Make It To Last [on KS Friday]

I’ve watched master carpenters work. They consider the wood, the grain, the feel. Joinery as artistry. When John volunteered in the scene shop I teased him that furniture made for plays need not survive the apocalypse. No matter. He built tables and chairs for plays that will be at auction 100 years from now. He cared about his work, not his circumstance. The future hosts of Antiques Road Show will speculate about the mysterious origins of the unique and fine furniture found in the old prop house.

Standing in the old firehouse I was taken by the floors. They were not mass produced, engineered in a factory, or pre-cut to fit a template. They were planed by hand. Individually cut. They were pegged into place. The human touch was everywhere apparent. Someone, now long gone, cared about the job. Rough carpenter, solid sturdy work. Unlike the contemporary version of flooring, this was made to last. It was meant to outlive the artisan and the artisan took pride in that.

I recently learned that our refrigerator was engineered to breakdown in seven years. “It’s not a good business model to make things to last,” the salesman explained. Years ago, when I bought my truck, Rob told me it would start having trouble at 90,000 miles. It would be junk by 130,000. He was spot on. “They’re made to fall apart,” he said.

It is true, we do things fast. And, there’s a host of praises to be sung about our capacity to produce, the speed at which we invent and adapt. However, I wonder what the person at the factory assembling my destructible refrigerator thinks of their work. It must just be work. What about the engineer and designers? Made to fail? And what about me? A consumer of goods, an easy discarder-of-things.

Standing on the floor of the firehouse, I couldn’t help myself: systems do what they are designed to do. I wondered, in this age of easy discards, what kind of community conversation we would entertain if the business model – if the community model – the leadership model – considered the pride of workmanship, if human hands and hearts were more apparent in the process. Pride in workmanship. What if we made things to last rather than to discard? Would we see each other through different eyes?

read Kerri’s blog post about the FLOOR

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

untitled interlude/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Surface The Pattern [on DR Thursday]

Steve read my book and said he didn’t really understand the thing about pattern. His comment at first surprised me but then I realized he was actually reinforcing the point: we are unconscious to our patterning. We think in patterns. We see in patterns. Culture is pattern. Pattern is invisible and making it visible is a necessary first step in change processes.

The people who surface pattern are often seen by the mainstream as deviant or rebellious. Women demanding equal pay are attempting to make a pattern visible. The BLM movement is attempting to make a cultural pattern visible. Shining a light on longstanding oppression is never welcome in the halls of power.

The people who work to repress the visibility of cultural pattern, conserve the norms, generally claim a righteous superiority. They are keepers of the culture and feel threatened, even victimized, by the sudden visibility of cultural pattern. Exposure is always a threat to the existing pattern and no one relinquishes power or privilege without a fight. The current raft of voter suppression laws – made possible by the fantasy of a stolen election – is a great example. The Big Lie is a textbook example of how far people in power will go to hide a privilege-norm. It is, for us in these un-united states, not a new phenomenon; it is a longstanding well-guarded pattern.

Change happens when the patterns are surfaced. There will always be a tide that rises to extinguish the light of exposure. In the long run, those hardy voices that were, at first, branded as deviant or dangerous, we come to honor and respect. They refused to be silenced. We claim them as our heroes. MLK. Gandhi. Rosa Parks. Cesar Chavez. Susan B. Anthony. There are so many. It is no easy task to surface the patterns. The path of a light-shiner is dangerous and difficult.

John Lewis gave great advice for those dedicated to surfacing unconscious patterns: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” He also said that, “…transformation will not happen right away. Change takes time.”

Opening eyes to unconscious pattern, to what is obvious yet unseen, is an artist’s path. Seeing beyond what you think you see…seeing beyond your field-of-dedicated-belief, being curious enough to question what you are being told – can you imagine anything more necessary – more vital – in our age of rabid-misinformation and desperate-pattern-suppression?

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2018 david robinson

Feel The Rhythm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We lay awake in the night listening to the waves pound the shore. Boom. Rest. Boom. Rest. This lake that is sometimes glassy-in-stillness can rival the Atlantic Ocean in restlessness. It has many moods. It can turn on a dime. I have found great peace walking the shores. I have stood in awe as it blasted those very same shores, hurling boulders with ease.

When we were fortunate to live for a summer in the littlehouse, right on the lake. Kerri had to adjust to the constant sound. Her musician’s ears were caught in the rhythm of sound lapping the shores. Nature’s metronome. We teased about parking a piano on the back deck so she might compose an album of pieces set to the lake’s pulse.

The most striking visceral-revelation that I brought back from Bali is that we function together. Just as I am impacted by the lake, my pace and rhythm are impacted by the people around me. No one is an island. David Abram wrote in The Spell of the Sensuous that it is nearly impossible to meditate in the un-united states. We are an angry frenetic lake, fast moving wave. Changeable. I will always remember pausing at the custom’s gate re-entering the country. It was too much. Finally, I stepped through the doors and felt sucked into a chaotic turbulent whitewater river. It was months before I adjusted, before a walk down the street didn’t feel like a fist fight.

Columbus (my dad) would sit for hours each morning, on the porch. Listening. When I was younger I wondered what he was listening to – or for. He grew up in Iowa and came into adulthood moving to the rhythm of the corn. He lived his adult life in Colorado. It was a different rhythm, the metronome of the mountains. For many years he yearned to live where he understood the rhythm. He was, I think, listening for the corn.

When I return to Colorado I feel an immediate recognition. The mountains are the rhythm I was born into. Alignment. My original dance was a mountain dance.

Kerri and I are both transplants to the lake. Perhaps that is why we hear it so clearly. Jim E. told me that people go to the shore to stare into the infinite. We listen to the lake with the same awareness. The lake was here before me. The lake will be here after I am gone. The mountains, too. We are, of course, delusional to entertain the idea that we control it – nature. That we are somehow separate. Sometimes I think it is the artist’s job to bring proper perspective to the community, to pop the separation-notions – even for a moment – out of ego-brains.

This lake could hurl me like a pebble. It also brings peace to my soul. Stillness. We are not as distinct as we want to believe. That recognition is the single greatest blessing of artistry. It’s a circle dance. Just as my dad is disappearing back into the corn, I, too, will someday rejoin my original rhythm and fold back into the mountain.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

Look For Joey [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s been a life-long fascination of mine. In the most individualistic culture on earth, we like to display our status by wearing brand names and shop the same stores in malls that look the same across the nation. We are the inventors of the chain store, the strip mall. The one-size-fits-all. The suburb and cookie-cutter-house. Here in the cult of the individual, we like to do what every one else is doing.

Kerri and I tease about writing a book. It’s called “Looking For Joey.” Google Joey Coconato or his YouTube channel, My Own Frontier, and our blogs pop up at the top. We’ve not written much about Joey Coconato – a few posts – but to our great amusement, we top-the-google-list. And, so, these days, we are regularly contacted by people who are looking for Joey. They think we know him. They think he’s editing his next video in our basement.

Joey lives off the grid. He backpacks the American wilderness and documents his treks with videos. We became avid Joey fans when pandemic-isolating last year and vicariously got “out there” through Joey’s films.

After watching a few of his films it becomes abundantly clear that Joey is what everyone on the grid pretends to be. An individual. His clothes are ripped. His gear is constantly in disrepair. His food is what he can get his hands on at the moment. He is not climbing any ladder. In other words, he is not invested in how he looks, what he wears, or whether or not he’s doing things the way he ought to do them. He’s doing life in his way. At his pace. In his place. According to his star.

After receiving the latest: “Do you know where Joey is? It’s been 8 months since he posted…” I decided that, in these un-united-united-states, everyone is looking for Joey. He has, for me, ascended to the level of metaphor. He is authentic in an age of thin veneer.

While people are draping themselves in tribal-hate-flags and crying “individual freedom”, sticking their heads in the Q-sands as an act of liberation, blinding themselves in a rabid-festival of group think, all the while shaking their fists declaring, “No one can tell me what to do.” Insisting without any connection to reality that an election was stolen, that vaccines in a pandemic are filled with micro chips, that January 6 was an ordinary day at the Capitol – we are a mess of lockstep inanity.

I think everyone is looking for Joey. They – we – no longer know what is real so they -we – are splintering into disparate group-fantasy. Lemmings singing a chorus of My Way as they – we – plummet off our collective cliff.

Honesty is not that hard to spot if you want to look for it. Much of the fight falls away when you are prepared to acknowledge that much of what we profess is cotton-candy, that we are terrified of looking at our full history. Shops and malls and online outlets are not great places to look for answers. Running from critical race theory does not make our past go away.

A walk about in nature has a way of making the absurd abstractions fall away. Carrying your food on your back and looking for water when you need it strips away the investments in the ridiculous.

Individuals – people truly living out of their own center – generally don’t have to wear brands or broadcast their individuality. They are not seeking validation. They are not fighting for their freedom. Like Joey (I imagine) they simply live it.

