Step Into The Next [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There is a plot of ground in the backyard of my growing-up-home, as Kerri calls it, that for many years served as my father’s garden. He has not tended it nor planted it for quite some time and yet, a few intrepid carrots have pushed their green shoots up through the crusty soil. The impulse to life never ceases to amaze me.

In the back of our refrigerator we found a red onion. It was not ancient and forgotten. We used half of it in a new recipe a month ago and laughed aloud when we pulled it out and found it sprouting. In the dark and cold recesses of the refrigerator drawer, it sent out explorers to find the sun. It looked like an alien creature, these pale arms reaching, reaching from a purple half-orb.

Before we drove away, I walked through the empty rooms of my growing-up-home, touching walls, gathering memories, shedding the skin of my childhood. We’d already moved my dad to a memory care facility. Now, my mother is settling into her new apartment. Closing a chapter as another opens.  All are reaching through a necessary uncertainty for what is next.

We left Denver and drove up the mountain into and through a furious snowstorm. Cresting the continental divide, we descended again into spring. There was snow and then, within a mile, there was a blanket of green climbing the hillside. This morning, outside of our door, the birds are in full chorus. The dandelions are in a heated competition with the grass and it’s anyone’s call which will win, though, left to their own devices, I’d put my money on the dandelions.

We think we are in control of nature but the last laugh is always on us. We are nature. Our control fantasy crumbles with age, making space for new life and next seasons. Whether we want to or not, we send out new shoots of pale green from our dark purple skin, hoping to punch through crusty soil to find the sun. Either way, we change form, stepping into the next, leaving well-known houses and used skin, filled with rich remembering, opening to welcome the new. The impulse to life.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ONION

Catch His Hand [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago, somewhere in the middle of the 1990’s, I painted a portrait of my dad. It is monochromatic and a fairly quick study. In the painting, he is either emerging or returning to the corn. Or both. I can’t remember why I painted him in the corn except that he was born in Iowa and wished his entire adult life to return to the small town where he grew up. Perhaps this is a painting about yearning. Perhaps it is a painting about returning home.

It occurred to me, when I found it while re-stacking paintings after the great studio flood, that I painted this when he was roughly the age I am now. For a fleeting moment I wanted to paint a monochrome self-portrait simply so I might place it across the room. We’d have a staring contest that reached beyond both of our lives.

I chucked the idea for many reasons but mostly because I had no idea what “field” I might emerge from or into? My symbolic return home would be…what? I am not connected to a single place, a tiny town in Iowa or, like Tom Mck, a ranch in California. I have been a wanderer.

I’ve always loved hands. They are, in many ways, more expressive than faces. They are not as guarded and rarely put on airs. My dad was a working man and has working man hands. He was proud of the work he did. It was hard and broke his body but he loved it. It was out of doors under the open sky. He started his career as a teacher and, although he never confessed as much, I think he hated teaching. The classroom was suffocating. He needed to get his hands in the dirt, feel the sun on his face. Even after he retired, as he aged, he sat on the porch in the mornings, he worked his garden or clipped his grass or cleaned his gutters; anything to be outside.

I had a dream many years ago that has stayed with me. My dad and I were free-falling through time. As we fell, he reached out his hand. I stretched out my arm, tried to grasp his hand, but in falling, we were just out of reach. In the dream I stared intently at his hand as I tried to extend my arm, tried to grasp his hand. I knew, if I was successful, if we could catch his hand, it might not stop our fall, but we, neither of us, would fall alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLUMBUS HANDS

Walk With Dorothy [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am fond of falling into rabbit holes. For instance, I just wrote the phrase, “racking my brain” and then doubted my spelling and wrote, “wracking my brain.” Was I wracking my brain or racking my brain as I tried to figure out who Lily Tomlin reminded me of? We’ve been binge watching episodes of Grace & Frankie.

This is what the oracle in the temple of google revealed to me: To rack one’s brain is to torture it or to stretch it by thinking very hard. To wrack one’s brain would be to wreck it. This might sort of make sense in some figurative uses, but rack is the standard spelling where the phrase means to think very hard.

After sufficiently stretching my brain on the rack, somewhere in the early episodes of season 2, I realized that Lily Tomlin’s character reminded me of my great aunt Dorothy. Not so much in specific action – but in orientation to life and in appearance. I admired her greatly.

Dorothy lived on the side of a mountain in a small house that may or may not have ever been level. It was a down hill stroll when walking from the kitchen to the living area. She cooked on a cast iron wood burning stove. Her tiny yard, also clinging to the side of the mountain, was a miracle of blue bottles glittering in the sun and brilliant red hummingbird feeders. Poncho, a dog older than god herself, sat in the yard and watched the day go by. My great uncle Del rolled cigarettes and kept his world war 2 army jeep in usable shape.

Dorothy and Del were more interested in living life simply rather than gathering possessions or stacking achievements. The promise of a week with them was a promise of adventure. Catching pollywogs in old coffee cans, building rafts so we could Huck Finn our way across high mountain lakes, bumping in the jeep over ancient gold mining trails, discovering cabins and shelters slowly being reclaimed by the land. There were old graveyards and the hillside that the mountain town considered its dump. Dorothy was famous (to me) for finding treasure there. She had the eyes to see possibilities and potential in the community’s discards.

I often wonder if my love of walking was a gift from Dorothy. I adored walking with her. She was, at the same time, a free spirit and completely grounded. She was dedicated to the appreciation of the moment. No frills. No illusions. The sun on her face was cause for celebration. She never traded simple present joy for some imagined future gain.

When I think of her, I smile. When I think of the many people who have influenced me, Quinn and Tom, Doug, MM, Mark, Judy…they all have a bit of Dorothy in their characters. Outliers. See-ers. Lots of laughter and ideas. The ability to find treasure – or make treasure – in the people and the possessions that society routinely throws away. Appreciators of the moment. Sharers of the riches they find there. Walkers-through-life that pay attention. Each and every one evokes a smile when they wander through my thoughts.

Ask me what makes a good life, what it is I hope to emulate, and leave behind, I will not need to rack or wrack my brain. I will point you to the long river of inspiration and smiles whose headwaters come from a tiny scrappy woman who lived in a tippy house on the side of a mountain surrounded by hummingbirds, colored glass, bacon and wood smoke.

read Kerri’s blog post about SMILE

Dance In Timelessness [on DR Thursday]

“We cannot struggle to be present. We can only discover that we are present.” ~ Declan Donnellan

The struggle to reach across the divide and grasp hands with the one that you love. It is a universal story. Yearning requires an obstacle to ignite the story.

I painted this for Kerri when we were attempting to bridge the divide. I lived in Washington. She lived in Wisconsin. During a visit, sitting in Adirondack chairs in her front yard, sipping wine and listening to music, we discovered that we were present. We danced in timelessness.

Obstacles become surmountable when love is on the other side of the abyss. We moved mountains and then dealt with the consequences.

It’s a rule that an artist should never tell an audience what a painting means, should never rob a viewer of their response, interpretation, and story of a painting. Sometimes it’s alright to break a rule. I painted this painting for Kerri. It’s about reaching for love across the divide, discovering the present, and the promise of dancing our way through the obstacles.

read Kerri’s blog post about DANCING IN THE FRONT YARD

dancing in the front yard ©️ 2013 david robinson

Weave With Intention [on KS Friday]

I have on my studio altar Demarcus’ paint box. Sitting atop the box is the nutcracker my grandfather used. He kept it next to the pool table. The nutcracker rests on a batik that Judy gave me. There is a laughing Buddha, a dancing Shiva, a sturdy White Buffalo. There is a woven braid of palm from Bali. Special rocks.

Dots that connect me to my heritage, to the people that inspire me. To ideas that open me and remind me to see the universal, the metaphoric.

I wrote a post this morning about history as events and history as interpretation. I tossed it because I lost my way, I lost what I really wanted to say in a forest of complexity. What I wanted to say is simple and that is why I lost it. What I wanted to say was this: I weave my history through the dots I connect, as do you. My history is not pre-wrapped. I crawl into bed each night and assign a story to the events of my day. Was it a good day or bad? Meaningful or insignificant?

There are events. DeMarcus and my grandfather have been gone a very long time. Yet, they are with me everyday. Encouraging me to play and discover. Crack nuts. Open my paint box. Feed the connection. Judy’s batik, a reminder to see the beauty. It’s all around if we care to see it. Connect the dots. Laugh. Dance. Stand sturdy. Weave the story. Weave with intention. Connected.

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read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

connected/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Add Another Layer [on DR Thursday]

Were you to meet my easel in a dark alley it would, no doubt, frighten you. It’s big. Substantial. Rough. Weathered from hard life. Knobby, bent and encrusted.

I see it with different eyes. It is one of my most sacred possessions. It was given to me, a gift of celebration, following the opening of my very first solo show. Prior to its arrival in my life I propped my canvas on chairs or tables, I leaned them against walls, kneeling to paint. My easel allowed me to stand.

Caked in charcoal and layer upon layer of paint, artifacts of the hundreds of paintings that it has held for me, I find it beautiful. It has traveled with me through many states and life stages. Its main support is bent. It creaks when I adjust the angle or drop the arm. It occurred to me this morning, as I rebuild my studio following the great flood, that I also creak when my angles adjust, when my arms drop. We’ve aged together.

