Turn Around [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Jen suggested green. So, throughout the day, to keep us sane in our home-stay-life, we shared pictures of green things, surprising and ordinary, that we found around the house or in our walks. The next day was lines. Then circles. We use our seclusion to open our eyes and see what is beautiful and striking – and mostly unnoticed until now.

Late the other night, 20 and Kerri spent an hour on the phone. 20 is among the those at highest risk and has self-quarantined. There is a park close to his house and, once a day, when it is likely that few other people will be out, he walks the paths in the park. He takes amazing photographs and each day sends us his latest pictures. On the phone, he introduced Kerri to the app he uses to tweak his gorgeous photos. “This opens a whole world of possibilities!” she exclaimed.

Have you noticed the hysterical songs, art, games, mock-challenges (the is-it-a chihuahua-or-a-blueberry-muffin? challenge is my current favorite). Creativity flourishes within constraints. It is a form of paradox-magic that I’ve always appreciated. A good constraint has the power to yank people out of their daily problem solving morass and turn them around into the creative.

Robert Fritz has the best definition for this magic: problem solving is trying to eliminate what you don’t want. Creating is trying to bring into being what you do want. It is a matter of direction (wink, wink: the direction of intention). At first glance these challenges and games might seem frivolous but a deeper look always reveals something more profound. We are opening our eyes to what is right in front of us. We are sharing, trying to help each other through a difficult time. Our natural capacity for play and whimsy rises to the top. Possibilities rise to the top. Instead of asking “why?” we begin asking “why not?” We create.

Idealistic blather or pattern? Problem solving has a way of creating more problems – it is a myopic. Turn around and consider the world you want to create. Walk at that. You’ll find that your eyes open, your thoughts expand. Playing-to-play will be valued and necessary. You’ll note, with gratitude, that you are not in this creative ride alone.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIRCLES

 

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Draw [on DR Thursday]

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Sue’s request was clear: write a story that is hopeful but does not pretend that everything will be easy or rosy in the end.

In 2005, while Sue Eskridge was teaching a course on children’s literature at The University of the Pacific, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of America. Sue had an idea. She refocused her class to help children who were displaced or had lost their parents in the storm. Her class approached several artists and children’s book authors and asked them to write and illustrate a story, to make single-copy-books. The books would be bundled with other supplies and through service organizations would go to children that needed them. “We want to give them hope but not false hope,” she said when she asked if I would “quick do a book.”

What do you do when the forest fire comes? The hurricane? The pandemic? Run. Hide. But then what? People pull together. People pull apart. The disaster invokes the best in us. The disaster invokes the worst in us. Ultimately, we realize that we are in it together and our togetherness can be defined through selflessness or through selfishness.

What defines us? I lived in Los Angeles during the riots and martial law. People turned on each other. I also saw the same community, just two years later during the Northridge earthquake, pull together. 9/11. AIDS. Our rhetoric does not define us. Our actions do.

I did as Sue asked. I quick did a book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost. I only had a few days and managed to write the story and smack out 16 illustrations. A story of personal gifts brought to communal need in the aftermath of a fire. When I bundled the original and sent it off to Sue I promised myself that I would someday go back into the story and draw all the pictures, fill in the 10 or so illustrations that I did not have time to realize.

This week, we retreated into our home, this pandemic hot and frightening and eerily invisible, except for the growing and incomprehensible numbers on the screen. The unreal reality. The hurricane that cannot yet be grasped.  I asked myself what might be a worthwhile project to do while isolating?  And then I remembered my promise to Peri Winkle Rabbit.

Draw. And perhaps a new story? One that deals with the hot fire now raging through our divided world? Two narratives. One pandemic. What are the odds that this crisis will burn off our national division and clear our eyes so that we are capable of stepping into a single story. I will ask Peri Winkle Rabbit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on PERI WINKLE RABBIT

 

 

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See The Pattern [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Virgil: From what you wrote, I see that you think you have a problem. The first recognition is simple: you do not have a problem. You have a pattern. ~ David Robinson, The Seer

I’ve stared at this napkin for a long time wondering what to write. It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s that I have too much to say. I’ve killed more than one dinner party going on and on and on about patterns.

In 2014 I published a book, The Seer. The first three chapters are about patterns of seeing, patterns of thinking. Patterns of self-story. So, rather than rewrite something that I have already written, here’s a small slice, an email conversation, from the first chapter of The Seer:

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Me: I realized that I think in patterns. I think the same stuff over and over. This is a puzzle: the act of looking for patterns opened my eyes. So, patterns reveal. And yet, later, when I became aware of the patterns of my thinking, I recognized that those patterns were like ruts or grooves. It’s as if I am playing the same song over and over again so no other music can come in. My thinking pattern, my rut, prevents me from seeing. So patterns also obscure. Make sense?

Virgil: Yes. It must seem like a paradox to you. Think of the song or rut as a story that you tell yourself. Your thoughts, literally, are a story that you tell yourself about yourself and the world; the more you tell this story the deeper the rut you create. So, a good question to ask is: what is the story that you want to tell? Are you creating the pattern that you desire to create? We will return to this many times. This is important: the story is not happening to you; you are telling it. The story can only control you if you are not aware that you are telling it.

 Me: Can you say more?

 Virgil: We literally ‘story’ ourselves. We are hard-wired for story. What we think is a narrative; this pattern (song) that rolls through your mind everyday is a story that you tell. You tell it. It defines what you see and what you do not see. What you think is literally what you see.

 There was a pause. That was a lot for me to take in. When I didn’t respond, he continued:

Virgil: So, what you think is nothing more than a story; it’s an interpretation. You move through your day seeing what you think – instead of what is there. You are not seeing the world, you are seeing your interpretation of the world. You are seeing from your rut and your rut is a pattern. So, your patterns of thinking, your rut, can obscure what you see. Make sense?

 Me: Yes. I guess 😉 So, when I started looking for patterns outside of me, I…stopped seeing from within my rut? I stopped assuming that I knew what I was seeing. So, I was capable of discovering new patterns and connections?

 Virgil: Yes, something like that. You said that when you looked for patterns you slowed down and felt that you could see. I would say it this way: you stopped moving through your world and for a brief period you were actually in your world. For a brief period you were no longer lost in thought but present with what was right in front of you. You suspended what you think you know so you started to see again. You were curious. To be curious is synonymous with “not knowing.”

 Me: Okay….

 Virgil: Humor me and entertain this notion: your thought, your story, is not passive. It is a creative act. What you think IS what you see. Most of the time people create what they see based on their rut. They see what they expect to see. To practice curiosity is to suspend the assumption of knowing. To practice curiosity requires us to step out of the rut. Stop assuming that you know and you gain the capacity to see beyond what you think.

 A glimmer of light pierced the dark recesses of my mind. Suddenly I was back in front of the Sphinx and I could see the answer to the riddle. It was so clear! I typed:

Me: Wait! Is this why I need to distinguish between problems and patterns? If I tell myself that I have a problem to solve, I am telling a certain kind of story. If I tell myself that I have a pattern to change, I am telling an entirely different kind of story. Is that true?

Virgil: Yes. It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? A problem is a story. It is a lens that filters your sight. A problem does not exist unless you insist that it is there. You say that you are an entrepreneur. How many great products and services were the results of an accident in the lab? How many innovations were missed because the ‘solution’ did not fit the ‘problem’ as identified? A problem is a rut that separates you from possibilities. On the other hand, a pattern connects you to possibilities. See the pattern not the problem.

 

[go here for a fun Escher-activity about pattern to use during this time of social distancing]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE NAPKIN

 

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the seer ©️ 2014 david robinson

Knit A Better Structure [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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“…the test of a civilization is how it cares for its helpless members.” ~ Pearl Buck

As a nation, we are currently enamored with tests, and it is not a stretch to say that we’d receive a failing grade on this test of civilization. The helpless members do not fare well.

As Horatio pointed out, much is lost between the cracks of the quintessential conundrum built into the DNA of these United States: the dueling philosophies of every-man-for himself versus I-am-my-brother’s-keeper. Republicans versus Democrats. Corporate greed versus social need. Black and white thinking that leaves gaping voids into which the helpless members disappear. There is no both/and to be found. Division has been a useful tool of control since the inception of the American experiment. The ideological cleaver is sharper than ever these days.

Yet, there is hope that reveals another side to our character.  Kerri said, “Look at this!” The Appalachian Wildlife Refuge put out a call for used mascara brushes. They are a useful tool in saving small critters and returning them to health. They received so many brushes, the response was so great, that they had to put limits on when they would accept new brush donations. It’s my bet that people of all political stripes and social strata sent their used mascara brushes to the Refuge. It’s my bet that the critters and the caregivers were grateful in every case.

When tragedy strikes, we rush to meet the need. When a photo moves us, we respond. Something pierces the superficial divide and reaches into our communal heart.

Robert Fritz teaches that behavior is like water, it follows the path of least resistance. If you want to change behavior, you must first change the underlying structure of the land. What might it take for us to challenge this superficial concocted divide, to reach deep  into our DNA and knit a better structure of the land – something more useful and more profound than perpetually dueling philosophies? What might it take for us to put down our cleaver and pick up our mascara brushes? What might we imagine and create together that would help history give us a better grade on our test?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IMPACT

 

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Leave It At The Door [on DR Thursday]

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There is a simple exercise that I am particularly fond of but less than terrific at practicing. It goes like this: don’t drag yesterday’s trash into today. See this day as it is: new. Live this day without the control fantasy of believing that you know what will happen, that you know or can control what other people think. Recognize that the burden you carry is exactly that – something you carry. Put it down for a spell. It will be there when you are ready to pick it up.

It’s not an exercise in denial. It’s actually the opposite. It’s an exercise in dealing with the real moment rather than the imagined monster. You’ll be amazed at the world of light, color, and possibility that opens when yesterday’s trash stays in yesterday, when the weighty story wrapped around the past-moment drops away.

I used to tell my actors, when entering the rehearsal hall, to leave their day at the door. Rehearsal halls, like artist studios, are sacred places. The art of the theatre is the mastery of presence and it’s a necessary skill to tuck the story-of-the-day into a safe keeping box before stepping onto the stage. And, what if, as master Will wrote, all the world is a stage? It seems to me that the art of living is the mastery of presence.

I call it the “garbage layer,” those moments when I am first coming out of sleep. Coming up from the bottom of the slumber-ocean there is a surface layer where all the trash floats. It is coming through the garbage layer that I have the option of leaving behind or picking up yesterday’s flotsam. The nagging to-do list, the contention, the worries, the fears and fights can all be scooped up and hauled into the new day or the story-of-yesterday can be left at the door.

And when I leave yesterday’s garbage in yesterday? An entirely different set of experiences and assumptions become available. Awe at the light in the trees. Awe at the smell of coffee brewing. Awe at the sun and the enormous cat that purrs when I sit close.

[Chicken Marsala was one of our cartoon creations. He tickled the syndicates but never got picked up. We love him still. We designed all manner of cool prints, cards, cups and other stuff that you can find here]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ASSUME AWE

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

 

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

face the sun ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

Know They Are Watching [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We go to Bristol wood to return to center. It is a place of peace. It somehow breathes serenity into our overactive minds.

Sign of deer are everywhere in the woods. We rarely see them but we know they are there. I imagine they watch us. I imagine they silently encourage us to walk slower, to catch our breath. To listen to tree song. We delight when we walk a path where they recently tread.

Deer are a symbol of gentleness and intuition. Balance and peace. This summer, on the Island, we saw deer everyday. We would retreat from the contentious community back to the littlehouse, pour some wine, and take a walk. A deer would inevitably appear and we’d stop talking. We’d breathe. We’d watch. It would watch us, too. After a few moments it would leap and disappear and, with it, our day’s concerns would also disappear. The deer would shift our conversation, from a lengthy list of disgruntlement to the beauty immediately surrounding us.

I’ve decided that, in our broken-wrists-time-out, our goal should be to make the whole world Bristol Wood. That we shouldn’t retreat to find peace but should invite peace and balance and serenity into the rest of the day, no matter where we happen to be living it.

Things I used to know. Things I once practiced.

Know that they are there, everywhere. Watching. Silently encouraging us to walk slower, the breathe, to focus on the beauty immediately surrounding us and not on the other stuff. It turns out that balance and serenity are practices, not pursuits. They are choices. Peace-of-heart-and-mind do not exist in the woods exclusively. Peace comes to the place where I decide to allow it. To practice it. To make it a priority.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on DEER SIGN

 

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Take Heart [on DR Thursday]

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I dipped into the Flawed Cartoon archive to find this one. Not only is it is one of my favorites, but it describes perfectly this time of my life. In my case, the scarf is for warmth and not fashion. I have no explanation for the hat.

My inner-misguided-philosopher whispers, “Take heart, all are made of the same snow!” I wince but scribble a note because that would make a great groan-inspiring cartoon if I ever jump back into the Flawed pool. Who knew snow could inspire bad philosophy!

I remind myself that every great knight probably looked pathetic and skinny when not in their armor. All that chain mail and shiny metal hid the truth revealed in tights and tunics. I suspect that knights avoided mirrors unless encased in polished alloy! I scribble another note. A good seed for a sumpin-sumpin someday.

“Take heart,” my inner-misguided philosopher reminds me, “Sometimes the best possibilities come wrapped in a scarf wearing a goofy hat.” I roll my eyes. Always the optimist.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on THE POSSIBILITIES

 

 

 

 

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flawed cartoons ©️ 2017 david robinson