Go Spelunking [on KS Friday]

Arnie is among my team of wise-eyes. In response to a recent post, he wrote that he was relieved that I was stepping back into the light. “Darkness,” he wrote, “has never been the place from which I observed you to start.”

I am also relieved to be stepping back into the light. And, I am most grateful for my foray into darkness. It was necessary. It was useful. “The anger burned off a resistant layer of the onion.” I wrote in reply. “It burned away many of the resentments I was carrying, opened a channel to the voice I was withholding. Nature is not balanced in a world that makes room for light alone.” I was out of balance and needed to walk into that dark cave. Again. There is great power to be found at the dark center of the earth. After defeating the monster Grendel, Beowulf had to go into the dark forest and dive into the dark bottomless swamp to confront a more dark and terrifying monster, Grendel’s mother. He emerged victorious and forever changed.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

As the night the day. The day the night. Darkness is necessary to perceive the light. It is not possible to thy self be true without a good grasp of the whole truth, including the bits we ignore and deny. I’m only now understanding that this dance in the dark has been central to my lessons and my non-stop-pondering these many months. It is neigh-on-impossible to be true to yourself, to be whole, without embracing the full spectrum of your self. Without both sides of the moon. Self love, it seems, requires a love of ALL parts of your self. Dark and light. There’s plenty of room at the table.

Nature, your nature, is not corrupt or bad. It is nature. There is no judgment in nature, just interrelationship. Cycles and dances. Seasons of growth and rejuvenation. Birth and death. Rather than applying a scalpel it is more useful to go spelunking.

There is no denying we are living through a very dark time. It is the understatement of this young century to suggest that we are finding – again – a host of monsters in our very dark cave. We can, as we have in the past, run from the truth that we find, or, we can at long last pull up a chair, sit with our monsters, and have a chat. Monsters tend to transform when given some time and attention. When light is brought into darkness and darkness is led into light.

It is symbolically perfect and appropriate – deeply human – that the darkest night of the year is the time when many traditions celebrate the return of the light. It is natural, this progression into darkness. It is natural, this journey into light. Roots gather energy during the cold dark months. We rest, knowing that, with the return of the light, there will be much work to do. New crops to plant. New thoughts to harvest and share.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE SETTING THE STAGE

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Feed The Purpose [on DR Thursday]

helping hands

The ends of canvas roles. What to do with the odd strip, the random slice of remains? The left-overs-pieces. I dedicate them to my “narrative” series.

These odd little canvases were originally meant to be rough drafts. Idea-captures for the future. I imagine these paintings to be huge. They are – or have become – the paintings I will do someday. Someday.

The very first canvas was enormous. 11 feet long, maybe 4 feet wide. I have no notes. I sold it before I recorded the dimensions or took a proper photograph. I had an old oblong piece of canvas and some animator’s cell paint. I stapled the canvas to my deck in Los Angeles. I taped house-painter’s brushes to long sticks. I loved what I painted. It was free. An experiment. It became a spot on the horizon. I am walking toward it still.

Helping Hands. There have been plenty of those over my life. There are many of those now.

A few weeks ago, Norm told me about the creation of his “purpose statement.” It was a new and surprising process for him. Almost twenty years ago, Alan wrote a book about creating these statements for people. Through ancient principles, Hermetic Laws, helping people articulate/discover/uncover their “purpose.”

I smiled at Norm’s description and his personal discovery. I remember.

These days I stand solidly in the paradoxical/hypocritical opinion that no human being is simple enough to service a singular purpose. AND, every human being is singular enough to service only one simple purpose: help others. That’s it. Feed other minds. Feed other bodies. Feed other souls. It will feed your own.

Too much solar. Not enough lunar. Too many straight lines. Not enough circles. Too much surface. Not enough soul.

That’s the narrative behind Helping Hands. I opened a box in search of the only photograph I have of that first huge narrative painting. I found it buried beneath yellowing photographs of Tom, and Arnie, and Jim, and Judy, and David, and Bob, and Kathy, and Carol, and Bruce, and Roger, and Doug, and Mike, and…Helping hands all. How could I walk in anything shy of gratitude?

read Kerri’s blog post about HELPING HANDS

helping hands ©️ 2014 david robinson

Practice Inner Hospitality [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“What you separate, the soul joins.” ~ John O’Donohue

A few years ago, when we went to Hippy Tom’s farm, Kerri said, “It feels like we’re inside this man’s sickness.” There was stuff everywhere. A hoarder with a farm. Her comment about the farm has become a code-phrase for us. “Hippy Tom,” she says, and I know we are talking about these-un-united-states under the influence of the outgoing president. A nation living inside of one man’s sickness. The hater-in-chief.

The Bidens’ messages of unity and perseverance are akin to a doorway, an exit from the crazy farm. Although we are running for the door, not yet free of the madness, we can see it from here. We can catch breaths of air free of delusion and division.

“When you decide to practice inner hospitality,” John O’Donohue writes, “the torment ceases. The abandoned, neglected, and negative selves come into seamless unity.”

Practice inner hospitality. The rules that apply to individuals also apply to organizations as well as nations. Practice inner hospitality and the negative selves will come into seamless unity. “The soul adores unity.”

Although our systemic root belies this, soul of this nation has never been isolationism or white supremacy. The soul of this nation has always been our diversity, our willingness to embrace the new, to find a northwest passage, to step foot on the moon, to embrace, to invent and reinvent, to reach. To improve. To challenge a fossilized belief.

Perhaps it is now time for us to review, renew, to at-long-last turn and face what we have not yet faced in “this beautiful, brave, complicated nation.” To look with honesty and clarity at all of our history, our negative and ideal selves. To balance what has been too long unequal, ugly, denied.

There is great space in our national divide. The flaw, as the Amish remind us, is there to let in the grace. The soul joins. It can show us a path, once and for all, out of the sickness of the farm.

read Kerri’s blog post about AMBER WAVES

Get Close And Look [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Get close and look. Really look. Raindrops on the screen. Distortions. Light bends. The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid. “What do you see?” she asked.

Last night, somewhere in the vicinity of 2am, we were wide awake. We ate rice Chex and reviewed the stressors of the year. It read like a biblical plague. We laughed when we realized that there were/are so many stressors that we’d actually forgotten the local riots, the curfew, chaos. and murder that happened a few blocks from our home. “In any normal year,” she said, “that would have been the top of the list. This year it didn’t even make the cut.”

Get close and look. What do you see? Future PhD’s will apply their magnifying glass to our time and find the tail wagging the dog, the greater falling to the lesser. A political party cowering and conspiring with delusion. They would rather see the system fall than risk their power seats. A populace jousting over wearing masks in a pandemic. Many would rather their neighbor die than have their imagined rights restricted. Propaganda networks, posing as news, peddling fantasy as fact. They would rather worship at the altar of the advertising dollar and feed the division (division sells!) rather than hold fast to the mast of journalistic integrity. It’s all entertainment when the necessary is swallowed in a mouthful of superficial. Gossip and conspiracy are so much tasty sugar!

Rome fell when the chief-toga-team guarded their luxuries rather than attended to the essentials. Millions of people line up for food. The market soars.

Really, get close and look. Little miracles are everywhere. “You were plucked out of the snake-pit,” he wrote. “Get the water boiling and get out the corkscrew. It’s time to celebrate.”

We found wine by the front door. Twice.

“I will sit with you in the dark,” she wrote.

“Do you need anything?” they asked.

Slushy came with smiles. “We thought you might need this!”

“Stand above your circumstance,” he suggested.

A special delivery of vitamin c and zinc brought tears to my eyes. True friends emerge from the pack.

The boys join us on the raft every morning for breakfast. Dogga comes running every time tears fill her eyes.