In a life with very few constants, my easel has served as my single steadfast companion through every move, every triumph, every tragedy. It has stood with me when I was artistically productive and a barren wasteland. It’s listened to me rant, ramble, and recite. It’s been witness to my laughter and my fears. It has been the silent sentinel during my mini-deaths and slow rebirths.

This morning, as I carried my easel back into the studio, I realized how out-of-order my world has felt. If my studio is in disarray, as it has been since the flood, I am also in disarray. Returning my easel to its proper spot in the studio I felt a flood of relief. All of my pieces are nearly put back together again. My trusty companion, my reliable easel and I will soon stand together, paint will spatter, charcoal and matte medium will crust another coating onto our already layered archaeology.

Art hollers. Possibility beckons.

read Kerri’s blog post about the EASEL

Turn To See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Joseph Campbell said, “None of us lives the life that he/she imagined.” We have an idea, perhaps a plan, a good map, and then, well, life happens. As anyone who’s ever done home repair knows, things rarely go according to the plan. A good life, a life well lived, allows for both the well-laid-plan and the home-repair-rule. Things happen. Plans change. Visions grow. Pipes burst. Pieces don’t fit. Good angels arrive.

Dreams are fluid things. Despite expectations, very few life paths are straight lines.

One of the tenets we taught in The Circle Project was to plan for surprise. Expect the unexpected. There is nothing worse than an inflexible plan. There’s nothing better than a happy accident that alters the course of an idea, the direction of a life.

That we have penicillin in our world is the result of a famous happy accident. Intention met mishap met serendipity. A surprise discovery in a Petri dish in 1928 took years, many more Petri dishes, publications and happy discovery by other scientists who held a similar intention, followed by additional happy accidents to at last become a useful antibiotic available to the public in 1942.

Though I rarely include it in my list of gratitude, I would not be alive today were it not for that accidental mold in the dish and the subsequent scientists who included in their plan time to read journals and follow up on the research they found there. I’ve never come across a life plan that included a bout with life-threatening infection but I’ve heard countless tales of relief when the antibiotic – no longer a surprise – arrived. Surprise meets plan. Plan meets surprise. They are dance partners, not adversaries.

A team can practice, practice, practice, but they cannot know or predict the outcome of the game. It must first be played. And, as any athlete will tell you, the game is only worth playing – or watching – because the outcome is unknown.

Plan for the unknown. Welcome the surprise.

The long view is what we desire before life is lived. Pick a point on the horizon and walk that way.

The long view is something we can only truly see after the fact, when we arrive at a point, and turn to see the surprising path we have traveled.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LONG VIEW

Walk With Joey [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We owe Joey Coconato a debt of gratitude. He has unwittingly made our journey through the pandemic-year-of-isolation, not only bearable, but expansive. We’ve hiked with him through the canyons of Utah, the back country of Yellowstone, off trail in Glacier National Park. We’ve crossed glaciers with him, forded multiple rivers, traversed gorgeous rock benches, dodged thunderstorms, quivered at some serious exposure, shivered and sweated. We’ve cracked a beer with him in celebration of standing on a high pass. We’ve enjoyed some box wine and dubious meals while staring into a crackling fire.

His YouTube channel, My Own Frontier, is the chronicle of a man who is more John Muir than Steve Jobs. He’s pretty much left the mania of this society for the majesty of the outdoors. His early backpacking films betray a man on the cusp of jumping into the life he wants to live; his look more urban than rustic, a man preparing to find his voice. Within a year, he robustly unzips his tent and in a spirit free and playful announces in a voice undivided, “Well good morning! We’ve made it to day #2!” His enthusiasm for the new day makes us smile. The jump is complete, his hair is long, his equipment is in full disarray from overuse.

Joey walks the earth. He is living the kind of life that most people desire but fear. He’s tossed away his safety net. He stands face to face with the great unknown. He makes a plan but adjusts according to the forces of nature. He places himself squarely within those powerful forces with no shield or 401K. Rather, he invests in a deep respect for the lightning and proper relationship with the bears. Finding a beautiful meadow, enjoying the color of the aspen trees or the rock formations in a canyon, is his gold. He establishes his camp so that he might enjoy the views and spend time with the stars.

He’s quick to tell us that he is not a guide. He enjoys making his films and hopes that we enjoy them, too, but we are not to plan our back country trips according to his story or route. It is the very thing that we find compelling about him. He is clear. He is not invested in any way in what others do or think. He is creating his way. Your way is entirely up to you.

But he is wrong about one thing: he is, without trying, a guide. He is a master of simple appreciation. He’s stripped away the Walmart stampede and cuts through the luxury car illusion. With the wind gently blowing through his mic, standing on the shore of a mountain lake, and lets slip his quiet awe: “Sometimes I’m struck that this has been here every single day of my life. It was here before I was born. It will be here long after I’m gone.” He is a guide of perspective, a teacher of value, one of those rare beings that doesn’t get lost in the glitter and the noise.

read Kerri’s blog post about JOEY

Fear The Babbling Brook [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I find the sound of a babbling brook soothing unless, of course, it is coming from our basement. Knowing with certainty that we did not install a brook in the basement, I knew the soothing sound bubbling up the stairwell was problematic.

It was more waterfall than brook. A steady stream of water cascaded down a pipe from the ceiling, a large pond was already forming in the carpet.

I’m confessing here and now that I am not a handyman. My first response to most home emergencies is to stare, to flood myself with utter disbelief and brainless-white-noise. So, I did that. And then, a miracle: from somewhere completely unknown to me, a voice of reason, a whisper from deep within, said, “Turn off the water.” So, I did that, too.

The waterfall stopped immediately.

We found the source of our problem in the wall. Some farsighted human-from-the-past installed a Hobbit door in the upstairs closet, knowing that there might be a future plumbing problem and a Hobbit door would make the fix possible without having to also experience demo-day. Kerri and I both stared at the offending plumbing knob. She took photos. She sent texts.

And, although I may not be able to appreciate basement babbling brooks, I very much appreciate friends from all over the country who immediately sprang into action to help us. The digital world met the ultimate analog problem. The advice from Portland and Texas and across town was unanimous: you can fix this. Don’t call a plumber. Our waterfall was the result of a simple gasket failure, a washer gone bad. Unscrew the offending knob, remove the wasted gasket, go to the hardware store, find someone with know-how, buy a replacement, insert the new gasket, tighten the offending knob. Va-Wah-La! Well. Almost.

Our basement now looks like a conceptual art piece in the museum of modern art. The carpet raised, the sodden padding removed, plastic Adirondack chairs, plastic crates, plastic bins stuffed beneath have turned the carpet into a 3-D topographic map, fans blow under and over, baking soda swirls like micro-tornadoes across the mini-mountain range. The waterfall was right smack in the middle of my studio, so surrounding the mountain range, are willy-nilly un-art-ful stacks of old school paintings, lifted above the waterline. An art history statement: the conceptual art explosion forcing the canvas-and-paint-crowd to the margins.

And, so, we do what all good artists do in times like this: we sip wine and wait for things to dry. We spin our experience into tell-able and re-tell-able tales (our generous friends listen whether they want to or not). We send heaps of gratitude to the folks with real practical knowledge who led us by the nose through our watercourse way.

read Kerri’s blog post about WATER

Borrow A Cup Of Belief [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The sun is streaming through the windows. It is an immediate spirit lift. We sip coffee and our conversation wanders in no particular direction.

We inevitably discuss of the absence of normal, our rolling wave of disruption. “I wonder what will happen this week?” We laugh, “Knock on wood!” For a moment we sit in silence. We’ve stopped asking, “What else can happen?” We keep the question to ourselves. We’ve grown superstitious.

For us, this pandemic time will always be known as the era of disruption. All recognizable patterns are shattered. New patterns have yet to find a foothold. Each day a tumbling unknown.

I often write about “not knowing.” It is the land where learning becomes possible. The first caveat: Have the experience first and make meaning second. The second caveat: Suspend your judgements and learn. Both are rooted in the intentional suspension of knowing. Open to life.

We are definitely having experiences. We are careful not to arrive too soon at meaning.

Yesterday I read that, when life tosses us the uncontrollable, we default to imaginary controls. We do the dishes, we vacuum the rug, rather than face what is out of our control. There is great comfort in the imaginary.

Sometimes belief in yourself is hard to come by. “Knowing” that you can do it. “Knowing” that you can stand firmly in the “not knowing” is never a given. Especially in times of continuous disruption. It is only after the fact that you “know” with certainty that you can do it. “One step at a time,” we chant.

It is, in these times of disruption, that we borrow belief from each other. You tell me that I can do it. I tell you that you’ve got this. Others “know” what we do not. They see our fortitude. We see theirs. It is why human beings are a herd animal; we come to know ourselves through the eyes of the other. We go next door to borrow a cup of belief.

Beaky’s note now sits on Kerri’s bed stand. A treasure newly found in a long forgotten purse. One of our imaginary controls, cleaning out the closets, produced this gem. Beaky, no stranger to disruption, reaches across time and the threshold to offer timely encouragement, “I know you can do it.”

“Momma says we got this,” Kerri says. If I’ve learned anything, it’s to never argue with Beaky.

read Kerri’s blog post about KNOWING