Take A Closer Look [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Knowledge is rarely completely divorced from power, and interpretation is too often an expression of convenience.” ~ Wade Davis, The Wayfinders

Discussing our project, Yaki and I agreed that we needed to step lightly. “We wouldn’t be allowed to perform this piece in Florida,” I quipped. Yet, sadly, it’s true. The piece is Beethoven. Nothing controversial there! I’ve written and will perform the narrative, an update of the piece from 2008. Yaki asked me to rewrite the narrative to speak to the issues of 2022.

It’s odd. Were we to perform the new script in the world of 2008, it would be benign. No one would deny or take issue with the fact that slavery is part of the history of the United States. It would have been laughable to challenge the era of Jim Crow or that the struggle for Civil Rights was and is a part of our story. Our division is not new. It’s institutional, systemic. Yet, in 2022, in red states, the dark side of colonialism is being scrubbed from curricula. They’re attempting to rewrite our nation’s history as a Hallmark movie.

Things are rarely what they appear. It’s one of the reasons why art is so powerful and necessary in a healthy society. When a community goes off the rails, claiming truth is fiction while aggressively promoting fiction as truth, the truth deniers always attempt to shut down and/or shout down all conversation. The theatre, the arts, during turbulent times, can reach into dark fiction, and resurrect the soul of truth.

Things are rarely what they appear. Staring out the kitchen window I was amazed that the bird perched on the wire fence was so still. It was so uncanny that I walked out back to get a closer look.

It’s the only way for people, for ideas, for communities, for nations, to grow. To question. To be curious enough to have a closer look. To laugh at themselves when the bird is discovered to be a leaf. To not be afraid to have their illusions popped, their history unpacked, or to welcome another point of view.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE BIRD

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

Step Off [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A tree is not made of wood, it is wood.” ~ Alan Watts, The Watercourse Way

Language is powerful. It’s a drum I have beat for a long time, the notion that we insist that the narratives we wrap around ourselves are somehow “reality.” We are told that 50% of Russians believe the hell wrought on the Ukraine is merely propaganda. A made-up story. Not true. It is the narrative they are fed and, in order to eat it, they must ignore any evidence to the contrary. Their economy crumbles. The ruble falls. How could they not see it? Don’t laugh. 40% of USAmericans still believe the last presidential election was stolen, a plausible story only if wearing blinders with fingers placed firmly in ears. Burying your head in the sand is not a Russian or American trait, it’s uniquely human. We see what we believe, not the other way around. Our language makes it so.

Years ago I read that the word “wild” could only come from a people who believe all things must be tamed. Wild makes no sense without the concept of tame. Wild, bad. Tamed, good. So, a people afraid of their own “nature” must become tamers. A people who think “nature” not only can be but must be managed. To be “above” it all, in charge and atop the pyramid, giver of names. It is the necessary narrative for such tamers of the wild, those who story their very nature as corrupt. Tamed, good. Above it all. Separate. Is it any wonder the intrinsically conflicted human world rarely embraces peace? Our narrative leads us to believe, amidst so much inner and, therefore, outer conflict, peace is something to be created because we are naturally conflicted. What else?

Where, exactly, does wild end and tame begin? Where’s the line that delineates nature from civilization? What if nature is neither good nor bad? What if your nature was neither good nor bad? Perhaps self-love would be within reach and, as a natural extension, the love of others, too. It’s an alternative narrative though not possible in a belief-story that fears the wild. Wholeness begins with a step off the pedestal.

It’s in the language. Somehow separate from the world in which we live, not “in” nature or “of” nature , we are deluded to believe we are made of different stuff. Above it. Divinely manufactured. Made.

Manufactured. Made. Trees made of wood.

And, just what are we made of? I guess it depends on the story we decide to tell. Wild stuff.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREES

Arrive At The Essence [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This past Saturday we passed a milestone. We began writing our Melange on February 12, 2018, four years ago. We’ve published 5 days a week, every week, no matter what chaos or crazy storm blew through our lives.

Our Melange has moved through many phases. Originally, we wanted to regain some control over the publication of our music, paintings, plays, children’s books and cartoons. In our first post I called it our “pile of creative perseverance.” Also, we wanted to make a living from our mountain of work so we set up Society6 storefronts and spent hours each day developing products based on what we published. It was a blast and a total bust.

Eventually, the stores fell off, the daily themes changed, and we arrived at a pure essence: we love to sit together and write. Each day. There’s always a visual prompt, mostly from photos Kerri’s taken during the week. There’s only one rule: we can’t read or know what the other is writing about until we’ve completed our drafts. And then we read to each other, talk about our posts and clean them up. It’s my favorite thing to do. It feeds our hearts, energizes our artistic souls and that is more than enough.

Somedays I feel as if we are writing ourselves into existence. Our Melange is the story we tell each other – and you – of our life together. It’s a continuation of the Roadtrip, the daily emails we wrote to each other before we met. And, if the Roadtrip was a narrative offering of “this is me,” the Melange is a narrative offering of, “this is us.”

We launched the Melange with this Chicken Nugget (below). I wrote, as an introduction in the inaugural post, that this Nugget – and the Melange – was “a quiet reminder that the universe of feelings was – and is – so much bigger than words can possibly contain.” Ironic, yes? Coming from two people who, each and every day, write words as their way of reaching into this vast universe of feelings.

Thank you for reading what we write. We appreciate every step you take with us on our journey.

read Kerri’s blog post about 4 YEARS

chicken marsala © 2016 kerri sherwood & david robinson

the melange © 2018-22 kerri sherwood & david robinson

Read The Walk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Between the morning rehearsal and the evening wedding, we had several hours without commitments so we did the thing we most like to do. We walked. It was a gorgeous September day. We were in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, a miracle of reclaimed and converted warehouses, shops and condos that line the waterway. We followed the Riverwalk, Kerri snapping photographs, ambling our way to Lake Michigan.

It’s odd in this age of pandemic, to be in a city on a beautiful weekend day. The rules of engagement are different. The rules of enjoyment are different. Be out in the day but avoid the crowds. There was an art fair, a crush of people, so, as artists, normally pulled toward art gatherings, we walked the other way. In years past we would have waded in to the fray, talked to the artists, enjoyed people enjoying art.

Instead, we found a bounty of art on our walk. The shadows playing on the walls. The flowers. The finials. The sculpture. Everywhere we looked we found riches of intentional design. People dedicated to creating beautiful spaces had a field day re-imagining what had once been an industrial wasteland on the water.

Chiseled into the the boards upon which we walked was a narrative history of the city. We stepped on top of important dates of the Civil War. We walked across innovations, breweries arising in a city of beer, World Wars and the changes they wrought. Sports victories. We walked across the story of a previous pandemic, a hundred years ago. A few thin boards, markers of a tragic toll.

For a moment I stood and watched the kayaks paddling, the pontoon boats cruising the channel, the diners seated beneath umbrellas, the strollers, like us enjoying the day with no destination calling. Full moments in lifetimes that someday might be told in a few thin boards of narrative highlights.

I wondered how many people, how much dedicated action, it took to make this moment beautiful and possible. The architects. The artists. The artisans. The craftsmen and women. The laborers. The florists, The gardeners. The shopkeepers. The waiters. The chefs. The suppliers. The mail carriers,…Dreamers all, stretching back through time. Interconnected and interdependent in ways that only few recognize.

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Were I to chisel the story of our pandemic in a boardwalk, or create a sculpture meant to capture our moment in narrative time, my theme would be interconnection and interdependence unnoticed. Unmasked. A myopic madness, a messy delusion of every-man-for-himself, a sure-fire way to perpetuate a pandemic or warm a globe.

There is, of course, no evidence for life thriving in a vacuum. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence, apparent on a stroll in a city on a beautiful sunny September day, killing some time before a wedding, that it takes all of us, every last life, to thrive. An artist needs an audience. A developer needs a supplier. A doctor needs a patient who wants to be healthy. Who wants to do more than survive. Thriving is, after all, a group sport. A careful reading of the boards tells a very specific tale: no one does this walk alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about OUR WALK

Consider The Intention [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My least favorite character in Romeo and Juliet is Capulet, Juliet’s father. A few years back I thought it would be a good exercise to tell the story from his point of view. In his world of privilege and order, he has an out of control daughter, a teenager no less, ignoring the rules of the house and society, having sex with the son of a sworn enemy. He imagines a better future for her (and himself) and has worked hard to protect her and match her with royalty. Like every parent I know, he just wants his daughter to behave and thrive.

Every story has an agenda. That’s true of the stories we tell of ourselves at parties, it’s true of the stories we shout at each other when we are having fights, it’s true of the stories we tell when we are falling in love, it’s true of the stories we tell when breaking up. Every story has at least two sides and each side has an intention.

Stories are never neutral or passive. It’s precisely why Blind Justice is so important to the health and well being of a society: between two opposing/competing stories there is a point of equilibrium that we call “fact” or “truth.” Blind Justice carries a scale to symbolize that place of story-equilibrium, ideally free of status, privilege, sway…weighing the stories to arrive at fairness and equity.

Health is the capacity to consider the other side of the story.

It is the truly despicable character that steps with intention into the gap between competing narratives solely to create discord. To lie for gain. Iago is just such a character. He creates an illusion with no greater intention than to hurt, to destroy. Desdemona dies. Othello murders because he cannot see through the lie Iago is telling. Othello’s love turns to hate. He cannot or will not hear the other side, the love story, the truth of Desdemona.

Hatred is a territorial flag planted in a one-sided story.

The modern GOP is Iago. Othello is a cautionary tale relevant in our times. What or who will be murdered before the lie is laid bare?

I have always been a lover of myth and parable, stories that reach with intention to deeper truths. It is why I stepped into the theatre in the first place. Art, like Blind Justice, uses story to reach deeper truths, truths that can rarely be captured in words. It’s the paradox of art and truth is always found there.

No story has a single point of view. No truth is singular – that is the hallmark of the truly important challenges that every society faces. It is why successful governments tell their story with truth as their intention. It is why successful relationships sail through stormy seas. The intention is pure. The desire to stand in the shoes of the other-side-of-the-story is genuine and necessary in order for the relationship, the community, the country to thrive.

Capulet is not a bad man. He has good intention. The play ends when he becomes capable of standing in and considering the other side of the story. Hope and equity is the promise rising from the pain.

Iago, on the other hand, is a wholly different story. His play ends in a cage with a nasty celebration of the pain, death and havoc he’s wreaked, gloating about his capacity to snare others in his big lie. All are made fools.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

Make Noise [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am conflicted. I wrote a version of this post and then tossed it away. I’m trying to be less argumentative in my daily writing. And then, Toni Morrison collided with Albert Einstein:

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent… This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” ~ Toni Morrison, No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear

I am an artist. Is it argumentative, is it confrontational, to write what I see? Yes. Sometimes. Once, I saw a park service truck, on a trail, quickly backing up. The driver did not see the man in the wheelchair right behind his truck. I screamed and ran and banged on the side of truck until the driver stopped, a few inches from hitting the man in the wheelchair. Sometimes it is necessary to shout and make noise.

All of my life I’ve understood the first rule of being educated, namely, to check your sources, as simple sage advice. It’s a good idea, if you are going to anchor your identity in a narrative, to make sure that your narrative-of-choice is solidly anchored in verifiable substance. Doubt and questioning, used properly, are necessary tools of an engaged mind.

Years ago, Robert Cialdini wrote, “The world abounds with cults populated by dependent people who are led by a charismatic figure.” In other words, people are easily led and – as we have recently witnessed – with disastrous results. All that people ever need do to avoid a nasty drink of purple Kool-Aid is to check their sources. In our day and age it is almost easier to check the veracity of the story-we-are-being-fed than it is to be misled. Almost. One must first desire to be fed the truth, even if the truth challenges rabidly-held belief.

Checking takes less than a minute.

Just ask the now-jailed-and-soon-to-be-tried capitol insurrectionists claiming that they were led astray by a flimflam-president-man. The Big Lie was easy to check. It remains easy to check. Yet, none cared to check it or perhaps refused to believe what they found. Checking the lie, listening to the data, would undermine the tightly held power-narrative of an entire political party. A pathological lies requires more and more effort, more and more outrageous lies, to sustain itself. It should have been easier to check the story than it was to storm the capitol.

Now I see the first rule of being educated, the necessity of checking sources to verify fact, as a dire necessity. It is the flashing red warning signal to these de-united-united-states that there is a cliff ahead. It is no longer a sweet bit of sage advice; it is a survival imperative. Respect for the line – truth or fiction – will determine whether we as a nation unite and grow or divide and collapse.

Many years ago, Robert Cialdini also wrote,“Audiences have been successfully manipulated by those who use social evidence, even when that evidence has been openly falsified.” Openly falsified. He wrote those words decades before tweets, Fox News, and the mega-amplification of all the openly falsified big lies. His words might now serve as the sad single credo of the Republican party.

It is not shocking that a political party lies. It is most shocking how little the followers of the party care to check the sources of the enraged hype it daily swallows like so much anger-candy. Dependent people. Easily led. Believe wholeheartedly. Ever expanding lie. No facts necessary. It is far beyond Einstein’s observation of people doing nothing in the face of evil; our nation is in peril because the evil we face is an openly falsified narrative. So many of our people, so many of our leaders, know it is a lie, feed the division, and actively look the other way.

read Kerri’s blog post about DOING NOTHING

Pay Attention [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I read this morning in my brainpickings, “We have to try and cure our faults by attention and not by will.” Simone Weil.

Kerri and I walk almost everyday. We head for our known, usual trails, and only occasionally go in search of something new. Even though we walk a well-known path, it never fails to seem entirely new. Kerri attends to the details, taking photographs of unusual pine cones, a downy feather on a limb, the sun streaming through the trees. She pays attention. My awareness is more global, the movement of forest, the orchestra and dance of trees and wind. I pay attention.

Our walks bring us perspective when all else seems dark and disorderly. Our walks refill our well of hope when our circumstance seems bleak. Mostly, our walks “cure our faults,” they bring us into a present moment where all of life’s judgments and fears fall away as the illusions that they are. Our walks, if only for a few hours, wipe clean our canvas and return us to a childlike curiosity.

Sometimes, after a snowfall, we arrive at our trail and it is untouched. It never fails that we stand at the trailhead and marvel at the unblemished snow. Sometimes we hold hands and jump in with both feet and laugh. Sometimes we step carefully, quietly. Reverently. Either way, it seems a special gift. First steps are to be noted. Last steps are to be noted.

This morning I read an article about How Aging Shapes Narrative Identity. How the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves changes as we age. Our investments change. We become less interested in pursuits and achievements, in willful purpose. We become more interested in appreciation of our precious, limited moments. And, so, we begin to tell a different story. New snow on an old path.

The article was timely. Kerri and I lay awake most of the night. Among other things we pondered my dad’s dementia, the stories that he weaves and realities he inhabits. He is obsessed with going home.

Deep in the night, we talked about the stories that we currently weave together as we grow older. It seems that this time in our lives is a blank canvas, a path of new and untouched snow. Standing at the trailhead of our next chapter, no steps to follow or map, neither of us has any desire to reinvent or become different than what we are. Certainly, the circumstances of our lives are changing, but more and more we merely want to pay attention. To hold hands and jump into the unbroken snow. To laugh. To note the downy feather in the tree. The wind song, the deer that surprise us, leaping through tall grasses. “Did you see them?” I whisper. Kerri nods and smiles. Reverence. Nothing in the world, at that moment, is more important.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNBROKEN SNOW

Feed The Purpose [on DR Thursday]

helping hands

The ends of canvas roles. What to do with the odd strip, the random slice of remains? The left-overs-pieces. I dedicate them to my “narrative” series.

These odd little canvases were originally meant to be rough drafts. Idea-captures for the future. I imagine these paintings to be huge. They are – or have become – the paintings I will do someday. Someday.

The very first canvas was enormous. 11 feet long, maybe 4 feet wide. I have no notes. I sold it before I recorded the dimensions or took a proper photograph. I had an old oblong piece of canvas and some animator’s cell paint. I stapled the canvas to my deck in Los Angeles. I taped house-painter’s brushes to long sticks. I loved what I painted. It was free. An experiment. It became a spot on the horizon. I am walking toward it still.

Helping Hands. There have been plenty of those over my life. There are many of those now.

A few weeks ago, Norm told me about the creation of his “purpose statement.” It was a new and surprising process for him. Almost twenty years ago, Alan wrote a book about creating these statements for people. Through ancient principles, Hermetic Laws, helping people articulate/discover/uncover their “purpose.”

I smiled at Norm’s description and his personal discovery. I remember.

These days I stand solidly in the paradoxical/hypocritical opinion that no human being is simple enough to service a singular purpose. AND, every human being is singular enough to service only one simple purpose: help others. That’s it. Feed other minds. Feed other bodies. Feed other souls. It will feed your own.

Too much solar. Not enough lunar. Too many straight lines. Not enough circles. Too much surface. Not enough soul.

That’s the narrative behind Helping Hands. I opened a box in search of the only photograph I have of that first huge narrative painting. I found it buried beneath yellowing photographs of Tom, and Arnie, and Jim, and Judy, and David, and Bob, and Kathy, and Carol, and Bruce, and Roger, and Doug, and Mike, and…Helping hands all. How could I walk in anything shy of gratitude?

read Kerri’s blog post about HELPING HANDS

helping hands ©️ 2014 david robinson

Turn Around And Look [on Merely A Thought Monday]

A few years ago, while swimming in the world of entrepreneurs, I wrote a short book entitled The Seer. It was in many ways a process summary of the work of my life to that point. All of my work – whether in the visual arts, the theatre, diversity and intercultural facilitation, systems change, teaching…driving a bread truck, shoveling dirt…all of it, has in one way or another orbited the moon we call ‘story.’ Occasionally, I pull my little book from the shelf and read what I once knew because it seems more relevant now than when I wrote it.

For instance, the white house recently pulled the plug on all diversity training in government agencies. The reason is simple and explicitly stated: they do not like the story it tells of these-once-united-states. The story, they claim, is “anti-American.”

I structured my book around 9 Recognitions. The first is this: You do not have a problem. You have a pattern. We don’t have a problem. We have a pattern.

Our pattern, generation after generation, is the lengths we will go, the violence we will suffer, to ensure that we exclude a significant part of our story from the national telling. It is untenable to maintain a nation-story built on the ideal of equality that began with, among other things, the institution of slavery and the annihilation of native peoples. To avoid the full story guarantees a schizophrenic national persona. It perpetuates division. Ours is a pattern of adamant story avoidance.

The story works well for the white aristocracy that created it. It’s an exercise in celebrating Doctor Jekyll while denying the existence of Mr. Hyde. Those good guy settlers had to eliminate those pesky “Indians” because they stood in the way of a destiny that was manifest. What is the story as told from the Native American point of view? Or from the point of view of the black American that, to this day, everyday, navigates institutions designed to repress them? They have lived this history – this story of slavery, Jim Crow, and new forms of institutional violence. They are located in the story as the obstacle or the bad guy. The less-than-human.

Diversity training is nothing more than an attempt to tell the full story from all points of view. It is only made necessary because we have a deeply ingrained pattern of either dismissing the full story or pretending that our inequality is in the past.

We cannot become whole until we look in the mirror and reflect on the full picture. It is as ruthless as it is hopeful. It is as dark as it is bright. The path to health for any individual is to first admit that they have a dis-ease. The same is true of a nation.

In the recent actions of the white house, the response to the BLM movement, we are witnessing the latest in our pattern to severely edit our story made the more violent because diversity is percolating its way into the halls of power.

The slogans “Keep America Great” and “Make America Great” only make sense or have appeal to those committed to the Jekyll part of the story. They are the pattern. They are a rally cry to those who feel that in real equality they have something to lose. It’s an “all hands on deck” siren that will tolerate all manner of violence, ugly rhetoric, shaming, dereliction of duty, undermining of judicial integrity to avoid admitting the full story entrance into the American narrative.

The good news is that it is possible, once the full story is realized and the pattern is seen and told, to change the story. The tension is, after all, between conserving what was and progressing toward the ideal.

America may one day become great.

First, we must tire of our schizophrenia, our commitment to division and a system that works for the few. Doctor Jekyll must turn and take a good honest look at Mr. Hyde and stop pretending that the horror that follows him isn’t really there.

read Kerri’s blog post about GRRRREAT!