Give Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Viktor Frankel

We walked downtown a few days after the fires. We decided it was time to go see for ourselves what had happened in our town only a few blocks from our home. In truth, the sound of speeches ringing through the neighborhood drew us. We were already walking when we first heard them. We couldn’t understand what they were saying or where exactly they were coming from so we followed the sound. The amplified voices and cheering bounced off the buildings and sometimes seemed to be coming from all directions.

We followed the echo to the street that runs by the civic center. From a distance we could see the crowd. ACLU observers wearing blue vests roamed the area. There was a first aid center. Tables were manned to distribute water to the crowd. When we saw the burned out car lot Kerri took out her camera and began taking pictures. “Why did they burn this?” she asked. Yes. Why?

It is uniquely human to ask why. To need an explanation. We attempt to record and document. To gather evidence. All in the pursuit of sense-making. To find meaning. And, if no meaning is easily found, no readily graspable answer to “Why?” is available, it is among our greatest human powers to make it.

To make meaning. To find meaning.

Viktor Frankel, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, asked “Why did some people survive and some not? He looked for an attribute that favored survival in such extreme, random and deadly conditions. He concluded that, after sheer luck, survival in the camps favored people who made meaning from their circumstance. The people who sought meaning from their circumstance soon lost hope. He wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

On the hood of one of the burned out cars someone had stenciled this appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans. What might it take for us to be better humans?

When I was in elementary school great pains were taken to teach me how to be a good human and function in a civilized society. Wait for my turn. Open the door for someone with their hands full. Help where you can. Listen to others. Raise my hand before speaking. All of these simple lessons shared one thing in common, a specific organizing principle: consider others. Be considerate to others. Good humans are mindful and cooperative.

All of these simple lessons ran contrary to the rules I was taught about succeeding in the world: it’s dog-eat-dog. It’s a fierce competition. Do whatever it takes. In other words, it’s every man and woman for themselves. It’s just business.

So, like all of us, I’ve wrestled with the national schizophrenia: I can either be a good human and consider others or I can succeed. Not both. Said another way: in order to succeed I have to abandon my goodness.

As is the case with most either/or framing, it is a false choice. Money need not be absent of morality. Success can be the blossom of compassion.

It is important as we stand at this national crossroad, this opportunity for reckoning with our past, that we look at this polarity, that we step into the gaps between all of the false choices, black and white. Our troubles will not go away until we attempt to live our rhetoric, until we unpin white success from black subjugation. Equality of opportunity, equal justice, equal (fill in the blank) has not been afforded all members of our community. To be better humans we need to challenge our either/or false choices and instead walk toward a center that includes a full spectrum of color, choices and opportunities for all.

If we can find our center, if we can challenge our rhetoric, we just might find our path to being better humans living in healthy inclusive society. In the end, we may even come to the same conclusion as did Viktor Frankel: “I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BE BETTER HUMANS

Face In [on KS Friday]

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“…gentleness can be a greater force for transfiguration than any political, economic, or media power,…” ~ John O’Donohue

Here is my utopian fantasy: The protesters put down their signs, the police put down their shields, the militia drops their weapons, the citizens of all races, creeds, colors, political identities and economic stripes come out of their houses and hold hands facing into a circle of their creation. Nothing need be said. What are we protesting FOR if not this?

We are excellent at pushing against what we do not want. We are practiced at screaming in rabid reactivity. Finger pointing and blame is among our most popular Facebook pass times.  We like to make noise and bluster about the violation of our rights and ignite fearmongering fires warning of imagined assaults on our amendments. Propaganda and lie make for good reality television ratings. They provide permission to smash glass, loot, denigrate “others” and give cover to murder in all its forms, but are lousy foundations for a civil and civilized society.

Truth is intentional, not reactive. It steps toward an ideal. It provides a national focal point, a guide-star that will not cotton with lie and propaganda.

We seem utterly inept, absolutely incapable at walking toward what we profess. Our ideal is printed on our dollar bills and chiseled into the facades of our buildings: e pluribus unum: out of many, one.  Our division is chiseled into our history.

My utopian fantasy is not so hard to realize but notice it requires a common first step: a putting down of weapon and rhetoric and dedicated division. The  second step is also not difficult: reach out, take the hand that is closest. Circle up with those who you most disagree. The third step may be the hardest: say nothing. Defend and justify nothing. Prove or claim nothing. Face in, not face off.  The greatest intentions, like the most profound truths, are often silent. Step four: live the circle.

We can figure it out. It’s no greater matter than walking toward what we want, what we espouse, instead of forever pushing against what we do not want. Perhaps our first truth is to admit that there is a lie built into what we chisel in walls and what we actually live. We need to intend oneness if we are to realize our central ideal.

Doc Rivers, a black man and coach of the LA Clippers said this yesterday: “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.” Love. Love back. There is no better or simpler statement of intention. Walk toward it.

He also famously said, “Average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth.” His dictum applies to nations as well as players: great nations want to be told the truth. Average nations want to be left alone.

 

FIGURE IT OUT on the album RIGHT NOW is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FIGURE IT OUT

 

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figure it out/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

 

 

 

Close The Distance [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ~ Rumi

John O’Donohue wrote that spirituality has to do with the transfiguration of distance. “At the heart of spirituality is the awakening of real presence.”  Here. Now. His message is about our busy minds that incessantly create separation. Busy minds create obstacles and keep us seeking. If we are lucky, as the old cliche’s goes, after the long search we learn that we had “it” all along.  Separation is the creation of distance. Presence is the elimination of distance. Love is the absence of distance.

The transfiguration of distance is the power and purpose of art.

On our walk through downtown we saw this message stenciled on a wall: You hate me. There is no greater distance-creating word than “hate.”  You. Me. Hate is the creation of distance between us.

One of the Hermitic Laws is the Principle of Correspondence: As above, so below; as below, so above. As within, so without; as without, so within. Applying the principle, if hate is the word you place between you and me then it is likely that hate is the word you place between you and you. It is nigh-on impossible to hate me without first hating yourself.

Doug used to tell me that health was determined by the distance between who say you are and how you actually live; the shorter the distance the healthier the person.  As without, so within. Applying Doug’s rule, our nation has been distinctly unhealthy for a very long time. We are currently witness to the illness (once again) breaking through the skin. Any physician worth their salt would tell us we have an acute distance problem and health will come when, as a nation, we close the gap and live what we espouse.

I am reminded of an exercise I used to facilitate. Step one: Walk about the space and point at the others in the group and say, “NOT LIKE ME.” Step two: Walk about the space and point at others in the group and say, “LIKE ME.” Step three: Walk about the space and point at others in the group and say, “ME.” Step one is a rejection. Step two becomes an appeal. Step three is a recognition. Step three always brought whispers and a profound shedding of distance.

Rejection. Appeal. Recognition. What is the distance between you and you? What is the distance between you and me?

“From a distance you only see my light; as I get closer and you see that I am you.” ~ Rumi

 

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU HATE ME.

 

 

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prayer of opposites ©️ 2003 david robinson

 

 

Draw The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

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Sometimes drawing is like free writing. I capture the lines and images as they arise without edit or evaluation. It is more akin to following than leading. It’s a meditation. I draw for the surprise of what shows up. Often, in my free flow, symbols arise and I only see them after I put down my pencil. The symbols that floated to the surface in this drawing are Heart and Strawberry.

When symbols pop up for me I make it a practice to investigate, even if they appear obvious or I think I already know. I assume that I do not know anything. It’s a way of continuing the conversation. These two, heart and strawberry, are intertwined symbols. Venus, the goddess of love. Purity and perfection. Sensuality. Eros. Happiness. Good fortune. Compassion. Joy. Charity. There are cultural lenses and religious interpretations but across all cultural variance, both symbols are rivers that lead to love in one or all of its expression.

Yaki asked me to rewrite THE CREATURES OF PROMETHEUS – a storytelling to accompany Beethoven’s symphony – so that it might speak directly to the realities of our day. He wants it to be more obviously relevant. I have been sitting on it, watching and waiting, since we seem to be living in a swirl of chaos. My grasp of relevance in the morning is obsolete by sundown. The only consistency that cuts through the mayhem is that the circles in our communal Venn Diagram no longer intersect. Not only is there no crossover, the circles no longer share the same page. We define ourselves according to our differences rather that reach toward our similarities. Romeo and Juliet is an example, a cautionary tale of what happens when the communal circles stubbornly refuse to find crossover. The children easily transcend the division. The society crushes them for daring to love. And then the adults realize they’ve sacrificed the greater for the lesser and in their grief they reach to grasp hands.

There are hearts and strawberries in every tragic tale. The tragedy arises because the characters refuse to see it. Maybe that is the theme of my rewrite? Maybe hearts and strawberries are the tender sprouts that will emerge in our nation once the fire ceases to rage?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEARTS AND STRAWBERRIES

We are still in the Facebook penalty box. It is possible that Kerri’s posts may never reappear so, if you enjoy reading Kerri’s word, consider subscribing to her blog. I know we publish waaay too much but, with the minor exception of us, ALMOST no one reads everything that we write – except for Lydia and Horatio and Malta-Alex and for their dedicated perseverance, we are most grateful.

 

 

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*Shared Fatherhood evolved from a sketch about Polynices & Eteocles, brothers that killed each other in combat over control of the throne. Somehow I traveled from senseless war to shared fatherhood.

 

shared fatherhood 2 ©️ 2017 david robinson

Know And Share [on Merely A Thought Monday]

 

If you were alive in the 1980’s you’ll remember Robert Fulgrum’s book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.  It is a festival of simple-yet-clear-advice for living well. Play fair. Share everything. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone. Each bit of advice is a nod to our inter-connectivity. No one walks this path alone. Hold hands. Stick together.

Visit Robert Fulgrum’s homepage and you’ll read this: “Often, without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives.” Mutual influence. We impact each other everyday in ways that we remain mostly unaware.

If this pandemic has done anything illuminating it has proven beyond doubt how utterly interconnected we actually are. My breath and your breath are intimate exchanges. My choices and your choices will either harm or help each other. It’s a choice. Your story and my story may be diametrically opposed and warring but they both must adhere to the force of gravity, the nature of time, the spread of virus. This virus actually thrives when we shout at each other. It rides our aerosols in a rodeo of mutual influence and cares not for the political color of the lungs it inhabits. After all. truth and misinformation share the same airspace, touch the same doorknobs, are broadcast over the same technology, are paid for and brought to us by the same commercial sponsors.

One of the things Robert Fulgrum learned in kindergarten and wrote about is this: goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

This virus cares not whether we love or hate each other in the precious bit of life that we share. About us, its host, it is utterly agnostic. On the other hand, we have the choice. It’s a choice and seems so simple. Play fair. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Like it our not, recognize it our not, our lives are in each other’s hands.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ELEMENTARY SCHOOL RULES

 

 

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in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

Draw A Blank [on DR Thursday]

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A white canvas. Or is it a blank canvas? This could be a finished piece of art or a scary beginning. Having the 20th century of art firmly in the books, art historians weigh in, saying “yes,” it could be complete. It could also be inception. As confusing or clarifying as it might sound, the determining factor is the artist’s intention.

In 1918, the Russian artist Kazmir Malevich painted Suprematist Composition: White On White. White, he believed, was the color of infinity. It recently sold at auction for $15 million dollars.

In 1963, Ad Reinhardt painted his Abstract Painting, at first glance a black canvas that reveals itself as a symphony of shades and tones. He called his canvases “pure, timeless, ideal, transcendent.” His paintings sell at auction for millions.

Yasmina Reza wrote a play, Art, that explores the question “What is art? In it, friends debate and debase the $200,000.00 purchase of a completely white painting.

Does this sound crazy? The artist decides the reality? Beginning or end? Is it the artist’s intention or the eye of the beholder that gives meaning and value to art? Both?

It is breathtaking when you recognize that artists do not create from thin air. Artists reflect the society in which they live and work. 1918 was the end of a world war. It was the beginning of a global pandemic. Who could blame Kazmir Malevich for exploring infinity? Of wanting to reach beyond an external reality that was horrific?

I stare at my blank canvas. It is an invitation. A call.

I/We live in a time of absurdity – farcical abstraction from observable reality. Angry bubbles. Insulated information tribes. Data collection more valuable than gold. We are reducing ourselves to so many numbers. What’s your credit score? Your personality rating? Perhaps I should fill my canvas with zeros and ones? What would you see?

Mostly, we constantly weigh our interests against values and values lose every time. Weird calculations creating ludicrous reality. Yesterday, for instance, 3000 young people packed into a mega church during a pandemic – in a virus hotspot – to cheer a demagogue; they were told they were safe because there was a new and special corona virus killing air system.  The pile of farces grows higher and higher. The propaganda machine grows louder and louder. How rich a field for an artist to explore! The most individualistic nation on earth creating lemmings who will believe anything.

What should I paint? Do I want to comment on the ridiculous? The obscene?

I find myself understanding Kazmir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt as I never have before. Look beyond the angry horror story. I do not want to spend my precious few years on this earth meditating on the ugly abstractions, the made-up-in-the-moment divisions. The blank surface of my canvas calls me to look beyond the noise. There is so much to love in this passing moment. Change, real change, is always in this direction.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on BLANK CANVASES

 

 

 

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all my loves/the draw sunsets ©️ 2020/2017 david robinson

 

 

Love Your Language [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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You know the old joke: two priests are having an argument so they take their debate to the Pope. The first priest writes to the Pope and asks if it is okay to smoke while praying and the Pope answers “No!” The second priest writes and asks the question this way: is it okay to pray while smoking? The Pope responds, “Of course!”

Language matters. In our current world, inundated as we are with marketers and media – language packed with agenda – it seems we are especially dulled to the power of a few words [or the exclusion of a few details] to shape our actions and opinions. We are easily led. Easily divided. Easily provoked to Facebook frenzy.

The way we frame questions determines the possibilities we see or the possibilities we do not see. That is why it is a mistake for us to frame the questions of our troubled times as either/or questions. To defund the police or not defund the police?  Fear or faith? Us or them? Liberal or conservative? Which is it?

None of the questions we face are simplistic. None can be addressed – or should be approached – with black and white thinking. We’ll only see the poles and miss the million shades of gray in-between.

Leaders that divide-to-rule are especially fond of a rhetoric featuring only two options. They play angel/devil games: there are angels and there are devils and since everyone thinks they are the angel, it is an automatic role assignment to anyone with an opposing point of view. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, the agenda is division so mission accomplished! Language matters.

I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. Fear splits even the greatest hearts and minds like so much kindling. It creates enmity within and, therefore, enmity without. It reduces and makes the complex things – like listening to others – impossible. It demands that meaning be made before the experience is had – and so it is a rally of made-up monsters.

So,  the opposite of fear? It creates goodwill. Within and, therefore, without. It unites. It embraces and expands and includes. It makes no assumptions. It listens. It ultimately surrounds fear and makes meaning after having the experience and, in that way, relieves the troubled mind of its monsters. It has the capacity to hold a full spectrum of color and options (sometimes known as possibilities). It knows that there is more to this universe than angels and devils can allow. And so, just to be clear in my use of language: the opposite of fear has no opposites. That’s precisely what makes it much harder to grasp than fear. Fear is easy to achieve. Love is an ongoing relationship and has no end.

Language matters. The genius of our system, as it was once imagined, was to allow for opposing points of view to come together in an action called “compromise.” It was designed with complexity in mind. It was intended to pull all perspectives toward a common center, a middle way. An idealist might call that – a common center – something akin to love.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVE>Fear

 

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Become More [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.” ~ Heraclitus

It’s funny how the smallest thing can set a mind off in a different direction entirely. For instance, it seems the entire nation is asking “What now?” Some are asking the question filled with hope. Some are asking it filled with fear. I had some thoughts to share about what now and before I began to write, I checked my email. There was a note from my mother.

She found him this morning standing on the patio weeping. He couldn’t see the water coming from the sprinkler. He wanted to help her take care of the yard but simply could not see. My father has the double challenge of going blind while also slipping into dementia. He’s pretty far along in both. She wrote that “she is amazed that he is not perpetually angry.” Instead of being angry, he is unbearably kind. He just wants to help. He cries, not because he cannot see, he cries because he cannot see the water. He can’t remember what to do. He cannot help and, somewhere in his increasing darkness, he knows my mother needs his help .

Kerri believes that people don’t change over time, they simply become more of who they’ve been all along. Age reveals our character. I can only hope, as I age, that the character revealed as my control drops away, is as beautiful as my father’s. He is kind. He is kind. He is kind. Each day he steps further into the darkness and he is kind.

What now?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHAT NOW?

 

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Reach The Moon [on KS Friday]

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Today is Kirsten’s birthday. “My daughter is turning 30 today…” Kerri said, disbelief washing over her. In non-pandemic times we’d most likely have driven to Colorado to see Kirsten – even if it was only for a day or a meal. I’ve learned that motherhood knows no limits where love for a child is concerned. “She might as well be on the moon,” Kerri whispered.

Not being able to see Kirsten, Kerri hatched a plot that involved over 60 people, a kind of virtual surprise party. For weeks she’d secretly collected love and birthday wishes from friends and family from all over the country. She spent the entire day yesterday assembling the wishes into a slideshow. There was a second slideshow with virtual gifts.  They were the perfect projects for a mom trying to reach the moon.

I worked all day in the studio (staying out of the way – it was perfect for me, too) and could hear the giggles, the gasps, and the curses of slideshow creation. Every so often I’d sneak a peak and watch her building the rocket ship to carry momma’s love through space and time. It’s a paradox, this gentle intensity. This thing called motherhood. Composer of lullabies. Protector of babes. Dedicated traveler through space and time.

 

AND GOODNIGHT on the album AND GOODNIGHT…A LULLABY ALBUM is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AND GOODNIGHT

 

MotherDaughter (full)

 

 

and goodnight/and goodnight…a lullaby album ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

 

 

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).