Honor Difference [on DR Thursday]

A Double Haiku:

Honor Difference.

A mural in Milwaukee.

Heart of the ideal.

Infinite palette,

Many hands, many painters,

Eyes that choose to see.

Read Kerri’s blog post about Honoring Difference

helping hands ©️ 2012 david robinson

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

Turn And Take A Hard Look [on Flawed Wednesday]

Systems are living things and like all living things will fight to the death when threatened. It is, I believe, what is at play in these un-united-united-states.

I love the irreverence of the questions taken from a mock conference agenda, published in the October 2017 issue of Real Simple Magazine. Who bears the bulk of moral responsibility and what’s the appropriate punishment? Beneath the humor, the real question is made clear: why are women expected to mold their bodies, often in torturous ways, to fit an impossible ideal? It is a centuries old phenomenon.

There is a very telling photograph from 2017 of an all male White House task force discussing health benefits that included women’s health issues. This photograph is nothing new. The ideal represented within it, is ubiquitous. A headline from The Guardian reads “These 25 Republicans -All White Men – Just Voted To Ban Abortion In Alabama.”

A system is a living thing. It will fight to the death when threatened.

This paragraph from Rolling Stone Magazine [May 17, 2019] captures the essence of the fight, the core of the system that is under threat: The Republican movement behind forced-birth bills is truly ignorance allied with power, as James Baldwin once warned us about. The rhetoric may be more vociferous and reckless now than it was when the religious right was first revving up, but it is no less cynical. Even if it escapes the lips or is written or signed into law by women like Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, the primary goal of that revanchist talk has always been to take America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned.

“The unquestioned word of white men.” The system as designed is now being questioned. And so, ignorance allies with power. The Big Lie. The Republican party is afraid to investigate-and-talk-about what happened on January 6th because of what an investigation will reveal. Ignore-ance.

Taking America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned. We never actually left that time but had certainly broached the subject of progress toward the promise of equality for all. And so, the system is fighting. It is threatened like never before so it is fighting like never before. Voter suppression laws. The legal assault being mounted on a woman’s right to choose. Fearmongering BLM rhetoric like Ron Johnson’s inanity.

Black Lives Matter. Women’s Rights. Voters’ Rights, Civil Rights…all embodiment of the ideals that we espouse and yet, all are threats to the system. All ask questions of the unquestioned white men.

In a speech yesterday, President Joe Biden said that America is based on an idea. “It’s the greatest idea in the long history of humankind. An idea that we’re all created equal in the image of Almighty God. That we’re all entitled to dignity, as my father would say, and respect, decency, and honor. Love of neighbor. They’re not empty words, but the vital, beating heart of our nation.

Division is the control-mechanism designed into the system to keep the word of the white men unquestioned. Colonists everywhere installed the same mechanism in their colonies. Powerful women, powerful citizens of all colors and sexual orientation, united, are a threat to the system. And so it fights. It lies. It blocks scrutiny. It screams that Black Lives are a more dangerous threat than a white insurrection on the capitol. Antifa! Socialism! Fear! Divide the people. Keep them fighting each other. It’s a strategy that’s worked for centuries.

It is more than time that the idea of America, at long last, punch through the wall of the system and fulfill its promise, its highest ideal. What is there to fear in equality?

Pre-torn jeans made of elastic. Who bears the bulk of the moral responsibility? Beneath the humor, the real question comes clear: do we have the capacity, at long last, to stop molding ourselves in tortuous ways to fit an impossibly conflicted system? Can we turn and take a hard look at our empty words and fill them with the promise, the beating heart of the idea? Equality. United.

read Kerri’s blog post about Pretorn Jeans

Practice Inner Hospitality [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“What you separate, the soul joins.” ~ John O’Donohue

A few years ago, when we went to Hippy Tom’s farm, Kerri said, “It feels like we’re inside this man’s sickness.” There was stuff everywhere. A hoarder with a farm. Her comment about the farm has become a code-phrase for us. “Hippy Tom,” she says, and I know we are talking about these-un-united-states under the influence of the outgoing president. A nation living inside of one man’s sickness. The hater-in-chief.

The Bidens’ messages of unity and perseverance are akin to a doorway, an exit from the crazy farm. Although we are running for the door, not yet free of the madness, we can see it from here. We can catch breaths of air free of delusion and division.

“When you decide to practice inner hospitality,” John O’Donohue writes, “the torment ceases. The abandoned, neglected, and negative selves come into seamless unity.”

Practice inner hospitality. The rules that apply to individuals also apply to organizations as well as nations. Practice inner hospitality and the negative selves will come into seamless unity. “The soul adores unity.”

Although our systemic root belies this, soul of this nation has never been isolationism or white supremacy. The soul of this nation has always been our diversity, our willingness to embrace the new, to find a northwest passage, to step foot on the moon, to embrace, to invent and reinvent, to reach. To improve. To challenge a fossilized belief.

Perhaps it is now time for us to review, renew, to at-long-last turn and face what we have not yet faced in “this beautiful, brave, complicated nation.” To look with honesty and clarity at all of our history, our negative and ideal selves. To balance what has been too long unequal, ugly, denied.

There is great space in our national divide. The flaw, as the Amish remind us, is there to let in the grace. The soul joins. It can show us a path, once and for all, out of the sickness of the farm.

read Kerri’s blog post about AMBER WAVES

Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

explicitly divisive copy

I’m a broken record: words matter. They are rarely accidental. For instance, the division between “black” and “white” was created. Our racial legacy is not happenstance. It is by design.

Power does not like to be challenged or threatened and strategies of division are great mechanisms of control. Taking pride-in-ignorance is another – it is a terrific support strategy if discord is the goal. An ignorant people are easily misled.

We enact and reenact Bacon’s rebellion again and again. It is a vicious cycle, a whirlpool that is hard to escape without a clear view of the full story. History, like language, is never passive, it comes with a dedicated point of view – and so we are witness once again to the great narrative tug-of-war.  We could drop the rope if we decided to look at our history, ask a few questions, and perhaps see the narrative slop that the fox and friends are force feeding to white fear as just the latest iteration of an old, old scare tactic.

Misinformation is nothing new. Propaganda is as old as human history. It is the downfall of a critter unique in its need for an identifying narrative to believe almost anything if it provides a sense of belonging. People who refuse to take a step back and ask, “Is this true?” will buy almost any line. Fear is a narrative with an agenda so what-on-earth prevents otherwise thinking people from considering that the daily dose of fear they are being fed might be cooked up intentionally? Trading brains for belonging never works out well in the end.

Black and white. Red and blue. We have a pattern, not a problem.

A people united are an unstoppable force and the worst nightmare of identity politicians.  People unite when their ideals – things like freedom and truth and justice and equality – transcend their small identity bubbles.  Ideals are unattainable – that is what gives them their special uniting capacity. We strive. It’s an active verb with an inclusive pronoun.

Hate and fear – all things divisive – are easily attained. That’s what makes them so useful to despots and control-mongers. Keep the thinking small and encapsulated within the tiny bubble. It will keep the people warring among themselves with no questions asked.

How do we move beyond this pattern and rise above the incessant division that plagues us? Well, we must first desire to see the pattern. We must choose to see. Then, we might be capable of revisiting the words we placed as central to our national ideal and choose to live them. Our words matter. That might require a few challenging questions.

It will definitely require a good deal of soul searching and that’s not such a bad thing. Nations, like people, grow and become better when they grow weary of their dysfunction and go looking for their soul.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Explicitly Divisive

 

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surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Be Iconic [on DR Thursday]

Watercolor-Tree copy 2

I’ve learned that much of my work traffics in ideals. A quiet picnic beneath a tree. A mother holding her child. A nap on the beach. Over time, the elements of my ideals congeal into patterns and symbols.

This watercolor painting was a study. It was one of the first paintings that this tree, circles of broad leaves, wispy floral shapes, appeared. I liked the symbol. It connected me to Giotto and the middle ages when artists were purposefully iconic. This tree made me purposefully iconic. It is a sentinel. It watches over. Like a mother holding her child or a husband and wife napping together on the beach.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on the WATERCOLOR

 

drc website header copy

 

warm springs ranch statue website copy

watercolor tree ©️ sometime in the 21st century by the little known artist occasionally referred to as DR

Put It In Context [on Two Artists Tuesday]

THIS from the ferry copy

Context (noun): the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

I love this photograph. It could be of the salt flats. It could be desert landscape. It could be the arctic snows. Absent of context, how can we know?

The headstone of the 21st century will read ‘Taken out of context.’ I was a teacher when the internet first washed over the land and the question on every educator’s desk was this: how do we teach students to discern what information is valid and what is not? Education is, at least partially, the pursuit and discernment of what is true and what is not.

Discernment (noun): the ability to judge well.

In a world in which any one can post anything about any topic in service to any agenda, void of context and with an astounding expectation of 280 characters or less, how do we judge well? No attention span available. No context necessary. Discernment is out of reach. As W.B. Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.” 

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  (Yeats, The Second Coming)

Context avoidance and manipulation is not unique to the 21st century. It’s been around since the invention of preachers and politicians. We simply have the tools to amplify it and glut ourselves on the fat that remains.

‘Taken out of context’ comes with a cold surgical sister phrase: after the fact. They knew after the fact. He was an accessory after the fact. It was only after the fact that they saw what was there all along.

fact (noun): a thing that is known or proved to be true.

How do you know or prove something to be true? It is the same question educators faced so long ago: how do we discern what information is valid and what is not? Well, begin by slowing down enough, care enough to place the thought, idea, opinion, data, in its full context. Conviction, ideals, truths…all of these lofty words, have meaning and value, become grounded, solid, and meaning-full – in the presence of context.

(The photograph was taken from a ferry cutting through the surface ice at Death’s Door).

lake ice copy

pull the camera down and this is what you see

 

read Kerri’s blog post on ICE LANDSCAPE

 

zigzag through ice website box copy

 

Stay Fully Alive

a more recent smaller painting: In Quiet Prayer

Horatio issued me this challenge: do something new, something you’ve never done before. Paint something different, something that boggles you.

I love this challenge. In other words, step out of your comfort zone. Dare to not know where you are going. Make a mess with great gusto and intention. Court chaos and wrestle it into something that resembles order for you and no one else.

Horatio might have said, “Dare to see again, purely, with no filters, knowledge, or preconceptions.” He might have added, “What might you see, who might you be, if you stepped beyond the safety of your ideals, your beliefs, and great mass of weighty and important knowledge?”

The child in me, the one not yet accustomed to sitting in a desk or raising my hand or waiting my turn would loudly sing the answer: You’d be fully alive! I’d be fully alive.

from a few years ago, a larger piece: Meditation

I’ve always appreciated how similar are an artist’s path and that of a spiritual seeker. The aim of the exercise is the same. A meditation practice to still a busy mind is identical to an actor’s training to be fully present on the stage or a painter’s pursuit to see purely (to see without the disruption of interpretation). On both paths, truth is a fluid thing. Truth is what is happening right now. What happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow are distractions at best. They are stories that get in the way. They are of no consequence to this moment of living, this moment of aliveness. It is, an actor learns, a fool’s errand to attempt to repeat yesterday’s performance.

Horatio’s challenge is relevant for every human being wrestling with the big questions or trying to stave off or make sense of the chaos. Dare to dance with what’s right in front of you. Dare to drop the questions.

Picasso famously said that every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once he or she grows up. He might well have said that every child is fully alive. The problem is to remain fully alive once he or she grows up.

playing around with simplicity. This one is hot off the easel and not yet named.

this is how she looks in a frame. Magic!

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Touch The Arc

A painting I did twenty years ago of my dad.

Years ago I started a portrait of my dad (we call him Columbus) emerging from – or returning to – a cornfield. At the time it seemed an odd painting, something more elemental than intellectual. Something I had to paint though I didn’t really know why. I thought I’d left portrait painting far behind. Columbus is from a very small town in Iowa so the necessity of the cornfield made some small sense. He yearned to live in the town of his birth and although life took him other places he maintained a deep heart-root to Monticello. For Columbus, Monticello, Iowa was and always will be home.

After laying it out, after applying the under painting, the portrait felt complete – or I felt complete. So, I stopped. I have carried it with me all of these years.

These days, dementia has its slippery tentacles around Columbus. He is a mighty combatant in this tug of war, a war that he cannot win, and feeling his strength waning, his single wish was to one last time visit Monticello. So, this past week, Kerri, my mother, and I – as Kerri likes to say – followed Columbus’ heart around Monticello.

His heart took him three places. The first was to the cemetery. It is the place he will finally rest with his brother, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends. He wanted to wander. We followed him as he touched stones and told stories – stories he told to us but for himself: a friend who died too young in a car crash, a kind scoutmaster and mentor, an old girlfriend, a high school pal who flew an airplane and their adventures landing in cornfields. We followed, listening, renewed to the deeper truth that the stories we tell of others, the stories of shared time and experiences, both comic and tragic, when combined, scribe the arc of our own lives. Columbus needed to go to the end place to scribe his arc, to touch the depth and arc of his experiences.

The second place was the house that his grandpa Charlie built. It was the place of his childhood, the place of his greatest freedom, the place where all his stories begin and, now I know, where they return. This house is the cornfield. It is, for Columbus, the font of family and the source of his ideals. It is the symbol of his pride. This small house, with no electricity or running water, no indoor plumbing, this house that was pieced together with found material, smacked together with a handsaw and a hammer, an evolution, this house is Columbus’ holy ground. It still stands, just barely. And although now a storage shed for someone, it holds riches beyond words or measure. Columbus needed to stand in the source of his belief.

Finally, we followed his heart to visit his aunt JoAnne. She is only two years his senior but his aunt never-the-less. She is the last living person to know him through the entire passage of his life. She is his connective tissue, the one capable of affirming that it all happened, that the house and the people in it were exactly as he remembers, that this life, although only a minute long, is bottomless in the love that they share. They are the burning point of family, the front line. When we left her, Columbus and JoAnne hugged and cried, saying to each other but not for a moment believing it, “I’ll see you again.”

Stories told at the end place. Stories told from the beginning place. Stories told that connect the places. Columbus counts himself a lucky man. He knows with absolute certainty the trinity of places that hold his life/story. Sitting on the porch he (once again) taught me that stories – lives – are like a river and the flow transcends a single life. He just taught me that the story, a good life, like the painting, is never really complete.