Pull The Weeds [on KS Friday]

My very first painting teacher offered me some sage advice. I was painting figures while the rest of the class worked on landscapes. Being the odd-child-out I assumed something was wrong with me. She said, “Tree painters are a dime a dozen. Someday, being the only one will seem like a gift so ignore what they are interested in and paint what is interesting to you.” Jospeh Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” It’s the same advice that Jackie Fry gave to the boy-version of me.

I never imagined myself with a back yard. And, now that I have one, I find it a place of rest and peace. This is a confession that I’ll never admit to in the future: weeding is meditative. Each day I find myself taking a few moments to go out and yank the invaders out by the roots. No thought. No other thing to do. I simply tend the garden, knowing I am accomplishing nothing since weeds are good at growing and more will appear tomorrow. We are strange allies, they provide me with a daily meditation.

If I was as an art teacher, I’d send my students into my back yard. Nature is a masterful teacher of color. Orange and green. Highlights of yellow. Barney provides subtle blues, purples, and pinks. The orange and green of the lily pop against the purple and blue of the aging piano. Warm colors come forward. Cool colors recede. It’s all there.

I read somewhere that, as an artist, “to discover” is more potent than “to invent.” See what is there, beyond what you think is there. Everything is fluid so the discoveries are endless. While I weed the sun passes beneath a cloud. Everything changes. The sun reappears and the colors change again. Not the same. Different. I’ll never be able to capture it and that is the best held secret of an artist. Another wisdom from Jackie Fry: you will never succeed. Art is a relationship, not a transaction. So, no pressure. It is a relationship, complex and dynamic. It is not about capturing an image. It is about freeing your sight and possibly freeing the sight of others. Facilitate discovery. Play to play, to become a better player. Open a small door to peek into the vast inner universe.

It’s a paradox. It’s impossible to eradicate the weeds. That is not why I pull them. It’s impossible to capture life in an image. ‘Capturing’ is not why I paint. Relating is why I paint. I do it because I’ll never create anything more beautiful than the Tiger Lily dancing with Barney. I paint so that I might see and share in the dance.

ALWAYS WITH US on the album AS IT IS by KERRI SHERWOOD

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about the TIGER LILY

always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Meet The Frame [on DR Thursday]

“There are people who prefer to say ‘yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘no’. Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.” ~ Keith Johnstone

A violent storm blew through so we spent the night hunkered down in the basement. We had very little sleep. Sleeplessness always leads me to moralize and for that, I apologize.

A frame of reference is a powerful thing. Experiences are interpreted through a frame of assumptions. We are witness to a time in which verifiable reality is denied because it doesn’t jive with the tribal frame.

Master Marsh passed along this quote from E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.”

Knowledge often challenges the frame. That is the point of knowledge. Growth. And growth is always a challenge to what was formerly believed possible.

It is somehow easier to lapse into a conspiracy theory, demonize an other, deny what is indisputable, than it is to allow that the frame is just that, a frame. It’s not a truth. It’s a context. It’s a binding agent. Culture is a frame of reference. Religion is a frame of reference. What we believe of ourselves is not a fact. Identity is a frame of reference. Democracy is a frame of reference. Autocracy is a frame of reference. Supremacy is a frame. Equality is a frame. Every-man-for-himself is a frame. Brother-and-Sister’s-keeper is a frame.

None are truth. Frames are creations. Agreements. Aspirations.

Frames that allow for challenges, for growth, are sustainable. Those that do not, those that deny insight, fact, data, new knowledge, those that are threatened by opposing-point-of-view, inevitably collapse in their denial.

The fire burns. A garden hose is not an effective defense, regardless of belief. Temperatures rise relative to emissions. Rain forests disappear. A lie undermines the foundations of democracy. Believe it or not. Harry Truman sat in his cabin nestled into the mountain called St Helens. Despite repeated appeals from fleeing neighbors, repeated rumbles and tremors, warnings from scientists and safety personnel, he believed he would be safe, that his mountain would never erupt. Traces of Harry have never been found.

