Fill With Wonder [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Upon seeing the first tree at the entrance gate I asked a question that I repeated all night, “How did they do that?”

My question was rhetorical. I did not expect an answer. I might as well have exclaimed,”OMG!” or, “WOW!” or whispered, “Unbelievable!” Instead, my wide-eyed-awe expressed as a quiz-to-no-one.

Kerri sometimes quotes from Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. I realized, walking through the Garden, astonished by the lights, that I was immersed in one of Anne’s prayers. I’m not a big prayer guy so it amused me that my enthusiastic WOW was voicing as a question. The images projected on the mist. The field of dancing firelight. The light cathedral. How-did-they-do-that-how-did-they-do-that-how-did-they-do-that?

As we left the Garden and wandered toward the car I was delighted not to have an answer. The lights moved me to tears. I laughed heartily. I was stunned to silence. I watched children and adults alike, dancing into the dome and running toward the many-colored fireflies. Knowing the “how” would have diminished a bit of the magic. The more important question was obvious: there is no better “why” than to fill people with wonder.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE TREE

Choose Awe [on KS Friday]

Of course, it’s not enough to appreciate the cloud-stripes that stopped our motion on the trail. I might have painted them in one of my pieces – for no other reason other than they are a cool pattern. Of course, I would have believed I was making it up. Imagination at its finest. But, in mid-trail, to peer up and see them painted on the sky-canvas sent us into a Google frenzy. You’ll be relieved to know that striped patterns in cloud formations are due to an oscillation called the Kelvin-Hemholtz instability. Phew! Not aliens or Van Gogh run amok, just ordinary old Kelvin-Hemholtz, unstable and oscillating. Again.

Nature continues to astound me. Nature continues to blow my imagination to new heights. As an artist, I am relieved knowing that I will never create anything as perfect or profound as what nature tosses up every minute of every day. There’s nothing left to do but play in these fields and appreciate the conversation. Since I am also a unique-form-thrown-up-by-nature, respecting the conversation, having deep gratitude for the moment, wouldn’t hurt.

Standing on the trail, watching the miraculous lines scratched into the blue-blue sky, I re-realized something important: Google might be able to explain it – which is no small feat – but explaining it, labeling it, putting it into a context-box also diminishes it. It gives us the illusion that we are separate from it; that we can control-it-by-rationalization. Visitors at the zoo.

Sometimes I think awe is a better path than explanation. I imagine that we might approach global warming, weather weirding differently, if we weren’t under the illusion that we could Google nature into submission. Awe is participatory, boundaries dissolve. I-am-that. Life beyond definition, beyond category and sub-category, glimmers.

Next time, I will opt for a few more moments of astonishment before reaching for my phone. Explanations and easy answers can wait their turn in line.

Lost. In the Questions ~ Kerri Sherwood

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about STRIPES

lost. in the questions © kerri sherwood

Make A Mess [on Merely A Thought Monday]

One cannot know life’s ups without experience of life’s downs. The quality that defines order is chaos. And, vice-versa.

In the same vein, Horatio hit me with a thought that gave me the shivers: wisdom is the blossom of regret.

Regret is one of those special words that is both a verb and a noun. To lament. A feeling of sorrow. It comes from experience. When he was young, Roger told me that he wanted to live a life with no regrets and although we’ve lost touch, my great hope is that he was incapable of living the life he wanted to live. He is made of deeper stuff.

Hermann Hesse’ novel, Siddhartha, is a story of arriving at wisdom. So, too, is his novel Narcissus and Goldmund. Far beyond the lands of understanding and knowledge, the fields of wisdom are born of messy life. Mistakes made. Fears confronted. Loss and awe. Illusions pierced. A protected life may fill your cup and bank account with information but will leave you with a limited palette of life experience. A full closet of clothes for the ghost that wears them.

Coincidentally, last week, Horatio and I both spent some time on sterile medical beds looking up at the bright lights on the ceiling. Doctors looking down. Suddenly filled with gratitude for the regrets that we’ve racked up in this life.

Sitting by the river, watching the river flow by, we compared notes. We shared life stories. How on earth did I get to be so lucky?

read Kerri’s blogpost about CATERPILLAR ON A ROPE

Give It Perspective [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Awe” is one of those complex words that contains its opposite. Wonder and dread. Astonishment and fear. Respect for the power of nature. Reverence. It’s a full-spectrum word.

Awe is what you feel standing at the ocean shore, knowing the waves will rush in long after you are gone. Water pulling at your ankles. Toes in the sand. Staring into eternity.

Awe is a perspective-giving word. It makes us both tiny-in-the-universe and fortunate-beyond-words, all in the same moment.

Once, I stood on a mountaintop in the bitter cold of dawn. The sun broke over the horizon and washed over me with a wave of warmth. Life-giving. Literally. I stopped shivering when the sun touched my bones. Filled with awe, I started to laugh and cry. Beautiful, magnificent and painful.

We stood on the deck and watched the cloud tower above us. Threatening and astonishing. She showed me the photo. “The wire makes it,” she said holding the screen so I could see it, “It gives it perspective.”

Perspective. Correct regard for the truly awesome power of nature.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TOWERING CLOUD

Look Around [on DR Thursday]

My sketchbooks are punctuated by weird landscapes. It was a practice. When I felt the need to draw regularly, to exercise my artistry, I worked on compositions for future paintings. And, when I had no idea what to draw, no composition in my head, I sketched my weird landscapes. They were fun and I got lost in them.

There was a blowback effect. I’ve never been a landscape artist. I considered my weird landscapes as not-serious exercises. Yet, they were made of scribbles and patterns and it became a game to collect patterns from nature. My not-serious exercises required me to look around. To get close. To look at the edges and splashes and etchings available in nature. To see. My weird landscapes became eye-opening meditations.

There are miracle-patterns in bark. Orchids, I recently learned, are a master-class of pattern, shape, and color. It is impossible to find a hand painted brush and ink painting as perfect or as spontaneous and lively as the strokes on the rattlesnake plant. Go to the garden if color combinations are in question.

I will never invent anything as imaginable, as impossibly beautiful, as what already exists in this world. I will never produce any painting as glorious as the paintings in nature. The best I can do is play. Look and marvel. And isn’t that a great relief?

read Kerri’s blogpost about RATTLESNAKE PLANT

eve © 2006 david robinson

Look At You Look At Me [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s taken me this long to discover the source of all cartoon characters: orchids. I’m not kidding. At a recent field trip to the Chicago Botanical Garden’s Orchid Exhibit, I was surrounded by brightly colored fantastic faces, playful and chuckling. “Look at this one!” Kerri exclaimed. “It’s the Imperial Margarine guy!” I thought it was a whacky Pope or funny Cardinal, but the idea was the same.

“The earth laughs in flowers.” Emerson’s quote was stenciled on the wall as we exited the exhibit. And the laughing flowers made me laugh. Truly. I felt like a little kid at Christmas. Surrounded by color and delight and whimsy, I found myself more than once pointing, “Look at this one! Oh My God!” And, I felt like the colorful faces were staring back at me, thrilled to tears by the odd looking human standing before them. I-look-at-you-look-at-me. “Look at that face!” they snickered.

The thought stopped me in my tracks and filled me with wonder. We personify everything, projecting our humanness into everything. The art of animation, the world of Disney, is rooted in our desire to project ourselves onto and into the world. Talking mice. Dancing candlesticks. Humpty Dumpty. Wise old trees. Wouldn’t it be lovely, and isn’t it hopeful, to think the world projects itself into us? I want the orchids to fill me with color and awe. To project themselves into me. I know the forests I walk through infuse me with quiet. I know Dogga pulls love from my deepest soul.

Participants. Relationship, rather than controllers. Dancers rather than dominators. Would we be so invested in killing each other for imagined supremacy if we allowed ourselves to laugh the laugh of the flowers? If we actually understood that nothing is forever, that our warmongering was at best delusional? That the single trait that makes us human is to turn and help someone in need? The very capacity that allows us to project ourselves into the orchids is the same capacity that makes it possible to stand in the shoes of the other. Empathy is a two-way street.

If the earth laughs in flowers, these days it certainly cries in humans. Yet, standing amidst the orchids, I looked at all the human faces, hundreds of people wide-eyed with wonder and alive with astonishment. The laughing orchids looking back at the astonished faces, open and vulnerable, and they were evoking those qualities from the crowd. Earth’s tears. So hopeful, these faces, drinking in each other’s beauty.

read Kerri’s blog post about FACES

See The Dance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“You can only push the truth down for so long, and then it bubbles back up.” ~ Cassandra Clare

“Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul.” ~ D.H. Lawrence

Last night we made a fire in the fire pit. We decided to have a pop-up dinner by the fire so we set up our table, lit candles, poured some wine, and brought our dinner out under the stars on a chilly October night. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so we looked at the stars. We wondered if the brightest lights were planets.

There are many, many works of art from a genre in the Middle Ages known as the Dance Macabre. Dance with death. The scary images were meant to remind people of life’s fragility, its passing nature. They were also meant to point out the obvious: we are all united in our final destination. No one is better or worse than any other in the grand scheme of things, in the Dance Macabre. In the Middle Ages, the allegory was meant to suggest it was best to aim your focus at the afterlife. Do good works as an investment in your future or go to the fiery place below.

Were I to paint a series of Dance Macabre images today, my intent would be the exact opposite: aim your eyes at this moment. There is nothing more precious or wonder-full than this moment. If there is a heaven, it is now. And, it will go unnoticed if the dance is not acknowledged. There is no sadder phrase on earth than, “Same-old-same-old.”

According to some cultures, I am now in sacred space. I’m seeing all things relative to my dad’s recent passing. Sitting by the fire, our dinner complete, we talked about his death and my inability lately to invest too much emotional energy in anything. Things that would have upset me a few months ago barely register. I’m watching the usual list of anxieties and worries drop off. Why would I give an ounce of my wonder to something so…small? Perspective is the gift of the dance macabre. Clarity of sight and intention comes with this kind of perspective.

We clinked our glasses, the cold night and the heat from the fire colliding around us under the stars. DogDog slept on the deck, a few feet away. We realized our moment. Fully. Magic was alive, bubbling everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about BUBBLES

See The Wonder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

What is this thing called ‘wonder’ and where does it go? Awe. Astonishment. Surprise. The stuff of sunrises and sunsets. The first. The last.

I am of the opinion, like most people I know, that wonder does not go away. We simply stop looking through eyes that see it. Been there, done that. Nothing new. The daily grind. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It’s too bad. It’s no way to live.

We moved our chairs to catch the sliver of sun. We sat, closed our eyes, bathed in the warmth, and sighed. Wonder need not be complicated. Tom Mck, his mind already slipping, forgetting why we came to the cemetery, heard the grieving husband across the way wail in pain. “Listen to the wind!” he said to me, eyes wide in amazement.

“We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep.” ~ William Shakespeare, The Tempest. We are such stuff. It is a very short window, a single moving moment, rounded with a sleep. The real question is: What moment in this brief life is NOT alive with wonder?

read Kerri’s blog post about WONDER

Meet The Saw [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As the magician saws the woman in half, he tells her that, “Magic is not an exact science.” It is among my favorite Flawed Cartoons.

“There’s nothing sadder than a forty year old production assistant,” she said, sipping her drink, looking across the room at a man she clearly thought was a loser. I was living in Los Angeles and was at a party with movers-and-shakers. The gathering also included a few of the people who carried the cables, loaded the trucks, moved the electrics – the lowest rung on the ladder. The runners. I swallowed hard. At the moment she said it, I was thinking the exact opposite. There is nothing more interesting than a forty year old production assistant. I wanted to be standing with the very man she considered a loser. He’d have stories to tell. Experiences to share. The movers-and-shakers bored me. Dulled by their dedication to security, thoroughly protected from the unknown or surprising experiences, they sneered at the people who’d actually lived. I found my way across the room and spent the rest of the evening sitting in the kitchen talking with a man who traveled the world.

Were I at the party today, she would look across the room at me and whisper, “Sad.”

Life is like magic. It is not an exact science. Ideals collapse. Dreams implode. Yet, the luckiest people I know are the few who have stepped out of their seats and volunteered to climb on to the stage. They’ve taken chances. Built wood buses or put their lifeblood into starting a theatre company or went boarding instead of dying in a cubicle. They’ve stepped beyond traditions and expectation. They’ve been cut in half, opened, challenged, surprised, disappointed, scared, triumphant, awed. They’ve learned. They’ve questioned their beliefs and perceptions. They’ve made titanic mistakes. They’ve stared down their demons. They’ve opted for curiosity rather than being right. They stepped off the edge. They followed, “What if…”

There’s no shortage of people who watch life from the safety of their seats. As Tom used to say, “They paint with a limited palette.” There are those lucky few who, if you see them at the party, most likely the people serving drinks, who’ve been cut in two and know from scary experience that there’s nothing more numbing or illusory than certainty. Follow them into the kitchen and ask about their lives. You’ll be amazed at the full spectrum of colors you find in them.

read Kerri’s blog post about SAWED IN HALF

flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson

Live A Sockdolager [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Word genius sends me a word everyday. Some I know. Most I do not. Yesterday, my word-of-the-day was sockdolager. Sockdolager is a word that, when typed, is unrecognizable to the vocabulary in my spellcheck and is adorned with a screaming-dotted-red-line meant to notify me that either I spelled the word incorrectly or it’s not a word at all. Language is a fickle companion.

In Seattle, when the rains clear, people are fond of saying, “The mountain is out.” Mount Rainier, hidden in the clouds, makes a grand – almost impossible – appearance when the weather clears. Where there was no mountain, suddenly a Titan appears. It is a sockdolager, an exceptional occurrence. A forceful blow. The first time I saw it I almost crashed my car.

Mount Sopris hit us with a similar wallop. We arrived in Carbondale “in weather.” A day later, making a run to Main Street to meet Kirsten, we rounded a corner and nearly crashed the truck. There was a mountain towering over us where, previously, there was none. Clouds swirled around the summit. The late afternoon light made it glow. Sockdolager! Sockdolager!

I very much appreciate that my snotty spellcheck does not recognize or appreciate my use of sockdolager. No word can adequately capture the experience of being hit by a mountain. “Awe” is a word. So is “amazement.” They fall short, too. Language can reach toward but never quite touch that which it hopes to describe.

The day after the wallop we took a stroll on the Rio Grande Trail. We intentionally walked away from Mount Sopris, knowing that, at some point, to get back to our airbnb, we’d need to turn around and walk toward it. Like Orpheus leading Eurydice, we tried not to turn and peek but the majesty was too much. We’d giggle and turn and gasp. “My god!” we whispered.

We go to the mountains to remind us, to refresh our eyes and hearts and minds. This life. An exceptional event. A forceful blow. Grander than words can describe. Sometimes the mountain is hidden. Sometimes it shows its face. Either way, it never ceases to surprise you, to take your breath away. Sockdolager.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAIN