Look In [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” ~Kurt Vonnegut

Yesterday I applied for a job that is all about narratives told from the edges of society. I’m not sure why it surprised me to find such a cool-to-me job; our community seems addicted to shattering so there are plenty of small edges to be found. Small edges are fallacious and serve a myriad of false centers. Our survival will depend upon whether or not we can awaken from the shatter-narrative and make the decision to direct our broken focus toward a common center. No small feat.

It is the role of the shaman, the explorer, the artist, the researcher to stand on the edge and report back to the community what is seen and unseen. The voice from the edge is rarely welcome since the report is capable of popping delusions or pulling the sheep’s clothing from the wolf. Page one of the autocrats’ handbook instructs the elimination of artists and educators. Making an enemy of the eyes-that-see, demonizing educators and thinkers – the people who recognize pattern and metaphor. The game of Us-and-Them necessitates silencing the voices capable of calling out the wolf. Autocrats require blind sheep that follow without question.

Some famous edge sitters: Galileo. Cesar Chavez. Rosa Parks. Nelson Mandela. Susan B. Anthony. Albert Einstein. Frederick Douglass, a former slave and leader of the abolitionist movement, wrote extensively about what we call Critical Race Theory; it was clear in his view from the edge. It’s not a new theory. It’s an old pattern with a new name. I think he might denounce his Republican party affiliation were he alive today; they would certainly silence his voice. He would be fired were he a professor in Florida today. As would Martin Luther King, another famous voice from the edge.

Voices of reason are often voices from the edges. Voices of the future are always voices from the edges. Galileo was silenced for suggesting that the earth circled the sun and not the other way around. Over time, the voices from the edge, when authentic, always make the center better, the community stronger. Susan B. Anthony spent her life on the edge, lobbying the center, to secure for women the right to vote.

Progress. Growth. They are rarely inspired from the tight grip at the center. Silence the edges and the community atrophies. Stop the movement and the body dies. That page was left out of the autocrats’ handbook for obvious reasons.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EDGES

Stop and Turn [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them.” Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters To A Young Poet

Open the door to the monster in the closet. Walk into the wound. Throw light onto the dark. Nothing is broken, nothing needs to be fixed. All stories of resistance released into flow. Deliverance of fear.

How many times have you heard or said, “I don’t know what to do with what I feel?” Or, the partner statement, “I don’t know where to put what I feel.” Feelings as spatial.

In an earlier chapter I dreamed that I was being chased by giant monsters. I quickly ducked into a warehouse thinking I could easily find a place to hide but, much to my horror, the warehouse was vast and empty. Open space. Nowhere to hide. No other door. There was only one thing to do: turn and face the monsters. Surrendering to my fate, I stopped and watched them come at me, certain they would gobble me. But, as they approached, they shrank. The closer they came the smaller they became. By the time they reached me, they were smaller than my toe. They dissipated the moment they touched me. When I looked up I saw an older version of me standing across the room, transformed.

It was a Rilke moment.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” Letter Eight, Letters To A Young Poet

A shorthand phrase from my coaching era that I’m certain Rainier would particularly appreciate; a phrase well known to the older version of me now standing across the room looking back: Invite your dragon to tea.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FEELINGS

Hold Space [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I just realized why the stripped forest is having such an impact on me. While opening the back door to let Dogga out, my dials spun and it slapped me in the face. I am like the forest.

For several minutes, staring at the photograph, writing then rejecting, then writing and again rejecting what I’d written, I decided to get up and let Dogga out. This picture was making me anxious. Moving around has always been good for me when I’m thought-wrestling.

I am like this forest. Exposed. Chips and debris are everywhere. Water is overtaking the trees.

I was writing about a question Justin asked one night at dinner. “What’s your stance about secular Calvinism?” he asked.

“I don’t think I have one,” I replied. Justin’s eyebrows hit the ceiling and I made a snap decision not to follow my reply with an explanation. He was sorting his belief and searching his heart. Empty space was more useful than cramming my erudite-and-empty justification into the moment.

Insight requires space. Lots of space.

I wish I could express how rare it is for me to keep my mouth closed when I have a thought on a topic. Kerri will laugh aloud when I read this to her. “No joke!” she’ll say. I wanted to say to Justin, “I don’t have a stance because I think it’s a given.” His question was akin to asking about my stance on the existence of the moon. No culture sees itself clearly.

No person (me) sees himself clearly.

Chips and debris. The river has overrun its banks. One half of the photo is the result of natural forces. The other half is man-made. Choices. Circumstance and intention. This landscape, once so familiar, will never be the same.

I’ve spent my life cultivating my capacity to see pattern and metaphor. It’s an artist’s prerogative to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. I am the forest. Familiar, yet completely unknown. Stripped for rejuvenation.

Insight requires space. Perspective requires distance. Perhaps the reason I left open space in my conversation with Justin is something I need do for myself, too. Searching my heart, I am the forest. Stripped of invasive plants I can see all the way to the river. So much space.

What is my stance? Right now, thankfully, I don’t think I have one. I’m holding the space for insight to come.

read Kerri’s blogpost THE FOREST

Ask A Simple Question [on DR Thursday]

It’s existential. What you see changes depending upon where you stand. That’s true when engaging any piece of sculpture. It’s true when engaging anything in life. Point-of-view is fluid and relational. This sculptural reminder is Olafur Eliasson’s Rainbow Bridge.

In another era of my life facilitating diversity and inclusion workshops, the same surprisingly simple concept was usually a revelation to people. What you call “normal” is merely a point-of-view. Most importantly, it’s not everyone’s point-of-view. Your “normal” is unique to you, not universal. Most hopeful: it’s not fixed in stone. It’s changeable. Relational. Capable of growth. A mature point-of-view recognizes that it need not, it cannot, be the center of the universe. A mature point-of-view necessarily asks an all important question: “What do you see?”

It’s not only possible to look at the same sculpture and see a myriad of differences, it’s necessary. It’s human. Sharing what we see is how we, together, create community. A common center is created by a circle of differing points of view. A common experience is borne of sharing disparate points-of-view of the same event. A common center is made functional when everyone in the circle is capable of asking with sincerity a simple question: What do you see? It is made vibrant when everyone in the circle expects the answers to be different than their answer.

Art is one way of responding to the simple question.

Instrument of Peace, 48x91IN, mixed media

read Kerri’s blogpost about RAINBOW BRIDGE

instrument of peace © 2017 david robinson

Protect The Seed [on DR Thursday]

Lately I’ve been applying for many jobs so I’m configuring and reconfiguring resumes and writing cover letters. They essentially serve as a surface-layer life review. This is who I am. This is what I’ve done. Of course, for me, that means I am thinking about art and artistry.

When I write the words “art” and “artistry”, I am aware that they mean something to me that I will never be able to convey through language. They are not “things” that I do or have done, they are not welcome career paths or positive attributes that potential employers desire to see on a resume. I wish I could count the times someone has said to me, “Yes, but what are you really going to do?”

“No, no, no!” I think. “You don’t get it! It’s not something I do.” I’ve learned over time to keep that thought to myself. There’s no point debating the worth of a way-of-life in a world that measures value in dollars and cents. Against this calculus, artistry makes no sense.

What am I really going to do? Paint. Write. Perform. And bring my artist’s sensibility to an organization. The people who hire me will fully realize the benefit of someone who sees through my eyes, someone whose artistry permeates everything they do. At this stage in my life, I’ve run companies, I’ve saved companies, I’ve held people’s hands and led them into and through impossible conversations, I’ve stood in organizational fires and, sometimes, taken Tom’s advice and let the place close-down. “Make space for something new to enter.”

As I write my resumes, I am daily reminded that we are embroiled in a culture war. We are standing in a historical teachable moment: we will either tell our full story and grow or we will do what we’ve done in the past and ignore our addiction to fantasy and opt for history-censorship. There’s never been a better or more necessary time to be an artist. Artists hold, express, and reflect the identity of their community. Nihilism has brought us here and that empty “anti-woke” sun is setting.

What we say matters. That’s an artist’s thought. How we say what we say matters. That, too, is an artist’s thought. Mattering is a word of relationship. Consideration of others is the province of mattering. That, too, is an artist’s thought. It’s an artist’s imperative: tell all sides of the story.

Kerri and I walk the trails to clear our minds and our walks have provided me with a perfect metaphor; artists are pine cones. The pine cone holds the seeds. It’s a protective, nurturing organism . It’s “…the female reproductive structure of the tree.” It’s the keeper of the essence and promise of the next generation.

