Listen To The Sound Of The Wind [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.” ~Frederick Douglas

I began cleaning out old files, something to fill the time. I knew the job had come to an end but the formal announcement had yet to come. The file of voice recordings I made with Tom surprised me. I wondered why I’d stashed it in folder that had nothing to do with The Lost Boy project. I opened one of the recordings and spent a few minutes with Tom. His deep bass voice telling a story of hardship and perseverance. “His daughter’s carried his body out onto the flood plain,” he said, “where they could find softer soil to dig a grave.”

It threw me into a memory with Columbus. Sitting at the table out back, the evening was coming on and he was having a lucid moment in his path through dementia. I asked him what happened in his life that he shifted jobs and started working in construction. A tale of hardship and perseverance. Impossible circumstances. Stable ground was fleeting. A neighbor offered him a job that seemed ridiculous at the time. He took it. A strange unknown land. He loved it. He thrived through adversity. Just before disappearing back into the muddy waters of dementia he whispered, “That man taught me how to be a man among men.”

Today we sit in uncertainty. Life review. “Why does our path have to be so hard?’ she asked in the aftermath of the announcement. “Why can’t we have just a little bit of stable ground?” We are carved in hardwood. We are a study of perseverance. “We’ll find a way,” my only reply.

I stood with Tom in the cemetery. He wanted to show me a grave that he’d shown me several times before. In his dementia, he couldn’t remember so we returned again and again. Frankie, another lost boy in a story of lost boys. This time was different. I knew it would be our last trip. I took him to the grave. I told him the story of his ancestor Frankie.

As I finished the telling, a farmer, a big man, came into the yard, ham-sized-hands clutching a tiny bundle of store bought flowers. He didn’t know we were there or didn’t care. He kneeled at a fresh grave. He wailed his grief. Tom heard the sound of the man’s sobs and stood still, listening. Finally, glancing at me, his voice quiet with awe, he said, “Listen to the sound of the wind.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about YOU’LL MAKE IT

Let Go And Fly [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

“Learning and unlearning can only take place in the context of decision making.” ~ Russ Ackoff, On Learning and Systems That Facilitate It

I was reading this phrase in the article when Kerri showed me the Smack-Dab cartoon for this week. Uncanny. The decision to change. Unlearning who you think you are in order to learn who you might become.

There’s a lot of unlearning going on in our house.

Here’s a secret about maps: you can only draw them after the fact. “Knowing how” comes second, after “not knowing how.”

Unlearning, facing the unknown, it’s not linear or easily traced. It’s a tug-a-war between the safety of what you know and the absolute necessity of getting lost.

There’s a photograph I often think about: my uncle Al, in the last months of his life, dying from cancer, fulfilled a dream to fly on the high trapeze. In the photo, he’s released the first swing, sailing through the air, reaching for but not quite touching the second swing. The look on his face, eyes wide open, full delight, utter freedom. Elated. Fully alive in the space between.

There’s a lot of that going on in our house, too. The decision to let go and fly.

read Kerri’s blogpost about MAPS

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

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

See The Adventure [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Let the adventure begin. We put the sign on the table when we moved into the little house on Washington Island. Our new job came with housing and we couldn’t have been more fortunate. Even as the job turned into a debacle, the little house grew in our hearts. It was – and is – a very special place. A few years down the road, we never give thought-space to the work-fiasco. We reminisce about the beautiful place we lived, the good people we met, starry nights, mornings in the canoe, the deer, the power of the lake right outside our door.

A few moments ago I was feeling anxious and was complaining – and realized that I have no business complaining about anything. I stopped myself. Adventures are hard. That’s what makes the experience an adventure. When people lack challenges, they create them. Jigsaw puzzles and computer games. I complain when standing on the threshold of learning something new. My complaining – as I realized a few moments ago – runs amok when I don’t know what to do. It marks the line between the fat-comfort of knowing and the utter-discomfort of not-knowing. Complaining provides cover. I expose my obvious not-knowing; I preempt the shame-strike by complaining. The moment I disallowed complaining, I once again saw the adventure. My anxiety dissipated. The adventure is a jigsaw puzzle all akimbo in the box. I’ll figure it out one piece at a time. Or not. The end result is not nearly as important as the spirit in which I bring to the task. To the moment. To my life.

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi studied, thought, and wrote extensively about flow. The optimal state of being. I’ve often wished I could invite Mihaly and Alan Watts to dinner and listen to their conversation. The psychologist and the Taoist conversing about flow, that magic space that opens when the path is hard, but not too hard, when boredom is no where in sight. The exercise, when either bored or overwhelmed, is to adjust my orientation to the challenge. Amp it up or slow it down. The zone is self-modulated, rarely an accident, which becomes apparent once the complaining stops. The knowledge that I can place myself in the zone is the spirit I hope to bring to every task for the rest of my days. It’s the practice. It is to see and choose the adventure.

Let the adventure begin. The sign now sits on our table in the sunroom where we meet at the end of each day and tell the stories of our day. While I tell my tale, I see the adventure sign, mostly in reflection, the message reversed. Each day an adventure if I choose to see it. Each day an opportunity for flow if I choose to own and modulate my steps, and place myself in flow.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ADVENTURE

Get Lost [on DR Thursday]

We delight in taking Sunday drives. Sometimes we have a destination but most of the time we have no idea where we are going. We head “out into the county,” the farm land, and with great intention, we get lost. “Left or right?” Kerri asks when we come to a crossroads. “Left.”

The goal is to “not know.” Drive down roads we’ve never experienced. There is a direct correlation between “not knowing” and “clear seeing.” When lost, we open our eyes. It’s something that every artist understands, “always-knowing-where-you’re-going” is a killer of the magic. It is the dividing line between art and craft.

I’m currently working with a team of analytical minds. “Lostness” is often interpreted as failure. It’s not welcome. But, to my great delight, even in the most analytic of creative processes, the engineers and entrepreneurs, shaking their fists at the sky when adrift, find their greatest magic arrives only after time spent wandering the wilderness.

After many twists and turns, rolling country roads and, “Which direction are we headed?”, we pop out of lostness and know exactly where we are. “Hey!” we laugh, “How did we get here?”

The art of getting lost. The art of exploration. The art of having an experience without a predetermined outcome. The art of having an outcome and letting it go, making space for something better. It is the art of cultivating surprise, allowing for the bigger idea to come through. “Left or right?”

It’s a practice. Learning-to-see and letting-go-of-needing “to know.” It’s the same thing. And, a great way to practice, is taking a nice Sunday drive.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ROAD

pax © 2015 david robinson

Borrow A Cup Of Belief [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The sun is streaming through the windows. It is an immediate spirit lift. We sip coffee and our conversation wanders in no particular direction.

We inevitably discuss of the absence of normal, our rolling wave of disruption. “I wonder what will happen this week?” We laugh, “Knock on wood!” For a moment we sit in silence. We’ve stopped asking, “What else can happen?” We keep the question to ourselves. We’ve grown superstitious.

For us, this pandemic time will always be known as the era of disruption. All recognizable patterns are shattered. New patterns have yet to find a foothold. Each day a tumbling unknown.

I often write about “not knowing.” It is the land where learning becomes possible. The first caveat: Have the experience first and make meaning second. The second caveat: Suspend your judgements and learn. Both are rooted in the intentional suspension of knowing. Open to life.

We are definitely having experiences. We are careful not to arrive too soon at meaning.

Yesterday I read that, when life tosses us the uncontrollable, we default to imaginary controls. We do the dishes, we vacuum the rug, rather than face what is out of our control. There is great comfort in the imaginary.

Sometimes belief in yourself is hard to come by. “Knowing” that you can do it. “Knowing” that you can stand firmly in the “not knowing” is never a given. Especially in times of continuous disruption. It is only after the fact that you “know” with certainty that you can do it. “One step at a time,” we chant.

It is, in these times of disruption, that we borrow belief from each other. You tell me that I can do it. I tell you that you’ve got this. Others “know” what we do not. They see our fortitude. We see theirs. It is why human beings are a herd animal; we come to know ourselves through the eyes of the other. We go next door to borrow a cup of belief.

Beaky’s note now sits on Kerri’s bed stand. A treasure newly found in a long forgotten purse. One of our imaginary controls, cleaning out the closets, produced this gem. Beaky, no stranger to disruption, reaches across time and the threshold to offer timely encouragement, “I know you can do it.”

“Momma says we got this,” Kerri says. If I’ve learned anything, it’s to never argue with Beaky.

read Kerri’s blog post about KNOWING

KS Friday

a musical t.g.i.f. lift from studio melange!

jacketrightnowjpeg copyI’m beginning to believe that high atop the list of human fears-that-lead-to-foibles is the fear of ambiguity (I seem to be writing a lot lately about ambiguity). We want our world to be clear cut, black and white. We want the line between right and wrong to be definitive across all circumstances. We want a ‘normal’ that is one-size-fits-all. We want our word and our book and our laws and our rules and our values and our virtues and our morals to be simple and straightforward and, most important, to be defined by how I define them, not how YOU define them. We want to know what to do. We want to know where we are going. We want to know why we are here. What. Where. Why. Quinn used to call these the BIG three.

We hardly ever know what to do. We choose a path based on what we know at the moment. Choices that are based on ideals, imaginings and sometimes a gut feeling. And, where are we going? Where are you going? Do you know with certainty where this day will take you? Can you possibly know why you are here? What if there is not merely one purpose or one reason? What if that “knowledge” is something you can only see clearly when looking back on your life?

Ambiguity makes space for grace to enter. ‘Not knowing’ is the path that leads to all growth and discovery. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people because no one is all good or all bad. Isn’t it often true that the things that seemed like obstacles in our lives one day down the road began to appear as great blessings?

It’s probably comfortable to think that this messy life is only black and white. But a comfortable thought is all it is. On this melange KS Friday, take a moment and step into the ambiguity known as music. Let Kerri’s gorgeous piece, It’s Not Black & White, buoy you on a river of grace to the space between rules and lists, the subtle-spirited place where life is lived & experienced and quite simply refuses to be boxed in the fear of artificial certainty.

IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE from the album RIGHT NOW (track 11) itunes

IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE from RIGHT NOW (track 4) on CDBaby

PURCHASE THE PHYSICAL CD. RIGHT NOW

read Kerri’s thoughts about IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE

 

NEW! KS DESIGNS

life: it’s not black and white [merchandise]

it's not black and white LEGGINGS copy 2

it's not b:w framed art copy

it's not b:w metal travel mug copy

melange button jpeg copy

kerrianddavid.com

IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE from RIGHT NOW ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

 

Be A Nart

My latest: A Day At The Beach

John inadvertently coined my favorite word of the week. We were sipping wine, watching the fire burn in the chiminea, and he was telling us about a recent trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum. It was his first visit and he was thrilled by it. In a moment of brilliant thought collision, he said, “I’m a Nart.” His eyebrows knit and eyes crossed at the force of the collision. “What I meant to say,” he said, shaking his head, “is that I am not very well versed in the arts.” We laughed heartily. A new word was born.

Nart (noun) – a person not well versed in the arts.

When people talk with me and Kerri about their encounters with the arts they often include a disclaimer as if we are, as artists, universal experts (and critics) of all artistic experiences. I told John that, even as an artist, I feel that I, too, am a Nart. I’ve studied it, experienced it, practiced it, rejected it, claimed it, been lost in it, found in it, baffled by it, thrilled by it, transported, disappointed, confused, bored, energized, fed and starved by it. The longer I do it, the deeper into it I walk, the less I am able to put my arms around it.

It is impossible to contain. It is impossible to plumb the depths of it.

In my younger years I was intimidated by this vastness. I thought my job was to grasp it. It was – and is – a calling and I felt inadequate to the call. Now, I understand that my job is not to grasp or contain or to know. My job is to experience it. And, to relate what I experience. I will never be able to express all that is living within me. I will never have enough life to find its (my) edges.

Art is intimate and public, deeply person and intrinsically communal. It can heal or destroy. I have never been more lonely than when standing empty in front of a canvas. I have never been more fulfilled that standing before a finished canvas wondering where the past few days went.

Roger once told me that, where the arts are concerned, there are levels of sophistication. Shakespeare, like fine wine, is not immediately accessible. It takes time for black-and-white thinkers to develop a socket for metaphor to plug into. Art, after all, is not a thing. It is a relationship. The more time you give it, the more experiences you have with it, the more rich and complex it becomes. It opens. You open. If you are lucky, it is a yoga (a practice) that is necessarily personal in a never ending pursuit of greater range and flexibility.

Greater range and flexibility can only be found when you are a Nart. Relationships are made vital in not-knowing. Those who think they know have stopped seeking. They have stopped relating. To believe you know, is to stagnate.

Although I didn’t say it, it would have made John re-knit his brow, but he is lucky to be a Nart. I hope that will always be so.

Attempt What Is Not Certain

Revelry

A painting from the archives. This one goes way back…

“Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.” Richard Diebenkorn, Notes To Myself On Beginning A Painting

Yesterday we went to Linda and Jim’s house to do some Irish dancing. They are terrific and dedicated dancers – with a dance floor in their basement – and thought it would be fun to teach their pals a waltz cotillon. It was, as they suspected, a riot of laughter, wrong-direction, toe-stepping and left-footed-entanglements. We drank wine, ate snacks, and found ourselves boldly waltz-stepping into the great unknown. 20 called it “an afternoon of happy insanity.”

All my life I’ve been fascinated at what happens to (and for) people when they open themselves to new experiences. Generosity rises. When people allow themselves to step outside of their safe-place, challenge their need to control and open to the new, they come alive. I mean that literally. They come into the present moment, out of their obsession with replaying the past and fearing/manipulating the future, and into the place where life actually happens. Now. It is the artist’s job to open the door to the place where life happens. It is the door Linda and Jim opened for us yesterday.

Krishnamurti wrote, “Have you ever noticed that when you respond to something totally, with all your heart, there is very little memory?” Horatio and I have an ongoing conversation about art and artistry. Lately, we’ve been discussing how completely we disappear when working on a canvas. Hours go by and it feels like minutes. And, more to the point, we don’t disappear, we become present. We show up. We experience the fullness of life at the burning point. Time, that grand master of illusion, disappears.

After our dancing, standing in the kitchen with a glass of wine, I heard, “Where did the time go?” We were revitalized and giddy, compatriots and survivors of a journey into the surprises of the unknown. I smiled when there rose a rowdy chorus of, “When can we do it again?” Life had burst through – as it wants to do – and left its charge.

Start Walking

photoTell Me. How can I be a learner?

My mind went absolutely blank, and I heard myself saying, Its simple. To be a learner youve got to be willing to be a fool. ~George Leonard, Mastery

I used to do a lot of work in education. My career in the theatre took a sharp left-hand turn when I started consulting with schools. The puzzles that plagued educators seemed to me easy to address. To be human is to be curious. Tickle the curiosity, begin the story and get out of the way.

Tom once told me that teaching is about relationship (not control). He also told me that the best teaching/learning needed to be directly applicable; it had to be immediate. It had to be real. It had to matter – to both the teacher and the learner. The trick is to extend the mattering into greater and deeper levels of abstraction.

An emphasis on testing is an emphasis on knowing. Great learning places the emphasis on not-knowing. It reinforces the pursuit and dispels the notion that knowledge is something achievable. Worthy questions always open more worthy questions. To be human is to be curious. To be alive is to wonder what is on the other side of the hill and then take a step toward it.

The fool George Leonard references isn’t “ the unthinking person,” it is “the carefree fool in the tarot deck who bears the awesome number zero, signifying the fertile void from which all creation springs, the state of emptiness that allows new things to come into being.”

Emptiness. Not knowing. Relationship. Mattering.

Step Into Unknown with SigThe question, “How do we/I do it?” is a great step-stopper. It is the leading edge of every personal and organizational stagnation excuse. We don’t know how. I’ve come to believe that it isn’t a natural question but is learned behavior. It is an emergency brake installed by a system that values right answers over great questions.

My wife and I have a short-hand phrase, Beaky’s Wheelchair, to remind us when we stall, that “how?” is something that can only be known after the fact. No one knows “How?” at the beginning. Beaky needed an electric wheelchair to be mobile and the world of insurance/medicare was standing still. After months of waiting, with no clue which direction to begin, we started making calls. We met every “no” with a “why not?.” We asked a multitude of foolish questions. We learned. And learned some more. Within a matter of weeks, Beaky had her wheelchair.

How do you play the guitar? Paint a picture? Bridge a conflict? Transcend a limit? Know one knows. Tickle the curiosity, let go of any notion that you need to know how, and start walking.

text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

the text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

 

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