Meet The Saw [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As the magician saws the woman in half, he tells her that, “Magic is not an exact science.” It is among my favorite Flawed Cartoons.

“There’s nothing sadder than a forty year old production assistant,” she said, sipping her drink, looking across the room at a man she clearly thought was a loser. I was living in Los Angeles and was at a party with movers-and-shakers. The gathering also included a few of the people who carried the cables, loaded the trucks, moved the electrics – the lowest rung on the ladder. The runners. I swallowed hard. At the moment she said it, I was thinking the exact opposite. There is nothing more interesting than a forty year old production assistant. I wanted to be standing with the very man she considered a loser. He’d have stories to tell. Experiences to share. The movers-and-shakers bored me. Dulled by their dedication to security, thoroughly protected from the unknown or surprising experiences, they sneered at the people who’d actually lived. I found my way across the room and spent the rest of the evening sitting in the kitchen talking with a man who traveled the world.

Were I at the party today, she would look across the room at me and whisper, “Sad.”

Life is like magic. It is not an exact science. Ideals collapse. Dreams implode. Yet, the luckiest people I know are the few who have stepped out of their seats and volunteered to climb on to the stage. They’ve taken chances. Built wood buses or put their lifeblood into starting a theatre company or went boarding instead of dying in a cubicle. They’ve stepped beyond traditions and expectation. They’ve been cut in half, opened, challenged, surprised, disappointed, scared, triumphant, awed. They’ve learned. They’ve questioned their beliefs and perceptions. They’ve made titanic mistakes. They’ve stared down their demons. They’ve opted for curiosity rather than being right. They stepped off the edge. They followed, “What if…”

There’s no shortage of people who watch life from the safety of their seats. As Tom used to say, “They paint with a limited palette.” There are those lucky few who, if you see them at the party, most likely the people serving drinks, who’ve been cut in two and know from scary experience that there’s nothing more numbing or illusory than certainty. Follow them into the kitchen and ask about their lives. You’ll be amazed at the full spectrum of colors you find in them.

read Kerri’s blog post about SAWED IN HALF

flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson

Meet The Frame [on DR Thursday]

“There are people who prefer to say ‘yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘no’. Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.” ~ Keith Johnstone

A violent storm blew through so we spent the night hunkered down in the basement. We had very little sleep. Sleeplessness always leads me to moralize and for that, I apologize.

A frame of reference is a powerful thing. Experiences are interpreted through a frame of assumptions. We are witness to a time in which verifiable reality is denied because it doesn’t jive with the tribal frame.

Master Marsh passed along this quote from E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.”

Knowledge often challenges the frame. That is the point of knowledge. Growth. And growth is always a challenge to what was formerly believed possible.

It is somehow easier to lapse into a conspiracy theory, demonize an other, deny what is indisputable, than it is to allow that the frame is just that, a frame. It’s not a truth. It’s a context. It’s a binding agent. Culture is a frame of reference. Religion is a frame of reference. What we believe of ourselves is not a fact. Identity is a frame of reference. Democracy is a frame of reference. Autocracy is a frame of reference. Supremacy is a frame. Equality is a frame. Every-man-for-himself is a frame. Brother-and-Sister’s-keeper is a frame.

None are truth. Frames are creations. Agreements. Aspirations.

Frames that allow for challenges, for growth, are sustainable. Those that do not, those that deny insight, fact, data, new knowledge, those that are threatened by opposing-point-of-view, inevitably collapse in their denial.

The fire burns. A garden hose is not an effective defense, regardless of belief. Temperatures rise relative to emissions. Rain forests disappear. A lie undermines the foundations of democracy. Believe it or not. Harry Truman sat in his cabin nestled into the mountain called St Helens. Despite repeated appeals from fleeing neighbors, repeated rumbles and tremors, warnings from scientists and safety personnel, he believed he would be safe, that his mountain would never erupt. Traces of Harry have never been found.

So it goes with the denial of believers. Frames held too tightly blind rather than reveal.

Every artist knows the transformative power of a frame. A frame can make almost any scribble look substantial. A cheap frame can diminish the greatest masterpiece.

New knowledge meets an old frame. Growth or entrenchment? Blind acceptance or emerging possibility? Yes? No? Both?

read Kerri’s blog post about FRAMES

held in grace: surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Find A Horizon [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be only afraid of standing still.” ~ Chinese Proverb

Each morning, Kerri wanders outside to check her tomatoes. It is one of my favorite new rituals. I watch from the window as she steps out beyond the deck to the potting table, hands on hips, and scrutinizes the plants for newcomers. After a careful count she hurries back into the house to tell me the results of her count. Each day yields a new arrival. “There are ten!” she proclaimed this morning. Then, she took out her phone to show me the photos she’d taken. A family portrait of tomatoes. Miracles in the making.

Seasoned gardeners might not experience the same level of enthusiasm, but we newbies are wide-eyed at the little green orbs that show up overnight, at the basil plants spilling out of their pots.

It has already inspired new recipes. I blubbered on Sunday evening when I tasted the basil-and-tomato-saute over pasta. Food-that-makes-you-close-your-eyes-and-slow-down-so-that-you-can-savor-every-last-bit-of-it is high on my list of pleasures-to-be-cultivated.

We are learning. We are trying new things. We are setting up new spaces, rearranging furniture. At the same time, we are cleaning out, pulling bins from the basement. Sorting. Making space. The energy is moving.

In the past few years, our growth and learning has looked and felt like loss. Job losses, dear ones passing, broken wrists. Armor falling to the ground. Layers peeled. There’s nothing like time spent in the wilderness to put a fire beneath curiosity. When the questions are basic, “What do we do now?,” the available options are at the same time infinite and absent. There’s only one thing to be done and that is to keep moving. Find a horizon and walk toward it.

The tomatoes are harbingers. The season of losing layers may, at last, be done. There is now plenty of space for curiosity, for growing things. “What do we do now?” is still a question floating in the air. But, from our point of view, with the wasteland just behind us, we see the yellow buds and tiny green orbs as signaling a harvest to come. Hope. The energy is moving. A daily visit to the potting bench, rubbing basil leaves to enjoy the scent, seems like just the right amount of forward movement.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Ask The Gorilla [on DR Thursday]

I’m not the first person to use a gorilla as the teacher in a story. This gorilla, in this story, is teaching the little girl the difference between playing-to-win and playing-to-become-a-better-player. The story begins when the girl asks the gorilla, “Do you want to play?” and the gorilla responds, “Well, it depends. What do you mean by ‘play’?”

It’s not a flippant question. It speaks directly to the “why” of what you do. The reason. Simon Sinek put this question at the center of his golden circle. James Carse wrote his philosophical masterpiece, Finite and Infinite Games, about this simple distinction.

Yesterday I had a conversation about success. A conversation about the difference between internal and external motivation. External motivators, like winning-as-your-why, are necessarily grounded in fear. What if you lose? Who are you if you fail? Winning at all cost will eventually lead to quagmires not unlike where the Republican party now finds itself. Obstruct. Lie. Gerrymander. Fix the vote. Fix the game. Any and all deeper value or ethic is sacrificed. There is always a cost when the “why” is as superficial as “to win.” The body seizes-up, loses its freedom of movement when fear of losing is the central driver of action. The nation-body, too.

The path to mastery cannot run through a win-lose “why.” Failure is an essential on a master’s path. Throw many pots, the metaphor from Art & Fear, is a mantra not only for artistic freedom, but for honing skills. Getting better and better at playing. See what happens. Playing to play, to become a better player, transcends and finally removes the word ‘failure.’ The body gains more and more freedom of movement when every action is a learning experience.

I wrote and illustrated this book back in my dark ages when I was facilitating diversity and inclusion trainings. Some companies hired us because they feared being sued. They feared losing money and had no real interest in diversity, inclusion, equality, fair play, betterment for their employees. They feared losing their privilege. Diversity initiatives ask that we stop rigging the game.

Other companies hired us because they truly desired to address the inequities in their organization. They wanted to step into their blind spots and see. They wanted to become better and better players in their communities. Early on we learned to distinguish between the fear-clients and those that were sincere. We became better players by choosing to work with organizations that were honest and sincere about their “why.” Players of infinite games.

I never attempted to publish Play-to-Play, my little illustrated meditation. Over the years I’ve given away some of the illustrations. It is one of the many stones I’ve stacked, pots I’ve thrown, the many projects and paintings that are literally stacked in my studio. It seems more relevant now than ever before. Yesterday, looking again at the illustrations, I told Kerri, “I should draw this again. I’m better now.”

She asked, “Why?”

I said, “Exactly.”

read Kerri’s blog post about STACKING STONES

play to play ©️ 2005 david robinson

Go Spelunking [on KS Friday]

Arnie is among my team of wise-eyes. In response to a recent post, he wrote that he was relieved that I was stepping back into the light. “Darkness,” he wrote, “has never been the place from which I observed you to start.”

I am also relieved to be stepping back into the light. And, I am most grateful for my foray into darkness. It was necessary. It was useful. “The anger burned off a resistant layer of the onion.” I wrote in reply. “It burned away many of the resentments I was carrying, opened a channel to the voice I was withholding. Nature is not balanced in a world that makes room for light alone.” I was out of balance and needed to walk into that dark cave. Again. There is great power to be found at the dark center of the earth. After defeating the monster Grendel, Beowulf had to go into the dark forest and dive into the dark bottomless swamp to confront a more dark and terrifying monster, Grendel’s mother. He emerged victorious and forever changed.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

As the night the day. The day the night. Darkness is necessary to perceive the light. It is not possible to thy self be true without a good grasp of the whole truth, including the bits we ignore and deny. I’m only now understanding that this dance in the dark has been central to my lessons and my non-stop-pondering these many months. It is neigh-on-impossible to be true to yourself, to be whole, without embracing the full spectrum of your self. Without both sides of the moon. Self love, it seems, requires a love of ALL parts of your self. Dark and light. There’s plenty of room at the table.

Nature, your nature, is not corrupt or bad. It is nature. There is no judgment in nature, just interrelationship. Cycles and dances. Seasons of growth and rejuvenation. Birth and death. Rather than applying a scalpel it is more useful to go spelunking.

There is no denying we are living through a very dark time. It is the understatement of this young century to suggest that we are finding – again – a host of monsters in our very dark cave. We can, as we have in the past, run from the truth that we find, or, we can at long last pull up a chair, sit with our monsters, and have a chat. Monsters tend to transform when given some time and attention. When light is brought into darkness and darkness is led into light.

It is symbolically perfect and appropriate – deeply human – that the darkest night of the year is the time when many traditions celebrate the return of the light. It is natural, this progression into darkness. It is natural, this journey into light. Roots gather energy during the cold dark months. We rest, knowing that, with the return of the light, there will be much work to do. New crops to plant. New thoughts to harvest and share.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE SETTING THE STAGE

find all three of Kerri’s HOLIDAY ALBUMS on iTunes.

Wait [on KS Friday]

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Here in the northern hemisphere, these are the dark days. It is cold. We go inside (literally) for warmth and we go inside (metaphorically) for reflection. We wait. We look toward the solstice. We have faith in the light’s return.

The return of the light. In the sweep of the cycle of the seasons there is a time for waiting. A time to stop all pursuit. A time to pull the cloak tighter, to conserve. To hibernate. To light candles and fires. To sit with friends and make soup. To appreciate. To warm the core.

Rest and appreciation go hand in hand. After the harvest and after the festival it is appropriate to stop, to let the deeper work happen. To rejuvenate the root.

Reflection IS movement. Rejuvenation IS growth. It is necessary. It is beautiful. It happens slowly in the dark. And, as Kerri’s quiet composition suggests, it feels like hope, like WAITING.

 

WAITING on JOY! A CHRISTMAS ALBUM is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WAITING

 

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waiting/joy! a christmas album ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Turn And Open [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Real education is understanding the significance of life, not just cramming to pass examinations. ~ Krishnamurti

Tom used to call it The Little Green Bottle theory. The illusion of learning at the expense of real learning. It is the worst fate for a curious mind to confuse active pursuit with passing the test.

The worst fate for an artist is to be revered. Artists who are revered regardless of what they do, stop growing – or worse – they twist. They confuse themselves with their art. And, because they are lauded for any and everything thing they do, they lose their muse. They no longer need to listen or seek or try.  They insulate and turn in on themselves. Knowing that their feedback loop – called an audience – will give them a perfect score no matter what they do, oddly makes their work not matter at all. They – and their work – and their audience – become an energy eddy, an empty bottle with no substance. The circle closes.

Long ago, I guest-directed a play at a college. There was a student, an extraordinarily talented young man, who was coddled by his professor. She heaped praise on him. He was cast as the lead in all productions. In fact, I was (hush-hush-nod-nod) required to cast him. He was protected from the rules and rigors his peers were required to follow. He simply needed to show up.  I crossed his path again a few years later and he was a very sad and empty young man. He left his small pond and didn’t have the skills or work ethic to swim in the ocean. He wondered why no casting director would work with him, why no masters program would admit him. He expected reverence. His talent collapsed on itself. Many of his peers, those who had to work, to grapple, to reach, to struggle, had solid and thriving careers. Rather than helping him grow, his professor, his college community, stunted his artistry. His circle closed.

The waters are so calm this morning. Hog Island seems to float in the air. Sitting on the dock, I feel perplexed. Lately, the world so often feels upside-down, in service to the opposite of what it professes. Islands feigning connection. Closed circles working hard to stay closed even awash in the knowing that they can only breathe when opened. They can only grow when challenged, when they open the gates. They can only thrive when they turn, open the circle, paddle toward the limitless horizon and face the unknown.

The muse is out there, waiting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DOCK

 

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photograph: on the dock of the bay ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy The Ride [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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There was that eye-popping day that I ran across the street, more geezer than man. Somehow, my knees and hips, rather than running with the ease I had always enjoyed, squeaked and creaked and rattled along. Although I made it to the other side without being hit by oncoming traffic, I was forced to face the fact that my appendages were aging. I needed to allow more time in my crossing.

And then there was the day that I was driving. My eyes, always 20/20, missed an exit because I could not see it. I blamed it on the oncoming headlights, a dirty windshield, a too busy mind. A paper thin veneer of denial. I knew I’d finally come to the day that my eyes were no longer hawk-perfect [vanity note: I still don’t wear my glasses unless I need to read subtitles at the foreign film festival or drive at night. Denial, although thin, is elastic stuff].

When I was a kid I was on a road trip with my mother and grandparents. My grandfather was driving and he was pulled over for speeding. When the cop came to the window, my sharp-as-a-tack grandfather transformed. Cranking down the window he was suddenly a doddering, hard-of-hearing, slightly shaky, clearly demented old guy. The policeman asked for his license and my grandfather looked in panic to his wife for interpretation and assistance. The cops next question was, “Is this man capable of driving?” We stared  blankly ahead. Grandpa dialed it back a notch and recovered some coherence and believability. He got off with a warning. That day I learned one of the primary advantages of aging.

Sometime since moving to Wisconsin, I crossed a magic line. Although I do not think I am old, I am, more often than not, seen as old. A grey beard helps that perception. I confess to looking into the mirror and seeing, not my face, but my grandfather’s. Actually, a mix master image of both of them. They stare back at me when I brush my teeth. I now brush my teeth in low light.

I find this new mask odd and slightly intriguing. Sometimes I wonder who this new face will become. Sometimes I wonder who this new face is. Mostly, I can’t wait to be pulled over. I know exactly what to do and only hope that Kerri will play along.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about There’s Nothing Wrong With Being Older

 

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sacred series: inner life. one of two versions of this image. it is one of the many benefits of aging is to look inside and see lots of color!

 

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sacred series: inner life ©️ 2017 david robinson

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

 

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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

 

Circle Back To Change [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A long time ago, in addition to naming my posts, I used to number them, too. Today, as I considered what to write, I realized that I had an old post sitting on my desk top because I’m slowly (very slowly) working on a maybe-someday-book called For Art Sake. I opened the old post and laughed aloud when I read it. It is  from a younger version of me writing about the wheels of change [I’ve made a few edits]:

1174. MEET THE FIRE

In order for the phoenix to rise it must first burst into flames and be reduced to ash. Every rebirth requires a death. I imagine the phoenix does not relish the flame but after a few cycles it recognizes the necessity of the fire.

The same image (metaphor) is everywhere: the caterpillar must first cocoon and then be reduced to mush before the impossible happens. The leaves must fall from the tree before the root can replenish, revitalize, and do the impossible: bring forth new life.

The healers in Bali assured me that a wound is necessary to open the door to the gift – each of them had suffered a devastating wound or loss en route to fulfilling their healing power. The journey through the wound was necessary to realize and fulfill their gift. The heroes cycle, the belly of the whale, the quest through the wasteland, finding joyful participation in the sorrows of the world; change is a fiery, difficult business.

In my life I’ve worked with many, many people in all manner of change and transformation processes. It is surprisingly common for people to want their phoenix without experiencing the flame. It took me a while to realize that people (organizations and otherwise) were hiring me under the guise of helping them transform but in truth they really wanted me to help them circumvent the fire.

People go to great lengths to avoid the flame. No one willingly seeks the wound and no one transforms without it. No one in their right mind jumps out of bed in the morning ready to jump into the abyss and yet the adventure is impossible without it. If a full rich experience of living is the aim of our limited time on this earth, then the fire is necessary. The fire is part of the ride.

Fire avoidance is what dulls an otherwise vital life. Comfort is certainly a worthy aspiration but as the only aspiration it deadens, it limits the life-color-palette to taupe. The trick, as all the stories teach us, is never to avoid the fire (you can’t) but, once there, to be alive in it.

After ashes comes honesty. With ashes comes a deeper knowing, call it faith, that  somewhere deep inside, the phoenix-in-you will someday rise just as spring will always return.

[Kerri took these photos. They are the treads of the massive tires on the enormous earth moving equipment that is transforming our beloved Bristol Wood into a high ropes course. We grieve it daily, watching the woods reduced to ashes]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WHEELS OF CHANGE

 

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