Pull The Weeds [on KS Friday]

My very first painting teacher offered me some sage advice. I was painting figures while the rest of the class worked on landscapes. Being the odd-child-out I assumed something was wrong with me. She said, “Tree painters are a dime a dozen. Someday, being the only one will seem like a gift so ignore what they are interested in and paint what is interesting to you.” Jospeh Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” It’s the same advice that Jackie Fry gave to the boy-version of me.

I never imagined myself with a back yard. And, now that I have one, I find it a place of rest and peace. This is a confession that I’ll never admit to in the future: weeding is meditative. Each day I find myself taking a few moments to go out and yank the invaders out by the roots. No thought. No other thing to do. I simply tend the garden, knowing I am accomplishing nothing since weeds are good at growing and more will appear tomorrow. We are strange allies, they provide me with a daily meditation.

If I was as an art teacher, I’d send my students into my back yard. Nature is a masterful teacher of color. Orange and green. Highlights of yellow. Barney provides subtle blues, purples, and pinks. The orange and green of the lily pop against the purple and blue of the aging piano. Warm colors come forward. Cool colors recede. It’s all there.

I read somewhere that, as an artist, “to discover” is more potent than “to invent.” See what is there, beyond what you think is there. Everything is fluid so the discoveries are endless. While I weed the sun passes beneath a cloud. Everything changes. The sun reappears and the colors change again. Not the same. Different. I’ll never be able to capture it and that is the best held secret of an artist. Another wisdom from Jackie Fry: you will never succeed. Art is a relationship, not a transaction. So, no pressure. It is a relationship, complex and dynamic. It is not about capturing an image. It is about freeing your sight and possibly freeing the sight of others. Facilitate discovery. Play to play, to become a better player. Open a small door to peek into the vast inner universe.

It’s a paradox. It’s impossible to eradicate the weeds. That is not why I pull them. It’s impossible to capture life in an image. ‘Capturing’ is not why I paint. Relating is why I paint. I do it because I’ll never create anything more beautiful than the Tiger Lily dancing with Barney. I paint so that I might see and share in the dance.

ALWAYS WITH US on the album AS IT IS by KERRI SHERWOOD

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

read Kerri’s blog post about the TIGER LILY

always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Meet The Frame [on DR Thursday]

“There are people who prefer to say ‘yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘no’. Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.” ~ Keith Johnstone

A violent storm blew through so we spent the night hunkered down in the basement. We had very little sleep. Sleeplessness always leads me to moralize and for that, I apologize.

A frame of reference is a powerful thing. Experiences are interpreted through a frame of assumptions. We are witness to a time in which verifiable reality is denied because it doesn’t jive with the tribal frame.

Master Marsh passed along this quote from E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.”

Knowledge often challenges the frame. That is the point of knowledge. Growth. And growth is always a challenge to what was formerly believed possible.

It is somehow easier to lapse into a conspiracy theory, demonize an other, deny what is indisputable, than it is to allow that the frame is just that, a frame. It’s not a truth. It’s a context. It’s a binding agent. Culture is a frame of reference. Religion is a frame of reference. What we believe of ourselves is not a fact. Identity is a frame of reference. Democracy is a frame of reference. Autocracy is a frame of reference. Supremacy is a frame. Equality is a frame. Every-man-for-himself is a frame. Brother-and-Sister’s-keeper is a frame.

None are truth. Frames are creations. Agreements. Aspirations.

Frames that allow for challenges, for growth, are sustainable. Those that do not, those that deny insight, fact, data, new knowledge, those that are threatened by opposing-point-of-view, inevitably collapse in their denial.

The fire burns. A garden hose is not an effective defense, regardless of belief. Temperatures rise relative to emissions. Rain forests disappear. A lie undermines the foundations of democracy. Believe it or not. Harry Truman sat in his cabin nestled into the mountain called St Helens. Despite repeated appeals from fleeing neighbors, repeated rumbles and tremors, warnings from scientists and safety personnel, he believed he would be safe, that his mountain would never erupt. Traces of Harry have never been found.

So it goes with the denial of believers. Frames held too tightly blind rather than reveal.

Every artist knows the transformative power of a frame. A frame can make almost any scribble look substantial. A cheap frame can diminish the greatest masterpiece.

New knowledge meets an old frame. Growth or entrenchment? Blind acceptance or emerging possibility? Yes? No? Both?

read Kerri’s blog post about FRAMES

held in grace: surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

In-Tolerate [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

In theatre school, I was taught that the action of the play was driven by conflict. I’ve never been comfortable with that word. Something did not ring true with the concept of conflict. A dividing line. Battle. Fight. Kerri just suggested that conflict is not simply a line, it is bandwidth. A full spectrum of color in our human struggle.

I recently read that, through resistance, all things become visible. We see color because some light rays are absorbed and others are reflected. The light ray is filtered, separated into color bands. We see the color that was resisted. Rejected by the surface. Split off. Separated. Is it any wonder that the epicenter of most faith traditions, the driver of most origin stories, is the journey through separation back to unity?

We become visible in our birth. Separate. We become invisible in our death and are given to imagining a comforting story of reunion. Re-union. In between those two points, separation and unity, there is life made visible and wildly colorful by the separation. The filters. What is absorbed and rejected. Reflected. Learned. Ignored. Appreciated. Vilified. Visible. Invisible.

This time of pandemic has been, for us, an exercise in separation. In the distancing, we’ve nurtured, intentionally and unintentionally, an appreciation of quiet. Over these many months we’ve grown a garden of simplicity. We read together. We walk our paths slowly. We’ve found that we do not need to be entertained or distracted. We have a low tolerance for crowds and run the opposite direction when there’s too much noise ahead.

We’ve fostered an appreciation for those who walk through life considerate of the needs of others. Our circle of friends has come into focus. We’ve dropped off the plate of many and many have dropped off of our plate. The connective tissue is felt, established and hearty. In some cases, even though our actual conversations are rare, the focus is sharp. Deeply rooted. Arnie. Judy. Jim. Mike. David. In other cases, we communicate almost every day. 20. Brad and Jen. Heart-y.

Our play has become visible through resistance. What we absorb and what we reject has come into stark contrast, clear focus, through the separation. Layers of shallow tolerance have been peeled away revealing a much deeper understanding of what we desire to create in this life, how we desire to live. It is necessary to understand the boundaries set and the colors illuminated by intolerance. Said another way, it is important to be able to thoroughly sort substance from noise. Both inner and outer. I have learned that I have limited tolerance for thoughtless acceptance, for unthinking noise. My resistance. I surround myself with questioners, those curious enough to dig, dedicated to building their thought-castles on bedrock instead of shifting sands. Those few who are capable of releasing their grips on the comfortable known and step willingly into the uncomfortable question. I absorb them. Take them in.

We – all of us – walk the same path, visible in our birth. Separate. Invisible in our death. Re-union. In this we are equal. What we do, how we choose to support each other, or choose not to, in the passage between those two universal points, is all. These choices define the story we live.

The pandemic, the separation, has helped me to a deeper understanding and appreciation of this word: Intolerant. A word that used to inspire egg-shell walking for what it implied. A word held with shallow roots. Now, it is a word rich in complexity, useful in paradox, a resistance that has made so much come visible. Tolerance, ironically, is at the same time intolerance. What, in your play, is acceptable? What, in your play, will you tolerate? What, in your play, will you not tolerate? Your play is not separate from mine.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOLERANCE LEVELS

Step Beyond Words [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Truth is a pathless land.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

I have done my share of seeking and, also, my share of not finding.

I believe that I began painting because, while doing it, while lost in the discovery of an image, I experienced truth – or something close to it. Always in quiet studios. Always beyond the place of mind chatter. Something “bigger” washed through. Something beyond words.

That must be why I associate truth with silence.

All around I hear people proclaiming transparency. No hidden agendas. Everything up-front! As Quinn used to say, “If they have to tell you that they are being transparent, it’s a good bet that they are not.” Words, words, words.

Many evenings we sit on our back deck. The umbrella shields us from the heat. We watch Dogga run circles, dig holes, and bark at squirrels. The birds perch at the feeder or drink from the pond. A chipmunk dashes across Barney’s keys. The crows call from the treetops. The sun drops behind the trees. The mosquitoes come out; our cue to go in.

So much life! And not a single word required though, clearly, it is more than tempting to try and describe it. Try is the best I can do.

I often remind myself that I have never lived this day and will never again live this day. No trail to follow even when I think I know what will happen next. I don’t. That’s the truth.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE UMBRELLA

Gather And Share [on DR Thursday]

Back in my Don Quixote days, with the onset of a camera in every phone, one of my favorite exercises to give to groups was to send them out in search of textures. Gather texture. Gather pattern. It was quite literally eye-opening. It was also, quite literally, presence-enabling and life-invigorating.

There is enormous power in the simple phrase, “Stop and look.” See.

In “gather” there is no judgment. Consequently, the photos that came back, rich in texture and collision of texture, patterns revealing themselves everywhere, were gorgeous. Dynamic. But, mostly, they were revealing. Otherwise serious adults, who believed that there was nothing new, that life was less-than-exceptional, came back from their texture-gather with open eyes. Some giggled. These people, claiming that they did not possess an ounce of artistry, would show their photos to the group and say, “I pulled that in so we could see it better.” Or, “Don’t you just love how those two things come together?” Or, my favorite, “You didn’t give us enough time! I couldn’t gather it all!”

Ah. Not enough time to see it all. Not enough time to take it in. Now, isn’t that a statement of the-love-of-life? Isn’t that the epicenter of an artist’s life. Isn’t that a more interesting path than, “Same-old-same-old”?

Dots. Diamonds of dots. Lines. Pattern. Texture. Too much to see. Too much to experience. And the best, most simple way to step into vibrancy is to stop and look.

But, there is one more step, the part that made the exercise powerful. The essential part was and is almost always overlooked. Stopping and looking and gathering is great but only has meaning – only becomes artistry – when it is shared. Without fear or judgment. Stop. Look. Gather. Come back to the center and share what you see.

read Kerri’s blog post about TEXTURE

yoga series: meditation ©️ 2012 david robinson

See The Good [on KS Friday]

“…the measure on ones mental health is the ability to see the good in everything. Perception is the key.” ~ Kristine Klussman, Connection

If I kept a gratitude journal, my entry yesterday would be that Bruce was happy. I could hear it in his voice. Although it had been seven years since we last spoke, we talked like we were picking up a conversation from yesterday. Life has changed dramatically for both of us.

It seems we have both reached the revelation of simple appreciation. No longer focused on the big stuff, we talked of the sweet moments, the moments that feed our souls. He asked me to describe my days and I was happily taken aback to tell the tale of walks on trails, beginning each day writing posts with Kerri, ending each day with a glass of wine. Drawing cartoons. A dog that runs enthusiastic circles. Good friends.

I am reminded again and again that goodness is not found in the world. It is brought to the world. We don’t perceive what is already “there,” we wrap what is “there” in a story-blanket. We give it meaning. And then we feel the impact of the meaning we give it. Viktor Frankel famously wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. Despair ensues, too. Anger, too, if that is what is brought.

Earlier this year a friend asked how Kerri and I were doing amidst the job losses and broken wrists. I responded that our circumstance was dire. It was. It just didn’t feel that way, so full was our sense of appreciation. In the midst of a dire circumstance, we started our days writing. Good friends called. DogDog ran enthusiastic circles and made us laugh. We sipped a glass of wine at the end of each day and enjoyed our simple meals. Today, things are less dire and, although we are still standing on shaky ground, we start each day writing together. We hold hands and take walks. We breathe deeply the smell of coffee in the morning. Our gratitude for our days has not changed a bit. Good moments are everywhere.

And today, Bruce is back in touch. He is happy and his happiness, like all happiness, comes from a hard decision that took tremendous courage: he decided to see the good. To bring light. To be light. He is doing the work of savoring the good moments that he now sees all around himself.

good moments/this part of the journey is available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MOMENTS

good moments/this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Use Your Chalk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There are two words floating around in my universe these days: structured and unstructured. Structured data. Unstructured data. Structured time. Unstructured time.

The world as seen through the Puritan lens gives great preference to structure. Unstructured anything is suspect. “Idle hands,” we are taught, “are the devil’s workshop.” Yikes. Apparently it’s dangerous to take a stroll, to sit and ponder, to clear the day and do nothing.

I suspect it explains why our notion of business is hyper-focused on the bottom line and often misses the value of relationships. Bottom lines are easy structure. Relationships, not so much. It is the same with test scores in education. Easy structure. However, stepping into the unknown – the very definition of learning – is largely eschewed because it begins in an unstructured pursuit. Creating the structure, making the meaning, discovering the connectivity is what our hearts and brains like to do. When learning isn’t merely a factory, when business is more than a bottom line, people prosper. They come alive.

Unstructured time. There was a time when time had no structure. Monks attempted to “keep” time by monitoring water through a bucket or sift sand through an “hour” glass. Sometimes the water froze in the bucket so the structure of evening prayer was disrupted. The sand clumped in the hour glass and the measure of time clumped with it.

There are moment on the stage when the actor forgets their lines. It’s called “going up” or “drying.” It is always, in the re-telling, the moment when everything becomes real, alive. It is the moment when the structure becomes unstructured. Hearts race. Eyes widen. The stakes are suddenly palpable. The actor breathes, stands in the vast unstructured universe, and the words return like a swinging bar to a high-flying aerialist. The play is infused with aliveness. Presence is mostly unstructured.

As is common in the structured and unstructured use of the English language, oppositions are easily constructed. Unstructured simply means the meaning has yet to be made. Structured data, structured time, are the tip of a largely unknown iceberg. Love, joy, despair, awe…the full spectrum of experiences, bubble in the unstructured spaces. Numbers can describe a moment in time, can orient for a moment, but will never “explain” yearning or desire or our fundamental need to tell stories (put structure on unfathomable experiences). Structure & Unstructure: they are dancing partners, not combatants.

Where do we come from? What are we here to do? I am going to die, what then? It takes a good deal of unstructured time to sit in these unanswerable questions. There are, of course, plenty of people who will gladly provide structure to your unanswerable – and therefore uncomfortable – questions. Perhaps that is why we adore our structure and demonize the empty spaces? Comfort. Ease.

Kerri cannot pass a hopscotch template chalked on the street. It’s almost automatic. Step, hop, hop, step, hop. The little girl in her connects to the child who chalked the squares on the sidewalk. A simple game. Play. It’s one of the things people do with unstructured time. Set challenges. Make up obstacles. Seek puzzles. Invent. Dream. Connect to the deeper places. Where’s the structured bottom line watching the little-girl-in-my-wife hop and skip and turn in the game-chalked-on-the-sidewalk? The laughter of remembering? The giggle and freedom of the woman hopping the scotch, just because she can?

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPSCOTCH

Look With Honest Eyes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We were sharing pandemic survival stories, the worlds that we explored in our isolation that we otherwise might never have entered. We told Keith of Joey Coconato and how his back country backpacking trips were a nightly fascination. I’m particularly drawn to his hikes through the canyon lands. Keith became animated, saying, “You have to check out the Millennial Farmer!”

I know nothing about farming. Once, sitting on the back porch of a farmhouse Air-B-N-B in Iowa with my dad, I listened intently to his stories from childhood working on the various farms in the community. Had he been able to script his life differently, I think he might have written a farmer’s story. He loved the outdoors. He loved growing things. He always kept a garden and tended flowers. He knew what he was doing! Somehow, I gleaned nothing from his green-thumb-knowledge. I am a plant killer.

In the first short installment of The Millennial Farmer, Zach Johnson tells his audience that he’s making his videos because people know so little about farming and what farmers actually do. He’s a fifth generation farmer in Minnesota. I was, as he predicted, completely gobsmacked watching The First Day Of Planting 2016. I pushed play expecting dirt clods and the rumpled pages of the Farmer’s Almanac and, instead, entered the space age. His tractor was akin to the deck of the Starship Enterprise. His nuanced explanation of the monitors in his cab was enlightening. He’s driving a computer (actually, it mostly drives itself).

My stereotype was completely shattered. I had no idea. And, isn’t that the point of taking a peek into the lives of others? Recognizing that we have no idea about the realities of others lives? Isn’t that the opportunity?

This morning I pondered aloud about how we’ve changed in the months since COVID began. “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t changed.” One of the most profoundly sad awakenings for me during this time of division and dedicated ignorance is how resistant we are – and I believe always have been – of taking a peek into the lives of others in our nation. We simply don’t want to know, so great is the fear of what we will find there.

John Lewis famously said, “We are one people, we are one family, we are one house. And we must keep this house together.” By “keep” he meant to tend. We might become one family when we are willing and able to look with honest eyes into the lives of those who share this house. Our stereotypes, our almanac ideas, keep us fragmented.

Joey and Zach. Both live lives immersed in nature but from diametrically opposed intentions. Both have popped open my eyes to new experiences and bodies of wisdom that I might otherwise never have encountered. Both are following their personal star and sharing what they find on their paths.

As part of our summer planting and backyard oasis, we bought two tomato plants and some basil. Our Boomer farm is not extensive but it is well loved. “Do you think, if we tagged The Millennial Farmer, our tomatoes would stand a better chance?” I asked.

Kerri considered it for a moment, her hands busily potting the basil plants. “It couldn’t hurt.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BOOMER FARMERS

Ask The Gorilla [on DR Thursday]

I’m not the first person to use a gorilla as the teacher in a story. This gorilla, in this story, is teaching the little girl the difference between playing-to-win and playing-to-become-a-better-player. The story begins when the girl asks the gorilla, “Do you want to play?” and the gorilla responds, “Well, it depends. What do you mean by ‘play’?”

It’s not a flippant question. It speaks directly to the “why” of what you do. The reason. Simon Sinek put this question at the center of his golden circle. James Carse wrote his philosophical masterpiece, Finite and Infinite Games, about this simple distinction.

Yesterday I had a conversation about success. A conversation about the difference between internal and external motivation. External motivators, like winning-as-your-why, are necessarily grounded in fear. What if you lose? Who are you if you fail? Winning at all cost will eventually lead to quagmires not unlike where the Republican party now finds itself. Obstruct. Lie. Gerrymander. Fix the vote. Fix the game. Any and all deeper value or ethic is sacrificed. There is always a cost when the “why” is as superficial as “to win.” The body seizes-up, loses its freedom of movement when fear of losing is the central driver of action. The nation-body, too.

The path to mastery cannot run through a win-lose “why.” Failure is an essential on a master’s path. Throw many pots, the metaphor from Art & Fear, is a mantra not only for artistic freedom, but for honing skills. Getting better and better at playing. See what happens. Playing to play, to become a better player, transcends and finally removes the word ‘failure.’ The body gains more and more freedom of movement when every action is a learning experience.

I wrote and illustrated this book back in my dark ages when I was facilitating diversity and inclusion trainings. Some companies hired us because they feared being sued. They feared losing money and had no real interest in diversity, inclusion, equality, fair play, betterment for their employees. They feared losing their privilege. Diversity initiatives ask that we stop rigging the game.

Other companies hired us because they truly desired to address the inequities in their organization. They wanted to step into their blind spots and see. They wanted to become better and better players in their communities. Early on we learned to distinguish between the fear-clients and those that were sincere. We became better players by choosing to work with organizations that were honest and sincere about their “why.” Players of infinite games.

I never attempted to publish Play-to-Play, my little illustrated meditation. Over the years I’ve given away some of the illustrations. It is one of the many stones I’ve stacked, pots I’ve thrown, the many projects and paintings that are literally stacked in my studio. It seems more relevant now than ever before. Yesterday, looking again at the illustrations, I told Kerri, “I should draw this again. I’m better now.”

She asked, “Why?”

I said, “Exactly.”

read Kerri’s blog post about STACKING STONES

play to play ©️ 2005 david robinson

Enjoy The Loss [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We laughed heartily when we read this phrase in an advertisement. I had two immediate responses: 1) Immortality is not really a thing. No one wins the race against aging. Even vampires have unfortunate sunny days or meetings with silver bullets and so ends their quest to win the race. 2) The best way to win the race against aging is a) to get out of your chair and move, b) laugh a lot. You’ll lose the race either way but mobility and a joyful heart make for a more enjoyable lap around the track.

This life is a temporary, passing thing. I lost the race against infancy and couldn’t wait to blow through those teenage years. I took my twenties and thirties for granted in a festival of unconsciousness. I puffed myself with importance and thought I knew things all the way through my forties and into my fifties. Now that I can spot the finish line I admit to undertaking several measures to slow things down a bit. I’m specifically not entering races and I’m especially not going to try and be something that I am not. Like, for instance, young.

I actually delight in the experiences that life has provided. The lessons learned. I’m especially fond of the needle that life used to pop my inflated notions. I’ll never be a hero. I live in some people’s story as their villain and some people play the role of villain in mine. I’m finding that more time on earth brings greater capacity for compassion and forgiveness. I never meant to be a villain and I suspect the same is true for those I’ve cast in my hall of monsters.

Beaky used to say that aging is not for wimps. We regularly compare our latest wrinkling skin discovery or make up excuses why our clothes no longer fit. It is sometimes a shock to wonder where the time went or to discover that I’ve lost my gazelle-like movement when running across the street. Taking a realistic look at your self and slowing down seem to me to be gifts that come with age and should not be hidden beneath any cream or stretched away by a surgeon. I have learned – and continue to learn – that it is infinitely better to be who you are than to pretend that you are something that you are not. Happiness does not easily nest in illusions.

External motivators might bring the illusion of youth but I guarantee that there’s no way to regain your gazelle. My vote: recognize that the race is made up, like Valentines Day, to sell chocolate and greeting cards. It’s better to love every day of this miracle life rather than pack your love into on a single day called ‘youth.’ There’s nothing like an achy joint to make you appreciate how great it is to be able to move. There’s nothing like seeing the finish line to make you appreciate the first sip of coffee in the morning or kissing your wife on the forehead just-because.

My advice: enjoy every moment of the loss.

read Kerri’s blog post on THE RACE AGAINST AGING