Deny It [on Flawed Wednesday]

picnic anyone copy

Were I to give this image a title it would be called ‘Denial.’ It smacks of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: a holiday obsessed Chevy Chase pretends he is having the perfect family Christmas even as the house comes down around him. Of course, in Hollywood, denial has a happy ending for everyone but the snotty neighbors. Their suffering makes us laugh.

These days I think almost daily of the phrase Roger tossed out a few decades ago: denial is the most powerful of human capacities. He is a director of plays, a great student of human motivation. People are great at denying what they don’t like. People are great at having one too many drinks and getting behind the wheel, or texting while driving because, after all, bad things happen to other people. People are masters at pretending that they are not involved, above it all, or what they see is not happening. Ask the NRA.

The important detail that Roger understood is that denial is never passive. It abdicates responsibility. It assigns blame other places. Chinese hoax. It minimizes the impact. It paints pretty pictures of ugly situations. It throbs with intention.

Denial: the action of declaring something untrue.

Here’s the question that Roger’s observation invokes in me: at what point do we wake up and realize that we are all the snotty neighbors?

[now, don’t you wish that I’d just written about Hieronymous Bosch like I intended?]

 

read Kerri’s less pessimistic blog post on the PICNIC TABLE

 

 

picnic table website box copy

 

the picnic ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

 

 

Look For Erle [on KS Friday]

erle cover copy

When you pull up Kerri’s page on iTunes you’ll notice that they have a hard time placing her music in a category. New Age? Easy listening? Classical? Country? One does not easily fit into the filing system until one can be clearly labeled. How can you be effortlessly labeled?

It’s a challenge all of us face. What’s the label? How do you fit? And (here’s the rub), it’s bad enough that the greater-world-filing-system needs a label to locate you, the real confusion comes in the labels we impose on ourselves. Are you a dentist? A liberal? A conservative? A mother? A foodie? Self-made, dependent, injured, Christian (which branch?), Muslim, agnostic, vegetarian, cowboy, rich, poor, retired, globalist, nationalist, capitalist, socialist? Do you “know?” Are you the righteous? Professor? How do you place yourself in the greater-world-filing system? Never mind how the “the system” attempts to squeeze you into a role, what’s the little box that you try to squeeze yourself into?

Is that who you are? Is that little box where you belong? Is it the totality of your being?

Sometimes I think we spend most of our lives dividing ourselves so that we might fit into a very small box. And, what we do to ourselves we most certainly do to others. They. Them. Not us.

Divide. Label. Locate.

Reduce. Contain. Shelve.

Although there is a certain amount of safety-feeling when living in a very small box, there is also very little vitality. Little things look big from the vantage point of a tiny box.  Little things look threatening from the confines of a too-tight label. Little boxes are petri dishes for big fear.

We bandy these words about and paste them on the walls of our too-little-boxes: mindfulness, wholeness, vitality. “This life is not a dress rehearsal.” “You are infinite potential.” “Today is day one.” Maya Angelou, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Peace.

These ideals, all of them, wonder, magic, love, artistry, unity, harmony,…truth…crackle beyond the label. They are there – outside the box – and they are never found in the direction of division. They are always present if you care to put down the label-maker.

Get out of your box and turn around. Maybe spin around and around and lose your balance like you did when you were young and less needy of location. Look at the mystery that chases you and chase it. Play tag with this life. Remember how you laughed just because? Reach.

Kerri stood on the edge of a canyon and, although afraid of heights, she threw open her arms. Kirsten called me to tell me. “Mom’s on the edge,” she whispered into the phone. “I’m really proud of her.”

note: this composition has nothing to do with what I just ranted about except for maybe this: the only locators that really matter are the people who love you and show up for you. Your friends along the way. This is the label I am most attached to: Kerri and I are very rich in friends.

OLD FRIENDS REVISITED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ERLE

 

muddy boots blue website box copy

 

old friends revisited/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

erle ©️ 2019 (and beyond) kerri sherwood

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

Sit In The Megaphone [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

comingtoyoufrommegaphone copy

 

Rounding the bend on the green trail at Bristol woods, we sometimes stop and climb into the megaphone. The first time we saw the nature megaphone, we had no idea what it was. It looked like a giant wooden dunce cap. It was big enough to crawl into so we did. Sitting in the dunce cap, we speculated about what it could be (other than a shaming-hat for a giant). Later, the naturalist confirmed our speculation: a large funnel-shaped device for amplifying and directing nature’s voice.

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 9.16.19 AM

Amplifying nature’s voice. Last week, on my birthday, we walked the snowy trail and climbed into the megaphone for a rest and some snacks. We laughed a lot and made a few very silly Snapchat messages. We also sat quietly and listened.

We live in a time, it seems to me, that nature is talking loud and clear. This morning we read in the news that an Australian mammal, the Bramble Cay Melomys, is the first species to be declared extinct due to climate change. “Ocean inundation from rising sea levels…which led to dramatic habitat loss.”

Dramatic habitat loss. An antiseptic phrase. Many species, from polar bears, to frogs, to coral reefs (yes, a brilliant life form) are stepping toward the same abyss and will be eulogized, by us, using the same scrupulously clean phrase. Scruple is another good word: a twinge of conscience. ‘Dramatic habitat loss’ is a phrase remarkably clean of scruple.

I can’t help it. I listen to words and usage. I ponder intention, the story beneath the story. Words like ‘tame’ and ‘wild’ are human-made distinctions. So are concepts like ‘property lines’ and ‘natural resources’ and ‘land management.’ Language meant to make it seem that we are somehow removed from or in control of the forces of nature. ‘Hubris’ – another surgical word – masks a nasty bit of delusion: the notion that we are somehow above it all.

After reading the news this morning Kerri said, “They won’t really notice the enormity of the loss until it is people.” With her fingers, she put the word “they” in quotation marks. They. Us. We. And, I wondered silently, will we, even then? Or, will we, as we are now doing, turn it against each other?

Swimming in data AND experience (extinction and climate change are, after all, experiences), we are still vehement in our denial and roaring debate. Sitting  in nature’s megaphone I am almost certain that we story-telling-animals are more-than-capable of arguing ourselves into extinction over the degree of ‘human causation’ in the ‘dramatic loss of habitation.’ ‘Human impact on the environment’ – another very sterile phrase, is, after all, not a new phenomena.  The current iteration does, however, speak volumes about how capable we are of hearing and incapable we are of listening.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE NATURE MEGAPHONE

 

megaphones website box copy

Throw A Pillow [on Two Artists Tuesday]

pillow collage - d paintings copy

The artists’ dilemma in 3 Acts (or, the story behind the pillow collage):

Act 1: Early in my life as a painter I copied master paintings for display in model homes. I’d alter the colors to match the couch. Something was dreadfully wrong with altering master work to match a couch. The world seemed upside down and I was young enough to think perhaps it was me that was upside down. I doubted what I knew. I doubted my inner compass.

Act 2: Later, when I first moved to Seattle, my gallery hunt brought little interest in my work but I was offered the same piece of advice at every stop: Tone it down. The images were “too strong” or “too colorful.”  The reasoning made my head spin: “No one wants to buy a painting that dominates a room! A painting should add to the over all impact but not be seen.”

“Kind of like a throw pillow,” I’d respond.

“Yes! Like an accent piece.”

This time, I knew that I was not upside down, just peddling my wares in the wrong market. Or the wrong century. I trusted my compass yet stood without direction in what felt like a vast wasteland.

Act 3: Waving the Design Within Reach catalogue in front of my face Kerri was on a full blown rant. The page waving before my eyes was a collage of throw pillows. “These are boring!” she  shouted, “Who designs this stuff?” I knew what was at the heart of her tirade. She’d spent the last several months designing her heart out. Her line of pillows – those based on my paintings and a fleet of others – is unique, different. “Why do people buy this stuff? It’s the same as everything else!” she fumed.

I responded with studied calm. “One. How many people see this catalogue versus how many people are seeing your designs? No one is seeing them.”  She scrunched the catalogue. “And, two, perhaps the designs are too bold and too different.”

“That’s what makes them interesting!” she protested. “Beautiful art doesn’t just have to be on the wall!”

“Ah.” I said, “That’s the problem! A flawed premise! Turning the art into a throw pillow still does not make it an accent piece. That’s a good sign!”

“I’m making my own ad! It’ll be a collage! It’ll be a piece of art!” she waved the destroyed catalogue in the air and stormed to the computer.

There is no wasteland here. Her inner compass, and mine, is just fine.

 

see all of Kerri’s designs from my paintings

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PILLOWS

 

www.kerrianddavid.com

 

pillows designs ©️ 2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson

 

 

Unify

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

Stay with me. I actually have a point.

If ever I teach actors again, or coach people in any endeavor, or communities/businesses seeking betterment, I will only have two things to teach: 1) Grounded-ness and 2) Focus placement on the unifiers. These two concepts are really  one looping concept but for ease and the sake of being understood, I will offer them independent of one another.

As focus placement goes, an actor on the stage has two options and depending on the focus placement they choose, they will either create the play or destroy it. A focus on how they look or sound or feel destroys the play. It is a self-focus in an art form of relationship (all art forms are made vital in relationship). A self-focus breaks the relationships and effectively locks the audience out of participating in the story. It makes the actor giddy with fear, easily distracted, alone. Conversely, the actor can focus outside of themselves, on the other actors on the stage, on the energy between, on their pursuit. An outer-focus creates relationships and serves as a magnet that pulls audiences into the story. It facilitates participation, creates relationship, and shared experiences. It unifies. Literally.

The actor who listens to him/herself pulls up their root. They unground themselves. The actor whose focus is outward, who is actively pursuing relationship, creates grounding. In fact, they must be grounded to create vital relationships. It is a first principle. Grounded-ness begets grounded-ness; it unifies. It strengthens. It invites. It clarifies truth.

The same principles apply off the stage or out of the studio. It is, however, more complex off the stage. It is much, much, more sticky.

And here’s the point: It has been said that nothing is better at uniting a community than having an enemy. It’s true. A common enemy provides an outer focus. It provides another team to defeat. It works so well that leaders across the ages, leaders who would otherwise look insipid, leaders who, like a bad actor, have a self-focus, a control need, have concocted all manner of enemies. It is a deflection. It works for a short while but what starts as false unity strips a community of its true binder. It separates and splits. It diminishes. It destroys.

Here’s the sticky part. One of the oldest tricks in the book for controlling a community is to split them, to locate the enemy within the community. And then, for good measure, magnify the split. In the early colonies – that ultimately became The United States of America – it was a strategy known as The Giddy Masses (see Ronald Takaki’s excellent book A Different Mirror). Make the people giddy with a false enemy. Uproot them. Deflect them so they cannot join in relationship and be strong as a community. Self-focused leaders cannot survive a unified, healthy populace. It is a strategy: separate the people so they cannot see the movement of power.

Today I started to read the news but stopped after only a minute. Building walls. Expelling Muslims. Enemy creation everywhere! Fox news and MSNBC are great giddy creators. It’s a bad story poorly told. It weakens all players. The primary actors do harm to their audience. Grounded-ness, a first principle, can only come to all when the actors choose to focus on the relationships, see the unifiers, to create rather than destroy. Groundedness comes when the audience engages, questions what they are being told and open (rather than close) their minds.

Grounded-ness. Focus placement on the unity. The principles that make great art also make great society. Fear, the province of the bad actor, the lot of a passive audience, although temporarily effective, can only destroy the play.

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Put Down The Hammer

photo-3[continued from BE WE]

The woman behind the counter at Starbucks, someone I’d never seen before, leaned forward, and chirped, “David! I loved your wedding!” She laughed at the look of confusion that must have crossed my face and added, “No, you don’t know me.” One of our invited guests brought her as a date. “Best wedding ever!” she exclaimed as Kerri joined us. Because the day is a blur, Kerri and I enjoy hearing people’s accounts of our wedding day and she enthusiastically told us of her experiences. It was nice. It was personal.

We took our coffee to a table and joined some friends. After a few moments, the woman behind the counter came to our table. She brought some samples, some health supplements and cosmetic products, “I only do this Starbucks job for the health insurance,” she said, “This is really my business,” she said, sliding the tiny packages in front of Kerri. “You never know who might be interested,” she chirped and blushed before making an exit. It was awkward. It felt awful. We went from personal to prospect in one inelegant step.

There is an old saying that came to mind: When the only tool you have in your box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Many years ago, in a time of great financial desperation, I worked with some financial folks who recruited me to sell their stuff. I learned their processes, got my licenses in record time, and for a few horrid months, tried to sell their wares. I hated it. The work was highly profitable but the cost was highly destructive. Everyone looked like a prospect. To every social encounter, every friendship, every casual meeting, I brought an agenda. For a few months I looked through a lens that made every person, every circumstance, a commodity-opportunity. It reduced life (my life) to an ugly basic. It was toxic. Anna taught me the very appropriate word for what I felt: vampiring. It was a great lesson. It made me pay attention to the intention I bring to my life.

It’s what the woman at Starbucks felt, too. She was desperate. She, like a former version of me, sold the greater need to satisfy the lesser. Vampires are insatiable and stuck in an untenable lifeless-lens: everyone looks like a food source. Desperation is like that. It is easy when desperate to sacrifice friendships for prospecting. No one likes to be a food source.

As I perused this years bountiful crop of ugly images of Americans fighting and crushing each other for cheap toys and electronics, the annual product-stampede/people-crush-and-fist-fight on Black Friday (formerly known as Thanksgiving), I couldn’t help but think about the Starbucks lady. Desperation wears many masks but always makes others look less-than-human. Communities thrive when they feed each other and die when they feed on each other. This is not a mystery.

Commodity is supposed to service community, not the other way around. Vampiring is the only visible path when community loses itself to commodity; it inadvertently tosses away its many tools and leaves itself with only a hammer. It’s a question of order as much as a question of values. There is nothing wrong with commodity when the order of value is respected. Without a WE there can only be a very confused, desperate, and lonely I. It should not come as a surprise that desperate and lonely people do desperate and lonely things.

This is the season of the return of the light. We need do nothing more to create the miracle than put down the hammer and look at others as if they are more than nails.

[to be continued]