Power Up! [on DR Thursday]

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I was going to write about something else but given the news-of-the-day this seems more pressing. Simply this: I believe in the power of imagination. Why? I’m glad you asked!

It takes imagination to lead. A lack of imagination is the only requirement to blame or bully.

It takes imagination to unite people. No imagination is necessary to divide people. Division is a well-worn tool of the fearmonger and the gaslighter. For instance, the weakest chimpanzee will bang pots and make enough noise that they might be deemed leader for a day.  On day two, however, the community learns the difference between empty noise and actual capacity.

It takes no imagination to tear things down. Imagination is essential to build, to create, to change.

Imagination is always a step toward something true and beautiful. Imagine it! Can you? Imagination always reveals. The opposite of imagination, namely deception, deflection, and lie are the smoke that fills the void of absent imagination.  Deceit is meant to conceal the false promise, a step away from what is honest and true.

And so, in this era of pandemic, climate change, social change, and economic uncertainty, division and bluster will only take us deeper into the wasteland. The opportunities for a better world are knocking at our door. More than ever, this world needs your good imagination. It needs our good imagination.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD IMAGINATION

 

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visit society6.com for Chicken Marsala products [mugs and pillows and wall art and other stuff]. Kerri designed a million of them when Chicken was running around our house.

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016-17 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Look Out [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I was one of those teachers who encouraged my students to stare out of the window. Visiting administrators occasionally admonished me for allowing my students to “daydream.” Imagination, I would explain, requires much more expanse than a classroom can provide. Looking out the window let the imagination-horses run free.  At graduation, I would remind the administrator, they would almost certainly endorse the graduates to follow their dreams so facilitating the pursuit of dreaming was, perhaps, the most useful skill they may ever acquire. Besides, keeping noses perpetually focused on the grindstone can be a great dream killer.

Mike wrote that Shakespeare penned King Lear while in quarantine for the Black Plague. “Any takers?” he challenged. What do you do when you can’t really go out and play? My bet is that good William stared out of his window between ink dips and parchment scratching. I’m finding, as we move deeper into our home stay, that I am repelled by electronic things that fill my time. Things that pull my focus down and in. I find that I want to stare out of the window. I want to go out and walk.

There are plays I want to write. There are paintings I want to paint. There are the necessities of life banging at my door (where will the next work come from?) Uncertainty surrounds us. I know there is no point in fretting; fretting and worry are inverse forms of imagination. Hornets buzzing inside the head because they haven’t enough space to become horses and run free. The best thing to do when your head is full of hornets? Find a good window and dream.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MAGIC MIRROR

 

 

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Imagine It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is a tale of two schools, both in the same school district. It is the story of the very day when the younger version of me grasped with both hands the absolute importance of the arts, when I understood to my bones that art was not a luxury but a necessity in a healthy world.

As the manager of the theatre conservatory, I sometimes went to observe the actor outreach programs in the schools. On this particular day, two schools were on the schedule. At the first school, I followed a team that went into the younger classrooms, 1st graders. They played imagination games with the students. I saw princesses and dragons and superheroes reach into wild possibilities.

We left the first school and literally drove across the tracks to the poorer side of town. I decided to follow the same team. They played the same imagination games with the same age group but, at the this school, the children played “Where will the rent come from?” This time, instead of flying into possibilities, these children hit an imagination glass ceiling. The hard realities of life already had a strangle-hold on their creative minds. The actors had to work hard to break through the glass ceiling. I realized that, for these children, it was not safe to entertain possibilities.

Picasso once said that, “He can who thinks he can, and can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” We dream ourselves into being. That is the point and the power of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. That is the purpose of art, to open our imagination so we might create  a better, more expansive version of ourselves. To intend and give shape to what we imagine.

This inexorable, indisputable law applies to nations and communities as well as to individuals.

We have always been a nation divided. There have always been tracks to cross. Our history is of a two party system tug-of-war. We’ve espoused equality while practicing slavery; even our rhetoric is at odds with itself. The new wave of immigrants have been subjected to unspeakable cruelty from the previous generation of immigrants. There has always been “haves” and “have-nots.” The question of whether of not we can unite in the face of diversity is at the epicenter of the American experiment. Can we imagine ourselves whole? Can we create opportunity for all? It is a question with no definitive answer because it requires us to engage with it again and again and again. We must imagine ourselves anew each and every day.

We unite when we are at our shining best. We pride ourselves on the dream of creating a new world where all people experience the freedom to create what they can imagine. Creative tension, competition on a level playing field, invites innovation and invitation. We can.

We divide when our imagination fails us. Fear always fills the void left by vapid imaginations. We are – like people of all nations in all times – easily manipulated when we lapse into fear and turn our angst on each other. It is, after all, a strategy. Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book used by dictators and emperors to fracture an otherwise powerful populace.  It will play out as it always has and always will – a weakened nation. A collapse. People who turn in and cannibalize each other.

We-the-people are telling ourselves a miserable story. The pandemic is merely exacerbating our real dilemma. Divide and rule is filling the void, installing hard glass between us and our best imaginings. We are eating each other alive.

We are better than this. We deserve better.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WE DESERVE BETTER

 

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Keep Playing [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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As I reported several weeks ago, if you where standing on the far side of the piano, you’d never know Kerri was playing with casts on both of her wrists. You’d never know that she was playing with two broken wrists, her right thumb completely out of the line-up. Nine fingers doing the job of ten.

As a composer, singer-songwriter, a person whose entire career, her livelihood, has been about playing the piano, she was at the keyboard four days after her fall. She had to know if she could play. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. In my best mother hen voice, I suggested, “Maybe you should wait a bit.”

“I have to know,” she said with THAT tone in her voice.

When I first met her, I took note that she stands when she plays the piano. She is not a bench sitter. Rather, she is a full-body player. She is a full body composer. Sometimes the piano literally hops with the force of her playing. She is little but grows exponentially in energy and presence when she steps up to the keys. The first time she played for me I had to step back from the power that came through her.

Now, several weeks into her mending time, the casts are off and the splints are on. I tell her that they make her look all Mad Max. Michael Jackson’s glove is bush-league compared to her performer-fashion-statement: double black splints.  She looks like a pugilist getting into the ring with her piano. The disparity between her bruiser-piano-vogue and the beautiful music she creates makes my head swirl.

Of course, all of that piano punching has brought a new hurdle in the wrist recovery saga: tendonitis. She went on a Google frenzy when the hard nodules began forming in her palm. They hurt. “My palm is on fire!” she said, “What do you think they are?” Google inflamed her already wild imagination with horror diagnoses and none of the scenarios were good. In fact, they were downright dire.

Doctors were called. Photos of palms sent. A scary foray into the medical facility mid-pandemic was arranged. She emerged from the facility, pulled off her protective mask and climbed into the truck. “Well?” I prompted.

“I didn’t touch anything,” she announced.

“I’m asking about your hands,” I huffed. “What did they say about the nodules growing in your hands?”

“My tendons don’t like that I’m playing with casts,” she said. “Probably tendonitis.”

“That’s good news!” I said and she hit me with THAT look. “Okay, so. Well. Not great news. What are you supposed to do?”

“Keep playing,” she said, looking out the front window. “They gave me some exercises. Advil. But, I keep playing. What else can I do?” she asked, a question not to me.

“Good then. You’ll keep playing.” My mother hen suggestion went unvoiced: maybe some rest? I didn’t want to be hit with THAT look two times in a row. Instead, knowing full well that she is not a bench sitter, knowing that she is a full-body artist and that, for her, to play is to heal, I said, “Okay. Let’s do it. Let’s keep playing.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SAGA CONTINUED

 

 

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Touch The Chair [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I am reading books slowly these days. Meditating on words. Sometimes it takes me months to read what I used to blow through in a few days. I am often pleasantly surprised and taken aback by how the words I read on this morning – words written months or years ago – line up exactly with the events of my day. All the time I catch myself thinking, “How did they know I needed to hear that today?”

“There was an altar upon which we could place a photo of someone who had died. Kim chose to put a picture of his “old” self; I found one of him rowing his peapod looking so happy, so strong. Beautiful. We both grieve the loss of that Kim while getting to know and love this new one.” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke.

Grieve the loss. This is the fourth time in my life that world circumstance/events have drawn a hard line between ‘what was’ and ‘who-knows-what-will-become.’ What was normal and true last week will never again be the same. Social distancing. Pandemic. Disruption is scary and confusing.

I’ve many times heard the story of immigrants, preparing to leave their homes forever for some distant and unknown shore, just before leaving, circle the rooms, touching walls, running their fingers along the arm of a well-loved chair. One last look. This is who I was. Who will I become? It is necessary to mourn what is known before making space for the unknown.

In the midst of spinning change, hanging on too long to the way things-ought-to-be or used-to-be is destructive. More than once I’ve stood with a group in full denial of their new circumstance insisting that “This is the way we’ve always done it!”  Perhaps. What is comfortable today was at one time new and uncomfortable. Someday, what is now new and uncomfortable will be a well worn path. The first step: one last look. This is who we were.

“No person is a finished thing, regardless of how frozen or paralysed their self image might be. Each one of us is in a state of perennial formation. Carried within the flow of time, you are coming to be who you are in every new emergent moment.” ~John O’Donohue, Beauty

Imagination lives in the midst of “It happened to me.” One of our greatest super-powers is the capacity to imagine ourselves different, more expansive. It is what we call dreaming. We “see” ourselves” writing the book or scaling the mountain or being a better parent or working at the soup kitchen or losing the weight or…becoming the more perfect union.

Imagination requires leaving. Leaving requires imagination.

“Fate has a way of handing us what we need in order to become whole…” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEALING

 

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Listen To Chicken [on DR Thursday]

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The original conceit behind Chicken Marsala came during a road trip. Kerri and I started talking about what life might have been like had we met when we were younger. Our conversation wandered into the question of mutual children and then became utterly hysterical when we started tossing possible names back and forth. Chicken Marsala, the imaginary child of two people who met late in life, was born.

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Chicken had friends. Chicken went to school. Chicken had a full blown imaginary life. Chicken terrified his parents, making them do and say things that they would not have otherwise done. Chicken became the inner and outer voice of two artists trying to make their way in a world where they do not necessarily fit.

All of my life people who have cut themselves off from their inner artist have asked me, “Where do I begin?” They build studios for themselves, buy supplies, and then sit, frozen. Tom McK used to tell me that there was only one answer to that question: a writer writes and a painter paints. There is no magic. The muse can’t help unless you pick up the clay and throw the pot. Write many, many bad pages and soon you will discover that you are following an impulse rather than grinding “it” out or making “it” up.

One day, someone asked Chicken’s mom a question about composing. “How do you do it? What’s your secret?” It was a question from someone desperate to uncover their long buried inner artist. What’s the secret charm, the divine key? Chicken leaned into his mom and whispered: Sometimes you just have to put your fingers on the keys and follow the music.

It is no mystery, after a few years banished in the drawer, that Chicken is suddenly pulling on my sleeve. I haven’t been active in the studio for months. ‘A dry spell,’ I tell myself. ‘All of my creative energy is going to other things.’ ‘I’m bored with my work!’ ‘I’m blank…’ Yada Yada. Chicken shakes his head. ‘Not again!’ He giggles.

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Put your fingers on the keys. Pick up your brush. Use that great imagination to play rather than plague yourself. Follow the music. It will always lead you home.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FINGERS ON THE KEYS

 

 

 

 

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

play 2 play illustration ©️ godknowswhenprobablybeforeyouwereborn david robinson

 

Change Your Mantra [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It was only after the dive that I realized my folly. Rather than enjoy it I repeated to myself, over and over, to just get through it. I’d be fine once I was back in the boat. I was afraid.

It was a very deep dive, the deepest I’d ever attempted. There were sharks swimming beneath me. There were sharks swimming above me. The Blue Hole. The wall was gorgeous, an explosion of red, orange, and yellow. Looking up was a miracle of sunlight on water. Looking down was a study in the color blue, layers of turquoise, cerulean, disappearing into a bottomless (aptly named) ultramarine.

My mantra, just get through it, was a wall between me and extraordinary beauty of it.

Later, in the boat, I appreciated it. I also appreciated that my experience was unnecessarily fearful. Rather, I understood that the only real danger in The Blue Hole was my doubt in myself. The sharks were not man-eaters. The depth was the limit for amateur divers but not extreme. The dive master was world class. I had plenty of oxygen.  I was safe everywhere but in my imagination.

The dive made me wonder how much of my life I’ve spent telling myself fear tales? Instead of having an experience of wonder, how often have I storied myself in fear? How often have I made up monsters and raced to the other side of the moment, raced to get it over with rather than be in it?

Sitting in the boat, I realized that it wasn’t the fear that I was wrangling with. Fear is natural, especially in alien environments like deep water, especially when sharks are involved. It was my mantra that plagued me. Get through it.

Next time, I told myself, I will have a new mantra. Be in it. Fear is an experience, too. It’s part of life and, at the end of my days, I will be sad if the story of my life was simply getting through it. Or over it. I want to know that I was in it, all of it; the fear, the joy, the ugly, the angry, the beautiful blues, the sad days, and the quiet wandering.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GETTING IT OVER WITH

 

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Mend The Split [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is not my thought. It comes from many directions, is woven through many traditions, and is true no matter what form or from what port it arrives: Fear splits you.

The split is perfect. It cleaves the present moment into dreaded-future-imagining and regretful-past. What if. If only.

I tease Kerri because her imagination is wild and, given a good cleaving, will run amok with tragedy, fiery explosions, and dire consequences. She returns my ribbing when, split like a log, I tumble into hyper judgments of my past. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! It seems the gift we bring to each other in this lifetime is to pull the other back to the center, the un-hewn present moment. We help each other live in and deal with ‘now.’

Each day we take a walk. Deer cross the road ahead or freeze when they spy us. A young eagle flies overhead. The island is a haven for Monarch butterflies. They bob along as we walk, pacing us, breeze-gusted into a seeming drunk-stagger-flight-path. Drunk on the moment. Impervious to the cleave. Without fail, when we are pulled into a future fear yammer, a Monarch butterfly comes along, and our fear sputter stops. Kerri quietly pulls out her camera, tip-toes to the messenger, and snaps a photograph.

“What were we talking about?”

“I can’t remember. Nothing, I suppose.”

“Can you smell the balsam? That butterfly is gorgeous! It’s huge!”

“Yes. It’s beautiful. So beautiful.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post on BUTTERFLY MOMENTS

 

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Find The Kindergartner [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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On a famous day, we drove the entire width of the state of Wisconsin to pick up the puppy that would one day become known as DogDog. On our drive back across the entire width of the state of Wisconsin, Kerri had a moment of panic. What if BabyCat and the not-yet-named-puppy-dog didn’t get along? What if BabyCat felt rejected? Replaced? What if the dog ATE the cat? What if the cat ATE the dog? The horror story variations of dogs-and-cats-living-together ran amok in her mind.

The flip-side scenarios never occurred to her. What if they love each other? What if they play together? What if they are the best of pals, share bowls, look out for each other? Well, there’d be no problem. Nothing to fret about. No horror story to captivate the imagination.

What is it in an adult mind that defaults to the worst possible assumption? Why, when cutting paper with a razor, do I always think, “I hope I don’t cut my finger off.” It could happen. Once, when my dad was pulling the cord on the chainsaw, I heard him say to himself, “I better not cut my leg off.” Sage self-advice!

We imagine. We assume. We project. It is a potent and powerful force, this capacity to story ourselves through imaging. We learn to imagine the obstacles. We learn not to allow the possibilities.

How many times in my life have I asked students or clients to imagine themselves fulfilled? Too many to count but the actual number is equal to the number of times students or clients have responded, “I can’t.”

What? Yes. You can. Dream in the direction of possibility. Remember that once you were a kindergartner and a teacher asked if you were and artist. Your YES was wild and enthusiastic. Your capacity to dream hasn’t gone away. It’s gone underground.

Guts and gore, dogs fighting cats, fingers flying off; the horror-story-imagination is more immediate.  Sometimes it takes a bit of archeology to find the kindergartner.

Oh, and DogDog and BabyCat? Best of friends. We often find them in the afternoon sleeping back to back. Who could have imagined such a thing?!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGDOG & BABYCAT NAPPING

 

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Juxtapose [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I come to this eve of the new year holding two images, two art experiences juxtaposed. One is a review of the past. The other a resolution. Together they resonate.

The first, the review of things past that influence things to come, is Peter Jackson’s World War I documentary film, And They Shall Not Grow Old. It is a miracle of film making (stay to see the segment about how it was made that rolls after the credits. You will shake your head with wonderment). It takes you into the trenches and horrors of war.  We left the theatre both wowed by the film-making and shocked by the utter senselessness of war. Wowed by the human capacity to innovate and despairing at our capacity to willingly destroy ourselves for imagined gains. Both are technical achievements.

The morning after seeing the film I opened Brain Pickings and, given the film, I was smacked by a photograph of Earth taken from The Voyager spacecraft in the mid 1990’s. The Pale Blue Dot. It brought instant perspective to war – and everything else we imagine to be so important. Within the vast expanse of space, “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” I had to look twice to see the speck that is Earth. Our imagined importance is out of perspective with the realities of our circumstance. The fragility (the miracle) of our existence is generally lost in our daily myopia.

Two images.  Juxtaposed.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on THE NEW YEAR

 

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