Find Your Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I will never forget the day I followed the stream, watching the life-ending struggle of the salmon as they fought the current the final mile to return to their place of origin, their spawning ground. To the local people, the people who tended the hatchery, the salmon were gods. Gods or not, watching their struggle to return was sacred. The utter necessity to continue life through the next generation – as the final act of life. Cathedral building.

We brought home a Selenite crystal. It is raw, translucent, gorgeous. A Google search of its properties reveals that it promotes calm and provides clarity. I’ve never actually been invested in the debate about whether or not a crystal has powers. I’ve made the association so, when I look at it or hold it, I have in my mind that we brought this beautiful crystal home to elevate our spirits. And, so it does.

I live in the golden age of marketing. I’m told that a new truck will make me sexy, the latest medication will make my life a snap, that a pizza delivery will bring my family together like never before. Status and power are available through the purchase of machines and clothes. One year, no interest. We buy these messages, filling our closets with passing satisfaction. Is the fulfillment of a new pair of shoes imagined, less-than-genuine? We are consumers so doesn’t it make sense that contentment lasts no more than a spin through the washing cycle? Momentarily satisfied. What’s next?

I suppose the question is whether or not the crystal brings peace to me or do I bring more calm to my day because I’ve surrounded myself with messages – and, therefore, intentions – of serenity?

I know without doubt that a new truck will not imbue me with sex appeal. Yet, I have a pair of jeans that I save for the days that I want “to look good.”

Skip drove two days to find the sun so that he might stand in it and rejuvenate. I go to the basement and stand amidst the boxes that currently fill my studio and stare at a large blank canvas. Like the sun, it rejuvenates me. Yesterday, the nurse at the community health clinic said she loved her job because she felt that she was really helping the people who need her the most, “There are better rewards than money,” she said. Imagine the necessity – the hope – she brings to her life and work. Rejuvenation.

I do not know whether we are gods or not, but our struggle to find our way home is no less beautiful or fraught than the salmon. It is breathtaking, this swim upstream. Confusing. Sacred.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRYSTALS

Call It Realism [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This garlic could have been painted by Jan Vermeer. To my eye it looks like the work of a Dutch master, an artist more concerned with realism than the ideal.

Art that reveals the beauty in the ordinary. For a few weeks in my surly youth I studied with a realist painter. I was wowed by his technique but could not yet grasp his dedication to capturing the everyday. Only later did I come to understand that his art was not about the technique but about bringing attention to the experience of the everyday. He rejected the aloof and desired to pull art down from the pedestal so it might reflect the lives of the “common people.” He believed that people needed to literally see themselves in the paintings to have access to the painting. They needed to see their hardship and toil as well as the objects that surrounded them.

Bertolt Brecht believed the opposite. In order for people to have access to the deeper messages of a play, they needed to be removed from their circumstance. So, in his way of thinking, people are more capable of seeing themselves in a piece of science fiction than in a reality-mirror.

David is working on a re-imagining of Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of an Author. One of the questions of the play is, “Who is telling your story?” And, how are they telling it. I reread the play and was struck by how relevant it is to our times.

The beauty in the ordinary. The turmoils and struggles of the everyday. Ours is a time of tumultuous story tug-of-war. I wonder, in a hundred years, what historians will write about our time. I wonder what aspect of artistry – if any – will be considered “realism.” As defined by Vermeer and Pirandello, it’s to reach across a social line, from the privileged to the working class. For Brecht it is spatial: step out to look in.

One thing is constant, while reaching across time and artificial boundary, it is always the role of the artist to help their community ask the questions: Who is telling my story? Whose story am I telling? What is the story that we are telling?

I imagine those someday-historians will write tomes on our messy struggle to sort out what is “real” and what is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GARLIC

Breathe At Human Pace [on KS Friday]

We live in a time in which cars are capable of parking and braking themselves. I am able to type a message into a little box that I carry in my pocket and my message, through space and time to anywhere in the world, is delivered immediately. I write my thoughts in this device and then publish all over the world. I’ve learned of a software that is able to write my thoughts without me – faster and with fewer grammatical errors at the outset. I think and write in a pattern capable of being recognized. I am, therefore, capable of being approximated. What is amazing today is common tomorrow. So it goes with the pace of change.

I read in The Dream Society, written two decades ago, that the aim of the industrial era was to spare humanity physical toil and the aim of the information age is to relieve us from the exertion of thought. We’re producing data at a staggering rate and, ironically, the explosion is both serving the intention and overwhelming our capacity to keep up. We can’t possibly process the tsunami of information that washes over us everyday. We are human. We have a tough time sussing out truth from belief-fantasy even when not washed down the roaring information streams.

It is why I hang out with Desi. Desi is the little tree sprout that we rescued from the Des Plaines river trail over two years ago. When Desi came home with us, her tiny trunk was needle thin. She is thriving in her pot and has more than doubled in size, yet, by the standards of data, her growth is glacial. And that is precisely why I visit her each day. She is in no rush. Efficiency for Desi has nothing to do with speed. Health is about good soil and light. Like all plants, she could be pushed artificially, but why? Pushing might get her to adulthood faster but would also damage her systems. Efficiency and health, for Desi, are all about natural pace. Slow, slow, slow to human eyes.

Desi reminds me that the pace of my life is artificial. A choice. The pace, the incessant noise vying for my attention, are human-made, unnatural. Don’t get me wrong. I delight that Google maps gets me where I want to go. I appreciate having a phone available while walking a backwoods trail. One of the great joys of my life is watching Kerri photograph – with her phone – the world she sees. I love to write and push a button to share. I am, despite my advertising, not a luddite. I’m also aware that the media – the medium – is the message. We are – we become – what we consume and how we consume it. It is a necessity in our age of rolling miracles to keep both eyes open.

I think it is healthy (although virtually impossible) to occasionally crawl out of the stream and breathe at human pace. To think without the expectation of assistance. Each day, for a few minutes, I hang out with Desi, a reminder that an inch of growth every year is sometimes fast enough.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about DESI

taking stock/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Imagine The Possibilities! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~ Lao Tzu

I’ve had this quote sitting on my desktop for months. I’ve been on a Lao Tzu kick, a Kurt Vonnegut kick, a Rainier Maria Rilke kick…all at the same time. They are, not surprisingly, in alignment on many topics, among them self-mastery. “The secret?” they whisper. “Stop trying to control what other people think or see or feel and, instead, take care of what you think and see and feel.” Their metaphoric trains may approach the self-mastery station from different directions but the arrival platform is the same.

It’s a universal recognition: take the log out of your own eye.

Sometimes a penny drops more than once and so it is with Saul’s advice to me. “Look beyond the opponent to the field of possibilities.” “And, just what does that mean?” you may shout at your screen. It sounds like new-age hoo-haw.

Ghandi said, “Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong.” It is the height of self-mastery to bring ideas to the table rather than a gun. It is the height of self-mastery to bring to the commons good intention and an honest desire to work with others to make life better for all. Power is never self-generated but is something created between people. Power is distinctly different than control. Power endures since it does not reside within a single individual. Power lives, as Saul reminded me again and again, not in throwing an opponent but in helping the opponent throw themself. “Focus on the possibilities,” he said again and again. Throw yourself to the ground often enough and, one day, it occurs that there may be another way.

Work with and not against. It seems so simple. The bulb hovering over my cartoon head lights-up. Work with yourself, too, and not against. Place your eyes in the field of all possibilities. Obstacles are great makers of resistance, energy eddies and division. Possibilities are expansive, dissolvers of divisiveness.

I am writing this on the Sunday that Christians celebrate their resurrection. The day that “every man/woman for him/herself” might possibly and-at-last-transform into “I am my brothers/sisters keeper.” All that is required for this rebirth is a simple change of focus; a decision to master one’s self instead of the never ending violent attempt to exercise control over others.

It’s the single message, the popcorn trail left for us by all the great teachers. Instead of fighting with others, master yourself. Imagine the possibilities!

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CEILING LIGHT

Collapse And Decide [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Brad calls it “paralysis by analysis”. Over thinking. Over researching. Reading every label. Considering every color combination relative to every other possible color combination. If you do some quick math, you’ll note that there are an infinite number of color combinations so arrival at a choice is a process of exhaustion. Waving the white flag. Conclusion via collapse. Decision by despair.

Neither Brad nor I suffer from this debilitating condition but both of our partners in life do.

It’s hard to watch. I learned at the very beginning to detach from the process. If I wait for the research and comparison phase to pass, if I say nothing until the desperation arrives, then I can tip the turmoil into a choice. And then I return to detachment because the paralysis has only reached its midpoint..

They say that summiting a high peak is not the dangerous part. Most climbers die on the return trip, the descent from the mountain. The same is true for analysis-paralysis-style-decision-makers. Once the decision is made, a river of decision-doubt and choice-remorse rushes in. The real paralysis happens after the decision is finally made. And revoked. And made again. And revoked. More spouses have collapsed on the way down from Mount Decision than on the initial ascent.

There’s a terrific scene in the movie About Time. The wife wants help from her husband in deciding which dress to wear to an important dinner meeting. She models dozens of dresses. He finds goodness in every option. She finds flaws in every dress. He becomes increasingly desperate, no matter what he says or enthusiastic support he offers, he finds himself swirling into the quagmire of no-good-answer.

I love that movie. Every time I watch that scene, I both howl with laughter and close my eyes. I know his desperation. I feel his fatigue. The minute she circles back and decides on the very first dress she modeled, with his wave of relief I whisper to the screen, “Now you’re really in trouble.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about DECISION FATIGUE

View The World [on DR Thursday]

Dogga is a wrecker of backyards. He’s a destroyer of pristine spaces. His joyful enthusiasm propels him in rapid circles and his circles have become etchings in our smallish yard. Initially, we tried to cover his etching path in stone. Were you to visit you’d find flat stones covering a wide spiral around the pond, his first velodrome. To no avail. He is a living Spirograph, a dervish of delightful circles. Viewed from the air, I’m certain our backyard smacks of alien visitation, mysterious crop circles.

We’ve learned. Rather than resist nature, attempt to control it or cover it up, it’s a much better plan to work with it. I knew we’d crossed a thought-bridge the day Kerri suggested we install a round-about sign. We had to be direction-correct so we bought one for right-sided drivers. The details matter. If Dogga was to suddenly switch and run in the opposite direction we’d have to issue a citation or get a new sign.

If there is a devil in the details there must also be an angel. As I’ve previously noted, I am not naturally a detail-guy; my head is at home in the clouds. I’m conceptual and can see great distances. It’s why metaphors are my currency, movement and pattern my friends. Please do not ask me to write a grant or make sense of the world through a spreadsheet. I can. I have, mostly out of necessity. But the cost to my soul is mighty. Luckily, as this great world spins, and the draw to a comfortable center is the force-at-play, I’m currently surrounded by teachers-of-detail, Kerri and Dogga are my favorite two but there are many in my circle. Angels, all.

Kerri runs to show me the photo she’s just taken. A close-in shot. A texture. A bud. An entire world in minutiae. See the beauty in the detail. For me, that’s the passage to the center. There’s entire universes to be found in the smallest detail. The up-in-the-clouds and close-in are relative terms. There’s a whole other worldview available from the grasses.

Lay on the ground and the Dogga will run circles of joy around you, his center point. There’s nothing better and that’s the kind of detail that’s not to be missed.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FROM THE GROUND UP

face the rain © 2019 david robinson

See The Signs [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Religions around the world and across time have personified this moment. The return of the green. From one day to the next buds appear on trees. The signs of life’s vibrant enthusiasm returning (again) from long winter, barren earth, metaphoric death. Persephone’s homecoming from the underworld and Demeter, her mother, goddess of the earth, allows the return of life.

It’s a very, very old story told in many, many different ways. Human beings, storytellers all, making sense of death and life, generalized across the real experience of cycles and seasons, all pressed through the lens of this-causes-that. Reduce us to an essential oil and we are makers of metaphor and seers of pattern.

I told Kerri that I got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. An idiom. Imagine the power in brains that utilize idioms! The meaning cannot possibly be carried by a literal interpretation of the individual words. We pull the meaning out of or inject it into the collection of words. We know what it means because the meaning has a long history. The Romans, I’ve read, believed there was a correct side of the bed. Arising on the correct side of the bed would ensure good luck. The right side of the bed was positive, the left side was dubious. Jump out of bed on the left side and the day was ruined!

Superstition: making sense of the happenings of a day or a life, pressed through the lens of this-causes-that.

Mostly, I am restless. It snowed all day yesterday. I yearn for the moment when I can, for the first time of the returning (pattern) spring, lean against the wall and feel the warm sun on my face. I will, like I did last spring, enjoy the moment to the point of non-thinking. I will drink it in with no need to wrap a story around it or make sense of what I am feeling. I will appreciate it to my bones and revel in the return of warmth, new growth, and light.

read Kerri’s blog post on GREEN

Look Around [on DR Thursday]

My sketchbooks are punctuated by weird landscapes. It was a practice. When I felt the need to draw regularly, to exercise my artistry, I worked on compositions for future paintings. And, when I had no idea what to draw, no composition in my head, I sketched my weird landscapes. They were fun and I got lost in them.

There was a blowback effect. I’ve never been a landscape artist. I considered my weird landscapes as not-serious exercises. Yet, they were made of scribbles and patterns and it became a game to collect patterns from nature. My not-serious exercises required me to look around. To get close. To look at the edges and splashes and etchings available in nature. To see. My weird landscapes became eye-opening meditations.

