Locate The Center [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The very center of your heart is where life begins. The most beautiful place on earth.” ~ Rumi

What, exactly, is the heart of the matter?

If you listen, what does your heart tell you?

What does it mean to “Follow your heart”?

Heart land? Heart song?

This weekend the question was asked, “Do you think there is an absolute truth?” I amused myself thinking of the oxymoron in the terms ‘absolute’ and ‘truth’. I am almost certain – but not absolute – that the question was really about the location of the center of heart. Is there a heart center? Where is the center of the universe? Here. And everywhere else.

Kerri pitched the small piece of chain onto the counter, saying, “This goes in the special box.” It landed in the shape of a heart.

“Hi, Pa!” I thought, and we laughed.

We wear pull chain as bracelets around our left wrists; the original pieces came from her father’s workbench. They are connective tissue to him and to each other. Heart chain. They periodically break so we are many generations from the original. The current chain is symbolic. This heart-piece was from my most recent chain break.

“What are the odds?” she asked.

Yes, indeed. What are the odds that a piece of pull-chain could so quickly bring us to the heart of the matter?

read Kerri’s blogpost about HEART

Step In [on DR Thursday]

I’ve read that the purpose of the gorgeous soaring cathedrals, built in the middle ages over many lifetimes, in the age before power tools and hydraulic lifts, was to transport the worshipper from the harsh realities of their everyday lives. To give them a small glimpse into their notion of heaven. A sanctuary. A taste of peace.

We made it a point to stop. The road home from Chicago runs past the small village square with the gazebo awash in the light of a tree, the brilliant green and blue spheres beckoning. It was late at night and very cold but we had to stop. We wandered, breaking the cold silence with crunchy footfall and took photographs. For a few moments time stopped. Rather than being transported from our lives, we stepped fully into our moment. We entered our present-cathedral, alive with many moons, and absorbed its quiet peace.

Open to all the stars in the universe, this sanctuary filled us with beauty and hope.

That night, all we needed to do to fill ourselves with hope was make it a point to stop. To step out of our warm car and step into the cold night. No stonemasons needed. No toil-over-lifetimes. Just a simple decision. Stop. Open the door. Step in.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SQUARE

face the rain © 2019 david robinson

joy!/ joy! a christmas album © 1998 kerri sherwood

See The Unique [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Just for kicks I Googled “The secret life of snowflakes.” You’ll not be surprised to learn that there is a book by a scientist, Kenneth George Libbrecht, entitled…The Secret Life of a Snowflake. I think I must read it. Five stars. It traces the journey of snowflakes, which means it’s a story. And, it’s aimed at readers aged 6-12 so it’s right in my current-mindset-wheelhouse.

If you catch me reading The Secret Life of a Snowflake and ask me why-on-earth I’m reading a children’s book about snowflakes written by a snowflake scientist I’ll tell you with a straight face that I’m doing research. Kerri has a raindrop story that I want to illustrate – and will someday when she’s bold enough to share the full manuscript. It’s hidden somewhere in her studio and I know enough not to go poking around in other people’s studios. Snowflakes are raindrops in crystal clothing.

Each snowflake is unique. I’ve heard that tidbit of truth so many times that it’s become cliché. As I stare out my window at the accumulating snow, the full impact of the cliché hits me: my yard is stacking up with crystal uniqueness. This is no ordinary moment. These brilliant little forms falling from the sky and joining together to blanket my world will never pass this way again. Suddenly my mind is awash with a tune by Seals and Crofts.

This time of year we have snowflakes cleverly placed around the house. They are not real; you can tell because they are identical. And, they don’t melt. And, they are enormous compared to the real deal stacking up just outside on the lawn. They make us smile.

If you are like me you’ll find yourself suddenly in awe of human beings. We create plastic snowflakes to decorate our warm houses while the real-deal falls just outside our doors. Both the real and the symbolic give us pause. Just like the special adorned tree in our living room, e.e., we want to bring nature in-the-house for our celebration of renewal. Magical moments abound, snowflake by beautiful snowflake.

[I love Kerri’s Silent Night. Hear the sound of snowflakes…]

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora...or all over the web…]

read Kerri’s blogpost about SNOWFLAKES

Play [on DR Thursday]

“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.” ~ Rainier Maria Rilke

The poet would have us understand this: our dragons are waiting to see us. They do not transform once we are beautiful and brave. Dragons do not suddenly appear as princesses. No, we transform. What we see changes. Through beautiful and brave eyes, princesses no longer appear as dragons.

Waiting to be seen. Waiting to see. I think Rilke knows that we are all beautiful and brave but are convinced otherwise. So, we hide. Or pretend. We don armor. The view from inside a tank is not as clear or expansive as the view from the outside. The poet would have us feel safe enough to open the hatch and step outside. It is there, in the expansive outside, that dragons facades fall away revealing princesses.

Another poet, Rumi, wrote, “Live as if everything is rigged in your favor.” Even before you see them as princesses, know that the dragons are on your team. That’s why they are waiting to see us as we are. Knowing the game is rigged in our favor is the surest path to seeing them as they are.

We decided to take a day away from the grindstone. We lifted our noses from the stone and took a drive to a small town. There was a specific shop in the tiny town that we wanted to visit. We drove back roads and successfully lost all sense of time and direction.

Instead of the warm day we’d hoped for, it was cold and rainy. Our fingertips ached and the ends of our noses were crimson so rather than wander the streets as we planned, we spent our time inside, imagining outrageous purchases and talking with shopkeepers. In those shops, laughing with those warm-hearted-people, our dragons fell from our sight.

We remembered: beautiful and brave are qualities of playfulness. To be seen, to see the dragons transform, play. The poet would have us play! Why wait?

The town was alive with sparkling light. Colorful picnic tables, undaunted by the rain, waited patiently for warmer times. We played and everything tilted in our favor.

read Kerri’s blogpost about COLORFUL TABLES

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

a dragon’s tale illustration © david robinson

waiting/joy! a christmas album © 1998 kerri sherwood

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

Look Both Ways [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.” ~ Ray Bradbury

This is, perhaps, a quote sandwich.

Standing at the edge of the lake at sunset, the breezes calm, the quiet stills the water. Who hasn’t felt the beautiful impermanence, the last rays of sun on their face? The truth of life captured in a single moment. It is passing. Precious. Impossible.

Climbing back up the stairs, joining the group on the deck. Red wine. The conversation turns to the news: the state of the world. Politics.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” ~ Albert Einstein.

We are, after all, capable of the impossible. Full spectrum impossibility. We write symphonies that open hearts. We tell stories that touch the soul. We witness sunsets and desire for a better world for our children. We create telescopes to help us see deeper and deeper into space. To reach to alien worlds. All the while we divide. We lie and propagandize to feed false fire. We plant our heads deeply into the sand while we soil our nest. We reduce the impossible miracle to a book of man-made rules. Worshipping money and pretending otherwise.

Both/And. Impossibly capable. Impossibly inept. Impossibly hopeful and impossibly pessimistic.

We stand at the water’s edge.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE LAKE

Tally [on KS Friday]

“It’s a haiku day,” I said, feeling empty of anything useful to write. She’s already rapidly clicking away on her keyboard.

The sunflower grows/More beautiful over time/Green vine seeks wisdom.

Counting syllables/ on my fingers, I tally/the word “beautiful.”

Three or four? I ask/She’s deep in thought, can’t hear me/Syllables confound.

Beautiful is three!/”My haiku, my choice,” I quip/Who invents these rules?

Green vine seeks wisdom/Rust has seen many seasons/Green seeks. Rust stands still.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about SUNFLOWER

silent days/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

Have A Constitutional [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Have you not noticed that love is silence? It may be while holding the hand of another, or looking lovingly at a child, or taking in the beauty of an evening. Love has no past or future, and so it is with this extraordinary state of silence.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

As the evening cools the heat of the day, we look at each other, no words need be said, stand, hold hands and walk out the gate. In another era, they called this kind of evening stroll a “constitutional.” Walking at days end is good for your constitution, your health.

I’ve learned it’s good for my mental health. All of the energy swirling around inside my brain channels down and out through my feet. Fifteen minutes into our stroll, I take a deep breath. I sigh. The last swirl spirals out. With a clear mind, I relax. I squeeze Kerri’s hand. The beauty of the evening flows in. I can see beyond what I think.

We walk a loop through the neighborhood that winds toward the shore, past the beach house where we held our wedding reception. We follow the path through the park, emerging onto First Avenue along the row of houses overlooking the lake, by Jim and Linda’s old house. Echos of laughter. Good times gone by.

Sometimes we talk. Sometimes not.

The other night, as we strolled in silence, I smiled at how much of my life I spent trying to “get somewhere.” Trying to “achieve” or “obtain” some imagined thing. Always separate from my moment. It made my constitutional that much sweeter, knowing I had no where else I wanted to be. No imagined place, racing around my mind, pulling me from the lapping water, the cooling evening air, my wife’s hand, the sound of our slow walking.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EVENING

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

Embody The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

Everything in the Japanese Garden is symbolic, intentional. Pine trees represent longevity. Rocks, I’ve learned, represent the bones of the earth. They are as necessary in the design as are the “ephemeral blooms of the iris, rhododendron, and plum.” The symbol is not complete without both.

“The ephemeral existence of human life and the timelessness of nature.” Balance.

Entering the small yard of the Shoin House at the Chicago Botanical Garden is instantly calming for me. The small house is designed to “merge the outdoors with the indoors.” It is closed to the public but always beckons. I want to sit in the alcoves and write. Or do nothing at all. In the garden, I am instantly “connected.”

“Connectivity” is a word that has moved to the center of the work that I am currently doing. Amidst our ubiquitous capacity to share (Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok…email, chat, tweet, slack, text…) we are less and less connected. As Neil Postman wrote, we have made the irrelevant relevant and the relevant irrelevant. We share but do not connect. Shared information is not – and never will be – shared meaning.

Symbols empty of meaning when a community ceases to understand, honor, tend or acknowledge the significance of the symbol. And, symbols are the glue of a community. They are the physical, tangible location of an ideal. Disconnect from the symbol and the house falls apart.

I think that is why I am drawn to the Japanese Garden. There, beauty is intentional. The symbols are so well tended, so intentional, that one need not know the specific meanings to enter the symbol.

And, that’s the point. Connectivity happens when people, together, embody their symbols. They enter them. They become embodiments of their symbol(s).

It is the artist’s job to bring people into a shared moment. To give them access to a unified experience. To help them transcend the splinter symbols that divide – and see them for what they are. To help people step back and take a good look at what they, together, are creating. A garden? A desert? Balance? Imbalance?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ROCKWAY

prayer of opposites © 2006 david robinson