Surface The Pattern [on DR Thursday]

Steve read my book and said he didn’t really understand the thing about pattern. His comment at first surprised me but then I realized he was actually reinforcing the point: we are unconscious to our patterning. We think in patterns. We see in patterns. Culture is pattern. Pattern is invisible and making it visible is a necessary first step in change processes.

The people who surface pattern are often seen by the mainstream as deviant or rebellious. Women demanding equal pay are attempting to make a pattern visible. The BLM movement is attempting to make a cultural pattern visible. Shining a light on longstanding oppression is never welcome in the halls of power.

The people who work to repress the visibility of cultural pattern, conserve the norms, generally claim a righteous superiority. They are keepers of the culture and feel threatened, even victimized, by the sudden visibility of cultural pattern. Exposure is always a threat to the existing pattern and no one relinquishes power or privilege without a fight. The current raft of voter suppression laws – made possible by the fantasy of a stolen election – is a great example. The Big Lie is a textbook example of how far people in power will go to hide a privilege-norm. It is, for us in these un-united states, not a new phenomenon; it is a longstanding well-guarded pattern.

Change happens when the patterns are surfaced. There will always be a tide that rises to extinguish the light of exposure. In the long run, those hardy voices that were, at first, branded as deviant or dangerous, we come to honor and respect. They refused to be silenced. We claim them as our heroes. MLK. Gandhi. Rosa Parks. Cesar Chavez. Susan B. Anthony. There are so many. It is no easy task to surface the patterns. The path of a light-shiner is dangerous and difficult.

John Lewis gave great advice for those dedicated to surfacing unconscious patterns: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” He also said that, “…transformation will not happen right away. Change takes time.”

Opening eyes to unconscious pattern, to what is obvious yet unseen, is an artist’s path. Seeing beyond what you think you see…seeing beyond your field-of-dedicated-belief, being curious enough to question what you are being told – can you imagine anything more necessary – more vital – in our age of rabid-misinformation and desperate-pattern-suppression?

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2018 david robinson

Sing It Into Existence [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Lately I am awake for the sunrise. I know it is coming because, very slowly, the birds begin to sing. At first there is one voice, then a few more and then more. By the time the light through the window glows soft purple and gray, the full bird chorus is in session. They sing the sun into rising.

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, these lawn-art-birds would come to represent to me threshold guardians. Harbingers of the test that my move to Wisconsin would bring. In story terms, threshold guardians are not friendly; they serve as the test of readiness: are you willing and able to greet the challenges that come with change. Or will you run away? Sometimes they are monsters. Sometimes they require the answer to a riddle or solving a puzzle. The new world will open after the obstacle is met. In facing and overcoming the challenge, the guardians often become allies. In truth, they are allies all along. They help you find your self by testing every idea that you have of your self.

Driving the Budget truck on my move from Seattle, filled with the artifacts of my life, Kerri and I stopped in a little village, Stockholm, just as we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. We wandered down the street and into a gallery. We were drawn to these simple bird-sculptures. They are the first thing we bought together. They represented our step into relationship. Us. They would stand together in our yard.

My first few years in Kenosha were akin to being lost in the woods. My livelihood disappeared. My networks disappeared. Art opportunities vanished. Many of my friendships faded. Every project I tried to pitch or create stalled, every path I attempted to plow broke the plow. I felt stripped. Of little or no value. Even in arenas where I was once appreciated, I was invisible. I’ve done extraordinary consulting work in organizations but learned in my new life that my experience and observations were not welcome. So, silent as well as invisible.

More than once I went out back and sat with the sculptures. They remained silent when I asked of them my questions. Who am I now that I have no useful purpose? What do I do now? In the absence of an answer, the sculptures and I listened to the birdsong.

Often the test brought by the threshold guardians is one of letting go. You cannot become a butterfly if you insist on remaining a caterpillar. The armor must fall. The known shape must go to mush. The what-the-hell-is-happening-to-me necessarily falls unanswered into the void. What’s happening is not complex: you are changing. The old stuff isn’t working because it is too small for the new shape. Let go.

