Light The Dark [on DR Thursday]

Strong contrast between light and dark: chiaroscuro. Renaissance painters loved it. The word ‘chiaroscuro’ literally means light-dark.

Today is Stephen’s memorial service. It is across the country or I would be there. I confess, I am haunted by Stephen’s death. When Mike wrote to tell me of Stephen’s passing, he told me that he was at peace when he died.

I’m not sure why his passing has hit me so hard. The last time I saw Stephen was 1998. He was following MM like a puppy. They were working on a set construction project. That’s what I remember. He was 14 years old, so, in my mind, he is frozen at 14. He was one of a pack of brothers that formed a solid core of Dimension’s Theatre Project, a theatre program that I spent more than a decade resurrecting and nurturing into artistic vitality. Stephen and his brothers were present in its heyday. For me, it was an artistic and learning laboratory, a place of spirited artistic creation. I loved every minute of it.

Of the brothers, I knew Stephen the least. I worked most directly with his older brother, Greg. I prided myself that Dimensions was a safe space. Artists, especially young artists, are vulnerable. They need to know that they can make strong offers, take chances, find their edges, without shame. That means living in and creating a culture of mutual support. The person selling the tickets mattered just as much as the actor on the stage. Every member of the community was directly responsible for the health and well-being of every other member. It is the philosophy I inherited. It is the philosophy I carried forward.

Mike took the reins of Dimensions when I left. He carried on the tradition, made it his own, Changing Faces Theater Company. Mike knew the artist that Stephen would become. The musician. The designer. The man who cared for the health and well-being of others, artistic and otherwise. Mike knew the dark and the light of Stephen’s short walk on the earth.

Usually, when I am confused or need to sort out my heart, I take a break and visit the pond. Magic, the frog, lives there. He’s a good hider but every few days comes out for a visit. After Mike’s news, confused at the depth of my confusion, I went to the pond and hung out for a few minutes with Magic. Dogga was running circles, making my visit safe from marauding squirrels. The sun was down.

“Look at this picture!” Kerri smiled. She’d caught Magic in chiaroscuro, made more dimensional and full in light-dark.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, looking at the photograph.

Light-dark. The Renaissance masters loved it. I smiled this morning when I read Stephen’s obituary. It began with a quote, something he must have often said. His words brought to me what I couldn’t find at the pond. Peace for Stephen. “Proper lighting can change the world.”

read Kerri’s blog post about MAGIC

surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

See The Spaces [on DR Thursday]

The space around and between. Shapes that share edges. Emptiness that provides definition. In art it is called negative space. Not-the-object. In art classes, students draw the negative spaces in order to see or to learn a new way of seeing. Try it. See the holes and the space around the leaves as primary. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Some folks use the term “air space” because they get snagged on the word “negative.” It’s a term of opposition when set next to “positive.” Yet, just as there is an electric field that flows between negative and positive ions, electrons and protons, there is a field that flows between negative and positive space. Yin and Yang. A dynamic polarity. A creative field of movement and energy. The air space is alive because of the perceived opposition. The positive space is not visible without the negative.

When I was a consultant, I used the phrase “the space between” to imply relationship. There are people. There is the space between people. Relationship is invisible but it defines the people. Relationship illuminates the otherwise unknowable individual. They are impossible to separate. In a community obsessed with nouns, bottom lines, test scores and individual rights, the verbs and the relationships often go unnoticed and unappreciated. As if the negative space didn’t matter. The space between is where the movement lives and the problems are solved. It is where new seeing is possible. It is created and creative. The word “community” lives in the space between.

Try it. Take a day and focus on the space between. See relationship as primary. You may experience a whole new way of seeing.

20 sent this image,a memorial. It makes the point.

read Kerri’s blog post about NEGATIVE SPACE

iconic ©️ 2010 david robinson

Approach The Edge [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It was nearing sunset when we saw the signs for The Royal Gorge Bridge and decided to jump off the road and investigate. We knew the bridge would be closed but thought it might be a nice break to get out of the truck and walk along the canyon rim as the sun went down.

It was a great idea with this single caveat (and minor confession): I. AM. AFRAID. OF. HEIGHTS. Canyon rims are not the most comfortable places for someone like me, especially in waning light.

I grew up in Colorado and visited The Royal Gorge Bridge as a child. I remember stepping onto the world’s highest suspension bridge, grabbing my mother’s hand, and running. I’m sure my poor mother became kite-like as I raced us to the other side. I have no memory of how we got back across the bridge. I’m certain I was not teleported so I must have crawled on my belly or passed-out and been carried. I survived, that’s about as much as I can say of my previous Gorge experience.

We parked the truck in a picnic area and walked a trail to the rim. Kerri ran to the edge and began snapping pictures. I entered a full-blown existential crisis. High edges feel to me like they are alive; they are a force that pulls me toward them. I have to grab trees or wrap my arms around rocks to resist the force. Worst of all, when I see other people approach the edge, I feel the force pulling them, too. In me, it amplifies the yank toward the abyss.

While Kerri cooed and danced on the rim snapping brilliant photographs, I grimaced and writhed, bound myself to a tree and resisted the siren call of the void. I couldn’t help but think of Alex Honnold scrambling up the face of El Capitan without a rope. “Expand your comfort zone!” I chanted to myself as I watched Kerri, a famous stubber-of-her-toes, zip to-and-fro along the rocky ledge with nary a thought of falling over.

The sun dipped beneath the horizon. It was dark and time to go. Have I yet expressed how darkness compounds the pull of the rim? Edges that can’t be seen are yawning maws that view me as a tasty snack. I had to release my grip on the tree, turn my back to the dark hungry mouth, and pretend not to sprint for the safety of the truck.

That was amazing!” Kerri exclaimed as we hiked back up the trail. “I can’t wait to show you all the pictures!” She was invigorated.

Exhausted, I nodded my head. “Yes.” I stammered, happy to be alive. “That was truly amazing.”

read Kerri’s gorgeous blog post about TINY/VAST

Allow [on KS Friday]

moab.k. out there. copy

“If we allow time for soul, we will sense its dark and luminous path. If we fail to acquaint ourselves with soul, we will remain strangers in our own lives.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

These days are edge days. We began to feel strangers in our own lives. That is a sign to be heeded. It’s time for us to sit in silence.

“Beauty inhabits the cutting edge of creativity – mediating between the known and the unknown, light and darkness, masculine and feminine, visible and invisible, chaos and meaning, sound and silence, self and others.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

Kerri doubts her beauty. And then she approaches the edge. She stands at her piano. When she plays all doubt leaves the room because the polarity finds its middle way, there is no this or that.

Sometimes it is enough – it is necessary – to stand at the piano with hands nowhere near the keys.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDER CONSTRUCTION

 

ks website header copy

Kerri on iTunes

 

their palettes website box copy

Find The Edge [on KS Friday]

galena songbox copy

There are those rare and precious moments when the enormity of life overtakes the minutia. When we realize that life is unimaginably large and we are impossibly small. Those moments always happen at edges. Edges of canyons. Edges of daylight. Edges of loss or birth.

My wedding day was such an edge. Once, I looked through a telescope into infinite space. That was an edge. A mountaintop at sunrise. Sitting on a beach after a relationship ended. Crystal stars dancing in a desert sky at night.

Galena is a place. It is a metaphor. It is Kerri’s composition alive with what happens at those edges: deep profound appreciation.

 

GALENA on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is  available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GALENA

 

 

BootsWeddingBoots website box copy

 

galena/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Follow Kirsten [on Merely A Thought Monday]

2legstiredhearthappy copy

At the end of the day I can say that I’ve coached or mentored many, many people. This is what I’ve learned: most people have a yearning and will take a timid step or two toward it. They will build the studio and then fear going into it. Many take a look at their dream and run screaming away from it.  The dream is too hot. Previous dream-touches came with shame or disappointment. Better to not try at all.

Then, there are those precious few people, those rare birds, that look at the edge and run at it. They jump. Safety, control, and security…fear…have no voice in the pursuit of their dream. Kirsten is one of those rare birds. When I met her, her heart was not happy. She was, I suppose, doing what she thought she should do. And then she saw her dream. In short order, she left her job, her security, her known-prescribed path. She left her should-dos. She dropped it all and ran at the edge and leapt without once looking to see if there was a bottom. She changed her body, her thoughts, her intentions. In a few short years – the blink of an eye where deep change is concerned – she transformed her life from a protected, armored experience, to something more vulnerable, crackling, spontaneous and alive.

She is on an artists’ path. Her life makes no sense to a world that worships 401k’s and picket fences. She works harder than any doctor, grinds out more hours than any accountant, or stock analyst, and does it for a pittance of the pay. Her pay comes from an internal driver, a soul satisfaction. She touches something that cannot be explained or justified. It also, once touched, cannot be denied. She stands solidly and with great intention on the burning point.

She heard the call and heeded it. Now, when we tell people of Kirsten they most often reply, “She’s living the life!” And I want to say, “No! Unlike most people she is living life.” She is one of those rare birds who can say, without doubt or equivocation, “My heart is happy.”

What could be a better gift to give the world – your family and friends – than a happy heart?

 

read Kerri’s blog post on MY HEART IS HAPPY

 

oversizedjoy copley place website box copy

Expand Your Bubble [on Merely A Thought Monday]

alex honnold quote box copy

Everyone has their insurmountable mountain to climb. Everyone has their fear to face. Everyone bumps against the edges of their comfort zone. Everyone.

And, the beauty of this life is that the insurmountable mountain is different for everyone. What seems easy to you might be impossibly scary to me. You show me it is possible. I show you it can be done. We inspire another look at what’s possible.

In the film, FREE SOLO, Alex Honnold says that, for him, fear is not something to be conquered. Comfort is something to be expanded. And, comfort is expanded through exploration and practice. Through experiences and reaching. Testing and discovery. Trying again and again until what once looked like a monster becomes known. It’s remarkably practical. It is what education is supposed to be.

How we ask the question determines the paths we see or don’t see. It’s all in the language we use. “Facing a fear” is oh, so, warrior-esque. We are inundated with “going to battle” metaphors. Defeating a part of myself in a battle against myself seems…contrary to the bigger picture. Win by losing. Division as the only available route? Armor, armor everywhere.

There is wisdom in putting down the swordplay. There is hope in choosing cooperation instead of conflict. Instead of picking a fight, instead of perpetuating the power of the fear, how much better might it be to turn and look. Really look. Study. To reach and test. To take a step. To try and fall down so that you might try again with a little bit more experience. Study. Open to possibilities.

It’s a pattern. Focusing on the obstacle, fighting the fear, is learned. It’s a great strategy for keeping yourself afraid and encased in armor. Other patterns are available and far more productive. It’s possible to climb like Alex: study your mountain, learn the terrain, practice the difficult moves over and over, internalize safety, and one day, when you are ready, when you have a relationship with something other than fear, climb your once insurmountable mountain.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on COMFORT ZONES

 

 

million dollar highway, colorado websitebox copy

Stand In It

photo

a detail from a recent painting

A surprise package came in the mail. It was a gift from David, my artist’s artist. He sends me things to feed my artist soul, to stir my pot or help me sort out my dilemmas. This gift is more timely than most; it is especially relevant for me now. It is a book of photographs and essays by Walter Kaufmann called Time Is An Artist. I’ve barely cracked the cover and already know it carries the wind that will fill my becalmed life-ship.

This is a quote from the first essay: We always live at the limits, but we are rarely aware of it.

I woke up this morning awash with gratitude for a man who stood in line behind me at an airport ticket counter over 30 years ago. I was returning from Europe. I had a hundred dollars and some lose change in my pocket. I was exhausted. I’d flown from London and landed in a blizzard. My connecting flight from D.C. to Denver was cancelled. Because I was traveling on a cheap open-ended student ticket, the cancelled flight meant I was stuck with no way home. I didn’t know what to do and was too tired to sort it out. I was desperate and lost in my desperation. That’s when the man tapped me on the shoulder. He was a guy in a rumpled business suit. That’s all I remember about him. He was also trying to get home. He’d just heard someone mention an airline offering a cheap flight to Denver. It was $89.00 ($100 with tax). I ran for the ticket counter and snagged one of the few remaining tickets.

That’s it. That’s what I remember about this man who tapped me on the shoulder. To him it was probably a little thing. To me it was enormous. I needed hope beyond desperation. I was investing in a story of limitless problems and was met with a moment of generosity.

It seems that I am in a life course, a graduate school for detachment. Last night P-Tom shared a quote that was important to him when he was doing his chaplaincy in a hospital: Don’t’ just do something, stand there (a reversal of the known quote). Stand there. Amidst the grief and the loss and the mess, sometimes it is essential to do nothing but offer presence. The man at the airport gave me his presence. Beyond his situation he was listening to my struggle.

Detach from your story and the gift will be gratitude. What rolls through our minds is nothing more or less than a story. Eckhart Tolle tells us the story is a force that pulls us out of the Now. Carlos Castaneda writes that Don Juan taught him 3 steps on the warrior’s path: Detach. Make a choice. Own the choice. One of the primary reasons people meditate is to quiet the mind. In the quiet it is possible to see the story as just that, a story. Detachment, in this sense, is not disengagement from life or cold aloofness from reality. It is the doorway to life. Stand in it and not the story of it.

Gratitude lives in the Now. Where else?

photo-2

another detail from another painting. kerri says this one looks like gratitude

The man at the airport was on my mind because I have learned in this life-course that gratitude is best served in thimbles: the taste of the pear, the sun on your face. The man tapping your shoulder, “Hey, I just heard….” I thanked him before running but the real gratitude came later. Gratitude came again this morning because I was telling stories of the good angels who’ve populated my path.

Real gratitude for this life lived perpetually on the edge is often lost when the expectation-bar is set too high. To be grateful for your life – your whole life – is… an abstraction. It requires a story that pulls you away from this bite. It is a bucket too big. Savoring is a slow affair, available in the smallest taste, right now.

 

 

Release The Edge

photo-4

Usually, there is a lake….

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you dont give up. ~ Anne Lamott

Sometimes the fog hangs heavy all day along the shore of the lake. The sun tries in vain to penetrate the fog so the air glows. When, in combination with the fog, the lake is still, like it was today, it becomes invisible, inaudible; the lake disappears. Standing on the great rock barriers, staring into the void, it feels as if you have arrived at the edge of the world.

photo-5

looking the other direction

All of my life I have been fascinated by edges. What is the line between wild and tame? Most good stories require a stride beyond the boundary, a movement into territories unknown. And, at the end of the story, what was once known becomes unfamiliar. Every ending is a beginning. What is the line that distinguishes the known from the other place? A good dose of reason will assure us that most things can be understood but a walk through a spring meadow or a night spent gazing into the stars will remind us that understanding is illusive or at best illusionary. What do we understand?

Once, working with a group of teachers, we had a terrific discussion about beginnings. Where does a story or a life begin? There is always an easy answer, “Once upon a time,” a birth date, when two people meet, the day the crisis arrived on the doorstep. In fact there is always a multitude of easy answers, of possible beginnings, and none of them are definitive. Which beginning point is the beginning point? At what moment did success arrive? Or, when did failure begin? Does my life begin with my parents or their parents or…? Edges are esoteric!

There is a long tradition in the arts of Dances with Death. Paintings, dances, compositions, plays,…; Hamlet ponders life as he holds poor Yorick’s skull. It passes all too quickly. Most spiritual traditions carry the notion that life cannot be understood, valued, or fully appreciated without first grasping that this life-ride is limited. Living a good life, a fully appreciated life, demands a nod to the edge. It’s the ultimate paradox.

I’ve courted a bundle of trouble in my life because I rarely see the black-and-white of things. Where is the line between hope and hopeless? What wall delineates faith-full and faith-less? Like happiness, edges are made, not found. Ask a physicist if it is a particle or a wave and they will uniformly answer, “It depends upon where you place your focus.” Even in the era when people believed there was a hard edge to the world and finding it meant falling off, sailors supplied their ships and sailed toward the horizon to find it.

 Icarus reached for the sun.

Icarus

Jump!

photo

The set for The Lost Boy

Once, I stood on a ledge. I wanted to jump into a river several feet below but I was afraid. I’d watched kids do it all day. They told me in excited tones that it was only a 70-foot drop. I’m a bit afraid of heights – okay, I’m a lot afraid of heights – and from the ledge it looked to me more like 1000 feet. I jumped but have no memory of it. After investing in my fear for many minutes, I remember making a decision, standing and walking toward the edge. I remember bobbing to the surface and laughing aloud.

I learned a great lesson that day: if I put my focus on my fear I will be paralyzed. Before taking the big step off the ledge I sat on a rock, and told myself that I was afraid. I was stuck. I couldn’t move. My mind was atwitter with all the reasons I couldn’t do it. When, finally, I realized that, if I put the same amount of focus and energy into jumping as I was investing into being afraid, the jump would be easy. It would be inevitable. It would be a decision, a choice. And, it was easy. The jump was as intentional as the fear was irrational. It was enlivening.

The Chili Boys in rehearsal

The Chili Boys in rehearsal

Last week we performed my play, The Lost Boy and through the process I revisited my ledge of so many years ago. The opening night served as a touchstone of growth. A play is made complete with the addition of an audience. Boil a play down to its essence and there is an actor and an audience. One is exposed and vulnerable, the other is safe within a group. That’s what makes it work: the one facilitates the journey for the many.

The actor gives and the audience receives – and, if the actor is doing his or her job, the audience gives and the actor receives. It’s a loop. It is a relationship. For the actor, this dance of giving and receiving can be either a terrifying proposition or an exhilarating experience. It all depends upon where the actor places his or her focus. If the focus is on pleasing the audience, the play will be a miserable affair to perform. The audience will play the role of judge or worse, the enemy. It will be a ledge alive with irrational fear. If, instead, the focus is on the action of the play, the simplicity of doing, the experience will be alive and invigorating for everyone involved. The audience will be allies on a single journey with the actor. The actor will be present so that the audience can also experience presence.

When Kerri and I stepped onto the stage last Friday, there was no ledge; it was all jump…

[to be continued]