Reflect [on DR Thursday]

This reflection spiraled me into a fond memory. A long ago chance dinner in London with Jonathan Miller. He was kind and funny and took me upstairs to his studio to show me photographs he was readying for a gallery show. I could have talked with him all night. As I left he gave me a copy of his most recent book, On Reflection. Questions of reality and identity in the arts and beyond, explored through reflections. I had the book for years and lost it in a loan.

Reflections. I have crossed paths with many brilliant artists. Some, like Jonathan Miller, a single evening, a passing glance. Others, I had the good fortune to spend many years assisting and watching and learning from their work. James Edmondson. If I ever delude myself into the notion that my artistry is unique and truly individual, I only need stop for a moment and track the people who shaped me, who inspired me, who challenged me, who passed to me their traditions, who gave me an hour of their time to share their work and thoughts with me. I am a reflection of those many, many people.

My work in the world is made better by the reflections of Horatio and David and Master Marsh, people who give me their time by reading my work and sharing their thoughts. People who have jumped into my mad projects and made me and my work better.

I am the luckiest man alive. Each morning I get up early and sit next to my wife. We drink coffee and write. She edits my posts. We read to each other and offer advice or talk about word choices. I take her hand and bring her into my studio and ask, “Will you tell me what you see?” Lately, as I draw in pencil cartoons for work, she digitizes them, dumps them in Photoshop, cleans up my messes and makes them better. She makes suggestions. She offers reflections. She formats them for publication. They are transformed from my work to our work.

And, that is the secret I learned from my many master teachers. A unique perspective, an artist’s eye, is the blossom of many, many wise eyes coming together, expressing through a single moment, an opportunity. It’s all collaboration. Artistry is nothing more than a hologram of reflection.

read Kerri’s blogpost about REFLECTIONS

pax © 2015 david robinson

Say The Word [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“In the realm of ideas, everything depends upon enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.” ~ Goethe

To outside eyes it looks like a small stack of plastic Adirondack chairs. To our eyes, it is a marker of something almost unimaginable to us during these past few years: stable ground.

If you want to know what these semi-cheap plastic chairs represent to us, look no further than the movie Gravity. Sandra Bullock in space in a story of “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Through a rolling series of disasters peppered with just-in-the-knick-of-time hand-holds, against all odds, she splashes down to earth, safe. She stands on a beach, shaky legs. For the first time in a seeming eternity: stable ground.

Perseverance is a word used after the fact. During the free fall to earth, nothing feels even remotely like tenacity. Survival-mode does not allow for meaningful reflection or personal congratulations. Look for anything to grab to stop the fall. Believe that the ghost of George Clooney will crawl into the space capsule with a kick-in-the-butt speech at the very moment when giving up seems like the only option.

“There’s always another option,” we told ourselves. There’s always another step to take. Any step. There must be…

During our free fall we sat on our back deck in our broken white, cracking-and-en-route-to-collapsing plastic Adirondack chairs. We felt the sun on our faces. We talked of appreciating our moments. We encouraged and affirmed each other when “hope” was a word that made us roll our eyes and laugh-out-loud.

Last week, in a daring gesture of new times, we bought (on sale!) six black Adirondack chairs. Six! For friends to sit in when they come to visit. A statement of “hope” during a season of pandemic.

Yesterday we sat for the first time in two of our new chairs, faces in the sun, appreciating our moment. And, for the first time in three years, we dared utter the word “perseverance.” Shaky legs. Stable ground.

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEW CHAIRS

Call It A Life [on KS Friday]

Seven years ago today, Beaky passed. The last time we saw her she was clutching a blue notebook to her heart. “You found it!” she exclaimed, rocking back and forth in glee. The journal she kept of a special trip to Europe. A memory, a connection to Erling she thought was lost. We searched the house high and low. We stayed an extra day knowing that meant a 24 hour drive/sprint home. In the last bin, truly , the very last, tucked in the far recesses of the garage, we discovered the notebook.

What I recall about that search is how many times we stopped, dust coated and tired. We sat in the middle of boxes, stacked papers and bins and said, “We’re never going to find it.” Or, “It’s not here.” And then we’d go to the next room of the house, open closets, pull out boxes, the search resumed.

As you might imagine we found more than the blue notebook. That night Kerri told me many stories of family and events sparked by something we’d unearthed. “Oh, my god!” she’d exclaim. “Look at this!” The vet papers for the dog named Shayne. A photo of the family at the house on Long Island. Good times. Stories. Our search became a connection for Kerri to times that she thought were lost.

Memories. Legacy. Doing what is yours to do, looking back and calling that a life.

Eric recently wrote in our Slack channel about my play, The Lost Boy: Your introduction — chronicled on Skips blog — stuck with me, and comes to mind frequently in daily interactions. “This is a memory, after all. It all happened. Though because it’s memory, it probably isn’t factual. So, if I contradict myself, if you catch me saying the opposite of what I just swore was true, if you find me standing smack in the middle of a paradox, it’s not that I’m lying to you. It’s a memory.” The Lost Boy was a story told to me by Tom. Originally, it was meant for him to perform, the story of doing what was his to do. It only became possible to produce after he had slipped into the land of memory. It became mine to do.

And isn’t that the magic of life. What is mine and what is yours to do is never separate. 50 years ago Beaky and Pa took a trip to Europe and she kept a journal of the trip in a blue spiral notebook. 7 years ago Kerri and I spent a long day and night scouring a house to find it. I am now part of the memory of her journal. Her journal is now part of the story of Kerri and my past.

“Never underestimate your power to impact or influence another person’s life,” Paul said to his actors. Doing what is yours to do. Never really understanding or knowing the impact of the simplest action. Calling it a memory. Calling it a life.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about BARNEY

legacy/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Love The Wreckage [on DR Thursday]

It sounded like a thousand bees hitting the glass, trying to break the pane to get inside the house. Hail. Little pellets driven by the wind, appearing from nowhere. The last time I’d looked out the window it was sunny. And then, the rain. I stood at the window and watched the water find its path of least resistance from sky to glass pane to ground.

I was grateful for the bees hitting the window. The hail called me from the other world and back into this reality. When I work I tend to be too focused. I’ve always been that way. If I’m painting or – these days – assembling Powerpoint slides to map an idea or make a point – I am no longer available in this world. In my past life, you could come into my office or studio and sing an aria and I’d miss it. My focus was like a fortress.

Years ago when I lived in L.A., my friend Albert would “drop by” my studio every afternoon and make me join him for a cup of coffee. He was the best of friends. He knew I would not – or could not – come out of my other world without some prompting. He was like the bees hitting the window. Intentional hail. He’d sit with me, sipping coffee until I once again became verbal, until I wandered out of the fortress. I think he saved me. It’s too easy to get lost in a fortress.

Yesterday Kerri and I had a “talk.” I confessed that moving to Kenosha was like being a brakeless semi-truck hitting the sands of a runaway truck ramp. Full stop. Pieces of me flew everywhere. All momentum stopped. Wreckage and a broken nose. And, there, the lessons began.

I fought hard to keep the fortress intact but there were too many pieces scattered across the gardens. Light was pouring in. Focus became less about blocking out disturbance – disappearing – and more about attending. Giving attention. There’s a balance and for me it is a high wire act everyday. Learn to walk the wire of presence rather than disappear into a myopic fortress.

Pieces scattered akimbo do not reassemble but they do provide nutrients to the soil for new growth. Spring is calling. New shoots of green are poking from the crusty ground. The hail calls me from my creation. The fortress was a dark place. I much prefer the ruins and the budding gardens fed by the driving rain.

read Kerri’s blog post about RAIN

in dreams i wrestle with angels © 2017 david robinson

Shape The Vessel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

George Ohr was one of the great ceramic artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Like Van Gogh, he died unknown, never experiencing the success of his work. Robert reminded me of George Ohr’s story and I reminded Robert that Ohr would be a terrific story for him to tell through a one-man play.

What is it to follow your art-call with heart and dedication with nary a hint of financial reward or success on the horizon? Vincent Van Gogh would have been called an amateur during his life since the making-of-money is the flag we plant in the sand marking the line between being a professional and a dilettante. Those lines do not exist for artists with a deeper call. The money does not the artist make.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, quite a journey for the unseen work of George Ohr’s life to find so much vibrant admiration after his passing. Had he known it would have changed nothing. He’d have spent his days at the potter’s wheel either way.

“Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut out doors and windows from a room; It is the holes that make it useful. Therefore, profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.” ~Lao-tzu

Profit and usefulness. Shape and space. Mary Oliver asked the question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? It hits the nail squarely on the head. It was not the pots that George Ohr made or the paintings that Van Gogh painted, it was the space they entered while throwing pots and painting paintings. It was the world they entered through their artistry, more expansive than financial success, more necessary than renown. A wild and precious life lived wildly and with avid appreciation.

Standing amidst the brilliant orchids, some of the flowers were in their last days. Their beauty fading, they cared not a wit. It is not in their nature to stretch their faces and pretend that the cycle of life is more valuable in the early bloom than it is in the late retreat. All is treasured, beguiling. Every last moment, not to be stalled or held onto. The root as necessary as the bloom, the winter as indispensable as the spring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FIREWORKS

Hold The Space [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When I met Kerri, the bar of acceptance I had to clear was not with her children, it was the enormous cat with the name of a rapper: BabyCat. If the sumo-sized cat had rejected me, I’d have been shown the door. Thankfully, BabyCat was merely indifferent to my presence so I got to stay. And, after a few years of kitty-aloofness, one night BabyCat crawled into my lap and I knew I was in for good.

Today, BabyCat would have been 13 years old. He left us in a flash almost a year ago though, to this day, I think I hear him upstairs. I’m not the only one: after breakfast every morning, a year later, Dogga returns to his B-Cat meet-up spot in the kitchen and waits for his pal to join him. With full bellies, they would meet, hang out in the kitchen, and sleep the morning away. Now, after a few minutes, Dogga retreats to the back door and pines.

Though Dogga and I miss our BabyCat, Kerri suffers most from his absence. Sometimes I find her standing still in a room, as if she is listening. I wait, holding the space. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she says. He came into her life in a period of great upheaval and was her constant companion. Through the years that she lived in this big old house all by herself, she was never all by herself. She had her BabyCat. He had her. They were – they are – bonded.

It is the empty space, the surprising change of pattern, the absence of a normal daily sound: the heavy footed cat coming down the stairs to beg a treat, that makes us stop and listen, move to the back door and pine, or tell BCat stories. Today we light a candle and celebrate BabyCat. We pause to fill the empty space with memories and laughter of all we loved about our enormous tuxedo cat with the name of a rapper.

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT

Dial Three Numbers [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Last month, when the car across the street blew up, there was general pandemonium until the fire department arrived. In a few moments, order was restored. People, myself included, who only moments before had been running around in panic, gathered at the end of our driveway and watched the methodical dousing of the fire. Tragedy turned to block party the minute the men and women of the fire and police departments took charge. We transitioned from unsafe to secure, in a heartbeat, from “I don’t know what to do,” to, “I’m so glad they know what to do”. Neighbors chatted. Speculated. We shared tales of the explosion. We compared notes while the people who know what to do put out the fire and cleaned up the mess.

We take for granted the security we enjoy. In the back of my mind, I know that dialing three simple numbers into the phone will summon people who know what to do.

We awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of our basement carbon monoxide alarms blaring. We turned on the lights but something was dreadfully wrong. It was as if the entire house was on a dimmer switch: there was light but it was very dim. And then we heard a buzzing sound in the ceiling. And then the smell of hot electric wires filled the room.

We dialed three simple numbers. In a panic, we put the dog, our bag with important papers, and the computers into the car.

And then, the people who know what to do arrived with their red lights ablaze. They calmly came in the house. They searched every square inch of our home with heat sensing technology. They pinpointed the source of the buzz and the burning smell. It was not yet dire but could have been bad had we not been awakened by the alarms. Within minutes of their arrival, our fear dissipated. Problems were identified. Safety was secured. Advice given.

We were safe. We dialed three simple numbers and help was on the way.

read Kerri’s blog post about FIRE ENGINES

Welcome The Next Normal [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There was a time when my marker of the holiday season was the return of Pirate Christmas Ale; a rich and happy stout. It tickled me that the return of the holiday season was signaled with a Pirate and not jolly Ole Saint Nick. I drank one-a-night, from the day I saw the Pirate’s return to the store, through the end of the year. Pirates-in-holiday drink in moderation.

It’s been many years since I walked with the Pirate through the threshold of light’s return. With my move to Wisconsin came the establishment of a new normal. And then came COVID. I think we’ve both come to the realization, after a few years of deep disruption, that there will not be a return to normal. Just as with my move from the west coast to the upper-midwest, there will be the creation of a new normal. Just what that will be remains to be seen.

We know the new normal means leaving the house. We work at home and have mostly isolated these past few winter seasons. Cabin fever is getting to us. So, we’re taking calculated adventures. A visit to the Botanical Gardens. A walk around the small town of Cedarburg. A drive into Chicago. We continue to hike our trails but we’re both feeling the call of exploration, the desire to sail our ship toward the horizon. We really wanted to go to a concert but chose not to – COVID considerations remain central to our weird calculus.

Yesterday, while walking the streets of Cedarburg, we saw a tent behind the Stilthouse. Tables and heaters. We grabbed a spot under a heater, ordered lunch and lingered over a glass of wine. It sounds so normal yet, what was once commonplace, what was once something done without much thought – was a rare and delicious treat. We savored every moment.

Lately, we’re getting this reminder again and again. When the water line into the house broke – and we were without water for a day, the return of the water through the faucet brought cheers and happy dancing. There’s so much we take for granted. There’s so much to be savored in the commonplace, in the everyday, especially when we understand it might not be available forever.

Mostly, there is this: during the darkest days of every year, people come together in many ways to light candles, to exchange gifts, to make meals, to offer hope, to help each other through the dark time. Whether they realize it our not. The light returns. The earth spins. There’s water in the pipes. A heater and a table. Merlot in the bottle. Good friends. Good cheer. New work. The beginning of the next normal.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD CHEER

[this post marks the 200th consecutive week of the melange. Corks are-a-poppin’]

Reinvent [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

As we’ve been told, Kerri and I are simpatico. Yet, at this time of year, the vast differences in our past lives come to the surface. For instance, she’s lived in this house – now our house – for 32 years. She raised her children here. I did not have children and was mostly – until I met her – a wanderer. For Kerri, the holidays are rich with memories and traditions, meal prep for the masses, all things that she now misses. Covid has served to amplify her longing.

I’ve always had to improvise during the holidays and, were I to do an accounting of my experiences, I’d wager that I’ve spent more holidays away from rather than with family. I do not suffer the loss and yearning that Kerri suffers. My holiday memories are not fond or tradition-filled.

It was cold on Thursday but we walked a trail anyway. We held hands and talked of reinventing or rituals. It seems so much of past two years has been an exercise in disruption and loss, letting go of what-was and making space for what-will-be. The holidays in our future need not be populated with the ghosts of holidays past.

We read an article that flipped on-its-head the usual Thanksgiving question. Rather than ask, “What are you thankful for?” the article suggested we ask of ourselves, “What will you do to help others be thankful?”

It’s a good question and a great seed to plant for the ghost-of-our-holiday-future.

read Kerri’s smack-dab. blog post

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Lose The Rant [on Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

I wrote a post and decided not to publish it. I was deeply disturbed by the news. A parade. More violence. Senseless. More and more. And more. Jim wrote that he was going to chisel into his sidewalk the now ubiquitous (to us) phrase: I just can’t believe it.

I wrote about my escape fantasy. A quiet place. A place where people know how to hold differences of opinion as a constructive force for good instead of a destructive pout to be right.

This weekend, people gathered at the gallery to see art. To experience art. Painting and sculpture and photography. I have not been in a crowd since the pandemic began and I was both wary and encouraged. I wonder about the new normal.

After the opening we made dinner for 20. Kerri’s inner composer broke through and we saw, for the first time in a long time, the light and warmth of her artistry lift and shine. She turned up the sound and asked us to listen. The music soared. I cried. It was nice to see her again.

Tomorrow is the day – just a day – isn’t that odd – that is set aside for giving thanks. I am thankful to have had a glimpse of the composer. The artist. The lift of her music. I am thankful for people who gather to share art. I am thankful for a dinner with 20, laughter, and our shared nonsense. I am thankful for Mike who finds a way forward against all odds. I am thankful that Bruce passed this way and stopped to say, “Hello.”

I am thankful that I believe that the people of the world are better than the news leads us to believe. I am thankful that I did not publish my rant. I am thankful for my escape fantasy, my quiet place.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE PATH