Listen To Claude [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In his 60’s, the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet went blind. Cataracts were removed, restored his sight, but also changed his capacity to see color. He painted in blues because he couldn’t perceive red and yellow. He was not fond of the paintings that he produced. He painted what he could see. Historians, on the other hand, credit his blue paintings as an important link to abstract painting.

We never really know the impact of our actions or our work.

The path paralleled a stream. As we walked up the mountain, she stopped often and took photographs. The sun on the water was enticing so she aimed her camera at the stream. “Look!” she said, showing me. “These look like abstract paintings!”

“They look like Monet,” I said. “Gorgeous.”

Whether they know it or not, artists are always having conversations with their artistic ancestors. I was amused at the idea that Kerri and Claude were having a chat. The world of a master painter, living before ubiquitous photography, meets they eyes of one who sees and quickly captures.

I was also amused that, through Kerri’s picture, Claude and I were having an exchange. “I love your blues,” I say. Claude responds, “Ah, but it’s the reds and yellows that make the blue so vibrant. Contrast principle,” he winks.

Excited, she returned to the stream to take more photos.

I turned my face to the sun. I breathed in the mountain air, the aspen leaves fluttering. I have not finished a painting since the pandemic began. “I feel empty,” I say to Claude.

“We paint what we see, ” Claude whispered. “Sometimes we simply cannot see.”

“Yes,” I said, “I am blind. But my cataracts are not in my eyes.”

“No,” Claude replied. “You are not blind, you see well enough. You’ve closed your eyes.”

“Lookit!” Kerri smiled, “These are so cool!” She shows me more water close-ups, a symphony in orange, blue and gold.

“Don’t worry,” Claude smiled. “When you are ready, you’ll open your eyes again. You’ll see a whole new world. New colors and shapes. More than blue.”

“You think so?” I ask.

“Isn’t it beautiful!” Kerri glowed.

“Do you see?” he smiled and faded into the photograph.

“Yes,” I laughed and nodded, “It’s really beautiful.”

read Kerri’s blog post about MONET WATER

images of water © 2021 kerri sherwood

Honor Yourself [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“There’s a trailhead,” Loida said, “It’s just up the road.” She could see that we needed some quiet time. Some space. Some nature. We dropped our other plans. All errands went out the window. More importantly, all obligations, made-up and otherwise, fell to the wayside. Or, said another way, we honored ourselves, our needs. We ran to the hills like thirsty people running for an oasis.

“Why is that so hard?” Kerri asked. “Why should I feel guilty for taking a few moments for myself?” Later, deep in the night, we’d express intense – not an overstatement – gratitude for having given ourselves a short hike into the foothills. The sun. The deer. The hawk. The cyclist who cried, “Snake!” There were signs warning of rattlesnakes so we walked with caution. We laughed at our imagined-snake-paranoia.

Those few moments allowed us to be present with family when we needed to be present with family. Our short hike refilled our people-gas-tank. Kerri’s question was spot-on. Why is it so hard to do the thing you most need to do? Why is it so hard to put your needs above the demands of others – especially when attending to your needs is the single action that ultimately enables you to attend to the needs of others. To be present with and for others.

We are both introverts. Quiet, not cacophony, recharges the battery.

Kerri gasped, “Look at this!” she knelt and carefully took a photograph of the autumn blossom beside the trail. “This is exactly what I needed,” she sighed. Face to the sun. Awash with an awe-some blossom discovery, we took a moment, a necessary moment, to drink in the beauty and the sage mountain air.

read Kerri’s blog post about AUTUMN BLOSSOM

Hold The Vision Lightly [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Тhe gentle overcomes the rigid.
The slow overcomes the fast.
The weak overcomes the strong.”

“Everyone knows that the yielding overcomes the stiff,
and the soft overcomes the hard.
Yet no one applies this knowledge.” ~
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

If there is a metaphor on this day – or a lesson – it is that a plan or a goal held too firmly is…not useful. Tom Robbins wrote that stability is not rigidity. Stability, like all aspects of balance, is dynamic, constantly adjusting. How’s that for a paradox? Stability is fluid.

My clan is gathering. We are driving a long distance to attend so have plenty of time to talk, to think, to remember. Kerri has lost both of her parents so I have many questions about the river of complex feelings running through me. Joseph Campbell said in an interview with Bill Moyers that “No one lives the life they intend.” I wonder what life my father intended? I think he was more capable of rolling with his circumstance than I, at first, understood.

There are no straight lines in nature and it turns out that we humans, we storytelling animals, are a part of nature and not above it. Our story of dominion is just that, a story. My dad loved to be outdoors. He tried to be a school teacher but there was not enough air in a classroom. He couldn’t breathe so he made a life out in the elements. His skin, at the end, was so sun-baked that it was brittle. He achieved his desire and his desire was simple.

I am, at this point in life, ecstatic that I didn’t achieve what I set out to do when I was 20. I actually thought I was a train on a fixed track and learned through derailing (a few times) that I needed to let go of my notion of the track. I found my artist when I let go of my artist. On this drive, en route to the funeral, I fully appreciate my wanderer heart and my compulsion to step off of edges. I could have done with a bit less chaos but am now of the mind that life has given me a master class in balance. It continues to teach me to open my hand and not hold so firmly to my ideas, my beliefs.

I am currently working with software engineers. They are building a system. It has rules and boundaries and limits. It has a guiding principle. It will do what it is designed to do. And yet, it will never be finished. It grows and changes almost daily. There is a master plan, but the vision does not blind the visionary or the developers to surprises. To changes. They learn as the software emerges. On one hand it is a foreign land to me and on the other, I know intimately how this land works. There are no iron tracks. No straight lines. The movement is in cycles and circles and every time we try to force it into a line, we impede the process, we inhibit the growth.

The lesson is always the same.

We awoke this morning exhausted. And, rather than push our way back onto the road, we sat and sipped coffee. We watched the sunrise. We decided not to put our day on an iron track. We appreciated our moment. So, there is some hope, some small evidence – some – that the lesson is taking root.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRACKS

Refresh [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s been true since we met. People stop us in airports and on the street, they give us thumbs up or take a faux paparazzi-photograph. They tell us that we are cute or “lookin’ good!” Once, a shopkeeper came out of his store to tell us that we made him smile. When we walk the neighborhood, we are often met with people who tell us that we make their day. It always takes us by surprise and it always makes us smile.

What are people seeing? We are older and link arms when we walk. We hold hands. Our clothes are unintentionally the same. Black on blue jeans. We walk slowly. We talk to each other. We stroll; a walk without a destination. We don’t know what inspires the comments but always appreciate them.

Kerri always coos when she sees a horse. In our imaginary life, she has horses, a donkey, and an old truck. We were walking on the trail in our flip flops (that always gets a raised eyebrow or two) when the cowboy came around the bend. “A horse!” Kerri whispered, and squeezed my arm. The cowboy sat up in his saddle, nodded as he rode passed, then said, “You look like you like each other.”

“We do.” I replied.

Perhaps it is that simple. We like each other.

We’re fortunate. Our work allows us to be together all day. Every day. That would, I’m sure, be the end of most relationships. We like it. When I need feedback on a painting, she is my best wise-eyes. “What do you see?” I ask. We read our posts to each other before we publish. We edit together. We cook together. We create together. Our list of joint projects is growing. Lately, our once-weekly-cartoon about…well…us, Smack-dab., is giving us tremendous energy. It is fun. We poke fun at ourselves. We capture the ridiculous and the poignant. We pay attention to the marvels of simple relationship.

Picasso said that, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” He also said that, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Those thoughts, placed side-by-side, I believe, holds the reason a cowboy sat up in his saddle and a shopkeeper ran into the street. We are refreshed. We practice the elimination of the unnecessary – on canvas, at the piano, and in life.

We didn’t try to make 24/7 togetherness. There was no rule or expectation. It’s what we wanted. It’s what we want.

I am on jury duty this week and was at the courthouse most of the day. When she came to fetch me I got in the car and we said at the same time, “That was weird!”

“Tell me everything!” she said.

“No. You first! What did you and Dogga do?” Our conversation took us deep into the night. There’s so much life and so little time. Perhaps that’s it. We know this day is precious and fleeting and act accordingly. It must show.

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU MUST LIKE EACH OTHER

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