Call Attention [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I spent the past two years working with engineers. I was constantly amazed at what they could not see and what I could not see. They were blind to what was apparent to me and I was equally blind to what was obvious to them. It’s what made us a good team. Once, Scott sent a spreadsheet and I stared at it like it was an alien. And it was. Numbers in columns and rows become visual statements for me. I lose the data in the pattern. The information melts into a design on the page. It was beautiful and incomprehensible to me. I had to ask, “What does this mean?”

Yesterday, Kerri and I took a long hike on a trail that we hadn’t walked for a few years. It was a beautiful day. I was overcome with appreciation. I recognized that we do not walk like other people. We stop often to look. Kerri takes photographs of detail. She sees the smallest of miracles and, rather than walk-on-by, she stops. She engages. She calls my attention to it. While she snaps pictures, I close my eyes. I feel the air. I hear the cranes and geese flying overhead. I call her attention to it.

The crystals on the window stopped me in my tracks. Standing in the door of my office, I looked across the hall through a room and to the window. The ice-branches sparkled in the morning light. They were like a magic kelp forest frozen in time. I called to Kerri and she came running, camera in hand.

I cherished the moment, not because it was unusual, but because it is our ordinary. What happens on the trail also happens in our home. We are not in a rush to get “there.” We stop often to look. We call attention to what we see.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRYSTALS

Watch For Turtles [on DR Thursday]

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.” ~ Alan Watts

The ferns have returned. Last week they were sharp tendrils poking through the leaves and earth; little green aliens. A mere seven days later, they are over three feet tall, fern-flags unfurling.

Driving to our trail we saw a turtle crossing the road. Kerri whipped a u-turn and I jumped out of the car, picked it up, expedited its journey, moving it from the pavement to the grass. There’s something special about the turtles. Throughout March and April, while walking on our trail, we’d cross the bridge over the Des Plaines River, and look for the turtles’ return. The turtle in the road was our first sighting of the season. Later, on the bridge over the river, we saw a dozen. “They’re back!” she said and smiled.

Lately we’re given to walking the same trail. We’ve seen it change through several seasons. We followed our loop last week and I swear, this week, it’s an entirely different trail. The trees are flowering. The trillium are showing their purple.

I used to wonder how Emily Dickinson thrived looking at the same garden for years and years. How did she write such beautiful poetry with such a small window to the world? Now I know that her world was enormous and my question was too small.

“Hope is the thing with feathers…”

read Kerri’s blogpost about FERNS

iconic © 2010 david robinson

Attend [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ~Thomas Merton, Love and Living

I had an odd-thought-revelation as we drove into the parking lot of the Hospice Alliance. We were there to make a donation. In cleaning out the house, Kerri found several throw-blankets. She washed and freshened them, preparing them for donation. In a past life she was a volunteer at the Alliance and wanted the blankets to go where they would be the most useful, provide the most comfort.

My mom tells me that my dad’s last days were lovingly tended by amazing hospice caregivers. His passage was eased by their guidance and attention. In some small way, the blanket donation felt like a thank-you-note. I was not present in his final weeks and it brought me comfort knowing he was in the care of such extraordinary people.

And that was the seed of my odd-thought-revelation. As we pulled into the parking lot, on the first bright sunny day in weeks, I stepped out of the car and turned my face to the sun.

In the warmth I understood that we are all in hospice care. Our time is limited. Every single moment is precious. Every single moment is shared. We’d do better if we realized it. We’d do better if we attended to each other, to relieve pain and suffering, to pay attention to the quality of each and every life in our passing moment. In our tender and oh-so-temporary lives.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BLANKETS

Dissolve And Do [on DR Thursday]

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” Wise words from Tom. It was a mantra and his patent response when asked how one becomes an artist. I imagine Tom learned this wisdom from DeMarcus. DeMarcus certainly learned it from his mentor. Artistic ancestor to descendent, the quality that makes an artist is the practice. Nothing more. Ask me what makes an artist and you will hear what I learned from Tom.

There’s a special, hidden layer in this mantra. Someday, if you are a lucky artist, you stop thinking of yourself as an artist. The role dissolves in the doing. It no longer matters how others see you or the label you apply to yourself. It’s nice to separate yourself from the herd yet service to the herd is the point. That, I am coming to understand, is the moment that artistry fulfills itself. A deep trust ensues. No blue ribbon or large sale or shiny prize will change the essential. No outside eye or opinion or judgment or praise alters the fact in the least. A writer writes. A painter paints.

How do you pursue an artistic life? We take walks and pay attention. French blue sky and early tree blossom. And then, each day, as is our practice, we write or draw or compose.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREE BLOSSOM

Newborn, 48x32IN, mixed media

newborn © 2019 david robinson

Make It Beautiful [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The media center was in the basement of the library. I left behind the bright New Mexico sun each day as I descended the stairs to my work-study assignment. In the days of cut-and-paste layout, 5 years before I touched a computer, part of my duties included readying the weekly campus newsletter. X-acto knives, glue sticks, blue non-photo pencils, liner tape were the tools of my day. I loved my work-study, not because of the work, it required hyper-attention to detail and ask anyone, I am not a detail-guy, but I knew my life was being changed under the careful tutoring of my boss, Brother Bill. His instruction had little to do with media and everything to do with orienting to life.

Each day at 3:00, Brother Bill would push a cart into the workroom laden with fresh strawberries or cookies and a pot of tea. “Tea time!” he’d announce and we’d stop work. We’d enjoy a cup of tea together.

It wasn’t the tea or the break in the day or even the laughter and enjoyment of each other’s company. Brother Bill was teaching us to make an event of the ordinary moments of our lives. To attend to the quiet beauty available in the details. Presentation mattered. The plates we used for our snack mattered. How we oriented ourselves to each other mattered. It wasn’t the grand gestures but the attention to the daily routines that transformed a life.

Occasionally he took his work-study students to dinner. Always to a fine restaurant so we might have the experience of – an experience of dining. Linens and wine pairing. Food to savor instead of snarf down. Lingering over coffee with laughter and conversation. Being no where else. Taste the moment. It was his single lesson, offered without instruction but by simple demonstration. Feel the sun. Take the time to fully fill out the experience. Fully attend to your moments and your attention will fully fulfill you.

Kerri and I end our work day with happy hour. A glass of wine and crackers and cheese, maybe a pear. Tapenade. One evening we realized that we had a cupboard full of beautiful plates and trays. “Why aren’t we using these for happy hour?” we asked. “What are we saving them for?”

I heard the voice of Brother Bill, “Make it beautiful,” he said. “It matters.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BEAUTIFUL PLATES

Wash And Wonder [on DR Thursday]

I actually like washing dishes. It gives me a sense of completion. Rarely do I finish a day of work with anything that resembles closure or accomplishment. Doing the dishes satisfies my western goal oriented needs. Ask me what I achieved today and I will proudly respond, “The dishes.”

While washing and rinsing the plates and pots I have a terrific view into the back yard. It’s like having a big screen tv into our teeming-with-life sanctuary. The squirrels and Dogga have a game (Dogga does not know that it is a game), the cardinals visit the pond, the rabbits and foxes and the occasional turkey, hawk or owl excite the noisy crows. The chipmunks are masterful ninjas finding ways to access the bird feeders and make off with pouches full of seed.

Sometimes, the window – the actual glass – becomes more interesting than the games unfolding beyond it. During a storm, in the winter cold, crystals form and migrate across its surface. It’s a giant kaleidoscope, especially as the string of lights stretching across the yard pop on. It’s enough to make me pause my dish washing fervor and stare in amazement. Window-wonder satisfies my eastern presence desires. Ask me to what I gave my full attention and I will smile and respond, “The window.”

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WINDOW

joy © 2014 david robinson

Eat The Cold [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Eat the cold!” the Buddhist monk said to the shivering novice. “Eat the cold.” It is” monk-speak for embracing rather than resisting the circumstances of your life.

Non-resistance. Detachment. Hold your self lightly. Presence. Make no assumptions. Be here now. Every spiritual tradition has language for the lesson. Eat the cold. Have the experience. Suspend your judgment. See what is there, not what you think is there. Feel it without condemnation or praise.

When I was a teenager I went on a trip with a school group. The bus broke down in the mountains. We sat on the side of the road bemoaning the state of our affair. The teacher laughed at us. “We’re on an adventure and this is part of it!” he exclaimed. “Rather than fool ourselves into thinking we are stuck, maybe we should fool ourselves into thinking this is exactly where we should be! What’s here? What can we do and create here?” I remember nothing about the rest of that trip but I do remember how much fun we had on the side of the road.

Kerri’s wrists are broken. We find ourselves on a metaphoric roadside. Our patterns are completely disrupted so we are experiencing the gift of mindfulness. Putting on a coat requires complete attention. Lifting a fork. Combing out her gorgeous naturally curly hair. Buckling a seat belt. We have abandoned all notion of rushing. It happens when it happens. When she plays the piano, she does it with full attention; nothing is taken for granted.

What’s here in this storm? Maybe this is exactly where we should be. Amazed at our friendships, our first walk since the accident with Jen and Brad, the sun and wind, laughter with 20, cooing at the meal Joan made for us, flowers, brownies and wine, crawling under the healing quilt that Janet sewed.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERY STORM 

 

halfmoonbay CA website box copy

Look Up [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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An evening sky awash with salmon pink and orange. Walking down the middle of the road. Strolling home.  We heard the snap of twigs and stopped. The deer was very still, suddenly aware of us. We found ourselves engaged in an old Viola Spolin acting exercise: you look at us and we’ll look at you. Who is the audience? Who is the performer? Who is the watcher? The watched?

I’ve been thinking about Quinn lately. He taught me that there is a marked difference between concentration and awareness. Concentration is a narrowing of the mind. A blocking of other thought. Resistance. Awareness is an opening to experience. All experience. An embrace. It’s a thought straight out of Alan Watts, one of the many, many authors and thinkers that Quinn introduced me to.

Walking the roads and beaches of the island, learning the nuance of this community and the needs of the performing arts center that we now guide, for me, has become an active reminder, a literal exercise of awareness, a class in paying attention. Open, not narrow. Experience rather than judge or resist.

I can hear Quinn laughing at the younger version of me who thought he had to contain it, capture and command it. The one who thought he had to know what to do. The one with a knitted brow who thought that being good at something was a matter of controlling it. So afraid to not know. The mirth-tears would roll down Quinn’s cheeks. “Look up!” he’d say. “If you keep staring at your feet you’ll miss it!”

“Miss what?” I’d ask.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DEER

 

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Hold It Lightly [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Roll this description around in your thought-bowl:

“The Spoon River Anthology, a sequence of free verse epitaphs spoken from [the occupants of] the cemetery of the town of Spoon River. When the collection first saw publication in 1915, it caused a great sensation because of its forthrightness about sex, moral decay, and hypocrisy…”

We saw a snippet of Spoon River performed last week at our new artistic home, TPAC. It’s almost impossible to see even a bit of Spoon River and not realize how fragile and temporary is life. It’s a not-so-subtle poetry-reminder that most of what we think is sooooooo important is, in fact, a tilt at windmills. In its forthrightness, its perspective on hypocrisy and moral decay, we found Spoon River to be remarkably contemporary.

Tom told me that he always used Spoon River to teach his beginning actors. “It’s all there,” he said, “All of it!”

He read a piece from the anthology at his great aunt Bunty’s funeral. It takes life to love life. After Tom’s death, Kerri and I performed the same piece in my play THE LOST BOY, a script derived from interviews with Tom. Words that end the first act. Words that described Bunty. Words that Tom adored:

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It’s the best of paradoxes. Kerri and I remind each other everyday that our work, our artistry is not nearly as important as we think it is. We remind each other to hold it all lightly. And in holding it lightly, we open the door to experience it richly. To laugh rather than resist. To know, that we will, one day, populate a plot on the hill, and the only thing that will have mattered is that we paid attention and participated in our moment, that we loved the little bit of life that we had.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DUST

 

bootsbythestage website box copy

Walk Off The Path [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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This is a tale of two quotes. Both are from Jiddu Krishnamurti who is currently sourcing my start-of-the-day reading.

“To be religious is to be sensitive to reality.”

Kerri and I love to walk. In our first few years together we’d walk the streets and parks of our neighborhood, morning evening, midnight, sunrise. Each day, regardless of weather, we’d walk. Lately, we’ve gravitated to a few local trails. More nature. Less concrete. More quiet. Less noise.

When we walk we very intentionally leave behind all of the mind chatter, all the fearmongering of the day, the battles with abstractions. It’s as if we shift a gear and easily pay attention to the actual world around us. We look. We listen. We sense. We point out beautiful things. We stop and close our eyes and listen. “Did you hear it?” Kerri takes pictures of the extraordinary marvels that surround us. They are everywhere. Brilliant red berries in a winter landscape. A nurse log. The astounding color and texture of a strip of bark. Deer prints, like ballroom dance patterns, in the mud. A distant owl.

Our walks are my church.

“Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion or sect.”

I am living a life that is not going according to the plan. Some of my best decisions turned out to be my worst. Some of my worst decisions have turned out to be my best. Lately, I’ve been looking for jobs. This is new to me as I’ve been fortunate and capable most of my adult life of creating work. The gift of looking for work is the necessity of making a list of past experience. A life review called a resume.

I’m finding my work-life-review to be like our walks in the woods. Quiet. Sensitive to the realities. At this age-and-stage I am no longer what Kerri calls a strider. I am not climbing over bodies to get to the top office suite. My sword shattered some time ago. My armor is off and most likely by now covered in moss. Saving the world, becoming the next Picasso, finding the Northwest passage and all of the other battles of abstraction are no longer drivers for me. I have no desire to summit Everest. I have an endless desire to stand in this moment just as I am.

I have (for better or worse) walked a pathless path. And, I suspect that is true of all of us despite what topography we scribble on our resume maps. Truth is a personal path, the face behind the mask.

Master Marsh once asked me, “Why do you need to run at every edge and jump off?” When he asked the question I had witty replies but no real answer. Now, this is what I know: On my quest I’ve read a lot of books and had many, many brilliant mentors and guides. At the end of the day, they were/are pointers at best. The direction they pointed – always – was to the unknown. To the edges. The news from my life-review: It’s never found in a book or well worn path. It’s always found in a moment, in an experience, in a walk in the woods, holding hands.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NURSE LOGS

 

boots in megaphone website box copy