Place It In The Hollow [on DR Thursday]

For some reason, people need to leave a trace of their passage. We paint on the walls of caves. We erect monuments to ourselves and our heroes. We build cairns to mark the way for those who come behind; we build cairns so others will add stones to the marker. We put plaques on benches and engraved bricks in walkways. We graffiti bridges and walls. Banksy has made a fortune tracing his masked passage.

Growing tired as we hiked up the trail, we sat on an old log. We looked over the valley, turned our faces to the sun. And, as we stood to continue up the trail, Kerri pulled a sharpie from her bag. We left two small dots on the log. “We were here.”

Our work in the world not only can be a marker, it is a marker. Every little action is a stone on the cairn: we contribute to the whole whether we like it or not. The person who delivers packages to my door makes my life better. Easier. The score of people who created this computer, invented this software, manufactured the chip that makes it all work, have made my life better. Someone coming behind us will see the cairn we’ve constructed and add to it. Improve upon it. The first computer I touched was a toy compared to this miracle sitting on my lap.

I’m an artist and sometimes wonder if my paintings will live beyond me or will they end up in the Goodwill as so much used canvas. I hear the advice, so often offered to me: “Yours is to paint them, not decide what happens to them.” Too true. Mine is to make the offer. I have no control over the acceptance.

Returning down the trail, Kerri peered into the hollow of a stump. It was filled with stones! Hikers, just like us, had left a note that also served as an ancient invitation: I was here. We picked up stones, the sharpie came out of the bag, scribbled a heart and a peace sign on our rocks before placing them in the hollow. “Do you think anyone will see our stones?” Kerri asked.

An ancient question. Deeply human. Heart and Peace.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE HOLLOW

three graces © 2012 david robinson

Choose [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“It’s a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” ~ Mary Oliver

Were I to have been born in an earlier century I would not be alive today. Twice on my life-path doctors have declared that, “You are now a miracle of modern medicine.” Leeches and blood-letting would not have cured what ailed me.

This thing called ‘science’ is what gave me more days of life. It is the same science that developed vaccines for a pandemic but also made possible the technology that makes mass-media-misinformation possible. Here is the medicine. Here is the disease. It is exactly as Sophocles wrote: Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.

One morning, deeply tired, I arose to go do a job that I did not like. It was a means to an end and I dreaded the day ahead of me. Stepping out the door, the cold morning air stopped me in my tracks. It slapped me awake. The air was crisp and clean, the neighborhood was quiet. The light in the sky was brilliant. I drank it in. I vowed never again to dread a day of my life. In truth, I had no idea what the day held for me. Why then, would I story my day with a frame of dread? Why tell myself a tale of just-getting-through-it? Why not open to the possibilities of surprise and miracle? Why not embrace the already-stated-obvious-thing: I had no idea what the day held. That simple fact would be true every single day of my life. Dread was a choice, not an inevitability.

To be alive on this fresh morning. It is a serious thing. In this world, broken by the little story of us-and-them, the tiny tale of power-over. Choices. The miracle of the new day is present whether it is seen or not. We can cloak it in dread or gratitude, in support or division. It doesn’t care either way. The miracle of the new day, the gift of being alive on this fresh morning in a world that is broken or healed, whole or fragmented – it all depends upon the story-frame we wrap around it. The story we tell is a choice, not an inevitability.

read Kerri’s blog post about JUST TO BE ALIVE

In-Tolerate [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read Kerri’s blog post about TOLERANCE LEVELS

Answer The Call [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I have an old iPhone. Sometimes it doesn’t ring when people try to call. The sound of the message coming into my inbox is the first clue that someone is trying to reach me. Yesterday, when I heard the alert, I was unloading stone from the car so I didn’t check it right away. I wish I had. It was my dad.

His message was 12 seconds long and most of it was confusion and labored breathing. He is famous for removing his oxygen when no one is around and, in his advancing dementia, he will sometimes accidentally dial my number when he is lost in the story-in-his-mind. I treasure these brief touches, these calls, when I hear the phone and answer. We talk. He’ll stay on the phone and, even when he is panicked, he shares his story. My goal always is to convince him to go to the door and tell someone that he needs help with his oxygen. No one can help him with his story.

I tried twice to return his call but he did not pick up.

The theme of this season is life-cycle. We’ve enjoyed the peonies bud-to-blossom-to-fade. Each step of the process has been gorgeous. In the lingering season of pandemic we are, like many people in the nation, paying attention to our backyard. We’re making it our sanctuary and have already spent many an evening sitting on the deck, the mourning dove singing to us from the trees.

We had the opportunity to visit a local college. It is a new campus. It’s the old newspaper building, transformed. This quote is stenciled on the wall: Your life has purpose. Your story is important. Your dreams count. Your voice matters. You were born to make an impact. It’s a good message for anyone but particularly students trying to find their way into the world. People at the beginning of their story.

It’s also a good message for people at the end of their story, making their way out of the world, though it is not the same as a statement of reflection as one of aspiration. It has more punch.

Were I a teacher at this college, I would tell my students, new buds on the peony, not to worry so much about mattering. Assume it to be true.

I would teach them that they might spend their whole lives trying to make a mark and none of it will matter so much as answering the phone. Your voice will matter. You will have an impact.

No story that you tell will be more important than the story you concoct to get Columbus out of his chair, to shuffle to the door of his room, so he can say to someone, anyone, “Will you help me to breathe.”

read Kerri’s blog post about LIFE PURPOSE

See The Good [on KS Friday]

“…the measure on ones mental health is the ability to see the good in everything. Perception is the key.” ~ Kristine Klussman, Connection

If I kept a gratitude journal, my entry yesterday would be that Bruce was happy. I could hear it in his voice. Although it had been seven years since we last spoke, we talked like we were picking up a conversation from yesterday. Life has changed dramatically for both of us.

It seems we have both reached the revelation of simple appreciation. No longer focused on the big stuff, we talked of the sweet moments, the moments that feed our souls. He asked me to describe my days and I was happily taken aback to tell the tale of walks on trails, beginning each day writing posts with Kerri, ending each day with a glass of wine. Drawing cartoons. A dog that runs enthusiastic circles. Good friends.

I am reminded again and again that goodness is not found in the world. It is brought to the world. We don’t perceive what is already “there,” we wrap what is “there” in a story-blanket. We give it meaning. And then we feel the impact of the meaning we give it. Viktor Frankel famously wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. Despair ensues, too. Anger, too, if that is what is brought.

Earlier this year a friend asked how Kerri and I were doing amidst the job losses and broken wrists. I responded that our circumstance was dire. It was. It just didn’t feel that way, so full was our sense of appreciation. In the midst of a dire circumstance, we started our days writing. Good friends called. DogDog ran enthusiastic circles and made us laugh. We sipped a glass of wine at the end of each day and enjoyed our simple meals. Today, things are less dire and, although we are still standing on shaky ground, we start each day writing together. We hold hands and take walks. We breathe deeply the smell of coffee in the morning. Our gratitude for our days has not changed a bit. Good moments are everywhere.

And today, Bruce is back in touch. He is happy and his happiness, like all happiness, comes from a hard decision that took tremendous courage: he decided to see the good. To bring light. To be light. He is doing the work of savoring the good moments that he now sees all around himself.

good moments/this part of the journey is available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MOMENTS

good moments/this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Look Closer [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Arnie recently sent me a book, Connection by Kristine Klussman. As is my practice these days, I’m reading it slowly, a few pages at a time. I recognize much of what she’s writing about: focus placement, meaning making, cutting through the ‘should’s’…all in the process of re-connecting to what is really important in this life. The book offers specific exercises and process steps to help readers take a closer look at their lives. To identify the gaps between espoused and lived values in order to make different choices and close the gap. Alignment.

