Give Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Viktor Frankel

We walked downtown a few days after the fires. We decided it was time to go see for ourselves what had happened in our town only a few blocks from our home. In truth, the sound of speeches ringing through the neighborhood drew us. We were already walking when we first heard them. We couldn’t understand what they were saying or where exactly they were coming from so we followed the sound. The amplified voices and cheering bounced off the buildings and sometimes seemed to be coming from all directions.

We followed the echo to the street that runs by the civic center. From a distance we could see the crowd. ACLU observers wearing blue vests roamed the area. There was a first aid center. Tables were manned to distribute water to the crowd. When we saw the burned out car lot Kerri took out her camera and began taking pictures. “Why did they burn this?” she asked. Yes. Why?

It is uniquely human to ask why. To need an explanation. We attempt to record and document. To gather evidence. All in the pursuit of sense-making. To find meaning. And, if no meaning is easily found, no readily graspable answer to “Why?” is available, it is among our greatest human powers to make it.

To make meaning. To find meaning.

Viktor Frankel, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, asked “Why did some people survive and some not? He looked for an attribute that favored survival in such extreme, random and deadly conditions. He concluded that, after sheer luck, survival in the camps favored people who made meaning from their circumstance. The people who sought meaning from their circumstance soon lost hope. He wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

On the hood of one of the burned out cars someone had stenciled this appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans. What might it take for us to be better humans?

When I was in elementary school great pains were taken to teach me how to be a good human and function in a civilized society. Wait for my turn. Open the door for someone with their hands full. Help where you can. Listen to others. Raise my hand before speaking. All of these simple lessons shared one thing in common, a specific organizing principle: consider others. Be considerate to others. Good humans are mindful and cooperative.

All of these simple lessons ran contrary to the rules I was taught about succeeding in the world: it’s dog-eat-dog. It’s a fierce competition. Do whatever it takes. In other words, it’s every man and woman for themselves. It’s just business.

So, like all of us, I’ve wrestled with the national schizophrenia: I can either be a good human and consider others or I can succeed. Not both. Said another way: in order to succeed I have to abandon my goodness.

As is the case with most either/or framing, it is a false choice. Money need not be absent of morality. Success can be the blossom of compassion.

It is important as we stand at this national crossroad, this opportunity for reckoning with our past, that we look at this polarity, that we step into the gaps between all of the false choices, black and white. Our troubles will not go away until we attempt to live our rhetoric, until we unpin white success from black subjugation. Equality of opportunity, equal justice, equal (fill in the blank) has not been afforded all members of our community. To be better humans we need to challenge our either/or false choices and instead walk toward a center that includes a full spectrum of color, choices and opportunities for all.

If we can find our center, if we can challenge our rhetoric, we just might find our path to being better humans living in healthy inclusive society. In the end, we may even come to the same conclusion as did Viktor Frankel: “I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BE BETTER HUMANS

Care Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

hope copy

This is my broken record moment: a system will do what it was designed to do. Sitting as I am in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the latest national flashpoint, I feel I have a front row seat to the system activating in response to a challenge.

Our system was designed to prevent “the unity of the commoner” in order to keep the focus off of the ruling aristocracy. This morning I read this sentence in the news: The president is fanning the flames of violence and dividing the country for political gain. The implication of Trump’s attacks is that there is a binary choice between law and order, and offering understanding and a path to justice for Black Americans.

A binary choice. A false choice. The commoners can EITHER have law and order OR they can stand for equal justice for all Americans. With equality comes the possibility of unity and unity is a threat to the system. In other news, just as you might suspect, vigilantism is on the rise. The system is responding exactly as designed.

Here’s the conundrum: we believe that protest and civil unrest are the path to real systems change and yet protest and civil unrest always split the community (prevent the unity of commoners). The path to social change in the USA cannot come from division. It might start there but it has to transcend the designed divide.

While the pandemic rages and the commoners are fighting each other on the streets, the stock market has soared. The United States has the highest level of income inequality among the countries in the G-7 and the gap is growing. It is not an accident that Fox News has its Henny Penny followers running around screaming “Socialism!” at the very time that America boldly steps toward an oligarchy.

My dad used to tell me that I’d educated myself into stupidity and I’d shake my head. Why would anyone choose to be uninformed? An ignorant populace is easily swung by the nose. An ignorant populace might have guns but they are unarmed where the real danger lurks.  It seems a good many of us are happily manipulated, hungrily eating anger and hate rather than asking a question or bothering to scratching the paint to discover if what we’re being sold is true or a con. It’s easy to check a fact or a source but you first must want to do it. That is where we fall down. We simply do not care. We opt for tribal division and easy blame over communal health – again, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Caring enough to question. That, too is an option. Caring enough to question is a possible path forward but requires us to look beyond the spoon-fed-rhetoric, the misinformation campaigns, and the intentionally stoked fires of division. It requires us in our questioning to shift our focus from the fight to the workings of “the ruling aristocracy.”

There’s also this: the businesses in downtown Kenosha and beyond are boarded up. The people of the community came out to paint them with messages of hope and support. Stamped on the hood of a burned out car is an appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans.

The impulse for change and a better world is there. A river of hope is there. The voices from the angry fringe will always shout loudest but I have to believe the vast majority, the quiet people who come out to paint, are looking for a common ground. There is hope, lots of hope, if we can take a look in our national mirror and see that we are doing exactly what the system is determining that we do. If we see it, we might be able to care enough to question, to deny the divide. We might be able to come together. We might be able to find a way to do better, to be better humans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

let'sbebetterhumans website box copy

 

 

Stack It High [on KS Friday]

a shred of hope copy

It’s day 4 of the salmonella blues. We think the offender was the green onion in the tabouli. We made a big batch on Sunday and it was delicious. And then it wasn’t. If it was possible for our world to get even smaller, more constrained, we found the way.

If we wanted to, we would stack the tales of woe one upon the other: pandemic, broken wrists, lost jobs, and today, the top of the woe-stack would be bad onions. We simply do not want to focus on that particular stack. So, instead, we stack our tales of gratitude: we are safe in our home, we have ridiculous amounts of love for our crazy dog and oversized cat, we are healthy (mostly), we have each other, we have incredible family and friends. We live our art. In fact, during the moments we feel sorry for ourselves, all we need do is slide the stacks together for side-by-side comparison. The gratitude stack is a mighty mountain next to the wimpy stack of woe.

This morning, when we felt that we could sit upright, we went into Kerri’s studio. She brought a word to mind and began playing, improvising. My job, as always, was to hit the record-button and stand still. What she played lifted me. I couldn’t help but look out the window, the sun sparkled in the leaves of the tree out front. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that everything was going to be alright. No matter what.

I told her about my feeling and she said, “Oh, that’s good! The word I chose to play was ‘hope.'”

What’s atop the gratitude-stack today? A little shred of hope.

 

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A SHRED OF HOPE

Kerri lingers in Facebook limbo. Everyday I ask with increasing mock-suspicion, “What exactly did you do?” Her indignation resurrects her almost-lost Long Island accent, “Idintdoanything!” she huffs. So, if you desire that I might live another day, consider subscribing to her blog. It will keep me out of trouble and for that I will chuck you on top of the stack of gratitude. The view is excellent up there so give it some thought.

 

 

close-up Arches with website box copy

 

 

a shred of hope ©️ 2020 kerri sherwood

a day at the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

 

 

Unify The Rabbits [on Merely A Thought Monday]

i like your mask copy

If you chase two rabbits, both will get away ~ Chinese Proverb.

In the theatre, the double-rabbit chase is called a split intention. An actor cannot both play well the scene AND try and please the audience. It’s one of the fundamental lessons an actor must learn; play the scene purely and the audience will enter the story. Trying to please an audience is a fool’s errand and will throw everyone out of the story.

The lesson is not what it might at first seem. The lesson is to recognize that, in truth, it is not an either/or choice. The only way to “please” the audience is to play well the scene. The only way to “please” them is to forget about them. The job is not about “pleasing.” The job is about the performance of a play.  It’s a lesson in priority of focus. In recognizing and attending to the first principle, all other concerns fall into their proper place. The magic is in unifying what might at first look like a two-rabbit chase.

It’s a lesson that has great usefulness far beyond the stage in every walk of life. Either/Or framing is usually a warning sign that two rabbits are on the run.

A split intention is always resolved through a focus priority.

In our pandemic time, in these states-once-united, we’ve managed to cleave our intention. Health or economy? The chase is on and both are getting away. Trying to reinvigorate an economy by ignoring the health implications is akin to an actor trying to please an audience – it is a fool’s errand. People will not go out if they do not feel safe. Although each day we are plied with scenes of packed bars and beaches, we also read an ever-mounting roll call of bankruptcies, job losses, impending evictions, rapidly shrinking GDP, etc.

It’s a pandemic. Roughly 1,000 people a day are dying. In five months over 150,000 people who otherwise would have seen 2021 have ceased to live. The infection rate is doubling [a gentle reminder to those who make me shake my head in wonderment: just as pregnancy is not caused by the test, COVID-19 testing does not produce cases. Testing identifies cases and someday will provide the opportunity to contain the spread.]

Attend to the play. Prioritize the focus. Public health and economic health are not at odds. They need not split and run in opposite directions. Economic health is not possible if people do not feel safe. It’s a basic rule of survival, a fundamental requirement of the play-of-life. Protecting public health, attending to public safety, is the first principle. Wearing masks. Testing and tracing. Social distancing. The rabbits will unify when the message aligns, when the audience-pleasers realize that, by ignoring the first principle, they are literally throwing people out of the life-story.

Focus on the priority and all other concerns will fall into their proper place.

It is palpable when an actor stops splitting their focus. It is magnetic when they fully enter the scene. The play crackles with life and possibility. It pulls audience and actors alike into the same story. Together, all move to the edge of their seats. When it really sparkles, hearts sync and beat in a unified rhythm (no kidding).

I see signs of a single-rabbit-chase everywhere. Checking out from the store a week ago, the cashier said through her face-covering, “I like your mask!” I smiled. I’m certain she knew I smiled even though she could not see it. “Where did you get it?” she asked.

Mask-fashion is arising. In mask-envy I find tiny glimmers of hope.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK ENVY

 

 

southport sand heart website box psd copy

 

 

 

 

three graces ©️ 2010 david robinson

Face Them [on KS Friday]

hope copy

The dream was vivid. I was being chased by a pack of very large demons. Terrified, I was becoming exhausted when I saw a door into a warehouse. I quickly jumped through the door, looking for a place to hide. To my chagrin, the warehouse was empty. Swept clean. No walls. A vast, open and exposed floor. The demons came through the door behind me. There was no other door. No way out. My only option was to turn and face them. So, I did.

They rushed me. But, to my surprise, as I stood my ground, facing them, as they raced snarling toward me, they began to shrink. The closer they came, the smaller they got. By the time they reached me they were no larger than ants. They had no power over me at all.

All along, all I needed to do was stop running from them. All I ever needed to do was to turn and face them. To see what they were, not what I feared they were.

This dream – so many years ago – helped me understand hope – a word that is both a verb and a noun, a thing and an action. A wish and a want. Hope, like happiness, ensues. It is not found up front, it follows. It is meaning that becomes available when a choice is made.

This nation, running so long from its demons, is once again, standing in a vast empty warehouse. There is no place to hide. When we recognize that all we can do is turn and face our demons, our racially divided path, the inequity-demons plaguing us may grow smaller. They may lose their power over us entirely.

The choice to stop running and turn. The choice to face the demons. In that moment, hope will arise.

 

HOPE on the album THIS SEASON is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

smidgefeetonroadwebsite box copy

 

 

 

hope/this season ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

pray now ©️ 2010 david robinson

Hope [on KS Friday]

hope (spring) copy

Chris wrote, “So this is what a pandemic feels like.” He is a brilliant actor, the artistic force behind Sea Dog Theater, living with his wife and two children in New York City. I was worried about him and his family. “Overall, we are okay and grateful. It’s scary. And when we aren’t thinking of just our family, we are trying to help artists who’ve lost everything; creative gigs and day job wise.” Artists generally live on a thinner margin than most people.

It is what I most love about the people who populate my world: they think of the needs of others. They seek meaningful ways to help, to support their community. It is, when all is reduced to the essence, what makes an artist an artist. It is what makes a human being a human being.

We were on the raft choosing the images and music for this week’s melange. Kerri asked, “What about HOPE?” I laughed at the double entendre. Yes. What is most needed in these times of pandemic?

Kerri’s HOPE – like the yearning it reflects – enters the world quietly. It is a sturdy force that warms the heart but does not call attention to itself.  It will lift your eyes beyond the scary and refocus them on possibilities. Ways to help. Hope.

Chris added, “We are healthy and together, which is most important.”

From our seclusion, healthy and together, to yours, Kerri offers her HOPE.

 

HOPE from the album THIS SEASON is available in iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

 

tpacwebsitebox copy

 

hope/this season ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

Believe [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

believe ornament copy

Kerri just said, “I think I’d believe more if I had another glass of wine.” After I was done laughing (and getting her another glass of wine), I realized that belief is too often like that – contingent on circumstance.

When I was a wee lad (seriously, this stuff ran rampant around my little kid brain), I’d wonder what happened the day after the bloody battle when both sides raged about god being on their side. What do you need to reconcile when your team loses? Why do you need to win to confirm your belief? A side note, another of those rampant ramblings  racing through of my too tiny skull (no wonder my parents were at a loss of what to do with me)  – this one is to really get me in trouble: if your god takes sides, chooses a team or otherwise reinforces a separation from the whole, how can you not see that it must be a very small god indeed? For perspective, an existential reboot, go outside and look at the stars and understand what you are seeing. No sides. Beyond comprehension.

Conditional belief. It is run amok.

If our capacity for belief was not conditional, what might we actually believe? Who might we become if we understood that we are expressions of this great universe and that this great universe was cheering for us and those rowdy huzzahs  had nothing to do with our winning or losing, with borders or righteousness or rules or books or councils or sexual orientation or money or the color of our skin? Or beliefs. Every atom a delight. Every creation a miracle. Would we be hope-full?  Would ‘the enemy’ look the same through the eyes of unconditional belief?

I know. Pie-in-the-sky thinking. Only a child could believe so completely, so unconditionally in…goodness.

Anything is possible if you just believe.

[note: this beautiful ornament was a gift that came atop a container of ‘slushy’ – a life giving concoction brewed in Dan’s secret laboratory and delivered each year to my squeals of delight. If my belief is conditional it is Dan’s fault and I blame Gay for not reining him in. She found this beautiful ornament so I also blame this post on her generosity and good taste. These two people make me believe wholeheartedly, without condition, in goodness].

 

read Kerri’s more coherent blog post on BELIEVE

 

dogga in snow website box copy

 

Follow The Intention [on DR Thursday]

2mayyouBEpeace jpeg copy 2

It occurred to me, last night, when writing about the heart symbol, that the mistake we too often make is to hold fluid aspirations as ‘fixed’ states. Heart as a frozen symbol. An achievement. An arrival station on the train of life.

Nothing in this vast universe is still. Every molecule, every cell, is in constant movement. Constant transformation. Peace, hope, heart, love,…are not end-games. They are not winnable sports. They are dynamic, fluid, ever moving. Try to wrap your fingers around them and they will slip through, fog in a butterfly net. They are unattainable.

What, then, does it mean to dwell in your heart? To be at peace?

None of us are ‘fixed’ states. We, too, are in constant movement. Constant transformation. Constant relationship. Constant choice.

Last week I told the choir that their voices would go where their eyes go. Look up. Look to the back of the hall. In that way all are included in the song. It is also true that our actions will go where our thoughts go. Meditate (think about) division and opposition and that’s where we go. That’s what we see. That’s what we create. It’s a choice.

The words on this painting come from the Buddhist prayer of loving kindness. It is a prayer that ripples out, ripples back. Constantly moving. Peace as a motion, hope as a practice. Love as a dynamic action that follows the intention of a fluid mind.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BE PEACE

 

2mayyouBEpeace jpeg copy 2

this image is available here. Scroll down for options.

 

 

prayerflagsinsnow website box copy

 

yoga series: may you/morsel: may you be peace ©️ 2015/2017 david robinson

 

 

 

Go Tiny And Skip! [on DR Thursday]

PeaceOnEarth copy

Kerri called them ‘morsels,’ little snippets of my paintings. She’d isolate a spot, crop it, perhaps add some words or simply let the cropped image become a new, stand-alone design. We offered her morsels through society6.com [prints, cards, coffee cups, pillows, etc.]. This morsel is from the corner of a large painting, An Instrument of Peace.

The morsels had a profound impact on how I see my paintings. In many cases, I liked the morsels better than the paintings they came from. The morsels said more with less. They took me by the hand and led me back to the forgotten lands of shape, form, and color in their purity.

The morsels helped me comprehend and then dance back and forth across the crevasse between design and painting. Painting [for me] is a deep dive, personal spelunking. It is a meditation. Design is visual play. It’s skipping in the sunshine, looking for shells on the beach. Carefree [Kerri is the designer in our family so it is especially easy for me. I’m like the supervisor on a road crew; she does all the work and I stand there, pat my belly, look important, and get all the accolades].

Originally, Kerri made this morsel as a wish for peace. It is among her many morsels that celebrate this season, the return of the light. Peace seems in short supply in our divided nation, our angry world. She asked that we use this morsel today so I pulled it from the archive. She knows that art carries great power and can inspire people to see anew, to dance back and forth across their personal crevasses, and lead the way back to forgotten lands of community and shared vision. Shape, form, color. Beauty generated and shared inside as well as out. Reaching rather than rejecting as a first action.

All of this possibility, hope, an enormous wish, carried in one little tiny morsel.

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE ON EARTH

 

PeaceOnEarth copy

for a print or wall art of this image, go here

 

 

oversizedjoy copley place website box copy

 

an instrument of piece ©️ 2015 david robinson

morsel: peace on earth ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Wait [on KS Friday]

waitingsongbox copy

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

 

ks website header copy

 

k&dbw backs website box_ copy

 

waiting/joy! a christmas album ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood