Live Inside The Altar [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Dear reader, you have done me a great service. You’ve connected my past to my present.

I’m not sure why but, initially, I numbered rather than named my blogposts. My 623rd blog post was about a practice I’d all but forgotten. Building an altar of gratitude.

Someone out there read #623 so it popped up in my analytic. “This is old!” I thought, staring at the screen. A numbered post! Another era. “I wonder what I was writing about?”

2012. Thanksgiving. Among the darkest days of my life and yet, on that day, I was deeply, profoundly grateful. Life had chased me to a cliff. There was nothing to do but leap. I remember like it was yesterday wandering the streets of Seattle placing notes of gratitude in the cracks of walls, at bus stops, at coffee shops. I felt as if I was invoking. I wanted a better world. If I wanted it, I needed to offer betterment to the world. It was a prayer. A weaving. It was the last time I built my “altar of gratitude.”

A year later I lived in an entirely different world. Everything went to ashes.

2022. Kerri and I are walking our trail. We’re giggling because we just planted a painted rock in the elbow of a tree. “Do you think someone will find it?” her inner 5 year old asks, too wiggly with excitement to stand still. I expect her to skip in circles of enthusiasm.

“Yes,” I laugh. “Someone, someday, will find it.”

As I reread #623 I realized that, in rising from the ashes, I was no longer building my altar on a single day in a single season. I was no longer invoking gratitude. I was no longer hoping for a world that might someday come into being.

I am creating it. Not on a single day or special occasion. I’m practicing gratitude every day. I’m living gratitude every day. Painting rocks, making dinner, watching sunsets, buying groceries, writing blogposts.

Because you sent #623 back to me, a marker in time, I’ve realized I’m living inside my altar. All the world….

read Kerri’s blogpost about EXPLORE

Meet On The Deck [on KS Friday]

Lately, when I close up shop for the day and come down the stairs from my office, Kerri and I meet on the back deck. We choose sun or shade, settle in, and talk about our day. There are stories to share, ideas to consider, speculations. Sometimes she’ll catch me up on the news, what’s happened in the world since I climbed the stairs in the morning.

Lately, listening to the news-of-the-day is like strapping a large stone to my chest and jumping into deep water. An intentional sink. “Why would I do that to myself?” I ask myself. I call Kerri’s morning surf through social media her “horror trawl.”

The back deck is a place of hope. I can hear the news-of-the-day on the back deck because, while listening, I watch the hummingbirds zip and hover. The evenings are alive with the most extraordinary bird song. The gurgle of the pond is a soothing meditation. The vibrant life on the back deck is immediate and vital. I know the neighborhood fox is actively hunting the neighborhood bunnies so it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, but it is natural process. It is not excessive or hyped or angry. It’s life without self-indulgence or puffery.

I can hear the news of the day on the back deck because I can detach from it. In comparison to the hummingbirds or the squirrels running atop the fence, it seems like a bad soap opera, a cast of characters dedicated to their guck.

After the intentional sink, for an extra dose of hope, I visit the tomato plants. They seem to be doubling in size every day. The blossoms have appeared. Kerri takes my hand and leads me to the pots. “Lookit!” she smiles “More tomatoes in waiting!”

Tomatoes in waiting. Harbingers of good things to come. The stuff of life – to taste and touch. Little red bursts of captured sunshine. The real stuff. Life expressing life.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost on TOMATOES IN WAITING

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

Open The Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Put on your swimmies for a dive into the esoteric.

It was hot last night so I lay awake thinking and that’s never a good thing for the people – like you – who pay attention to the random things I write or say. This is what I thought in the heat of the night: Saul always instructed me to look beyond my opponent and place my focus in the field of possibilities. “Look a hundred feet beyond your opponent,” he said.

It’s universally true that a mind needs something on which to focus. And, left untended, most minds will focus on complaints or problems. During my tilt-at-windmills-consulting phase I’d tease my clients with the notion that, rather than eliminate challenges, people create them. We need them. We call them hobbies. Or play. Or problems. After all, stories are driven by conflict and we are, at the base, storytelling animals. It’s worth noting that a great collaboration is not the absence of conflicting opinions but the capacity to use the heat of creative tension to find/discover a third way.

What does this have to do with Saul and the field of possibilities? A focus, to be useful, needs to be specific. What exactly does the field of possibilities look like?

The reason our untended minds sort to the negative is that the negative is usually concrete, an easy fixation. Fear is a clear picture – even when imaginary. Obstacles are easy to spot. Possibilities are rolling and amorphous. Changeable. It is the nature of a good possibility to shape-shift.

The masters of meditation mostly tell us to soften our focus. Or to let the thoughts roll through the brainpan like clouds; do not attach to what we think. Do not take ourselves so seriously. Practice flow instead of the hard fixing of thought.

And, therein is the source of my late night esoteria: the mind needs something to focus on. Or does it?

If I soften my gaze, if I look beyond the problem-of-the-moment to a vast field of floating possibility, am I tossing myself into a feedback loop? I lay awake wondering what the field of possibility might look like if it was graspable. Some people make vision boards for just this reason. Quinn used to hum and fill his mind with lyrics.

Tjakorda Rai laughed at me and told me I needed to “open my story.” At the time I thought he meant to take responsibility for my story. Now, I know exactly what he meant: let it flow. Get out of the way. The demons and monsters and fears and problems and challenges are…passing things. Story fodder, nothing more. So look beyond them. Flow. Focus on the flow. Open the story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOUNTAIN

Sit In The Quiet [on DR Thursday]

Years ago I directed a production of Into The Woods and I wanted a set design alive with David Hockney colors. The production was gorgeous. The set the designer created was a vibrant fantasyland with the dark undertones wrought by dinosaur-size-too-big foliage. Tiny people in an oversized children’s pop-up book.

If I were going to direct the musical again today, I’d approach it through a different lens. I wouldn’t place it in the vivid palette of fantasyland; this world we journey through is fantastic just as it is. When Kerri and I walk, I am sometimes stunned to silence by the shapes and patterns and pops of color. Ominous and serene. Alive.

For reasons that have nothing to do with reason, I started using imagined leaf shapes, plant-symbols in my paintings. I know when I someday return to my easel, the plant shapes will be present – perhaps even dominant. There is no end to the eye-popping variations. Our walks in nature have me “seeing” again.

A few years ago, Brad and I talked about the deep backstory of why an artist creates. Of course, there’s not a single driving reason – it changes over time as we change over time. I know many artists who’ve set down their brushes, singers who stopped singing. They satisfied their backstory. They channel their creative juices into other forms. Based on the evidence, these days I am a writer. Lately, I spend more time drawing cartoons than painting paintings. And yet, I still think of myself as a painter.

In the past, a step away from the easel was acknowledging a fallow season, letting my batteries recharge. This time, the step away is different. My reasons are spinning, changing. The younger me-artist was finding a place to transform pain into presence. The middle-age-artist-me entered the studio because it was the only place on earth that made sense. It was a sanctuary. A quiet place.

Each day I walk down the stairs and stand for a few moments with the canvas on my easel. It’s a stranger. I hear my easel whisper, “Not yet. Soon.” I am content with soon. I feel as if I am in an extended meditation, borrowing a tradition from Japanese masters, sitting in the quiet until there is no space between me and the brush, no space between me and the motion. No space between me and the shape, the pop of color, the infinite variance of pattern. No space between me and the surprise-of-what-will-happen. No space between me and the story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TRILLIUM

joy © 2014 david robinson

Look Around [on DR Thursday]

My sketchbooks are punctuated by weird landscapes. It was a practice. When I felt the need to draw regularly, to exercise my artistry, I worked on compositions for future paintings. And, when I had no idea what to draw, no composition in my head, I sketched my weird landscapes. They were fun and I got lost in them.

There was a blowback effect. I’ve never been a landscape artist. I considered my weird landscapes as not-serious exercises. Yet, they were made of scribbles and patterns and it became a game to collect patterns from nature. My not-serious exercises required me to look around. To get close. To look at the edges and splashes and etchings available in nature. To see. My weird landscapes became eye-opening meditations.

There are miracle-patterns in bark. Orchids, I recently learned, are a master-class of pattern, shape, and color. It is impossible to find a hand painted brush and ink painting as perfect or as spontaneous and lively as the strokes on the rattlesnake plant. Go to the garden if color combinations are in question.

I will never invent anything as imaginable, as impossibly beautiful, as what already exists in this world. I will never produce any painting as glorious as the paintings in nature. The best I can do is play. Look and marvel. And isn’t that a great relief?

read Kerri’s blogpost about RATTLESNAKE PLANT

eve © 2006 david robinson

Trip And Trip Again [on KS Friday]

One of the advantages of having stepped in every pothole, tripped on every cobble, and made every mistake at least twice, is that I’ve learned about potholes, cobbles, mistakes, tripping and stepping where I ought not step. If I could boil down to the essence the single thing I’m beginning to grok it is this: life is not elsewhere.