The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid, raindrops on the screen. Hard lines, soft shapes. “We’re very lucky” she said, stooping to take a picture of a pine cone, a fallen branch with wispy needles. The day was cold but the sun was warm.

“What do you see?” she asked, turning the camera so I could see her photograph. “Really look.”

read Kerri’s blog post about RAIN ON THE SCREEN

Sit In The Sun [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I made a third run at my Polynices & Eteocles painting. Brothers who kill each other over control of the kingdom. Reds and Blues. In the two previous attempts, the brotherly violence morphed into images of shared fatherhood. A quiet unity. On this, my third and last attempt, I grew bored with the image and the statement I wanted to make about these-un-united-united-states.

Kerri avoided my basement studio while the brothers, sketched in charcoal, were killing each other on canvas. With a few swipes of a rag and adjustments of line, the murderous brothers became an angel embracing a dejected soul. And, although Kerri was much happier passing through the studio en route to the laundry room with angels on the easel, I found that I was equally as bored with my feel-good statement as I was with my feel-bad statement. The rag cleared the offending charcoal angel.

I don’t want to make statements.

I know I am in an artistic growth phase when I find myself at cross-purposes. Sit still. Get busy. Get Quiet. Say something. The sitting still and the getting quiet are what’s really required. Germinate. Listen. The getting-busy and saying-something are puritanical overtones. Fear of…

A few years ago, Jonathan told us that a tree must split its bark in order to grow. It seems my bark is splitting.

Yesterday, while moving through my david-yoga practice, I had a wee-epiphany. Every yoga pose is a study of oppositions. The stretch, the balance, comes from oppositional reaching. Inner-space, flexibility, equilibrium are intentional contrast. Contrast need not be combative. I think I am out of balance.

Angels and dejected souls. Brothers warring for control. Combat and consolation. No wonder I’m bored. My statement-subjects are as dusty and old as humanity itself. I think the truth floating to the top in my silent sitting is that I have had too much of darkness. There is a lighter side to poetry and human nature.

I just might need to cross over and sit in the sun for a while.

read Kerri’s blog post about TWO PATHS

Survey And Sit Still [on KS Friday]

“What does it mean?” I asked.

“An abrupt slowing down,” she said, “Like screeching to a stop.” She paused and added, “Like our lives, right now.”

Ritenuto Tacet Fermata. Airbags deployed. No new bone breaks. Oh, wait. Not true. There was that recent slip-n-fall on the wet floor at work. There’s nothing like a pianist falling on an-already-broken wrist to punctuate the force of the full stop. And then, the job disappeared shortly thereafter. “The last job standing,” as she called it. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!’

Surveying the wreckage, smarting, she asked, “So what do we do now?”

“Nothing,” I replied. She is still in shock. I am at a loss. “Why don’t we do nothing for a few days.”

It feels as if we stopped – our bodies abruptly stopped – but our souls kept going. They do not have the same constraints as their fleshy cases. It feels like we need to wait for our souls to realize that there was an sudden stop. “We need our souls to come back to our bodies.” She looked at me through sideways eyes.

Silence.

“This year…” she said, before lapsing back into the silence. A few minutes later she began lightly tapping her foot. “Maybe I will write a cantata for a single voice,” her far-away stare already standing in front of the keys.

I looked the other way and smiled. “I think our souls are back.”

Out of wreckage, creativity. “I think that’s a great idea,” I said, trying not to be too enthusiastic. Her idea a tender shoot poking through the crust of her imagining. Exuberance might make it retreat.

Tacet. Silence. There is no rush from the wreckage. Silence and still-sitting is a first step, a necessary step. Take account of what remains. Let go of what flew away. And, emerging from the wreckage, out of the silence, as we know, new music arises.

read Kerri’s blog post about RITENUTO TACET FERMATA

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Ponder Before Turning [on DR Thursday]

Today is Thanksgiving Day in these sometimes-united-states. As a master of understatement and friend of Captain Obvious, I would like to suggest that this Thanksgiving is like no other.

Many of us are in quarantine so we cannot gather. In fact, with COVID-19 raging, the most loving and responsible thing we can do is NOT gather. Family relationships are strained as we peer at each other across the red/blue reality divide. Many of us have lost our jobs – all of them – so the traditional horn-of-plenty is a slightly frightening empty bucket. Thousands of us are queuing at the food banks. Homes are lost, evictions abound. Many are grieving the over quarter-million lives (so far) lost to the pandemic.

And yet…

If I understand my history, this 2020 Thanksgiving is more like the original 1621 version than our usual remembrance. Theirs was a celebration of survival. More than half of the people who arrived the previous year to establish a colony had perished. A hard winter and a raging epidemic took a heavy toll. That very first day of thanks encompassed the grief of loss as well as the gratitude for living to see another day. A successful harvest meant they had a slightly better chance of making it through the coming winter. Can you imagine their exhaustion?

Hope, no matter how dim, provides the necessary fuel of dogged perseverance.

Hope. Belief in the promise of a better day. Imagination sets sail on the seas of the unknown, following the guide star of renewal. Making it through, surviving to see a time of abundant harvest.

So, today, we take a moment, a day. Colonists awash in apprehension. We take a breath. We look back, we know that there is no going back. We grieve what is lost. We ponder how we got here. We take another breath, a day of rest and gratitude before turning to face the realities of rampant uncertainty. We wonder how we can do better. We fill our tanks with hope, knowing that tomorrow we will arise, look forward, and take a single-first-next step.

Sometimes a single-first-next step is as far as we can see.

read Kerri’s blog post on PONDERING LIFE

chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Avoid The Box [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

When I was in high school a significant teacher told me that I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t paint AND be in the theatre AND write. She told me I had to choose. She told me I needed to focus. When she said the word ‘focus’ I felt like I would suffocate if I followed her advice.

One day, standing in the back of the theatre with Roger, I realized that I was bored. I needed to take my impulse to the theatre out of the building and off the stage. At the time I didn’t know what that might look like. My pals in the theatre rolled their eyes, made smallish assumptions, closed their doors to me. What I found, what I created, was thrilling. Profound.

The single consistent criticism from gallery folk of my paintings is that I am stylistically too broad. I’m all over the map. It’s true. More than once I’ve been told to come back when I know who I am. I’m not yet able to go back and, at this stage of my life, doubt that I will ever meet the criteria. I hope not.

I have made wrong turns and burned bridges. I have been my own worst enemy and my own best friend. I’ve broken things that ought not to have been broken. I’ve restored things to wholeness that others could not because I understand brokenness. I’ve run from opportunities. I’ve taken ridiculous risks. As MM asked, “What is it in you that makes you run at every edge and jump?” Fear of heights.

Makaela once told me that there was something feral in me. I thought of her the other day when I realized that DogDog was a perfect reflection of me: he can learn anything but WILL NOT walk on a leash. Try and constrain him in any way and he pulls, resists, and otherwise works to yank my arm out of the socket. I wonder how many arms I’ve yanked when I was approached with a leash? I know that once, a long time ago, I was a good teacher because I knew firsthand the power and necessity of removing constraints.

I’ve given away my best work, my best thinking. I have lived my way into utter irrelevance. The layers of the onion fall away. These days I feel more essence than substance. Pure ghost watching a world to which I have never belonged and rarely understood.

Horatio calls me a polymath to which I reply, “Back at you.” I dare anyone to try and track our conversations. The question in life that I have learned to hate the most is, “So, what do you do?”

I avoid boxes. And leashes. Apparently, that’s about the best I can do.

read Kerri’s blog post about DEFINE YOURSELF

Get To Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On page one of the despot’s handbook is this instruction: silence the artists. Mute the intellectuals. Authoritarians have power only when people become sheep. Silence in the face of abuse is tacit agreement. Permission to bully.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve stood before a school board and explained that art is supposed to be powerful, that it plays a very important role in a healthy society, I’d have a lot of nickels. I was generally called to speak when a play or a painting upset the apple cart, when the art made the community confront a truth or look at a reality. Brecht’s Epic Theatre or the plays of Artaud were/are meant to shake the irrational in people, force them into discussion and revelation.

Art can be beautiful, poetry can soothe, but that is only one side of the coin. It can also shine a light and expose an ugly truth. It can give voice to what is not-being-spoken. It can work out problems on the stage instead of sending the violence into the streets. It can ask us to take a hard look at ourselves and our motives. Picasso’s large painting, Guernica, a response to horror wrought by fascists on the people of a town in Spain, is a powerful art-mirror.

The conscience of a community, like the conscience of every individual that comprises the community, lives beyond the superficial, it bubbles in the place beyond words. An artist’s job is to reach into that place, pull the veil for a moment, root or re-root the community in its values.

A despot’s job is to secure a unanimous vote, no questions asked. Sheep.

Art is not superficial. It is not the image or the words on the page. It is what the image, the words, the dance, the music, touch. Hearts. Souls. Conscience.

Without it, what remains is propaganda. Propaganda is never news, it is the opposite of art. It snuffs the question, it prevents the quest for meaning and deep-felt-truth. Without it, communities flatten, lose their center, wither, and fall apart. Silence, eyes downcast or sideways glancing. Permission to bully. Sheep.

It’s time for the artists to get to work.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS

See Through [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Quinn used to say that if someone has to tell you that they are good at something, they probably aren’t. If someone has to tell you that they are being transparent, they’re definitely hiding something. It is akin to the stereotypical-strategy of the used car salesman, “This baby runs like a dream! Trust me.” If someone has to tell you to trust them, well…

A great athlete has no need brag about their greatness. It is apparent in their play. A great artist has no need to spin perception. Their work speaks for them. A great teacher will never tout their mastery. The expansive nature and lives of their students is testament enough.

Transparent: Trans. Through or across. The appearance. See through the appearance.

Currently, the country is upside-down, in a fog, and choking on irony and COVID. For instance, those crying “FRAUD” are frantically spinning deceit. Those claiming transparency are purposefully opaque. Those claiming moral high-ground stink of muck and mire. Those claiming to save democracy are collapsing the piers upon which it is built [where-o-where is the Grand Ole Republican party?]

That stack of papers we see is a prop and not a plan. That curve that we are rounding does not lead to the promised land; it puts us on a COVID rocket, a steep arc to the sky of escalating infection and death. The arsonist-in-chief lighting fires is not protecting our homes and families, despite the story we are being told and sold.

When the world is upside-down, truth telling is dangerous. It will get you fired. Pointing to the apparent, stating the obvious, is met by an angry chorus of lies orchestrated by well paid liars. Inane belief screams foul in the face of science, data, fact, and, yes, evidence. Exposure, shining light in the dark corners, is threatening to those loudly peddling transparency in taxes and all things. “A perfect call.”

The glaciers melt. The forests burn. The country splits asunder. And, even as we are admonished for our lack of raking, asked to doubt what we see, we are -at long last – in the midst of a transition. We hold our breath, watch the tantrum-tweeter wreak havoc, and count the days until his thumbs exit stage left..

Transition. To go across.

Perhaps, when we are across, with some time, the country will right itself. Sense will return. Perhaps many, many heads will pop out of dark foxholes, their eyes will clear of the mad-illusion, and truth will matter once again. Perhaps, in the coming times, the word ‘transparency’ will no longer be a word-tool used to obscure. We will easily and together see through the thin-appearances. Let’s face it, this baby is not running like a dream. Don’t trust me, look for yourself.

read Kerri’s blog post on TRANSPARENT