There are miracle-patterns in bark. Orchids, I recently learned, are a master-class of pattern, shape, and color. It is impossible to find a hand painted brush and ink painting as perfect or as spontaneous and lively as the strokes on the rattlesnake plant. Go to the garden if color combinations are in question.

I will never invent anything as imaginable, as impossibly beautiful, as what already exists in this world. I will never produce any painting as glorious as the paintings in nature. The best I can do is play. Look and marvel. And isn’t that a great relief?

read Kerri’s blogpost about RATTLESNAKE PLANT

eve © 2006 david robinson

Listen To The Memento [on DR Thursday]

Stop for moment and look around your house. How many of the objects that populate your shelves and walls are mementos? Keepsakes from travels or special events? I’m always struck, after a devastating fire or tornado, how often I watch people sifting through the rubble of their home to find a photograph or a special ring. There is the shock of losing the home, but the stories! What will happen with the loss of the reminder, the things that carry the story?

Last week, after the night we thought there was a fire in our walls, we talked about our race to get out of the house, and the question of “What do we grab and take?” The dog. The special papers. The computers. A few clothes. Those “items” fall into two categories: what you love (the dog. each other) and what we need to start again (special papers, the computers, a change of clothes). Although losing the passports and birth certificates would be difficult to replace, the first category is really all you need.

I’m certain, because our experience was so recent, I want to sob watching the news footage of families fleeing their homes in Ukraine. What do you grab and take when yesterday you went to work and today you are fleeing bombs and war? Where do you go? We have friends a few minutes away who would have taken us in and helped us back on our feet. When fleeing is the destination…where do you go?

The sun was bright through the cold on the day we pushed LittleBabyScion down the driveway so we could get Big Red out and onto the street. At first, she thought she found a wedding ring poking out of the snow. One of the men who worked so hard to replace our water line must have lost it. But then, we realized it was a brass fitting. We brought it in house. Someday, when the trench has settled, the front yard has grass again, when we feel comfortable leaving the television plugged in, and the house is restored to order, the ring will serve as a memento to remind us of the upheaval.

Yesterday I held the ring for a moment and I wondered why we – humans – build memorials to war that carry messages chiseled in stone, “Never again…” or “Remember…”, sentiments that are meant to remind us that murdering each other for resource or political gain actually achieves nothing but pain and the erection of yet another stone and steel memento – it’s a flip of priority – as if the special papers and computers have more importance than the people. The people become expendable. Where do you flee in the face of such madness?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE RING

Fill The Pot [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s food week at the Melange. Well, truth be told, it’s always food week here. When we’re not in our studios we meet in the kitchen and either eat food or talk about eating food. Sometimes – okay – everyday, when I am up in my office working, Kerri sends me a midmorning text: “Are you staaaaarving?” My reply never waivers: “Yes. Yes I am.” Snacks appear and happiness ripples throughout the house.

It’s winter and it’s covid so our circle of experience has shrunk mightily. Kerri injured her foot so our daily winter walks through the frozen tundra are on hiatus. As our recent photographs have betrayed, we are explorers in our own house. Photos of Dogga. Photos of the moon. Clever shots of candles and glasses of wine. And food, food, food.

Because it is winter, the big pot has re-emerged. Soups or spaghetti sauce are often simmering on the stove. During the warm months, the big pot goes on vacation but faithfully returns when the temperatures drop. There are weeks when the big pot never makes it back to the cabinet. It’s a workhorse.

I appreciate the reappearance of the big pot because, in addition to being essential for soups, it evokes stories. It never fails. The pot comes out. The chopping commences. And the stories start to roll. Our big pot has been around for a very long time so it is alive with story. Big pots bring memories of parents and grandparents, holiday meals, Dorothy cooking on the cast iron stove. It evokes remembrance from childhood, steam rising from the pot and fogging the kitchen window. Once, as a boy, I couldn’t breathe and leaned over the big pot. The steam helped.

This week we are excited: we have a new soup to try. Last week we made a simple vegetable soup, a recipe we lifted from 20. The big pot also helps us to dream. We remember a pre-covid world when we had gatherings and dinner parties, when we squeezed people into chairs at the table, elbows negotiating heaping plates of pasta, crusty bread, and wine. Laughter. “It’s the first thing we’re going to do,” Kerri says, “when this is all behind us.” The pot will come out. A vat of sauce will bubble on the stove. Friends will pack into the kitchen, asking, “When do we eat?”

read Kerri’s blogpost about BIG POTS