Love The Pile [on Merely A Thought Monday]

For years I lived with very few possessions. When I moved from California to Seattle, the moving truck was filled with paintings, my easel, and a rocking chair. 15 years later, when I met Kerri and moved to Wisconsin, the moving truck was filled with paintings, my easel, and a rocking chair.

When I visited Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, I felt an immediate kinship with her space. It was open and spare. I imagine the spatial simplicity served as visual-palette-cleanser. Light. So much light. So much air.

There is a curious paradox afoot during these long pandemic months. Things have piled up. We’ve pulled bins from the basement to sort and perhaps clear out, sell, and donate, but the more we attempt to sort and clear, the more stuff appears. The great winter basement flood of 2021 is partially to blame. Things were shuffled rapidly and piled high. Moving my parents from their home of 54 years meant we brought a truck load of stuff back with us. If nature abhors a vacuum then our house of late seems to abhor open space. One box out, three boxes in.

There’s only one thing to do when the boxes are behaving like rabbits. Look the other way. Pretend the piles are intentional.

For giggles and delay-tactic-reinforcement, google the health benefits of procrastination. In a phrase, less stress. As I was reveling in the positive science of dilly-dallying I wondered why intentional stress reduction should carry such a heavy label: avoidance or procrastination. It is impossible to throw away the box before reading the letters from the past or reviewing again the long-ago-art work of our children. Reading the book. Cleaning out might also be called “life-review.” The piles are full of voices from the past that often need one more say.

I am guilty of tossing boxes too soon, my need for space and air overriding my curiosity in what I might find there.

I am also guilty, more recently, of losing entire weeks in the art books I found buried in a pile. I have spent hours looking through DeMarcus’ sketches or reading the notes I wrote 20 years ago. One of the gifts I have received in my new life living in a house: I save the boxes just because I might open them someday and look inside.

“No rush,” Kerri is fond of saying. “It’ll happen when it happens,” the Balinese taught me to say. Remove the judgment and attend to your moment.

Space. Memories. It’s a dance. No stress necessary. Sometimes, I’ve learned, it takes great space to be able to open the box. It’s better to wait. A good memory, like a good soup, needs ample time to taste and simmer.

read Kerri’s blog post about ATTICS

Count What Is Right [on KS Friday]

As I came up through the garbage layer of sleep, that half-awake state where all the gunk of being human floats like detritus on the ocean awaiting consciousness’ return, I thought, “I want to have a full day in which I make no diagnosis. In other words, solve no problems, make no judgements, resolve no issues…A mindful day.

Mindfulness is only mindfulness when there is no judgment or discernment or necessity involved. Have the experience, make no meaning. Try it. It’s hard to do. Minds like to story things. I know that, later today, I will sit at the drafting table, script and draw the next batch of images for my latest project – try doing that without judgment or discernment!

Somewhere in my dark and sordid past I realized that I never had a problem or a stress that I didn’t create. The Greek tragedy, the absolute imperative, the all-too-important-agendas were not happening outside of me. I was making the agendas and lists, storying myself into rushing around or fighting back against ogres of my own making. Minds like to story things and conflict is the driver of story. Yearning meets obstacle. Desire meets impediment.

Why not make up a better story? Be careful! There’s an all-important caveat, a prerequisite in telling a better, stress free, story: it only becomes possible when the teller of the story relinquishes their oh-so-important-self-importance. Better stories are lived off the pedestal. Better stories, stress free, are available to tell when the teller realizes that their season on this earth is a passing thing and the notion of leaving a lasting mark just might be hubris.

I’ve been enjoying the reemergence of the hosta plants this spring. They are intrepid. They spread easily. Not so long ago their spiky heads jabbed up through the earth. They looked like little spearheads. DogDog had to dance between them. Overnight, the soldiers-beneath-the-soil transformed as their spears unfurled into tiny variegated leaves. A day later, or so it seemed, the tiny leaves swelled into thick dense clusters. Every year the hostas claim a bit more of the yard. People in these parts dig them up and give them away to their neighbors and friends when they realize that the hostas are taking over and will soon be spreading into the house.

