Get Close And Look [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Get close and look. Really look. Raindrops on the screen. Distortions. Light bends. The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid. “What do you see?” she asked.

Last night, somewhere in the vicinity of 2am, we were wide awake. We ate rice Chex and reviewed the stressors of the year. It read like a biblical plague. We laughed when we realized that there were/are so many stressors that we’d actually forgotten the local riots, the curfew, chaos. and murder that happened a few blocks from our home. “In any normal year,” she said, “that would have been the top of the list. This year it didn’t even make the cut.”

Get close and look. What do you see? Future PhD’s will apply their magnifying glass to our time and find the tail wagging the dog, the greater falling to the lesser. A political party cowering and conspiring with delusion. They would rather see the system fall than risk their power seats. A populace jousting over wearing masks in a pandemic. Many would rather their neighbor die than have their imagined rights restricted. Propaganda networks, posing as news, peddling fantasy as fact. They would rather worship at the altar of the advertising dollar and feed the division (division sells!) rather than hold fast to the mast of journalistic integrity. It’s all entertainment when the necessary is swallowed in a mouthful of superficial. Gossip and conspiracy are so much tasty sugar!

Rome fell when the chief-toga-team guarded their luxuries rather than attended to the essentials. Millions of people line up for food. The market soars.

Really, get close and look. Little miracles are everywhere. “You were plucked out of the snake-pit,” he wrote. “Get the water boiling and get out the corkscrew. It’s time to celebrate.”

We found wine by the front door. Twice.

“I will sit with you in the dark,” she wrote.

“Do you need anything?” they asked.

Slushy came with smiles. “We thought you might need this!”

“Stand above your circumstance,” he suggested.

A special delivery of vitamin c and zinc brought tears to my eyes. True friends emerge from the pack.

The boys join us on the raft every morning for breakfast. Dogga comes running every time tears fill her eyes.

The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid, raindrops on the screen. Hard lines, soft shapes. “We’re very lucky” she said, stooping to take a picture of a pine cone, a fallen branch with wispy needles. The day was cold but the sun was warm.

“What do you see?” she asked, turning the camera so I could see her photograph. “Really look.”

read Kerri’s blog post about RAIN ON THE SCREEN

Get To Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On page one of the despot’s handbook is this instruction: silence the artists. Mute the intellectuals. Authoritarians have power only when people become sheep. Silence in the face of abuse is tacit agreement. Permission to bully.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve stood before a school board and explained that art is supposed to be powerful, that it plays a very important role in a healthy society, I’d have a lot of nickels. I was generally called to speak when a play or a painting upset the apple cart, when the art made the community confront a truth or look at a reality. Brecht’s Epic Theatre or the plays of Artaud were/are meant to shake the irrational in people, force them into discussion and revelation.

Art can be beautiful, poetry can soothe, but that is only one side of the coin. It can also shine a light and expose an ugly truth. It can give voice to what is not-being-spoken. It can work out problems on the stage instead of sending the violence into the streets. It can ask us to take a hard look at ourselves and our motives. Picasso’s large painting, Guernica, a response to horror wrought by fascists on the people of a town in Spain, is a powerful art-mirror.

The conscience of a community, like the conscience of every individual that comprises the community, lives beyond the superficial, it bubbles in the place beyond words. An artist’s job is to reach into that place, pull the veil for a moment, root or re-root the community in its values.

A despot’s job is to secure a unanimous vote, no questions asked. Sheep.

Art is not superficial. It is not the image or the words on the page. It is what the image, the words, the dance, the music, touch. Hearts. Souls. Conscience.

Without it, what remains is propaganda. Propaganda is never news, it is the opposite of art. It snuffs the question, it prevents the quest for meaning and deep-felt-truth. Without it, communities flatten, lose their center, wither, and fall apart. Silence, eyes downcast or sideways glancing. Permission to bully. Sheep.

It’s time for the artists to get to work.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS

Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

Walk In Circles [on Two Artists Tuesday]

The breeze like a puppeteer had the trees waving their limbs so the leaves whirled down all around us. It was a moment of trail magic, the kind that stops all inner-thought-rambling and pulls you to the surface, into full presence and delight.

Life lived in circle-time is much more gentle than the hard-time line we are accustomed to embracing. That is why we walk. We leave the line and step into the circle. Precisely because the circle goes nowhere and can only arrive at here. It pops like a soap bubble the illusion that life might be found elsewhere. The leaves rain down. Life is here. It is autumn again. It is familiar and mysterious, both.

It is very possible to think that life passes, a mile marker on a road. It is equally as possible to experience life as a single moment, the center of a cycle. Both/And. I will pass but the cycle will remain.

When I am on the line I cease seeing the full spectrum of color because my mind is blending the miracle into an elsewhere. When I am in the circle, the spectrum of color explodes, greens in yellow, warm purples and cool blue.

The line pulls life out of me. The circle fills me up. It is why we walk the trails, to refill.

The Ditch Trail in Colorado. The aspens radiant in orange and yellow. Snow was clinging to the shadows. Vibrant green grasses. “Concurrent seasons,” Kerri said, as she stooped to snap the photograph. There was water rushing in the distance, wind quaking the tree tops. The sun warmed my bones. “This is what hope feels like,” I whispered to no one, eyes closed, face to the sun.

“I don’t want to leave this place,” Kerri said, completely captured by the sense of her senses. Refreshed.

“Me, either.” Color popping and hopping all around me.

read Kerri’s blog post about CONCURRENT SEASONS

Pop A Cork And Ponder [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It is, at long last, election day in these-once-united-states. If I had a wine cellar it would be stocked to the top with election night libation and reality-numbing assistance.

Through Kerri, I received a loving and gentle push back against my use of the phrase these-once-united-states. Our reader reminded me that these-states-were-never-united. Not really. Of course, there is the very real possibility that division IS what identifies us. In a stroke of planned obsolescence or perhaps a nod to the absurd, our forefathers wrote that all men are created equal while participating in and promoting slavery as the driver of the economic engine. They certainly knew what they were doing. It might be that division is what unites us.

Who would we be if we actually practiced equality and made sure that our institutions were not only the guardians but promoters of our central ideal?

Mostly, those wacky forefathers kicked the can down the road. They understood that the nation would one day have to reconcile its split-intention. We’ve made a run at it more than a few times and, like every good fractal, rather than deal with our shadow pattern, we manage to repeat it. Slavery becomes Jim Crow…and here we are. BLM meets The Proud Boys.

We are so far away from dealing with the can kicked-down-the-road to us that the mostly-men-on-the-red-team deny the very existence of systemic racism. That, too, is part of the fractal. Take note of how much energy has been spent making it hard for black Americans to vote. Right here in the year 2020. Some things never change. Some things need to change.

So, today we line up to cast our ballots. In this seemingly endless and ugly election season, we’ve been witness to an undermining of the postal service, the removal of ballot boxes, the stuffing of the supreme court, a president casting doubt on the very system he was sworn to support.

So much energy spent to ensure the continuation of the divide! Another squirt of glue? An organizing principle of negative and positive charges? Opposite charges attracting?

We need a new organizing principle. Division is a threadbare story and, as we know, can only run in a vicious circle. I hold little hope for it but wonder what might come about if we attended to a simple basic, just like the sign says. “Be Nice. Say Hi!”

In the absence of general kindness and courtesy, something every mother teaches and every grandmother upholds, I will pop a cork and ponder what we might have been if the system had been set up and penned by our foremothers. I suspect we’d all know how to play nice by now.

read Kerri’s blog post on BE NICE. SAY HI!

Wash Your Spirit [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir

I did not know how badly my spirit needed a good washing until we were hiking the Ditch Trail. The aspen trees were just beyond their autumn peak so the mountainside popped with islands of orange and vibrant yellow. The only noise was the breeze murmuring through the trees, quaking the leaves. I literally felt the world of angry people drop away. I breathed deeply the air, the sun warmed me to the bone. The cleansing commenced. Silence of the mind.

Jim once told me that people go to the seashore to experience the eternal. The tides were coming and going long before your birth and will come and go long after you are gone. It puts everything into perspective.

