Reflect On It [on KS Friday]

her palette - the piano copy

I so loved Kerri’s post yesterday that, today, I’m reflecting it back to her.

Do we ever really know what it takes to do someone else’s job? We don’t know the tools used, the research done, the years of training and experience, how someone perceives their own work. We can only guess and, most often, fall desperately, arrogantly, audaciously off the mark.

Kerri’s piano dominates her studio. A black 6’7″ Yamaha grand. It is not a show piece, it is a workhorse. Littering the music stand are stacks of composition notebooks, idea journals, sketches (she is visual) and pile after pile of church music – old hymnals, new downloads of pieces she’s considering for her ukulele band, choir or handbell choir. On the floor are several heavy binders arranged in alphabetical order with the music already played, binders from the 30 years of experience as a minister of music. There is yet another stack reserved for pieces she’s considering playing with Jim, her brilliant guitarist. Lining the walls are ukuleles, a few guitars, a cello, a keyboard, several music stands, more stacks of the original recordings of her albums (note: they are not stored as sacred artifacts. Rather, they are piled willy-nilly for easy reference). My wife is a Yamaha artist (look it up) and her constantly shifting studio topography (ever-moving piles) is testament to the music in her soul, her very-long history of artistry.

Now, I’ve sung a song or two in the shower. When I met Kerri I told her that I didn’t sing and she fairly quickly called my bluff. I sing in her choir. I delight in singing with her and Jim. They are kind and pretend that I add something to their mix. Nowadays I can even pick out a slow tune on the ukulele!

All of this, however, does not make me capable of really understanding how Kerri plays or composes. I can pluck a note. I can warble a song. I will, however, never have mastery of all the instruments, I will never approach her capacity to transpose on the fly, or compose poetry and melody. I will never hear the nuance she hears, the music of silence. I do not have a natural gift of music nor an entire lifetime to exercise and explore it.

I do not know the tricks of the trade she has accumulated over decades of honing her expertise. Nor do I know the knowledge base she brings about other artists, other musicians and compositions, the instrumentation, the way she ‘feels’ an audience and adjusts, the very technical details and the very heart-based intuitions she has learned through many, many years of study and practice. I can’t understand or even try to predict the amount of time it takes (or doesn’t take) for her to conceptualize, to explore, to create, to review, to assess, to adjust, to re-create. I can respond to her work but I cannot define it, nor would it be credible for me to even try to do so. Out of respect for her work, this ‘music’ that is one of the essential things that define her, I know that I really have no idea. I will never approach all that she knows. What I can do is appreciate the enormity of her talent, the endless hours of study, pursuit, practice, passion, experimentation, frustration, rehearsal, writing, performance, teaching, research, recording, pondering, pounding and playing and playing and playing – a lifetime of experience – that has brought her to this place where she creates beautiful music that seems to take no effort whatsoever.

Making it look easy. It takes a lifetime. The woman who delivers our mail has been a postal carrier for 30 years. It is hubris to think I know what that takes. It is utter arrogance to think I could pick up a mailbag and simply know what she knows, do what she does. Experience is invisible. Value is too easily reduced to dollars and cents. As Kerri wrote yesterday, with regard to anyone, the work they do, the life-path they bring to their work, we have no idea. It is both humbling and respectful to take a step back and consider the invisible, to remember that what appears easy comes from years and years of very hard work.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on KS FRIDAY

 

 

their palettes website box copy

 

Lose Your Right Mind [on Merely A Thought Monday]

in your right mind copy

I have made some incredibly bad decisions in my life that set off a chain of events that led to some extraordinary, life-illuminating experiences. Conversely, I have made some incredibly good, well-considered decisions that led me to total devastation. My life reads like one of Aesop’s Fables.

The “bad” decisions were “irrational” and “spontaneous” and some of my pals  questioned whether or not I was in my “right” mind.

The “good” decisions were “rational” and I was lauded for using common sense, for my clear-eyed, right-minded logic.

Intuition, following your gut, listening to your heart has very little to do with the rightness of mind.

Back in the previous century (20 years ago), educators were awash in the term “the mainstream.” Getting divergent students back into the mainstream was the stated goal of most alternative education programs. Doug, my hero of the alternative path, champion of finding the stream that worked for the student (as opposed to channeling all students back into a single stream), used to snarl, “I’d love to see this mainstream if someone would be kind enough to point it out to me.” (note: this is not a direct quote as I’ve cleaned up Doug’s language for my less sturdy readers).

In mythology it is called the left-hand path, this route that makes no sense to adherents of the mainstream. The left-hand path is intuitive and counter-intuitive, all at the same time. It seems nonsensical to sail toward the edge of the known world. Explorers, artists, innovators, mystics, must take this road less traveled. They must wander off the main and cut a new path. They must. Their fellows will wonder if they’ve taken leave of their senses. Left their right mind. The answer: no. They are following a deeper call, something speaking to their senses. They’ve left a mainstream that appears to them like total madness.

If logic is your compass it is, of course, best to stay on the road well-traveled. If safety and security is your goal, then a known path holds what you seek.

If knowing where you’re going sounds a lot like a death sentence, then leaving your right mind for a left-hand path is the only choice that makes sense.

Truth? I think the right-mind is bit of rhetoric that has little to do with the realities of being human. We find the rational side of things comfortable so it gets good marks. No one gets a cake-walk in this life. Everyone has a mountain to climb, a valley to get lost in, a spontaneous jump to make, a gut feeling, a heart to be listened to – and some of the worst impulsive decisions inevitably lead to the most profound growth experiences. It is only after the fact, when we need to make sense of our nonsensical leap, our follow-the-heart choice, that we call on the “right” mind to make the story coherent. Just ask Aesop.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about RIGHT MIND

 

 

footprints in sunlit snow website box copy

Distort! [on DR Thursday]

lovers distortion1 copy

Lately, when picking images for the melange, I go into the studio, quick snap a few photos, toss them to Kerri and ask her to choose one. It’s that random. This week, I tipped a stack of canvases, much like you’d open a book, shoved my camera in the ‘open page’ and snapped this photo. A morsel of LOVERS. Also, because the painting was tipped, there is an angle of distortion that I like.

Angle of distortion. I like the phrase. It implies that there might be a viewpoint without distortion. As an artist it doesn’t take long to learn that a point of view – every point of view – is a distortion. Follow people through a gallery displaying your paintings and you quickly discover the varied and surprising nature of perception. A single painting. A multitude of interpretations, few of which have anything to do with the painting you thought you’d painted.

My grandfather used to count the fingers and toes in my paintings. Sometimes there were six toes, sometimes four fingers. It puzzled him. My response, that I live post-Picasso, was of no comfort to him. He was puzzled and delighted by my straying from the standard number. He would knit his brow if I’d have told him that I live post-Michelangelo. Those renaissance artists knew how to distort things and get away with it!

Reality. Normal. I’m no longer sure what those words mean anymore other than “agreement.” A gathering of the distortions at the crossroads to compare notes.  My grandfather would have shaken his head and told me that idea was nuts.  “We live post Einstein,” I’d say, much to his chagrin. What do you see in this painting, deep within the age of relativity? Well, it all depends upon your angle of distortion.

 

lovers - full copy

lovers, 18 x 37.75, acrylic on canvas mounted on hardboard

 

read Kerri’s blog post on LOVERS

 

 

cheers! shopping in chicago website box copy

 

lovers ©️ 2012 david robinson

Huck It Up [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

THIS husby's dollar bill ceiling copy

Look closely. It’s not a flock of butterflies or a strange strain of ceiling-sitting-grasshopper. It’s money, greenbacks, tacked to the tiles. It’s how the community of Sister Bay collects money for local causes. Go to Husby’s, chuck money into the air and hope it sticks.

Kerri was on a rant. She was reading about the obscene amounts of money being raised for political campaigns. Power is big business! As she was ranting about the better use of so much money, I scrolled passed an article, 12 States Spend Less On Schools Now Than Before The Recession.  For all of our grand rhetoric and dedication to the showmanship of testing-for-excellence, we have a very hard time putting our money where our mouth is. These days, teachers everywhere are on strike because they have chosen what once was the most noble of careers, but now it takes two or three jobs to make ends meet. Her rant met my eye-roll. It’s upside down.

It was the middle 1990’s when I was a teacher, sitting at my desk reading the paper before my day was to begin. I was browsing an article about the starting salaries for city workers. I should have gasped but I was not really surprised. A starting garbage collector salary was vastly more than a tenured teacher. I like my garbage to be collected so don’t mistake my comparison. We express value through the exchange of money. It was impossible for me not to get the message. It’s upside down.

I understand that we are in a booming economy.  It’s a pervasive story. It’s trumpeted everyday. And yet, there is this headline ripped from the news: Almost 80% of US Workers Live Paycheck to Paycheck. I shake my head in disbelief every time I hear the fearmongering tale about the raging perils of socialism knocking on our door. Even a quick peak at the reality will reveal that social equity is not the monster that threatens us. Upside down.

Imagine my surprise when I entered Husby’s! In this small bar nested in this tiny town on the beautiful peninsula known as Door County, I found a community that recognizes the topsy-turvy nature of our economics! Good causes in an upside down world require an unusual strategy. Put a tack through your dollar bill. Fold the bill and tack around a quarter. Huck it up and hope it sticks. The kids and good causes will receive a bit of money-love from their community when the ceiling gets full. The money, the spare change collected from community love and caring, will come down. I suspect the money will matter but the community-that-cares will matter more. The empty ceiling will inspire new bills to fly up. The cycle will start anew.

ceiling money donations copy

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MONEY ON THE CEILING

 

not our best morning minturn website box copy

Put It In Context [on Two Artists Tuesday]

THIS from the ferry copy

Context (noun): the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

I love this photograph. It could be of the salt flats. It could be desert landscape. It could be the arctic snows. Absent of context, how can we know?

The headstone of the 21st century will read ‘Taken out of context.’ I was a teacher when the internet first washed over the land and the question on every educator’s desk was this: how do we teach students to discern what information is valid and what is not? Education is, at least partially, the pursuit and discernment of what is true and what is not.

Discernment (noun): the ability to judge well.

In a world in which any one can post anything about any topic in service to any agenda, void of context and with an astounding expectation of 280 characters or less, how do we judge well? No attention span available. No context necessary. Discernment is out of reach. As W.B. Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.” 

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  (Yeats, The Second Coming)

Context avoidance and manipulation is not unique to the 21st century. It’s been around since the invention of preachers and politicians. We simply have the tools to amplify it and glut ourselves on the fat that remains.

‘Taken out of context’ comes with a cold surgical sister phrase: after the fact. They knew after the fact. He was an accessory after the fact. It was only after the fact that they saw what was there all along.

fact (noun): a thing that is known or proved to be true.

How do you know or prove something to be true? It is the same question educators faced so long ago: how do we discern what information is valid and what is not? Well, begin by slowing down enough, care enough to place the thought, idea, opinion, data, in its full context. Conviction, ideals, truths…all of these lofty words, have meaning and value, become grounded, solid, and meaning-full – in the presence of context.

(The photograph was taken from a ferry cutting through the surface ice at Death’s Door).

lake ice copy

pull the camera down and this is what you see

 

read Kerri’s blog post on ICE LANDSCAPE

 

zigzag through ice website box copy

 

Save Your Nickel [on Merely A Thought Monday]

where you can actually hear copy

We walk on snowy trails through the woods because it is quiet. I retreat to my studio to work because it is quiet. It inspires quiet. Quiet evokes quiet.

Scrolling through her news app, Kerri said, “Everyone in the world is angry.” It certainly seems that way, especially if the news is the lens through which the world is defined. Headlines shout. The advertisements flash and disrupt.  Tom used to say that watching television, plugging into the news-of-the-day, reminded him of his childhood. The circus would come to town. Carnival barkers and bright signs, lots of noise and distractions. The one sure moneymaker, the tent everyone clamored to get into, lining up to pay their shiny nickel, was the freak show. Two headed cows in jars of formaldehyde. Things that gross us out or make us mad. “Nowadays, they call it reality television,” he’d say, shaking his head. “Or the news. It’s a lot of noise.”

Here’s a simple truth: conversation is impossible in too much noise. People shouting to be heard. A room full of shouting people actually makes listening more difficult and conversing impossible. It’s a feedback loop. Noise evokes noise. And, noise isolates. It is a perfect recipe for being alone together.

The Five20 is a little bar at the Stagecoach Inn in Cedarburg.  Their tagline, “Where you can actually hear your conversation” is refreshingly accurate and seems a throwback to another era. People valuing conversation; a place, a space, intended to facilitate interaction sans noise. Our group, 10 people strong, the up-north-gang, began and ended our yearly trek to Winterfest there. Sitting at the far end of the long table, I could hear every word spoken at the other end. Even when the bar was packed.  And, the best part, today, I can’t tell you what we talked about – the simple stuff  of life – but I can tell you that we laughed and shared and left the Five20 full of friendship, warmed by sharing rather than exhausted from shouting.

As Tom would have said, “Save your nickel.” Sometimes the thing you seek is not in the tent amidst the noise but outside, far from the circus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHERE YOU CAN ACTUALLY HEAR

 

 

boots on frozen river cedarburg website box copy

 

Close The Gap [on Merely A Thought Monday]

kenosha tire sign copy

Do you remember Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten? Share everything. Play nice. Don’t hit people. Clean up your own mess. It is filled with simple undeniable wisdom. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

It’s really not that complicated to get along. Everywhere I look I find credos and guides and statements of belief. Aspirations and inspirations. In fact, we are fairly drowning in statements of how to get along and how to create a better world. We are also awash in news streams screaming about deep division and our inability to play nice.

There’s a gap between our rhetoric and our choices.

It’s not that we have to see from the same point of view or hold a single omnipotent intention. We don’t. We won’t. The genius, the ideal, of our system is the notion that opposing points of view, wildly disparate beliefs, can come to a middle way. Compromise is possible if the common good is more important than winning at all cost. Sharing toys is possible if sharing is among the…shared values. Sharing engenders empathy, the consideration of the other person’s point of view. The things we learned in kindergarten and actually believe enough to enact. Dog-eat-dog, cheating, lying, exploitation, every man or woman for him/herself; these were not among the things I, or anyone else I know, learned in kindergarten. I was never punished for sharing or for service to others. I was never sent to my room for being fair or for speaking a truth – even if it wasn’t popular.

And, so, on this MLK day, in the midst of our mess, we ask again (and again and again), what is the difference between what we say we value and how we actually behave?

 

read Kerri’s blog post on WHAT THEY VALUE IS ON THE WALL

 

reflectioninxb website box copy