Make A Choice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

If you still require a marker for where we’ve come in these past four years, you need only consider this: The International Crisis Group – “an organization that frequently reports on instability in failing states and war zones – warn that a bitterly polarized America faces ‘unfamiliar danger’ in these coming days.”

Instability in a failing state. War zone.

Once upon a time we were so solid in our commitment to the democratic process that the world asked us to send representatives to monitor elections in failing states. The Carter Center alone has observed elections in 39 countries in an effort to support and strengthen democracy around the world.

Once upon a time the peaceful transfer of power honoring the vote of-and-by the people was assumed. It was the epicenter of our stability. A two party system that provides for creative tension and lively debate as it wrestles its way into a more perfect union never, before now, questioned the sacred center, the magic glue of its success: the peaceful transfer of power. It gave us the authority to promote democracy, attend to human rights, and monitor elections in other nations.

And now? The world issues a warning to us. About us. The state of the United States is possibly unstable. Possibly failing.

It’s also possibly growing, evolving. Significant change is often preceded by a challenge to ideals, a stress test of boundaries. Order collapses into chaos and out of chaos, new order arises. A butterfly emerges from caterpillar mush.

In this election the American experiment could very well collapse on itself. It could also rise from the dis-ease of the past four years stronger with a better sense of what needs attention in our walk toward the promise. And, as we stand at this crossroads, the good news is that the leadership does not decide the path we take. We do.

We are the people who choose our leaders. They lead in service to us. We can join the ranks of failing states and eat ourselves like a cancer. Or, we can sober up and guard our tradition. Disagreement is the energy that drives us forward to vote; the peaceful transfer of power acknowledges that, in our hearty discord, we are servants to a higher ideal, a fluid dynamic relationship moving toward a more perfect union.

It’s our choice.

read Kerri’s blog post about VOTE

Take Stock [on KS Friday]

The hurricane swirls all around us. The old familiar is pulled off its foundation and is reduced to dust. People look to the sky for an explanation.

The sky is silent or has furloughed the explanation department.

Standing in the wreckage we look to each other for solace and advice. Know your end game. Don’t dig in your heels. Choose the hill you want to die on. Hunker down. Speak up. Be patient. Give voice to your thoughts. Don’t let them run all over you. Survive. Hold your cards close to your vest. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Live to fight another day.

So many points of view. So many notes to compare. It happened to me once. This is what you need to do. Take my advice. Don’t do what I did. Let me know what I can do. Take a breather. Here’s what I learned.

So much encouragement. Find a need and fill it. Do nothing for awhile. Get going. Dust yourself off. Sit still. Listen for guidance. Try something new! Go back to basics. Still your mind. Don’t panic. Don’t take it personally. Shoot many arrows. You’ve got this. Opportunities abound. Maybe it’s time to let go.

The hurricane swirls. The pod looses its seeds. The wind carries the tiny pips to who-knows-where. Nature sows herself. So what happens next?

read Kerri’s blog post on TAKING STOCK

TAKING STOCK on the album RIGHT NOW is available on iTunes

taking stock/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Listen To The Crows [on DR Thursday]

“Sculpture,” they said. “We think you need to do some sculpture.” They were pushing me to get out of my painter-comfort-zone. It was our agreement as an artist collective: help each other grow. Our group shows were driven by a clear intention. Challenge the art-wheels to exit the art-rut.

All of my life I’ve had a special relationship with birds. Owls show up at auspicious moments. Hawks visit when I need to step back and take the long view. The surprise turkey on our roof, harbinger of good things to come. At the time of my sculpture challenge, I was, each and every day, assaulted by crows.

I read that crows have facial recognition so I told myself the daily assault was a case of mistaken identity. I’d never done harm to a crow. Yet, everyday during my walk, I was dive-bombed. Once, a crow was so relentless that I took refuge in a coffeehouse.

The worst was the day, lost in thought as I approached the door to my studio, at the last moment, I saw a baby crow perched on the door step. I heard them before I saw them. An entire murder of crows came to the baby’s defense. I leapt over the baby and into the studio. They pounded the door and pecked at the windows. They circled my studio for hours. Angry cawing. It was a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock.

Crows seemed like the obvious subject matter for my first stab at sculpture.

I decided to use found objects: wood, wire hangers, newspaper, string, a plastic clamp. India ink and glue.

Creating my sculptures became something of a meditation. As I bent the wire and glued the paper it occurred to me that perhaps the crows weren’t confusing me with someone else. Perhaps their attacks were meant for me. Perhaps I needed to listen. In some traditions, crows are the keeper of sacred law. They are heralds of consciousness change, shape-shifting. They thump you on the head when you need to wake up, when you are not living in alignment with your best interests. That was certainly true of me at the time. The crows were literally hitting me on the head.

I loved making my sculptures. I love what they brought me to understand. My artist-friends were more right than they knew; I needed to do some sculpture. I needed to exit my rut and step into a scary void and, in that way, invite new seeing, new forms, and finally, a new way of being.

read Kerri’s blog post about CROW

crow ©️ 2010 david robinson

Take It In [on KS Friday]

The morning air was cool and crisp. When I let Dogga out I stood by the back door and breathed in the hint of fall.

I laughed as I lingered by the back door because I had the revelation. It’s the revelation I have every year, the revelation that signals not only the change in season but a truth I wish I could hold onto throughout the year. It’s simple: life is a circle, not a line.

It’s useful, when so much of our unease is about “getting there,” about being some place other than where we are, to realize that it is not a line we walk, but a loop. Hurrying to “get there” when looping is nonsensical. Life as a cycle is much more amenable to presence-in-the-moment. It cracks the hard bark of desire and allows space for insight, gratitude, and appreciation.

Yesterday I read that this year, 2020, has been a decade long. I reminded myself, standing at the back door awash in my yearly revelation, not to wish a moment of my life away. To stand in it – all of it. This is certainly a time of disruption and the fatigue that comes with loss of balance and the comforts of the known. This IS the experience. This is life. This is what change feels like. Pattern disruption is meant to be a slap into awareness.

And, as it turns out, for me, that hint of fall in the air comes as a gentle seasonal slap. Slow down. Do not rush to get through it. This is precious life – all of it – no matter the circumstance. As Chris wrote months ago, “So, this is what it feels like to be in a pandemic.” Yes. This is what if feels like. We are in it.

It is the call of Kerri’s Millneck Fall. Stand still. Take it in.

Dogga races with great zest around the yard, protecting us from marauding squirrels. The frogs in the pond sound out, morning roll call. The smell of coffee pulls me to the kitchen. There will be plenty of time as we cycle around to make meaning of these days.

Millneck Fall on the album Blueprint For My Soul is available in iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about MILLNECK FALLS

millneck fall/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Embrace The Mush [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We walk almost everyday. We always have. We walk to clear our minds or to stir our creative conversations. Since we work together, we sometimes call our walks “meetings.” Neither one of us is good at sitting.

Lately, we walk as an escape or a pressure release. Between job losses and broken wrists and pandemic fears and aging bodies and titanic leadership failures and civil unrest and financial collapse and missing-family-because-it feels-unsafe-to-travel…there’s very little quiet mind space. We hit the trail and have to remind ourselves to slow down. Be in it, not get through it.

It’s a life reminder: be in it. All of it.

We walked across the busy highway to the trailhead and a butterfly circled Kerri and landed at her feet. She’s been having many butterfly encounters lately. They circle her. They fly with her, crisscrossing her path. This butterfly stopped her motion completely. It snapped her into the present moment. She pulled out her camera and the butterfly hopped. She followed and the butterfly hopped again. It seemed to be leading her. It wanted her to follow. Another hop.

While watching the chase I couldn’t help myself from thinking of the symbolism. A butterfly, the universal symbol of change and transformation, leading Kerri on a chase. Perfect!

Our world is changing.

The process of becoming a butterfly requires the caterpillar to cocoon and then dissolve into mush before reforming, taking on the new shape. There’s no way to rush through the mush phase. There’s no way to rush into a thing with wings. In fact, the arduous process of busting out of the cocoon is necessary. It takes time for the wings to dry and the struggle to get free of the safe house provides the drying time. That, and the what-the-heck-are-these wings-doing-on-my-body phase of new recognition. Fear of the first step affords a few more moments of structural prep.

Going to mush takes time. Re-forming takes time.

No one willingly goes to mush. People famously grouse about changing but avoid change at all cost. I imagine that if the caterpillar had any idea of what was about to happen, it would yammer on and on about its dream of flying but would run screaming from the very idea of cocooning.

COVID has us cocooning. We are going to mush. I can only hope my country is also going to mush. A caterpillar that attempts to ward off the necessary transformation distorts and does not live long. A caterpillar that attempts to control its change process is delusional. It will rush and step off the limb before its wings are ready. Another route to disaster.

We are going to mush. Losing the known form is not easy. Living in uncertainty is uncomfortable. That’s the point. Discomfort heralds change. It opens new paths of thinking and possibilities for experience.

Watching Kerri hop after her hopping butterfly, I found myself laughing. This is what mush feels like. I’ve been here before. There will be another side, a breaking out, a fearful flapping of wings. A timely leap and a discovery. Butterflies are also symbolic reminders to step lightly and with grace in times of change. There’s nothing to be done but take nice walks, breathe a bit slower and hop after photo-shy butterflies.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the BUTTERFLY

 

 

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greet the world ©️ 2011 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

 

treehole website box copy

 

 

 

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

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

Become More [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.” ~ Heraclitus

It’s funny how the smallest thing can set a mind off in a different direction entirely. For instance, it seems the entire nation is asking “What now?” Some are asking the question filled with hope. Some are asking it filled with fear. I had some thoughts to share about what now and before I began to write, I checked my email. There was a note from my mother.

She found him this morning standing on the patio weeping. He couldn’t see the water coming from the sprinkler. He wanted to help her take care of the yard but simply could not see. My father has the double challenge of going blind while also slipping into dementia. He’s pretty far along in both. She wrote that “she is amazed that he is not perpetually angry.” Instead of being angry, he is unbearably kind. He just wants to help. He cries, not because he cannot see, he cries because he cannot see the water. He can’t remember what to do. He cannot help and, somewhere in his increasing darkness, he knows my mother needs his help .

Kerri believes that people don’t change over time, they simply become more of who they’ve been all along. Age reveals our character. I can only hope, as I age, that the character revealed as my control drops away, is as beautiful as my father’s. He is kind. He is kind. He is kind. Each day he steps further into the darkness and he is kind.

What now?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHAT NOW?

 

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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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Let It Spin [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The answer to “Who Am I?” is mostly a matter of perspective [or concoction, depending upon your perspective ;-)]. As much as we might want it to be, who-am-I is not a fixed state of affairs. Thankfully, we are not as narrowly defined as we want to believe.

We constellate together some identity-fixed points (son, father, banker, artist, gardener…) that give general shape to the who-am-I inquiry.  Mix in a few subsets: competitive, passive, rich, poor, successful, homeless, handy, all-thumbs… and there’s some nice variation giving color to the primary fixed points.

For some real fun, factor in the changes of identity that happen over the course of a lifetime. Who did you understand yourself to be at 10? At 20? At 30? Dear friends just became grandparents; their entire universe is spinning. Who are they now?

I have had moments of triumph that turned to dust in my mouth. What looked like fulfillment was, in fact, an empty sack. Once, thinking I was looking good, I walked headlong into a glass door. Instant fool. Identity is much more fluid than fixed.

In the Buddhist tradition there is a “Big Dipper” exercise. From our perspective on the earth, there is a constellation of stars that form a big dipper in the sky. But, travel toward that constellation, the image of ‘big dipper’ starts to warp and then falls apart altogether. The position of the stars does not change. Our perspective does. The constellation is nothing more than an illusion. Mostly, my constellation of fixed identity points is nothing more than an illusion.

These days I’m thinking much about my illusion and attachment to my fixed points. My move to Wisconsin came with career death and I spent more than a few years grasping for the lost stars in my constellation. New stars appeared. I became a husband. I have two ‘given’ children. My beard has become grey. Yesterday, to my utter amusement, I found myself concerned with fallen leaves staining the patio and had thoughts of immediate raking. What has become of me? In the past week, I’ve awakened more than once with this thought: What if the painting on my easel is to be my last. It’s not finished and it’s an utter mess! I want to leave a better last impression! I have more work to do!

And then, I wondered, what if, as I travel out beyond the constellation, this image of myself, this part of me that I call ‘artist,’ matters not at all? Fluid, not fixed.

And so, my perspective spins, more anchor points fall away and the entire universe opens.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PERSPECTIVE

 

 

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Spin Off Center [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I’ve always been a bit mystified by the hyper-charge surrounding the word ‘change.’ It doesn’t matter which way the word slices, it will either evoke great fear and trepidation [we’ve always done it this way!] or it will reach to the deepest depths of yearning and impatience [we need to be different!]. Guard the bastion. Explore new worlds.

Organizations try to manage change. Yet, organizations sell their products as cutting edge. They promote themselves as leaders of change.

We celebrate change-makers. Game changers. We also honor the keepers of the flame. Rule keepers. We pride ourselves on our innovative spirit while pondering the loss of tradition.

Creative tension. Push, pull. It’s a balancing act, yes? A continuum. Where exactly is the hard line between progress and tradition?

Stepping into the unknown is never easy though, isn’t it true that each day of life is, in fact, a step into the unknown? The wheel spins on and on and on.

Growing old is not for wimps. That’s what Beaky said. We all do it. Movement is life and life is change.

We live in an interesting time. Everything is recorded. Evidence of change is everywhere. Actors get old. Politicians vehemently defend the opposite of what they vehemently defended 20 years ago.

The question is not about change or not change.  It is more about what we desire to be  steadfast in the midst of change. Circumstances change. Opinions change. Beliefs change. Traditions change. But, what is in the center of the wheel? Values like ‘honesty’ and ‘truth?’ Agreements of decency? A constitution?

What happens when those hubs are manipulated and simply fall away?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHANGE

 

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