The mountains are like that, too. They are perspective-givers. This week Horatio told me “This life is short so we better get out there and do what we want to do.” The mountains are in constant motion but our lifespans are too short to see the waves rising and falling. On our last day in Colorado, while climbing above timberline, I realized (again) that in my short life I have been less and less concerned with what I want to do and more and more interested in how I want to be. Standing at the edge of Lower Lost Man Lake with Kerri and Kirsten, a bitter wind watering my eyes, I wanted nothing more. The spirit washing continued.

Driving back to Wisconsin, we mused that our re-entry into the world of people would be difficult. It was nice to be out of the fighting and the lying and the aggression. It made me wonder how the mountains perceive us. Such a small creature steeped in a full-blown-delusion-story of having dominion over all things. “Hubris,” the mountain blinks and we are gone.

In the midst of our incessant search for value and meaning and achievement and worth and dominance, our bitter fight over whose story we will tell, the mountain issues an invitation. Come. Walk awhile. Exit the chatter and stand in this moment. What else do you seek?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAINS

Approach The Edge [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It was nearing sunset when we saw the signs for The Royal Gorge Bridge and decided to jump off the road and investigate. We knew the bridge would be closed but thought it might be a nice break to get out of the truck and walk along the canyon rim as the sun went down.

It was a great idea with this single caveat (and minor confession): I. AM. AFRAID. OF. HEIGHTS. Canyon rims are not the most comfortable places for someone like me, especially in waning light.

I grew up in Colorado and visited The Royal Gorge Bridge as a child. I remember stepping onto the world’s highest suspension bridge, grabbing my mother’s hand, and running. I’m sure my poor mother became kite-like as I raced us to the other side. I have no memory of how we got back across the bridge. I’m certain I was not teleported so I must have crawled on my belly or passed-out and been carried. I survived, that’s about as much as I can say of my previous Gorge experience.

We parked the truck in a picnic area and walked a trail to the rim. Kerri ran to the edge and began snapping pictures. I entered a full-blown existential crisis. High edges feel to me like they are alive; they are a force that pulls me toward them. I have to grab trees or wrap my arms around rocks to resist the force. Worst of all, when I see other people approach the edge, I feel the force pulling them, too. In me, it amplifies the yank toward the abyss.

While Kerri cooed and danced on the rim snapping brilliant photographs, I grimaced and writhed, bound myself to a tree and resisted the siren call of the void. I couldn’t help but think of Alex Honnold scrambling up the face of El Capitan without a rope. “Expand your comfort zone!” I chanted to myself as I watched Kerri, a famous stubber-of-her-toes, zip to-and-fro along the rocky ledge with nary a thought of falling over.

The sun dipped beneath the horizon. It was dark and time to go. Have I yet expressed how darkness compounds the pull of the rim? Edges that can’t be seen are yawning maws that view me as a tasty snack. I had to release my grip on the tree, turn my back to the dark hungry mouth, and pretend not to sprint for the safety of the truck.

That was amazing!” Kerri exclaimed as we hiked back up the trail. “I can’t wait to show you all the pictures!” She was invigorated.

Exhausted, I nodded my head. “Yes.” I stammered, happy to be alive. “That was truly amazing.”

read Kerri’s gorgeous blog post about TINY/VAST

Love The Bells [on Two Artists Tuesday]

A haiku from the road:

Maroon Bells and masks,

Autumn in Colorado,

The hills are on fire.

In 140 weeks of blogging together (5 days a week) this is the first prompt-image that we’ve posted of ourselves. It seemed fitting as we pause, visit family too long unseen, celebrate our anniversary, and ponder next steps.

read Kerri’s Two Artists Haiku

Define ALL [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Kerri named this photo “peace shadow.” It brought to my mind a project begun by a group of artists in 2009, The Peace Shadow Project. They make and collect shadows all over the world. When the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the force of light released by the bombs burned shadows of people into the walls. As a way to enter a conversation about nuclear weapons and advocate for a nuclear weapons free world, the artists “burned” shadows of survivors – with strong light on photo paper – and displayed them all over the cities. Then, they asked people all over the world to send their shadows.

It’s what I love about artists. They (we) believe that art can transform consciousness. And so, a shadow might make us think of what we do, why we do it, how we do it. Pipe-dreamers all!

It made me ponder what art project I might offer these once-united-states. What might make us think? What could transform our consciousness so that we might occupy a single story, join together in a bigger identity?

I believe that all the many forces at play that ail us can be boiled down into a single word. ALL. We wrote this word in our documents of inception. “All men are created equal.” We have, since the beginning, wrestled with this word, ALL. Who does it include? Who does it exclude? BLM is the latest challenge to the word ALL.

The men that wrote the word ALL into our documents of inception meant white-land-holding-males. They believed that they were chosen, that their destiny was manifest, granted by god. By definition, when you believe yourself to be chosen, the word ALL becomes complex at best. It only applies with caveats.

Does ALL apply equally to women? What about black Americans? LGBTQ people? What about new immigrants? What about people who worship Allah? Or Shiva?

My art project would be the ALL project. I’m not sure what shadow might be burned or face might be photographed – what might be the art of the ALL project. I know that it would be intended to transform consciousness – to confront the forces of ugly exclusion. It would be meant to open doors not only of acceptance, but of belonging.

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE SHADOW

Take A Peek [on Two Artists Tuesday]

We have two frogs in our pond this summer. Their names are Epic and Tiny. This is a photograph of Epic. He’s in his safe place. When Kerri took this picture she said, “This is how I feel most of the time.”

Each day, in writing this blog, I face a dilemma. I named my blog The Direction of Intention because I desire my writing and artistry (and life) to be conscious steps toward positive creation rather than pushing against and complaining about what I don’t want. Lately, that is a tight rope to walk. I no longer feel it is possible to peek out from my safe place because I doubt in these-once-united-states that there is a safe place. Lately, each day, it seems that pushing back, peeking from my rock and croaking, “Open your eyes,” IS taking conscious steps toward the creation of a healthy spirit, nation-body and world.

I’ve long been a believer that the deep imbalances in our system, like systemic racism, cannot change by focusing on the word “racism.” The change we seek, the safety we desire, will only come when we address this completely broken and ugly system that is composed upon layers of inequity. BLM is a pressure valve. It is an opportunity to look with clear and honest eyes at the favoritism designed into our system.

At the epicenter of our dysfunction is an apparatus that pretends to be a democracy but, in fact, throws its weight behind minority rule. For instance, if the popular vote of citizens actually elected the president, Ronald Reagan would have been the last Republican to occupy the White House [George W. Bush won the popular vote in his second term but initially gained the presidency after losing the popular vote to Al Gore]. Or, consider this: even though, since 1920, more Americans are urban dwellers, the electoral system throws its weight to rural (more conservative) voters. The electoral college ensures democracy will not prevail. It goes on and on. If you want a hysterical look at the hysterical gerrymandering of the American system, visit John Oliver here.

Why would a system that purports to be a democracy knowingly allow and continually enable unfair political advantage to a minority elite? Why would a political party work so hard to gerrymander electoral maps, prevent black and brown voters from voting, whip up with no evidence the notion that, if they lose, the election will be rigged? The advantage is blatantly apparent in our tax codes, in how we fund schools and fill prisons, an on and on and on.

The gap between who we are and who we pretend to be is vast.

The game is rigged. A thriving democracy is impossible when one team, the conservative elite, do not believe in nor support democratic processes. Winning at all cost, regardless of the cost, is a tool from the fascist toolbox. it is the opposite of the democratic ideal. What we are experiencing is not an accident. It is not a mistake. It is a design. A thriving democracy is impossible when the system is designed to be undemocratic [when you are done laughing with John Oliver, weep at Umberto Eco’s list of 14 common features of fascism].

In other news, upheaval makes systems change, real change, possible. Peeking out from my rock I can only hope that we-the-people, in this turbulent time, have both the will to show up at the polls AND the courage, resolve, and clarity to stick with it until we align our words with our actions, until we pull down the institutions that keep inequity and minority-rule the name of the game – until we expect our system and our elected leaders to actually believe in democracy.

It’s epic.

read Kerri’s blog post about EPIC