Decide To See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My thoughts while watching the wedding:

Oprah asked Gary Zukav this question: Where is soul? His response: Where is it not?

Exchange the word ‘love’ for the word ‘soul.’ Where is love? Where is it not?

In the English language, words like ‘love’ and ‘soul’ are nouns. Things. And, things must have limits. It is a remarkable misunderstanding, a miracle of minimization. Love, the single hardest ‘thing’ to define, in fact, impossible to define, is undefinable because it is without limit. The best we can do is point toward love-made-visible. A newborn in the arms of its mother. The moment the couple, standing before their community, stares into each other’s eyes and promises, “I do.” Watching a sunrise on an anniversary. A mother dancing with her son, the groom.

Love is. Where is it not? That means, of course, that it is “in” everything, everywhere. The air we breathe. The thoughts we think. The actions we take, big and small. It is in how we treat our neighbors. In how we see ourselves. In how we report our news. In how we tell our lies and our truths. Love is.

It is the province of no-single-religion. In fact, it is where every religion on earth goes off the rails. To claim to be “the way” or “the one true…” is to attempt dominion over love. To place rules and boundaries on the boundless.

The question Oprah didn’t ask: if it is everywhere, in everything, in war and in peace, hate and acceptance, does it have any meaning at all? If it is ubiquitous, unchangeable and indescribable, why bother? Gary’s answer, I imagine, would be something like this: we choose the form we give to our love, do we not? We can choose to put the accent on unity. We can choose to put the accent on separation. Love is. We can choose to put the accent on division or we can choose to offer our support.

There is never more or less love. Isn’t that the point? Love is beyond definition. What changes is not the love or the amount of love. What changes is what we decide to see. What changes is how we decide to see, especially how we decide to see ourselves in this world with so many “others.”

read Kerri’s blog post about JUST LOVE

Make Life Better [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately, the universe has pitched me headlong into a master class on efficiency. Maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort. A useful concept in certain arenas and an intensely destructive concept in others. For a person who’s spent his life in a study of curiosity, art, and the creative, it’s an unexpected study at this stage of the game. It is sometimes uncomfortable but I consider it an opportunity for balance. Artists rarely meditate on efficiencies. We’re more of a discovery clan and efficiency is generally the enemy of discovery. No one ever sailed to the edge of the world with efficiency-on-their-lips.

Once, I made the argument to a school board that daydreaming was highly productive. It seems a no-brainer to me that exercising the imagination should be highly valued in a learning environment. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity came to him in a dream about cows. It is not an accident that many insights and revelations come in the shower or while driving or peeling a carrot. Newton’s apple did not fall on his head while he was exercising maximum productivity. The mind, to be efficient, needs space to breathe, fields to roam. It is the most elegant of paradoxes but mostly lost on worshipers at the altar of efficiency. In the modern business world, efficiency is all about time since time is billable. You know the mantra: time is money. Do more with less. Somehow, we’ve turned that nonsense into a virtue, a thing to be desired. A reason to squeeze.

There’s another, more admirable side to efficiency-seekers. How to make work less arduous. Grease the wheels and remove the friction. Relieve the burden. Not faster but easier. Ann used to say, “Find a need and fill it.” She’d look at people toiling and ask, “How can I ease their struggle?” Beaky was that way, too.

Near our home there is a stretch of shoreline with an ineffective seawall. It was built with stones and debris that become projectiles when hit by forceful waves. The locals know to avoid that stretch during a storm. It’s deadly. After the storm, it has become our ritual to walk the path to see the destruction. It’s always impressive. How far can a wave throw a heavy stone? The answer: farther than you think. Mother Nature yawns when we think we can control her. The seawall has become my metaphor for human hubris but also masterful inefficiency. It would cost money to build a proper wall. So, instead, after each storm, crews collect the rocks and pile them back on the shore, readying them to be hurled by the next storm.

We saw a double-rainbow and turned toward the shore. Kerri never misses an opportunity to capture a little miracle or a slice of beauty. We parked in front of the seawall-of-inefficiency and I laughed out loud. A budding Banksy sprayed a message on the rubble: love. The secret message-maker could not have found a more appropriate word: Love. Can you imagine anything more inefficient and, at the same time, more potent? Love moves mountains but is not billable. It transcends time. What better reason to do anything? Well, perhaps reason has nothing to do with it and never has. Reason has the worshipers-of-the-efficient perpetually re-stacking stones.

It’s easy to be seduced but let’s face it, life reduced to billable hours is not life at all. On the other hand, there is nothing more inspiring, nothing more curiosity-invoking than asking, “How can I make life better for everyone?”

Love on a rubble pile. What could be better? On second thought, what could possibly be more efficient?

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVE ON A ROCK

Refresh [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s been true since we met. People stop us in airports and on the street, they give us thumbs up or take a faux paparazzi-photograph. They tell us that we are cute or “lookin’ good!” Once, a shopkeeper came out of his store to tell us that we made him smile. When we walk the neighborhood, we are often met with people who tell us that we make their day. It always takes us by surprise and it always makes us smile.

What are people seeing? We are older and link arms when we walk. We hold hands. Our clothes are unintentionally the same. Black on blue jeans. We walk slowly. We talk to each other. We stroll; a walk without a destination. We don’t know what inspires the comments but always appreciate them.

Kerri always coos when she sees a horse. In our imaginary life, she has horses, a donkey, and an old truck. We were walking on the trail in our flip flops (that always gets a raised eyebrow or two) when the cowboy came around the bend. “A horse!” Kerri whispered, and squeezed my arm. The cowboy sat up in his saddle, nodded as he rode passed, then said, “You look like you like each other.”

“We do.” I replied.

Perhaps it is that simple. We like each other.

We’re fortunate. Our work allows us to be together all day. Every day. That would, I’m sure, be the end of most relationships. We like it. When I need feedback on a painting, she is my best wise-eyes. “What do you see?” I ask. We read our posts to each other before we publish. We edit together. We cook together. We create together. Our list of joint projects is growing. Lately, our once-weekly-cartoon about…well…us, Smack-dab., is giving us tremendous energy. It is fun. We poke fun at ourselves. We capture the ridiculous and the poignant. We pay attention to the marvels of simple relationship.

Picasso said that, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” He also said that, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Those thoughts, placed side-by-side, I believe, holds the reason a cowboy sat up in his saddle and a shopkeeper ran into the street. We are refreshed. We practice the elimination of the unnecessary – on canvas, at the piano, and in life.

We didn’t try to make 24/7 togetherness. There was no rule or expectation. It’s what we wanted. It’s what we want.

I am on jury duty this week and was at the courthouse most of the day. When she came to fetch me I got in the car and we said at the same time, “That was weird!”

“Tell me everything!” she said.

“No. You first! What did you and Dogga do?” Our conversation took us deep into the night. There’s so much life and so little time. Perhaps that’s it. We know this day is precious and fleeting and act accordingly. It must show.

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU MUST LIKE EACH OTHER

Prove It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am about to prove that I am guilty of everything I accuse others of being. I am just as capable of surrounding myself with like-minded people as the next person. Let me explain:

I cheered when I read Marc’s response in the conversation chain. It was an appeal, an attempt to puncture a dedicated delusion, an untethered ideology. But, as is always the case when fantasy is met with fact, the holder of the fantasy vehemently defended and further retreated into their illusion. Confirmation bias.

Among my favorite phrases this week comes from a New Yorker article, Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. The phrase: the illusion of explanatory depth. Here are two quotes from the article:

“People believe that they know more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people.” In other words, we ally with people who hold a similar belief rooted in the same lack-of-knowledge. Apparently, as a species, we’d rather be reinforced in our ignorance than consider the possibility that we don’t know what we are talking about. Purple Kool-Aid is easier to drink than wondering if what we’re being told may or may not be truth. It explains the current GOP, Fox News, OAN, Ron Johnson, and the rest of the dangerous-national-clown-car.

Quote number 2: “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding.”

Strong feelings. Deep understanding.

In the canon of human self-aggrandizement, we delight in the narrative that we are primarily rational, that our reason, like a good border collie, has driven our emotions into safe containment. The opposite seems to be the case. Or, at best, we are a mass of contradictions.