I confessed to Kerri yesterday that I was, very intentionally, counting what is right in the world. It will come as no surprise to you that the list of what is right in the world greatly outstrips what is wrong. The hostas of my mind are the generosities and kindnesses. I want to be overrun by them. The little things. It will also not come as a surprise to you that, if you start counting what is right in your world, you’ll discover that the vast majority of what you find are the simple, the ordinary. The everyday. Kerri and I make dinner together. DogDog leads me to the gate when I’m taking out the trash. Feeling the breeze on my face as I open the door first thing in the morning. The first sip of coffee.

What is right in this world includes Kerri’s music. There is nothing I love so much as when she plays. She didn’t pick this composition for today’s melange. I wanted to hear it. That’s all. That’s enough. Right Now. It’s another name for mindfulness. It’s on the list, like hostas.

right now is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about HOSTAS

right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Laugh At Yourself [on DR Thursday]

Had you come across our website during the era of The Roadtrip, a play that Kerri and I wrote from the several-months-email-conversation we had before we first met face-to-face, you’d have read this phrase: smack-dab in the middle of middle age…a true story of quiet hope and the arrival of life’s second chances.

Smack-dab. In the middle of middle age. We met. We married. We walk the neighborhood arm-in-arm. We write these blog posts each day. She brings her wise-eyes into my studio and I tell her what her music makes me feel and think.

For an intense year or so, we tried-like-crazy to syndicate a cartoon strip called Chicken Marsala, the imaginary child of two people who met smack-dab in the middle of middle age. In the course of writing and drawing Chicken, we also pitched a single-panel cartoon, Flawed, and another called At The Door. Chicken Marsala had several iterations because the syndicate liked it…almost. They asked for improvements though never specified what those improvements might be – in the writing? The art work? In this age of too much information, no answer ever came back to us.

In the face of unspecified and uncertain improvements, this ONE thing is certain: we generated a mountain of material in the hunt for the elusive improvement. Oh, and this, too: we laughed heartily at ourselves. The mountain of material was about us. We were poking fun at the things we do and say each day.

This morning I found Kerri furiously working at her computer guffawing. She’d pulled up the old Chicken file. There was an iteration of the strip that was pre-Chicken, the middle-aged couple prior to the appearance of their imaginary son. We sat this morning and laughed again at ourselves. These things actually happen and how joyful is it to chronicle yourself in-and-as a cartoon?

I suspect we are going back to the drawing board. This time, we’ll not hide behind our imaginary son. This time, we’ll pull the blankets on the source. Smack-dab. In the middle of middle age. Two artists met and got married. What could be a better set-up for ridiculousness?

read Kerri’s blog post introducing SMACK-DAB

*don’t believe a word she writes, she guffaws all of the time.

smack-dab ©️ 2021 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Try [on DR Thursday]

The operative word in this Chicken Nugget is “try.”

To try is a verb, an action. It’s also a noun but the synonyms used in either variation are mostly the same: attempt, endeavor, make an effort.

Try. It’s such a small word but its impact is unfathomable. It is the defining line between intolerance and empathy. Empathy begins with trying to see what others see. Intolerance begins with refusing to try to see what others see.

Try. It is the epicenter of advise that every parent offers to their children. Take a crack at it. Why not put it out there. Give it your best shot. You can’t win if you don’t run the race. You’ll never know unless you try.

A verb. An action. Try. A noun. A way of being.

Try is the foundation stone of curiosity. Wanting to know, wanting to experience what is “just over there.” To see not only what others see, but why they see it.

I sometimes try to see the unbridled enthusiasm that Dogga sees in each and every moment. I try to see the world of unlimited possibilities that Dawson sees every time he touches a crayon or paint brush. I do not delude myself. My eyes are not so pure. But I try.

Imagine what we might do in this world if we only gave it a try.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRY

Evolve And Laugh Heartily [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I find the notion of evolution to be hopeful. Evolution of species. Evolution of consciousness. I assume in my wild idealism that the evolution is toward betterment. Reading Ken Wilber’s thoughts on our chaotic and troubled post-truth times, we are, he suggests, in the throes of an evolutionary step. Evolution is not a smooth stepping dance. It’s more a stumbling forward drunkard.

Last week I posted about the lake in my studio and how the clean up facilitated a life-work review. I was surprised by how many notes I received from life-long friends asking me not to burn my paintings this time. I’d forgotten that, after my move to Seattle, I took most of my paintings and drawings to a fire pit on a beach and burned them. I had so much work that it took three days to complete the purge. That life-work-review ended in fire. This latest life-work-review began with water. I actually loved, post flood, going through my paintings. The paintings that went to the fire felt like a burden, a weight. From heavy burden to love; not a bad progression in my personal stutter-stepping evolution.

We drove to Colorado last October to see my parents. In his dementia, my dad cast me in the role of his college roommate and took me on a tour of the basement. We stopped in front of a large photograph taken at his parents 50th wedding anniversary celebration, a photo of the whole clan. He pointed to my twenty year old face in the photograph and said, “Now, I don’t believe you ever met this one.” It was true. As I listened to his description, I had the overwhelming feeling that he was right. Later, I returned to the photograph and visited that version of myself. I thought, “I think dad’s right. I don’t believe I ever met this one.”

The months that followed set the stage for my flood-inspired-work-review. I’ve discovered that I am more apt to be kind, more given to the positives, than I was a decade ago. Evolution has softened me. Or, opened me.

I’m not alone in reaching back, in sifting through the evolutionary drunken stumble to the present. This pandemic era serves as a marker-in-time as well as a great disrupter of pattern and path. It has inspired many a life review among those in my circle. Together, we ask the questions that have no answers, Quinn’s big three: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do?

There are no answers but from time-to-time it’s necessary to ask.

There’s a fourth question that kept Quinn in stitches every time I asked it. What’s it all about? He’d howl and snicker and snort whenever the question came up. I am now the age he was when that younger version of me sat in his study and wrinkled my brow, disconcerted at his hearty laugh. Now, I know without doubt what’s so funny. I find myself laughing to tears when I hear the un-answerable-fourth-question. It’s about what you make of it as your illusion drops away in the course of your own personal evolution.

What else?

read Kerri’s blog post about EVER EVOLVING

Pull Down & Lift Up [on DR Thursday]

If you could crawl inside of Kerri’s head and make a list of her greatest fears, the dentist would surely top the list. So, it was inevitable that dentists would find their way into the annals of Flawed Cartoon.

Flipping back through the syndicate-submissions-to-no-where I see a few themes emerge. Non-expert-experts. And dreams. When ants dream. When sled dogs dream. The two, I realize with some dismay, are connected.

No one wants to be the dentist’s first patient. No one wants the magician, while sawing you in half, to tell you that the science of magic is inexact. Cobwebs collecting on patients who’ve waited an eternity to see their doctor. Doctor Frankenstein misreading the blueprint and sewing the monster’s feet on backwards. Non-expert experts. Discovering that the people we hope to be competent, are, just like you and me, people. Filled with flaws. Sometimes over-inflated. Sometimes pretending confidence on the outside while inwardly uncertain of what they are doing. Taking the might out of the mighty so that only the y(ikes!) remains.

My dreams series features the opposite end of the spectrum: the subservient dreaming of life if the tables were turned. A giant ant stepping on tiny people who are trying to get away with the picnic. A sled dog mushing the mushers. Dreams of power borne of powerlessness.

Pulling down. Lifting up. A celebration of the mistakes, of our humanness, our yearning, our projections. Pointing us all to a common center: flawed and not-taking-ourselves-so-seriously.

When I drew the dentist, Kerri said, “Eeeeewwwwwww!”

And I said, “Exactly! That’s what makes it so funny.”

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DENTIST

flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Hold Hands And Listen [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

These words, posed as polar opposites, come from the world of relationship advice. The recommendation is to establish clarity. Before you get into trouble, define whether your mate’s need is to be heard or to hear advice, to receive solace or solutions. Offering a solution when the need is solace is not recommended. Knowing my snap-dedication to solving-her-every-need, Kerri will often cut me off at the pass with, “I just need you to listen.” My lending-an-ear is often the only thing she really needs.

I’ve always been a good listener but it is only recently that I’ve discovered that I cannot solve anything for anyone. I cannot spare anyone the necessity of walking through their life lessons. The solving is not mine to do. The discoveries are not mine to make. This comes as a great awakening to my third-child-in-the-family-peacekeeper-identity. It also comes as a great relief. Peacekeeping, as a role assignment, is impossible. It’s akin to herding cats. It’s best to let each cat find peace in its own way. In sitting still, in surrendering the impossible task, my peace, like a magic castle, appeared.

A few years ago, a friend, sensitive to Kerri’s grief, offered her this truism-nugget: there’s only one way to go through it and that is to go through it. Trying to spare or minimize her grief would be to rob her of the depths of her love. Feel the depths. Meet the monster that lives there. Emerge transformed or at least informed. It is how we come to fully know ourselves.

We are learning to walk together with no need to solve. I am learning to hold hands and listen. The walking together, the holding of hands, is essential. The words I spin around our challenges are rarely meaningful and never as necessary as attending to the simple essential of quiet presence.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMFORT OR SOLUTIONS

Snap [on KS Friday]

“Whenever the question comes up,/ the poets all say the same thing:/ the only poem we are interested in is in the next room,/ the one not written, the poem of tomorrow.” ~ Billy Collins, The Next Poem

I am trying not to focus on the next. The next chapter. The next day. This is a day of my life even if it is unfolding in a time of pandemic, of jobs lost, careers collapsed, broken-wrists-not-healing and my father’s slow disappearance.

Yesterday was hard. I made it so. Even before noon I was wishing the day away. I was anxious to get to the next. To stick a fork in it. Then, when the truck wouldn’t start, it was all too much. I could have shaken my fist at the sky but instead I decided to stop trying to be someplace else. I decided to feel the hurt. Be in the day.

I miss my studio. That’s not quite right. I miss myself in my studio. I miss how I feel when I am working in it. Timeless. In that place, there is no next. In that place, I feel good, all things become possible. It is a staircase away. These days, it might as well be on the moon.

Mary Oliver wrote, “Next time what I’d do is look at/ the earth before saying anything.” This seems to me, as I approach a birthday, an age marker, a sunrise unlike any other, to be sage advice. See the miracle before I diminish it with my thinking, before I jam it into sackcloth with my opinions.

Once, on a bitter cold day, feeling blue, I leaned back against a red brick wall and closed my eyes. I felt the sun warm my bones and, in a snap, wanted to be no where else on earth. Try as you might, you cannot take that from me, the sun. The warmth against that wall. The absence of next. The boundless power of the snap.

read Kerri’s blog post about NEXT

Turn Around And Look [on KS Friday]

When we were at the other end of life, Roger and I often discussed the “bodies” of artists’ work. The overview of their lifetime of work and what it revealed. We speculated about what our bodies of work might someday reveal. He is, and always has been, singular, a director of plays, certain of his path. His body of work would be – and has become – the plays he’s directed and the actors that he’s instructed. It’s an impressive body of work. I am, as Horatio calls me, a polymath. My body of work has never been certain. As Roger knew with clarity the destination of his path, I knew with curiosity that I would be a wanderer. The path was and continues to be my destination.

In other words, I’m all over the map. It’s visible in my paintings. I dare anyone to make linear sense of my resume.

Tom Mck hired me because, in his words, I was a “Johnny Appleseed.” When he was old, he told me that he turned me loose in the schools to see what I’d stir up and also what I’d plant. It was one of my favorite “jobs” because it came without a description. I followed the fires. I found the need. I brought art and stories to hearts and minds grown arid from the pursuit of dusty answers.