I laughed aloud when I at last I realized the absurdity of “practicing mindfulness” as if it was something to achieve. Mindfulness arrives when the practice stops. Of course. Meditating for self-improvement, I’ve read, is a uniquely Western oddity. “Trying” to be present is ridiculous if you think about it. You are present. What else? Because your mind is running amok does not actually magically transport you to the past or the future. You are present with a mind that is running amok. Minds are like puppies: chase them and they run away. Stand still and they will eventually come to you.

Is any of this pothole wisdom helpful? Absolutely not. Like mindfulness, wisdom arrives when the obsession with knowledge-for-betterment ceases. I’ll let you know what that looks like when I stop trying to attain it. There’s no end to the tripping stones. I’ve learned that, too. Again and again. And again.

The best things in life are not achievements. They are relationships. Me to you. Me to me. Me to the world I am passing through, one moment at a time. With you. Stand still in the moment – you might as well since it is where you are – and you’re libel to experience all manner of beauty.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWFLAKES

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

kindred spirits…away/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Use A Bag [on DR Thursday]

To Chris Crites, grocery shopping day is a feast. To Chris, these sacks are more than functional. They are more than ordinary shopping bags. These bags are canvas. They are opportunities for art. They are surfaces meant for brilliant mugshots. The underbelly of society made beautiful on brown paper sacks.

I’m not sure if it was Chris or the other artists in my Seattle pod that prompted me to experiment. One of my forays into “where will this take me” required paper sacks. Lots of paper sacks, torn to bits and pasted on a canvas. I drew and painted on top of the bits.

I forgot about my experiment until I met Kerri and one day unrolled all the canvas to show her what was in the pile. She cooed at my paper bag experiment. “This should be a series,” she said. “It should be called Earth Interrupted.” And, so it was.

I have (mostly) been a painter of people. I’ve learned that art – and theatre – for me are a means and not an end. In other words, I don’t paint because I want to master the craft of painting or make brilliant paintings. I paint to study people. I paint because it is a meditative space. I paint because I lose myself and enter someplace bigger. I paint because it helps me “to see.”

I completed six additions to the Earth Interrupted series and then stopped. I lost my way. That’s always been my experience when I abstract- when I leave the figure and mess with texture and shape. I know I’m not finished with it. Getting lost is part of the process.

Unloading the groceries last week brought me up short. I felt like Chris Crites. So much possibility sitting on the counter. So much material begging to be transformed.

Earth Interrupted I, mixed media, 48x53IN

read Kerri’s blog post about BAGS

earth interrupted I © 2012 david robinson

Light A Few Candles [on KS Friday]

“An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.” ~ George Santayana

It was like a visual Zen koan. The candles were placed close to the window and the reflection stretched back and back into infinity. What is real and what is reflection? We sat for several minutes, caught in the light trail that seemed to reach into the future/past.

We light candles for remembrance. We light candles for comfort. We light candles for the quiet they invoke. Inspiration. For hope. Buddhist prayer flags flutter and “release” their prayers to the wind. We light candles with the same intention: the remembrance is carried deep into the future/past. The comfort floats and fills our home.

It was our practice, prior to Covid, late at night on christmas eve, after Kerri was finished with work, to illuminate our street with luminaria. Little paper sacks weighted with sand and holding single candles ran up and down the sidewalk, the entire length of the street. We’d place fire pits in our driveway. Neighbors, friends and family would gather around the fire, drink wine and grog, eat snacks, sing a song or two, laugh. Somewhere, deep into the night, our fingers and toes would protest the cold, we’d say goodnight, douse the flames, and call it a night. Crawling into bed, it always felt as if the good humor of our gathering caught the breeze and carried a light-heart into the world.

Tonight, Kerri and I will light a few candles in sacks, weighted by sand. We will sit, sip wine, laugh and remember. Luminaria. Gatherings. Good wishes carried on the wind. The laughter and candlelight from the past will find us as we reminisce. We’ll send a wave of good intention into the future so that it might one day find us standing around a fire pit with neighbors, family and friends, shaking our heads and saying, “Do you remember when…”

you’re here (kerri sherwood rough cut)

hope/this season available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT INFINITY

hope/this season © 1998 kerri sherwood

you’re here © 2018 kerri sherwood

Relax And Prime [on KS Friday]

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon yesterday drawing cartoons. I had to get away from the computer screen. I’ve learned – relearned – that staring into the screen too long makes me myopic and unimaginative. I’m not certain if this is true for everyone but I am kinesthetic. There’s a necessary balance. Sitting still and staring at a screen without the opposite focus are creative-killers for me. I do my best thinking when I move around, when I stop trying to solve or deconstruct. I’m fortunate that drawing with a #2 pencil at an old-fashioned light table is part of my job.