There is a flip-side, a necessity woven into our contradiction that gives me hope. Strong feelings and deep understanding are not natural enemies and need not be pitted against each other. Think of it this way, no firefighter, in his or her right mind, would run into a burning building to save a life, if we were as rational and reasonable as we like to believe. They do, however, study fires beforehand to know how to run in, how to reach. They study the science. For every exploiter there is a matching story of a giver, someone whose strong feelings combines with their deep understanding in an effort to better the world, save a life, make things easier.

That which makes us crazy also makes us compassionate. How’s that for a statement of contradiction? Families fight each other until the forest fire threatens their house. Common cause and education are a great poppers of confirmation bias.

Some fires are manufactured with the sole purpose of exploiting confirmation bias. This kind of exploitation is dependent upon – and feeds upon – strong feelings with shallow roots in understanding. Ignorance. The big lie. Vaccine misinformation. Divide and conquer is always reliant on strong feelings intended to create blindness.

Some fires are real. And, the test of a real fire: divisions fall, eyes open, and people run toward the flames to help other people. It remains to be seen how hot and close the flames need to come before the confirmation bias burns off and we realize that we’re in real trouble, that science is real, and that the big trough of purple (red) kool-aid being proffered is doing the opposite of what it professes to do.

It may be in our nature to believe that we know more than we do, but, it is also in our nature, without concern or thought for our own safety, to reach for the drowning person. Deep understanding allies with strong feelings when people cared enough to learn how to reach, how not to become the person drowned by the drowning person.

Do you see it? I am an idealist. I want to believe in the goodness of humanity and the necessity of shared truth. Yet, despite powerful evidence to the contrary, I hold fast to my dedicated belief that we are capable of tipping toward love rather than falling toward hate, that, when faced with undeniable data, that we are capable of questioning our strong feelings en route to a deeper, shared understanding. We are capable of recognizing that the science that brought us the cell phone, satellites, allergy medicine, and electric light is the same science that brings us the data of climate change, and the best way to beat this pandemic. Cherry picking belief in science is…absurd and currently dangerous. Cherry picking news is equally as absurd and currently dangerous. From my idealistic mind, it is a necessity to ask questions, check sources, doubt belief.

We are certainly capable of knowing the real fires from the those fanned by the thought-arsonists. We are capable of questioning, of suspending our delusions. At least, I like to believe that we are. I, like you, surround myself with like-minded believers.

We’ve proven it again and again and again. When we recognize that the fire is real, our dedicated illusions burn the filters from our eyes, we transcend our little stories, and reach our hands with no thought of political alliance or other exploitative non-sense, to help dig our neighbors from the rubble.

read Kerri’s blog post about BASIC LOGICAL REASONING

Go On Errands [on DR Thursday]

This story begins with the absence of central air, a black dog with lots of fur, and a woman who suffers severe hot flashes. Add to the story-mix a very hot and humid day in a long string of hot and humid days – which translates into sleepless nights which becomes situational madness. Sleep deprivation and extreme heat-topped-with-humidity makes for some awesome facial expressions and short bursts of guttural conversation.

It also must be noted that, even after hosing down the black dog (and ourselves in the process), our poor pooch could only lay on the floor beneath a ceiling fan and pant. His idea was so good that we joined him. The whole family on the floor, too hot to move.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and in our moment of necessity, Kerri jumped to her feet declaring, “It’s happy hour!” I pulled a cold bottle of white wine from the fridge, and, after “a significant pour” in two glasses, we ran for the car, chanting “Do you want to go on errands?” Our chant was not heat-induced-madness or some strange incantation, but Dog-Dog’s cue to run for the car.

This is the story of how we came to be sitting in the car in the driveway, the engine running, the air conditioning on high, sipping cold white wine with our black dog wagging his tail for the first time in days [note: Kerri made me add the detail about the driveway. She doesn’t want you-the-reader to think that we were breaking the law by drinking behind the wheel on the street. I told her that there was no driving involved so there were no-laws-broken but she’s a better-safe-than-sorry-kinda-girl].

The night I met her, we climbed out a second story window with wine-in-hand, sat on the roof and watched the sun set. I remember thinking, “We are cut from the same cloth.” I was already smitten but the wine-on-the-roof thing put me over the top. Now, eight years later, rings-on-fingers, sitting in a car-to-nowhere, sipping cold wine and cooling down our beloved pooch, I can only smile. Same cloth. A new story to go in the annals. Life is good, very good, even on a too hot and humid day.

read Kerri’s blog post about HAPPY HOUR IN THE CAR

www.davidrobinsoncreative.com – a day at the beach -mixed media, 38 x 52IN

a day at the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson

Choose Your Way [on DR Thursday]

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankel

I always feel a bit disappointed in myself after writing a post like the post I wrote yesterday. It was a near-rant, an ugly system becoming more ugly as it fights to protect its ugliness.

It’s been a battle all of my life, wrestling with what to do or say when my desire to focus on the life-giving runs headlong into the harsh realities of the life-denying. To shine a light on the life-denying is sometimes the most life affirming thing to do, it just doesn’t feel very good. “Look at the ugly. No, really look.” Last night, I listened to a conversation – in all seriousness – about the collapse of our democracy. It’s been a minor fascination of mine to witness how self-destructive people and organizations – and nations – will become before they admit that they need to change. Before they turn and say, “I’ve been lying to myself and to you.” Sometimes they destroy themselves rather than turn and face their truth. That was the crux of the conversation. It seems more and more likely that we’ll set ourselves on fire before we embrace the truth of our dysfunction.

One of Kerri and my greatest losses during the time of pandemic was our weekly ritual dinners with 20. Thursday night we’d cook at his condo. Sunday night we’d cook at our house. We’d cook for each other. Sometimes we’d cook with each other. Always we’d drink wine, laugh, and reaffirm what is most important about life. Each other.

Post-vaccination, after a long year of isolation, we recently, gratefully, returned to our ritual. We cook. We talk about our days. We laugh. 20 and I tease Kerri. She feigns indignance and loves every moment. We talk about art. We share the curiosities that have crossed our paths and screens. Sometimes we talk about the nation’s self-immolation but only briefly as we very quickly realize that it pulls us from what is really important. Each other.

Tonight is dinner with 20. We can’t wait and are making our menu, designing our day around what will be the most important thing to happen all day. Time with each other.

As a nation, “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, in a letter discussing slavery.

How a question is framed determines the answers/paths-forward one sees or does not see. It could be said of our national trauma that we’ve framed our dilemma with justice pitted squarely against self-preservation, or, to be clear, self-preservation will be at the cost of justice-for-all. It’s too bad. As the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-preservation will always negate a reach toward justice. You’d think that we’d someday recognize that the wolf we have by the ears is of our own creation and that justice-for-all is the only path to self-preservation, national self-actualization. You’d think that it might occur to us, rather than do the same old thing in the same old way, to ask a different question.

If I had a magic wand I’d ding the noggin of this nation with the one strength we share, the one thing that 20 and Kerri and I know without doubt, the only real path to laughter and support and all the other good things we can offer: time with each other. A good meal made with heaps of love. A ritual born of a simple desire to each week make the world a bit better for each other.

read kerri’s blog post about DINNER WITH 20

See The Riches [on KS Friday]

My mom tells me that my dad is becoming a little bird. His body shrinks as dementia takes his mind. He is continually packing for a trip, his clothes wrapped in tight balls or stuffed in odd places. He waits at the door.

Listen to Kerri’s Fistful Of Dandelions. It tells the story of a life cycle. A mother and her small child. The child grows. The roles reverse. The son becomes the giver of care. It is nature’s cycle and, with each passing phase of the cycle, comes the appreciation of the true riches in this transient life: moments together. Holding hands. Picking dandelions. Titanic love. “…all the riches I will need today…” Simple presence chocked full of simple appreciation.

I interviewed for a job last week. The questions they asked were questions designed for a younger person, someone at the beginning of their career. I laughed and replied that their question had nothing to do with me. I no longer climb the achievement ladder. I am at the other end, the son holding tender space for the shrinking bird.

The illusions drop away as the sand runs out. The wall of respect might hold plaques and certificates but they grow more empty over time. Paper in a frame. The car in the garage never really provided the status it promised.

What remains is the real stuff. Holding hands. A fistful of dandelions. Shared time. Beer-thirty on the back porch. A pocket full of memories. Warm days fishing together at the lake. Listening to records deep into the night. Packing boxes and helping with the move. Making sure this tiny bird is safe as he waits with his bundle at the door. Just as he did for me.

all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about FISTFUL OF DANDELIONS

fistful of dandelions ©️ 1999 kerri sherwood

Dance In Timelessness [on DR Thursday]

“We cannot struggle to be present. We can only discover that we are present.” ~ Declan Donnellan

The struggle to reach across the divide and grasp hands with the one that you love. It is a universal story. Yearning requires an obstacle to ignite the story.

I painted this for Kerri when we were attempting to bridge the divide. I lived in Washington. She lived in Wisconsin. During a visit, sitting in Adirondack chairs in her front yard, sipping wine and listening to music, we discovered that we were present. We danced in timelessness.

Obstacles become surmountable when love is on the other side of the abyss. We moved mountains and then dealt with the consequences.

It’s a rule that an artist should never tell an audience what a painting means, should never rob a viewer of their response, interpretation, and story of a painting. Sometimes it’s alright to break a rule. I painted this painting for Kerri. It’s about reaching for love across the divide, discovering the present, and the promise of dancing our way through the obstacles.

read Kerri’s blog post about DANCING IN THE FRONT YARD

dancing in the front yard ©️ 2013 david robinson

Open [on KS Friday]

“…nothing really worthwhile can be owned. There is life. There is love. There is grace. But we can neither create nor possess a state of any of these. These visitors breathe through us, with us and in us the more we keep ourselves open.” ~ Declan Donnellan

Barney, the piano, was set to go to the junkyard. His soundboard was broken after years of being stored in a basement in a boiler room. We convinced the junkyard man to bring Barney to our house. We set up a stone foundation so he wouldn’t sink into the garden. In a move worthy of the Three Stooges, we rolled him across the grass until he came to rest in his new home, our backyard.

Over the years we’ve watched Barney age into gorgeousness. His veneer blistered and rolled. Pieces fell off. The superficial white covering on his keys mostly flaked away. His truth exposed by the sun and the rain and the snow, is more lovely than the facade he once maintained. His wood bleaches and cracks, the grain swirls like a rip tide. His nails and screws rust, the color pops in elegant contrast to his otherwise grey and green-moss tones.

Over time, the flowers and grasses have grown around and through his pedals. Each summer the green tendrils reach for his keys. He has become home and haven to chipmunks and squirrels. The birds sit on his lid and rest or sing. Dogga investigates the community living in and around Barney at least once every day. He is, in his slow march toward dust, a welcome sanctuary to all living things.

Unlike many of the human examples in my life, Barney has opened with age. He is akin to our dear H, who died not so long ago, a man who opened and opened and opened the older he became. Like Barney, a gorgeous spirit grown more gorgeous with age. Curious about life and engaged with its mystery to the very end. H was a study of opening to his experiences rather than resisting the changes.

This year I have wrestled with staying open. My veneer wrinkles, my truth is revealed by the circles I have made around the sun. I have, many days, felt like my soundboard was cracked, the purpose that I was built for ruined by life next to the boiler. And then I listen to the absurdity of my words. The purpose. Singular. Ridiculous. I am reminded of what H knew and Barney trumpets to me each and every day: in an open heart, purpose is never fixed. It is a fluid thing. It is a moving target, not a possession or plaque to be hung on my wall of respect. It is a home to chipmunks, a resting spot for birds. It is how I address myself to the world of mysteries, how I avail myself to the experiences that wash through me and over me each and every day. It is how I make breakfast for Kerri. It is how I sit with DogDog when he searches the house for his missing BabyCat. It is in my choice to say Yes or No to the wonders of this world.

read Kerri’s blog post about BARNEY

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

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