In art school, the most valuable lesson (for me) was to learn to see beyond what I ‘think.’ I’ve written about the professor who asked us to look at our yellow #2 pencils and tell him what color were the pencils. A riot of eye rolling ensued but, in the end, he helped us to see that the simple yellow pencil was alive with green and purple and red. Our minds generalize. It requires a bit of slowing down and, dare I write, a bit of presence, to see and experience how rich and alive even the simplest things, a yellow pencil, really are. The dictum applies to each and every day of life, especially the days we generalize into boredom or “same-old-same-old.” Slow down. Look again. There’s more to the yellow pencil than you think.

When Kerri and I arrived home from our trip to move my mother into an independent living community, we poured a glass of wine and opened the box my parents had kept with the artifacts of my life. Old newspaper clippings of play reviews, playbills, gallery opening announcements, elementary school report cards, photographs that reached back through proms and school portraits to blurry black and white infant prints with “David, 4 months” scribbled on the back. It was a poignant exercise of pulling the life-camera in for a closer view. Life-fragments in a box are like the yellow pencil. They require a closer look.

I’ve always appreciated Kerri’s tendency to pull the camera in closer. She is forever taking photographs and then pulling the image this way and that, like so much taffy, looking for the most interesting slice, the most dynamic composition. In her photographic-push-me-pull-you, there is often a discovery. “Look at this color!” she’ll exclaim. Or, “Did you see this! Look at the spines on this plant!” She cultivates surprise. She understands that a closer look will always reveal tiny not-yet-seen-miracles.

Expecting surprise. Taking the time to look beyond yellow-pencil-expectations. Closing the gap between lived and espoused values. Slowing down just enough to realize that there is no such thing as “same-old-same-old.” These are age-old sage suggestions for living a rich and meaningful life. All of it, born of a tender, quiet suggestion to take a deep breath and have a closer look.

read Kerri’s blog post about A CLOSER LOOK

Embrace Orbisculate [on Merely A Thought Monday]

A family is trying to get ‘orbisculate‘ into the dictionary to honor their dad who died of Covid-19

Compromise. Accuse. Jaded. Dishearten. Tranquil. Swagger. Mimic. These are just a few of the over 1,700 words that William Shakespeare invented or adapted. Making up words, playing with sounds and meanings and clever twists of usage was appreciated in his lifetime. Audiences went to hear plays like we go to hear concerts. The sound of the word was more important than the visual on the stage.

During Shakespeare’s lifetime, Robert Cawdrey toyed with a thing that would someday be called The Dictionary though it wasn’t something Will had to consider. Spelling was phonetic. Teachers did not think to circle his words with red pencil. That bit of standardization was still a few centuries away. Spend time within the unedited-for-our-eyes First Folio and you’ll find yourself sounding out words just as the poet did. Tasting the sounds. Shaping meaning in your mouth en route to making meaning in the world.

Language is fluid. Each year new words come into being and others drop from sight. For instance, our word “google” is a “creative spelling of the word googol, which implies an unfathomable number. It was coined in the 1930’s. Our version is in the dictionary as a verb: to search for information. And, you’ve probably already heard that it’s also a company that facilitates the search for information. Which came first, the verb or the company? Some words, over time, come to mean the opposite of what they originally meant. The archaic meaning of the word “egregious” is “remarkably good.” From remarkably good to outstandingly bad is quite a journey!

Definitions are discoveries and agreements made according to how we use the tasty sounds we call “words.” Each word comes into being from necessity.

Orbisculate is a tasty word that William Shakespeare might have created and enjoyed. But, he didn’t. Neil Krieger did. It is a word for juice squirting in your eye. Neil died of COVID and, to honor this good man and his good life, his family is attempting to get Neil’s good word into common parlance and, ultimately, to the dictionary. They are appealing to poets and pedestrians alike to embrace their necessity and use Neil’s word. If you visit their site, check out their 50 Goals. Never was a single word so lovingly brought into the lexicon. Help them if you will. Will would have. He’d have used orbisculate in one of his comedies. Or many of his comedies.

I have a sneaking suspicion, if they are successful in their quest, that, over time, orbisculate will come to have another meaning: an act of familial love.

The Orbisculate haiku challenge! Here’s mine:

Now, it’s your turn. Make sure you let the family know.

read Kerri’s blog post about ORBISCULATE

Hold Hands And Listen [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

These words, posed as polar opposites, come from the world of relationship advice. The recommendation is to establish clarity. Before you get into trouble, define whether your mate’s need is to be heard or to hear advice, to receive solace or solutions. Offering a solution when the need is solace is not recommended. Knowing my snap-dedication to solving-her-every-need, Kerri will often cut me off at the pass with, “I just need you to listen.” My lending-an-ear is often the only thing she really needs.

I’ve always been a good listener but it is only recently that I’ve discovered that I cannot solve anything for anyone. I cannot spare anyone the necessity of walking through their life lessons. The solving is not mine to do. The discoveries are not mine to make. This comes as a great awakening to my third-child-in-the-family-peacekeeper-identity. It also comes as a great relief. Peacekeeping, as a role assignment, is impossible. It’s akin to herding cats. It’s best to let each cat find peace in its own way. In sitting still, in surrendering the impossible task, my peace, like a magic castle, appeared.

A few years ago, a friend, sensitive to Kerri’s grief, offered her this truism-nugget: there’s only one way to go through it and that is to go through it. Trying to spare or minimize her grief would be to rob her of the depths of her love. Feel the depths. Meet the monster that lives there. Emerge transformed or at least informed. It is how we come to fully know ourselves.

We are learning to walk together with no need to solve. I am learning to hold hands and listen. The walking together, the holding of hands, is essential. The words I spin around our challenges are rarely meaningful and never as necessary as attending to the simple essential of quiet presence.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMFORT OR SOLUTIONS

Recognize The Art [on Flawed Wednesday]

The snow was too dry. My snowman fell apart when I put the head on. “It doesn’t have to look like a snowman to be a snowman,” Kerri said to cheer me up.

“Maybe it’s modern art!” I quipped, using my if-it’s-a-mess-call-it-art default statement. As I walked down the trail, away from my unsuccessful snowman, I wondered when incoherence had become included in my definition of art.

I am and have been these many months doing some soul searching and life review. Walking down our snowy trail I remembered working with a dying theatre company. The first step in restoring their health and vitality was to help them face a simple truth: that they made the “art” did not necessarily make the “art” good. In fact, the “art” could not be good until their criteria for “good” wasn’t about them.

The challenge with “art” in the modern era is that it is nearly impossible to define. For purely masochistic reasons I looked up the word ‘art’ in the dictionary and nearly fell asleep before I finished reading the definition. “A diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory, or performing artifacts…” Artifacts? The last lap of the definition reads, “…intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Beauty. Emotional power.

Of course, the contemporary world is awash in conceptual art and I read in my dictionary that this form of art, dating back to Duchamp in 1917, “…abandoned beauty, rarity and skill as measures.” Bananas taped to the wall. Statements.

Beauty abandoned. No emotional power necessary. But still “art.”

Art is, I’m told by historians and other scholars, a mirror of society. It is reflective of the era in which the artist lived. What a society values is made apparent in their art. It’s true.

Art, I believe, has a power and purpose far beyond mere appreciation. It is more than a mirror. It generates identity. It pulls disparate individuals to a common center. It affirms connectivity. It awakens us – and provides access to – that which is greater than any single individual. It bonds. It affirms. It transforms.

