk-on once the fire subsides? It is simply this: I get to go home. I get to drive out of LA when things feel too unsafe. I have someplace to go. I get to go home when the officer is prosecuted or a law is changed or a commission empaneled, dust off my hands, and say that I did my part.

Why don’t things ever change?

I was stunned when those parents pulled me aside. At first, I couldn’t believe that they were going to silence their children when their children had something so important to say. It made my head spin. And then I went home. And then I realized that they couldn’t go home. There was no place in this “living system” where they were safe. That was what they were trying to tell me. It was what Martin Luther King was trying to tell us. It is what the protesters in the streets today are trying to get us to see/admit/realize. We are watching a living system built on racial division and inequality fight to the death because change is knocking.

What if we realized that we cannot simply go home and forget about it?

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOUSE ON FIRE

 

 

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Leave Her A Note [on DR Thursday]

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my loves, mixed media, 24 x 48IN

I came around the corner just in time to see it. Kerri crawled onto the bed, resting her head on DogDog, she closed her eyes. BabyCat, not wanting to be left out of the snuggle, moved over and curled into the cuddle. I stood very still and memorized the moment.

My artistic well has been dry all winter. I believe dry spells are great opportunities to experiment, to make messes and learn again to be free, to not take anything on the easel too seriously. And so, in my emptiness, I began playing with my memorized moment [last week I published the rolling iterations this image passed through].

Sometimes playing with an image feels like wrestling with an angel. It has the upper hand and is toying with you, the mere mortal. One day, after wiping the latest iteration off the canvas, I had a very mortal thought: this might be the last painting I ever paint. Pandemic thoughts reach deep.

And, what if this was my last painting? What if? I would want my last painting to be a love note to my wife. I would want her to know that one day, as she laid her head on DogDog and BabyCat curled against her, I stood in absolute adoration and appreciation of my family, my wife, my moment. My life. My loves.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MY LOVES

 

 

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my loves ©️ 2020 david robinson

*this painting is not yet up on the site. the paint is still drying.

**there’s another canvas on the easel with a painting already in process! (phew).

Gag On It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“I was the only one wearing a mask.” Were you to have read this quote three months ago, you would have assumed I went to a masquerade party and I was the only one who showed up with a mask. Or, you might have guessed that I was about to recount an embarrassing Halloween story, “I mixed up my dates – it was October 30 –  and I went to work  wearing a costume.”

Three months. Meaning is now made through the pandemic lens. I went to the store. The parking lot was full. I went into the store and stopped as I entered. I was the only one wearing a mask. My cup of assumptions filled to the brim and spilled over. These people do not care.

In the best of times, meaning is made on a layer cake of assumptions. Assumptions are too easily generalized and thrust into the hard ground as fact. Assumptions are a wide net that catches mostly trash – which is to say that they snag very little of substance. They are nothing more than cake though, because they are mistaken for fact, they can be a deadly cake, indeed. A young black man went jogging. Need I say more?

Our current favorite assumption set is political. For instance, Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine, was asked in an interview why the nation is seeing a partisan divide in response to the pandemic. “Generally, Republicans are less inclined to have the government tell them what to do. And that’s generally how I am,” DeWine said.

I’m willing to wager that most Democrats are not fond of the government telling them what to do. The pro-choice movement is decidedly liberal and is essentially resistance to the government telling a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.

Here’s a safe assumption: none of us want the government telling us what to do. That is in the genetic strand of the American identity.

The nation is seeing a partisan divide in response to the pandemic because we are being force-fed oppositional narratives that demonize the other side.  “They’re socialists trying to ruin the nation.” Or, “They are lazy and ignorant and cannot see how they’re being swung around by the nose.” Assumptions, assumptions everywhere!

As Horatio has said (and I have repeatedly borrowed) the narrative has always been schizophrenic and the divide goes like this: 1) Every man/woman for him/herself or 2)  I am my brother’s/sister’s keeper. Do we care about the others in the populace or do we take care of our own needs? It is a false divide. It is an easy target for propaganda.

And what if taking care of our own needs included taking care of the needs of others. Wouldn’t we all be wearing a mask? Isn’t that the point of the mask? It is not worn to protect me but to protect you from me. What if the assumption – the safe assumption -was that we are all in this together? We are. What if, as I stood in the doorway of the store, the only person wearing a mask, I could have made another assumption? What assumption is it that I could have made?

Three short months and the word “mask” has become a line drawn in the pandemic sand, a symbol of community or is it a marker of our divide?  No matter. Through this lens we can only cast a broad net of assumption and gag ourselves on the same giant piece of cake.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ONLY ONE

 

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Release Into The Current [on KS Friday]

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There is a truth about change and it is simply this: if you know where you are going then it is not change. It is re-creation in a different form of what already exists. Deck chairs on the Titanic.

We are in a bonafide period of change. It seems the stars we once used to plot our course have gone dark in the sky. It is only human, when adrift to demand the return of the stars, to insist that we can go back in time and nestle in the comfort of the known and soak in the warmth of what we once knew. In the midst of our insistence we forget that, with this new experience of pandemic, we are being changed, too. Even if we could go back in time, with our new knowledge and experiences, we would not be the same. We will not be the same. The known has become an ill-fitting suit.

When I was learning to scuba dive, Master Terry took me to a place where the current was strong. The learning that day was in letting go and allowing the current to carry me. A drift dive. When I first entered the current I struggled for control and quickly exhausted myself. Finally, understanding that control was not an option, I released myself into the current. I’ll never forget it. It felt like flying. That day I went where the current carried me. It was surprising and powerful. After the dive Terry said, “Now you know. You can never go back.”

We are in a drift dive. Adrift. This current is intense. Where we go will be surprising and powerful. And the only certainty is this: we can never go back.

ADRIFT on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available in iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ADRIFT

 

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adrift/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Learn It Again and Again [on DR Thursday]

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“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.” ~ Pablo Picasso

This trail of images, all on the same canvas, is an idea trying hard not to become something else. It is a series of fitful starts and dissatisfied restarts.  It is not uncommon, when I feel that my well is dry, to start a painting and shove it through many phases of discontent. I pull on it and push on it like so much taffy.

I’ve learned (or I am making it up at this very moment) that this exercise of discontent is important. It is a necessary skill to develop – not to get too attached to an idea or invested in how it “should” be. When my well is empty, I generally stumble into this old mistake: I try to force a result. I try to make it happen. I somehow forget that the best work is a relationship, a process that has very little to do with muscle and everything to do with heart. And so, I roll through a series of forced images.

And then, one day, I throw up my hands and all thoughts of my precious idea go out the window. I let go. And that is the exact moment that the idea becomes something else and the painting can finally begin.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE STORY OF A MISS

 

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Keep Playing [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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As I reported several weeks ago, if you where standing on the far side of the piano, you’d never know Kerri was playing with casts on both of her wrists. You’d never know that she was playing with two broken wrists, her right thumb completely out of the line-up. Nine fingers doing the job of ten.

As a composer, singer-songwriter, a person whose entire career, her livelihood, has been about playing the piano, she was at the keyboard four days after her fall. She had to know if she could play. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. In my best mother hen voice, I suggested, “Maybe you should wait a bit.”

“I have to know,” she said with THAT tone in her voice.

When I first met her, I took note that she stands when she plays the piano. She is not a bench sitter. Rather, she is a full-body player. She is a full body composer. Sometimes the piano literally hops with the force of her playing. She is little but grows exponentially in energy and presence when she steps up to the keys. The first time she played for me I had to step back from the power that came through her.

Now, several weeks into her mending time, the casts are off and the splints are on. I tell her that they make her look all Mad Max. Michael Jackson’s glove is bush-league compared to her performer-fashion-statement: double black splints.  She looks like a pugilist getting into the ring with her piano. The disparity between her bruiser-piano-vogue and the beautiful music she creates makes my head swirl.

Of course, all of that piano punching has brought a new hurdle in the wrist recovery saga: tendonitis. She went on a Google frenzy when the hard nodules began forming in her palm. They hurt. “My palm is on fire!” she said, “What do you think they are?” Google inflamed her already wild imagination with horror diagnoses and none of the scenarios were good. In fact, they were downright dire.

Doctors were called. Photos of palms sent. A scary foray into the medical facility mid-pandemic was arranged. She emerged from the facility, pulled off her protective mask and climbed into the truck. “Well?” I prompted.

“I didn’t touch anything,” she announced.

“I’m asking about your hands,” I huffed. “What did they say about the nodules growing in your hands?”

“My tendons don’t like that I’m playing with casts,” she said. “Probably tendonitis.”

“That’s good news!” I said and she hit me with THAT look. “Okay, so. Well. Not great news. What are you supposed to do?”

“Keep playing,” she said, looking out the front window. “They gave me some exercises. Advil. But, I keep playing. What else can I do?” she asked, a question not to me.

“Good then. You’ll keep playing.” My mother hen suggestion went unvoiced: maybe some rest? I didn’t want to be hit with THAT look two times in a row. Instead, knowing full well that she is not a bench sitter, knowing that she is a full-body artist and that, for her, to play is to heal, I said, “Okay. Let’s do it. Let’s keep playing.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SAGA CONTINUED

 

 

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