So it goes with the denial of believers. Frames held too tightly blind rather than reveal.

Every artist knows the transformative power of a frame. A frame can make almost any scribble look substantial. A cheap frame can diminish the greatest masterpiece.

New knowledge meets an old frame. Growth or entrenchment? Blind acceptance or emerging possibility? Yes? No? Both?

read Kerri’s blog post about FRAMES

held in grace: surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Appreciate The Moment [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Monumental moments in a life sometimes seem so small at the time. They pass as incidental but, in retrospect, are profound.

In his recent visit, Bruce and I reminisced about my inability and horror of singing. In the majority of my life, I couldn’t find a pitch if it was sitting on my shoulder. Kerri jumped into the conversation telling Bruce that I’d found my voice. Well, to be honest, she helped me find my voice. A patient teacher who simply taught me how to hear. Bruce’s mouth dropped open when I told him that I sang at my grandfather’s funeral. “It was terrifying,” I said.

“But you did it,” Kerri added.

When I met her, as I’ve previously recounted, I told Kerri that, “I don’t sing and I don’t pray.” And, then came the ukulele band. On the day I flew in for my third visit, Kerri picked me up from O’Hare and we rushed back to make the first rehearsal of her new group, the ukulele band. We met in the gardens of the Kemper Center, Lake Michigan humming by our side. She handed me a black uke. She taught the group to tune. We learned a chord or two. And picked and sang our way through a few easy songs. I dare anyone to avoid singing when they are in a group of silly colored ukuleles. It was my first of many lessons. I was having so much fun strumming, that I forgot that I was singing.

Such a simple moment. The beginning of challenging a faulty life-story. A self-imposed limit. Kerri was wise enough to know that I needed to begin with fun. Laughter is a great maker of courage. The first step.

Eight years ago. At the time it seemed so incidental. Following this amazing musician through her day. Playing along. Carrying her books. And, all along, it was her gentle way of saying, “Let’s challenge that obstacle. There’s a way around it and all you have to do is have fun and learn again to listen.”

read Kerri’s blog post about UKULELES

Share The Sketchbook [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Bruce came through town with his son Ben. Ben is a budding Renaissance man, an artist and philosopher. A quiet deep thinker. We marveled at the drawings in his sketchbook. Faces and hands. Figures in motion. A bold sense of color. I remember the terror of sharing my sketchbook and was moved by how eager and easily Ben shared his. A sketchbook, like a diary, is vulnerable, a place to work out ideas, make mistakes, record pain and joy and confusion. We were touched that he was so generous in opening his diary to us.

Big changes are coming Kirsten’s way. Kerri and I laughed at her news, at the ease and enthusiasm she brings to her step off the edge of the known. “I suppose it’s easier to make big changes,” Kerri said, “when you have the bulk of your life still ahead of of you.” I suppose. Or, perhaps, after so many big changes, you come to realize that the real transformations are not in location moves or new jobs. They happen on the inside and don’t seem to be changes at all. More, it’s layers falling off. Discovery of what was there all along.

Bruce and I have known each other for a very long time and have not seen each other in a very long time. Sitting on the deck, a humid hot day, we sipped cold wine and talked about the people we once were. We talked about some of the layers that have fallen off. We laughed at our foibles. There were too many stories to pack into a single visit. There were too many questions to ask and notes to share. I hope we will have more time to sit and share our life-sketchbooks.

Each morning, opening the house, I enjoy the small fountain in our sunroom. The water runs. As a Buddhist would say, “You can never step into the same river twice.” Our fountain reminds me that time runs. Each day is a new sketch. That is true especially if I think I know what will happen that day. I am always surprised by day’s end. Life takes some surprising turns. Some big. Most less noticeable. And, time runs.

I watched Bruce’s face as Ben showed us his drawings. A proud father. Ben looked to his dad, still anchored to some degree in his dad, just as it should be. I remember looking to my dad in just that way. This trip across the country, father and son, will be a good story for them. It is already. It will be told many years from now. A son rolls his eyes. A dad laughs. An old friend and his new wife delight in being part of the day’s sketch.

There is no higher art.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOUNTAIN

Give So Much [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Sometimes on the trail we find a painted rock. A penguin perched on a tree limb. A sweet sign of peace atop a sign post. Someone took the time to send a ripple of good-feels.

It is a paradox. It really doesn’t take much to bring a positive gesture into the world. Paint a rock. Open a door. A spirit lift. Intend well. But, good intention takes far more energy than reactive anger. Driving on someone’s bumper is easy. Blocking the vote takes infinitely less energy than protecting it. Belittling a child consumes far less energy than nurturing a child. It was out of my mouth before I could stop it, “Any idiot can pull a trigger – taking a life seems so easy,” I said to the boys-in-the-gang. “Bringing life, protecting life, saving life takes some thought, some heart, and effort.”

Tearing down is fast and easy. Building up takes some skill, knowledge, heart. Investment. Said another way: destruction, division…takes very little skill and almost no thought. Obstruction is a mindless, selfish game. Creation, on the other hand, requires a master’s path. Bringing ideas to the table and then into manifest begins with a desire to make things better. For everyone.

After the last 4 years, the world seems to have grown more aggressive. There’s no lack of angry rhetoric. The divisions couldn’t be more pronounced. Every day we are witness to exceptional hostility; a truck roaring through a turn lane, cutting around the line of traffic, bursting through a red light, cars braking to avoid a collision. It was too much to wait. Impossible to participate. All “me” and no “us.” Derogatory social media posts from the privileged, demonizing the less fortunate, fearful, I suppose, of losing their privilege. Making monsters, playing victim.

We were walking our route through the neighborhood, talking about the rising levels of aggression, the latest hostility we’d seen. We were stopped in our tracks by a series of messages chalked on the walk. “I just wanted to say you look awesome.” A few steps later, “You are still looking good!” And more. We laughed. Stopped in our tracks.

“What were we talking about?” Kerri asked, walking toward the next chalk- message.

“I can’t remember.” I looked around to see if the message-chalker was spying on our delight. I hoped so. They’d just changed the arc of our day. I hoped our delight was making their day.

It takes so little. It gives so much.

It creates an entirely different conversation.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHALK MESSAGES

Say It Anyway [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

And so, we age. Together. Our bodies are changing. Our minds are changing. We met in our 50’s and often say, “I wish we’d have met when we were younger.” I wonder if that is true. I am a better person now than I was then.

She is Teflon when I tell her that she is beautiful. My words slide right off. I tell her anyway whether she can hear it or not because it is so deeply true within me.

My body aches. I am looking more and more like my grandfather and less and less like the man I expect to see in the mirror. But I know that the essential thing will remain intact through our entire apple-doll-becoming: jowls or no, she is beautiful to me. All the time.

read Kerri’s blog post about JOWLS

smack-dab. ©️ 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Consider The Revelation Necessary [on KS Friday]

An exercise that is designed for generic failure is also designed for specific success. And, so it is with the bridge. The instruction is simple: get everyone safely across the space. If anyone touches the floor, all must go back. Invariably, the first attempt is an abject failure. The group ignores the word “everyone” and, instead, opts to try and get themselves safely across the space. They believe the game is about them, that “winning” is a singular affair.

After being sent back to the beginning more than once, they come to a spectacular yet inevitable innovation: if they work together, crossing the space will be easy. It is only a matter of moments after their revelation that they, together, construct a secure bridge and are all safely standing on the other side of the room. Specific success wrought from generic failure. And, once they have their realization, they cling to it. They own it. They must, the stakes are raised, the rules are tipped against them during the ensuing phases of the exercise.

I’ve led this exercise hundreds of times. Every single time the group has the necessary revelation. They are not in the game alone. They can only “win” if they join together. If they build it together, everyone will safely cross the space. It gives me hope.

Last night, during the town hall, President Biden said something that ought to slap us from our divisive stupor. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin believe the 21st century belongs to the autocrats. The pace of change is moving too fast and democracies, in their divisiveness, move too slow. So far, we are proving them right.

Once, as an experiment, rather than set the challenge of the bridge, I forced the answer. The group did as I said but collapsed in the ensuing rounds. When I raised the stakes, the people gave up. The harder it got, the less they tried. They coalesced in apathy. They never made it across the bridge again, even though they knew how to build it.

This is what the autocrats do not understand. There is no ownership, no game, in a forced answer [educators could pay attention to this simple rule, too].

We are being divided through titanic campaigns of misinformation. And so, no one will make it safely across this time-space. Generic failure. Wade Davis wrote that we now live in a failed state and, so far, we are proving him right. But I have hope. The necessary revelation, the specific success, bubbles in the frustration. Those stoking the division, feeding fear, will have their day but, in the long run, the lie collapses, people join together and, like a prayer flag, build a bridge to ensure that all make it safely across. They recognize that they are not in this game alone. Winning is hollow if half the team is lost in the process.

This game, the bridge. The necessary revelation is in our nature; nature’s prayer flag. It gives me hope.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE’S PRAYER FLAG

hope/this season ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Come To The Table [on DR Thursday]

Duke and Eileen sat at this table for many years. And, because St. Vincent de Paul wouldn’t take it for second hand sale because the top had dings in it, it rode around in the back of Big Red for many months. We forgot it was there.

When Covid roared in and the world shut down, we wanted to put a table in our sun room. That way, we could sit and look out at the day. We thought it would help buoy our spirits while in isolation. In the middle of wondering-out-loud where we could possibly get a table in a world-shut-down, we remembered that Duke and Eileen’s table was camping out in the back of Big Red. It was a perfect fit.

It began the transformation of a room that has become our favorite place in the house to sit and hang out. We’ve populated our former work table with plants. Duke and Eileen’s table is also home to many succulents and a Bonsai Gardenia sent as a birthday present from Kirsten and Chris. We resurrected an old fountain so the sound of peace is the sound of gurgling water. There are candles. Special rocks from special places. Water, earth, fire, and air; lots of air. We’ve created a sanctuary.

Watching Kerri and 20, Duke and Eileen’s son, sit at the table filling out paperwork for Eileen, I was struck by the circle coming back around, the story that this table might tell. 20, sitting at his mom and dad’s table, now center to our sanctuary, doing the work of a son to care for his mom.

It also occurred to me, standing outside, looking in at these two siblings-from-different-mothers sit at the table filling out forms (Kerri and 20 are truly brother and sister), that in the midst of “living in interesting times,” our response to the pandemic, to civil unrest, to our town literally being on fire, amid job losses and wrists breaking, has been to create a place of peace. A center of quiet around which the chaos spins.

“Make all the world your studio” was once – and still is – a mantra for me. And, now at the center of my spinning-world-studio is an intentional space, a bright and happy room bringing together all of the elements, built around the long history of comfort etched in the top of Duke and Eileen’s table.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE TABLE

meditation, 48x48IN, mixed media, 2012

meditation ©️ 2012 david robinson

In-Tolerate [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

In theatre school, I was taught that the action of the play was driven by conflict. I’ve never been comfortable with that word. Something did not ring true with the concept of conflict. A dividing line. Battle. Fight. Kerri just suggested that conflict is not simply a line, it is bandwidth. A full spectrum of color in our human struggle.

I recently read that, through resistance, all things become visible. We see color because some light rays are absorbed and others are reflected. The light ray is filtered, separated into color bands. We see the color that was resisted. Rejected by the surface. Split off. Separated. Is it any wonder that the epicenter of most faith traditions, the driver of most origin stories, is the journey through separation back to unity?

We become visible in our birth. Separate. We become invisible in our death and are given to imagining a comforting story of reunion. Re-union. In between those two points, separation and unity, there is life made visible and wildly colorful by the separation. The filters. What is absorbed and rejected. Reflected. Learned. Ignored. Appreciated. Vilified. Visible. Invisible.

This time of pandemic has been, for us, an exercise in separation. In the distancing, we’ve nurtured, intentionally and unintentionally, an appreciation of quiet. Over these many months we’ve grown a garden of simplicity. We read together. We walk our paths slowly. We’ve found that we do not need to be entertained or distracted. We have a low tolerance for crowds and run the opposite direction when there’s too much noise ahead.

We’ve fostered an appreciation for those who walk through life considerate of the needs of others. Our circle of friends has come into focus. We’ve dropped off the plate of many and many have dropped off of our plate. The connective tissue is felt, established and hearty. In some cases, even though our actual conversations are rare, the focus is sharp. Deeply rooted. Arnie. Judy. Jim. Mike. David. In other cases, we communicate almost every day. 20. Brad and Jen. Heart-y.

Our play has become visible through resistance. What we absorb and what we reject has come into stark contrast, clear focus, through the separation. Layers of shallow tolerance have been peeled away revealing a much deeper understanding of what we desire to create in this life, how we desire to live. It is necessary to understand the boundaries set and the colors illuminated by intolerance. Said another way, it is important to be able to thoroughly sort substance from noise. Both inner and outer. I have learned that I have limited tolerance for thoughtless acceptance, for unthinking noise. My resistance. I surround myself with questioners, those curious enough to dig, dedicated to building their thought-castles on bedrock instead of shifting sands. Those few who are capable of releasing their grips on the comfortable known and step willingly into the uncomfortable question. I absorb them. Take them in.

We – all of us – walk the same path, visible in our birth. Separate. Invisible in our death. Re-union. In this we are equal. What we do, how we choose to support each other, or choose not to, in the passage between those two universal points, is all. These choices define the story we live.

The pandemic, the separation, has helped me to a deeper understanding and appreciation of this word: Intolerant. A word that used to inspire egg-shell walking for what it implied. A word held with shallow roots. Now, it is a word rich in complexity, useful in paradox, a resistance that has made so much come visible. Tolerance, ironically, is at the same time intolerance. What, in your play, is acceptable? What, in your play, will you tolerate? What, in your play, will you not tolerate? Your play is not separate from mine.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOLERANCE LEVELS

Go Beyond The Moon [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon driving the back roads en route to Lake Geneva, our little-baby-scion rolled over into 250,000 miles. We filmed the moment and then pulled to the gravel shoulder for a photo-op. We cheered. We sat on the side of the road and talked about the miles. The stories. This intrepid little car has taken us many places, through many of life’s changes. It only once left us on the side of the road. And, even then, it had the courtesy to breakdown in a welcome center at the Minnesota state line. We were surrounded by helpful voices, towed and back on the road by day’s end.

We sent a photo of the milestone to 20 and his reply was a perfect encapsulation: To the moon and back.

The day we met, holding hands and skipping out of the airport, we jumped into this boxy car, the scion. Kerri had packed me a lunch and had a cup of coffee waiting for me. This car has since been to most coffeehouses in the contiguous United States. The moment we heard that Beaky had passed, we were frantic and driving to get to Florida in time. We did not make it and spent a long afternoon at a park in Illinois, weeping and walking and sitting in the car, wondering what to do. The day we were married we drove away from our reception in the little-baby-scion. It took us to Colorado for our honeymoon. We’ve slept in rest areas in Iowa, moved both kids to other states, drove back and forth across Wisconsin to fetch our dogga. We took my dad on a visit to his hometown for the last time, touring the streets in the scion. It has been a silent observer, the steady presence, to all the major stories of our life. The minor ones, too.

I could go on and on. We intend for this stouthearted little car to go on and on, too, to live with us and carry us through the next chapters and collected stories of our lives. The toaster. The shoe box that has taken us to the moon and back. And now beyond.

read Kerri’s blog post about 250,000