Greg lives his life in front of a screen – multiple screens – and, to get away, he dives. His underwater photography is gorgeous. In a meeting a few days ago, he said that diving clears his mind. His greatest insights come when he’s underwater or sitting on the beach after a dive. There’s good science behind his insight. Relaxation triggers dopamine: the more dopamine, the more creative. Comfort and relaxation prime the creative pump. Stress and tension unplug the pump.

The best thing to do when trying to squeeze out a revelation is to walk away. Take a drive. Take a shower. Stop thinking so hard. Daydreaming is very productive. I’ve learned that anger and frustration rarely – if ever – lead to creative insight and generally produce the opposite of what’s desired. Anger (like too much time in front of a computer screen to me) is myopic. It narrows. It squeezes off the dopamine. It blinds the mind and heart to possibility.

Kent Nerburn wrote that, “For those of us in the arts, enthusiasm is never outlived. The sun is always rising before us, and our wonder at the world, the true source for all meaningful art, only grows stronger as life slows from passage to moments…” There’s always a next painting to paint. Another song to write. A photograph to take. It’s one of the reasons I love taking walks with Kerri: we rarely get very far before she gasps, and stops to take a photograph of some small miracle. And, while she’s collecting images of small miracles, I look to the sky and let my mind wander, a walking meditation, a creative pump primer.

And, almost always, somewhere on the trail, the dot that refused to connect while I was too-long staring at the screen, takes me by the hand and says, “It’s so simple. Do you see?”

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERGREEN

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

Welcome Home [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

The people that bought my parent’s home flipped it in a few months. They remodeled the bathrooms and updated the kitchen. They refaced the fireplace. They pulled up the carpet and refinished the hardwood floors. It was gorgeous. It was a surprising chapter of what has become my unintentional 2021 mediation: home. At the beginning of the summer, after days of hauling and cleaning, as my last act before leaving for good, Kerri suggested that I crawl into the cedar closet of my boyhood bedroom (I loved sitting in that closet as a boy) and sign my name. A sweet goodbye and thank you. Home is a memory.

It was only a few months ago that we moved my mom into her “new home.” She wanders the halls and we know that time is the only cure for what she seeks. Home, for her, will be a feeling that finds her, at last, only after the wear and tear in the rooms is of her making. Her pacing is wearing a trail, carving a path. Home is a feeling.

In the past 8 months my dad has moved three times into his “new home.” Memory care facilities are surprisingly inept at caring for elders who’ve lost their memories. High price. Low care. Everything is a business: a theme/rant for another post. In his current home, finally, he feels safe and, after a trip out, wants to return to his room. Home is safety.

Before his memory was gone, we took my dad back to his hometown, Monticello, Iowa. His primary need was to show us the tiny Home that his grandfather built. It’s the place where his dad was born. It is across the yard from where he was born. His tales were glorious in their hardship. They needed very little to make good memories. Today, the tiny house built with no money and huge heart is a storage shed but through my father’s eyes it was nothing short of a castle. I will always savor the image of him standing in front of his Home. Home is an origin and an anchor.

When we pull into the driveway, after a long trip or a jaunt to the store, we always greet our home, “Hello, happy house!” Our home feels alive, a presence or being. The walls carry our story. The rooms remember and replay the voices of her children. We’re packing a lot of story into the walls of our old house. It is packing a lot of story into us. Home is a relationship.

When we came upon the woodpecker-condo-tree, Brad said in jest, “Why don’t you stick your hand in there.” We laughed. “I told him I’d be like the monkey with its fist in the coconut, I wouldn’t be able to let go of the critter inside and also wouldn’t be able to get my fist out of the small hole. I’d be stuck on the trail forever. The woodpecker condo would be my new home. Kerri and Jen were inspecting the perfect circles. It felt good to be on a walk with them. It had been a long time since we’d had the chance to just hang out. Home is a friendship.

We had tacos at Jay and Charlies with the Up North gang. Jay showed us her new porch. We sat in the shade and drank margaritas and laughed. I told Jay that her porch and yard felt serene. She smiled and told me that it was her sanctuary. I was, for a moment, completely overwhelmed by how much life we’ve walked with these special people. Passages. We’ve shared and received so much support – immediate presence when need arose – from our stalwart gang. Sanctuary. Home is a community.

It’s just as the needlepoint declares: Home is sweet.

read Kerri’s blog post on Home Sweet Home