Tom was a brilliant theatre artist and teacher. His body of work was immense. I was surprised, at the end of his life, when he told me that he rarely thought of the plays he’d directed. He believed his best work, the work that he most loved and defined him – his real body of work – was at the very beginning of his teaching career. He was assigned a 2nd grade class and had no idea what to do with them. So, his curriculum was to invent stories with them. They traveled the world as pirates, went on safari, designed and priced supply lists and mapped routes. Math and history and geography. For weeks they prepared for a day of being blind. What would they need to do to spend an entire day safely learning what it was to be without sight? Curiosity and discovery. Empathy. Inner and outer worlds. He ignited and followed their imaginations. Tom was a polymath, too. He was a Johnny Appleseed.

Today marks Kerri and my 156th week of consecutive posts. 3 years, 5 days a week. My wife is a poet and composer and pianist and teacher and singer/songwriter and recording artist and business owner and photographer and designer. A polymath. After breakfast each morning, we write. It occurred to me recently that my body of work, when all is said and done, will be my posts. I’ve directed many plays, performed many plays, written some really bad plays and a few good ones, consulted with corporations, performed stories at conferences and with symphonies, painted and shown paintings, written children’s books, taught and facilitated workshops and dug ditches and delivered warm bread to grocery stores. I started an experiential learning school, a diversity and inclusion training company, and coached people from all over the world. All of my wandering has provided a rich field of experiences to pull from, to ponder and reflect.

Sometimes (more times than I care to count) I ask myself, “How did I get here?” These days, in the pandemic era, I have plenty of time to look back on my road, on my body of work. “How” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. ‘How do we do it?” tops my list of most useless questions. How did I get here? What is my body of work? I turn around and look where I’ve traveled, where I’m from, and write myself into coherence.

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s post about WHERE I’M FROM

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Avoid The Box [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

When I was in high school a significant teacher told me that I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t paint AND be in the theatre AND write. She told me I had to choose. She told me I needed to focus. When she said the word ‘focus’ I felt like I would suffocate if I followed her advice.

One day, standing in the back of the theatre with Roger, I realized that I was bored. I needed to take my impulse to the theatre out of the building and off the stage. At the time I didn’t know what that might look like. My pals in the theatre rolled their eyes, made smallish assumptions, closed their doors to me. What I found, what I created, was thrilling. Profound.

The single consistent criticism from gallery folk of my paintings is that I am stylistically too broad. I’m all over the map. It’s true. More than once I’ve been told to come back when I know who I am. I’m not yet able to go back and, at this stage of my life, doubt that I will ever meet the criteria. I hope not.

I have made wrong turns and burned bridges. I have been my own worst enemy and my own best friend. I’ve broken things that ought not to have been broken. I’ve restored things to wholeness that others could not because I understand brokenness. I’ve run from opportunities. I’ve taken ridiculous risks. As MM asked, “What is it in you that makes you run at every edge and jump?” Fear of heights.

Makaela once told me that there was something feral in me. I thought of her the other day when I realized that DogDog was a perfect reflection of me: he can learn anything but WILL NOT walk on a leash. Try and constrain him in any way and he pulls, resists, and otherwise works to yank my arm out of the socket. I wonder how many arms I’ve yanked when I was approached with a leash? I know that once, a long time ago, I was a good teacher because I knew firsthand the power and necessity of removing constraints.

I’ve given away my best work, my best thinking. I have lived my way into utter irrelevance. The layers of the onion fall away. These days I feel more essence than substance. Pure ghost watching a world to which I have never belonged and rarely understood.

Horatio calls me a polymath to which I reply, “Back at you.” I dare anyone to try and track our conversations. The question in life that I have learned to hate the most is, “So, what do you do?”

I avoid boxes. And leashes. Apparently, that’s about the best I can do.

read Kerri’s blog post about DEFINE YOURSELF