I wonder if our art, often so unrecognizable, sometimes incomprehensible, dependent upon curatorial interpretation, not concerned with beauty or rarity or skill or any other discernible measure, is not the perfect reflection of us. Narcissistic. Statements. Each day I am, like you, met by a tsunami of stories in the daily news revealing our collective confusion, our collapse of values, a commons at war with itself fueled by leaders stoking division for personal gain. Bananas taped to the wall. It is – we are – in our daily tales – so conceptual – so void of beauty or rarity or recognizable skill or measure – that it requires an anchor/curator to tell us why it – or we – might have meaning.

And then, just when I wonder if we are hopelessly lost, Amanda Gorman stepped up to the mic. The one true test of artistry is that we know it when we see it. No curator necessary. We are, we were, for a moment, bonded together in a way that no politician, no historian, no concept will ever understand or achieve.

I see it alive in Mike, and David, and Mark, and Chris. It glistens every time Kerri sits at the piano or composes a poem. It is not a mess though sometimes skill meets a happy-accident and, like penicillin, something healing emerges.

When we are washed away into the annals of time, what will be our art-love-letter to the future? What legacy – and art is a legacy – will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWMAN

for kicks, Kerri made a Snowman mug. Go here to get it

Start Here [on Flawed Wednesday]

Let’s start here: a strange attractor. “Chaos has its own pattern, a peculiar kind of order.” This magical definition pairing chaos and order is from the good folks at Merriam-Webster. They provide definitions of words. Words are a collection of symbols, called “letters,” assigned to specific sounds which, when placed in a sequence, carry meaning. For instance, D-O-G points to something unique and different than, say C-A-T. A collection of words placed in a sequence carries even more complex meaning. Dogs chase cats.

Thought. Expression. It’s nothing short of miraculous if you think about it. And, if you are thinking about it, you, too, are a carrier of meaning. The symbols and their sequence are useless without me and you, reaching to each other, agreeing on the general meaning of the sequence of sounds. And, more to the point, we not only carry but we create meaning. With our magical sounds-in-sequence we are capable of generating the high art of story, the supreme gift of understanding each other. We can reach each other, touch each other, move each other. We can find each other with our words. We shape each other with our words.

From the chaos of all-possible-sound, to the pattern of word and alphabet, to the order of sentence, to the power of story. Anyone who tells you that they are not creative is missing the point of their existence.

I suspect the power of story is infinitely more powerful than we might realize. We take it for granted, this extraordinary capacity, this glorious gift. You’d think we’d have more appreciation for our high art of language, our transcendent ability of speech. You’d think we might honor and protect truth and fact. They are the compass, the map through the forest of all possible tales. You’d think we might use our most powerful accomplishment to find, or better yet, to create shared ground. Common good is an intention, a creation.

You’d think.

There’s a vast difference between disagreement, conflicting points of view, and lie.

The point of a disagreement is to find agreement. After all, single-point-perspective begins from two disparate points of view. It is a “coming together.”

The point of a lie is to mislead. To deceive. To create false impression. False ideals. To foster disagreement. It is a tool for exploitation. It is meant to render apart.

Because we so easily sequence our words, pattern our thoughts, we are capable of using our magic, our ordered language to create…order. We are also capable of using it to create chaos. Disorder.

To help. To hurt. To accomplish. To disrupt. It’s a matter of intention. The direction of intention. How do you intend to use your precious gift?

The real power comes when we learn to think beyond our belief. To question. To ask.

The first rule of education, an essential rule in shaping precious words into thoughts, into actions, is simple: check your sources. Make sure the story you’re embracing, the piper you are following, arises from a well spring of good intention. That it has an ethical center. Check that it seeks to clarify and reach rather than obscure and demonize. Check that your thought-house is not built on a lie.

Check your sources. Of information. You, too, are a source of information, so…check your sources.

With our most powerful capacity to pattern, to create, to think in words and sentences and stories, we can be a carrier of the lie-virus or we can be part of the cure. Reach or reject. It is our choice, through how we use our miracle words and language, what we agree to create together.

Let’s start here.

read Kerri’s blog post on AGREE