Turn Toward It [on KS Friday]

This is what he wrote. “The irony I feel is that the world is lost on the artistic temperament of these students.  They don’t seem awake to all that’s going on.” He’s directing teenage students in a play. He was my student thirty five years ago and reached out to me. We compared notes of the production I directed when he was a teenager, and the production he’s directing now. The world has changed mightily. His production will be viewed through a wholly different lens.

I flipped his phrase over in my mind. Artistry is to be awake to all that’s going on. And, awake is not a steady state. It’s not an arrival platform. It’s a relationship between the inner and the outer. What I know about that relationship is that sometimes you need to look away. His students have drilled for active shooters in the hall since they were in kindergarten. Mine couldn’t have imagined it. His students are navigating a pandemic, they’ve never known a world pre 9/11, they live in a country that is eating itself alive. My actors had easier access to what was going on. What was going on was closer in, more immediate and less abstract. They were not looking at a world-wide horror story or lost in the morass of social media. Cell phones were science fiction to my cast. My actors looked at each other and not at their screens.

Stories are about something. We just watched Erin Burnett’s interview with a Ukrainian husband who lost his wife and children to a Russian mortar attack. A month ago, violent death was nowhere on their radar. They were making dinner, going to school, doing homework, late for work. Erin Burnett began to cry and thank goodness. Humanity breaks through and we awake to what’s going on – really going on. We should all be weeping with Erin Burnett and this man.

Sometimes I feel as if I am looking for the small beautiful moments. I am trying to root my day in the explosion of color, the pastel sky, Dogga in the sun. Holding hands. Cooking dinner together. I am trying to be awake to what is going on, the anger and division and warmongering and carelessness as we soil our nest – without it frying my insides. Holding hands is just as real. Reaching toward our neighbors is also what’s going on.

Stories have to be about something and most often stories are about transcendence. Waking up to what is going on is less about waking up – we already know – and more about fully acknowledging it, facing the full picture and turning toward it rather than running away. But, before that final act, that moment of deciding enough-is-enough, before we are willing to blink open our eyes, we pretend the problem is non-existent or small. We ignore the obvious. 500 year storms every year. A family killed by a mortar shell. We bury our faces in our phones, we ban critical race theory, and toss our attention in a Twitter reality or a Tik-Tok diversion.

I wanted to write back and suggest that the world is not lost on the artistic temperament of his students, it’s simply too hard to look at the world so they are choosing to look away. That’s what their play will ultimately be about.

read Kerri’s blogpost about COLOR!!

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the way home/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Walk With Samuel [on DR Thursday]

“The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.” ~ Samuel Beckett, Endgame

When is something finished? Beckett wrote Waiting For Godot in 1953; characters waiting for what will never arrive. A finish. A completion. Beckett’s life spanned both wars-to-end-all-wars, Korea, Vietnam. He wrote about humanity’s dedication to nonsense. His work has been called bleak and dark. His work is shelved with the canon of The Theatre of the Absurd. And, yet, given the news of the day, these days, who doesn’t feel as if they are living in a Beckett play?

What is often missed in his absurdist plays is the beautiful human capacity to keep walking, to keep trying. Waiting and walking through tragedy, mostly of our own making, with unwavering hope. We story ourselves with nobility even when wrapping ourselves in a lie. We make rules and laws that apply to some but not to all and then we set about to justify the inequality. Money and morality are not the same thing though there’s plenty of storytelling meant to have us believe that wealth only flows to the worthy.

Art is not supposed to make sense because life doesn’t make sense. We make sense of life through the stories we concoct. Emperor’s buried with thousands of statues to keep them company in the afterlife, an artist painting the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel, gods and angels and saints. How many people died building the great pyramids, tomb for a pharaoh? Who would possibly spend their life in abject poverty smearing color on canvas? Van Gogh. A legion of others not known. Are we better for it? I cried the day the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, 6th century statues that I had not seen in person and was likely to never see. Were my tears more or less absurd than the Taliban’s animosity toward carved stone?

Matters of the heart. When are they finished? Where do they begin?

It was a gorgeous day, perhaps the last warm day of the season. We met our pals at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. Throughout the gardens, preparations were being made for the annual holiday light exhibit. A tree of shiny stars. Giant flowers. Faux candles floating in the waterway. Strings of colored lights were being placed along the walkways. Even during the light of day it was impressive.

In this time of transition, many of the gardens were being prepped for the winter, the pathways were packed with people cooing at the wave of the grasses, the shape of the trees in the Japanese garden. I was gobsmacked by the color of the moss on trees, the shock of red leaves against vivid green. No matter which direction I looked, someone, some special gardener and designer, had crafted beauty. They knew that their work would stop me in my tracks and allow me to whisper, “Unbelievable.”

Winding our way back to the Visitor’s Center, I told Brad that, seeing so many people out enjoying the gardens, excited to walk in beauty, filled me with hope.

To walk in beauty. Dollars and cents can’t reach the reason. Data can’t touch the impulse. There is so much light in this theatre of the absurd. Beckett knew it, writing about the stories we tell, the relationships we create, waiting for something – a beauty – that by definition, will never arrive because we are surrounded by it each and every day.

read Kerri’s blog post about RED SCULPTURE

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Walk As WaWo [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It was past 3am when Kerri asked me if I wanted to “watch a trail.” We were wide awake. The air was hot and still. We’d recently stumbled upon The Wander Women: Kristy, Annette, and Lynn, woman our age, walking the PCT. They’re doing a flip flop, having started their hike in the middle of the 2600 mile trail and walking to Canada, then, they’ll return to the center point and walk the distance to Mexico. We watched the installment, posted this week, as they reached the Canadian border.

Still wide awake, we went to their channel and listened as they answered questions about their hike of the Appalachian Trail. They are sirens of the possible, guides of give-it-a-try. They are not hikers who pound out miles to reach a goal. As Kristy said, “We want to enjoy every single moment.” Their yoga is a matter-of-fact-presence. They plan and improvise; both/and.

We’ve listened to more than one Q&A with the Wander Women. In an answer to their follower’s questions about living full time in an RV and life on the trail, Annette responded, “Home is where we put up our tent. You carry home inside yourself.” It was the answer of someone who’d transcended their stuff. It was the response of someone who’d internalized her security.

We couldn’t plug our windows with air conditioners this summer. We had too much of isolation last year. We needed to hear the birdsong and feel the summer air. We knew that would bring uncomfortable days, humid and hot nights. We have always walked our neighborhood and the local trails, but our decision to feel-the-summer pulled us more out-of-doors than usual. We extended the sanctuary of our sunroom out onto the deck. We placed torches along the patio and fixed the lights around the pond.

Each evening, after our work is done, we sit outside in our ever-expanding sanctuary. We listen to the cicadas. The cardinals and the chipmunks vie for a place at the bird feeder. Sitting at our table I had a mini-revelation about why I was so enjoying The Wander Women and following the few couples also out on the trail and posting weekly updates. They talk about the community of support that they find in the trail. It is often unexpected and yet ubiquitous. Both/and. They offer a staunch counter narrative to the horror we hear in the news, the contention and division. There are people dedicated to helping them and they, in turn, are dedicated to helping others. “You can do this!” they say to anyone listening. “We’ll help you do this,” their followers echo back to them. They broadcast friendship, kindness and support.

It is a breath of fresh air, a sparkling optimism for the best in humanity. It rises on the trail. Generosity that cultivates generosity. Hope that is grounded in the experience of the unprotected, the heat and cold and bugs and rain and challenge of being-what-they-are-doing. Shared experience. Sanctuary. Here. Everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about SANCTUARY

Exercise Choice [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I know what it is to be kind. I see acts of kindness everyday. Humans helping humans. Humans helping animals. Humans mindful of and taking care of their planet. Synonyms include friendly, generous, considerate. All of these are other-focused. To be kind is to consider the needs and lives of others. Beaky used to say in parting, “Be kind to each other.” Kindness was her wish for this world.

I’m not sure that I know with the same clarity what it is to be human. Philosophers have answers that generally trace back to our capacity to reason, to make meaning from our senses. To think consciously. To question. To be aware.

My quick pass through the news of the day betrays how non-human we humans can be. What is the sense of perpetuating a lie? What is gained by lobbing bombs at neighbors? Cyber attacks? We read that there were, from sea to shining sea, 9 mass shootings over the weekend. I’m having a hard time making meaning of it all. I can rationalize it, explain it away, assign blame…but, at the end of the day, I know my rationalizations are nonsensical. Non-sense. No sense. Which, according to the battalion of philosophers scribbling across the ages, attempting to define what it is to be human, we are, because of our non-sense, not human.

There are so many questions and thoughts bursting from this simple bumper sticker!

Arriving home at 10pm, after two consecutive days of 13 hour drives, 20 had a hot meal waiting for us. I called for help and my neighbor John came running. Jen prepared a travel bag of snacks for us and left it on our doorstep. The family that lived next door to my parents made sure, after every snowfall, that the walks and driveways of their elder neighbors were shoveled and safe. Kind.

Somewhere in Kansas it occurred to me that to be human was a choice. Kindness is a choice. Yes, we make meaning from our senses and experiences and the line that defines us as human is our capacity to choose the sense, the meaning that we make. We witness and then we choose. The choice makes all the difference.

The angry man weaving in and out of traffic in his truck, flying the confederate flag, was making a choice. The man who shoveled my parent’s driveway, never having met them, was making a choice. To focus on division is a choice. To reach across the aisle is a choice. To wear a mask to protect others is a choice. To point a gun is a choice. To lie is a choice. To stand firm in your conviction is a choice. To open a door for others is a choice.

To be human is not just to exercise choice but to choose actions that support others. And, among the greatest available choices, the choice that most advances humankind, as Beaky knew, is kindness. To think of others, choose, and act accordingly.

read Kerri’s blog post about HUMANKIND

Reveal Otherwise [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The TuringTest, originally called the imitation game by Alan Turing in 1950, is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.” ~ Wikipedia

I’m not sure that behavior equivalent to or indistinguishable from a human is something to be desired. For instance, as a gay man in 1952, Alan Turing, a brilliant scientist, was convicted of “gross indecency” and was chemically castrated for the high crime of loving another human being.  He committed suicide in 1954.

Too often in human history, the grossly indecent claim moral superiority and enact horrors on other people in the name of decency. I do not desire my technology to emulate that trait. We’ve seen too many examples of this human behavior of late.

I’m not sure that we want our machines to think like we do. I doubt we want our computers to be as gullible and easily led as are we. Truly, I don’t want anything with artificial intelligence to operate out of fear or notions of supremacy or any of the other ugly agendas washing over our nation. I want my technology to open new worlds and point to infinite possibilities and not to close minds or revel in ethnocentric fantasies.

So, it came as some comfort to me when, the other day, the computerized female voice on our voice mail rejected us because we did not reveal ourselves to be human. I thought, with perhaps too much satisfaction, maybe I am making some progress as I journey through this life.

read Kerri’s blog post about BEING HUMAN

Line Up Behind “They” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When the world is just too much to ponder, one of our favorite bits of escapism is to catch an episode of Highway Thru Hell. Heavy rescue tow trucks working miracles clearing the highways of impossible wrecks. Flipping large semi-tractor-trailers, pulling them off of icy bridges and out of ditches. The physics of their work is mind-bending. Angles of lift, leverage, and thrust. Marvels of nuance in heavy metal. It is a symphony of paradox: crude meets delicate, tender masculinity.

On the surface, it seems an odd choice of wellsprings to refill our faith in humanity. But, every time we indulge in our flight from the news-of-the-day, I find myself whispering, “Unbelievable.” Not only do they willingly wade into impossible messes, they do it with a singular and clear understanding: they are serving a greater good. They are trying to open or keep open a highway. Connectivity. Commerce. Community. Like any doctor removing a blockage, they are servants to communal flow. I think that is why we visit them on the highway.

At the shop, they work out their pecking order. There is no lack of flexing muscles and man-drama. But, once they are called to a crash, all the “I” flees the scene. There are police, and flag people. There is traffic backed up for miles; each and every car and truck a person with a place to be. And the tow truck operators know it. They talk about it. Their service outruns their egos. They do not hesitate to call for help. They make choices based on the needs of others. The fantasy-world of “I” dissolves into the hard reality of “Us.”

In that hard reality of “Us,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a more thankless job. They work long hours in extreme weather. The conditions are dangerous and dirty. They clear the wreck, get back into their trucks, and move onto the next, with little or no thanks from the community they serve. Yet, they show up everyday. They take extreme pride in doing their work. There is a mastery that they acknowledge in the older drivers and strive to achieve it themselves. They learn from each other. They mentor each other. They celebrate each other.

They.

When Kevin, one of the tow truck operators, driving away from an exhausting job that took many people and many hours to complete, said with tired satisfaction, “There’s no ‘I’ in team,” I thought, that’s exactly why I escape from my highway thru hell to this Highway Thru Hell.

These Highway Thru Hell guys are plugged into the simple reality of existence. They know unequivocally that no one walks this earth alone. They know that their work on this earth, amidst the mess and chaos and dirt, is about keeping the flow going, and that requires an “I” that lines up behind service to “They.”

read Kerri’s blog post about NO I IN TEAM

Put A Face On It [on DR Thursday]

kdot sketch

Strange times. The ukulele band that used to meet every Wednesday evening on our back deck now gathers on Zoom. The time delay makes it impossible for everyone to play and sing together but everyone has adjusted, adapted, and accepted the obstacle; the out-of-sync noise we make is beautiful because we are making it together. For me our noise has become an affirmation of the best of humanity in a time of celebrated ugliness: people are capable of reaching the essential when they want to. It is not the sound of the music that matters, it is the togetherness that is necessary.

It was a rough morning. We’ve been trying to find a way to safely go to Colorado to visit Kerri’s daughter and my parents. It’s been over a year. Kirsten wrote and asked us not to come. “It’s a COVID hotbed here,” she wrote. “With how cautious you guys are trying to be it doesn’t make sense to go to a place where people don’t care.” She lives and works in a mountain town, a tourist destination. “All the respectful tourists stayed at home like they’re supposed to so we have all the a**hole ones here, lol.” In the store where she works, people yell at her when she asks them to put on a mask. “It’s the law right now,” she wrote.

People, as we know, are capable of missing the essential. All across this land they are capable of not caring. The latest projection of pandemic deaths in America by November stands at 208,000. That grim number drops by an astounding 45,000 if, today, people started wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing their hands. If people, today, started considering the impact their actions have on the lives of other people.

45,000 lives. 208,000 people. Those numbers are derived from the best science, from data – you know – the stuff we choose to ignore. The real trouble with numbers is that they don’t have faces, they are without story. They are sterile. Their family groups do not mourn when one goes missing. A simple number: 45,000.  Never was there a massacre so simple to prevent.

Celebrated ugliness. An demonstration of all that is wrong with us.

The music is out of sync. People are capable of reaching the essential if they want to. But first, they must want to. It is the togetherness-in-action that is necessary, even if our togetherness means to agree to stay apart, to mask our faces. Caring. It is an affirmation of our humanity.

Without that, what is left? Numbers. Just numbers.

[This is a sketch of Kerri conducting one of the Zoom rehearsal. It is next up on the easel. The canvas is already primed and the charcoal image is in place.]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SKETCH

 

 

seagull in fog website box copy

 

 

wings copy

winged

 

 

 

winged ©️ 2018 david robinson

See The Hands [on DR Thursday]

I just googled the phrase “helping hands.’ Depending upon your world view you may or may not be surprised by the extraordinary number of services that appear. People helping people. Food pantries, home caregivers, support for people with spinal cord injuries, disaster relief, charity donations, hunger relief…. It’s a lengthy list. For a moment, if you can imagine – or better yet, realize – the reality represented by the list, you might get a tiny view into that part of humanity that is not often reported. People helping people everyday. It’s everywhere, all year, everyday.

Feel good stories don’t generate the same size audience as the horror stories so they populate less space in the news cycle. It’s possible to see, if you look away from your many screens, that vastly more people are helping people than are people hurting people. It’s possible to see it.

In my town, there is a woman who feeds the hungry twice a day, winter-spring-summer-fall. She doesn’t stop feeding people after the giving season passes or when the cameras are gone. That is true of most of the people helping people on this earth. They help. There is no limelight. They help because they want to help. They help because they feel compelled to help. She is one of a legion of people in my community living life as helping hands. I am surrounded by givers and helpers. So are you.

Ann used to tell me to find a need and fill it. Sage advice. Deeply human. It is true that you will see what you decide to see. Where you place your focus does truly matter. Hands that help. Hands that hurt. Both are out there. One vastly out-populates the other. Can you see it? Do you want to see it?

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post on HELPING HANDS

 

 

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‘helping hands’ in all it’s forms ©️ 2018/2015 david robinson & kerri sherwood