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

Gurgle On! [on DR Thursday]

I’m certain the first time I tried to walk I was not successful. A few stumble-steps and a return to the floor. My first attempts at speaking the English language did not receive a passing grade. As I recall (and I don’t recall), I made some gurgling sounds into which the adults surrounding me projected meaning. I’m certain they cheered and encouraged me to gurgle-on.

Learning is not a terribly difficult thing to do when 1) there’s a reason to do it, and 2) judgment, including words like “success” or “failure” are absent from the experience. Thank goodness my first art teacher treated me like an infant and, rather than critique my mess, she encouraged me to gurgle-on. Consequently, I associate my artistic impulses with fun and exploration instead of the thousand shades of rignt-and-wrong that most people are subjected to.

Recently Skip wrote and asked, “What’s the second rule?” Suspend your judgment and learn.

We just bought a mandoline. It slices and dices and chops and cuts. “The first thing we’re going to make is potato chips!” Kerri proclaimed. And, then, her brow furrowed. “What if we do it wrong?”

“We’ll learn something and make another batch.” Trial and error. Both “trial” and “error” are essential ingredients in the learning process and, since all of life is a learning process, you’d think someday we’d learn to value the “error” portion of the experience. We do ourselves a great disservice placing so much emphasis on passing the test and having the “right” answer. The essential ingredients of trial and error can’t breathe in brains fogged by so much right-and-wrong-ness.

Our first batch, like our first baby step, was a stumble. But more delicious. We stood over the pan eating our result and discussed second steps. What should we do differently next time? Less heat or more? Thinner slices or thicker? This is all I know. I love to learn, especially when food is involved and judgment is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about POTATO CHIPS!

flawed cartoon © 2016 david robinson

Jump Out Of Your Chair [on KS Friday]

If I want to think clearly – or clear my thinking – I walk. Sitting still has always been and continues to be an invitation for thought-log-jams. It was a problem when I was a student. Classrooms come with desks and an expectation that the learner will sit still. I became a master of the controlled wiggle, not because it broke the logjam but because it helped maintain my sanity. For me, sitting still is like a hair shirt with an itchy tag. Sitting still makes my IQ plummet several points. Sitting still interrupts my synapses.

Tom Mck told me that the alternative schools were populated by artists. I intimately understood his observation. Artists need to move to think. They thrive in an alternative to still-sitting.

I’ve made sure that my work throughout my adulthood included movement. Directing plays. Painting big paintings. Facilitating workshops. Even as a teacher I cleared the room of desks. This morning I saw a headline in Forbes Magazine declaring that children learn more through play than through guided instruction. It was curious to me that this was a headline. Sugata Mitra’s been shouting the news for decades. Neil Postman spent his life reading the research and advocating for what the research implied: turn little people toward a passion and get out of the way. Curiosity and desire are an unbeatable team. They will move faster than you might imagine. Move, move, move. Dance. Paint. Sing. Construct. Act. Play. They will let you know when they need you.

I’m learning the lesson again. My work places me squarely in front of a computer for hours each day. Flow. Eddy. Logjam. Wiggle. Move. Sigh, as the synapses start firing up again. Repeat. At this advanced stage of earth-time, you’d think I’d have grasped the full understanding that, for me to be effective, I have to move around. Each morning I review the previous day’s work and immediately know whether or not I found a movement/sitting-still balance.

When we stepped on the trail and entered the woods in North Carolina, my mind was chock-full-of-thought-logs. Like everyone else, I stare at the screen and lose track of time. A day can pass me by and I never leave my swivel chair. I swivel for survival. For months, I’d been swiveling and forgetting to stand up and dance my ideas. Fifteen minutes into our hike, the jam broke free. My mind cleared. I could see the subtle landscape inside and outside. I breathed a deep breath. The forest was gorgeous. My mind was spacious and flowing! I resolved, once again, yet again, to attend to the necessity of movement that keeps my mind and heart flowing. Wiggling is maintenance, merely. Swiveling is not a solution. The real game, the full flow, is only available when I jump out of my chair and move-it.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOREST

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

meander/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Go To The Shoe Room [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I managed the theatre conservatory at PCPA Theaterfest, I occasionally gave backstage tours. It was great fun because the favorite stop on the tour – on every tour I gave – was the shoe room. Visitors always enjoyed standing on the stage, they were impressed with the scene and costume shop, they delighted to watch the prop master at work, but the moment we entered the shoe room, they were transcendent. Wide-eyed and giggling, pulling period shoes from the shelves to show their companions, it was as if they’d entered a candy store. The magic was released through the shoes.

The shoes, I suspect, harkened back to a time of dress-up. Childhood. The shoes touched their spirit of play. They beckoned to be worn and, as any actor knows, the shoes will inform how a character moves. The sooner you don the shoes, the sooner you will “find” the character. The shoe room was a portal to possible-other-lives.

I am more enamored by sketches than I am by final drafts. I delight in watching master craftsmen and craftswomen work. Theatre artists do not create illusions, they provide access to other worlds, unknown paths. They invite us to the shoe room to try on another life, even for a moment. The process, to me, is more beautiful than the performance.

As we walked the paths of the Botanical Gardens, the technicians were preparing for the festival of lights. Walkie-talkies crackled. Connections were checked. Battery packs were carefully placed. Multi-colored light strands ran like rivers up the trunks of trees. E-candles on armatures floated in the waterways. Magic was in the making. During the daylight, the entire expanse of the Garden is backstage – exposed wires and explicit design. At night, the mechanics will fade behind the light curtain. Backstage will become fore-stage. The light will invite us into another world. The light will touch the spirit of play.

I have always believed that people, lurking behind those serious faces, really just want to play. It’s the reason I kicked off my shoes every time I entered a room to do a facilitation. Lose your shoes and it’s no longer a serious affair. Play threatens. Play is suddenly a real possibility. The spirit of play cracks even the most harden entrenchment. Play necessitates collaboration and sharing. Pirates and Princesses need mates and parrots and knights in order for the world to be complete. Lawyers will take off their ties and wear them as headbands when the shoes come off and the serious topics are approached in socks and bare toes.

I recently – as we all have – been privy to an endless contentious debate about what this nation needs to do to get back on track. I believe it is not so complicated. We can carry on our oh-so-serious-division, but the single rule should be that no one can open their mouth – politician, pundit, and pedestrian alike – before first taking off their shoes.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT STRANDS

Try To Explain [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s nearly impossible to explain. I’ve had the conversation a thousand times and I know it’s fruitless from the outset. Why did I choose a life without a safety net? A life with stability and benefits? Why was I willing to work 80 hour weeks for not-very-much-pay? I’ve heard more than once that “Artists are indulgent.” Or, “Artists are fools.”

Maybe. I’ll never know because it is impossible to explain to someone who operates from a different imperative. I’ve thought myself foolish more than a few times, and, usually, when I measure myself by the standards of 9-to-5.

For me, like all the artists I know and admire, there has never been a distinct line between work and play. Given any amount of free time, I’d rather be in the studio than anywhere on earth. When I was directing plays and running theatre companies, I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and get back to work. The time between productions or studio time, what most people call “vacation,” was-and-is meant to catch up on sleep and fill up the well for the next project. Often, this thing called ‘vacation’ was an opportunity to visit museums, drink in art/inspiration or stand in a castle or sit in the city where the next play is set.

For most of my life, even before I really thought about artists or artistry, vacation involved a sketchbook. I sat in the back of the station wagon and drew Colonel Sanders from the bucket of chicken or tried to copy a photo from the National Geographic magazine. Fun and play involved a deep dive into the world I could create/discover through a pencil on blank pages.

I can spend hours sitting and watching people. Small dramas. Gestures. Manipulations. Kindnesses. A little burst of love that would otherwise go unnoticed. Traveling for work meant time spent in airports, a goldmine of observation-time. Work or play?

Perhaps that is why there is no line between work and play. I see it in Kerri, too. We are constantly noticing. Paying attention to what is beautiful or interesting. Feeling what is needed and what is not. We’ve talked endlessly about being empathic. Feeling what others feel. I’ve watched Kerri walk into a rehearsal and “know” where there is pain, where there is joy, know when she needs to wrap some humor around a bruised community. Many years ago, a wise-old-artist told me that I had to learn to distinguish between what was my “stuff” and what was not. What were my feelings and what was not. Sage advice. I’ve been witness to many artists imploding, carrying other people’s garbage as their own.

When we walk, Kerri takes photographs. “I’m sorry,” she says, stooping to focus on a leaf or stone. Why does she apologize for noticing? Here’s a hint: all of her life she’s been asked to explain why she stops to notice. What value can there possibly be in stopping forward motion, especially in a world hell-bent on “getting there faster.” What is the value-proposition of noticing? “Can you please explain why you have to stop and see and, of all things, make it into music?” Or a story. Or a painting. Or a dance.

“Why did you climb that tree?” the adults asked. “It’s where I write poetry,” she explained. Work or vacation? Is it play?

Every Saturday we go through Kerri’s photos from the week and choose five as prompts for our Melange. We collect phrases we hear, words that inspire or disturb. Those end up in the Melange, too. Are we working? Is this play? We delight in sitting each day and writing together. We laugh at our Smack-dab cartoon. They are fun to write and draw and color. None of this makes us any money. Is it work or is it vacation?

I’m currently drawing cartoons and tossing thought-bombs into a community of software entrepreneurs – the boss understands that I notice things and can translate what I notice into other shapes and expressions. Is there value in that? Is it work? Is it play? Will it make money?

Are there possibly other measures of value?

It’s nearly impossible to explain.

read Kerri’s blog post about VACATION

Watch Your Mouth [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

My mouth gets me into trouble. It has all of my life. Once, I told an artistic director – the theatre company was in trouble – that we could build our sets with little or no budget if they were cleverly designed. She said, “Great. You’re hired Mr. Designer.” She threw down the gauntlet. I designed a season of plays that cost nary a penny. Once a scavenger, always a scavenger.

My mouth gets me in trouble with Kerri almost every day. That’s how, over time, my mouth came to be an independent character, a persona separate from the rest of me. “Did your mouth just say that?” she asks. “My mouth said it, but I didn’t mean it,” I reply.

I have to constantly watch my mouth. It has a mind of its own and will take every opportunity to put my foot in it.

read Kerri’s blog post about my MOUTH

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Pull The Weeds [on KS Friday]

My very first painting teacher offered me some sage advice. I was painting figures while the rest of the class worked on landscapes. Being the odd-child-out I assumed something was wrong with me. She said, “Tree painters are a dime a dozen. Someday, being the only one will seem like a gift so ignore what they are interested in and paint what is interesting to you.” Jospeh Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” It’s the same advice that Jackie Fry gave to the boy-version of me.

I never imagined myself with a back yard. And, now that I have one, I find it a place of rest and peace. This is a confession that I’ll never admit to in the future: weeding is meditative. Each day I find myself taking a few moments to go out and yank the invaders out by the roots. No thought. No other thing to do. I simply tend the garden, knowing I am accomplishing nothing since weeds are good at growing and more will appear tomorrow. We are strange allies, they provide me with a daily meditation.

If I was as an art teacher, I’d send my students into my back yard. Nature is a masterful teacher of color. Orange and green. Highlights of yellow. Barney provides subtle blues, purples, and pinks. The orange and green of the lily pop against the purple and blue of the aging piano. Warm colors come forward. Cool colors recede. It’s all there.

I read somewhere that, as an artist, “to discover” is more potent than “to invent.” See what is there, beyond what you think is there. Everything is fluid so the discoveries are endless. While I weed the sun passes beneath a cloud. Everything changes. The sun reappears and the colors change again. Not the same. Different. I’ll never be able to capture it and that is the best held secret of an artist. Another wisdom from Jackie Fry: you will never succeed. Art is a relationship, not a transaction. So, no pressure. It is a relationship, complex and dynamic. It is not about capturing an image. It is about freeing your sight and possibly freeing the sight of others. Facilitate discovery. Play to play, to become a better player. Open a small door to peek into the vast inner universe.

It’s a paradox. It’s impossible to eradicate the weeds. That is not why I pull them. It’s impossible to capture life in an image. ‘Capturing’ is not why I paint. Relating is why I paint. I do it because I’ll never create anything more beautiful than the Tiger Lily dancing with Barney. I paint so that I might see and share in the dance.

ALWAYS WITH US on the album AS IT IS by KERRI SHERWOOD

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

read Kerri’s blog post about the TIGER LILY

always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Appreciate The Moment [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Monumental moments in a life sometimes seem so small at the time. They pass as incidental but, in retrospect, are profound.

In his recent visit, Bruce and I reminisced about my inability and horror of singing. In the majority of my life, I couldn’t find a pitch if it was sitting on my shoulder. Kerri jumped into the conversation telling Bruce that I’d found my voice. Well, to be honest, she helped me find my voice. A patient teacher who simply taught me how to hear. Bruce’s mouth dropped open when I told him that I sang at my grandfather’s funeral. “It was terrifying,” I said.

“But you did it,” Kerri added.

When I met her, as I’ve previously recounted, I told Kerri that, “I don’t sing and I don’t pray.” And, then came the ukulele band. On the day I flew in for my third visit, Kerri picked me up from O’Hare and we rushed back to make the first rehearsal of her new group, the ukulele band. We met in the gardens of the Kemper Center, Lake Michigan humming by our side. She handed me a black uke. She taught the group to tune. We learned a chord or two. And picked and sang our way through a few easy songs. I dare anyone to avoid singing when they are in a group of silly colored ukuleles. It was my first of many lessons. I was having so much fun strumming, that I forgot that I was singing.

Such a simple moment. The beginning of challenging a faulty life-story. A self-imposed limit. Kerri was wise enough to know that I needed to begin with fun. Laughter is a great maker of courage. The first step.

Eight years ago. At the time it seemed so incidental. Following this amazing musician through her day. Playing along. Carrying her books. And, all along, it was her gentle way of saying, “Let’s challenge that obstacle. There’s a way around it and all you have to do is have fun and learn again to listen.”

read Kerri’s blog post about UKULELES

In-Tolerate [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

In theatre school, I was taught that the action of the play was driven by conflict. I’ve never been comfortable with that word. Something did not ring true with the concept of conflict. A dividing line. Battle. Fight. Kerri just suggested that conflict is not simply a line, it is bandwidth. A full spectrum of color in our human struggle.

I recently read that, through resistance, all things become visible. We see color because some light rays are absorbed and others are reflected. The light ray is filtered, separated into color bands. We see the color that was resisted. Rejected by the surface. Split off. Separated. Is it any wonder that the epicenter of most faith traditions, the driver of most origin stories, is the journey through separation back to unity?

We become visible in our birth. Separate. We become invisible in our death and are given to imagining a comforting story of reunion. Re-union. In between those two points, separation and unity, there is life made visible and wildly colorful by the separation. The filters. What is absorbed and rejected. Reflected. Learned. Ignored. Appreciated. Vilified. Visible. Invisible.

This time of pandemic has been, for us, an exercise in separation. In the distancing, we’ve nurtured, intentionally and unintentionally, an appreciation of quiet. Over these many months we’ve grown a garden of simplicity. We read together. We walk our paths slowly. We’ve found that we do not need to be entertained or distracted. We have a low tolerance for crowds and run the opposite direction when there’s too much noise ahead.

We’ve fostered an appreciation for those who walk through life considerate of the needs of others. Our circle of friends has come into focus. We’ve dropped off the plate of many and many have dropped off of our plate. The connective tissue is felt, established and hearty. In some cases, even though our actual conversations are rare, the focus is sharp. Deeply rooted. Arnie. Judy. Jim. Mike. David. In other cases, we communicate almost every day. 20. Brad and Jen. Heart-y.

Our play has become visible through resistance. What we absorb and what we reject has come into stark contrast, clear focus, through the separation. Layers of shallow tolerance have been peeled away revealing a much deeper understanding of what we desire to create in this life, how we desire to live. It is necessary to understand the boundaries set and the colors illuminated by intolerance. Said another way, it is important to be able to thoroughly sort substance from noise. Both inner and outer. I have learned that I have limited tolerance for thoughtless acceptance, for unthinking noise. My resistance. I surround myself with questioners, those curious enough to dig, dedicated to building their thought-castles on bedrock instead of shifting sands. Those few who are capable of releasing their grips on the comfortable known and step willingly into the uncomfortable question. I absorb them. Take them in.

We – all of us – walk the same path, visible in our birth. Separate. Invisible in our death. Re-union. In this we are equal. What we do, how we choose to support each other, or choose not to, in the passage between those two universal points, is all. These choices define the story we live.

The pandemic, the separation, has helped me to a deeper understanding and appreciation of this word: Intolerant. A word that used to inspire egg-shell walking for what it implied. A word held with shallow roots. Now, it is a word rich in complexity, useful in paradox, a resistance that has made so much come visible. Tolerance, ironically, is at the same time intolerance. What, in your play, is acceptable? What, in your play, will you tolerate? What, in your play, will you not tolerate? Your play is not separate from mine.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOLERANCE LEVELS

Use Your Chalk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There are two words floating around in my universe these days: structured and unstructured. Structured data. Unstructured data. Structured time. Unstructured time.

The world as seen through the Puritan lens gives great preference to structure. Unstructured anything is suspect. “Idle hands,” we are taught, “are the devil’s workshop.” Yikes. Apparently it’s dangerous to take a stroll, to sit and ponder, to clear the day and do nothing.

I suspect it explains why our notion of business is hyper-focused on the bottom line and often misses the value of relationships. Bottom lines are easy structure. Relationships, not so much. It is the same with test scores in education. Easy structure. However, stepping into the unknown – the very definition of learning – is largely eschewed because it begins in an unstructured pursuit. Creating the structure, making the meaning, discovering the connectivity is what our hearts and brains like to do. When learning isn’t merely a factory, when business is more than a bottom line, people prosper. They come alive.

Unstructured time. There was a time when time had no structure. Monks attempted to “keep” time by monitoring water through a bucket or sift sand through an “hour” glass. Sometimes the water froze in the bucket so the structure of evening prayer was disrupted. The sand clumped in the hour glass and the measure of time clumped with it.

There are moment on the stage when the actor forgets their lines. It’s called “going up” or “drying.” It is always, in the re-telling, the moment when everything becomes real, alive. It is the moment when the structure becomes unstructured. Hearts race. Eyes widen. The stakes are suddenly palpable. The actor breathes, stands in the vast unstructured universe, and the words return like a swinging bar to a high-flying aerialist. The play is infused with aliveness. Presence is mostly unstructured.

As is common in the structured and unstructured use of the English language, oppositions are easily constructed. Unstructured simply means the meaning has yet to be made. Structured data, structured time, are the tip of a largely unknown iceberg. Love, joy, despair, awe…the full spectrum of experiences, bubble in the unstructured spaces. Numbers can describe a moment in time, can orient for a moment, but will never “explain” yearning or desire or our fundamental need to tell stories (put structure on unfathomable experiences). Structure & Unstructure: they are dancing partners, not combatants.

Where do we come from? What are we here to do? I am going to die, what then? It takes a good deal of unstructured time to sit in these unanswerable questions. There are, of course, plenty of people who will gladly provide structure to your unanswerable – and therefore uncomfortable – questions. Perhaps that is why we adore our structure and demonize the empty spaces? Comfort. Ease.

Kerri cannot pass a hopscotch template chalked on the street. It’s almost automatic. Step, hop, hop, step, hop. The little girl in her connects to the child who chalked the squares on the sidewalk. A simple game. Play. It’s one of the things people do with unstructured time. Set challenges. Make up obstacles. Seek puzzles. Invent. Dream. Connect to the deeper places. Where’s the structured bottom line watching the little-girl-in-my-wife hop and skip and turn in the game-chalked-on-the-sidewalk? The laughter of remembering? The giggle and freedom of the woman hopping the scotch, just because she can?

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPSCOTCH