Sing [on KS Friday]

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The story is famous in these parts. It goes like this: when I met Kerri I told her that she needed to know two things about me: 1) I don’t sing. 2) I don’t pray. She gave me a sideways knowing look and said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

I had some very-traumatic-early-in-my-life-singing-experiences. Lots of shame and humiliation led me to an adamant preemptive proclamation with my musician-soon-to-be wife: I do not sing. No way. Don’t even ask. I’ll watch from the sidelines.

Of course, within a few months, she had me in a ukulele band, a choir, and a band. It turns out I like to sing. The problem, she taught me, was not in my capacity to sing, it was in how I hear sound. I hear an octave up. She taught me how to hear. I am now a confident parasitic singer (i.e. I sing just fine with others, just don’t ask me to sing alone).

I’ve spent my life teaching people to see. How beautifully ironic (or perfect) that I needed to learn to hear.

Early in the saga of Beowulf, he is caught in a swarm and blinded by bees. Because he was blinded, he had to develop other senses; his heightened senses were critical in combating and defeating the monster Grendel. Late in his life, he retired as a beekeeper. He not only made peace with bees, they become his allies. At the very end, his bees are his greatest strength. They defeat a dragon plaguing his kingdom.

The great stories are with us for a reason. They can help us navigate and craft our own life stories. For instance, the greatest wounds can be limits or they can lead to new and vital gifts. I’ve learned from Beowulf that the path you take – limit or liberation –  depends on the story you argue for, the focus you choose. When I met Kerri I was arguing for my limitation. I do not sing. Period.

Another recurring theme in the great stories goes like this: when you are ready, the right teacher appears.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SING

 

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shaman ©️ 1993 david robinson

Expect Nothing [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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The man was about to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail. The interviewer asked, “What do you expect it will be like? What do you expect will happen?” The man replied, “I try not to have any expectations. I want to be open to what comes along, whatever that might be.”

It’s a spiritual practice. Make no assumptions. Release all preconceived notions. Open to what is and not what you think should be. Have the experience first, make meaning second. All good advice for attempting presence: that place we fully occupy but rarely visit.

Making meaning. It’s what people do. Wrap an experience in a story. Wrap it in a blanket of belief. Often we muffle the experience in a heavy cloak  before we’ve had it.”It’s going to be hard.” “I don’t think they will like me.” Or, “This will be the best!” “I’m going to crush it!”

Joe used to call this high-dream/low-dream. Imagine the best. Imagine the worst. Like a magical invocation. Either way, an expectation is set. The story has begun and imposes a slick layer over the happenings. The story bleaches the experience-space, that full range of color available between the high and low.

It’s no wonder we can’t find compromise in our current nation-story.

I watch DogDog in the morning. He can’t wait to race outside. He barks for no other reason than it feels good. He sits in the sun. He chases birds with no hope or expectation that he will catch one [he wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what to do if he actually caught one]. DogDog does not know there is a pandemic. He does not care about people politicizing mask wearing. He holds no expectation for the direction of the day. His to-do list is blank. He is happy going on errands. He is happy sleeping on the cool tiles.  He holds no grudges. He makes no judgments. He holds his story lightly. He is happy both before and after he eats. Sometimes he even tastes his food. Above all, he is happiest when we are happy.

Open to experience, DogDog has much to teach me. He has much to teach the world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HAPPY DOING

 

 

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The quote “happy doing something, happy doing nothing” comes from an article about Augie the dog.

Pull It Apart [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The thing that I didn’t write about last week, in fact I avoided, was my latest brush with coincidence. It went something like this: I’ve been moving the Prometheus paintings for years. They are big paintings! Three canvases, each 4ft x 8ft. They require a truck to move. I’ve shown them. I’ve stored them. When I moved to Kenosha they literally could not fit into my studio in our house so Brad and Jen were kind enough to store them for me.

Truth? I thought that someday I would again perform the symphony for which I painted the series. I wrote and performed the script. I painted the pieces to accompany the performance. I thought they might someday have a second life. Over the years, Yaki and I have tossed the idea around once or twice but it always fell into the maybe-someday-abyss.

Jen and Brad are doing some renovation and I needed to move the paintings. I brought them home and they lived in our dining room. I offered to donate them to the PCO – the company that produced Prometheus. I approached several organizations that might be interested in visual statements borne from literature and  performance. The paintings are too big. So, finally, last week, I pulled them apart. Took them out of the frames, disassembled the panels so I could move them down the stairs. The frames went into the garage. There was something cleansing about acknowledging that these pieces were done. I sighed with relief when dropping the illusion that they might someday see the light of day. Two of the panels are hidden behind a tall cabinet in our sitting room, still too big to make it down the curve of the stair into the studio.

The next day, Yaki called. “I want to do the Prometheus,” he said. “But, can we pull it apart? Can we make it more relevant to what’s happening today?”

I laughed heartily. “Yes,” I responded. We can pull it apart.”

Sometimes space must be made. This universe abhors a vacuum. It seems all of my life lessons these days are about letting go of what was. Letting go of how things used to work or who I represented myself to be.

Can I pull it apart. Yes. Done and done. “Cultivate your serendipity,” Quinn used to say.

And, what on earth does this have to do with lettuce? I’d never planted it before. I’d never planted anything before. 20 gave us the boxes. He told us what to do. Growing lettuce – growing anything, it seems – takes some patience. And, some luck. Sunshine and attention. From the seed, if it is tended and mostly left alone -given space – something good will grow.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LETTUCE

 

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Play On! [On Merely A Thought Monday]

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“So, this is what a pandemic feels like,” Chris wrote. Yes.

This is what division feels like. Years ago I went to a wedding in the mountains. The grandmother of the bride punched the grandmother of the groom. They wrestled each other to the floor. The band kept playing. It was shocking. It was mesmerizing. The rest of the reception was uncomfortable with explosive undercurrents. That is my metaphor-of-the-day for these United States.

Disruption can be tedious. Disruption can be violent. Disruption is definitely disorienting. Old ladies fist fighting, pulling hair, cussing. The band plays through its set list.

Yesterday’s metaphor happened like this: I broke a storm window. My first thought was an unpublishable version of, “Gee! How did that happen?” My second thought was, “This is exactly what the USA looks like.” An old frame, glass shatters. It sounds like the first line of a haiku. The fault lines in this nation are ubiquitous. Sharp.

There is no fix that will put the pieces back together again. Humpty Dumpty. A new pane of glass must replace the old.

Kerri had a bad day. We passed a local bar and it was packed. She said, “Everyone’s pretending that things are normal!” Her inner rule-follower wanted to know how so many people could be so cavalier about spreading the virus. I reminded her that we live in Wisconsin. The supreme court of our state ruled that to protect each other is unconstitutional. To pretend that there is no virus is the only way they could have arrived at their ruling. So, all the children play follow-the-leader.

Everything is changed. And now we yearn for what we once knew as usual. We crave the typical, long for the familiar routine. “I’ll never take a hug for granted again,” Jen said. Touch. Yes. We remember with longing the ease of touch.

Little miracles. Sitting close to a friend. A dinner party. We don’t know what we have until we do not have it. Isn’t it true that within the ordinary is always found the seed of the extraordinary? And, what, exactly, isn’t extraordinary? Relative to the very few life forms we have discovered in this vast universe, it seems that another day of life on this abundant planet of ours is, out of the chute, more than we should expect. Little miracles. To hold a hand. To walk side-by-side.

What exactly is normal?

Doug was one of my heroes. He was a champion of the misfit, a cheerleader of the unconventional path. As a young man he was a soldier in Vietnam. During his tour, he read poetry to keep himself sane. Another day of life was never guaranteed. It changed him.

He was a challenger to the norm because he believed the norm didn’t exist.  His belief in the unusual made him an excellent teacher. With excessive bluster, he used to say, “I wish somebody would show me this fantasy called the mainstream. Everybody talks about it but I’ve never seen the goddamn thing!”

We saw the sign from the road: A little normal would be nice. Yes. Grandmothers fist fighting. Packed bars in a pandemic. Broken glass. Follow the leader over the edge. The band plays on.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A LITTLE NORMAL

 

 

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Treat The Origin [on KS Friday]

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Yaki called. He wants to dust off our Prometheus project and give it another whirl. The Creatures Of Prometheus is one of Beethoven’s early works, a ballet that is nigh-on impossible for a contemporary ballet company to afford. Besides a symphony, it requires  scores of dancers. Twelve years ago, Yaki asked if I would write and perform a narrative – a storytelling- that would weave together the movements. It lives among my all-time favorite collaborations. Yesterday he asked, “Can we update it? Can we make it relevant with what’s happening in the world today?’

My first thought: it’s already relevant! It is a creation story. Prometheus is given the task of creating human beings, a man and a woman. Although he is instructed to make them dull and crude, he creates them to be beautiful, to see and appreciate their connection to the earth from which they were made. Angered by his disobedience, Zeus punishes Prometheus by corrupting the new creatures; he fills them with fear and division. He twists their fear into a lust for war. He makes them dull and crude. Now, Prometheus waits for them to remember and recover their original sight, to remember their capacity for pure seeing, fearless living. To drop their madness and return to their senses.

My second thought: people are notoriously incapable of grasping metaphor. It’s the Zeus thing in practice. The update has to be a direct statement. It must leave no doubt and puncture the commitment to dullness. “Gear down!” as Kerri constantly reminds me.

“How can Prometheus speak to Black Lives Matter?” he asked. We are both artists in the later stage of our career.  Yaki added, “I want my work – my art to really speak to what’s happening today. I want it to help.”

I’ve been sitting in his questions since we talked yesterday. We are standing again at a moment in time when change is possible. We are also standing at the moment when the system, a living thing, a wizard of recreation, will fight to maintain itself. Consider: we had this moment with the abolition of slavery and the system responded with Jim Crow. Segregation. Institutional racism. We had the moment again with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the system responded with a draconian judicial/policing/incarceration apparatus, disproportionate tax structures…segregation by legislation (again and again and again).

In our current moment, in this latest moment, how can we make the necessary changes that are not merely the existing system putting a new face on a 400 year old mechanism? Real change requires steps in unknown directions [the rule: if you know where you are going you are merely re-creating what already exists]. How can Prometheus speak to that?

We focus on behavior when we need to stare at the underlying structures. Behavior, as Robert Fritz reminds us, always follows the path of least resistance – the sub-structure determines the path of behavior.

In the story, Prometheus is in it for the long haul. He knows his creatures are made for beauty and will inevitably see beyond their made-up fear and return to their source. They will one day stop listening to the fear mongers and race baiters. They will wake up and recognize that they are not made to be dull and crude and divisive. In fact, quite the opposite. They were made to appreciate and participate in the creation of beauty and betterment. Nature.

Prometheus is in no hurry. He waits for his creatures to remember. He plays the long story. What will that look like?

 

 

IT’S A LONG STORY is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S A LONG STORY

 

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it’s a long story/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

Knead And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I am now among the legion of people that turned to baking bread during the pandemic-stay-at-home era. This loaf is gluten free, made with rice flour, since Kerri is allergic to gluten.

In truth, I’ve wanted to bake bread since I knew Brad the baker in California. He was a genuine hippie, a believer in peace and simple living. “Bread is a living thing,” he once said as I watched in fascination his kneading of the dough. You can tell a true master craftsman at work by watching their hands. They feel something in the dough or the wood that the rest of us do not.

My loaf was not made by a master. Not even by an apprentice.

Bill sent a photo of his first loaf and I asked for the recipe. It came as screen shots and I scribbled them into a recipe on notebook paper. Easy steps to follow but I knew from watching Brad that I would not find in my recipe any easy guidance on how to feel the life in the dough. That would come with time. Maybe. If I was lucky and diligent and practiced listening through my hands.

I’m not surprised people are turning to bread during this time of pandemic uncertainty. It is essential. The making of bread, the cultivation of wheat, made civilization, as we know it, possible. It is, therefore, a central symbol in many belief systems. Separate the chaff from the wheat. A time for harvest. This is my body. Eat.

Brad told me that the dough kneads you as much as you knead the dough. It’s a simple relationship between living things and requires complete focus. Mutual respect. Attention must be proffered.

Perhaps that is why we turn to bread in times like these. Simple relationships of attention and mutual respect are increasingly rare. Bread reminds us of what is possible, what is healthy. It reminds us of the patience that is required if we are to find our way to harvest. It reminds us of the necessity of knowing what is chaff and what is wheat, or remembering that there is a direct relationship between what is planted and what is grown.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BREAD

 

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Read Marc’s Notes [on DR Thursday]

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One of my most prized possessions is a handmade notebook, stitched together by a young DeMarcus Brown, mentor of my mentor, in a time before corner drugstores and readily available school supplies. It is filled with the fading pencil notes Marc made when he was a student learning about color, probably in 1918 or 1919. It occurred to me as I wrote that guesstimate of time that he was scribbling notes about color during a pandemic.

It reads like an enthusiastic discovery of miracles. On page one the word COLOR is triple underlined. “Light is a form of radiant energy transmitted by wave movement through SPACE and is perceived VISUALLY. Opposite is DARKNESS. Qualities of Light: 1) Physically – Life giving. 2) Mentally – Intelligence. 3) Spiritually – Divine Wisdom.”

From Marc, on page one, on day one of his study of artistry, I learned that color is life giving, intelligent, and a source of divine wisdom.

“Objects reveal light.  All forms and substances REFLECT or ABSORB LIGHT. THINK OF COLOR AS LIGHT REFLECTED.”

There are other words and phrases: vibration, proportion, visual sensation, light is individualized by its contact with substances into color. COLOR is Light PROPORTION.

All of this awe is written in block letters on the first two pages. His enthusiasm is palpable. As you move through Marc’s notebook of discoveries, his writing shifts to cursive, he matures in color and intention. His passion intensifies. He is beginning to see.

Toward the end of his notebook, in his growing sophistication, you’ll read these phrases:  “Train our eyes to DEGREES of Neutrality. Establish relationships of Intensity. Hue. Value”…and a reminder “vibrating surface!”

The stitching that holds the notebook together is impeccable. Beautiful. Careful. Considered. It took him time to make his notebook. It mattered.

I can’t help my metaphor mind from finding a universe of guidance in Marc’s notebook for a nation that perpetually struggles with color – or, ironically, the negation of color. The fear of color relations. A commitment to a narrative of dominance, this or that but never both. A palette of loss. We’ve limited our color study to a polarity and eliminated the infinite shades of possibility in the picture we might paint. Insistent chiaroscuro.

What happens when the door of possibility opens? When change, that big blank canvas, sits on the easel?

In the middle of his 90’s, Marc gave me his paint brushes, his paint box. “Use them!” he said, “Don’t save them for remembrance.” He knew I was sentimental. “Reverence is off limits. These are not meant to collect dust on a shelf.” He laughed, “Use the damn things. Don’t be safe!”

Color. Vibration. Relationship. Proportion. Life Giving. Intelligent. Divinely Wise. Walk into the unknown. Learn to see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COLOR

 

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Look Out [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I was one of those teachers who encouraged my students to stare out of the window. Visiting administrators occasionally admonished me for allowing my students to “daydream.” Imagination, I would explain, requires much more expanse than a classroom can provide. Looking out the window let the imagination-horses run free.  At graduation, I would remind the administrator, they would almost certainly endorse the graduates to follow their dreams so facilitating the pursuit of dreaming was, perhaps, the most useful skill they may ever acquire. Besides, keeping noses perpetually focused on the grindstone can be a great dream killer.

Mike wrote that Shakespeare penned King Lear while in quarantine for the Black Plague. “Any takers?” he challenged. What do you do when you can’t really go out and play? My bet is that good William stared out of his window between ink dips and parchment scratching. I’m finding, as we move deeper into our home stay, that I am repelled by electronic things that fill my time. Things that pull my focus down and in. I find that I want to stare out of the window. I want to go out and walk.

There are plays I want to write. There are paintings I want to paint. There are the necessities of life banging at my door (where will the next work come from?) Uncertainty surrounds us. I know there is no point in fretting; fretting and worry are inverse forms of imagination. Hornets buzzing inside the head because they haven’t enough space to become horses and run free. The best thing to do when your head is full of hornets? Find a good window and dream.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MAGIC MIRROR

 

 

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Gather Around The Fire [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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An unseasonably cool June evening. We sat around the fire. At social distance and wearing masks. Friends. “It’s so odd,” we said more than once. Eyes and assumed smiles. Muffled laughter. “I’ll never again take for granted a hug or being able to sit close together around the table,” she said. “It’s the little things that I miss.”

Fire is elemental. Water. Air. Earth. And, sometimes, Spirit though I think the 5th is always implicit. Friendship is elemental and spirit-full. Especially when the world is off center. It is a forge for strength and determination. Our friends, so generous, feed air into the fire. Support. Encouragement.

As we talked through face coverings about our newest daily obstacles, I wondered how hard it must have been to communicate across distance with smoke signals. Measured fire. Kerri said, “My mask is slipping again! There must be something wrong with my face.” We laughed and made up problems with her nose.

So much fire on the streets across the land! Transformation is afoot! Creative fire is out of the barn and teasing the status quo. This hot fire illuminates. It smacks of a ritual fire and, if properly honored and tended, can set us on a new path. Dark corners revealed and more than simply acknowledged, truly addressed.

Prometheus stole fire from the gods to spark life into his new creatures.  To ignite breath. Humans, made from earth and water. Four elements, come together. He was punished for his transgression. The spark lit an entire forest fire of humanity and creative potential. Beings capable of looking at the elements within themselves, at asking each other in magical moments, “How can we be better?”

All of this wonder and wandering on an unseasonably cool summer evening. Meeting with friends across a fire. A sip of wine. In earnest, we ask the question of each other, through our masks and across our distance, “How can we be better?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KEEP THE FIRE BURNING

 

 

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Face Them [on KS Friday]

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The dream was vivid. I was being chased by a pack of very large demons. Terrified, I was becoming exhausted when I saw a door into a warehouse. I quickly jumped through the door, looking for a place to hide. To my chagrin, the warehouse was empty. Swept clean. No walls. A vast, open and exposed floor. The demons came through the door behind me. There was no other door. No way out. My only option was to turn and face them. So, I did.

They rushed me. But, to my surprise, as I stood my ground, facing them, as they raced snarling toward me, they began to shrink. The closer they came, the smaller they got. By the time they reached me they were no larger than ants. They had no power over me at all.

All along, all I needed to do was stop running from them. All I ever needed to do was to turn and face them. To see what they were, not what I feared they were.

This dream – so many years ago – helped me understand hope – a word that is both a verb and a noun, a thing and an action. A wish and a want. Hope, like happiness, ensues. It is not found up front, it follows. It is meaning that becomes available when a choice is made.

This nation, running so long from its demons, is once again, standing in a vast empty warehouse. There is no place to hide. When we recognize that all we can do is turn and face our demons, our racially divided path, the inequity-demons plaguing us may grow smaller. They may lose their power over us entirely.

The choice to stop running and turn. The choice to face the demons. In that moment, hope will arise.

 

HOPE on the album THIS SEASON is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

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hope/this season ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

pray now ©️ 2010 david robinson