From the deep archive. A painting from another century. From the estate of Marian Jacobs

read Kerri’s blogpost about PINE CONES

painting from another century (I can’t recall the title) © 1990, 2023 david robinson

Shape The Story [on KS Friday]

“It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.” ~ John Guare

Jen’s question sparked a many-days-conversation between Kerri and me. She asked about my favorite childhood birthday memory. I stared into space. My memory pool was empty. There was nothing but white noise between my ears. I sputtered something about awkward valentines in elementary school. Later, on the drive home, I confessed to Kerri how unnerved I was to have little or no distinct memory to recount. Both Jen and Brad had palpable stories to tell – and many of them.

Since that evening we’ve talked about the power of reminiscing. Neither of us has lived near our families. We’ve had relatively few opportunities to sit around a table and tell stories of childhood, recount foibles, ask questions, laugh at where we’ve been and what we’ve done with the people who shared the experiences with us. During our recent trip to Florida I was startled at Bill’s precise memories of his time in Vietnam. Each year he gathers with the surviving members of his squad and they tell stories of their service. His memories are clear because he regularly tells and hears the stories. It’s a ritual meant to keep vital the thread of connection to the past. Shared story is the glue that holds together a family, found-family or otherwise.

Last night we were wide awake at 3am. We turned on the light and returned to our conversation about the power of reminiscence. The power of enlivening stories with others who hold the same memory. Kerri can tell me stories about raising her children but I wasn’t there. We were not parents together so I am able ask questions but I am unable to spark a visceral memory with, “Do you remember when we…” A one way street is not as accessible as a memory street shared by two.

Inevitably, as the sun began to rise on our sleepless night, our conversation turned toward what we want to create. Together. What are the shapes of our dreams? We began to tell stories in the other direction. We imagined and, so, we created. The power of reminiscence balanced by the power of aspiration. We laughed and built metaphoric houses. We populated studios with creations. Kerri challenged me to paint in a new way, not images but to give color and shape to my feelings.

Feelings. Suddenly, I remember a birthday from a time I was very young, single digits. In the basement, made from refrigerator boxes, Columbus built a birthday surprise. A train or an airplane? I can’t remember. But I felt like it was yesterday, the thrill of running down the stairs to see what my father had made for me.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE TRACKS

meander/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Meet Sketchy [on KS Friday]

One of my favorite budding traditions is our Sunday walk with Brad and Jen followed by a foray into a sketchy unknown bar for an end-of-hike-drink. We live in Wisconsin so there’s no end of sketchy bars to explore. Many sit close to trailheads so our options are abundant.

Years ago I participated in a similar tradition though I can’t remember what we called it. Dubious lunch? Someone in the group chose a suspicious lunch spot and together we’d give it a try. Very few diners lived up to their facade. Most were terrific discoveries. Diamonds in the rough.

Our post-hike-sketchy-bar-tour has produced surprisingly warm memories. Treasures in coarse wrappers. The cliché is, of course, to never judge a book by its cover and, as is always the case, what we consider “sketchy” says more about us than the roadhouse we’re dubious to enter. Ultimately, our fear is the that the good folks inside, the regular customers bellied up to the bar, will look at us and think that we are sketchy.

And, so far, that has been true! They do. And, we do. Sketchy meets sketchy. It’s like the moment in the movies when the cowboy enters the saloon and the music stops. Eyes narrow. Scrutiny abounds. And then, the tension breaks, the music picks up where it left off, and everyone has a good time. The cover of the book disappears when the saloon doors swing open and everyone shares a tiny-bit of their story, sketchy together, under one roof.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about OUR TRADITION

time together/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Both/And [on KS Friday]

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Dwight sent a book to me: From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks. Several months ago at dinner we talked about how to make this next chapter of life the best chapter. As is my practice lately, I am reading it slowly, taking my time. I used to read like a hungry man eats; I gobbled information. Now I savor. I take one bite at a time and taste all of it. Someday soon we will talk about what I am discovering in the book. I’m only a few chapters in and already I’m rethinking my choices, considering different paths moving forward.

Pondering my next steps has also been an exercise of looking at where I’ve been. A lyric from Dan Fogelberg just ran through my mind [The Last Nail, by Dan Fogelberg]:

I left a trail of footprints deep in the snow
I swore one day, I would retrace them
But when I turned around, I found that the wind had erased them
Now I’ll never replace them

With distance it’s easy to see that some of the worst choices I’ve made in my life have also been the best choices I’ve made in my life. I can see that my desperation brought innovation. I can see the prison I made of my judgments and the hard truths necessary to unlock my cell door. I can see I needed a broken heart to arrive at an open heart.

With distance, I’m beginning to understand that no single experience lives in isolation. No day is either “good” or “bad.” No single period of my life defines the worth or wealth of my time on earth. No title, like “artist,” can wrap its fingers around the totality of my time. I am all of those things and none of those things.

On Monday, we interred Beaky’s ashes. She is with Pa in the national cemetery. We sang a song and then an attendant closed the niche. A journey’s end. Later that day I jumped off the back of a couch into a pile of pillows with a two year old, laughing, wiggling our toes. This wild-child is in full discovery mode, everything an adventure. A journey’s inception.

This life is achingly beautiful, each and every moment.

The entire album: Released From The Heart © 1995 Kerri Sherwood

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about HEART DIVOTS

Remember This Vivid Moment [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When we first met, we sat on the living room carpet staring into the fire, and talked the night away. The sound of the birds at dawn surprised us. I remember the coming light and sweet birdsong like it was yesterday.

A few days ago we sat on the living room carpet in the sun, and talked the afternoon away. Our quiet conversation reminded me of that very first night. Our topic in the winter sun: letting go of too-tightly-held-ideals. “Truth will out,” wrote Master Shakespeare in his Merchant of Venice. Our truth was out in quiet voices that brought affirmations of better days.

A story I once loved to tell was The Crescent Moon Bear. The heroine, a young wife, must go on a journey. She must leave all that she knows in pursuit of her purpose. Leaving all that you know is easier said than done. It doesn’t happen in a moment; it requires some sweet visitation of the past. “What was” as launching pad to “What will be.”

Before I left my studio in Seattle, I had to touch the walls, run my fingers along the sill. I knew I would never be back. Even in that moment, all I could remember was the goodness I experienced in that space. The refuge. The sanctuary. The creative fulfillment. The hard times I’d known there dissipated like mist.

What was. Krishnamurti wrote, “You can only be afraid of what you think you know.” I marvel that the hardships of my past soften into pastel remembrance, translated into useful lessons, while my future fears are as sharp as broken glass, monsters around the corner. Acute imagination.

I marvel that the generosities heaped upon my life are vivid and bring tears to my eyes just as they did the day that I first experienced them. Keen remembrances.

Sitting on the carpet, the low afternoon sun warming us, I realize that I will always remember this vivid moment. The day we opened our hands and let fly illusions. We both took a deep breath. New air rushed into the open space, Not knowing where we might now go or what we might now do, we sat in the waning light, surprised that the sun was setting so soon.

read Kerri’s blogpost about REMEMBERING

Dance [on DR Thursday]

“The human race has spent several millennia developing a huge and robust set of observations about the world, in forms as varied as language, art and religion. Those observations in turn have withstood many – enormously many – tests. We stand heir to an unstatably large set of meanings.” ~ David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear

The little girl shrieked with delight, “You can stand in it!” She raced inside the dome, her little body so teeming with enthusiasm that she danced. The crowd burst into laughter.

Joy is contagious.

She reminded me of the children I saw dancing at the base of Christo’s Umbrellas. She transported me back to the very first time Kerri and I stepped off the stage after our performance of THE LOST BOY. We were euphoric, so overrun with relief and triumph that we jumped up and down in the backstage hallway, laughing and hugging. Dancing. We couldn’t help it.

I remember that moment when people ask me why I make art since art makes no money. I’ve learned to answer the question, not with words but with a smile.

Value is perceived.

I stepped into the dome repeating to myself, “You can stand in it.” A dome of light. A constellation of thought. The earth rotates around the sun. Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. Do unto others. There is not one way, there are many paths up the mountain. Discovery is better than invention.

Meaning is made. It’s an ongoing relationship.

Sometime you know that you enter it. Sometimes you don’t know and the dome you discover evokes a joyous dance.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DOMES OF LIGHT

Iconic, 54x54IN, mixed media

[my site is down. A new site is in the works. New works are also in the works. Good things]

iconic © 2010 david robinson