Why Ask Why [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A rare warm day, walking the Des Plains River trail. I should have been startled when Kerri suddenly jumped off the trail but I’ve grown accustomed to her spring-loaded-photo-impulsive-gambols. I actually love the passion of her image capturing so I’ve learned not to be surprised when she leaps and snaps. There is no danger. There is a photo opp.

“SEE!” she exclaimed, showing me the photo. “Even nature is asking ‘Why?'”

My first thought: Which “why” is nature asking? Why a pandemic?  Why so much division?

Simon Sinek has made a career of teaching people to ask “Why?” before asking “How?” It makes sense: you should probably know why you want to scale the mountain before asking, “How will I do it?” People need an answer to “why.” And, because we are human, the answer to “why” need not be reasonable or rational. “Because it is there,” is an acceptable answer to “why?” I want to. I need to know. I want to feel. I need to see what is there.

“How?” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. “How” is known through reflection. There is the plan. There is the reality that comes when the plan meets the unknown forces. The plan changes. The only honest answer to “how” is: do what makes sense and we’ll talk about it later.

Amidst a pandemic, it is only human to throw up our arms to the sky and demand an answer to our “Why?”  To borrow a lyric from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: “I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I know, darling,  that you do.” In other words, viruses are intention-free. Sometimes, even though we want an explanation, there is no “why.”

There is, however, always a plan, there is a path to “How?”  How do we protect ourselves? How do we deal with it? In fact, there are layers to the question “how?” The first layer of ‘how’ is simple: social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands. Looking back from this vantage point, we know it is the best we can do short of a vaccine. Simple science.

The second layer of the how-cake is more complex and, like all ‘how’ questions, we will only be able to talk about at some point down the broken road. Maybe a vaccine. Maybe herd immunity. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe we will be foolish, like the Philadelphia parade during the Spanish flu and escalate the death toll to the point that we wake up and listen to the first ‘how?’

The virus is a force like a tornado is a force. Why did it take my neighbor’s house and not mine? Why did the forest fire rage through this neighborhood and not that neighborhood?

Here’s the only “why” question we really need to consider: in the face of this virus-forest-fire, why did we rush out to light matches (pack into bars and onto beaches), parade around screaming about our individual rights instead of metaphorically rushing into the fire to save our neighbors in the only way we knew how (social distance, masks) –  as we would have done in an inferno?

I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I do believe in intentional human beings (conscious and otherwise).

Nature need not ask “why?” We do. It’s a sure bet that our answer will make little or no sense at all.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHY

 

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Let It Peel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Jonathan told us that a tree must split its bark in order to grow.

It’s a theme. A snake must shed its skin. A bird molts its old feathers making room for new growth. A caterpillar sheds its identity entirely. Out with the old and in with the new. The forest burns and rejuvenation begins.

It is so easy to say, this bit of sage advice. Let go of that old skin! Make room for the new! Change is not supposed to be easy!

Robert tells me that many of his peers, actors becoming older actors, are no longer getting cast. There are fewer parts for aging actors. “They are angry,” he said, “They are having a hard time reinventing themselves.”

Holding tight to the old skin. It’s necessary for a while. It’s important to embrace the security of the known before stepping out the door. But clutching the old skin too long brews a sour path.

Dwight tells me that to try and recreate and/or wear the old skin is a fool’s path. He reminded me of the many times, walking down the streets of Los Angeles, I’d pass an old body squeezed and painted into the trappings of youth. There was nothing to do but look away. “Let go,” I’d whisper.

One of the few rules of systems change is that if you know where you are going you will merely recreate what already exists. Growth, like learning, is always in the direction of the unknown. Always.

Lately, Kerri and I ask each other many times each day, “What do you think will happen?” We discuss the options, spin the variations, play out the scenarios, and, in the end, we arrive at the same conclusion. We don’t know.

Bark is peeling everywhere. We must be growing.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEELING BARK

 

SurrenderNow framed copy

surrender now. a good name for a painting and even better advice when your bark is flying off.

 

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surrender now ©️ 2015 david robinson

 

Live Into Simplicity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I am a fan of simple wisdom. Most of my mentors, the people I admire most, lived their way into simplicity. Measure twice, cut once. Know the hill you want to die on. An actor can only do one thing at a time. Write a good story backwards. Let go your technique.

I use the term ‘fools errand’ a lot because I’ve been on so many of them myself. Tilting at windmills. Trying to change the world, fighting ogres, slaying dragons. All the best stories, the simple wisdom tales, tell us that the thing we seek is with us all along and yet, we need to go looking anyway. We have to. It is the rare bird that knows who they are right out of the chute. The universal quest is always to find yourself.

Roger once told me that he went to graduate school to expedite his learning. “I can take forty years figuring it out for myself or I can go to school for three years.” It was a statement made sensible by his youth. It was a statement of arrival – of knowing – and, after a few years of living, it becomes apparent to artists and seekers alike that arrival is an illusion. Knowing is relative and ongoing. I’d love to talk to the artist he has become forty years after making that statement. My bet is that he’d laugh.  We’d laugh at the jungle of nonsense we’ve both mapped our way through.

“You can make a piece of wood short but you can’t make a piece of wood long.” You can’t force a square peg into a round hole. If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. Nothing is broken, nothing needs to be fixed. Wherever you are is called Here.

The necessary action is always clear but the story wrapped around it makes it seem complex. Simple, yes?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MAKING A PIECE OF WOOD SHORT

 

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Go On A Fool’s Errand

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“I paint the way some people write their autobiography. The paintings, finished or not, are the pages of my journal, and as such are valid. The future will choose the pages it prefers. It is not up to me to make the choice.” ~ Pablo Picasso

 

 

The further I walk down this life path, the more I identify with this quote. A younger version of me would have thought it interesting but not much more. A younger version of me wouldn’t have admitted to trying to pre-determine the choice for the future; trying to determine what others see. A forgivable fool’s-errand as I am certain I am not alone in my folly.

There is a flip side to my fool’s-errand. There are things I see in the paintings that no one on earth will ever see. I am the channel. It is the privilege of being an artist to express from personal experience what cannot be fully expressed, only approximated. And, in the attempt to fully express the personal (another fool’s-errand!), a common ground is created – art is a universal meeting place, a crossroads. It’s a paradox. It is also a truth: individuals create common ground through the experiences they share and the stories they tell about those experiences. Society is a creation just as a painting is a creation. Society is an expression just as a painting is an expression.

The future will choose the pages it prefers because it will choose the pages it relates to, the pages it understands, the pages that inspire, remind, or give pause.

For me, at this point in my autobiography, it is enough to paint without regard to validity or investment in value of my paintings. It is enough to discover yet another facet of my life as an art-fool on errands .