[ the cool Dr. Seusss plant is called white baneberry or doll’s eyes.]

read Kerri’s blog post about STAND OUT

Attend To The Quiet [on KS Friday]

My studio is a place of quiet. Inside and out. It is the place where I go – where I’ve always gone, when I need to recenter myself of exit the crazy-brain. Lately, my studio has been blown to bits. Water has been a near constant invader, either from the ceiling when the pipe broke in the spring or from the floor when roots clogged the sewer main. Twice. It seems as if water wants me to take a break from painting. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Each time the water rises, the paintings rise, too. We scramble to move everything up the stairs. Mostly, they are stored on blocks so live protected above the rising tide – but pulling up carpet or clearing space for the plumbers has meant a perpetual studio deconstruction. Kerri stubbed her toe – okay, broke her toe – on one of the bigger paintings that now populate our sitting room. It’s a maze of paintings out there. Yet, she is wise. She’s insisting that we leave the paintings where they are, scattered here and there. At least for now. At least until we can clear out and rethink our space.

Kerri is much more sound sensitive than I am. I am much more spatially sensitive than she is. The sign on our deck, “Shh” addresses her need for sound-quiet. It’s all about space-quiet for me. Space-quiet means open space. It’s been that way all of my life: if there’s too much stuff, I shut down.

The water, as it turns out, is trying to tell me something. Lately, when I go down into the blasted-apart-and-now-empty-studio-space, I can breathe. I feel it every time I descend the stairs. I breathe. My space had become too impacted. Too many paintings, too many tables, too little space. “Shh.”

I’ve often written about the time, after I moved to Seattle, that I burned most of my paintings. I needed space. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was tired of hauling and storing paintings. I didn’t know what else to do. I needed air and fire brought it to me.

And, so, the water pours from the ceiling. It bubbles up through the floors. Again. What feels like a catastrophe comes with a cautionary message. No fire is needed this time. To attend to the space is to attend to the quiet. Stop. “Shh.” Breathe.

SILENT DAYS on Kerri’s album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL, available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about SHH.

silent days/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Honor Difference [on DR Thursday]

A Double Haiku:

Honor Difference.

A mural in Milwaukee.

Heart of the ideal.

Infinite palette,

Many hands, many painters,

Eyes that choose to see.

Read Kerri’s blog post about Honoring Difference

helping hands ©️ 2012 david robinson

Appreciate The Other Life [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Every so often we pick images for the melange according to a theme. A few weeks ago all of the images were green. This week we noticed that we had several photos of words or phrases so we decided to have a theme week. Yesterday featured a message on the tailgate of a truck, “Every day above ground is a blessing.” Today, the other life. La Otra Vida.

Kerri and I met in middle age so our history together is short. Our pals are couples who’ve been married for decades. It is common for us to leave dinner with friends, after lively conversation of raising kids, vacation stories or tales of pets from the past, and need to talk about the eras in life that we didn’t pass through together. Our cartoon, Chicken Marsala, came from a conversation about the kids that we didn’t have. What kind of parents would we have been together? What would we have done differently in life had we met when we were younger? Would we have fallen in love had the previous-versions-of-ourselves met at an earlier phase in our lives?

La Otra Vida. The other life. We’ll never know the answers to our speculative questions. I was not the person at 25 that I am today. Kerri did not know me during my train-wreck years. I was – and in many ways still am – a restless wanderer but I have developed over the years the capacity to sit still. To appreciate where I am.

Last night, sitting on the deck sipping wine, the sun was down and we had the torches burning. Dogga was asleep at our feet. We were listening to the soundtrack from the movie About Time and Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, a heartbreaking piece for piano and cello, began playing. I memorized the moment because, in another life, at a time that I was not so happy, I knew that La Otra Vida was out there somewhere. The other life. I knew someday, minus a few demons and with a few more miles behind me, that I would one day sit outside on a cool evening, my wife’s hand in mine, my dog asleep at my feet, and know with absolute certainty that life could not possibly be better.

I savored the moment. I will never take for granted this, the other life.

read Kerri’s blog post about LA OTRA VIDA

Miss The Point [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Kerri is a detail girl. I’m a big-picture guy and generally live at 30,000 feet. It is common for us to have conversations about diametrically opposed topics and think we are talking about the same thing. It is also common, when we have a spat and are in mid-turmoil – to realize that we are, and have been all along, in absolute agreement. We’re simply looking at the same elephant from radically different points-of-view.

It is the reason that one of the most oft-spoke phrases in our house is: Wait! What are we talking about again?

read Kerri’s blog post about YELLOW AND GREY

smack-dab. ©️ 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Compose [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago I attended a workshop facilitated by Sam, a brilliant landscape painter. I was delighted and amused when he demonstrated his technique. Rather than paint what he observed, he took great pleasure in rearranging the elements. He moved the trees, altered the hills, relocated the barn. He laughed while mixing up his elements. His eyes sparkled with mischief. Rather than a workshop on painting, the day became an exercise in joy-in-art. Seeing and playing with what we see.

This morning I read that the word ‘composition’ means “putting together.” Definers-of-art-terms associate composition with freedom. “The artist has freedom when choosing the composition of their artwork.” It is a mistake to believe that compositional freedom is the sole province of an artist. If the mind is a canvas then thought is a composition. It is patterned and composed. Arranged and rearranged. We choose where we place our focus. Point-of-view is cultivated, it is not a default setting. We design the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves. And, then we project it onto the world.

The trick in both art and thought composition is not to wear ruts in the road. Sam was joyful in his art because he was constantly challenging and engaging with what he saw. Art was fun, not morbid tradition. Art was delight-full, not rule-bound or laden with the pressure to capture. Recall that stepping out of the rut was the first lesson in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Morning pages and artist’s dates are meant to both see the ruts and open new paths. The same process applies to the thought-canvas. See the rut. Step out of it.

As Sam taught me so many years ago, seeing and playing with what we see begins with letting go of what we think we see. It begins with a blank canvas, an unfettered mind, and the freedom to choose the composition.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMPOSITION

Unfettered ©️ 2018 david robinson

Offer The Chair [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Indeed, the effect of the forum is all the more powerful if it is made clear to the audience that if they don’t change the world, no one will change it for them.” ~ Augusto Boal, Games For Actors And Non-Actors

Many of my pals in the theatre turned their noses up at me when I began doing work in corporations. They thought I was yet another theatre artist doing improvisation-games with the terminally neck-tied. I was not. My work was more in the tradition of Augusto Boal than Keith Johnstone. Some of the best plays I’ve ever facilitated, some of the most profound pieces of theatre I’ve directed and witnessed, happened in board rooms, classrooms or conference spaces. Here’s how I know: the actors and audience were one-and-the-same. Their play was personal. When they left “the theatre” they did not leave the nice story behind and end the evening with a cocktail. They were disrupted. They had seen something that could no longer be ignored or deflected. The hard work was about to begin.

People yearn. People entrench. People plant their flags and claim the most ridiculous territory. I’ve seen teachers come to blows over an overhead projector. I’ve seen lawyers undermine colleagues to gain dominion over a swiveling chair. And, the chair or the projector are never really the issue. The issue is usually an abstraction. Pecking order. Boundaries. Alliances. People have killed each other over a pair of shoes. It’s not the shoes but the status the shoes represent. Abstraction and illusion.

People are generally unconscious about the reasons beneath their passions. I’ve met a score of dedicated meditation practitioners who meditate to control their thoughts rather than realize them. Once I led a group of teachers through the ritual they enact each morning before the arrival of their students. The question was, “What are you preparing to do in your day?” Their answer was unnerving and revolutionary: they were preparing to control the kids. Teaching and learning were secondary.

We are witness to a country-wide communal piece of theatre, an unconscious play. The issue is not the mask. The issue has never been the mask. The issue is, I suppose, people feeling out of control, imposed upon. Fearful. They are, with their bare faces, making a stand. Drawing a line in the sand. That “no one can tell me what to do” might as well be “I am losing control over my life.”

And, as is always the case, as with the office chair and the overhead projector, refusing to don the mask does not really address the real issue, it merely deflects it. The energy and action is focused on non-sense. And when non-sense rules the day, the action taken actually brings about the thing-most-feared. Loss of control. The pandemic continues, the children are being taken, the economy suffers, the community fractures. It’s a lengthy list.

The lesson in the office chair wars and the overhead projector games is always the same. No one wins. Everyone loses in a toxic tug-of-war. The chair might be yours today but it will be theirs tomorrow. The game only ends when one of the players offers the chair to the other or the projector becomes a reason to share. The same will be true of the mask wars. People will die, the pandemic will continue until the mask becomes a generosity. Then, low-and-behold, the virus will abate and real control over our destiny will be within our grasp.

I hope that, like the lawyers or teachers who were brave enough to walk into the real story, to stand face-to-face with a dysfunction, that we meet our story and ask, “Why would so many sacrifice so much over a little piece of cloth?” An overhead projector. A pair of shoes. A chair that swivels…

read Kerri’s blog post about MASKS