See Beyond [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Breck, the small aspen tree in our backyard, is beginning to change its colors for the season. Although we have yet in our neighborhood to smell autumn in the air, Breck is giving us a heads-up.

A decade ago I wrote that, in order to see beyond preconception (thought), artists and entrepreneurs need to master two skills: pattern recognition and metaphor. Look for patterns and you will eventually see beyond them. See beyond the pattern and, as Ash Bhoopathy said, “The familiar will become strange and the strange will become familiar.” What an amazing definition of metaphor.

In this pattern cycle, the green becomes brilliant golden yellow as Breck turns her summer attention from the sun and sends her focus into the root for winter nourishment.

Kerri’s photographs are often extreme close-ups. She has a bit of Georgie O’Keeffe in her artist’s eye. Often, when showing me the latest photo, she pulls the-already-close-up-image into a detail. I am always amazed at the pattern beneath the pattern beneath the pattern. The plumes of the grasses are a festival of pattern. The many feet of the caterpillar, perfect suction cups.

Despite our dedication to our perceived differences, we, too are a festival of pattern. The operative word is “perceived.” Pull the lens close-in and our divisions disappear as rapidly as our skin color. Pull the focus farther out and we move together in a sweet-and-sour ballet. Koyannisqatsi. History repeats, a pattern, like the cycle of the seasons. Order moves to chaos to order to chaos…mainly in our minds. Order is what we crave, so purblind are we to seeing the ubiquity of pattern.

The plumes explode pink and red on the grasses The chipmunks have picked up their foraging pace. The geese have reappeared. The miracles are in the familiar, strange and surprising when seen again for the first time. The feel of the hand of the one you love. The moon on a clear cold night. The yellow rim reaching through the green quaking leaves.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BRECK’S LEAVES

Make Dandelion Delicacies [on KS Friday]

Because our yard is a festival of dandelions and our trail is alive with the vibrant yellow flowers, just for kicks, I Googled “dandelion recipes.” Coffees and teas, salads and pizza, quesadilla, syrup, jelly and cookies; eat the root, chomp the greens, it seems dandelions are nature’s one-stop-yummy-snack-shop. Brats! And, of course, let us not forget about dandelion wine!

How is it that this pervasive-misunderstood-as-an-invader-plant is so edible and rich in possibilities? I’ve never eaten a dandelion. If I can find an insecticide-free-zone I’m going to pick a bucket full and try a few recipes. My bet is that Master Marsh has washed down a dandelion or two en route to picking a tune on his guitar. He can make anything – and does – so my future dandelion meal will follow MM around the kitchen and learn his favorite dandy-lion recipe and then enjoy the concert after the plates are licked clean. I’ll do the dishes after the show. It’s the least I can do.

One of my favorite rituals of the spring season is to watch Kerri discover and photograph the first dandelion. It’s like the return of an old friend. “Look-It!” she points and cheers. The camera comes out and a sweet photoshoot commences. She has a fond spot in her heart for dandelions. I wish I had the series of First Dandelion Sightings of the Season. Her eye has changed. The more photographs she takes, the better her composition-eye is becoming. Art works like that. Do it again and again and it gets better, more sophisticated. Easier. Her eye was great to begin with but now I do double-takes. “Whoa!” I say, “Let me see that again.”

Tom used to tell me that the alternative schools were filled with artists. Young people who do not fit in and cannot thrive in the restriction of the lawn. Pervasive-misunderstood-invader-plants. Pulled and placed where they cannot disrupt the blanket of green. Yet, so rich in possibilities. So versatile in form, capable of feeding the soul. Medicinal people. Seers. And, when they age (ahem), they make dandelion delicacies, play music for their friends, and celebrate the small pop of yellow on the side of the path.

It’s good not to be a lawn.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about DANDELIONS

fistful of dandelions © 1999 kerri sherwood

Reflect [on DR Thursday]

This reflection spiraled me into a fond memory. A long ago chance dinner in London with Jonathan Miller. He was kind and funny and took me upstairs to his studio to show me photographs he was readying for a gallery show. I could have talked with him all night. As I left he gave me a copy of his most recent book, On Reflection. Questions of reality and identity in the arts and beyond, explored through reflections. I had the book for years and lost it in a loan.

Reflections. I have crossed paths with many brilliant artists. Some, like Jonathan Miller, a single evening, a passing glance. Others, I had the good fortune to spend many years assisting and watching and learning from their work. James Edmondson. If I ever delude myself into the notion that my artistry is unique and truly individual, I only need stop for a moment and track the people who shaped me, who inspired me, who challenged me, who passed to me their traditions, who gave me an hour of their time to share their work and thoughts with me. I am a reflection of those many, many people.

My work in the world is made better by the reflections of Horatio and David and Master Marsh, people who give me their time by reading my work and sharing their thoughts. People who have jumped into my mad projects and made me and my work better.

I am the luckiest man alive. Each morning I get up early and sit next to my wife. We drink coffee and write. She edits my posts. We read to each other and offer advice or talk about word choices. I take her hand and bring her into my studio and ask, “Will you tell me what you see?” Lately, as I draw in pencil cartoons for work, she digitizes them, dumps them in Photoshop, cleans up my messes and makes them better. She makes suggestions. She offers reflections. She formats them for publication. They are transformed from my work to our work.

And, that is the secret I learned from my many master teachers. A unique perspective, an artist’s eye, is the blossom of many, many wise eyes coming together, expressing through a single moment, an opportunity. It’s all collaboration. Artistry is nothing more than a hologram of reflection.

read Kerri’s blogpost about REFLECTIONS

pax © 2015 david robinson

Peek Behind The Scenes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I’ve tried to keep notes on my computer. I know that typing my notes into the digital world will make them searchable. Easier to find. It just doesn’t work for me. If I write with a pen on paper, I remember. Marking an important page with a Post-it note makes finding my notes faster than a search engine. It’s not that I am old school. I’m kinesthetic.

I’ve always kept notebooks. At this moment there are two within my reach. The Melange notes. On the desk in my office a is a notebook and three yellow pads. The yellow pads are a task-capture strategy. The notebook is idea capture. Quote capture. Thoughts-in-progress. The notebooks are like my sketchbooks, a place to work out my thought-compositions. They are the history, the breadcrumb trail of a project. For me, the riches are never in the outcome. The real treasures are alive in the notebook process paths.

I’d rather look at an artist’s sketchbook than the finished painting. I have a book of Picasso’s sketches that I treasure. Spend a few moments in Leonardo’s sketches or Michelangelo’s scribbles and you’ll forever toss away the notion of a mistake. Look behind the scenes at the process. A dancer will spend hours in repetition to incorporate a move into their body. The playwright will write hundreds of pages to arrive at a few, yet, those hundreds of pages are nothing less than reduction to essence. Refinement on the path of saying more with less.

Look behind to see the structure. Turn it over to see the pattern. I am, to this day, in awe of the Wayan Kulit master. I looked behind the shadow puppet screen to see the artist at work and, what appears in simple two-dimensions in front of the curtain, is a symphony of structure and improvisation. The man wore an oil lamp on his head to cast the light for the puppets, held a rock between his toes to tap, keeping time for the musicians seated behind him, all the while manipulating and voicing multiple characters, telling with simple clarity an epic tale. A lifetime of trial and error, complexity made simple, like a dancer, the story was deeply choreographed in his body. I wished I could have seen this elder storyteller-priest when he was young and developing his mastery. I’d love to see his notebooks.

I’ve recently had cause to return to my old notebooks. I marvel at the thought cycles coming back around. I’m taken again and again by the questions that still linger, and by those that seem antiquated. “How could I have not seen it!” I smile, knowing in just a few more drafts, a notebook or two down the road, the clarity would arrive.

A peek behind the scenes. It is for me, where the real beauty shines.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FLIP SIDE

Arrive At The Essence [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This past Saturday we passed a milestone. We began writing our Melange on February 12, 2018, four years ago. We’ve published 5 days a week, every week, no matter what chaos or crazy storm blew through our lives.

Our Melange has moved through many phases. Originally, we wanted to regain some control over the publication of our music, paintings, plays, children’s books and cartoons. In our first post I called it our “pile of creative perseverance.” Also, we wanted to make a living from our mountain of work so we set up Society6 storefronts and spent hours each day developing products based on what we published. It was a blast and a total bust.

Eventually, the stores fell off, the daily themes changed, and we arrived at a pure essence: we love to sit together and write. Each day. There’s always a visual prompt, mostly from photos Kerri’s taken during the week. There’s only one rule: we can’t read or know what the other is writing about until we’ve completed our drafts. And then we read to each other, talk about our posts and clean them up. It’s my favorite thing to do. It feeds our hearts, energizes our artistic souls and that is more than enough.

Somedays I feel as if we are writing ourselves into existence. Our Melange is the story we tell each other – and you – of our life together. It’s a continuation of the Roadtrip, the daily emails we wrote to each other before we met. And, if the Roadtrip was a narrative offering of “this is me,” the Melange is a narrative offering of, “this is us.”

We launched the Melange with this Chicken Nugget (below). I wrote, as an introduction in the inaugural post, that this Nugget – and the Melange – was “a quiet reminder that the universe of feelings was – and is – so much bigger than words can possibly contain.” Ironic, yes? Coming from two people who, each and every day, write words as their way of reaching into this vast universe of feelings.

Thank you for reading what we write. We appreciate every step you take with us on our journey.

read Kerri’s blog post about 4 YEARS

chicken marsala © 2016 kerri sherwood & david robinson

the melange © 2018-22 kerri sherwood & david robinson

Say Her Name [on Two Artists Tuesday]

From the six-month-email-conversation that led to our first meeting, we compiled and edited a play – in the spirit of Love Letters – that we call The Roadtrip. We took the script through a workshop process, read it a few times for invited audiences, produced a soundtrack, approached a few venues…and then left it. Someday, perhaps, we’ll pull it off the shelf, dust it off, and realize it through performance.

Occasionally I open the script and read a section or two. It’s fun to read because it’s not an invention, not a fiction, it’s our actual coming-together story, edited for length and arranged according to themes. I visit my two favorite sections. The first is Kerri’s story of The Little Pillow (a story she must tell) and the second is our exchange the night we realized that we shared the same middle name. It was priceless. I vividly remember where I was the night I read her email-middle-name-confession – and asking if I had a middle name. My jaw dropped. I laughed heartily. And then I carefully crafted a too-long response finally landing on the surprise. Erle and Earl.

The coffee cup that later arrived in the mail, emblazoned with multiples of D.Dot Earl to match her K.Dot Erle twin cup, firmly established our monikers for each other. Over time we’ve condensed our names to K.Dot & D.Dot.

The crew that arrived this week to put in the temporary slab of sidewalk for the chunk we lost during the great-water-main-trenching-day, suggested that we sign our slab. It will come out in the spring when it’s warm enough to pour the real thing. We grabbed a screwdriver and happily scribbled our names in the wet cement.. As I stepped back to admire our scribble, I was struck by the names we scribed. K.Dot + D.Dot. Kerri and David, those two people who wrote to each other so many years ago, are transformed. Rebranded. It feels funny in my mouth to say, “Kerri.” I never do unless talking about her to someone who’s not familiar with the transformation.

We still write everyday only now we’re not 1500 miles apart. And we’ve finally met. And married. We sit together, side-by-side. And when the tap-tap-tapping stops, I say, “K.Dot, will you read what I wrote?”

read Kerri’s blogpost about NAMES

Note The Beautiful [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

There is a genius in simplicity.

Lately, one of the conversations swirling around me, a conversation I very much appreciate, is about beauty. What is a beautiful building? What makes a software beautiful? Certainly, beauty is subjective though I suspect a sunrise over the ocean is beautiful to all. A baby’s smile. A first kiss.

We are surrounded by noisy advertisements telling us what is (and what is not) beautiful. By this standard, most of us fall into the not-beautiful category. Though, deep down, we know, that the real test of beauty is not in what is concealed but in what is revealed. A warm heart is more potent than skin creme or make-up.

My niece had a birthday yesterday. She is on this earth to help people. She is creating a beautiful life. She probably doesn’t know it – and, that’s a mark of true beauty – it doesn’t need to call attention to itself.

Every collaboration I’ve had with MM was beautiful. We had fun. We explored ideas. We have nothing but respect for each other. We’ve made each other better people, better artists. When I revisit any one of the many projects we created together, I smile and feel rivers of gratitude and pride. A memory that inspires a smile is the very definition of beauty. It brings the goodness of the past into the present moment. Light travels.

20 is a master of the beautiful because he knows the power of simplicity. A heart shape torn from a piece of paper – acknowledging grief that goes beyond words. A construction paper bow. He’s not forgotten the lessons he learned in kindergarten. Laughter, he knows, is the most beautiful gift of all and we receive it from him weekly.

What makes a design beautiful? Aspen leaves shimmering in fall. I’ve stood in front of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, John Singer Sargent…and cried. They were so beautiful. I’ve held Kerri’s hand, walking on a trail, and wanted the moment to never end. Simple.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOW

Go To The Shoe Room [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I managed the theatre conservatory at PCPA Theaterfest, I occasionally gave backstage tours. It was great fun because the favorite stop on the tour – on every tour I gave – was the shoe room. Visitors always enjoyed standing on the stage, they were impressed with the scene and costume shop, they delighted to watch the prop master at work, but the moment we entered the shoe room, they were transcendent. Wide-eyed and giggling, pulling period shoes from the shelves to show their companions, it was as if they’d entered a candy store. The magic was released through the shoes.

The shoes, I suspect, harkened back to a time of dress-up. Childhood. The shoes touched their spirit of play. They beckoned to be worn and, as any actor knows, the shoes will inform how a character moves. The sooner you don the shoes, the sooner you will “find” the character. The shoe room was a portal to possible-other-lives.

I am more enamored by sketches than I am by final drafts. I delight in watching master craftsmen and craftswomen work. Theatre artists do not create illusions, they provide access to other worlds, unknown paths. They invite us to the shoe room to try on another life, even for a moment. The process, to me, is more beautiful than the performance.

As we walked the paths of the Botanical Gardens, the technicians were preparing for the festival of lights. Walkie-talkies crackled. Connections were checked. Battery packs were carefully placed. Multi-colored light strands ran like rivers up the trunks of trees. E-candles on armatures floated in the waterways. Magic was in the making. During the daylight, the entire expanse of the Garden is backstage – exposed wires and explicit design. At night, the mechanics will fade behind the light curtain. Backstage will become fore-stage. The light will invite us into another world. The light will touch the spirit of play.

I have always believed that people, lurking behind those serious faces, really just want to play. It’s the reason I kicked off my shoes every time I entered a room to do a facilitation. Lose your shoes and it’s no longer a serious affair. Play threatens. Play is suddenly a real possibility. The spirit of play cracks even the most harden entrenchment. Play necessitates collaboration and sharing. Pirates and Princesses need mates and parrots and knights in order for the world to be complete. Lawyers will take off their ties and wear them as headbands when the shoes come off and the serious topics are approached in socks and bare toes.

I recently – as we all have – been privy to an endless contentious debate about what this nation needs to do to get back on track. I believe it is not so complicated. We can carry on our oh-so-serious-division, but the single rule should be that no one can open their mouth – politician, pundit, and pedestrian alike – before first taking off their shoes.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT STRANDS

See The Dance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.” ~Lao Tzu

We had a hard time choosing the prompt for this day. Traditionally, on Monday, we use a quote, something we’ve heard or come across in the week prior. We had plenty of thought-provoking quotes and appropriate images from which to choose. A few would have inspired rants. We also had a few ready to go that would have required more time than we have this morning to do the thought justice. They were heart-thoughts. And, so, we sat and stared at our screens. We pulled the original choice just before we published our picks for the week. “Let’s wait on this one,” Kerri said, “I feel like I want to give it more time.”

More time. Yes. In a few weeks time, we will cross the four year mark of our Melange. Five days a week. Four years. It’s a significant body of writing. At least to us.

When Kerri offered this image as an option, she said, “Maybe we should write about silence.” The mums bow their head. It is the end of their season. The flower drops and dies but the plant lives on, readying itself through the cold winter for a blossom resurrection in the spring. The buds will appear to be new life and we will celebrate them as a new beginning. The plant will smile at our surface-worship. Life did not disappear with the drooping blossom.

The phone rang last night in the early evening. It was my mom calling, just to chat. We talked of our disbelief that my dad, Columbus, was gone. We talked of her exhaustion and need to be still, like the mum in winter. We talked of the emergence of new friends and, someday, the discovery of a new purpose. All in good time. Good time. She is heroic walking through this chapter of her good time. When energy turns to the root, when it moves to an internal focus, it necessarily feels lonely.

Some things cannot be rushed. Most things, those with the greatest import, cannot be pushed. They must be lived. Experienced. The blossom droops and drops. The plant knows just what to do. It is winter and energy must go to the root – that is precisely why the blossom dropped. The plant is not separate from the season. It’s a dance that only seems to be a movement with two but, in truth, is the motion of one, a push-me-pull-you. The inner focus, hibernation, once recharged, will, someday soon, feel the sun and turn its attention outward. New buds are certain to answer the call.

read Kerri’s blog post about MUMS

Reboot [on Flawed Wednesday]

I’m not going to lie. Yesterday was textured and difficult. Because our internet connection was spotty – and because our work depends upon a reliable connection – we called our provider to upgrade our service. And, rather than an easy upgrade, we lost our service altogether. And, as I write, almost a full day later, in a world brimming with messages of fast-and-easy, we are still in the internet no-fly zone. After eleven hours, a full five hours on the phone, a trip to the store to get new equipment, ethernet tests on everything but my heart, after a series of pleasant but not-very-helpful service representatives, after the fifteenth (not a joke) suggestion that we “reboot one more time just to see,”we gave up for the night. 

Giving up looked like this: “The problem is on our end,” a pleasant tech offered when there was still light in the sky. “There’s a ticket and our engineers are working on it.” Later, much later, after being passed to two of the engineers-that-were-working-on-it, we heard that they had no idea what the problem was. “We could try to reboot one more time,” he said. “Just to see.”

Kerri looked at me, exhausted, and said, “I can’t do it. Not again.” A battle to be waged another day.

Surrender. I’ve learned this lesson again and again in my life. Sometimes it is best to give over. It is best to stop pushing. Sometimes, there is no solution. Time and a bit of sleep, a new day, will bring another point of view. What was impossible yesterday will resolve today.

In surrender, we sat in the quiet night and talked of our day. The quiet. Nothing dinging or binging or pulling at our attention, nothing notifying us of another message. Nothing trying to keep us hooked for the sake of being hooked. The static was gone. The incessant, “Look at me,” of news apps and Facebook and Instagram and… Life as perpetual “Breaking News.” Within the constant pull, the only thing breaking is our focus. We sat and enjoyed a moment when nothing was breaking.

For a moment during the madness, I looked out the window of my office. The day before yesterday the leaves on our tree were still green. It’s late in the season. Yesterday, in a seeming flash, they were vibrant color. They changed overnight. I was taken, as I always am, by the recognition that the best way to learn color is to go outside, take a walk in nature. See. If there is ever a question about, “Does this color work with that color?” – go outside. Look around. The answer is right there. Crimson and dusty grey. A bit of sage green. Charcoal. Polka dots are not a human invention. The patterns are there, too. Texture. See it.

This morning, while we await the visit from our tech who-will-fix-everything, we’ll go outside. We might play in the leaves. We’ll certainly enjoy the moment without the bings and pings and tech-sounds of made-up-importance. We’ll kneel and coo over the polka dots and salmon pink, the electric yellow and revel in the rare simple moments that a good surrender brings.

[*a hefty thank you to Matt the technician who just spent hours sorting out and fixing what ailed our internet. This post is proof positive that we are, at long last, out of the internet-no-fly zone]

read Kerri’s blogpost about POLKA DOTS