Put Down Your Straight Edge [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I just wrote a “Statement of Philosophy of Teaching.” It’s for an application to teach at a college that emphasizes experiential learning. If I had a dime for every time I championed experiential learning or used that phrase on a crowd of wooden educators, stony-faced business types, or boards-of-directors, I’d have no need to write statements of teaching philosophy. And, truly, think on it for a moment, what is the opposite?

Andy’s phrase: experience equals knowledge, knowledge equals confidence, confidence equals success. In other words, the only way to learn to ride a bike is to get on the bike and ride. There will be falls. We call that learning. And, the really great thing about getting on the bike and riding is that one day, after a few more falls and many more miles, you might compete in the Tour de France. You will be pursuing something other than your balance skills. Learning is like that.

The problem with shorthand phrases like Andy’s, although accurate on one level,  is that they describe a straight line. Life, I’ve learned from experience, has rowdy roller coaster phases that nearly fling you off the planet, awkward backward stepping to get out of wrong choices, chapters wandering lost in the forest, days spent sitting on the rock stripping off the armor before another step can be taken. Life is not lived in a straight line. Experience is a windy road. It only looks straight in the post-mortem. Knowledge gathering en route to confidence is no walk in a meadow. Andy will tell you that, too.

We make meaning out of our experiences after the fact. We have experiences first and story them second. It is why learning is circular. It is why a rich life is circular, why life lessons come around again and again.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WINDING TRAILS

 

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Know The Value [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“What’s it worth?” This seems to be the least answerable question of our times. Its cousin question, “Is it real?” is under assault and so qualities like ‘value’ or ‘worth’ are less and less discernible.

For instance, I laughed heartily recently when I listened to a podcast Horatio sent my way. It was about the billions of dollars spent on our educational system of testing that has produced minimal results. It doesn’t work. Data, brain science, and common sense have known this for years. I can hear Tom now (and see his famous sigh-with-eye-roll), “It has to be real. It’s about relationship. It needs direct application.” Do the tests make for better education? No. Of course not. The opposite. And, we knew that before implementing the system of testing. So, what is real? What was it worth? The system consumes itself.

A few years ago, Kerri and I went to the Chicago Art Expo. We came upon a gallery installation, a single piece. It was priced at $40,000.00. A line of twine stretched across the booth. Clipped to the twine was a single household sponge. It had been dipped in paint. Kerri, using her outside voice, said to all who could hear, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” It was purchased. What was it worth? Was it real? It was the precursor to artist Maurizio Cattelan’s recent piece. He duct taped a banana to a wall. He’s now sold three versions for $120,000 apiece.  What is it worth? What is real? Art commenting on art. The system consumes itself.

Politics in America. It’s all about crowd size regardless of what the photograph reveals. [sorry, I couldn’t help myself]. There are so many that we actually keep a running tally of the presidential lies. We are slack-jawed at those who nod their heads and bellow their agreement with the demonstrably untrue. What is real? What’s it worth? The country hungrily consumes itself.

We haunt antiques stores. We rarely buy anything but enjoy the exploration. At School Days Mall, one of our favorite adventure antique grounds, Kerri turned and gasped. A paint-by-number landscape wearing a Minnie Pearl tag. “I recognize this painting!” she said, wide eyed. Her mom, Beaky, liked to paint and had a paint-by-number phase. The painting evoked a good story. It evoked a momentary possibility that this might be THE ONE Beaky painted. Kerri sent a text to her sister. They shared a memory. They reached through time and had a moment with their mother. Priceless.

Watching Kerri, so excited, text with her sister, it occurred to me that one reason we go to antiques stores is to touch stuff that comes from a time when value and worth were better understood. We go to the throwaways to find some substance. What is real is not in question.

Banana taped to the wall or paint-by-number landscape? What’s real? What’s it worth?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAINT-BY-NUMBER

 

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Learn The DogDog Way [on Merely A Thought Monday

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DogDog is an Aussie and takes the job of herding his people very seriously. We are a tough bunch. Two artists (one A.D.D. and the other O.C.D) and a BIG cat are not easily collected or moved in a consistent or singular direction. It is not an understatement to say that DogDog was not given an easy task in this lifetime.

On top of the endless challenge of gathering the un-gatherable, he is a hyper sensitive boy; he knows what we are feeling before we do. He runs all of our emotions through his filters. The Dog Whisperer says that dogs are masters at reading energy and DogDog must have graduated at the top of his pooch class. Anticipating our every move is made more complex by his innate skill in surfing our full palette of turbulent and uninhibited feelings. Were he human, he’d be a nervous wreck.

His days are full, chaotic, and active. And so, at the end of the day, when we at last settle, when the perimeter is safe and we are secure, he collapses. It is almost as if someone disconnected the cable to his battery. He hits the floor. His sleep is immediate and sound (unless, of course, we move).

I realized, in watching his deep and peaceful sleep, the kind of sleep that I rarely experience, that he is teaching me to love the impossible task. In fact, he simply loves the task before him with no regard to its achievement. He engages the impossible with joy and a hearty wag-a-wag. He participates. He delights. He loves. He, therefore, has no need for either the possible or the impossible. Those are abstractions and he deals with the reality of the moment.

Neither does he resent the turbulence we toss in his path. He takes no ownership for how we feel and, so, is not compelled to control what we feel. He simple reads the color of our mood and loves accordingly. He does not deflect or dodge or manipulate. He does not ignore or pretend or deny. He stands without judgment in the daily bedlam of his humans as if there was no better place to be on earth.

I desire the peaceful sleep he experiences. He shows me the way everyday. Admittedly, I am a slow study but he is a patient and generous teacher. “Tomorrow,” I tell myself, “I will love the impossible task.” Or, perhaps, if I really learn the DogDog way, I will give up the notion of possible or impossible altogether and simply attend with joy to the task at hand.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DogDog Sleeping

 

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Use Both Ears [On Merely A Thought Monday]

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When I was young and upset about an issue I can no longer remember, Tom tempered me with this question: “Is this the hill you want to die on?”

Another time, still young, I was very angry, and on a warm spring day in the central valley, Arnie sat with me on the grass and listened to my tale of woe. I wanted to write a letter expressing my discontent. He nodded and, in his gentle way, taught me that sometimes it is sometimes necessary to express yourself because you need to express yourself and for no other reason: “Write it because you need to say it, not because they need to hear it,” he said. This morning, as I write this, I can’t for the life of me remember what made me so angry.

Quinn taught me that there are seven billion people with me on this earth and not a single one cares about what I look like or what I think. Like me, they are invested in what they look like, what they think.

They do care, however, that I listen. Isn’t it the case so often in this life that the opposite of what we believe is actually where the power lives? Aren’t we under siege in a raging war of opinions, a constant bombardment of competing points-of-view? So many mouths and not a single ear in the mix.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what made me so angry on those days so long ago. I can’t remember the hill I chose not to die on. What seemed so important was, in truth, not even worth remembering. I do, thankfully, remember the sage advice of so many mentors, teachers and friends. I’m so grateful that in the midst of my red hot self-righteousness, I was capable of listening.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EARS AND MOUTHS

 

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Take A Wrong Turn [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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As a wanderer, I am sometimes envious of those rare people in my life who have always seemed to know their destination and have appeared to walk a clear path to it. They have lived life according to a road map. Director, doctor, producer. Sometimes I want the comfort of a straight line but then I come to my senses. I remember that straight lines do not occur in nature.

I am given to taking side roads. Exploration trips. As Master Marsh once asked, “Why do you need to take a run at every cliff that you see?” Curiosity makes for a more colorful path than the taupe-existence of ‘knowing.’ It is more honest, too.

When I was a teacher it always irritated me when the adults placed enormous pressure on their students to “know where they were going.” Over-serious adults pretending that life required hard, unflappable predetermination. “The decisions you make today will impact you the rest of your life!”  Well…when is that not true? Tom used to roll his eyes and mutter, “Why is it that adults feel the need to threaten young people with advice that they could not, when young, take themselves?”

Things change. Hurricanes come. Minds go. We age. We discover ourselves or, as Kerri likes to say, “We become more of who we are.” It is comfortable to believe in our powers of control but it’s rarely our destiny that we actually command. The Greeks wrote more than a few good plays about the I-control-my-destiny-confusion. So did Shakespeare.

It is nice to have a map. It is great to have an intended target. It is worth mentioning to young people and old that life is not found in the target but in the walk toward it. Targets change. And, how rewarding would it be, when young, if all of the old walkers admitted that their paths were rarely straight, known, or easy. In fact, when I hear the tales and tell my own, it is the unseen forces, the happenstance, the wrong turn, the accidental bumping-into that gave the walk its riches.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MAPS

 

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Enjoy The Ride [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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There was that eye-popping day that I ran across the street, more geezer than man. Somehow, my knees and hips, rather than running with the ease I had always enjoyed, squeaked and creaked and rattled along. Although I made it to the other side without being hit by oncoming traffic, I was forced to face the fact that my appendages were aging. I needed to allow more time in my crossing.

And then there was the day that I was driving. My eyes, always 20/20, missed an exit because I could not see it. I blamed it on the oncoming headlights, a dirty windshield, a too busy mind. A paper thin veneer of denial. I knew I’d finally come to the day that my eyes were no longer hawk-perfect [vanity note: I still don’t wear my glasses unless I need to read subtitles at the foreign film festival or drive at night. Denial, although thin, is elastic stuff].

When I was a kid I was on a road trip with my mother and grandparents. My grandfather was driving and he was pulled over for speeding. When the cop came to the window, my sharp-as-a-tack grandfather transformed. Cranking down the window he was suddenly a doddering, hard-of-hearing, slightly shaky, clearly demented old guy. The policeman asked for his license and my grandfather looked in panic to his wife for interpretation and assistance. The cops next question was, “Is this man capable of driving?” We stared  blankly ahead. Grandpa dialed it back a notch and recovered some coherence and believability. He got off with a warning. That day I learned one of the primary advantages of aging.

Sometime since moving to Wisconsin, I crossed a magic line. Although I do not think I am old, I am, more often than not, seen as old. A grey beard helps that perception. I confess to looking into the mirror and seeing, not my face, but my grandfather’s. Actually, a mix master image of both of them. They stare back at me when I brush my teeth. I now brush my teeth in low light.

I find this new mask odd and slightly intriguing. Sometimes I wonder who this new face will become. Sometimes I wonder who this new face is. Mostly, I can’t wait to be pulled over. I know exactly what to do and only hope that Kerri will play along.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about There’s Nothing Wrong With Being Older

 

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sacred series: inner life. one of two versions of this image. it is one of the many benefits of aging is to look inside and see lots of color!

 

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sacred series: inner life ©️ 2017 david robinson

Admire Them [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Andy Goldsworthy might have created this tree. The limbs pressing through burls, a tree grown sturdy and beautiful, made unique by its wounds.  It is a monument to resilience.

Tom, an educator the entirety of his life, told me that he was again and again astounded by the resilience he saw in children. They inspired him. Their hurt swirling into a burl,  giving them fuel to rise. Their struggles and fortitude driving their teacher to be better.

In the art gallery, the woodworker told us about his work. He lifted the bowls to show the unique grains, the live edges and imperfections. In every piece, the beauty was once a blemish.

There are many, many trees in our beloved Bristol Wood. Inevitably it is the burl trees, the oddities, that call us to stop for a visit and admire them.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the BURL TREE

 

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may you: a painting/prayer spoken to life’s burls

 

 

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may you ©️ 2014 david robinson