Make Space [on DR Thursday]

I’ve read that a too-busy mind can’t solve problems. To see solutions, beyond quick fixes, requires some open thought space. There’s plenty of research supporting this notion. It’s the reason most epiphanies happen in the shower or while taking a drive. The mind loosens its grip long enough for a new idea to rush in.

Lately, when my brain is in a twist, I take a few moments and visit the switchgrasses in our front yard. They are electric with color. This year, they are showing shades of pink, yellow and orange that they’ve never before revealed. The white plumes dance above the color, moving with the breezes. It not only takes my breath away but I’m finding it impossible to knit my brow and hard-squeeze synapses into sense-making while watching the dance.

I’ve cleared the boxes and bags from my studio. There are still multiple canvases stacked willy-nilly against the wall, it needs a good sweeping, but I can already feel the space breathing. I can feel myself breathing. As it turns out my studio has been a reflection of my too full mind. Clutter keeps the juices in check.

Last night we watched a movie. The main character, an equestrian, was having a hard time returning to competition. She was trying too hard. She was trying to be perfect and her mind and heart were locked up, in opposition. The horse felt her discord and could not move freely. “Forget about winning,” her dad told her. “Go have fun and remember why you loved to ride in the first place.” Sage advice when a good heart is being drowned out by a noisy mind.

An open studio. The grasses tickling my mind into chuckling relaxation. Space. Who knows what new idea is waiting to rush in!

read Kerri’s blogpost about GRASSES

flawed cartoon © david robinson, kerri sherwood, john kruse

Teach The Full Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Viewed from space, the earth is round.

That simple fact has led some truly dedicated reality-deniers to the startling conclusion that the earth is flat. They argue that it’s absurd to think that half the population of the earth lives upside-down. Of course, no one has yet been able to prove that there is a top or bottom to the universe so it’s anyone’s guess which hemisphere of the earth is right-side-up and which is up-side-down. Be careful on those vacation cruises not to sail too close to the edge.

The Republican party in these un-united-united-states have become the political equivalent of flat-earthers. Cherry-picked half-data spun by a dedicated-nonsense-media into a Flat Stanley reality. Two-dimensional thinking in a three-dimensional world. It’s a problem. It’s a scary problem. The good ship USA is on course to meet the edge while the captains on the bridge wrestle for control of the steering wheel.

What is the steering wheel? The story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Our history. The Manifest Destiny story is meeting the realities of demographics. The party of white-dominance is in a panic to maintain its story of supremacy. They’d rather run us over the edge than let this richly diverse nation fulfill its promise. Fulling the promise begins with telling the full story. In Florida, the governor has literally banned the schools from telling the full history of this nation.

In other times, more clear-headed times, these laws would be acknowledged as authoritarianism. In our times, it’s marketed as the Republican response to “woke-ness.” In other words, education is the enemy. Stick your head in the sand. Hear-no-evil-see-no-evil. Proclaim the earth is flat or be prosecuted.

It was inevitable. The rhetoric of “All men are created equal” would someday need to reconcile the reality of a system built on the institution of slavery. Our forefathers wrote about it as the single greatest threat to the survival of our nation, this vast difference between our rhetoric and actions. In a school – capable of teaching our history – that would seem to be a very important and timely history to explore.

Systems do what they are designed to do and ours has performed as intended, elevating one group while suppressing others. It’s in our legislative record. It’s in the writing of our founders. It’s history.

For the second time this week I’m using this phrase: As I learned in school, systems are living things and will fight to the death to maintain themselves. We are watching a system – our system – fight to the death to maintain itself. In this fight, it will lie, cheat, scratch, steal, bite and squeal. It will incite fear. It will turn citizens against other citizens. It will whip up division and demonize those it brands as “other.” It will toss away all ethic and morality to maintain itself. It will make laws to protect itself. We are witness to it. We are participants in it.

The national story will maintain itself as flat, or, at long last, take a hard look at itself and change.

I was truly alarmed when I read that teachers in Florida are afraid to teach the history of the United States.

Our nation is round. Plump and full of rich diversity with a rich complex history. It is, after all, the reality of our nation, the story we are living. It is the reason for our successes – cultural crossroads have always been places of innovation. Perhaps it should be the story we at long last embrace. Perhaps, rather than muzzling our story, legislating for white-fragility, we will someday – as a nation – be proud of our iridescence and work to tell our full story rather than the flat-lie the reality-deniers are asking us to swallow.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BE

Take One More Step [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Tom and I spent many hours on the deck of his cabin at the ranch watching sunsets. It was during those moments of waning light that he’d reminisce about his life in education and the arts. “To this day I am in awe of what many of my students taught me about perseverance.”

The teacher as student. The lesson – both ways – was tenacity in the face of monumental difficulty. Tom climbed metaphoric mountains in a system dedicated to hurling avalanches against his progress. His was an innovator’s path. He kept climbing, I learned during our sunset talks, because his students inspired him. Some achieved their mountaintop against all odds. In many cases, the mountaintop was – to other eyes – as seemingly simple as showing up for one more day. They kept climbing so he kept climbing. Showing up for each other. A feedback loop of tacit encouragement. They kept climbing because he was present on the metaphoric mountainside every day.

His students inspired him. He inspired me. An ancestry of inspiration.

I might have imagined it. The chipmunk butted in line at the bird feeder, sending the toddler cardinal fleeing to the safety of the Adirondack chair. More birds gathered while the chipmunk gorged. In a moment of chipmunk consciousness, he turned, looked at the growing assembly of hungry beaks, turned back to the feeder and, like Santa Claus, began kicking mounds of seed to the ground. Chipmunk potlatch. Bird extravaganza. Every critter had their fill.

Weeks later, while weeding the garden, Kerri called across the yard: “I think we’re growing corn.” she said. I joined her at the row of dense grasses growing beneath the bird feeder. A tender stalk, against all odds, found enough sun and water to reach through the thick resistance. Nature amazes me. The impulse to life, from chipmunk-seed-toss to corn stalk pushing through impenetrable grasses.

It brought thoughts of Tom. Seeds planted. Mountains to climb. The sunset, glowing orange and pink across his face, he’d smile, “Often the secret is nothing more or less profound than taking the next step, showing up for each other one more day.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about CORN

See The Glue [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It’s a new phrase to me but I liked it immediately. I liked it because I have known some amazing people, those rare birds who keep the runaway-egos focused on the project, who naturally and seemingly without effort coalesce disparate talents into a cohesive creative team. The ‘glue people’ is a perfect description.

Glue people intuitively understand power as something that is created between people, not something wielded over people. I suspect that is the epicenter of their glue-gift: they see beyond the parts to the sweeping possibility of the whole. They know that “every man/woman for themself” is a recipe for disaster.

Despite our dedicated cowboy mythos, innovation is never the province of a single person. There may be a single visionary but the vision is never accomplished in a vacuum. Inventions, like organizations or nations, come to fruition through the efforts and skills of the many-working-as-one. Glue people generate “the-working-as-one.”

Stage managers, production managers, executive assistants, contractors…those highly overlooked people at the center of the information, who quietly make sure the work of creation happens without collision while also making certain all the parts and pieces know how much they are valued.

Meaning makers. Making value explicit. Glue people. Just try to get an idea off the runway without them.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GLUE PEOPLE

Unearth Your Modtro [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Our latest late-night binge is Bad Hikers. An adorable young couple hiking the John Muir Trail. Never have two people hiked the JMT in such modtro style. Goth meets urban chic. They are at home in their style, comfortable in their bodies, so they are both unaffected and affected at the same time. Glimmers of Mad Max on the JMT. I love it. Their spirit inspires us.

William Blake is another in the canon of artists unrecognized during his lifetime but now considered a creative titan, one of the great artists of the Romantic era. His contemporaries thought he was crazy because he was not like them. He stood out and no amount of hammering would make him fit the mold.

In the dance between the conservative and the creative impulses, the conservative will always claim the safe ground, plant their flag in “normal.” Tradition. “We’ve always done it this way.” The creative will swim to the margins, climb to the tops of the mountains where they can see more clearly. “What’s over the next horizon?” All people are a mix of both impulses, conservative and creative. We dance between the poles.

One of the first lessons I learned in art school is that, in the western tradition, every era reacts against the previous standard (I laughed when it occurred to me that our tradition is to react against our tradition – no wonder we are always at war with ourselves!) Realists rise in response to the Romantics. Impressionism reacts to Realism. And on and on. The other side of that equation is that the artists are generally tuned into societal and technological advances. Picasso’s cubism and Einstein’s theory of relativity hit the world within a few months of each other. Reactivity holds hands with innovation.

And so it goes with clothes, too. To dress as is expected. To dress as a statement. To dress as is comfortable. To find your style. To define yourself within your era. Clothes are how we publicly locate ourselves relative to the two poles. “This is me!” We shop at the same stores, we buy the same brands, all to express our individuality relative to the expectation-of-the-day. Sometimes you find your style and sometimes it finds you. And, mostly, your style changes as you do. Tie-dye puts on a suit and tie.

And so, this long and winding road brings me to a caution: do not, when you unearth the box of sponge curlers in your basement, exclaim as I did, “Oh my god! Who on earth ever used these things! Why do we have these in our house?” My laughter fizzled the moment I realized that the obvious answer was standing right next to me.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SPONGE CURLERS

Share Appreciation [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal”

~Low Bridge, Everybody Down, music and lyrics by Thomas Allen, 1913

She’s a donkey, not a mule, yet I couldn’t help but appreciate the collision of power sources present in this photograph. From donkey to solar.

I’ve read that the innovations of the industrial age were meant to spare humans of muscle-toil. If an engine could power it, a human didn’t have to. The innovations of the information age are meant to spare us mental and sense toil: why stress to parallel park your car if the car can do it all by itself? Why add the numbers if the spreadsheet does it for you? Why look up information if Siri or Alexa can bring it to you? What does it now mean to stay in touch? Text and facebook and tweet and email and zoom and facetime and slack and chat and…call.

Oil, coal and gas are the energy systems of the past. They are donkeys and mules standing next to renewable energy sources like wind and power. It takes time for an infrastructure to be built. It takes time for people to wrap their imaginations around a different way. Do you remember the loud resistance in the early days of the credit card proclaiming that plastic would never replace paper money? That was not so long ago. There were similar angry voices declaring the auto-mobile was a flash-in-the-pan. “Nothing will replace the horse!” Our local supermarket just installed banks of electric car charging stations. Energy systems are slowly moving away from grids: the power source and the property will (mostly) be one and the same.

Industries, like people, either adapt or die. Most retail chains that came late to online shopping are going or already gone. Many have said that they didn’t see the change coming. Or that they couldn’t imagine a world in which people bought stuff without first touching it. Cars are in vending machines. Isaac Asimov would have loved it!

Did I mention that the solar panel in the photograph senses and moves with the sun? As it turns out, the donkey does, too. Much for the same reason. Only, for the donkey, the heat of the sun feels good and I doubt the solar panel cares or feels anything. Sensing and feeling are still on opposite sides of the change-line. At least so far. There may come a day in the not-so-distant-future that the donkey and the solar panel share appreciation for the heat of the sun. The donkey will wag its tail. The solar panel will stretch and sigh. The stuff of children’s books or sci-fi. At least for now.

read Kerri’s blog post about DONKEY & SOLAR PANEL

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

Enjoy The Return [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s back. Pop Goes The Weasel, in an incessant cycle, playing as background accompaniment to the birdsong. The truck circles the neighborhood, the sonic equivalent of water torture on wheels. I’ve spent too many hours pondering how the driver, the seller of ice cream, sitting in the epicenter of the looping Pop refrain, retains their sanity. I couldn’t do it. It’s low on my list of aspirations. I’m certain my assignment in hell will be the ice cream truck driver.

Of course, the musical assault is accompanied by – no, much more, it inspires – the delighted squeals of children, excited-to-a-frenzy when hearing the tune, begging coins from their parents, and running to the truck to get their treat before it disappears around the corner. The happy squeals bring instant forgiveness to my hardened heart for the Weasel drumming of my brain.

It’s the solstice. The ice cream truck, like the position of the sun in the sky, is a sure sign of summer’s return. On a walk by the lakefront a few days ago, the truck bellowed passed us, looking a bit worn and tired. It stopped. The neighborhood kids scrambled, parents’ pockets were emptied, purses turned upside down, skinny legs and clenched fists raced toward the paint-peeling truck.

Forgive my brain but I was suddenly overwhelmed and duly impressed at the chain of innovation that, although it now appears old and ordinary, went into making this dilapidated truck and the joy it invokes possible. Refrigeration. Pasteurization. The waffle cone. Ice cream on a stick. Recorded sound. Speakers. Not to mention the internal combustion engine.

As the kids swarmed the Weasel, I looked around at all the older faces, those folks with newly emptied pockets, watching their kids and grandkids enjoy the ritual that they once enjoyed when they were the young enthusiastic pick pockets. Every face was smiling. Even mine. Add that to the chain of innovation. It might be the most important of all the innovations in the chain. Bringer of joy. Inciter of happy memory. It certainly should be the point, the aim of all invention. Better life. No one needs to read a business book when an ice cream truck is circling the neighborhood. It’s all right there.

Bird song. Children’s squeals of delight. Pop Goes The Weasel. Hot days. Melting ice cream. Summer.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD HUMOR

Contrast [on Two Artists Tuesday]

contrast principle copy

It is the ultimate cliche’: we only know light because of dark. 20 calls this the contrast principle. Images juxtaposed illuminate. It’s how stories are told in film. Once. Upon. A. Time. It is how images pop off the canvas, blue next to orange, green meets purple. Contrast makes the eye move. Contrast makes shapes emerge. Movement has no meaning without stillness.

It’s relative. Related. Relationship. Without relativity, without contrast, nothing makes sense. Or, more to the point, nothing is sensed. Difference, in fact, is the secret sauce necessary for knowing anything. Category. Class. Classification. Group. What is like what? What is related? What is unrelated? Cubicle. Caste. Lines on a map.

Contrast can be wielded like a sword. They are not us. Division.

Or, contrast can be used to unify. A crossroads of diverse perspectives, innovation.

Nature is dynamic at its edges. Water meets beach. Earth meets water. Air breathes fire. Hot meets cold. Convection current. Contrast. Changing energies. Creative movement.

Kerri stopped during our walk. “Look!” she exclaimed. Her eye was drawn to the lone daisy in the midst of the sea of black-eyed susans. “Beautiful,” she whispered as she approached with her camera. “Look at the contrast.”

So similar. So different. Yellow meets white. Black meets yellow.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CONTRAST

 

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daisy in the black-eyed susans ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

Coexist and Thrive [on Two Artists Tuesday]

co-exist copy

Kerri told me that this was an image of coexistence. Cultivated plants sharing space with the wild ones. What-has-been holding court with what-just-popped-up. Intention linking fingers with the spontaneous. Stop me before I over-analogize myself!

Diversity is what makes nature tick. Googling biodiversity, I came across this phrase-that-says-it-all: greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms. Nothing, truly nothing, is independent. No thought, no being, no creative impulse is without precedent or ancestry. Great sites of innovation are – and have always been – found at the crossroads of culture. Life feeds life.

Picasso stepped onto the shoulders of Cezanne and painted his first cubist masterpiece in the same year that Einstein published his theory of relativity. These are not accidental statements.

Great artists, like great scientists, know that they are more discoverer than originator. They carry forward traditions, explore variations, rather than invent entirely new paths. Curators like to propel the story of ‘original’ because it makes a better story. Being the first to step on the moon is a better story than being the second but it is always wise to keep in mind that neither invented the moon.

Cultures that isolate are doomed to wither. Fear of otherness forges nationalist and moralists alike. Purity is a nice word, an abstract that may exist in a laboratory but is not found anywhere in nature.  Innovation, growth..all of life, yes, even economies, need rich diversity in order to thrive. Just like dandelions in a cornfield.  The evidence is all around us and all we need do is open our eyes.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COEXISTENCE

 

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