Let Me Take You Back [it’s KS Friday]

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let me take you back

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Before Kerri and I were married, I asked her daughter, Kirsten, to tell me ‘the one thing’ I should know and understand about her mother. Kirsten’s answer was immediate. “Mom’s the most thready person you will ever meet,” she said.

It is true. Kerri is the most ‘thready’ person I have ever met. Thready means threaded to the past. We mark auspicious days. Each piece of furniture in our house carries a story. Every day she writes in her calendar what we did or what happened; at the end of the year it is our ritual to read the calendar and retell the stories of the days just lived. We light candles for lost loved ones.

She is rooted, deeply rooted, in family, in ancestry, and she actively and consciously tends the root through her thready-ness. And, what is most remarkable to me, is that her thready-ness is not weighty. It is in no way heavy. It is light-hearted and surprising and lively, just like her composition Let Me Take You Back. On this KS Friday, take a moment, and let Kerri give your spirit a lift. Let her take you back.

 

LET ME TAKE YOU BACK on the album AS IT IS available (track 12) on iTunes & CDBaby

Kerri’s designs & TAKE YOU BACK products

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read Kerri’s blog post about LET ME TAKE YOU BACK

www.kerrianddavid.com

let me take you back [as it is] ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

let me take you back – designs & products ©️ 2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson

 

Protect Our Diversity

Many years ago, sitting in a Starbucks, my brother told me that I should be careful because not everyone wanted the diversity I was promoting. His warning struck me as odd. At the time I was partners in a business that facilitated diversity training and change dynamics. I was traveling to many places in this nation, north, south, east, west, and places in the middle, to work with people in corporations and schools and communities who’d come up against the startling reality that all people do not share the same reality, that equality is an ideal not yet realized, that we are a nation defined by our other-ness.

When I was in school I was taught that the USA was a melting pot, a hot crucible into which people of many backgrounds, creeds, and colors were transformed into something stronger. I was taught that we were a nation of immigrants. It is printed on our currency: e pluribus unum. Out of the many, one. Why, then, would I need to be careful? Diversity was not something I was promoting, it was (and is) our circumstance. It was an identity I was helping people navigate in their workplaces and communities.

I read somewhere that the real challenge of the American Experiment is that we have to reinvent ourselves everyday. Because we are not (and never have been) able to share a common ethnic-religious-origin story, we must strive everyday to create a shared story. We create our story. We were, at our inception, an experiment in other-ness. To insist that we were meant to be singular – white and Christian – is a concoction. Our shared story begins with the single common thread that runs through most of our ancestral paths: we came from some other place seeking freedom in one form or another: religious freedom, freedom from persecution, the freedom to pursue opportunities. What binds us, the single story-blanket under which we can all crawl, is our diversity. Out of the many, one.

There is and always has been a tension in our story creation. Each new wave of others is resisted and often persecuted by the previous wave. When, in a nation of diverse backgrounds, in a country made strong by its multiplicity, does one actually become an American? And, what does an American look like? And, how far are we from living the ideal of all being created equally? With liberty and justice for all? It’s a moving target at best. It is a worthy ideal and worth the struggle.

The Experiment, like all experiments, has had some miserable failures. It has taken some giant strides forward. It is riddled with paradoxes and often runs into a hard wall of hypocrisy. We’ve torn ourselves in half and pasted ourselves back together. We’ve had our share of hate-mongers and xenophobes. We have one now. And, we always transcend them because we do not run on fear or anger but on promise and opportunity. The conservative impulse is always at odds with the progressive desire. It provides the heat for the crucible. It provides the tension for creativity and growth.

The greatest centers of innovation and entrepreneurship in the history of humankind have all been crossroads, places where many cultures cross paths and come together. Difference is a great opener of eyes and minds. We are an intentional crossroads, a meeting place by design. Our make-up of differences might be the single reason why we have grown as a nation of invention, advancement, and possibility.

In one aspect my brother was right: I should be careful, we should be careful to protect and keep the ideal in the center. It is worth marching for, it is worth challenging the fear-mongering and stepping in the way of a leader who plays on anger to create division. We should be careful to honor and steward The Experiment forward to the next generation of diverse Americans.

 

 

 

End And Begin

photo-2My fascination with this play grows every day. It has had a hold on me for over a decade. I’ve told the story of The Lost Boy to everyone I know. And now, as we approach opening night, the story of the production, the timing of the production, the people coming out of the woodwork for the production, Tom’s relatives appearing with additions to the narrative that Tom originally relayed to me – is equal to or exceeding the marvel of the play itself. The story around the story is, in some ways better than the story itself. Or, perhaps it is an extension to the story, the next chapter. Roger once told me that he believed the most interesting aspect of the story was not the discovery of a trunk plastered into the walls, not the story Tom felt an imperative to pass on to me, but the story of my time with Tom. “I want you to tell that story,” he said.

I have a file of recordings that I made of some of my conversations with Tom. They were in a format that made them inaccessible to me. I kept them but have been unable to listen to them for several years. A few nights ago, on a whim, I searched for conversion programs and in less than an hour, I was listening to one of the recordings. It was like opening the trunk that had been plastered into the wall. I listened to one of our conversations. I listened to our laughter. I listened to the questions I asked and his thoughtful and generous responses. I listened as I told him that I believed the real story was not Johnny’s or Isabelle’s, but his. He considered it but could not see himself as anything other than a messenger. My suggestion to him was prophetic.

On a lovely August evening in 2013 I was on a pier in Wisconsin when I received the call that Tom had passed. I sat on a bench and talked with Marcia, Tom’s widow, for over an hour. After the call I walked with Kerri and as we watched the sun set I told her stories of Tom.

My attempts to produce the play while Tom was alive (though too ill to perform the piece) hit walls of brick and stone. If I wanted disaster to strike I only needed to attempt to mount a production of The Lost Boy. I’d all but shelved it and, although I’d rewritten it so I could perform the story, the script seemed incomplete, somehow awkward. When Tom passed, the end of the play became apparent – I saw the flaw. Tom needed to join the story, not tell it. I did a final rewrite and the play was ready.

I’ve been amused because, after so many obstacles, this attempt is almost producing itself. It is as if we couldn’t stop the transmission of the story if we tried. Jim said, “I think Tom is working his magic from the other side.” The other night, in rehearsal, just as I worked the section about Isabelle (Tom’s great grandmother) reaching through time, ringing a cow bell to summon Tom, the bells from the neighboring church began to toll.

It made me laugh and I recalled a question he often asked: where does a story end? Where does it begin?

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Light The Way

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

Yesterday was Ann’s funeral. She died too young but by all accounts lived out loud – she packed a lot of life into her short time. One of the speakers said that she was neither a glass-half-empty nor a glass-half-full kind of person; her glass was always overflowing. I sat in the choir loft and listened to the stories, the grief and the laughter, the music that a community makes when it says good-bye. I only know her through their stories, through their eyes, and I was overwhelmed with the beauty that they saw in her. She was rooted in a community and the community was rooted in her. I was moved by the story she inspired.

Just before the service I was working on my play, The Lost Boy. We open in a few short weeks. I was memorizing the last two pages. The language of the play, the moment in the script that I worked, is about Tom’s ancestors answering his call. He worried about what to do with the ranch and the legacy that he guarded. He didn’t know what to do. There was no one to receive what he had to tell. He summoned the ancestors and, when he needed them most, they came. They didn’t answer his question. Instead, they took his hand and helped him join the story.

Jean Houston called us – the living – the burning point of the ancestral ship. Each of us carry forward the story, we add a chapter to a longer epic whether we realize it or not. Once, many years ago, John was directing one of Shakespeare’s plays for my company. While talking with the young actors about the play, he was moved to tears telling them how he realized that he was a link in a long chain that led all the way back to a first production in the 17th century. This play did not exist isolated in time. It was a burning point. Their work mattered because they were the guardians of a tradition. They were the burning point. The play was remarkable because the actors understood their root; even the smallest action mattered because if fed something bigger.

A few weeks ago we watched the film, The Descendants, with Brad and Jen’s movie group. It is a story of legacy and mattering – a story of what happens to descendants when everything looks like a commodity. The root withers. The story dissipates. As Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.” Joseph Campbell said that our mythology was dead and all the proof we needed was in the news. It took me years to fully understand his statement. And, the question he asked was this: once lost can a community revive its mythology? Can it reconnect with the root? Can it look beyond the immediate and see the rich soil of the greater story? As the burning point, can we light the way forward or is our dilemma the same as Tom’s: what do you do when you carry a root-story and no one is interested or capable of hearing it?

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from my Yoga series

from my Yoga series

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Carry Your Story

I call this painting, "Canopy"

I call this painting, “Canopy”

Since writing my post yesterday I’ve been rolling around in my mind the image from this quote from Deepak Chopra’s book, Life After Death: “Every former self you have left behind is a ghost. Your body is no longer the body of a child. Your thoughts, desires, fears, and hopes have changed. It would be terrible to walk around with all your dead selves holding on.”

All day I’ve been looking at people as if they are walking around with all of their dead selves hanging on. And, technically, we are. We define our present moment through the eyes of the past. I suppose the number of ghosts we carry depends upon the definition we carry about ourselves.

Definitions are stories. Thoughts, desires, fears and hopes are contained in the form of a story. Any thought you have is actually a form of storytelling. When we worry if this will happen or that, we are telling a story. When we tell our friends about being stuck in a traffic jam, we are telling a story. When we say, “This is who I am,” we are telling a story. When we say, “That is who they are,” we are telling a story. In a week, my family will gather to memorialize my grandfather; we will tell his story.

I’ve found in many parables and myths that an inner monologue (the story you tell yourself) acts like a fog. It obscures the present. For instance, in the Sisyphus tale, Sisyphus goes to the underworld and watches the souls of the newly departed cross the river Styx. Each soul thinks it is alone even though they are with many others; they cannot see the others through the curtain of their ego story. To enter the great “I am” they must first stop telling a story of separation.

Stories obscure.

We carry our stories forward. That is a legacy. Carrying a story forward is how we connect to our ancestry. Jean Houston once used an image that I like: we are the burning point of the ancestral line. We carry the story-torch forward. Like the Olympic flame our fire was ignited by a spark that stretches back eons. And through us, this flame will reach far into the future. We burn now. This story-torch, the family story, is the root story. It illuminates us.

Stories enlighten.

In both cases, obscuring and illuminating, stories can be heavy to carry. Or, they can be light. It may not be so terrible to walk around with your dead selves holding on if your dead selves tell a story love and connection, a story of hope and aspiration, a story of yearning and possibility. If illumination is the act of transcending your story, a step toward illumination certainly includes a story of love, and usefulness, and a deep appreciation of the ordinary moments that we story to fill our extraordinary days.

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Join The Story

Johnny is sitting on a mule named Old Abe. This was taken a few months before he died.

Johnny is sitting on a mule named Old Abe. This was taken a few months before he died.

Yesterday I finished the final edit/redraft of The Lost Boy. It is a play I began years ago based on interviews with Tom. Late one night while I was visiting him at the ranch, he asked me to help him. “Do what?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know. He felt that he had an obligation to an ancestor, his great grandmother, Isabelle, and he felt as if he’d not yet met his obligation. In 1885, Isabelle had a son that died. His name was Johnny and he was only ten years old. Isabelle carefully packed a trunk with all of Johnny’s worldly possessions, she wrote notes, and when no one was looking, she hid the trunk in the walls of the ranch house. She told no one. Tom found the trunk 100 years later.

We decided that his obligation was to tell Johnny’s story. We decided that Isabelle wanted to somehow keep the memory of her son alive but her method was a mystery since she told no one about the trunk. Tom shared the trunk with school children and historical societies but somehow felt as if he had yet to fulfill his obligation to Isabelle. Our idea was to create a play. I would interview Tom and write the piece. He would perform it. Along the way a terrific band, Mom’s Chili Boys, composed and compiled music from era.

We had a play with music. We’d solved the mystery of why Isabelle plastered the trunk into the walls. We made a few attempts at doing workshop performances but the piece always stalled or something unforeseen blocked our path. During a living room read/play through, it became apparent that we missed our window. Tom was slipping into dementia and got lost during the read through. He was no longer capable of performing the play. We stopped. We let the play sit dormant.

During Tom’s decline I rewrote the play so I might tell his story. The Chili Boys were my allies and my rock of encouragement and support. They played the music at performances and told the story in a condensed version and gathered some good feedback. Once, we tried to organize another run at doing the play and it hit a wall of resistance. So, it sat for a few years in the projects-that-could-have-been pile.

When Tom passed this fall it was as if the universe that was so dedicated to blocking our path finally said, “Now.” The Chili’s have new music and it is gorgeous. In doing the rewrite I was gob smacked to realize that Tom had to pass before the play would be complete. He wondered how he might honor his obligation to Isabelle and the answer was something he never knew: he had to ask for help, not to share the story but to enter it. As it turns out, The Lost Boy is not about Johnny or Isabelle. It is about how Tom found his way home.

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Accept The Gift

This morning in Tai Chi Saul spoke of his teacher and his teacher’s teacher and soon we students were aware that we are the burning point of a tradition that reaches back thousands of years. We were suddenly alive in a moment that rippled into an unknown future and a distant past. Our study was revealed as a link in a chain. Our weekly meeting dropped into a greater context and mattered in a grander scheme of things. Our practice was no longer about the perfection of a sequence of moves; it became an orientation to life. We realized that we are participants in a tradition in service to the vitality of life as it flows through us and expresses in the world.

I’ve written often about my lessons during this remarkable year, primarily about the release of control. I can control my thoughts. I can control where I place my focus. That’s about it. I can intend (a process of thought). I can control my action (also a process that begins with thought). My work (and I hope my growth) has been about getting out of my way. My lesson over and over has been about listening and letting go. I’ve been amazed how letting go always brings riches unimaginable. Holding on, forcing, resisting, pushing, trying to make things happen always diminishes me – and everyone around me. It has brought great heartache and even greater harm to people I love.

My tai chi practice now extends beyond the studio. Saul tells me to empty. He teaches me to listen. I have become a monk in my studio cell and I spend my days listening and drawing. This morning he led me into a deeper practice when he asked me, “What is your concern?” He showed me how I was orienting myself according to my opponents need. “Address your concern,” he said looking beyond me before adding, “Look into the vast space before you and place your focus on the horizon. Put your energy on a point on the horizon and move to it. Your opponent is incidental. Your opponent gives you their energy, their resistance. Accept the gift and do not give away your energy. Address your concern. You are your concern.”

His lesson: do not engage with the resistance. Do not invest in the obstacle. Place your focus on a point beyond all of the mind games and move your chi in the direction of your chosen point. Move your chi, and yours alone. Others will move their chi as they will. Stop giving your chi away. In this way, you will drop into your present moment. You will drop into your eternal moment and the masters of the tradition will join you there.

(896. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.)

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.