Gain The Force [on KS Friday]

It seemed appropriate, in order to conclude our year of water, that we travel to visit a region of the country with 250 waterfalls. Of course, we didn’t know about the waterfalls until we arrived. Water, water everywhere. I howled with laughter and secretly affirmed that our unintentional pilgrimage to the waterfalls might appease the great WHATEVER and finally release us from water-resistance into the watercourse way.

I will someday look back at our journey to the falls and realize the extent to which we “let go.” It already serves as a marker, a breaking through the resistance and fight of the last chapter and into the next. The new chapter.

Yesterday, at work, I had the opportunity to tease apart a question en route to asking a better question. I am fortunate to have a team of collaborators that, instead of rejecting my alternate perspective outright, even amidst the frustration of my challenge of the norm, ask me to lean into it. My assignment was to return next week with a better question. I am a firm believer that the form of a question – the way that it is asked – determines the answers that are seen or – more importantly – not seen.

Better questions are like the watercourse way. They show up when, instead of swimming against the current, against “what is,” the swimmer/questioner turns and allows the current to carry them. Wu-wei. Natural action. Every creator knows the moment of frustration when trying to force something into being. More force can only produce more frustration. Or, it breaks something. The best thing to do, when force can only produce an eddy, is put down the brushes, step back, and look at what-is. Force never produces a better question. Stepping off the mountain so it becomes visible – or acknowledging the direction of the river’s flow and giving into it, always reveals new possibility.

It is what I remembered for myself at the waterfall. It made me chuckle, then, when my first moment back at work, I was doing for my team what I’ve done all my life: attempting to flip or free a perspective by lobbying for flow; acknowledge what exists-in-the-moment versus what we want to exist. The better question – for me – and others – is always found when we turn and gain the full force of the river.

[I can’t imagine a better piece of music to carry us into 2022. Give yourself a treat – truly – and listen to Riverstone]

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATERFALL

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Dump The Suit [on DR Thursday]

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” ~ Lao Tzu

Lately, I’m on a Lao Tzu quote kick. Have you noticed? An advocate for a simple life, his words – or those attributed to him – appeal to me at this moment in my walk.

The outstanding characteristic of my working life is that I have mostly been a sore thumb, the person in the collective who doesn’t belong to the collective. That’s been my value: I am the consummate outsider. I do not sit on the mountain so I can more clearly see the mountain. The alternative perspective. I’ve not always found that to be a comfortable role. For instance, alternative perspectives are invited into conversations but the alternative perspective, when voiced, is rarely welcome. The first response to the alternative perspective is almost always an emphatic whisper, “Conform!”

I have, my entire life as the sore thumb, been told that, “Our people will never do that!” or “They don’t think that way, therefore you must conform-modify-edit…” The emphasis is placed squarely on the limit, the notion that “They can’t…” or “They won’t…”

And, I’ve never found that to be true. In fact, that’s precisely the perception that a sore thumb is hired to challenge. “They” can. “They” will. The job of the alternative perspective is to emphasize the possible, to open paths to the not-yet-imagined, to the revelation of, “We didn’t know we could do that.” Or see that. Or feel that.

In order to walk in an alien world, the sore thumb necessarily steps into the unknown. The first step is to listen and learn: to open to the possible within themselves, to challenge the inner-limiter. The alternative perspective lives on a two-way-discomfort-street with their client.

It is never comfortable to “not know.” It’s never comfortable to say, “I have no idea what that means.” However, it’s a great exercise, a necessary practice. And, it’s actually what the alternative perspective is paid to do and to model. “We didn’t know we could do that,” are words that come after a step into discomfort, a step beyond the known limits. “We step together because we both know how this feels.”

The alternative perspective is never right or wrong, it is simply an alternative. “These are the patterns I see. They may be useful or not.” Conformity bristles when the unknown beckons. Conformity is safe, and the emphatic whisper, while meant to maintain comfort for all, is the line that a sore thumb is hired to help the whisperer cross, “The possibilities we seek live beyond this line.”

The first day I put out my consultant shingle, I bought a suit. It’s what I thought I was supposed to wear. I bought my suit because I’d snagged a client, a financial advisor who wanted me to work with his staff. He’d seen my work – he’d seen me work – in another context. After the job, he asked me, “What’s up with the suit?” I’d always been told by well-meaning teachers that I should “dress for the job I wanted,” so I told my client that I’d dressed for the job. He gave me some great advice: dump the suit. “I want you to show up as you are, not as the person you think we want to see.”

His words became my mantra.

Truth: I hated that suit. I felt like an imposter wearing it. My client gave me a great gift. Be content to be yourself. Challenge the inner-limiter. Inner-limiters are very loud, and like outer-limiters, are generally not worth listening to; they will always advise you to conform, say nothing, and put on an ill-fitting suit.

[Happy Thanksgiving]

read Kerri’s blog post about GOURDS

tango with me © 2018 david robinson

Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Last night we watched a documentary on the launch of the James Webb telescope, The Hunt for Planet B. One of the scientists said (I scrambled for a pencil but didn’t get the direct quote), “There’s something deeply human that needs to connect.” True. So true. So, we launch a miraculous telescope into space, far beyond the moon, and aim it at planets that might, just might have life forms capable of looking back at us. Not science fiction. Science. To connect.

There’s a prerequisite to connecting: an intentional step into the unknown. It is as true when shooting telescopes into space as it is when trying to grasp “Who am I?” “Lao Tzu wrote, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Our ancestors painted the walls of caves, not for decoration, but for connection to “something greater”. It is the same reason folks fill up synagogues and mosques and churches and temples. To connect.

Art, science, and religion all serve the same deeply human impulse. To connect. To reach across time, to reach across space, to plumb the depths of inner and outer space, in order to connect. Legacy and imagination. Identity, tradition, progress toward…connection to something bigger, something better. We reach to grasp and breathe life into our best ideas, both future and past.

The first step of the entrepreneur, the artist, the scientist, the explorer, the dreamer…the human, is a step into the unknown, to question the limits of the known. What else? Leeches were once believed to be good medicine until some bright inquiring mind observed and asked, ‘I wonder it that is really true?”

Einstein dreamed a dream and, so, he reached through the math to connect to the inconceivable: light is the only constant. Time and space are malleable. Picasso, initially, hid his first cubist painting, not yet ready risk ridicule. And then, needing to connect to “what might be”, he turned it around, stepped into new unknown territory, and invited the world to see.

read Kerri’s blog post on the UNKNOWN

Know The Moment [on KS Friday]

“A work needs to relax toward finality. It cannot be pushed, it cannot be worried, it cannot be analyzed to completion. Pushing against the natural rhythms of creation will just churn up the waters. Clarity comes only when the waters settle and the air clears.” ~Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

Because I tend to speak in metaphors in a world enamored with goals, what I say often, at first, goes unheard. Skip is stewarding an amazing creation and has, from my perspective, just passed a significant milestone. I told him that, in working with many playwrights and painters and actors, there is an initial phase in every creative process in which the creator works for form. It’s like the tide going out, dumping everything down on the page to gather and find the story-form. Then, in a beautifully mysterious moment, the tide turns and finding form is no longer the intention. Clarity becomes the aim. Skip is a listener. Metaphors tossed into an analytic frame generally seem out of place or perhaps arrive too early to the party. But I’ve learned they are seeds that, when planted, begin to work their way up through the crusty soil.

John Guare said that a writer has to write ten bad pages to arrive at a single good page. The ten bad pages are the search for form. Reducing ten into an essence of one is the work of clarity. The phases, the exhale for form and the inhale of clarity, are two different yet interrelated energies.

When I am working on a canvas I might evolve the image for days. Sketching, painting, wiping, adjusting, wiping, sketching, painting. The search for form. Adding and subtracting. Moving the composition, tilting the symmetry. And then, something clicks and I know. The painting is formed and now the pursuit is to hold its hand and bring it into the light. Inhale.

Because my father recently passed, followed hard upon by my dear Ruby, I have been reviewing much of my life. Roger used to say that the first 30 years of life were about trying to become something and then, one day, you realize that you are that thing you were trying to become. The rest is learning how to be it. Searching for form. And then, clarifying. I think Roger was half-right. Becoming and being are cycles, not arrivals.

The cycles of my life are explicit. I enter into worlds that I know nothing about – either by accident or invitation. That I know nothing about the world is precisely why I’m invited in – or bumble in. I see it. I bring it metaphors. It is uncomfortable to not-know so I learn about the world as an outsider. It helps me see more clearly. I know the moment when form turns toward clarity. I see when the process roils into an eddy. I understand how to free stuck energy. I’m a midwife to creative process, a guide across unseen bridges.

We stood in the November sun admiring the giant flowers against the blue sky. I loved the idea that I was experiencing an ant’s view. These past many years I have been looking for the new form. Pushing. What was I? What am I now? And, in a beautifully mysterious moment, I realized that the tide was at long last coming in.

read Kerri’s blog post about GIANT FLOWERS

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Move Toward Wholeness [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I look at the bowl of green tomatoes, each plucked from the vine before we pulled the plants from their pots, still moving toward red ripeness, I think of Joe. He was fond of saying, “Life moves in the direction of wholeness.” It’s important to note that his fond phrase included nothing about outcomes. Joe was particular and knew that life is movement and not arrival.

I am revisiting the word ‘rehearsal’ these days only this version of rehearsal is not on the stage with creative minds. It is over Zoom with decidedly analytical minds. Actors in rehearsal halls move through a process of exploration that leads to specific choices. The goal, if there is one, is to embody a state of moving presence within a story. The analytic mind comes with a template overlay that is placed atop the experience before it actually occurs. The language reveals all: content items. Telemetry. The mathematics of movement. Rehearsal is predicated on precision.

As I’ve probably written ad nauseam, these minds are not in opposition. They are complimentary. Freedom of artistic expression comes from years of study of technique. The path to mastery winds through repetition and constraint. Saying more with less comes after a lifetime of saying less with more. The creative mind is one step closer to the senses. The analytic mind applies language, gives voice, to the experience.

Many years ago I participated in a workshop with an actor/director of Noh Theatre. The process was strict, exacting. The movements precise. There was no room for error. We, the participants in the workshop, knew we’d never achieve proficiency since it takes years and years of rehearsal to perform even the simplest of symbolic gestures. No one sings opera in a day. We did our best and failed and failed and failed. That was the point. That is always the point. Each failure is actually an exercise of muscle memory. The body learns. The mind is impatient. Rehearsal is rarely about the mind, despite what the mind insists. At the end of the day, our workshop leader gave a short demonstration of his art form. His ease of movement, born from years of repetition within constraint, was breathtaking. He was free.

Many years later I was helping John in his wood shop. He was a master wood worker. I watched him look over his lumber, preparing to build a cabinet. He ran his hand over the wood, feeling his way into his project. “Ah,” he said, laying his hand on a piece of cherry wood. “This is it.” John was like the Noh actor.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, “it just feels right.” Then he smiled and added, “Plus, I’ve built a lot of crap.”

Life, moving toward wholeness.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Stand In Time [on DR Thursday]

Stephen Hawking asked why we remember the past but not the future. Yesterday, in the middle of a meeting, I received a slack message with a sentiment from Russ Ackoff: entrepreneurs stand in the future and look at the present. I was fascinated by an article by Wade Davis, writing about a culture that experiences time as movement backwards; we row our way into the future.

Declan Donnellan writes that it is impossible to try and be present because we already are present. We live in it. We have to try very hard not to be present. In fact, we have to split ourselves in two halves. One looking backward. The other looking forward. We are, each and every one, Janus.

It is the time of year that time changes. It’s an odd ritual to “fall back” in time. What was 5 o’clock will soon be 4 o’clock, not because of a strange universal movement between planets and stars, but because we say so. A few states in the union don’t participate in the ritual so their time stays the same.

Time on a line. So many different realities, even in the most basic experience. Constructs of time.

I’ve read that old age is a return to childhood. Many, many great thinkers and writers from many disparate cultures tell us that we will journey through life and arrive where we began. The destination is ourself. Have you ever tried to describe your self and found the task impossible? Words simply cannot reach that level of complexity. There is a notion popular in the self-help world to define your life mission, your single life purpose. It’s meant to give you focus-of-action and certain-location on your line of time. It is also nearly impossible to articulate and becomes an exercise in metaphor selection. I’ve smiled knowingly as people in my past have asked, “Is this my mission or am I making it up?” The answer to both is, of course, yes. In a more universal peek, the exercise is meant to take you one more step around the circle that will bring you back to your self.

When I was doubting myself, judgmental because I “didn’t know” what I was doing, Quinn pointed to the tallest building and said, “The person on the top floor is just making it up, too.” He was standing in my future, looking back.

It’s just a matter of time.

Just.

read Kerri’s post about TEA LIGHTS

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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!

Causal Your Effectual [on DR Thursday]

KDOT Underpainting copy

under-painting of One Chord Ahead

This is my version of under painting. It’s the base layer for what-comes-next. In school, they teach that under-painting is mostly monochromatic. It’s meant to give value definition and basic shape to an-already-determined composition. For me, it serves another purpose altogether.

It is true that I already know what this painting looks like when it is finished. I have the image in my head. It is also true that I have absolutely no idea what this painting will look like when finished. There’s a magic point in the process when the painting takes over and I follow the leader. I’ve learned that the real dance of artistry is to let both of these truths be…true. Know and not know. Lead and follow.

Under painting, for me, is psychological prep work, readiness to enter the paradox. It is my process of thinking-things-through so I can stop-thinking-things-through and enter the dance without focusing on the steps.

Causal and effectual. I first encountered these phrases when I waded into the world of entrepreneurs. They are process terms. Causal basically means that you begin with a goal in mind and map your steps to meet the predetermined goal. Effectual is the inverse. Looking at the maps (choices) and available resources, the goal is identified based on what’s available; the goal is fluid and changes as you progress.

Raphael was causal. Jackson Pollock was effectual. Maybe.

I laughed when I first heard the terms. They gave me some good language to use for my creative process. Causal/Effectual. Both/And. For me, one cannot live separate from the other. Start with an image in mind or start with a canvas, some paint, and see what happens. Either way, one process will inevitably cross paths with the other. Jackson Pollock, at some point in his random painting dance, became intentional and compositional with his spatter. Raphael, at some point in his tightly predetermined composition, allowed his brush to flow, to move intuitively, freely.

Under painting = I have to make color messes and utterly stifle a composition before I can stand at the edge, jump, and set myself free.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDER PAINTING

 

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Infuse Them With Hope [on Two Artists Tuesday]

THIS AsYouIs copy

Go to the AS YOU IS website and this is what you will find:

As You Is® was created to start conversations… to cause total strangers to smile… to make people think… to get others to feel so accepted they break out in impromptu dance… and to put a serious chink in the armor of racism.

Our hope is one day children can embrace being uniquely themselves, where they feel safe being different and where old people —like our founder Michael Fornwald — can age gracefully or ungracefully sans self-contempt.

Please join us by infecting others with hope one hella cool t-shirt or cap at a time.

It happened to us, just as Michael intended. Strolling down the aisle of the farmer’s market, we saw the shirts and stopped in our tracks. “What is that?” I asked Kerri. She smiled, and then laughed, and finally said, “Let’s go find out.” We talked with Michael for the next 20 minutes. He shared his story. We shared ours. We talked about acceptance of self and others. We talked of the need for hope in these ugly, divided times. And while we talked, others saw the shirts and stopped in their tracks.

We stepped aside and watched as people did double-takes. Some hovered and talked. Some danced and laughed. And talked. Some ventured into the center to talk, as we did, with Michael. The shirts started conversations.

Call it a brand or call it a mission, in Michael’s case, it is both. It’s genuine. It’s based on the premise that acceptance of others begins with acceptance of self. You’d be a fool to argue with the premise.

Amidst our divided national narrative it is a serious and legitimate question to ask: would you rather infect others with hatred or with hope? Michael’s answer is clear and he’s doing more than talking about it.

We are the proof that it’s working. We walked away infused with hope, stepping just a little bit lighter, and the conversation he inspired in us hasn’t stopped in the weeks since we happened upon his shirts.

as you is website screenshot copyGO HERE. BUY SHIRTS. SUPPORT THE INFUSION OF HOPE

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AS YOU IS

 

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SHOP KERRI’S ‘Be Kind’ DESIGNS

 

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Pivot [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Art In Me copy 3

I learned many things following Skip through the curious world of technology entrepreneurism. Peculiar terms like ‘incubator” and “accelerator,” once reserved for premature babies or the gas pedal in my car, were reassigned to ideas: ideas in need of nurturing or, more remarkable, ideas pumped up with steroids and released ravenous upon investors (who were also ravenous but more composed by virtue of their power position).

Among the most important lessons was this: despite the best incubation, even with warp speed acceleration, the best idea, the best product, was probably obsolete the day it hit the market. Someone, somewhere in the world, had already improved upon it. A better mousetrap has little or no shelf life. And so, I also added to my vocabulary a new understanding of the word ‘pivot.’ I love how similar an entrepreneur’s terminology is to a ballet dancer. Pivot, move, fluid, flow, swivel, turn, revolve. Keep your center. Keep your eyes on the spot or you will grow dizzy and fall. The spot is not the individual product, the single idea. It is the business spawned from the idea. It is the ongoing relationship with relevance/obsolescence.

Those in my age group are distinguished by our dance with obsolescence. Graphic designers, publishers, musicians, educators,…artists. We are distinct in having one foot in an analog world – I prefer easel and canvas to stylus and computer screen –  and the other foot in the digital tsunami. The art is innate. Relevance is another story entirely. Reinvention (another word for pivot) is a necessity. Entrepreneurs and artists are not so different.

After seeing our melange post on Surfing Uncertainty, Master Marsh  reflected that surfing uncertainty was more than a design, it was my credo. Horatio jested that I was either a dilettante-from-hell or a bodhisattva. I laughed. Illumination seems a bit out of my reach. I think technology makes dilettantes of us all!

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read Kerri’s blog post about ART ALREADY IN ME

 

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i was came into the world with art already in me ©️ 2016/2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson