Witness The Generosity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

You know the ritual is over when the sacrifice is made. Sometimes the sacrifice is literal, an offering of thanks to the greater powers. A life given for life received. It’s the elemental story cycle with gratitude as the final act.

Sometimes the sacrifice is unconscious and, therefore…unconscious. Unseen. Not felt.

In the weeks before the holiday, the delivery trucks were ubiquitous, zipping this way and that. The deliverers-of-packages worked overtime to ensure all good things arrived on time. We tracked the good people hauling our packages to remote destinations, a luxury of the modern world. As I stroll down my street this week I see, post-holiday, the garbage collectors are working overtime, mechanical arms groaning and methodical, clearing the mountain of debris, boxes, empty bottles (I contributed my share), wrapping paper and remnants of our ritual. Our offering of thanks to the greater powers leaves a mighty litter trail.

The day after Christmas, at the mouth of the lot where we park to hike our trail, the discarded trees were already stacking up. Kerri speculated that the people who enjoyed the trees must certainly be going on travels. Why else would they discard their trees so fast? “Or,” she speculated, “maybe they’ve had them up since the first of November. Maybe they are ready to move on.”

The sacrifice is too easy. It’s piled on the curb. It’s hauled away.

Despite how this reads, it is more meditation than criticism. This holiday season was one of my favorite precisely because we could take nothing for granted. 2020 was brutal for us as it was for many. With our patterns blown to bits, with our security nowhere to be found, our community fragmenting, with no easy choices, we were – and are – conscious of every single step. We are grateful for every moment of heat in the house, for every kindness that has come our way, for every small kindness we’ve been able to offer. We imbue our meals with a deep thankfulness that we did not a scant one year ago.

Why is it that gratitude is so easy when everything else is hard – and why is gratitude merely lip-service when everything is easy? It is, I suspect, why our congress can’t move to help a struggling populace; they have it too easy to identify with the people they represent. We are too easily taken to the curb, to readily swept away.

It has been my role in this lifetime to walk the margins and look inward at the mechanics of my community. To see. It’s the role of the artist to see the patterns, the shapes and colors of their culture and reflect them back, to make conscious what is too easily ignored. To bring the heart, the eye and the mind to the ugly as well as the beautiful.

By the backdoor of our house are bags we’re filling with crackers and peanut butter, socks and sweatshirts. The bags are for the army of people appearing on our streets with signs that read “Homeless” or “Hungry.” It’s not that I am a fan of hard times, I am not, but I’m grateful for what these times are evoking in me – in us. It’s waking us up, helping us reach to others rather than push them away. It’s moving us to see and wildly appreciate our simple abundance.

In the early days of this new year, with the glitter all but swept up, the champagne bottles hauled away, I am moved to tears at the acts of generosity I’m experiencing and also seeing pop up all around me. The holiday is over, the sacrifices made, but the generosity-of-spirit continues. It’s rising in hard times. It’s there. It’s everywhere, if you care to see it.

read Kerri’s blog post about DISCARDS

Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

Power Up! [on DR Thursday]

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I was going to write about something else but given the news-of-the-day this seems more pressing. Simply this: I believe in the power of imagination. Why? I’m glad you asked!

It takes imagination to lead. A lack of imagination is the only requirement to blame or bully.

It takes imagination to unite people. No imagination is necessary to divide people. Division is a well-worn tool of the fearmonger and the gaslighter. For instance, the weakest chimpanzee will bang pots and make enough noise that they might be deemed leader for a day.  On day two, however, the community learns the difference between empty noise and actual capacity.

It takes no imagination to tear things down. Imagination is essential to build, to create, to change.

Imagination is always a step toward something true and beautiful. Imagine it! Can you? Imagination always reveals. The opposite of imagination, namely deception, deflection, and lie are the smoke that fills the void of absent imagination.  Deceit is meant to conceal the false promise, a step away from what is honest and true.

And so, in this era of pandemic, climate change, social change, and economic uncertainty, division and bluster will only take us deeper into the wasteland. The opportunities for a better world are knocking at our door. More than ever, this world needs your good imagination. It needs our good imagination.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD IMAGINATION

 

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visit society6.com for Chicken Marsala products [mugs and pillows and wall art and other stuff]. Kerri designed a million of them when Chicken was running around our house.

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016-17 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Learn to Look [on KS Friday]

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“At the heart of beauty must be a huge care and affection for creation, for nowhere is beauty an accidental presence.” John O’Dononue, Beauty, The Invisible Embrace

I read yesterday in my Brain Pickings that Georgia O’Keeffe believed her close-up paintings were “a magnifying lens for paying attention.” I read and appreciated this phrase: Painting these close-ups was a way of learning to look, a way of removing the blinders with which we gallop through the world, slowing down, shedding our notions and concepts of things, and taking things in as they really are.

It is the astonishing miracle of a human being: we can choose to see or choose to not see. Also, we can choose what we see or we can choose to deny what is right in front of us. In any case, seeing is predicated on slowing down, on taking the time to “shed our notions and concepts of things.”

Seeing is an intentional act or perhaps it is a creation-in-the-moment – which implies it is an intentional relationship. In this way, as I understand it, seeing the beauty of this life is a decision, it is a lens. It is a dance.

I’ve never been in a hot-air balloon. Kerri had the experience once, it is the source of this composition. Hovering in a basket above the earth, moving with the wind, very few controls. It was, I imagine, an exercise of giving over, of letting go. I think seeing is like the experience she describes of hanging in the basket of a hot-air balloon. All concepts of hurry-up or getting-things-done drop away. Hard time dissolves. There is nowhere else to be. And, in that space, beauty makes known her presence. She opens your eyes.

 

PART OF THE WIND is on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PART OF THE WIND

 

 

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part of the wind/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

  blanket of blue sky ©️ 2004 david robinson

Treat The Origin [on KS Friday]

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Yaki called. He wants to dust off our Prometheus project and give it another whirl. The Creatures Of Prometheus is one of Beethoven’s early works, a ballet that is nigh-on impossible for a contemporary ballet company to afford. Besides a symphony, it requires  scores of dancers. Twelve years ago, Yaki asked if I would write and perform a narrative – a storytelling- that would weave together the movements. It lives among my all-time favorite collaborations. Yesterday he asked, “Can we update it? Can we make it relevant with what’s happening in the world today?’

My first thought: it’s already relevant! It is a creation story. Prometheus is given the task of creating human beings, a man and a woman. Although he is instructed to make them dull and crude, he creates them to be beautiful, to see and appreciate their connection to the earth from which they were made. Angered by his disobedience, Zeus punishes Prometheus by corrupting the new creatures; he fills them with fear and division. He twists their fear into a lust for war. He makes them dull and crude. Now, Prometheus waits for them to remember and recover their original sight, to remember their capacity for pure seeing, fearless living. To drop their madness and return to their senses.

My second thought: people are notoriously incapable of grasping metaphor. It’s the Zeus thing in practice. The update has to be a direct statement. It must leave no doubt and puncture the commitment to dullness. “Gear down!” as Kerri constantly reminds me.

“How can Prometheus speak to Black Lives Matter?” he asked. We are both artists in the later stage of our career.  Yaki added, “I want my work – my art to really speak to what’s happening today. I want it to help.”

I’ve been sitting in his questions since we talked yesterday. We are standing again at a moment in time when change is possible. We are also standing at the moment when the system, a living thing, a wizard of recreation, will fight to maintain itself. Consider: we had this moment with the abolition of slavery and the system responded with Jim Crow. Segregation. Institutional racism. We had the moment again with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the system responded with a draconian judicial/policing/incarceration apparatus, disproportionate tax structures…segregation by legislation (again and again and again).

In our current moment, in this latest moment, how can we make the necessary changes that are not merely the existing system putting a new face on a 400 year old mechanism? Real change requires steps in unknown directions [the rule: if you know where you are going you are merely re-creating what already exists]. How can Prometheus speak to that?

We focus on behavior when we need to stare at the underlying structures. Behavior, as Robert Fritz reminds us, always follows the path of least resistance – the sub-structure determines the path of behavior.

In the story, Prometheus is in it for the long haul. He knows his creatures are made for beauty and will inevitably see beyond their made-up fear and return to their source. They will one day stop listening to the fear mongers and race baiters. They will wake up and recognize that they are not made to be dull and crude and divisive. In fact, quite the opposite. They were made to appreciate and participate in the creation of beauty and betterment. Nature.

Prometheus is in no hurry. He waits for his creatures to remember. He plays the long story. What will that look like?

 

 

IT’S A LONG STORY is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S A LONG STORY

 

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it’s a long story/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

Let The Pieces Fall [on KS Friday]

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“It is the paradox of spiritual growth that through such bleak midwinter journeys we eventually come through a hidden door into a bright field of springtime that we could never have discovered otherwise. This is the heart of the mystical. It is not about building protectionist armour of prayer and religion; it is, rather, the courage for absolute divestment. In the sheer vulnerability of Nothingness everything becomes possible in a new way, but there is an immense temptation to flee back to the shelter of old complacency. Now could be the most important moment in life to steel our courage and enter the risk of change.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

Parcival returned to the place in the deep woods where he’d stripped off his armor. Was it yesterday? A year ago? Two? He couldn’t remember. While he searched for the place he remembered with satisfaction the battles he’d waged, the ogres he’d defeated. The mission he’d served. He longed to once again inhabit that simple clarity, that single focus.

His old armor was not hard to find but it looked nothing like he remembered it. No longer shiny and hard, it was brittle with rust and covered in moss and vines. Nature was reclaiming it. Still, he wanted to put it back on. He wanted to forget the reasons he took it off in the first place. The loneliness. The fear. Forever fighting the lost cause, the imagined foe. He wanted to remember the good and ignore completely the painful parts of the story.  He could go back! He could be the great knight once again.

His vision crumbled like his armor when he attempted to pick it up. Going back was a fantasy. Retreating back in time, donning again his old armor,  was perhaps the final ogre to fight. Like all of the other ogres, it, too, was an illusion. He let the rusty pieces fall back to the forest floor.

Now, allowing the full force of his vulnerability, the utter absence of role or definition, he no longer yearned for the tight closure of what was, but wholly surrendered to the expansive, the infinite and uncontrollable new.

LONGING on the album AS IT IS is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LONGING

 

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longing/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

FaceTheRain

Consider Levitation [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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And what does this mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Certainly this was not a naturally occurring event! No pear could possibly achieve so grand a seat without some form of assistance. Or, could it?

Levitation is a possibility but it is doubtful that this pear – or any pear, for that matter – is capable of the necessary powers of concentration required to raise itself to wine bottle heights. And, if levitation is the answer, we are still left with the primary question: what does it mean?

The pear might answer, as George Mallory answered when asked why he might want to place himself atop Mt. Everest, “Because it is there.” Meaning making does not require depth but it does necessitate curiosity. “Because I can” really means “because I want to.” The grass is always greener. Why step on the moon? Why sail to the edge of the world? Why paint a painting or compose a song? Something calls.

Because it feels good. Because it is beautiful in my eyes. Because I might learn something about myself and, therefore, the world in which I create/inhabit. Most explorations are internal journeys even if they look like mountain ascents. Soul searching leads to more experiences with soul. The best questions lead to bigger questions, like this one (last week’s winner for best question): Does the soul live in the body or does the body live within the soul?

It seems like a good time to borrow a title from Joseph Campbell: what exactly are The Inner Reaches Of Outer Space?  What are the outer reaches of inner yearning?

Does this pear have yearnings? What does it mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Believe me, I’ve asked the pear and it remains silent on the subject. Wise pear! It knows I must make my own meaning and hopes that I will never cease asking my questions and, above all, never delude myself into thinking I have even the slightest bit of an answer.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the PEAR & THE BOTTLE

 

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Ask, “What Now?” [on DR Thursday]

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“Although each of us is fashioned in careful incompletion, we were created to long for each other. The secret of our completion can only be found in the other. Huge differences may separate us, yet they are exactly what draw us to each other. It is as though forged together we form one presence, for each of us has half of a language that the other seeks.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

My favorite definition of “story” comes from Robert Olen Butler: a story happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. It is, of course, also a great definition of the experience of being alive. In our “careful incompletion” we yearn for other things and other places, other ideas of ourselves. And, so, we set sail. We seek.

Without yearning there would be no story. Without obstacles there would be no story.

Like you, I have spent my time on the kitchen floor, Kerri’s code-phrase for weeping.  When my obstacle was insurmountable, when my yearning required leaving. Loss. Weeping invited surrender. Surrender required weeping. Letting go.

And, after the weeping, emptied of what was, I, like you, stood, took a deep breath and asked myself, “What now?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WEEPING MAN

 

 

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weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson

See Anew [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It seems that everything during the pandemic is a study of circumstance-driven-change. For instance, I am a painter of people. I’ve never been interested in still life studies. Even in school, I cringed at the bowls of fruit placed before us by the instructor. Shape, shade, blah-blah-blah. Give me figure drawing any day! Suddenly, to my great surprise, I am photographing big bowls of fruit. They are gorgeous. I’m thinking about a painting featuring fruit.  What’s happening to me?

The devil is in the pandemic detail. We used to go to the store everyday. We used to buy what we needed for the next 24-48 hours. There were no big piles of fruit, no explosions of color in the fruit bowl or waves of color rolling across the counter. Now, in the time of pandemic, we stock up. We are – like you – buying massive amounts of bananas and oranges and apples and pears. They are, to an artist’s eye, when assembled, simply beautiful. They are, I suspect to an accountant’s eye, also beautiful, but my thoughts stray beyond merely eating.

Beautiful.

We are also in a fit of food experimentation. To delay our need to go into the wild COVID world and shop, we comb the empty larder, asking “What do we have? What can we make with what we have?” We throw our random ingredient list into the Google pool and voila! Yummy options emerge. Bacon wrapped pears. Oh. My. God. It never would have occurred to my bear-brain to wrap a pear in bacon. I savored it. I moaned. My eyes rolled back in my head.

Beautiful. Delicious.

When you study change processes, you bumble across something akin to a rule. It goes like this: if you know where you are going, then it is not really change; it is controlled reordering of what already exists. It may look new but is really the same old wolf in new sheep’s clothing.

Change is what happens when you step into unknown and strange lands, when all of the old points-of-orientation are gone. Only then will you step into something new and surprising. Only then will you see without the old dulling filter. For me, apparently, change looks like a big bowl of beautiful fruit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BACON WRAPPED PEARS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Become Whole [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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When Barney came to live in our backyard, he’d been long forgotten in the dank dark basement boiler room. His soundboard was shot. He was headed for the junkyard when Kerri intervened and asked if Barney might come live out his days with us. It has been five years since Barney arrived in the junk man’s pick up truck. He has aged beautifully.

The first day in his new home Barney spoke when Kerri played his keys. He let go of his voice one key at a time. Within a week he was silent, no longer what he once was but not yet sure of what he was becoming.

We adorned him with flowers in pots for a few summer seasons. Certainly, he was content to support the flowers – like a crossword puzzle, it was something to do – but it never rose to the level of purpose. We realized he was doing it for us so when the third season arrived we let go our desire to give him meaning. He heaved a sigh at our revelation, and, at last, purpose-free, he enjoyed the sun for no other reason than it felt good. That season, wild geraniums grew around his baseboard and embraced him, the chipmunks used him as their hiding spot. The little critters made him laugh as they stood on his blistering lid and taunted the rowdy dog.

Initially, we tried to slow his inevitable peel, slathering him with marine oil, but his skin wrinkled and bubbled anyway. The white veneer of his keys was the first to go. We realized that Barney was becoming another kind of beautiful. He was, as Rilke wrote, living his way into the answer to all of his questions.

Jen and Brad suggested in our stay-at-home-seclusion that we exchange images of spring. I stepped onto the back deck and recorded the birds singing. And then I saw the wild geraniums were showing up and gathering around Barney. He was absolutely gorgeous in the morning light, sculptural and at peace. I’d just read something Thomas Merton wrote and it perfectly described Barney on this early spring morning: There is in all visible things…a hidden wholeness.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BARNEY IN SPRING

 

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