Why Ask Why [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A rare warm day, walking the Des Plains River trail. I should have been startled when Kerri suddenly jumped off the trail but I’ve grown accustomed to her spring-loaded-photo-impulsive-gambols. I actually love the passion of her image capturing so I’ve learned not to be surprised when she leaps and snaps. There is no danger. There is a photo opp.

“SEE!” she exclaimed, showing me the photo. “Even nature is asking ‘Why?'”

My first thought: Which “why” is nature asking? Why a pandemic?  Why so much division?

Simon Sinek has made a career of teaching people to ask “Why?” before asking “How?” It makes sense: you should probably know why you want to scale the mountain before asking, “How will I do it?” People need an answer to “why.” And, because we are human, the answer to “why” need not be reasonable or rational. “Because it is there,” is an acceptable answer to “why?” I want to. I need to know. I want to feel. I need to see what is there.

“How?” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. “How” is known through reflection. There is the plan. There is the reality that comes when the plan meets the unknown forces. The plan changes. The only honest answer to “how” is: do what makes sense and we’ll talk about it later.

Amidst a pandemic, it is only human to throw up our arms to the sky and demand an answer to our “Why?”  To borrow a lyric from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: “I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I know, darling,  that you do.” In other words, viruses are intention-free. Sometimes, even though we want an explanation, there is no “why.”

There is, however, always a plan, there is a path to “How?”  How do we protect ourselves? How do we deal with it? In fact, there are layers to the question “how?” The first layer of ‘how’ is simple: social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands. Looking back from this vantage point, we know it is the best we can do short of a vaccine. Simple science.

The second layer of the how-cake is more complex and, like all ‘how’ questions, we will only be able to talk about at some point down the broken road. Maybe a vaccine. Maybe herd immunity. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe we will be foolish, like the Philadelphia parade during the Spanish flu and escalate the death toll to the point that we wake up and listen to the first ‘how?’

The virus is a force like a tornado is a force. Why did it take my neighbor’s house and not mine? Why did the forest fire rage through this neighborhood and not that neighborhood?

Here’s the only “why” question we really need to consider: in the face of this virus-forest-fire, why did we rush out to light matches (pack into bars and onto beaches), parade around screaming about our individual rights instead of metaphorically rushing into the fire to save our neighbors in the only way we knew how (social distance, masks) –  as we would have done in an inferno?

I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I do believe in intentional human beings (conscious and otherwise).

Nature need not ask “why?” We do. It’s a sure bet that our answer will make little or no sense at all.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHY

 

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Coalesce [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Sometimes, when we are walking through the woods, I imagine myself with none of the labels that I claim as important. What if “artist” did not apply? Or “teacher.” What if none of my opinions or ideas or justifications had any merit or substance? What if they were bits of armor or heavy clothing that I could drop as I walked? So much lighter, less encumbered, who, then, would I be? Divested of my made-up-meaning and my hard-fought-for stress, what might I experience?

These imaginings, my questions – at least to me – are not nihilistic. They are the opposite. When I am walking in the woods and all the clutter and noise and the oh-so-important-to-do-list falls away, when all of my investments in my-very-important-ideas and my-resistances-to-immovable-objects drops off, when my frustrations and anxieties evaporate, I come back to my senses. Literally and metaphorically. The cold air. The limbs waving and groaning in the breeze. The quiet chatter of the brook that ambles through Bristol Wood. I become the moment I inhabit. I inhabit the moment of my becoming. That’s it. My “meaning” takes on a proper proportion, no greater or smaller than life itself.

Listening to the brook, the sound of our feet crunching the snow, I remember something John O’Donohue wrote. “The river is a miracle of presence. Each place it flows through is the place that it is…In a river, past, present, and future coalesce in the one passionate flowing.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WOODS

 

 

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Check Your Reality [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We parked the truck in the Kemper Center lot, far enough from the shore not to be hit by the flying debris, the chunks of seawall and pavement being hurtled from the impact of the waves. Kerri has lived here for over 30 years, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she repeated as a towering wave engulfed the gazebo, took down a piece of the wall of the art center, a hunk of coastline disappeared.

Later, after the storm, we went back. Trees were down, encased in ice. Huge sections of the walking path were shattered and tossed into the flooded mess of the parking lot behind the center. Walking was treacherous. Like the trees, the ground, the rocks, the destruction was coated in a thick layer of ice. It was beautiful and inconceivable.

Words mask all manner of reality. We have a word, nature, that can’t even begin to touch the magnitude, the power of where it points. Mother Nature. I have been thrown out of bed in an earthquake that brought down freeways like they were so much satin ribbon. Go to Pompeii or Herculeneum, visit Mt. Saint Helens, watch with disbelief any of the news  footage of any one of the tsunamis that have wiped communities off the map. Wrap your mind around it, if you can.

We are cavalier in our conversations about global warming. We impact, we do not command. We reduce it to questions of business, of protecting the beef industry. Which economy will suffer most? We make up these strangely insignificant divisions. We imagine that we are the center, holding all the controls. We imagine that it is all about us. So small, a chihuahua yipping at a forest fire.

Sitting in the truck, feeling the boom of the waves in my chest as they tore off chunks of the shore, I felt tiny. I remembered a snippet of film I saw about a man who wore a superhero suit and stood in the face of an oncoming storm. He flexed and stomped and raged for the camera. And then the storm hit. The best he could do was run for his life.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about THE STORM

 

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ice ©️ 2020 kerri sherwood

for prints of “ice” go here

 

Make A Curvy Road [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The approach to the ferry at Northport is made intentionally curvy. It was designed to slow people down.

The intentional slow down is not like a speed bump or round-a-bout. It is not a mechanism to slow traffic before entering the ferry zone. It is meant to help folks to mindfulness. The place is beautiful. In a world dedicated to rushing through to the next thing, at a place on earth where the ferry will not wait for you, a winding road just might help a dedicated-race-to-the-next-thing-mind to recognize that this-moment-might-be-just-as-valuable-as-the-next. Experience it. Be in it.

It is a good design. In the many times this year that we’ve taken the winding road, it never fails that we see multiple cars stopped. People get out. They look. They take pictures. They point and talk and laugh. They stand in silence and breathe it in. It is performance art at its finest.

We slow down, too. Each time, the race to reach the ferry evaporates from our mind. We see. Kerri stops the car, “I have to get a picture of this!” she says. I appreciate her appreciation; there are layers to good design. Each time we greet the winding road I wonder what our world would be like if our design intention was to slow down rather than race through. Rather than divert our attention, what if, like great art, the purpose was to bring us into the vast expanse of this moment?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the WINDING ROAD

 

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Open To It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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I stood gobsmacked on the deck. The horizon, the straight line bank of clouds. It was a piece of contemporary art worthy of Richard Diebenkorn or Ellsworth Kelly. A study in grays and greens and purples. Monumental.

Sometimes I forget that the very best art can only approximate what already exists in nature.  Try to capture the totality of a sunset. We simply can’t do it. We can approach the feeling but our scope will always be smaller, less dimensional. Our work is to see it – to see beyond the thought of it. To dance with it. To be vulnerable to it. To share the dance.

Last night we saw author/musician Michael Perry on stage. He closed his performance with thoughts about gratitude. He told his audience that, as an artist, he is vulnerable every time that he takes the stage or publishes a book. Opening himself to the thoughts and judgements of others is not an easy thing to do. It is, however, a necessity for an artist. But, here’s the gift: vulnerability becomes gratitude. If you are never vulnerable, living in a fortress, you will never arrive at gratitude. Gratitude is forged from the fire of vulnerability.

Openness begets openness. There is a full spectrum of color, an embarrassment of riches that vibrates between vulnerability and gratitude. Grays and greens and purples. Stand on the deck and open to it. Stand on the stage and open to it. Stand with your neighbor and open to it. The best of contemporary art. Monumental.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GRAY

 

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Balance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Each day we sit on the deck and watch the personality of the lake change. We are witness to the power of the elements at play. Wind drives wave. Wave evaporates and moves wind. Lighting hits earth. Rain feeds the plants. Too much rain, too much wind, too much fire, devastates.

Balancing the elements. It is the central thought in many traditions. The cardinal directions are associated with a color and an element. North, south, east, west. Air, fire, water, earth. People need associations in order to talk about things. In order to know where they fit.

The colors differ from tradition to tradition. Sometimes black, white, red, and yellow. Sometimes blue, green, yellow, red. Sometimes there is a fifth element. There is always a center. When there is the understanding of center point there is also an acknowledgment that separations, experiences like north, south, east and west, are illusions.

Balance is a radically different intention than dominance. Taming-your-nature is not the same as balancing-your-nature. In the tame-your-nature idea, nature, your nature, is corrupt and needs to be controlled. In the balance-your-nature idea, your nature is neither good nor bad, it is a dance of energy, a push-pull of wind and fire, air and earth. In the balance-your-nature idea, there is no such thing as “wild.” because there is no intention to “tame.”

As you might imagine, the artist that explores the tame-your-nature mindset understands their artistry much differently than the artist that explores balance. I was born into and oriented toward the culture of tame-your-nature and so I divine through brush and story the push-pull between goodness and badness. Combat, combat everywhere. Right/wrong. Us/Them. Good enough/lacking.

I desire to see through the other lens. I suspect this desire is the epicenter, the driver behind my paintings. To understand the world I inhabit as energies at play, to know beyond an intellectual understanding that the distinctions don’t really exist; wind is not separate from water, earth is not separate from fire, people are not separate from planet. Illusion. Our division is a play of shadow puppets at best.

I think it is why we hang prayer flags at our littleislandhouse and at our home. Surrounded by combat, we are drawn by the desire to balance, we are enticed by the possibility of harmony.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

 

 

 

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island prayer flags photograph ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

Wait And Know [on DR Thursday]

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Flying above the island in his tiny airplane, Bruce told me about the natural water level cycles in Lake Michigan. They are extreme and run on a more-or-less 27 year rotation. “Everything in nature balances,” he said. “It’s what nature does.”

Balance. This painting, Knowing and Waiting, is about nature, human nature, and just like everything else in nature, we too, have an innate propensity to sort to the balance point. And, often, finding balance takes time.

The words are derived from Carlos Castaneda: you must wait patiently, knowing that you’re waiting, and knowing what you’re waiting for.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KNOWING AND WAITING

 

 

Yoga-Waiting and Knowing sharpened copy 2

knowing and waiting, mixed media, 48 x 48

 

 

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waiting and knowing ©️ 2015 david robinson

 

 

Open Your Mind [on DR Thursday]

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Peace on Earth is a nice seasonal phrase but I’m willing to bet that most folks think it is pie-in-the-sky. A utopian ideal. So, pondering what to write about Peace on Earth, I flipped open a book and the first phrase I saw was this: An Open Mind.

Horatio is wise. He once told me that in these United States we are divided because we have competing narratives. Narrative #1: Every man for himself. Narrative #2: I am my brothers’ keeper. I think he is right. Generally, you can toss every national debate into one of those buckets. This morning, for my Peace on Earth rumination, I’d redefine those two narratives this way #1: Closed Mind (every man for himself) or #2: Open Mind (I am my brother’s keeper).

The ‘every man for himself’ narrative is predicated on the notion that there is limited pie in this vast universe. The goal is to grab a big piece of the limited pie. It’s necessarily a fight because there’s not nearly enough pie to go around. It’s fear-based and fear closes minds. Every year people get trampled in the national-celebration-of-limited-pie known as Black Friday. Get yours. It’s true, through this dark lens Peace on Earth is nothing more than pie-in-the-sky.

The inverse narrative, ‘I am my brothers’ (and sisters’!) keeper’ is predicated on the notion that there is plenty of pie to go around. In fact, the goal is not to grab but to create and then to give. Not only to share our toys and our gifts but to cultivate the base layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy for everyone: security & safety. Communal self-actualization follows the same path as personal self-actualization. Morality, respect, and generosity are the blossoms of feeling secure. So is an Open Mind. Peace on Earth, through this lens, is like more pie in the oven.

The ‘every man for himself’ story is a great recipe for closing minds. With fear and studied ignorance at its center, this narrative begs us to ignore a simple truth: no one does this alone. We are, in fact, dependent upon each other for our survival, our identity and our esteem. In isolation, a human being cannot thrive. Withhold interaction and love an infant will not survive.

I have a theory (okay, a belief) that the ‘I am my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper’ narrative is the truth of us. When the chips are down, when another person in peril, firefighters run into the building, they don’t run away. Everyday people leap in harm’s way to save the life of another. It is their instinct. It is our nature.

Like everything, believe it or not, what we embrace is a choice. Narratives are powerful.

An Open Mind is a door into Peace on Earth. It’s possible there’s more pie in this vast universe, this abundant earth, than a closed mind wants you to see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE ON EARTH

 

peace on earth products copy 2click the link and scroll down to find all of the available designs & products

 

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peace on earth design/products ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Sit In It And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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When the world seems upside down – as it does often these days – we retreat to one of our favorite sanctuaries, a place of quiet where we can walk for an hour or so beyond the noise and division of the day. Our beloved Bristol Woods.

A few weeks ago, we retreated to the woods and came upon two curiosities. First, something that looked like a large wooden dunce cap, like some bratty giant was made to sit in the corner for disrupting class and, after his punishment, tossed his cap into the woods. We climbed in it and wriggled through it. We sat in it and absorbed the autumn sun. Napping in the dunce cap, we made up outlandish stories about what it could possibly be and how it came to be in our woods. If not a dunce cap then certainly it was a megaphone of epic proportions!

And, it turns out that we were right. The naturalist told us at the nature center it is a nature megaphone. Sit in it and it amplifies the forest sounds: leaves rustling, squirrels scampering, trees swaying, branches clicking, chipmunks darting. Disgruntled, the naturalist said, “They moved it so it points toward the highway and now it mostly amplifies the road noise. There couldn’t be a worse spot for it!”

Curiosity #2. Why would they move the megaphone to the worst spot? To a place where it amplifies road noise instead of the sounds of nature as intended?

Pocking our route through the woods we saw trees marked with red tape. Red and green flags were planted in a line cutting across the woods. Occasionally, trees were marked with ‘caution’ tape. “I think they’re going to tear down the woods,” Kerri sighed. Not possible, I thought. It’s land set aside for sanctuary. It’s written into their slogan: ‘Putting People In Touch With Nature.’

But, it turns out that Kerri was right. An aerial adventure park is coming soon. “The board says it will bring more people -what the means is more revenue – to the woods,” says the naturalist, her face turning red.”Does it make any sense to tear down the woods to bring more people to the woods?” she asks. “It has nothing to do with the woods. Do they think we’re idiots? It’s all about the money.”

And, it turns out I was right, too. Well, I was partially right. A bratty giant is disrupting the classroom but instead of being made to sit in the corner and consider the ramifications of his actions, he is quite simply removing the classroom. No self-reflection  required. He will eliminate Bristol’s reason for being. Horatio jumped into my mind with a simple and sad statement, “It’s all upside down,” he said. “If it doesn’t make money, we don’t value it.”

I didn’t say it. Wittingly or unwittingly, the megaphone is now a metaphor. It is in the perfect place to amplify what is now most valuable in our very upside-down world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BRISTOL WOODS

 

 

 

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Find Love Everywhere [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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In a former life I had an office and on the wall of the office was a poster with the English alphabet as found on butterfly wings. Sometimes I think our only real purpose on this earth is to appreciate the utter beauty of it all. We do a shoddy job of it mostly but everyone has their moments of recognition. A sunset. A mountain top. The color of a cardinal. I loved my poster and put it on the wall to remind me that nature is infinitely more beautiful, expansive and powerful than I can contain. My job is to open my eyes. To see. When I needed a reminder of natural order in the midst of my square-taupe-office-with-grey-metal-desk, I’d look at those glorious wings.

if you'd like to see TWO ARTISTS copyKerri and I walk almost every day. We find peace in walking and have favorite trails, some for the morning walks and some for the end of the day. When we travel to new places, we always find and explore the trails. We have been known to walk late at night. We have ventured into the silence of a midnight snow. On our walks, Kerri is famous for finding treasures. My job is to tote them home. Most of the treasures are hearts. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart shaped knots, or, like this treasure, the heart found in an acorn. Our house is filled with heart-treasure.  Each, like the wings, is a reminder to open my eyes and see the wonder, the love of it all.

read Kerri’s blog post on FIND LOVE EVERYWHERE

www.kerrianddavid.com

find love everywhere ©️ 2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson