See The Opportunity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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In the past few days, two phrases have been injected into the common parlance in such a way as to be interchangeable: cancellation culture and replacement theory. Here we go!

Cancellation theory is a pop culture phrase – the withdrawal of support for a company or person after they say or do something offensive in the media-sphere. For instance, right now many advertisers are cancelling ads with Facebook until Facebook does a better job policing hate speech on its platform.

Replacement theory is a far-right conspiracy theory. It is scaremongering and asserts that, with the help of the “liberal elite,” the white population (and history) is being replaced with “non-Europeans.”

Conflate the two phrases, as was done with great intention at the foot of Mount Rushmore and again the next day at the national Independence Day celebration, and the fear-message is clear: them is out to cancel us. It’s a win/lose game and the dividing line runs along multiple fault lines but mostly racial and political. We’ve gone so far down the division-rabbit-hole that we turn our bile on ourselves. If successful, it is the tried and true fascist checkmate move.

Good heavens. It’s as if this nation is either short on brain cells, has no memory for history, or we are simply gullible to the point of believing almost anything. Sadly, Issac Asimov comes [again] to mind: There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Don’t we see this quote play out everyday in these United States? A cult of ignorance.

There is a vast difference between replacing a story and telling the full story. Communities and individuals are alike in this aspect: they cannot become whole until they deal with their shadow side. They cannot realize their promise until they have the courage to turn and deal with rather than deny the totality of their path.

In this moment we stand at a rare opportunity. The full story of our nation has some seriously ugly truths. Slavery is the original wound in the national psyche. Our rhetoric is and always has been out of alignment with our actions. And, because we have yet to fully face the gap between who we are and who we say we are, we continue re-creating the shadow, tearing open the wound. Systemic racism. Police brutality.

How do we know that we stand at this opportunity crossroads? The fearmongers are in full voice. The fox hole is working overtime to scare the ignorant to death. To the usual screeches of, “They’ll take away your second amendment right!” or “Socialism!” or ‘Protestors are thugs!”  add, “They’re trying to rewrite history!” or “The radical left, the marxists, the anarchists, the agitators,…the angry mob…is out to take away your freedoms” [insert eye roll].

The other night, having drinks at social distance across the driveway, John pondered how we would ever cross this gaping chasm, this canyon between the red and blue. I speculated that we really weren’t that far apart. Division is the tool of a weak leader and the propaganda machine that profits from his poverty of thought. We are being made to think our teams are irreconcilable. We are being force-fed a finite game, a world view of limited pie.

I suggested that, if people could pull their heads out of their propaganda-narrative, we might find that we are much closer in belief than we think. We might, at this crossroad of history, be able to step into our ideal rather than pander to the politics of identity. Ignorance is a choice, as is knowledge.  Somewhere beyond knowledge, wisdom is possible, but only if we have the courage to live what we espouse, to face the full truth of the wound. Then, maybe, just maybe, we might be able to live as if all are created equal. Embrace equal opportunity under the law. One nation bubbling with diverse people made strong with respect for diverse perspectives. Our story is, and always has been, multi-cultural. Apples AND oranges.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about APPLES AND ORANGES

 

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Sing [on KS Friday]

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The story is famous in these parts. It goes like this: when I met Kerri I told her that she needed to know two things about me: 1) I don’t sing. 2) I don’t pray. She gave me a sideways knowing look and said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

I had some very-traumatic-early-in-my-life-singing-experiences. Lots of shame and humiliation led me to an adamant preemptive proclamation with my musician-soon-to-be wife: I do not sing. No way. Don’t even ask. I’ll watch from the sidelines.

Of course, within a few months, she had me in a ukulele band, a choir, and a band. It turns out I like to sing. The problem, she taught me, was not in my capacity to sing, it was in how I hear sound. I hear an octave up. She taught me how to hear. I am now a confident parasitic singer (i.e. I sing just fine with others, just don’t ask me to sing alone).

I’ve spent my life teaching people to see. How beautifully ironic (or perfect) that I needed to learn to hear.

Early in the saga of Beowulf, he is caught in a swarm and blinded by bees. Because he was blinded, he had to develop other senses; his heightened senses were critical in combating and defeating the monster Grendel. Late in his life, he retired as a beekeeper. He not only made peace with bees, they become his allies. At the very end, his bees are his greatest strength. They defeat a dragon plaguing his kingdom.

The great stories are with us for a reason. They can help us navigate and craft our own life stories. For instance, the greatest wounds can be limits or they can lead to new and vital gifts. I’ve learned from Beowulf that the path you take – limit or liberation –  depends on the story you argue for, the focus you choose. When I met Kerri I was arguing for my limitation. I do not sing. Period.

Another recurring theme in the great stories goes like this: when you are ready, the right teacher appears.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SING

 

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shaman ©️ 1993 david robinson

Fill In The Thought Bubble [on DR Thursday]

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I sit in the truck and wait while Kerri goes into the building to work. I’m not allowed in so I use my time to sketch or work on other projects. Big Red is my mobile studio.

I was flipping through my latest sketchbook and found  this on the last page. I laughed because I’d forgotten about it. It is from the early days of the pandemic. I LOVE YOU. NOW STAND BACK. It captures the ever growing mountain of contradictions that tumbled-in with COVID-19.

On the facing page of the sketchbook, I wrote 3 haiku:

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Sketchbooks are like archives or a diary. If I wrote a book about this time I’d call it Weird Calculus. Every decision, even the smallest, is awash in contradictions and placed on a sliding scale of risk.

Since I drew this sketch, we’ve thrown ourselves against a hard wall of conflicting beliefs. We play a deadly game of racquetball with so much intentional misinformation. Data denial. We’re 4% of the world’s population and we’ve managed to fight ourselves into a full 25% of the world’s infections. That’s quite an achievement.

Were I to draw this sketch today, a mere 3 months later, the thought bubble might say: I LOVE YOU. NOW WAKE UP!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about STAND BACK!

 

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now stand back ©️ 2020 david robinson

sleepers ©️ 2014 david robinson

Expect Nothing [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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The man was about to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail. The interviewer asked, “What do you expect it will be like? What do you expect will happen?” The man replied, “I try not to have any expectations. I want to be open to what comes along, whatever that might be.”

It’s a spiritual practice. Make no assumptions. Release all preconceived notions. Open to what is and not what you think should be. Have the experience first, make meaning second. All good advice for attempting presence: that place we fully occupy but rarely visit.

Making meaning. It’s what people do. Wrap an experience in a story. Wrap it in a blanket of belief. Often we muffle the experience in a heavy cloak  before we’ve had it.”It’s going to be hard.” “I don’t think they will like me.” Or, “This will be the best!” “I’m going to crush it!”

Joe used to call this high-dream/low-dream. Imagine the best. Imagine the worst. Like a magical invocation. Either way, an expectation is set. The story has begun and imposes a slick layer over the happenings. The story bleaches the experience-space, that full range of color available between the high and low.

It’s no wonder we can’t find compromise in our current nation-story.

I watch DogDog in the morning. He can’t wait to race outside. He barks for no other reason than it feels good. He sits in the sun. He chases birds with no hope or expectation that he will catch one [he wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what to do if he actually caught one]. DogDog does not know there is a pandemic. He does not care about people politicizing mask wearing. He holds no expectation for the direction of the day. His to-do list is blank. He is happy going on errands. He is happy sleeping on the cool tiles.  He holds no grudges. He makes no judgments. He holds his story lightly. He is happy both before and after he eats. Sometimes he even tastes his food. Above all, he is happiest when we are happy.

Open to experience, DogDog has much to teach me. He has much to teach the world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HAPPY DOING

 

 

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The quote “happy doing something, happy doing nothing” comes from an article about Augie the dog.

Pull It Apart [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The thing that I didn’t write about last week, in fact I avoided, was my latest brush with coincidence. It went something like this: I’ve been moving the Prometheus paintings for years. They are big paintings! Three canvases, each 4ft x 8ft. They require a truck to move. I’ve shown them. I’ve stored them. When I moved to Kenosha they literally could not fit into my studio in our house so Brad and Jen were kind enough to store them for me.

Truth? I thought that someday I would again perform the symphony for which I painted the series. I wrote and performed the script. I painted the pieces to accompany the performance. I thought they might someday have a second life. Over the years, Yaki and I have tossed the idea around once or twice but it always fell into the maybe-someday-abyss.

Jen and Brad are doing some renovation and I needed to move the paintings. I brought them home and they lived in our dining room. I offered to donate them to the PCO – the company that produced Prometheus. I approached several organizations that might be interested in visual statements borne from literature and  performance. The paintings are too big. So, finally, last week, I pulled them apart. Took them out of the frames, disassembled the panels so I could move them down the stairs. The frames went into the garage. There was something cleansing about acknowledging that these pieces were done. I sighed with relief when dropping the illusion that they might someday see the light of day. Two of the panels are hidden behind a tall cabinet in our sitting room, still too big to make it down the curve of the stair into the studio.

The next day, Yaki called. “I want to do the Prometheus,” he said. “But, can we pull it apart? Can we make it more relevant to what’s happening today?”

I laughed heartily. “Yes,” I responded. We can pull it apart.”

Sometimes space must be made. This universe abhors a vacuum. It seems all of my life lessons these days are about letting go of what was. Letting go of how things used to work or who I represented myself to be.

Can I pull it apart. Yes. Done and done. “Cultivate your serendipity,” Quinn used to say.

And, what on earth does this have to do with lettuce? I’d never planted it before. I’d never planted anything before. 20 gave us the boxes. He told us what to do. Growing lettuce – growing anything, it seems – takes some patience. And, some luck. Sunshine and attention. From the seed, if it is tended and mostly left alone -given space – something good will grow.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LETTUCE

 

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Play On! [On Merely A Thought Monday]

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“So, this is what a pandemic feels like,” Chris wrote. Yes.

This is what division feels like. Years ago I went to a wedding in the mountains. The grandmother of the bride punched the grandmother of the groom. They wrestled each other to the floor. The band kept playing. It was shocking. It was mesmerizing. The rest of the reception was uncomfortable with explosive undercurrents. That is my metaphor-of-the-day for these United States.

Disruption can be tedious. Disruption can be violent. Disruption is definitely disorienting. Old ladies fist fighting, pulling hair, cussing. The band plays through its set list.

Yesterday’s metaphor happened like this: I broke a storm window. My first thought was an unpublishable version of, “Gee! How did that happen?” My second thought was, “This is exactly what the USA looks like.” An old frame, glass shatters. It sounds like the first line of a haiku. The fault lines in this nation are ubiquitous. Sharp.

There is no fix that will put the pieces back together again. Humpty Dumpty. A new pane of glass must replace the old.

Kerri had a bad day. We passed a local bar and it was packed. She said, “Everyone’s pretending that things are normal!” Her inner rule-follower wanted to know how so many people could be so cavalier about spreading the virus. I reminded her that we live in Wisconsin. The supreme court of our state ruled that to protect each other is unconstitutional. To pretend that there is no virus is the only way they could have arrived at their ruling. So, all the children play follow-the-leader.

Everything is changed. And now we yearn for what we once knew as usual. We crave the typical, long for the familiar routine. “I’ll never take a hug for granted again,” Jen said. Touch. Yes. We remember with longing the ease of touch.

Little miracles. Sitting close to a friend. A dinner party. We don’t know what we have until we do not have it. Isn’t it true that within the ordinary is always found the seed of the extraordinary? And, what, exactly, isn’t extraordinary? Relative to the very few life forms we have discovered in this vast universe, it seems that another day of life on this abundant planet of ours is, out of the chute, more than we should expect. Little miracles. To hold a hand. To walk side-by-side.

What exactly is normal?

Doug was one of my heroes. He was a champion of the misfit, a cheerleader of the unconventional path. As a young man he was a soldier in Vietnam. During his tour, he read poetry to keep himself sane. Another day of life was never guaranteed. It changed him.

He was a challenger to the norm because he believed the norm didn’t exist.  His belief in the unusual made him an excellent teacher. With excessive bluster, he used to say, “I wish somebody would show me this fantasy called the mainstream. Everybody talks about it but I’ve never seen the goddamn thing!”

We saw the sign from the road: A little normal would be nice. Yes. Grandmothers fist fighting. Packed bars in a pandemic. Broken glass. Follow the leader over the edge. The band plays on.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A LITTLE NORMAL

 

 

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Treat The Origin [on KS Friday]

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Yaki called. He wants to dust off our Prometheus project and give it another whirl. The Creatures Of Prometheus is one of Beethoven’s early works, a ballet that is nigh-on impossible for a contemporary ballet company to afford. Besides a symphony, it requires  scores of dancers. Twelve years ago, Yaki asked if I would write and perform a narrative – a storytelling- that would weave together the movements. It lives among my all-time favorite collaborations. Yesterday he asked, “Can we update it? Can we make it relevant with what’s happening in the world today?’

My first thought: it’s already relevant! It is a creation story. Prometheus is given the task of creating human beings, a man and a woman. Although he is instructed to make them dull and crude, he creates them to be beautiful, to see and appreciate their connection to the earth from which they were made. Angered by his disobedience, Zeus punishes Prometheus by corrupting the new creatures; he fills them with fear and division. He twists their fear into a lust for war. He makes them dull and crude. Now, Prometheus waits for them to remember and recover their original sight, to remember their capacity for pure seeing, fearless living. To drop their madness and return to their senses.

My second thought: people are notoriously incapable of grasping metaphor. It’s the Zeus thing in practice. The update has to be a direct statement. It must leave no doubt and puncture the commitment to dullness. “Gear down!” as Kerri constantly reminds me.

“How can Prometheus speak to Black Lives Matter?” he asked. We are both artists in the later stage of our career.  Yaki added, “I want my work – my art to really speak to what’s happening today. I want it to help.”

I’ve been sitting in his questions since we talked yesterday. We are standing again at a moment in time when change is possible. We are also standing at the moment when the system, a living thing, a wizard of recreation, will fight to maintain itself. Consider: we had this moment with the abolition of slavery and the system responded with Jim Crow. Segregation. Institutional racism. We had the moment again with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the system responded with a draconian judicial/policing/incarceration apparatus, disproportionate tax structures…segregation by legislation (again and again and again).

In our current moment, in this latest moment, how can we make the necessary changes that are not merely the existing system putting a new face on a 400 year old mechanism? Real change requires steps in unknown directions [the rule: if you know where you are going you are merely re-creating what already exists]. How can Prometheus speak to that?

We focus on behavior when we need to stare at the underlying structures. Behavior, as Robert Fritz reminds us, always follows the path of least resistance – the sub-structure determines the path of behavior.

In the story, Prometheus is in it for the long haul. He knows his creatures are made for beauty and will inevitably see beyond their made-up fear and return to their source. They will one day stop listening to the fear mongers and race baiters. They will wake up and recognize that they are not made to be dull and crude and divisive. In fact, quite the opposite. They were made to appreciate and participate in the creation of beauty and betterment. Nature.

Prometheus is in no hurry. He waits for his creatures to remember. He plays the long story. What will that look like?

 

 

IT’S A LONG STORY is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S A LONG STORY

 

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it’s a long story/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

Draw A Blank [on DR Thursday]

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A white canvas. Or is it a blank canvas? This could be a finished piece of art or a scary beginning. Having the 20th century of art firmly in the books, art historians weigh in, saying “yes,” it could be complete. It could also be inception. As confusing or clarifying as it might sound, the determining factor is the artist’s intention.

In 1918, the Russian artist Kazmir Malevich painted Suprematist Composition: White On White. White, he believed, was the color of infinity. It recently sold at auction for $15 million dollars.

In 1963, Ad Reinhardt painted his Abstract Painting, at first glance a black canvas that reveals itself as a symphony of shades and tones. He called his canvases “pure, timeless, ideal, transcendent.” His paintings sell at auction for millions.

Yasmina Reza wrote a play, Art, that explores the question “What is art? In it, friends debate and debase the $200,000.00 purchase of a completely white painting.

Does this sound crazy? The artist decides the reality? Beginning or end? Is it the artist’s intention or the eye of the beholder that gives meaning and value to art? Both?

It is breathtaking when you recognize that artists do not create from thin air. Artists reflect the society in which they live and work. 1918 was the end of a world war. It was the beginning of a global pandemic. Who could blame Kazmir Malevich for exploring infinity? Of wanting to reach beyond an external reality that was horrific?

I stare at my blank canvas. It is an invitation. A call.

I/We live in a time of absurdity – farcical abstraction from observable reality. Angry bubbles. Insulated information tribes. Data collection more valuable than gold. We are reducing ourselves to so many numbers. What’s your credit score? Your personality rating? Perhaps I should fill my canvas with zeros and ones? What would you see?

Mostly, we constantly weigh our interests against values and values lose every time. Weird calculations creating ludicrous reality. Yesterday, for instance, 3000 young people packed into a mega church during a pandemic – in a virus hotspot – to cheer a demagogue; they were told they were safe because there was a new and special corona virus killing air system.  The pile of farces grows higher and higher. The propaganda machine grows louder and louder. How rich a field for an artist to explore! The most individualistic nation on earth creating lemmings who will believe anything.

What should I paint? Do I want to comment on the ridiculous? The obscene?

I find myself understanding Kazmir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt as I never have before. Look beyond the angry horror story. I do not want to spend my precious few years on this earth meditating on the ugly abstractions, the made-up-in-the-moment divisions. The blank surface of my canvas calls me to look beyond the noise. There is so much to love in this passing moment. Change, real change, is always in this direction.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on BLANK CANVASES

 

 

 

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all my loves/the draw sunsets ©️ 2020/2017 david robinson

 

 

Know The Pet Peeve [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Kerri has a pet peeve and because she is from New York she expresses her annoyance with all of the out-sized force and bluster that comes with her east coast roots. “OH MY GOD! DO YOU SEE THAT?!!!” She gales as we drive down the road, gesturing wildly, letting go of the steering wheel. I close my eyes because I do not want to see the fiery crash that we are most certainly about to experience.

“DID YOU SEE IT?!!!” she repeats, demanding an answer. I open one eye to see if she’s regained control of the car or if she is still gesticulating with gusto. She looks at me with disdain, “YOU DIDN’T SEE IT?” I shake my head. “HOW CAN THAT NOT DRIVE YOU CRAZY?!!!” I shrug my shoulders and secretly look for a way to safely exit the car.

The offense? The horrid transgression that causes such wild arm flinging, finger pointing, and loud outdoor-voice-exclamations? A license plate renewal sticker placed on the wrong part of the plate. “DO YOU THINK THEY CAN’T READ?!!! she bellows. “DO YOU THINK IT’S TOO HARD TO FIGURE OUT WHERE THE STICKER GOES?!!! She snarls. I slide down in my seat. I practice my cloak-of-invisibility act.

Once, early in our history, before I realized this peeve was her pet, I said, “Maybe they are being creative, like trying to color out of the lines.” My perky suggestion was not welcome. It was as if I whispered the magic words that unleashed all the demons from hell. Smoke came from her nostrils. Lightning from her eyes. My perky backpedaled and disappeared leaving me all alone with no place to hide. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!! she growled. “IT’S A STICKER!!!!!!!! IT’S SUPPOSED TO GO IN THE RIGHT SPOT!!!!!! THERE’S A SPOT AND THE STICKER IS SUPPOSED TO GO THERE!!! WHAT’S SO HARD?!!!!!!”

I had no answer. Or, more to the point, I dared not have an answer. I had better run away from anything that looked remotely like an answer. Pet peeves are best left alone!

In that moment I knew only one thing for certain: the path to a happy life was predicated on one small action – I simply need to place the sticker in the right spot when it was time for the license plate renewal.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on OH MY GOD!!!

 

 

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Knead And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I am now among the legion of people that turned to baking bread during the pandemic-stay-at-home era. This loaf is gluten free, made with rice flour, since Kerri is allergic to gluten.

In truth, I’ve wanted to bake bread since I knew Brad the baker in California. He was a genuine hippie, a believer in peace and simple living. “Bread is a living thing,” he once said as I watched in fascination his kneading of the dough. You can tell a true master craftsman at work by watching their hands. They feel something in the dough or the wood that the rest of us do not.

My loaf was not made by a master. Not even by an apprentice.

Bill sent a photo of his first loaf and I asked for the recipe. It came as screen shots and I scribbled them into a recipe on notebook paper. Easy steps to follow but I knew from watching Brad that I would not find in my recipe any easy guidance on how to feel the life in the dough. That would come with time. Maybe. If I was lucky and diligent and practiced listening through my hands.

I’m not surprised people are turning to bread during this time of pandemic uncertainty. It is essential. The making of bread, the cultivation of wheat, made civilization, as we know it, possible. It is, therefore, a central symbol in many belief systems. Separate the chaff from the wheat. A time for harvest. This is my body. Eat.

Brad told me that the dough kneads you as much as you knead the dough. It’s a simple relationship between living things and requires complete focus. Mutual respect. Attention must be proffered.

Perhaps that is why we turn to bread in times like these. Simple relationships of attention and mutual respect are increasingly rare. Bread reminds us of what is possible, what is healthy. It reminds us of the patience that is required if we are to find our way to harvest. It reminds us of the necessity of knowing what is chaff and what is wheat, or remembering that there is a direct relationship between what is planted and what is grown.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BREAD

 

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