Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK

Follow The Conversation [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I met Horatio on an airplane. With his wife, Teru, we were seatmates on a flight from Washington D.C. to Seattle. I’d just finished facilitating a workshop at the Smithsonian about story, he was stepping toward directing films, and Teru is passionate about writing life histories. We talked about storytelling clear across the country and our conversation continues to this day.

David and I sat next to each other at a conference. I’d only just moved to Seattle, I knew no one. I saw a sign for the conference and wandered in. It was my good fortune to pick a seat next to a brilliant visual and theatre artist. We started talking about life and art. Years later, every gallery I enter, every play I attend, I have conversations with David in my mind – and hurry home to write him or call him and share what we talked about.

To this day, MM is my greatest collaborator. We used to sit in my office and dream big dreams – and then go out and make them happen. He is the ultimate player-of-infinite-games, playing-to-play. When I need my mind opened, my pot stirred, or my obstacles surmounted, I turn to MM.

I was visiting Tom McK at his ranch. When he asked me to help him tell a story I had no idea that his simple question, the story that he needed to tell, would take more than a decade and would only be possible after his death. His story became my story to tell.

It was Tom’s story that I told to Horatio that day on the flight from D.C. to Seattle. It was multiple good conversations over many years with David about writing plays that finally brought me to clarity. MM was my constant companion. With his band, Mom’s Chili Boys, he composed the music that supported the telling of Tom’s story. He built the world of the play and then, together, we stepped into the world and fulfilled Tom’s request.

Fortuitous seat assignments on a flight. Following an impulse into a conference and taking any old seat. Playing an infinite game. One good conversation, again and again, and nothing will ever be the same.

read Kerri’s blog post about ONE GOOD CONVERSATION

Feed The Mantra [on KS Friday]

As part of the 2020 census, Kerri and I were randomly selected to participate in a healthcare questionnaire. On first glance this might seem worse than a spoon full of castor oil but we were excited because the system of healthcare in America has been ruinous to us. There isn’t a single life decision that we make that doesn’t run through the fractious draconian system we mistake for health care [note: the good people who populate the system, the nurses and doctors and technicians are remarkable. My barb is meant for the money machine that intercepts our capacity to create a system that places the health of the citizens as central to the mission].

We spent an hour on the phone with a lovely woman who asked us multiple choice questions that were carefully written to avoid any real data. When she asked us if, over the last 12 months, we’d experienced anxiety, hopelessness, or depression, we burst out laughing. She laughed, too. “Was our level of anxiety high, somewhat high, moderate, little, or very little?” We answered with more laughter and she said, “Well, I have to ask!”

I told her the story of taking Kerri to the hospital the night she broke her wrists. Wrapped up like a mummy, in great pain, we sat for several minutes in the parking lot staring at two doors. The first led to the emergency room and would, no doubt, also lead to bankruptcy. The second door led to urgent care and perhaps an inability to care for a pianist with two broken wrists. We debated our choices for several long minutes. Keep in mind, we have healthcare. It is more expensive than all of the rest of our bills combined. And, we are afraid to use it.

“Have you avoided treatment or refused treatment in the anytime in the last 12 months because of cost?”

“Yes.”

We told the lovely woman conducting the questionnaire how much our premiums actually cost and she gasped. Literally. “I had no idea,” she muttered. Her job provides healthcare.

We access our coverage through the misnomer, Affordable Care Act. It provides a supplement so we can actually “afford” our coverage but access also comes with a cliff. It’s constructed like a cage. It’s an all or nothing abyss that prevents us from earning a living. We cannot earn enough to pay our bills because we’d have to jump a mighty-premium-reimbursal-crevasse to make enough money to survive the cliff. Catch-22. It’s why I stopped showing or selling my paintings; a single extra dollar could have pushed us over. Our get-out-of-jail-free-card? A job with healthcare.

For a moment, the lovely woman winced and was silent on the other end of the phone. “There’s no space to put this information,” she said. “I’ll put it in the notes at the end,” she said to herself. We knew, all three of us, that no one will ever read the notes.

We left the questionnaire disappointed but affirmed in our belief that nothing will change anytime soon. Our fatal blind spot in these perhaps-soon-to-be-united-states is that we think everything needs to run like a business. It’s why our schools fail. It is why our prisons are over populated. Market forces come with levers that work well if you are selling electronics but are debilitating if your are trying to educate children or provide accessible healthcare to a citizenry. I’ve seen many, many arts organizations and other not-for-profits enter a death spiral when a “well-meaning” board member insists that the organization run like a business. Apples cannot be oranges.

We feed each other a not-insignificant mantra these days. This is where we are. Let’s not miss this day. Rise above the circumstance. Each day, new. Let’s live, fully live, right here, Right Now.

RIGHT NOW and all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post on EACH NEW DAY

each new day/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Feel The Change [on DR Thursday]

And, in one day, a single day, it’s changed.

In general, we like to write our posts a day or two ahead. This week, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to write Wednesday’s post until after the inauguration. The Capitol was a military zone. There were looming threats of attack and violence. In recent months, the chaos-of-the-day often left us feeling that we wish we’d have written something different.

And, that is precisely what changed. Mayhem flew south and stability was sworn into office. Good intention (with a recognizable plan) took the helm. It’s as if a cleansing wind blew through and, in a moment, swept away the dark corruption. The adults are back in charge. Poetry stood strong and tall and spoke directly into the heart of the matter. Suddenly, after years of numbing reduction, words mattered again. Vocabulary was restored.

As we reviewed the day I told Kerri that there is only one thing more powerful than a dark wizard and that is a good man. A good person. Good people (side note: I confess to blubbering a bit when Kamala Harris was sworn in. Sometimes change is very hard to see and sometimes – like yesterday – it is impossible to miss).

This morning, for the first time in years, I did not dread to read the news. The sun was shining. BabyCat found a good spot and crawled into the warmth and purred. DogDog chewed contentedly on his bone. We sat in bed sipping coffee.

“You can feel it, can’t you,” Kerri said. “It’s palpable.”

Yes. Yes I can.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SUN

at the door ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

at day at the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson

Take The Opportunity [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Paul used to teach his actors that, in choosing to step onto a stage, they had a profound responsibility. “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life,” he’d say. I took his lesson and passed it along to my students. I hope that a few of my students took Paul’s lesson and, in turn, passed it on. You have a responsibility.

Another lesson I learned, this time from Jim, was that great acting is about standing in truth. “Acting is the honest pursuit of an intention in imaginary circumstances.” Honest pursuit. It’s a misunderstanding to equate the art of acting with pretending. The circumstances are pretend. Actors are meant to be portals to a shared story, a channel to a common experience. They transport. They transform. “Never underestimate your power…”

John O’Donohue writes that the soul does not inhabit a body. It’s the other way around: bodies live within the soul. We only think we are isolated individuals, bubbles. The bubble is singular, soul, and we play our small dramas within it. We fill our bubble by how we stand in it, by what we bring into it. There is no on-stage or off. It’s all the stage.

The other day I was exhausted. I was standing on the edge of despair when my phone dinged. It was Rob. “What kind of wine do you like?” he texted. The edge disappeared.

From across the country, MM sends me cartoons that make me smile. Horatio sent an episode of The Twilight Zone. “You gotta watch this,” he said. David sends photos of Dawson at the easel. There is nothing so freeing to an aging artist than to watch a child draw. No limits.

The bubble is singular. The soul of the earth. These good friends, living honestly on the stage, have no idea of their profound impact and influence on me.

These days, when I think of my good teachers and dedicated mentors, when I think of Jim and Tom McK and Paul, I know that, were I to teach again, I would add a small caveat to our legacy-lesson. I’d say, “In choosing to step onto the stage, you have a profound responsibility and opportunity: never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.”

Take the opportunity. Each and every moment. Ripples sending ripples.

read Kerri’s blog post about SOUL OF THE EARTH

Line Up Behind “They” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When the world is just too much to ponder, one of our favorite bits of escapism is to catch an episode of Highway Thru Hell. Heavy rescue tow trucks working miracles clearing the highways of impossible wrecks. Flipping large semi-tractor-trailers, pulling them off of icy bridges and out of ditches. The physics of their work is mind-bending. Angles of lift, leverage, and thrust. Marvels of nuance in heavy metal. It is a symphony of paradox: crude meets delicate, tender masculinity.

On the surface, it seems an odd choice of wellsprings to refill our faith in humanity. But, every time we indulge in our flight from the news-of-the-day, I find myself whispering, “Unbelievable.” Not only do they willingly wade into impossible messes, they do it with a singular and clear understanding: they are serving a greater good. They are trying to open or keep open a highway. Connectivity. Commerce. Community. Like any doctor removing a blockage, they are servants to communal flow. I think that is why we visit them on the highway.

At the shop, they work out their pecking order. There is no lack of flexing muscles and man-drama. But, once they are called to a crash, all the “I” flees the scene. There are police, and flag people. There is traffic backed up for miles; each and every car and truck a person with a place to be. And the tow truck operators know it. They talk about it. Their service outruns their egos. They do not hesitate to call for help. They make choices based on the needs of others. The fantasy-world of “I” dissolves into the hard reality of “Us.”

In that hard reality of “Us,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a more thankless job. They work long hours in extreme weather. The conditions are dangerous and dirty. They clear the wreck, get back into their trucks, and move onto the next, with little or no thanks from the community they serve. Yet, they show up everyday. They take extreme pride in doing their work. There is a mastery that they acknowledge in the older drivers and strive to achieve it themselves. They learn from each other. They mentor each other. They celebrate each other.

They.

When Kevin, one of the tow truck operators, driving away from an exhausting job that took many people and many hours to complete, said with tired satisfaction, “There’s no ‘I’ in team,” I thought, that’s exactly why I escape from my highway thru hell to this Highway Thru Hell.

These Highway Thru Hell guys are plugged into the simple reality of existence. They know unequivocally that no one walks this earth alone. They know that their work on this earth, amidst the mess and chaos and dirt, is about keeping the flow going, and that requires an “I” that lines up behind service to “They.”

read Kerri’s blog post about NO I IN TEAM

Give Yourself Time Together [on KS Friday]

In the pre-COVID world we had dinner with 20 twice a week. We’d cook on Sunday night. He’d cook on Thursday night. It was the rhythm of our week, how we’d locate ourselves in time. Nothing special, nothing fancy, just good food and laughter…and time together.

In the pre-COVID world, one of our favorite treats was potluck with Brad and Jen. We are a foursome with severe dietary restrictions so we found it was easier to have potluck rather than try and cook for each other. Our potlucks were time warps; we’d start talking and, in a moment, 5 hours would have passed. Our ritual question in the car driving home: “Where did the time go?” Time together with Brad and Jen has the lovely quality of never being enough time.

In October we drove to Colorado. My dad is slipping deeper and deeper into the land of dementia. In a pre-COVID world it would have been an easy decision but we delayed our trip for months. Fearing I may not see him if we did not go, we planned the safest trip possible and hit the road. He did not know me during the few days that we sat with him but there is no more precious gift I have ever given myself than those few days of time together.

If I have learned anything during this pandemic, it is that there is nothing better in this life than time together. A platitude. Maybe. But, if I could do anything right now, if I knew my time on this earth was short, I would hang out with Horatio, or MM, or Master Miller, all of the Chases…[you all know who you are]. Dinner with 20. Potluck with Brad and Jen. Every-single-moment precious. The chatter. The laughter. The quiet sitting. It is why, even in the severity of our circumstance, I consider myself, I consider Kerri and me, rich beyond measure.

This is no small revelation/admission for a dedicated introvert.

On the other side of this pandemic, it is how we will treat ourselves. Something commonplace and simple. Time together.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about TIME TOGETHER

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time together/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

See It For What It Is [on DR Thursday]

In the aftermath of my calls with Horatio I often feel as if I’m descending the mountain, as if I’ve just spent a few precious moments with the wise being sitting at the top. He will no doubt frown at my assertion because, as he says, he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. Pants or no pants, Horatio is clear-seeing. He is in-sight-full.

This morning he interrupted my diatribe about the insurmountable dangers of competing information bubbles. “We have to stop the narrative of polar-opposites,” he said, “We’re not a polarized nation. We’ve been invaded by opportunists.”

His point was simple and distinct: It’s not a two-way street. PBS is not the polar opposite of FOX. CNN is not in an apples-to-apples comparison with the likes of OAN. “PBS has a virtuous intention. CNN has a virtuous intention,” he said, “The same cannot be said of FOX or NewsMax or Limbaugh and all the rest. They are opportunistic predators.”

Waging war on truth for profit is not the same as attempting to report the truth.

Horatio continued, “PBS or CNN might be feckless or inconsistent, they may get things wrong, but they are not predatory. They serve a decent intention and the same cannot be said of FOX.”

“The incentive for hucksterism is vibrant in the United States. Apply game theory,” he quipped. “The incentive for waging war on us and our institutions for personal power, personal gain and financial benefit is great. It’s been with us for a long, long time and is now perfected to a fine art. We are living in a confluence of hucksters.”

Josh Hawley. Lindsey Graham. Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz. And all of those who voted not to certify a legitimate election, even after a violent insurrection on the Capitol driven by their willing support of fabrications. Opportunistic predators all. Yes, a confluence of hucksters.

He paused. “We are not radicals,” he sighed. “We’re not being radicalized. PBS and CNN – the NY Times – are not the ideological polar equivalent of FOX or Limbaugh. They are not attempting to radicalize us or disseminate lies for power, profit or position. We have to stop it. We have to say it differently. The press needs to say it differently. Call it out. The press, the real press, not the hucksters, are keeping the world alive. They’re doing the work and the work is often dangerous. It’s inspiring.” he said. “We are living in a golden age of the press. The real press as distinct from the opportunists, the predators.”

They are not the same. Horatio is right.

After our call I went into the studio to find a painting to use in the Melange, something I’ve not used before. “Use this one,” Kerri recommended. It’s one of many I painted of the same theme. “It’s timely,” she said.

Yes. Timely.

read Kerri’s blog post on the UNTITLED PAINTING

untitled ©️ 2019 david robinson

Look Forward, Look Backward [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It stood stark white against the umber of the brush and forest. “A wishbone,” Kerri said.

Furcula. My new word of the day. I also learned that the tradition of breaking the wishbone is brought to us via the Romans. It’s an ancient game of luck and fortune divination. I imagine fowl across the ages had and continue to have no idea that they carry within their feathered bodies an augury. Chefs everywhere caution that the wishbone must be dried before it can properly snap. Pull too soon and the power may not be turned on!

I confess that, standing in the woods, I did not immediately see a wishbone. I saw two diverging paths. It brought to my mind a collision of the Hopi prophecy and The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. It made my head spin and I was grateful that Kerri stopped to take a picture. When my thought-vertigo calmed I realized that both the prophecy and the poem are a call to take the road “less traveled by.”

I see metaphor everywhere. I can’t help it. And so, it is impossible for me not to project this poem and prophecy onto the place we stand in these firmly-divided-united-states. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” I read that the theme of the poem is “that we want to believe that our choices are unique, brave, and life-altering when they really are not.” It is a backward glance at life.

It seems to me that the choices we as a nation make at this particular crossroad, despite the poem’s theme, will be life-altering. Nation-altering. Some interpreters suggest the poem is a celebration of non-conformity, that the real wealth of life is found when breaking away from the well-traveled-and-well-known path. I can only hope that the politicians draped in red, attempting in their blind conformity to minimize a president-inspired-insurrection, find the courage to break from their dangerous orthodoxy.

The Hopi prophecy is a forward look. One path leads to destruction. The other leads to balance and harmony. A “head” path and a “heart” path. Or, a “two-heart” or “one-heart” path. Two hearts are in conflict, a split-intention, and lose all trying simultaneously to chase two goals; a tale of cross purposes. One heart, one intention. One purpose. Unity.

A forward look. A backward look. A wishbone in the forest. We have the luxury of backward-looking and know the path the Romans chose. They are gone. But, they have left us with a rich tradition of chicken-bone-augury.

I wonder what story future-backward-lookers will tell about us? I wonder what path we will take as our road diverges in this yellow wood? I wonder what fowl tradition we will send rippling into the unknown future?

read Kerri’s blog post about the WISHBONE

Stop The Chase [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s difficult, seemingly Pollyanna-ish, to write about love when our nation is now officially divided and living in two combating realities. When Kerri took this photo on our back deck, I knew it was going to make an appearance in the Melange. “It will be tough to write about given the events of this week, the realities of our divided nation,” I said to no one listening.

I was wrong. The more I pondered this heart in the snow, the more I saw a simple theme, the thing we always miss. It is at the core of almost all spiritual teaching and personal revelation: stop the chase.

Krishnamurti wrote that “Love is a fact, not an emotion.” It cannot be found precisely because it is omnipresent. It is everywhere. It is everything. However, it can be easily missed, especially when covered in a blanket of righteousness. Love will sit patiently and wait for those who believe love to be a separate thing, something to be earned or discovered in the eyes of an other. We recently, through Zoom, sat Shivah for someone dear who had passed. The Rabbi read these words from a poem, “Love doesn’t die, people do. So when all that’s left of me is Love, give me away.”

Viktor Frankel wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. It cannot be pursued or attained.

I can’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve spent with groups who desire to attain presence. To achieve mindfulness. It is nigh-on impossible to convey to achievers that presence cannot be pursued. It’s simple if you think about it: presence comes when ambition disappears. Presence and love. The desire to be anywhere else, to achieve anything, to become something other than what you are in this moment, precludes presence, interrupts love. Allow it; it’s already there.

It is anathema to suggest to modern seekers that they will find what they seek by ceasing to seek. Ha! It is the ultimate collision, in a culture steeped in achievement-as-a-central-tenet, that love, happiness, presence, mindfulness are unachievable – but infinitely available when standing still.

“You can love me most by letting me live in your eyes, And not on your mind,” the Rabbi read. See beyond what you think.

Division lives in the mind. What we seek, what we most need in this historic moment, cannot be found there. What we seek will become apparent – readily available – when we stop the chase, drop the destructive delusion of manifest destiny and its many separation-shadows – and, even for a moment – stand still.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEART