Share The Sketchbook [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Bruce came through town with his son Ben. Ben is a budding Renaissance man, an artist and philosopher. A quiet deep thinker. We marveled at the drawings in his sketchbook. Faces and hands. Figures in motion. A bold sense of color. I remember the terror of sharing my sketchbook and was moved by how eager and easily Ben shared his. A sketchbook, like a diary, is vulnerable, a place to work out ideas, make mistakes, record pain and joy and confusion. We were touched that he was so generous in opening his diary to us.

Big changes are coming Kirsten’s way. Kerri and I laughed at her news, at the ease and enthusiasm she brings to her step off the edge of the known. “I suppose it’s easier to make big changes,” Kerri said, “when you have the bulk of your life still ahead of of you.” I suppose. Or, perhaps, after so many big changes, you come to realize that the real transformations are not in location moves or new jobs. They happen on the inside and don’t seem to be changes at all. More, it’s layers falling off. Discovery of what was there all along.

Bruce and I have known each other for a very long time and have not seen each other in a very long time. Sitting on the deck, a humid hot day, we sipped cold wine and talked about the people we once were. We talked about some of the layers that have fallen off. We laughed at our foibles. There were too many stories to pack into a single visit. There were too many questions to ask and notes to share. I hope we will have more time to sit and share our life-sketchbooks.

Each morning, opening the house, I enjoy the small fountain in our sunroom. The water runs. As a Buddhist would say, “You can never step into the same river twice.” Our fountain reminds me that time runs. Each day is a new sketch. That is true especially if I think I know what will happen that day. I am always surprised by day’s end. Life takes some surprising turns. Some big. Most less noticeable. And, time runs.

I watched Bruce’s face as Ben showed us his drawings. A proud father. Ben looked to his dad, still anchored to some degree in his dad, just as it should be. I remember looking to my dad in just that way. This trip across the country, father and son, will be a good story for them. It is already. It will be told many years from now. A son rolls his eyes. A dad laughs. An old friend and his new wife delight in being part of the day’s sketch.

There is no higher art.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOUNTAIN

Go Beyond The Moon [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon driving the back roads en route to Lake Geneva, our little-baby-scion rolled over into 250,000 miles. We filmed the moment and then pulled to the gravel shoulder for a photo-op. We cheered. We sat on the side of the road and talked about the miles. The stories. This intrepid little car has taken us many places, through many of life’s changes. It only once left us on the side of the road. And, even then, it had the courtesy to breakdown in a welcome center at the Minnesota state line. We were surrounded by helpful voices, towed and back on the road by day’s end.

We sent a photo of the milestone to 20 and his reply was a perfect encapsulation: To the moon and back.

The day we met, holding hands and skipping out of the airport, we jumped into this boxy car, the scion. Kerri had packed me a lunch and had a cup of coffee waiting for me. This car has since been to most coffeehouses in the contiguous United States. The moment we heard that Beaky had passed, we were frantic and driving to get to Florida in time. We did not make it and spent a long afternoon at a park in Illinois, weeping and walking and sitting in the car, wondering what to do. The day we were married we drove away from our reception in the little-baby-scion. It took us to Colorado for our honeymoon. We’ve slept in rest areas in Iowa, moved both kids to other states, drove back and forth across Wisconsin to fetch our dogga. We took my dad on a visit to his hometown for the last time, touring the streets in the scion. It has been a silent observer, the steady presence, to all the major stories of our life. The minor ones, too.

I could go on and on. We intend for this stouthearted little car to go on and on, too, to live with us and carry us through the next chapters and collected stories of our lives. The toaster. The shoe box that has taken us to the moon and back. And now beyond.

read Kerri’s blog post about 250,000

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

Witness The Tide [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“You’ll know you are doing something important,” Tom McK said, “by the size of the tide that rises against you.” He spoke those words to me thirty years ago and yet, each day in these un-united-united-states, I hear his voice in my head. Look at the size of the tide rising against BLM. Witness the extraordinary measures Republicans are taking to block access to the vote, to gerrymander and obstruct, to deny an insurrection on the institutions they are sworn to serve.

Based on the tide of resistance, equality for all must be mighty important. Especially since it is central to our rhetoric, the ideal that we espouse.

As a nation we’ve just celebrated the 4th of July, independence day.

Juneteenth was just celebrated for the first time as a national holiday. The Emancipation day of enslaved African Americans.

Are you reading, as I am, of the tsunami of resistance to Critical Race Theory? In a nation that essentially legislated slavery into existence, legislated that black people were lesser-humans, legislated slavery out of existence but created a series of laws enforcing segregation, Jim Crow laws, it wouldn’t be threatening to suggest that racism is embedded in our laws. It’s in our tax codes. In banking practices. It is, today, being legislated in voter restriction laws across this nation. Laws. Laws. Laws.

What’s the big deal with stating the obvious?

Here is the definition of Critical Race Theory: “…that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.” [Education Week]

Perhaps stating the obvious is the big deal.

It leaves me wondering (not really) why we as a nation are so resistant to telling our story – our full story. The size of the tide rising against the full story is – and always has been – breathtaking. We forget that this American experiment is just that, an experiment. And, just as no human can ultimately succeed standing on a lie, no nation can succeed until it comes clean with itself.

When the full story of our nation rises to be told, the forces of suppression have always risen with it. Witness the tide. It must be a very important story that, for all of our sake, needs a full telling.

read Kerri’s blog post about RBG

Step Across [on Two Artists Tuesday]

We just spent a few minutes looking at the Melange archive. This is week 177. One of the gifts of blogging-your-random-thoughts-five-days-a-week is that people write back. A particular post hits a nerve. Agreements and disagreements. My story invites your story and, occasionally, you share the details. Lydia knows that I am in an artistic dry spell so she is sending me inspiration and encouragement. I could not be more grateful.

We keep a running count of the countries that show up in our analytics. 72 to date. “Who do we know in Pakistan?” Kerri asks. We take delight in the thinnest threads of relationship that are now woven through our story: if Alex in Malta doesn’t “like” one of my posts by day’s end I worry about Alex in Malta. Or, I wonder if what I wrote was substandard. The same goes with Dwight – but I know Dwight – and can hear his mighty laughter in my head. I’m glad his laughter is so deeply ingrained in my being. If he doesn’t “like” a post, it’s a sure bet that he’s helping someone in trouble and can’t be bothered to read at the moment.

Kerri and I sit next to each other when we write. The rule is that we can’t peek. We start with the same prompt and write whatever bubbles to the top. Sometimes it is remarkably similar. Sometimes it is a different universe entirely. And then, we read to each other. And talk. She always begins her reading with a disclaimer. I always need a bit of editing. When I read to her, she holds up a finger with each misspelling or grammatical gaffe, so she can remember how many corrections need to be made. Occasionally I make it through an entire reading with no fingers.

When I imagine my perfect life it has, at its center, a long table where we gather together and share meals and stories. It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I have, in metaphor, created my long table. MM sends stories and connected thoughts, Judy affirms, Horatio lets me know when a thought lands in his court. Each painting, each post, each composition, each cartoon that we create, is an invitation to come to the table.

Looking out to look in. Looking in to reach out. An artist’s life is nothing more than stepping across separations. I am fortunate to have so many helping me step. I am fortunate to have so many bringing their thoughts and hearts to the table.

When Kerri first showed me this photograph, I didn’t see the ladybug. I was thrown into a memory. Kit Peak observatory, looking through the eyepiece of a telescope into a star cluster. I never felt so small yet so connected. Her photograph evoked the same feeling. The flower seen up close is a radiant sun. The image almost knocked me over. And then, there was a ladybug. An explorer. So small, so big. Riding the petal, surfing the radiant light.

It’s enough to make me want to write.

read Kerri’s blog post about LADYBUGS

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

Read A Tiny Note [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I was still in shock. It was late, beyond midnight. The roosters were watching for the sunrise. The ritual I’d witnessed that night blew the metaphoric wheels off my car. Wave after wave of knife-wielding priests ran at the Rangda, a priest chosen for the evening to wear the mask, to enter the trance and become the demon. The priests stabbed the Rangda but to no avail. The blades bent. They were repelled. Eventually, all entered the trance and turned the knives on themselves, taking the energy, the protection of the Rangda, into their bodies. Into the community. No one was injured. Peace was made with the Rangda. Balance was affirmed.

I held one of the knives after the ritual was complete. It was not a stage prop. I could not have bent the blade on my chest without doing injury to myself.

Budi explained it all to me. I had so many questions. In his culture, the dark forces are not to be resisted or banished. There is no hell separate from heaven. Evil and good are not compartmentalized. There are energies, some dark and some light. There is no need to make peace with the light. The necessity is to face and make peace with the dark. Balance is created, an intentional relationship with a dynamic whole. It’s a dance of responsibility, a balance of dark and light. The middle way.

Balance.

I loved this photo when Kerri showed it to me. Clover. You can’t tell but it is tiny. It is bursting from beneath the stone that serves as the step onto our deck. It made we wonder if the fairy people were close at hand. They serve, in the western tradition, a similar role to the Rangda in Bali. Nature spirits. It was most important to keep in the good graces with the Fairies. Honor their places. Respect and maintain the balance. According to tradition, they went into hiding, they left because we assaulted their spaces; we came to value the path of resources, mining, deforestation, fracking, damming…over the path of balance.

This tiny breath of clover. I sat on the stone last night. The air was cool after a humid and hot day. DogDog was doing his rounds. I had not thought of the Rangda in years. A tiny community on a tiny island. The “mayor” of the town introduced the ritual to us as their art. “We have so little to offer you,” he said in his broken English, “but we bring you our most prized offering, our art.”

Art. A prized offering. The dance of energies, an intentional relationship with the dynamic whole. An ongoing ritual of balance. It was the first time I witnessed a community that had yet to exorcise its art from the sacred. It bent knives. It restored balance. It belonged and gave deep meaning to every member of the community.

Tiny. Like the Fairies or the community on the island. A simple respect for what is good for the whole. Balance is expressed in the tiny things, the choices of where to walk, what to say. What helps in the long run. What does not. What gives meaning and cohesion to a community. What does not.

Budi would caution us with COVID and guns and a globe that is weirding and warming, “Rangda is ignored,” he’d say.

“Yes,” I’d reply, “the fairies have gone into hiding.”

But, all is not lost. They left a tiny note at our back door. Balance, it reads, is a relationship, an intentional act. It is an ongoing ritual, a tiny sacred thing.

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

Sing It Into Existence [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Lately I am awake for the sunrise. I know it is coming because, very slowly, the birds begin to sing. At first there is one voice, then a few more and then more. By the time the light through the window glows soft purple and gray, the full bird chorus is in session. They sing the sun into rising.

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, these lawn-art-birds would come to represent to me threshold guardians. Harbingers of the test that my move to Wisconsin would bring. In story terms, threshold guardians are not friendly; they serve as the test of readiness: are you willing and able to greet the challenges that come with change. Or will you run away? Sometimes they are monsters. Sometimes they require the answer to a riddle or solving a puzzle. The new world will open after the obstacle is met. In facing and overcoming the challenge, the guardians often become allies. In truth, they are allies all along. They help you find your self by testing every idea that you have of your self.

Driving the Budget truck on my move from Seattle, filled with the artifacts of my life, Kerri and I stopped in a little village, Stockholm, just as we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. We wandered down the street and into a gallery. We were drawn to these simple bird-sculptures. They are the first thing we bought together. They represented our step into relationship. Us. They would stand together in our yard.

My first few years in Kenosha were akin to being lost in the woods. My livelihood disappeared. My networks disappeared. Art opportunities vanished. Many of my friendships faded. Every project I tried to pitch or create stalled, every path I attempted to plow broke the plow. I felt stripped. Of little or no value. Even in arenas where I was once appreciated, I was invisible. I’ve done extraordinary consulting work in organizations but learned in my new life that my experience and observations were not welcome. So, silent as well as invisible.

More than once I went out back and sat with the sculptures. They remained silent when I asked of them my questions. Who am I now that I have no useful purpose? What do I do now? In the absence of an answer, the sculptures and I listened to the birdsong.

Often the test brought by the threshold guardians is one of letting go. You cannot become a butterfly if you insist on remaining a caterpillar. The armor must fall. The known shape must go to mush. The what-the-hell-is-happening-to-me necessarily falls unanswered into the void. What’s happening is not complex: you are changing. The old stuff isn’t working because it is too small for the new shape. Let go.

It is not complex but it is uncomfortable. Dark night is cold when you’ve shed your skin. The sun will rise. The birds will sing it into existence. Warmth will return in the moments beyond the soft purples and greys.

We recently moved the bird sculptures from their spot by the pond to a new home by the fence. I hadn’t realized how invisible they were when standing over the pond. By they fence, they are glorious! They are also a metaphor, standing tall, made more vibrant and dynamic by their incorporated shadows. They are transformed. They are present, standing together in the yard. They are signaling the path to the new world, singing into existence the new day.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BIRDS

Turn And Take A Hard Look [on Flawed Wednesday]

Systems are living things and like all living things will fight to the death when threatened. It is, I believe, what is at play in these un-united-united-states.

I love the irreverence of the questions taken from a mock conference agenda, published in the October 2017 issue of Real Simple Magazine. Who bears the bulk of moral responsibility and what’s the appropriate punishment? Beneath the humor, the real question is made clear: why are women expected to mold their bodies, often in torturous ways, to fit an impossible ideal? It is a centuries old phenomenon.

There is a very telling photograph from 2017 of an all male White House task force discussing health benefits that included women’s health issues. This photograph is nothing new. The ideal represented within it, is ubiquitous. A headline from The Guardian reads “These 25 Republicans -All White Men – Just Voted To Ban Abortion In Alabama.”

A system is a living thing. It will fight to the death when threatened.

This paragraph from Rolling Stone Magazine [May 17, 2019] captures the essence of the fight, the core of the system that is under threat: The Republican movement behind forced-birth bills is truly ignorance allied with power, as James Baldwin once warned us about. The rhetoric may be more vociferous and reckless now than it was when the religious right was first revving up, but it is no less cynical. Even if it escapes the lips or is written or signed into law by women like Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, the primary goal of that revanchist talk has always been to take America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned.

“The unquestioned word of white men.” The system as designed is now being questioned. And so, ignorance allies with power. The Big Lie. The Republican party is afraid to investigate-and-talk-about what happened on January 6th because of what an investigation will reveal. Ignore-ance.

Taking America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned. We never actually left that time but had certainly broached the subject of progress toward the promise of equality for all. And so, the system is fighting. It is threatened like never before so it is fighting like never before. Voter suppression laws. The legal assault being mounted on a woman’s right to choose. Fearmongering BLM rhetoric like Ron Johnson’s inanity.

Black Lives Matter. Women’s Rights. Voters’ Rights, Civil Rights…all embodiment of the ideals that we espouse and yet, all are threats to the system. All ask questions of the unquestioned white men.

In a speech yesterday, President Joe Biden said that America is based on an idea. “It’s the greatest idea in the long history of humankind. An idea that we’re all created equal in the image of Almighty God. That we’re all entitled to dignity, as my father would say, and respect, decency, and honor. Love of neighbor. They’re not empty words, but the vital, beating heart of our nation.

Division is the control-mechanism designed into the system to keep the word of the white men unquestioned. Colonists everywhere installed the same mechanism in their colonies. Powerful women, powerful citizens of all colors and sexual orientation, united, are a threat to the system. And so it fights. It lies. It blocks scrutiny. It screams that Black Lives are a more dangerous threat than a white insurrection on the capitol. Antifa! Socialism! Fear! Divide the people. Keep them fighting each other. It’s a strategy that’s worked for centuries.

It is more than time that the idea of America, at long last, punch through the wall of the system and fulfill its promise, its highest ideal. What is there to fear in equality?

Pre-torn jeans made of elastic. Who bears the bulk of the moral responsibility? Beneath the humor, the real question comes clear: do we have the capacity, at long last, to stop molding ourselves in tortuous ways to fit an impossibly conflicted system? Can we turn and take a hard look at our empty words and fill them with the promise, the beating heart of the idea? Equality. United.

read Kerri’s blog post about Pretorn Jeans

Come Home [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the texture around it…I always want to see the third dimension of something…I want to come alive with the object.” ~ Andrew Wyeth

The first time I walked into this house, I felt that I’d come home. It was a potent moment because I’d never felt that before, not in my entire life. I was a wanderer, even as a small child.

I’d come to meet this woman named Kerri. I’d been writing emails to her daily for the previous six months. A job afforded me the opportunity to stop over and meet her face-to-face. She picked me up at the airport [she was the one holding the daisy], we held hands and skipped to the car, talked non-stop during the hour-plus drive from O’Hare airport. When we arrived at the house, I laughed when she asked me to wait at the front door. She wanted me to come into the house through the front door but the key hadn’t worked in years, so she ran around back to come through the house to let me in. When the door opened, with my rolly-bag in tow, I stepped into the house and caught my breath. I almost started to cry but inhaled my overwhelm back into my body. Home. I knew this place.

It was a festival of texture. Raw wood exposed through the aging, flaking paint. Immediately I could see that this woman populated her world with stories, surrounded herself with rocks and wood and tin. She lived in a tangible world, loved the raw and the real, and had a designer’s eye. The dining room was a miracle of tortoise-esque pattern made when she stripped the wallpaper. She loved it so much that she abandoned her plan for paint and left the marks exposed.

This was an artist’s house. The hardwood floors creaked. Some of the antique door handles popped off if you pulled too hard. “It’s an old house and has its quirks,” she explained as she pulled a screwdriver from the silverware drawer to tighten the screw that holds the screen door latch in place. I learned over time that there are somethings you fix and others that you don’t because to fix them would interrupt the relationship with the house. Now I, too, weekly pull the screwdriver from the silverware drawer and tighten the aged-nearly-stripped-screw that holds the screen door latch in place.

Shabby-chic. They gave her style a name and she beamed the first time she heard it. “That’s me!” she exclaimed, “Shabby-Chic!”

When my dad came for our wedding, he stood on the back deck and said to me, “If you don’t put a finish on this deck, you’re going to lose it.” I told him that Kerri liked it that way. In fact, she’d throw herself in my path, she’d break my fingers, if I attempted to clean it, let alone paint it. He nodded and said, “Well, that’s all that matters really.”

Home. All that matters. Alive with stories that reach back and back and back. Texture and piles and projects everywhere I look. The lock on the front door still doesn’t work. And, like my wife, Kerri, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

read Kerri’s blog post on SHABBY-CHIC