Choose The Lesser Chaos [on DR Thursday]

“If I choose abstraction over reality, it is because I consider it the lesser chaos.” ~ Robert Brault

And what isn’t an abstraction? Dealing with ideas rather than events? Not-the-thing-but-is referential-to-the thing?

Every word in every language is an abstraction. Every thought that zips through every brain is an abstraction. Not the thing but referential to it. The word “chair” is not a chair.

I caught myself in a sticky net. Not once, several times. I’ve tried again and again to paint “abstractions” only to whine, ‘I can’t abstract!” [insert laugh track]. A painting of something is, by definition, not the something. Picasso had a heyday playing with people’s minds around this idea, this abstraction.

After an unexplainable medical event, my doctor shrugged and said, “Sometimes there is no explanation. People like to rationalize things. They think if they can explain it, they can control it.”

Explain Pollock or Rothko. Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series. Ellsworth Kelly.

And who wouldn’t rather spend time pondering the sense of Richard Serra than anything we read in the news?

read Kerri’s blog post about ABSTRACTION

earth interrupted © 2012 david robinson

Learn How To Use It [on KS Friday]

The young man came to our house to bid on a job. He is days away from becoming a new dad. We talked about becoming a parent, his hopes, dreams, and his fears. He and his wife have decided to homeschool their son; the very real possibility of his child being shot in a classroom was a major factor in their decision.

Having spent much of my life working in and with public schools, it broke my heart. Kerri and I acknowledged that, were we new parents, we’d probably make the same choice. “Every man/woman for him/her self” is winning the day over “I am my brother/sister’s keeper.”

Who hasn’t seen the video of a mother teaching her son what to do in the event of an active shooter at school? She purchased a bullet-proof backpack to help keep her child safe. Who hasn’t heard the description of what the bullet from an assault rifle does to the body of a child?

About the budding new democracy called The United States of America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.” He also wrote, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” And so it is.

As I’ve previously written, as a child in school, our safety drills were about atom bombs. Outside threats. This generation, this young artisan, about to become a new dad, knows his son will have to drill against an internal threat. A country that refuses to protect its children and opts, instead, to protect its gun lobby, its money.

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.” ~ Alexis de Tocqueville.

Freedom is an art form. A practice. It’s an ideal that a community practices and creates together. No one does it alone. And, therein, lies our problem. Every man/woman for him/herself is not freedom. It is chaos. Anarchy. It has our children ducking under desks and carrying bulletproof backpacks. Or, avoiding school altogether.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about LIGHT IN THE DARK

transience/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

See Beyond [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Breck, the small aspen tree in our backyard, is beginning to change its colors for the season. Although we have yet in our neighborhood to smell autumn in the air, Breck is giving us a heads-up.

A decade ago I wrote that, in order to see beyond preconception (thought), artists and entrepreneurs need to master two skills: pattern recognition and metaphor. Look for patterns and you will eventually see beyond them. See beyond the pattern and, as Ash Bhoopathy said, “The familiar will become strange and the strange will become familiar.” What an amazing definition of metaphor.

In this pattern cycle, the green becomes brilliant golden yellow as Breck turns her summer attention from the sun and sends her focus into the root for winter nourishment.

Kerri’s photographs are often extreme close-ups. She has a bit of Georgie O’Keeffe in her artist’s eye. Often, when showing me the latest photo, she pulls the-already-close-up-image into a detail. I am always amazed at the pattern beneath the pattern beneath the pattern. The plumes of the grasses are a festival of pattern. The many feet of the caterpillar, perfect suction cups.

Despite our dedication to our perceived differences, we, too are a festival of pattern. The operative word is “perceived.” Pull the lens close-in and our divisions disappear as rapidly as our skin color. Pull the focus farther out and we move together in a sweet-and-sour ballet. Koyannisqatsi. History repeats, a pattern, like the cycle of the seasons. Order moves to chaos to order to chaos…mainly in our minds. Order is what we crave, so purblind are we to seeing the ubiquity of pattern.

The plumes explode pink and red on the grasses The chipmunks have picked up their foraging pace. The geese have reappeared. The miracles are in the familiar, strange and surprising when seen again for the first time. The feel of the hand of the one you love. The moon on a clear cold night. The yellow rim reaching through the green quaking leaves.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BRECK’S LEAVES

Take Note [on DR Thursday]

Although it may not be at first apparent, this is a map for product development. A single stout stalk that supports shoots of replication that explode in support features. One clear central intention. Multiple expressions that return nutrient to the stalk.

Although it may not be at first apparent, this is a map for healthy community. A single stout story stalk that supports shoots of replication, diverse paths that explode in seeming individual expression. One clear central narrative. Multiple expressions sending sunlight back to the root.

Who hasn’t seen the time-lapse films of plants growing, forms expressing and then retreating, the accelerated motion of people commuting on a city street, what seems like chaos is, at speed, cooperation. Those people on the street in real time, walking to work, a to-do list on their mind, are mostly unaware of their symphony of togetherness.

It’s easy to forget the stout stalk when standing at the individual expression point. I have been witness to the demise of many organizations who turn against the stalk in favor of the feature. For instance, the fastest way to kill a non-profit organization is to attempt make it run like a for-profit business. It will forget its story-stalk and lose its heart and mind in a spreadsheet.

The quickest way to destroy a community is for its branches to forget that they are individual expressions of a single stout story. They are not separate as much as extensions. To focus on the multiple tiny expressions as if each small branch is a stand-alone truth is absurdity-creation. Chaos masked as convention. Inverted, the plant dies.

In our literature we are riddled with advice to turn toward nature. Existential crisis? Lost? Go to the meadow, find the woods, take a hike. Get quiet. We go there because…we are there. Alan Watts wrote,”We don’t come into the world, we come out of it.” We are not separate from the stalk; we are expressions of it. Occasionally, the map to sanity that we seek is hiding in plain sight dressed as a platitude. Go to nature. You cannot do otherwise. Realize it.

When I’m running abstract questions of design in my dreams, I know it’s time to take a walk. It’s time to stop, look around, take note of nature’s design, the perfection of a plant. A perfect yoga, branch-fingers reaching for the sun, root-fingers reaching deep into soil.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PARSNIPS

sam the poet, 48×48 (painted and sold a long time ago)

sam the poet © 2004 david robinson

Come To The Table [on DR Thursday]

Duke and Eileen sat at this table for many years. And, because St. Vincent de Paul wouldn’t take it for second hand sale because the top had dings in it, it rode around in the back of Big Red for many months. We forgot it was there.

When Covid roared in and the world shut down, we wanted to put a table in our sun room. That way, we could sit and look out at the day. We thought it would help buoy our spirits while in isolation. In the middle of wondering-out-loud where we could possibly get a table in a world-shut-down, we remembered that Duke and Eileen’s table was camping out in the back of Big Red. It was a perfect fit.

It began the transformation of a room that has become our favorite place in the house to sit and hang out. We’ve populated our former work table with plants. Duke and Eileen’s table is also home to many succulents and a Bonsai Gardenia sent as a birthday present from Kirsten and Chris. We resurrected an old fountain so the sound of peace is the sound of gurgling water. There are candles. Special rocks from special places. Water, earth, fire, and air; lots of air. We’ve created a sanctuary.

Watching Kerri and 20, Duke and Eileen’s son, sit at the table filling out paperwork for Eileen, I was struck by the circle coming back around, the story that this table might tell. 20, sitting at his mom and dad’s table, now center to our sanctuary, doing the work of a son to care for his mom.

It also occurred to me, standing outside, looking in at these two siblings-from-different-mothers sit at the table filling out forms (Kerri and 20 are truly brother and sister), that in the midst of “living in interesting times,” our response to the pandemic, to civil unrest, to our town literally being on fire, amid job losses and wrists breaking, has been to create a place of peace. A center of quiet around which the chaos spins.

“Make all the world your studio” was once – and still is – a mantra for me. And, now at the center of my spinning-world-studio is an intentional space, a bright and happy room bringing together all of the elements, built around the long history of comfort etched in the top of Duke and Eileen’s table.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE TABLE

meditation, 48x48IN, mixed media, 2012

meditation ©️ 2012 david robinson

Go Empty [on DR Thursday]

Readers…will welcome the enlightening description of ’emptiness as a beneficent state before creation.” ~ Anna Freud, forward to ON NOT BEING ABLE TO PAINT by Joanna Field

Kendy gave me the book, On Not Being Able To Paint in 1999. That was the year I burned almost all of my paintings. Let’s just say that I hit a wall. Another interpretation of my 1999 big fire is that I needed to create space. It’s a paradox I very much appreciate: as an artist, the overwhelming need to create space when feeling completely empty. ‘Being empty’ is not in-and-of-itself spacious.

Emptiness before creation is…biblical – it is pre-biblical, Chaos and Abyss are players in the Greek-god-canon. The universe abhors a vacuum but welcomes space.

This painting, lovingly dubbed THE RED MESS, has been on my easel for months. It predates the great basement flood. It’s what I was painting when I entered the void, when my tank went empty. I must have known I was low on creative fuel because I was trying something new. Red. The painting was, before I wiped it, an image of Kerri taking a photograph of a train through the trees on the Des Plaines river trail. She has a series of Trains-Through-Trees and I’ve delighted in watching her race to catch the shot.

Karola, perhaps the wisest AND happiest person I have ever known, encouraged me to allow myself to “go empty.” At the time, I was in my twenties, I feared emptiness. I thought my muse might leave and never come back. I fought her advice while trying to take her advice. One foot on the gas and the other foot on the brakes. “David,” she said in her German accent, “you have to let the glass go empty before it has the space to fill up! Let yourself go empty!” She laughed so hard at the look on my face that tears came to her eyes.

Now, I’ve sorted out my pedals. I descend into the studio every day and stand before this red mess. I don’t want to take it off the easel. It’s helping me embrace-the-space. It’s a loving postcard to myself, a reminder to respect the emptiness. To stand in the void and welcome the spaciousness.

Muses do not leave. People routinely turn their backs on the muse. Mine is right in front of me, sitting on my easel, draped in brilliant red, just like a stop sign. It is not a matter of hitting the gas or the brakes. Sometimes you just have to get out of the car and rest your eyes for a while.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE RED MESS

Avoid The Vortex [on Two Artists Tuesday]

SHH copy

I miss my friend dearly. We spoke on the phone for almost two hours this morning. It had been too long since our last check-in. He said something very pertinent to our times. Although he does not believe in the devil, by way of metaphor he said this: The devil’s job is to pull us into a negative vortex. And, these days, the devil is winning.

I am guilty of being pulled into the angry vortex and his caution hit home.

Yesterday, Kerri’s entire catalogue of posts was blocked by Facebook. That’s 130 weeks times 5-posts-a-week = 650 posts. We have no idea why. We read FB’s new Community Standards, the reasons they give for blocking content, and can’t find evidence of a single violation. It’s almost a mystery.

Almost. A few minutes before her posts were wiped from FB, someone visited our business page, scanned Kerri’s blog-posts from last week, and alerted FB that they were spam. Coincidence is not always correspondence however, in this case, one action – the alerts – triggered the other action – the blocking of Kerri’s posts. It was an intentional act and not an accident.

In this age of information there is, of course, no person to call, no help line or customer service agent. There is a firewall, a form, a void or black hole, that accepts feedback. The feedback form, however, informs givers of feedback [human beings] that their feedback will not be read.

I scratch my head at the existential drama I am currently living. Sarte. No Exit.

The Facebook-content-scrubbing may be temporary. It may not. The blog-posts may be reviewed or they might not. There’s no one to ask and there’s no next-level-information available. I wrote about this a few months ago, the good-bots at FB suddenly sent Kerri copyright violation warnings on her recordings. She wrote, recorded, and owns the copyrights to all of her music and albums. FB now blocks her from sharing her own music. Her protests went into the same black hole as her blog-post-feedback.

The intelligence is, at best, artificial.

People are angry. It takes a special kind of anger to systematically go through someone’s posts and mark them as spam. They had to jump my posts to reach Kerri’s so it seems obvious that the anger is personal though the none-the-less feeble. Any poltroon can hit a button; it takes a bit of courage to give voice, especially when it is in opposition.

The vortex may be attempting to suck the light from all of us but I doubt the devil will win. Life is not a win/lose game. It moves. It changes. Day follows night.

My friend said something else that I found hopeful in these dark times: out of ashes, out of chaos, the phoenix always rises. That is important to remember. It is best to stand still when all things seem like they are spinning, spinning out of control.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SHHHHH! [it’s possible that her posts may never reappear so, if you enjoy reading Kerri’s blog, consider subscribing. I know we publish waaay too much but, with the minor exception of us, no one reads everything that we write.]

 

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Rise [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Signs of the the times. 1) The salutation in almost very email I send, every email I receive, is this: Stay safe. Stay well.  2) The most common response to”How are you?” is some variation of this: Staying more or less sane.

More or less sanity.

I expect a revival of Salvador Dali, a new wave of surrealism. What was solid melts and drips. What was fluid is frozen. None of the rules of normality apply. “So this is what pandemic feels like,” Chris wrote.

The hat we call “normal” has been knocked off our heads. Nothing is normal. Or is it? In our house we have an ongoing socio/political conversation about whether things have always been this way and, in the severity of the moment, we are now seeing it. The ugly politics. The gaping disparity. Or, is this madness new?  Are we more or less sane now?

We’re taking our afternoon walks in the cemetery at the end of the street. It is the only place we can walk without having to be constantly vigilant about bumping into other people. “It’s weird that, in the midst of a pandemic, we have to go to a cemetery to safely walk.” Kerri noted.

Yes. It is weird. Is it more or less sane? The only thing we can know is that all measuring sticks are broken, all of the old navigation points have gone missing. We are standing solidly in the midst of the unknown. What will be true next week? Anything is possible.

And, that is the point. The sword of possibility cuts both ways. Right now, anything is possible. If we get caught in the sticky notion that our circumstance defines us, then we are hurled to the side of less sanity. Panic. Chaos. Fear. Every man/woman for themselves. If we hold fast the notion that we are creators and are experiencing but not defined by the present pandemic fire, then renewal and re-imagination pull us in the direction of sanity. We stay centered in the midst of the fury. People helping people to survive, to thrive. The best rises in us. Brother’s/Sister’s keeper, and all of that. More sane. Not less.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MORE OR LESS SANE

 

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MayYou copy 2

may you….[be healed]

Hug The Pain [on Merely A Thought Monday]

you're my favorite copy

Put on your seat belt. I’m going to indiscriminately fling stereotypes at myself and my wife and that requires me to indiscriminately snag other fish in my broad net of oversimplification. To make you feel safe in reading further, please note that this a not so cleverly disguised survival guide for two people living together in this age of stay-at-home-orders.

We are both artists. I often wonder if the universe put Kerri and me in relationship as some kind of whacky psychological experiment. Imagine the laughter on Mount Olympus! If you are an artist or know any artists, please join me now in making a list of adjectives: volatile, hypersensitive, moody, procrastinating,.. Now, multiply that times two. Let’s just say that we do not cancel out each other. We are certain that our friends invite us to dinner for the sheer entertainment value of hearing about our latest train wreck. We are both good storytellers so we take comfort knowing that at least we make our mayhem amusing.

True story: yesterday I apologized to DogDog that neither Kerri or I was an engineer. “You have hard duty this time around,” I said, patting him on the head. He didn’t disagree.

Since we are already standing at the edge of chaos I can see no reason not to jump. It was too late in our developing relationship when we realized that, not only were we both artists but we are diametrically opposed in our approach . Kerri is so detail-oriented that it makes my head hurt. I am such a big-picture-generalist that she regularly has to run screaming from the the room so as not to get lost in my thought.

Kerri organizes through piles. I organize by eliminating piles. I seem incapable of learning the lesson that what-looks-like-a pile-to-me-looks-like-order to her. I’ve probably set her back a decade by imposing my idea of order to her system of filing. We’re still looking for the project notes she lost the day I moved in and decided to help out by cleaning up the piles. Last week I attempted to hang up her snow pants and her icy glare melted my good intention; I let them slip to the chair where they remain to this day.

She is easier in the world than I am. If I begin a project or a painting it is nearly impossible for me to stop thinking about it until it is complete. I dream about it. I ponder and muse. Okay, go ahead and think it: he is obsessive-compulsive. I cannot deny it. In my defense, by bride is incapable of holding on to a thought or completing a single task. She works in circles. Attention deficit. Now, imagine, if you can, the process we’ve developed in working together. If we were a band, our name would be Creative Tension.

DogDog walks in circles around the house. I used to think it was a trait of his breed but I’ve come to believe that circle-walking is what happens to an over-sensitive dog when one of his parents is obsessive and the other is ADD. He simply can never relax since we are such a danger to ourselves.

She’s a New Yorker.  I am from Colorado. I was taught that talking over someone else was rude. She was raised in a part of the world where it is essential. Our conversations are sometimes hysterical but mostly shattered language fragments and hesitations. If only I were a better playwright!

Now, flip all of this too-much-information over. Perceptive, deeply felt, intuitive, adventurous, improvisational. Sometimes mystic. We crawl out the window to drink our wine on the roof. Our life is never routine, never dull. We cultivate surprise whether we intend to or not. Her artistic eye makes mine better. She pulls me from my obsessive mind so that I might breathe and relax. I help her step back from the detail and see another perspective.

The moral: there is no better collaborator, no more treasured companion, than the pain-in-the-ass pushing back on your idea, the one talking over you, the one challenging your choices, the one that you love and trust with your most vulnerable life & artistic decisions because (you begrudgingly admit to yourself) they see things differently. This equal and opposing force that shares space with you is the very reason you are capable of expanding your mind, your perspective, and your heart.  They are what you mean when you utter this word: together.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAIN IN THE ASS

 

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Step Toward The Center [on Merely A Thought Monday]

chaos copy

We had this quote in the melange line up long before there was a pandemic. Now, it is impossible to look at this phrase without pressing it through the lens of COVID19. What might we have written in a less chaotic context?

One of the best lessons I was taught, is that we cannot control our circumstance but we can control who we are within our circumstance. The hurricane will come. The pandemic. It is possible in the midst of the storm to panic. To hoard. To blame. To resent. It is also possible to stand in a center, to share, to support, to reach. You are not your circumstance.

Sitting in his study that smelled of instant coffee, book dust and cigarettes, Quinn and I used to talk endlessly about chaos theory. Within the seeming chaos of a dynamic complex system there exists pattern, repetition, self-organization. Pattern, repetition, organization – these are words of order, not of disorder. Chaos. Order. We only know order relative to chaos. We only know chaos relative to order.

Within the Hermetic laws (and Newtonian physics, equal and opposite forces) there is the law of polarity. Everything contains its opposite. Or, said another way, what might appear to be opposite, is, in fact, two ends (poles) of the same thing. Order. Chaos. We cannot know light without the contrast of darkness. We live on a continuum. What we experience is simply a matter of degree on the continuum. There is always a bit of chaos in my otherwise orderly day. In times of chaos, we become very clear about what matters and what does not.

Out of chaos we self-organize. In the throes of social distance we are finding ways to reach and connect. We are prioritizing connection. I’ve spoken with or texted more people in the last seven days than I have in the last seven months.

We see it every year. The hurricane blows away a city and the greater community always shows up to dig in and help out. And rebuild. In chaos we organize to make sure everyone makes it to the other side of the storm. Initially, the coming chaos reveals the ugliest aspects of our nature. We hoard. We price gouge. We run to the far end of the continuum and hang onto the poles, mine/yours, us/them. But, sit in it long enough, and chaos always reveals the deeper truths. Interconnectedness is another way of understanding a continuum. We turn our focus on relationship. The space between. Your need is my need. We are not separate.

Order arises when we step toward the shared center and away from the chaotic extremes. We are not our circumstance so the question remains: who are we within our circumstance?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHAOS & BOUNDARIES

 

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*this photo of BabyCat is not doctored. I have no explanation for the ordered shape that our very large cat takes in the moments prior to creating chaos.