Cozy In [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

New flannel sheets in winter are down-right-Dionysian. Yummy, snuggly and warm.

I thought about the god of pleasure, sensuality, and wine the first time I cozied into our new flannel. There is no way a Puritan mind was involved in the invention of something so seductive. “These sheets are pure-Greek-hedonistic,” I thought as I burrowed in for the night.

Life leads with the senses. We experience – and then we story the experience. That means we feel, taste, touch, hear, smell…and then we make sense of what we’ve sensed.

As someone who’s spent an inordinate amount of time trying to make sense of things, I’m inclined to believe that the ever-elusive meaning of life will never be reduced to a tidy sentence or contained in a big book, but is certainly available in the stories we wrap around our messy experiences. We don’t find meaning, we bring it.

My story, as I nestle deeper and deeper into my delicious new flannel sheets on a cold winter night with Kerri at my side and Dogga laying on my feet: beyond words. New flannel perfection. I am the luckiest man alive.

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEW FLANNEL

Dance [on DR Thursday]

“The human race has spent several millennia developing a huge and robust set of observations about the world, in forms as varied as language, art and religion. Those observations in turn have withstood many – enormously many – tests. We stand heir to an unstatably large set of meanings.” ~ David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear

The little girl shrieked with delight, “You can stand in it!” She raced inside the dome, her little body so teeming with enthusiasm that she danced. The crowd burst into laughter.

Joy is contagious.

She reminded me of the children I saw dancing at the base of Christo’s Umbrellas. She transported me back to the very first time Kerri and I stepped off the stage after our performance of THE LOST BOY. We were euphoric, so overrun with relief and triumph that we jumped up and down in the backstage hallway, laughing and hugging. Dancing. We couldn’t help it.

I remember that moment when people ask me why I make art since art makes no money. I’ve learned to answer the question, not with words but with a smile.

Value is perceived.

I stepped into the dome repeating to myself, “You can stand in it.” A dome of light. A constellation of thought. The earth rotates around the sun. Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. Do unto others. There is not one way, there are many paths up the mountain. Discovery is better than invention.

Meaning is made. It’s an ongoing relationship.

Sometime you know that you enter it. Sometimes you don’t know and the dome you discover evokes a joyous dance.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DOMES OF LIGHT

Iconic, 54x54IN, mixed media

[my site is down. A new site is in the works. New works are also in the works. Good things]

iconic © 2010 david robinson

Weave Her In [on KS Friday]

These story moments happen spontaneously. We wanted to sit in the dark living room and appreciate the warm light of our branches and holiday trees. We’d spent the evening wrapping “happy lights” around e.e., this year’s christmas tree, adorning her with silver balls of all sizes.

Our trees are rarely traditional. In fact, we almost never choose them; they usually find us. The story of the tree – and I use the term “tree” loosely – is more important than the shape of the tree. We’re not invested in the traditional aesthetic. For us, it’s not a show piece. Our tradition is firmly rooted in the story of how the “tree” finds us. Orphans come in from the cold.

We sat in e.e.’s light and combed through Kerri’s phone looking for the images-of-christmas-trees-past. We laughed when we found photos of them. We recounted the story of each, placing them in time, comparing notes of how they found us. There was “christmas tree on a stick.” There was the year of the stick wrapped in lights, a star suspended above it. There was Satan, the evil tree that Craig wrought. This year is our tenth christmas and our stroll through the trees became a stroll through our time together. “We look like babies,” Kerri said of the younger versions of us, the two people, arms intertwined, standing by a tree almost a decade ago.

When e.e. came to us, she was anemic. Scraggly. We loved on her. Opened her branches and fluffed her. Last night, after our walk through time, Kerri looked at e.e. and said, “She looks so happy.” Yes. She does. Beaming.

And isn’t that the point of the whole season? A little fluffing. Taking some time to pay attention. To love on each other. To infuse new life into depleted spirits? As we weave e.e. into our story, her happiness injects warm happiness back into us. And will for years to come. Our spontaneous story moments always remind me of the essential things sometimes lost in the season of commodity and cacophony called christmas. It’s really not so complicated.

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about e.e

the lights/the lights © 1996 kerri sherwood

Ramble [on DR Thursday]

I’m like a two-year old: I want to know “Why?” For instance, the lichen growing on the birch tree is Hypogymnia physodes, but it’s also known as “Monk’s Hood.” Why?

There’s a wildflower also known as Monk’s Hood. I read that the flower gets its name because its petals resemble the cowls once worn by monks. However, the flower is also known as “Wolfsbane.” Why? What does the bane of a wolf have to do with the hood of a monk? I’m capable of inventing a slew of possible connections but they will be just that: inventions.

In an attempt to bore you beyond rescue, I’ve lately been fascinated by how much of our world is a blizzard of unhinged information in search of a context. For instance, conceptual art needs an explanation. Without a curator, it’s nothing more than a banana taped to a wall. Twine with a dirty sponge. Oddity seeking to be taken seriously.

In the 21st century, we measure relevance by the number of followers, not by the substance-of-the-matter-being-followed. It’s a popularity contest. Lots and lots of flowing information, most of it useless. Without use. Without substance. And, scarily for us: without being questioned.

What is empty content pushed through a fabricated context? “Breaking” news. MAGA. Q.

It occurs to me that society needs more two year olds! A healthy practice of asking “Why” would spare us from certain death-by-bloviation.

A cowl, by the way, is both a monk’s hood AND a loose neckline in contemporary women’s clothing. Wouldn’t the monks be surprised if they’d confused their cowls!

Now, get out there and find context for this bit of useless information.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LICHEN

pieta with paparazzi © 2010 david robinson

Call Awe [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” ~ The Beatles, The End

Last week was unusual in that I had a sneak-peek at my end-of-life-review. When a trusted doctor looks at you and says, “This is bad,” when tests that ordinarily might be scheduled a few weeks out are rushed into the next few hours, when the palette of available options are mostly shades of black and all include the word “dire,” the life-movie-reel begins to roll. Mine did.

I’ve known for years that among the few choices we really have is 1) where we choose to focus, and 2) where we choose to stand as we focus. Point-of-view, labels slapped onto experience, the story we tell is a story we project onto the world. Rolling through the CT-scan doughnut, I looked at the story I’ve called into the forest. I listened for the story it reflected back at me, as me.

“Take a deep breath,” the machine instructed, “and hold it.” Holding my breath, I saw a single story comprised of many, many chapters. There are the life-pages that I lived in confidence, and pages that I wrote confusion. The shattering, the story of the pieces of my life scattered in four directions. Kintsugi. The pages of the phoenix. Pages written running from my art and the matching pages of running toward it. The chapter of standing still. The pages of betrayal and the balance pages of being betrayed. “Release your breath,” the machine chirped. “Breathe naturally.”

The forest will show me fear. The forest will offer grace. The forest will reflect back to me peace if peace is what I bring to it. Someday, rather than project onto the forest, I will walk into it, become it. A reflector of projections.

Take a deep breath. I’ve never been so appreciative of breath. Hold it. What a gift. Breathe naturally. Call awe into the forest.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOREST

Love What You Bring [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Only mediocrity is sure of itself…” ~ Paulo Coelho, Aleph

Sometimes I wonder why I spent so much of my life believing I was a fraud. I was provided with great mentors, each relaying the same message: vibrant life is never found in what you know. The point of life is to step toward not-knowing. And, yet, for years, I abused myself with accusations of not-knowing. It was proof that I was a fraud. I was certain everyone else knew.

Quinn pointed to a tall building and told me the people occupying the big office at the top were just making it up, too.

Jim worked hard to help me understand that artistry happens in the release of preparation.

Tom McK tried to help me see that the real riches are found in the very moment that you simply don’t know what to do.

I am fortunate. After so many great mentors speaking a singular message to my titanic fear of not-knowing, the penny dropped. Standing alone in the vast open plain of not-knowing, a two-step mantra flooded my being.

Step #1: Have the experience first. Make meaning second.

A Post-it note pinned near my desk reads, “Competence isn’t in what you know, it’s in your capacity to figure it out.” I have great capacity.

Step #2: Suspend your judgments and learn.

Martha Graham’s “divine dissatisfaction” and “blessed unrest” permeate the vast open plain of not-knowing. “Keep the channel open,” she advised Agnes deMille. “No artist is pleased.”

“Your job is to put it out there,” Dick K., told a younger version of me. “What other people think is none of your business.”

It’s simple. Love what you bring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about YOUR WORK

Be A Zebra [on KS Friday]

The Post-It note beside my desk reads “Zebra.” It is a reminder to be more like the zebra. After a near miss with a lion, the zebra does not return to the herd and perpetuate their stress by recounting the story over and over to any other zebra that will listen. The zebra shakes off the adrenaline rush and moves on. No extra stress necessary.

For many years I’ve known that most actions are relatively easy to perform, the stress we experience comes from the story we wrap around the action. There’s a full range of stress stories, from “I can’t do it” to “I have to be…” The it-has-to-be-done-now story is pervasive. At some point in my youth I got it into my human head that faster was better. It’s not a good story since it requires the lion to be on your heels all the time. Watch people sitting in a traffic jam: the story of stuckness has otherwise rational people red-faced and pounding on their steering wheels. The I-have-to-be-there-now story is a recipe for never being present. Running, running, running. Lion on your tail.

Zebra.

When I moved in Kerri cautioned me that the to-do list would never be done. We live in an old house and, like an old body, extra care and patience is required. It’s been quite a transition. This house has become my teacher. It’s in my nature to get-things-done. True confession: If I start a project, I become myopic until it’s finished. All my life, after starting a painting, I lay awake at night rolling the possibilities over and over in my mind until the final brush stroke hits the canvas.

This old house has taught me to let go of my story of need-to-finish. It’s softened the edges of my Puritan work ethic. I’ve grown to appreciate having to tighten the handle on the backdoor once a week. Some day we’ll get to putting knobs on the kitchen cabinets. I’ve come to appreciate jiggling the burner to make the stove work. Our monthly puddle-prevention-thaw of the freezer is part of the rhythm of our lives.

Zebra. No resistance. It’ll get done when it gets done.

Life is infinitely better without an imaginary lion on my heels. It makes me wonder why I spent so much of my life creating stress for myself. I’ll save my stress for the real lions and you can bet when one of those appear, I’ll tell you about it. Again and again. I’m a human after all. Half the fun of being human is telling the tale so I want to make certain my tale, if I’m going to perpetuate my stress, has bonafide lions snapping at my hooves.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE REFRIGERATOR

i didn’t know/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Embody The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

Everything in the Japanese Garden is symbolic, intentional. Pine trees represent longevity. Rocks, I’ve learned, represent the bones of the earth. They are as necessary in the design as are the “ephemeral blooms of the iris, rhododendron, and plum.” The symbol is not complete without both.

“The ephemeral existence of human life and the timelessness of nature.” Balance.

Entering the small yard of the Shoin House at the Chicago Botanical Garden is instantly calming for me. The small house is designed to “merge the outdoors with the indoors.” It is closed to the public but always beckons. I want to sit in the alcoves and write. Or do nothing at all. In the garden, I am instantly “connected.”

“Connectivity” is a word that has moved to the center of the work that I am currently doing. Amidst our ubiquitous capacity to share (Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok…email, chat, tweet, slack, text…) we are less and less connected. As Neil Postman wrote, we have made the irrelevant relevant and the relevant irrelevant. We share but do not connect. Shared information is not – and never will be – shared meaning.

Symbols empty of meaning when a community ceases to understand, honor, tend or acknowledge the significance of the symbol. And, symbols are the glue of a community. They are the physical, tangible location of an ideal. Disconnect from the symbol and the house falls apart.

I think that is why I am drawn to the Japanese Garden. There, beauty is intentional. The symbols are so well tended, so intentional, that one need not know the specific meanings to enter the symbol.

And, that’s the point. Connectivity happens when people, together, embody their symbols. They enter them. They become embodiments of their symbol(s).

It is the artist’s job to bring people into a shared moment. To give them access to a unified experience. To help them transcend the splinter symbols that divide – and see them for what they are. To help people step back and take a good look at what they, together, are creating. A garden? A desert? Balance? Imbalance?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ROCKWAY

prayer of opposites © 2006 david robinson

Stroll [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday, for some reason, I revisited days of early childhood. I played four-square in the driveway. I threw dirt clods at the site of new home construction. I raced my cars off the side of the abandoned building above Del and Dorothy’s house in the mountains; the cars tumbled and I ran to retrieve them so I might send them flying again and again. I ran home in a panic the day I learned that Nancy’s little sister had drowned in utility hole that was filled with water. It was on the route I walked to school and passing the hole filled me with trepidation, it was a dark portal, my first experience of death. I didn’t really understand it.

Late at night, Kerri and I sometimes talk about everything that has happened in the short time of our relationship. We’ve lost parents and lost careers, spiraled in a free fall of uncertainty, had surgeries and broken bones. We’ve also climbed mountains, watched sunrises and meteor showers, we hold hands when we walk, we write together every day. We dance in the kitchen. I am the sous chef to her cooking artistry.

I’m not sure if we practice paying attention to our moments or it’s something that has come naturally to us. She is rarely without her camera, noticing the smallest flower, capturing the angry sky. I hold the space and hope someday she stops apologizing for stopping again to take a photo; I love watching her discover the shapes and colors of this world. Besides, I get to see what she captures in her lens with an excited, ‘Lookit!”

Today the plumber comes. Yesterday we appealed to the company that destroyed our yard replacing the waterline to come back and strip off the top layer of soil, now filled with hardware and concrete and asphalt. Slowly, we are digging out, repairing and replacing all that was destroyed or delayed in our free fall. Our lessons seem to be about stress – or, rather – not stressing. We are having experiences, rich and varied. Some things we can control. Most, we cannot. The best we can do is hold hands and stand together in each experience. Appreciate them no matter whether they look like tragedy or comedy. We’ll make meaning of them later down the road.

The artist dances with death. The appreciation of the fragility of life. Each day I walk by that metaphoric utility hole, only now it does not fill me with trepidation. It makes me squeeze her hand and fills me with gratitude for this life, this moment, this shadow we cast together as we take our time strolling through the garden.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SHADOW

See The Glue [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It’s a new phrase to me but I liked it immediately. I liked it because I have known some amazing people, those rare birds who keep the runaway-egos focused on the project, who naturally and seemingly without effort coalesce disparate talents into a cohesive creative team. The ‘glue people’ is a perfect description.

Glue people intuitively understand power as something that is created between people, not something wielded over people. I suspect that is the epicenter of their glue-gift: they see beyond the parts to the sweeping possibility of the whole. They know that “every man/woman for themself” is a recipe for disaster.

Despite our dedicated cowboy mythos, innovation is never the province of a single person. There may be a single visionary but the vision is never accomplished in a vacuum. Inventions, like organizations or nations, come to fruition through the efforts and skills of the many-working-as-one. Glue people generate “the-working-as-one.”

Stage managers, production managers, executive assistants, contractors…those highly overlooked people at the center of the information, who quietly make sure the work of creation happens without collision while also making certain all the parts and pieces know how much they are valued.

Meaning makers. Making value explicit. Glue people. Just try to get an idea off the runway without them.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GLUE PEOPLE