Make Life Better [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately, the universe has pitched me headlong into a master class on efficiency. Maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort. A useful concept in certain arenas and an intensely destructive concept in others. For a person who’s spent his life in a study of curiosity, art, and the creative, it’s an unexpected study at this stage of the game. It is sometimes uncomfortable but I consider it an opportunity for balance. Artists rarely meditate on efficiencies. We’re more of a discovery clan and efficiency is generally the enemy of discovery. No one ever sailed to the edge of the world with efficiency-on-their-lips.

Once, I made the argument to a school board that daydreaming was highly productive. It seems a no-brainer to me that exercising the imagination should be highly valued in a learning environment. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity came to him in a dream about cows. It is not an accident that many insights and revelations come in the shower or while driving or peeling a carrot. Newton’s apple did not fall on his head while he was exercising maximum productivity. The mind, to be efficient, needs space to breathe, fields to roam. It is the most elegant of paradoxes but mostly lost on worshipers at the altar of efficiency. In the modern business world, efficiency is all about time since time is billable. You know the mantra: time is money. Do more with less. Somehow, we’ve turned that nonsense into a virtue, a thing to be desired. A reason to squeeze.

There’s another, more admirable side to efficiency-seekers. How to make work less arduous. Grease the wheels and remove the friction. Relieve the burden. Not faster but easier. Ann used to say, “Find a need and fill it.” She’d look at people toiling and ask, “How can I ease their struggle?” Beaky was that way, too.

Near our home there is a stretch of shoreline with an ineffective seawall. It was built with stones and debris that become projectiles when hit by forceful waves. The locals know to avoid that stretch during a storm. It’s deadly. After the storm, it has become our ritual to walk the path to see the destruction. It’s always impressive. How far can a wave throw a heavy stone? The answer: farther than you think. Mother Nature yawns when we think we can control her. The seawall has become my metaphor for human hubris but also masterful inefficiency. It would cost money to build a proper wall. So, instead, after each storm, crews collect the rocks and pile them back on the shore, readying them to be hurled by the next storm.

We saw a double-rainbow and turned toward the shore. Kerri never misses an opportunity to capture a little miracle or a slice of beauty. We parked in front of the seawall-of-inefficiency and I laughed out loud. A budding Banksy sprayed a message on the rubble: love. The secret message-maker could not have found a more appropriate word: Love. Can you imagine anything more inefficient and, at the same time, more potent? Love moves mountains but is not billable. It transcends time. What better reason to do anything? Well, perhaps reason has nothing to do with it and never has. Reason has the worshipers-of-the-efficient perpetually re-stacking stones.

It’s easy to be seduced but let’s face it, life reduced to billable hours is not life at all. On the other hand, there is nothing more inspiring, nothing more curiosity-invoking than asking, “How can I make life better for everyone?”

Love on a rubble pile. What could be better? On second thought, what could possibly be more efficient?

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVE ON A ROCK

Sit On The Curb [on DR Thursday]

As much as our wily-ole brains would like us to believe otherwise, we can be nowhere else but in the present. Everything else is imagination.

Years ago I belonged to a support group of independent consultants. We met once a month to discuss our business challenges, insights, and to give and receive some advice. One of the members of the group was a Byron Cady coach. I have no memory of the discussion that prompted her to offer this Byron-thought-metaphor: “If your house burns down, rather than race around in panic, the best thing you can do is sit on the curb and appreciate the moment.”

To the consumer-mind, wisdom often sounds like bad advice. That you are alive, that you have this moment, means that no real possession was lost. The question is, in the face of calamity, what will you make of the moment?

Brother Joseph told the story of holding a woman wearing expensive furs, each finger was diamond encrusted, as she died on the street. He was, in the moment, overwhelmed by the worthlessness of her stuff. The illusion of value once life has gone.

Life. This moment. Calamity is certain to come. Sit on the curb and see what is there, beyond what you think is there.

We’ve had our share of adversity these past few years. I would like to report that we laughed heartily in the face of lost jobs and broken wrists and pandemic madness and civil unrest. We did not. We shook our fists at the sky. We made up words and ran loops like Chicken Little. We invested in all manner of fear-of-the-future and ran from monsters-of-the-past. None of our racing around or fist-shaking brought comfort or change.

But, the moments that we took a breath, walked a trail or sat on the back deck and listened to the cardinals and crows, sipped hot coffee on cold mornings, held hands – sat on the curb and appreciated the undeniable truth of our moment: we have everything. We have this moment – the only moment of life that we’ll ever inhabit. We have each other. The rest, the fear of future, demons of the past, are pure imagination. In those moments, wrapped in a circumstance of calamity, we laughed at the beauty of it all.

read Kerri’s blog post about LAUGH IN THE FACE OF CALAMITY

Find It [on DR Thursday]

Although it probably does not appear this way to you, this photograph is the road back to my easel. It was an immediate inspiration. Kerri did not intend for it to spark the cold coals of my artistic fire, but it did. It was immediate. I couldn’t stop staring at it.

This painting is called Joy. Look at the floral shapes and lines both within and around the figure:

Joy, mixed media, 50x56IN

Many of my paintings of the past several years are floral wonderlands. They infuse the figures, they are bouncing balls of symbolic trees and oversized shrubbery. They remind me to have fun. To play and experiment. I must have forgotten all of that or turned away.

I hit a wall when I painted my red mess. It’s been on my easel for months. Beneath the red mess, the painting that I’d originally sketched on the canvas, is this:

I think I’d had too much of despair-and-comfort and needed to explode my themes. Thus, the red mess.

When Kerri showed me her photograph of tiny pink flowers, I saw the painting, this painting, complete in my imagination. Not despairing, but vibrant and subtle, alive with those amazing floral shapes, five-petal-bursts of life. Contemporary. Huge. Broad strokes. Almost a sculpture.

There is a story from Plato’s Symposium that I’m using as the basis for my script revision for The Creatures of Prometheus , the original human, cleaved by the gods because it was too powerful, searching through life to find its other half. This painting is (or will be) about the search for love, the transcendence of separation. Finding.

And, as you know, once it lives in the imagination, all that remains is the volition to get there.

read Kerri’s blog post about PINK FLOWERS

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

Imagine It [on Flawed Wednesday]

Malidoma Somé wrote that a society with locks on its doors is a sick society. Something has broken down when a home needs protection from the other members of the community. Acquiring stuff takes precedence over honoring your neighbor. Can you imagine living in a community built upon mutual respect and trust, that valued and protected its members over its acquisition of stuff? Pie-in-the-sky? That might be the problem: we can’t imagine it.

Societies betray themselves. Despite the values inscribed in library cornices, despite the commandments we hold up as sacred ideals, we lock our houses against each other. We turn away when we see a person in need, their cardboard sign an appeal for help. The gap between the espoused and lived value-set is wide. In a society that claims greatness but practices mediocrity, is it no wonder that so much energy is dedicated to perpetuating a big lie? The lie is not the exception, it is the norm. The lock on the door.

Apparently, there is so much road rage on a particularly beautiful stretch of road rolling into Aspen, Colorado, that signs are posted giving travelers the number to call when the need for help is dire. Societies betray themselves. Why would a road through so much beauty, a road that dead ends in to some of the world’s great ski areas, a place where the elite retreat for some peace and quiet, why would there be so much rage on the road to such a place?

It must be a metaphor.

We tell a good story, that all are created equal, but we fight like hell to keep the full story untold. It’s happening now. Again. Still. Why are we so afraid to tell the whole story of a nation touting equality but built upon slavery and a rolling metamorphic racism? Like an individual, a society can’t address its problem until it admits it has one.

Gaps between espoused and lived values usually fill up with rage. Our gap is textbook. So many guns, so many locks on the door, so many patterns of violence and suppression that repeat over and over again.

Can you imagine living in a society that was proud of its story and need not dunk it in a lie? Or feast on an orgy of guns in order to feel potent and protected? Or post signs warning of the ubiquity of rage? That just might be the problem: we either can’t or won’t imagine it.

read Kerri’s blog post on ROAD RAGE

Power Up! [on DR Thursday]

thisworldneedsyour WITH EYES jpeg copy 2

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

 

prayerflags pastel website box copy

 

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.

 

drc website header copy

 

chicken marsala ©️ 2016-17 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Look Out [on Two Artists Tuesday]

bcat in the window romper room copy

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

 

 

rhode island website box copy

 

 

Imagine It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

we deserve better copy

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

 

? website box copy

 

InstrumentofPeace copy 2

an instrument of peace

Keep Playing [on Two Artists Tuesday]

tendonitis copy

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

 

 

their palettes website box copy

Touch The Chair [on Merely A Thought Monday]

healing copy

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

 

moon website box copy

 

 

Listen To Chicken [on DR Thursday]

putyourfingersonthekeys WITH EYES jpeg copy 2

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.

ifpapahasOCD copy 3

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.

REDOyourimaginationcan'tbe copy 3

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

 

 

 

 

 

wideopenmouths website box copy

chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

play 2 play illustration ©️ godknowswhenprobablybeforeyouwereborn david robinson