It is not complex but it is uncomfortable. Dark night is cold when you’ve shed your skin. The sun will rise. The birds will sing it into existence. Warmth will return in the moments beyond the soft purples and greys.

We recently moved the bird sculptures from their spot by the pond to a new home by the fence. I hadn’t realized how invisible they were when standing over the pond. By they fence, they are glorious! They are also a metaphor, standing tall, made more vibrant and dynamic by their incorporated shadows. They are transformed. They are present, standing together in the yard. They are signaling the path to the new world, singing into existence the new day.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BIRDS

Take A Second Chance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

This is a story about second chances. Both of us had first go-rounds and neither went according to the dream. The gap between life and dream is sometimes daunting, vast. But, the good news with all-things-daunting is that, if you are lucky – and we are, you emerge on the other side, not only with a better sense of humor, but an understanding of the hard work it takes to make dreams a reality. Or, said another way, you live into a better sense of yourself. Kerri and I could be the poster children for people who’ve crossed the gap and come out laughing.

Early in our relationship we danced in the living room to Rascal Flatt’s song, The Broken Road. After our dance, we spent a long evening talking about our broken roads. There’s something powerful (and telling) about two people who willingly pull out their broken pieces and spread them across the table for the other to see, not for a pity-party but to say without shame, “This is me. This is what I’ve done and where I’ve been. I don’t want to hide any of it from you because I want you to see me, barnacles and all.” It is the mark of the tribe of second chances. Vulnerability as a strength.

In a second chance you have the opportunity to discover yourself anew. That might sound thrilling – and it is in retrospect – but it requires a good deal of hot fire to burn away the former shell. It’s as if the rules of life that have always applied, the rules that have always provided orientation to the game-of-life suddenly no longer apply. Trying to hold onto the old version is like trying to hide the fact that you are aging. It’s impossible. We started collecting our beautiful moments of denial and rude-awakening because, well, they were and are funny. For instance, I looked in the mirror one day and saw my grandfather staring back. It happened overnight and I was horrified! I spent the rest of the day looking for soft light so I might delay Kerri seeing my new grandfatherly face.

Second chances come to all of us. We have friends and family in our circle that are recent empty-nesters. The kids are gone. The house is quiet. They are asking two questions: 1) Who is this stranger sitting across the table? And 2) Who am I, the person looking back at the stranger across the table? Like us, they are walking through the rule changes, the body changes, the purpose changes, the identity changes. We hope that they, like us, recognize their barnacles as a shared map forward, a reason to bond and learn each other, and themselves, anew.

That’s the reason and the story behind our comic strip SMACK-DAB. Like us, it is a second run at a good idea only this time, less armored. For now, we’ll publish a new strip every Saturday. Our chronicle of second chances. Smack-dab in the middle of middle age. The laughter and good love that comes from splaying all the broken pieces across the table and saying, “This is me and I want you to know and share every last shard. For the rest of my life.”

Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
~ Bless The Broken Road, Rascal Flatts

read Kerri’s blog post about SMACK-DAB.

See The Moon [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

From Japan comes the story of the Crescent Moon Bear. It is a story of rage and patience. A young wife must pluck a single hair from the crescent moon shape at the throat of the ferocious bear. The single hair is a necessary ingredient for a medicine that will cure her husband. I told the story at a facilitation. After the telling, the vice president of the company said to the gathering, as an apology and a revelation, “I am the bear.”

Sometimes bears are necessary. Just like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, without the bear or the wolf there would not be a story. The purpose of a fear is to face it. It is a catalyst. The lesson is almost always concealed in the obstacle.

I once had a terrifying dream. I was being chased by monsters. I ran but could not get away. Finally, desperate, I saw a warehouse and ran for the door. I was certain there would be plenty of places to hide. Bursting through the door I was horrified to find the vast space empty. Swept clean. With no other exit available, I had to turn and face the monsters rushing toward me.

Do a little research on the symbol of the crescent moon and you’ll read that she represents cycles and instinct, mystery and immortality. Change. Fecundity. Many years ago I took a class on art and transformation. One of the projects, guided by an elder, was to make medicine shields. The face of the shield was decidedly male, sun. Bull. The back of the shield was feminine, moon. Lizard. Two aspects of power that dance. One is incomplete, superficial and out of balance, without the other.

In the Crescent Moon Bear story, after an arduous journey through the forest of her fear, the bear allows the young wife to pluck the hair. The magic ingredient is not taken, it is given. The obstacle, the monster, the locked door, opens and offers its potion. Insight ensues.

Insight, literally, the sight from within.

All of this, whispers from the psyche, bubbles of deeper wisdom, regeneration, emergence from the dark wood forever changed; could there be a better symbol for our times, a better symbol of promise as we stand with no place to hide, facing our raging pandemic, our ferocious bear of racial injustice, our masculine disequilibrium, than the promise of the crescent moon.

read Kerri’s blog post about the CRESCENT MOON

Witness Time [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I have this odd sense that time is standing still. I know it is not true though I still go outside each day to check my one sure source of proof: the ever-growing icicles. Ice damming. Without time, the icicles would not grow.

I have this odd sense that the earth is off its axis. I know it is not true though I still go outside each day to check my one sure source of proof. Through the roof, the heat of the house melts the snow and it behaves as water should. It takes the path of least resistance and flows downhill to the colder gutters and, again, behaves as water should. It slows and drips and refreezes as it reaches for earth. Snow to water to ice sculpture. Nature is still behaving according to its principles.

We are expecting snow again today. People are rushing to do their errands early. They want to be in before the snows come.

Twice yesterday, in separate phone calls, we heard the voices on the other end of the line declare that “Three weeks ago seems like a decade ago.” So much has happened. Everything seems in limbo. Both. Like the icicles, it’s hard to reconcile.

I opened the door early this morning to let DogDog out and I was delighted to hear a chorus of birds. I stood in the cold open doorway for a few moments and enjoyed the music. I closed my eyes. The chirpy sounds of spring were out of sync with the piles of snow and ice in our yard, so, with my eyes closed, I gave myself over to the moment.

There is a poignant moment in the Sisyphus saga. Death is bound to a post so time stands still. Without death, nothing moves. Nothing changes. Crops cannot grow. Water cannot flow. Eternal life comes at the expense of change, growth and uncertainty. Absolute certainty brings absolute boredom. Stasis. Icicles cannot form. Sisyphus frees Death from his captivity so water can once again behave as it should.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICE DAMMING

Follow The Conversation [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I met Horatio on an airplane. With his wife, Teru, we were seatmates on a flight from Washington D.C. to Seattle. I’d just finished facilitating a workshop at the Smithsonian about story, he was stepping toward directing films, and Teru is passionate about writing life histories. We talked about storytelling clear across the country and our conversation continues to this day.

David and I sat next to each other at a conference. I’d only just moved to Seattle, I knew no one. I saw a sign for the conference and wandered in. It was my good fortune to pick a seat next to a brilliant visual and theatre artist. We started talking about life and art. Years later, every gallery I enter, every play I attend, I have conversations with David in my mind – and hurry home to write him or call him and share what we talked about.

To this day, MM is my greatest collaborator. We used to sit in my office and dream big dreams – and then go out and make them happen. He is the ultimate player-of-infinite-games, playing-to-play. When I need my mind opened, my pot stirred, or my obstacles surmounted, I turn to MM.

I was visiting Tom McK at his ranch. When he asked me to help him tell a story I had no idea that his simple question, the story that he needed to tell, would take more than a decade and would only be possible after his death. His story became my story to tell.

It was Tom’s story that I told to Horatio that day on the flight from D.C. to Seattle. It was multiple good conversations over many years with David about writing plays that finally brought me to clarity. MM was my constant companion. With his band, Mom’s Chili Boys, he composed the music that supported the telling of Tom’s story. He built the world of the play and then, together, we stepped into the world and fulfilled Tom’s request.

Fortuitous seat assignments on a flight. Following an impulse into a conference and taking any old seat. Playing an infinite game. One good conversation, again and again, and nothing will ever be the same.

read Kerri’s blog post about ONE GOOD CONVERSATION

Feel The Change [on DR Thursday]

And, in one day, a single day, it’s changed.

In general, we like to write our posts a day or two ahead. This week, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to write Wednesday’s post until after the inauguration. The Capitol was a military zone. There were looming threats of attack and violence. In recent months, the chaos-of-the-day often left us feeling that we wish we’d have written something different.

And, that is precisely what changed. Mayhem flew south and stability was sworn into office. Good intention (with a recognizable plan) took the helm. It’s as if a cleansing wind blew through and, in a moment, swept away the dark corruption. The adults are back in charge. Poetry stood strong and tall and spoke directly into the heart of the matter. Suddenly, after years of numbing reduction, words mattered again. Vocabulary was restored.

As we reviewed the day I told Kerri that there is only one thing more powerful than a dark wizard and that is a good man. A good person. Good people (side note: I confess to blubbering a bit when Kamala Harris was sworn in. Sometimes change is very hard to see and sometimes – like yesterday – it is impossible to miss).

This morning, for the first time in years, I did not dread to read the news. The sun was shining. BabyCat found a good spot and crawled into the warmth and purred. DogDog chewed contentedly on his bone. We sat in bed sipping coffee.

“You can feel it, can’t you,” Kerri said. “It’s palpable.”

Yes. Yes I can.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SUN

at the door ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

at day at the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson

Adapt Or Not [on Merely A Thought Monday]

One of Kerri’s 2020 photo series is of discarded masks. I thought it odd the very first time we saw a mask tangled in the weeds on the side of the trail. I also thought it odd that Kerri jumped to take a picture of it. “Things you never thought you’d see!” she proclaimed after capturing her image.

Over these past several months her collection of images has grown exponentially. She adds to it almost daily. Masks in gutters. Masks on sidewalks. Masks in parking lots. Trail side masks left dangling from branches. Masks in aisle 9 near the peanut butter. What was peculiar a few months ago has become normalized. “Another mask!” she says and kneels to take a snap. I barely notice.

A new normal.

I’ve read that homo sapiens are a successful species because of our ability to adapt to changing environments. I’ve also read that entire cultures have vanished off the face of the planet because of their (our) ability to habituate the extreme – that is, adapt – to behaviors that collapse their (our) environment. Frogs in a pot. Just watch what happens to a cohesive community when the well runs dry or the fuel source is exhausted. Just watch what happens as the planet warms and weather-weirding becomes more dire. Fire season never ends. Hurricane season stretches on and on – we adapt our system for counting them because there are too many for the old system to contain.

We are not the first homo sapiens to deny what is right in front of our eyes. Denial, after all, is a cousin to adaptation.

Pandemics rage. People travel en masse for the holidays with no regard to the appeals of healthcare workers or the pleas of the CDC. Individual rights exercised at the expense of neighbors lives. Homo sapiens are capable of denying that they are a social animal. It’s romantic, this illusion of cowboys going it alone. An intentional snub of greater responsibility. Peeing in the pool.

It-is what-it-is. A new normal.

Each day we pass people on the trail. There are two distinct groups. Those with masks who pull them up when they encounter others. And, those without. “People who don’t give a sh*t,” Kerri whispers. The dividing line couldn’t be more apparent.

“Things I never thought I’d see,” I say. After a moment, I add, “You should take out your camera and start a new series. People incapable of adaptation!”

“We’d have to get releases, we’d have to get their permission” she says, always the practical one. Then, cutting to the heart of the matter, she said, “Besides, they’re not that interesting. People who don’t care are sooooo much less interesting than people who do care.”

Adapting to new circumstances – wearing a mask – is an act of caring. “Yes,” I sigh, suddenly understanding her mask photo series. Lost or discarded caring. It’s ubiquitous. It’s normalized.

Somehow, I manage to find her mask series hopeful. Some truths, like kindness – like caring, are universal. The lost masks are evidence. The litter of caring is everywhere.

The ancient norms eventually float to the top. The heat of the fire always – eventually – wakes us up or brings us together. Or we boil. We collapse. We persevere. We divide. We unite. We take a new form. We evolve.

Everything is different now. Nothing new.

read Kerri’s blog post about BECAUSE

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