KS Friday

a musical t.g.i.f. lift from studio melange!

jacketrightnowjpeg copyI’m beginning to believe that high atop the list of human fears-that-lead-to-foibles is the fear of ambiguity (I seem to be writing a lot lately about ambiguity). We want our world to be clear cut, black and white. We want the line between right and wrong to be definitive across all circumstances. We want a ‘normal’ that is one-size-fits-all. We want our word and our book and our laws and our rules and our values and our virtues and our morals to be simple and straightforward and, most important, to be defined by how I define them, not how YOU define them. We want to know what to do. We want to know where we are going. We want to know why we are here. What. Where. Why. Quinn used to call these the BIG three.

We hardly ever know what to do. We choose a path based on what we know at the moment. Choices that are based on ideals, imaginings and sometimes a gut feeling. And, where are we going? Where are you going? Do you know with certainty where this day will take you? Can you possibly know why you are here? What if there is not merely one purpose or one reason? What if that “knowledge” is something you can only see clearly when looking back on your life?

Ambiguity makes space for grace to enter. ‘Not knowing’ is the path that leads to all growth and discovery. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people because no one is all good or all bad. Isn’t it often true that the things that seemed like obstacles in our lives one day down the road began to appear as great blessings?

It’s probably comfortable to think that this messy life is only black and white. But a comfortable thought is all it is. On this melange KS Friday, take a moment and step into the ambiguity known as music. Let Kerri’s gorgeous piece, It’s Not Black & White, buoy you on a river of grace to the space between rules and lists, the subtle-spirited place where life is lived & experienced and quite simply refuses to be boxed in the fear of artificial certainty.

IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE from the album RIGHT NOW (track 11) itunes

IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE from RIGHT NOW (track 4) on CDBaby

PURCHASE THE PHYSICAL CD. RIGHT NOW

read Kerri’s thoughts about IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE

 

NEW! KS DESIGNS

life: it’s not black and white [merchandise]

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IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE from RIGHT NOW ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

 

Two Artists Tuesday

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Jim told me that he was suspicious of this culture that seems to need to plaster messages on the wall, on shopping bags, or indelibly tattooed on body parts. Begin Anywhere. Live Loud. This life is not a dress rehearsal. Peace. Home.  “It’s too simplistic,” he says.

So. Brave.

Are we branding our lives, marketing our selves to ourselves? Are these ubiquitous expressions reminders? Encouragement? Aspirations? Desires? Statements of intent? Flags planted in the metaphoric sand? Are these flags too simplistic?

Joseph Campbell once said that  to find more-than-ample evidence of the collapse of our unifying culture/story (our mythology) one need look no further than the daily news. Violence and division dominate our day. It is the seedy sensational story we tell to ourselves. It seems we’ve traded the commons for higher ratings. The common good falls apart in the face of the lobbyist’s payout. Can there be a center when another set of ubiquitous expressions dominate our dialogue: tribalism, polarization, fake news. Us. Them. Again, more flags planted in the metaphoric sand and are they also too simplistic?

On the stage, when actors have no direction and lose sight of the common story they might otherwise tell, they default to a condition lovingly (yet accurately) known as “Save-your-ass-theatre.” It is every man/woman for him/her self. It a group of artists on stage feeling isolated and all alone but pretending to be together. It is fear with a thin smile pasted on its face. It is awful to watch. And, it is easily remedied: save-someone-else’s-ass. Instead of pushing your drowning mate down so you can reach air, lift them up so they might breathe. They will immediately return the favor. Restore the commons. Step back into the common story.

The opposite of fear is not courage. It is community. Bravery is nothing more than the choice to stand in fear and reach. Cowardice is the choice to stand in fear and pummel. Fear that flourishes in isolation dissolves in the common story. From the studio melange on this Tuesday we offer the only flag worth planting in the sand: be brave enough to turn to the center. Reach. Help someone find air. Is it too simplistic?

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brave leggings brave framed art print brave iphone case brave mug

read Kerri’s thoughts on this Two Artists Tuesday

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brave ©️ 2017 kerri sherwood & david robinson

 

Chicken Marsala Monday

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High atop the list of obstacles we erect on our creative life path is this: I don’t know how…. As a coach, I heard it daily from clients. As a consultant, I heard it regularly from business leaders and educators (the pronoun changed: we don’t know how…) Artists regularly lock up in the face of a monstrous HOW?

When I was a young erector of massive obstacles in my path, Quinn would smile and say to me, “Nobody knows how. Just start.” I thought he was being flippant with encouragement but lived my way into recognizing that his advice was not only sound but it was sage.

Knowing how to do something is never a prerequisite for action. It is, however,  a really good excuse to prevent action.

Knowing how comes second. Always. It comes after the fact, after the experience of trying and adjusting and learning. It comes at the end of the day, looking back. That’s when “how” becomes visible. Today’s Chicken Nugget via the studio melange is timeless and simple advice. It would make Quinn smile: sometimes the best thing to do is start.

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SOMETIMES THE BEST THING TO DO IS START merchandise

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check out KERRI’S thoughts on this CHICKEN NUGGET

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sometimes the best thing to do is start ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

 

 

 

Dance With Parallax

My favorite word of the week is ‘parallax.’ Horatio pulled it out of the word bin during our latest conversation about art and artistry. We were discussing the difference between what an artist sees in their work and what others see – and how artistic “sight” changes over time. I scribbled the word along with the phrase, “the difference in what you see and what others see. Perspective over time.” After our call I looked up the word in my dictionary:

paral-lax (noun) 1. Apparent change of position. 2. Angle measuring star’s distance from Earth.

Many years ago in a fit of vulnerability I showed my mentor, a great theatre and visual artist, my paintings. I lined them all up for him to see. I followed him around the room as he quietly studied each piece. Finally, after taking in all of my work, he asked, “What’s the meaning of the spheres?” I was dumbfounded and had no idea what he was asking. “Spheres? What spheres?” So he led me back around the room, revisiting each painting, showing me the three spheres that appeared in EVERY single painting.

“What’s with the spheres?” he repeated, knowing that there wasn’t an answer but there was certainly a vast new question. My universe spun a bit that day so astounded was I at my inability to see the unifying principle in my own paintings.

I needed his eyes to see my work. Isn’t that the point?

When I think back on that day, on that younger version of my self, I revisit the fear, the raging vulnerability I felt in sharing my paintings. I feel again the deep doubt I held against myself. I recall the nausea of inviting someone I admired into my house of doubt. I somehow believed that, to be an artist, I had “to know” what I was doing – yet knew with certainty that I had no idea what I was doing. I knew with certainty that he would see through me to my lack of knowing.

And, he did. Thank goodness. “What’s with the spheres?” Such a simple question yet it spun my universe and pitched me through the portal of a new perspective.

I learned that day that artistry has nothing to do with knowing. Life has nothing to do with knowing. Knowing is an illusion, temporary at best. Knowing has everything to do with hiding.

Making a life, as Master Marsh just reminded me, is an engagement with the unknown. It is to have experiences. It is to make meaning of the experiences. If you are lucky, you learn to have the experiences first, and make the meaning second. It is to understand that, in this dance of knowing and not-knowing, sight and blindness, chaos and order, consciousness and unconsciousness, there are no fixed points. There is dance:

dance (noun) 1. An act of stepping or moving through a series of movements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fine art prints available at society6.com

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Row

may-you-be-small-crop-jpegSometimes the way forward is akin to rowing a boat: facing backward is the only way to get proper leverage. Today, to stir my pot, to get some leverage and new energy, I revisited three books that I wrote but never published (or limply offered to a tiny audience). It was a revelation. It’s as if the man who wrote those books in the past meant for me to read them today. The man who wrote them was not ready or clear enough to birth them. The man who read them today knows just what to do (including rewrite some odd bits). Here is the introduction to the first of the three books:

I’ve generally stepped in every pothole, tripped over every opportunity, broken the family dishes, and made every mistake a person can make. I feel fortunate to be alive. I used to try and hide the mess behind a veneer of “knowing.” Eventually I realized that in order to find what I was seeking I had to stop pretending that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. I now recognize that the more I learn, the less I know. Life is not about knowing stuff. Life is vibrant when engaging with the un-known. Seeking is messy business. Being human is messy business. To pretend otherwise is…well, to pretend.

One day, while exhausting myself pretending, I realized that I was telling myself a story of fear. I realized that I was the only person invested in my fear story. I realized that I’d cast all the other people in my story as dangerous characters. I believed that if they really knew me they’d shame me. I realized that I was the only person in my story feeling pain, frustration and exhaustion. So, why was I telling myself this story? This was not the story that I wanted my life to tell. That day I began changing my story.

At some point, each of us comes face-to-face with the story of our lives. When we do, we have the choice to retreat further into hiding or to take off the mask, turn around, and walk toward the thing we fear the most. This is to seek the bear.

Every human being who has walked the face of the earth has come to the same crossroad; those that faced their bear left behind clues about how to do it. They left us messages about how best to stop hiding, how to turn and walk toward fear, what to do when it is time to stand in front of the bear’s cave and how to welcome the encounter. The clues and messages are found in the stories they left for us. The stories are maps for navigating our inner geography.

Our ancestors understood that stories are a participation sport. Our lives are mirrored in the tale of adventure. We know what to do in our personal story because we identify with the heroine/hero in the story. Their journey of transformation is a guide to our journey of transformation. Their follies and foibles give coherence and direction to our messy passage. Their death and rebirth is a map for our death and rebirth. Their story is a call for us to step more fully into our adventure-story.

As is true in all life-lessons, it’s a perfect loop. I’m back where I started (apparently) only with new eyes and a few more years of experience. Order from chaos, chaos from order, I suspect we are all, one way or another, rowing in a perfect circle.circle-peace-earth-jpeg

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Unify

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

Stay with me. I actually have a point.

If ever I teach actors again, or coach people in any endeavor, or communities/businesses seeking betterment, I will only have two things to teach: 1) Grounded-ness and 2) Focus placement on the unifiers. These two concepts are really  one looping concept but for ease and the sake of being understood, I will offer them independent of one another.

As focus placement goes, an actor on the stage has two options and depending on the focus placement they choose, they will either create the play or destroy it. A focus on how they look or sound or feel destroys the play. It is a self-focus in an art form of relationship (all art forms are made vital in relationship). A self-focus breaks the relationships and effectively locks the audience out of participating in the story. It makes the actor giddy with fear, easily distracted, alone. Conversely, the actor can focus outside of themselves, on the other actors on the stage, on the energy between, on their pursuit. An outer-focus creates relationships and serves as a magnet that pulls audiences into the story. It facilitates participation, creates relationship, and shared experiences. It unifies. Literally.

The actor who listens to him/herself pulls up their root. They unground themselves. The actor whose focus is outward, who is actively pursuing relationship, creates grounding. In fact, they must be grounded to create vital relationships. It is a first principle. Grounded-ness begets grounded-ness; it unifies. It strengthens. It invites. It clarifies truth.

The same principles apply off the stage or out of the studio. It is, however, more complex off the stage. It is much, much, more sticky.

And here’s the point: It has been said that nothing is better at uniting a community than having an enemy. It’s true. A common enemy provides an outer focus. It provides another team to defeat. It works so well that leaders across the ages, leaders who would otherwise look insipid, leaders who, like a bad actor, have a self-focus, a control need, have concocted all manner of enemies. It is a deflection. It works for a short while but what starts as false unity strips a community of its true binder. It separates and splits. It diminishes. It destroys.

Here’s the sticky part. One of the oldest tricks in the book for controlling a community is to split them, to locate the enemy within the community. And then, for good measure, magnify the split. In the early colonies – that ultimately became The United States of America – it was a strategy known as The Giddy Masses (see Ronald Takaki’s excellent book A Different Mirror). Make the people giddy with a false enemy. Uproot them. Deflect them so they cannot join in relationship and be strong as a community. Self-focused leaders cannot survive a unified, healthy populace. It is a strategy: separate the people so they cannot see the movement of power.

Today I started to read the news but stopped after only a minute. Building walls. Expelling Muslims. Enemy creation everywhere! Fox news and MSNBC are great giddy creators. It’s a bad story poorly told. It weakens all players. The primary actors do harm to their audience. Grounded-ness, a first principle, can only come to all when the actors choose to focus on the relationships, see the unifiers, to create rather than destroy. Groundedness comes when the audience engages, questions what they are being told and open (rather than close) their minds.

Grounded-ness. Focus placement on the unity. The principles that make great art also make great society. Fear, the province of the bad actor, the lot of a passive audience, although temporarily effective, can only destroy the play.

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Unfetter Kindness

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a roadtrip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a road trip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog has no problem communicating his needs. I know without doubt when he wants to go out. I know when he wants his belly scratched or have his ears rubbed. He lets me know where he expects to be scratched. He is abundantly clear when food is his need. He does not second-guess his needs. He does not doubt his desires or confuse himself with obsessing over his reasons why.

Love is one of his needs. To give it and to receive it, exuberantly or tenderly, he does not invest in how I receive or return his love. He is not vulnerable because he has no need to hide or color his love-need. He has no brakes on his exuberance because it is pure, innate, and without story.

One of my favorite exercises to assign during my teacher/consultant phase was the Angel exercise. The assignment was simple: For three hours be an angel to someone. The only requirement was that the recipient could not know. Be an angel with no expectation of recognition; write about what you discover. The assignment was always greeted by a flurry of protests and questions (“I don’t know how…,” or “What does it mean to be….”). Angel-ing is scary business!

Once, to experiment, I assigned the opposite: be a devil/trickster. Instead of protests there were gales of laughter and excitement! No one asked “how.” In midst of their exuberant, fearless plotting and scheming, I reversed the design. Before they went into the world to demonize, I required them to flip their plan and do the opposite to their intended target: be an angel. Their sudden fear was palpable. “Now that you know how to torture this person, do the opposite,” I said. “Be their angel.”

Regardless of how we entered the assignment, the students/clients would return the following week exultant. Their experiences of Angel-ing, of unfettered kindness had profound blowback. They talked of their pre-Angel terror and the unexpected thrill that came with unfettered secret service to another person. They talked of the clarity that came with Angel-ing. They had fun. They felt good. They felt alive. Everything became simple. The greatest surprise of all – something that in this season we see on posters, holiday advertisements, Hallmark cards and screen-savers, something that is a cliché when proffered but rarely experienced: kindness begot kindness. Kindness begets kindness. Kindness clarifies life when it comes with no expectation of reciprocity. Kindness simplifies inner debates when it is wielded without need of reward.

Dog-Dog loves unconditionally. Love may be his only need. For Dog-Dog there is, I suspect, no distinction between giving and receiving. His exuberant love is not meant to gain access to heaven or to change the world in any way. It is without agenda. Angel-ing is like that…

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