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

Ask The Gorilla [on DR Thursday]

I’m not the first person to use a gorilla as the teacher in a story. This gorilla, in this story, is teaching the little girl the difference between playing-to-win and playing-to-become-a-better-player. The story begins when the girl asks the gorilla, “Do you want to play?” and the gorilla responds, “Well, it depends. What do you mean by ‘play’?”

It’s not a flippant question. It speaks directly to the “why” of what you do. The reason. Simon Sinek put this question at the center of his golden circle. James Carse wrote his philosophical masterpiece, Finite and Infinite Games, about this simple distinction.

Yesterday I had a conversation about success. A conversation about the difference between internal and external motivation. External motivators, like winning-as-your-why, are necessarily grounded in fear. What if you lose? Who are you if you fail? Winning at all cost will eventually lead to quagmires not unlike where the Republican party now finds itself. Obstruct. Lie. Gerrymander. Fix the vote. Fix the game. Any and all deeper value or ethic is sacrificed. There is always a cost when the “why” is as superficial as “to win.” The body seizes-up, loses its freedom of movement when fear of losing is the central driver of action. The nation-body, too.

The path to mastery cannot run through a win-lose “why.” Failure is an essential on a master’s path. Throw many pots, the metaphor from Art & Fear, is a mantra not only for artistic freedom, but for honing skills. Getting better and better at playing. See what happens. Playing to play, to become a better player, transcends and finally removes the word ‘failure.’ The body gains more and more freedom of movement when every action is a learning experience.

I wrote and illustrated this book back in my dark ages when I was facilitating diversity and inclusion trainings. Some companies hired us because they feared being sued. They feared losing money and had no real interest in diversity, inclusion, equality, fair play, betterment for their employees. They feared losing their privilege. Diversity initiatives ask that we stop rigging the game.

Other companies hired us because they truly desired to address the inequities in their organization. They wanted to step into their blind spots and see. They wanted to become better and better players in their communities. Early on we learned to distinguish between the fear-clients and those that were sincere. We became better players by choosing to work with organizations that were honest and sincere about their “why.” Players of infinite games.

I never attempted to publish Play-to-Play, my little illustrated meditation. Over the years I’ve given away some of the illustrations. It is one of the many stones I’ve stacked, pots I’ve thrown, the many projects and paintings that are literally stacked in my studio. It seems more relevant now than ever before. Yesterday, looking again at the illustrations, I told Kerri, “I should draw this again. I’m better now.”

She asked, “Why?”

I said, “Exactly.”

read Kerri’s blog post about STACKING STONES

play to play ©️ 2005 david robinson

Free Your Freedom [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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David sends photographs of his young son, Dawson, painting. Or playing. Or just enjoying the moment. I love them. They bring smiles and a Picasso-esque reminder. Paint like a child. Play-to-play and for no other reason. Wear a cape and fly!

Adults get enmeshed in all manner of weird issues. They come to think that things like wearing-a-mask-during-a-pandemic can be an inhibitor to their freedom when, in fact, they gave away their freedom ages ago. They grew up and forgot how to play, how to mush color around with their fingers, how to roll down a grassy slope and run back to the top to do it all over again. They forgot how to play with others. They muzzle themselves.

Adults give away their freedom when they come to believe that a brand of car or the label on their clothes gives them status or makes them sexy. They confuse their money with their morality. They give away 5 days so they might live for 2 or, worse, they suffer through thirty years of toil with the zany idea that they will live life when they “retire.”

Adults get lost in illusion. They snap towels and brag about their wild-side while pulling on their uniform-stiff-collar-suit and cinching up a tie around their neck. They somehow come to think that pushing other people down will raise them up the ladder. They create odd justifications: dog-eat-dog or business-is-business or divide-and-conquer. Play-to-win and for no other reason.

Let’s face it, adults fill themselves up with fear and judgment. They can’t paint with their fingers because someone might call them childish or stupid or worse! And, horror of horrors! What if their finger painting isn’t perfect in the eyes of others?! Shame is a great inhibitor especially when it is the imagined response to fun-and-free-self-expression. The only safe thing to do is put away the dangerous color, wash the paint from your hands. The only safety is to judge others! Establish some mask of authority; become the arbiter of right and wrong. Dole out the shame so as not to receive it. Phew.

Adults mistakenly believe that power is control, that power is something wielded over others. Every child knows that power has nothing to do with control. Power is something created with others, like painting with your dad. That is power-full! Even infants know that power is a relationship of mutual support, it crackles between people. Humans-of-every-age are never more powerful than when helping others grow.

Poor sad adults have it upside-down and backwards. As I used to tell students, “Any idiot with a pistol can take life, it takes a very powerful person to give life.” There’s no real power in the taking. There’s infinite power in the giving.

Just so, there’s no freedom in the taking. There’s infinite freedom in the giving, the free expression, the playing, the laughing, the sharing. Every child knows that.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DON’T GROW UP!

 

 

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chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

Create Calm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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This word, calm, is a rare bird among words. It is a triple play of words: an adjective, a noun, and a verb. A descriptor, a thing, and an action.

If I had a superpower, it would be to calm. To create calm. To inspire calm hearts. Soothe, make peaceful, generate calm within and beyond the eye of the hurricane.

Last night we watched The Barkley  Marathons, a documentary about a wacky ultra-marathon trail race in Tennessee. Very few people finish the race. One of the racers, an unlikely finisher, told the story of how he came to be in the field. His dad did what he was supposed to do – he worked and saved all of his life so he might retire and then go have experiences. But – you know the story – he died one year shy of retirement. “I decided not to wait,” the runner said. “I want to suck the marrow from every moment of this life.”

Usually, the center of a delayed life smolders. Henny Penny races around the center-cage of a fearful life. But, you’ll know someone who is fully in their moment, who is sucking the marrow out of this tasty life, when you see them. Their center is calm. They are not predetermining their experiences. They’ve stripped off their “should” and “can’t.” Rather, they step onto the unknown field and open their arms to what comes. They play an infinite game, they play-to-play, and perhaps learn a little bit about themselves along the way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CALM

 

 

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classic ©️ 2013 david robinson

Turn Around [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Jen suggested green. So, throughout the day, to keep us sane in our home-stay-life, we shared pictures of green things, surprising and ordinary, that we found around the house or in our walks. The next day was lines. Then circles. We use our seclusion to open our eyes and see what is beautiful and striking – and mostly unnoticed until now.

Late the other night, 20 and Kerri spent an hour on the phone. 20 is among the those at highest risk and has self-quarantined. There is a park close to his house and, once a day, when it is likely that few other people will be out, he walks the paths in the park. He takes amazing photographs and each day sends us his latest pictures. On the phone, he introduced Kerri to the app he uses to tweak his gorgeous photos. “This opens a whole world of possibilities!” she exclaimed.

Have you noticed the hysterical songs, art, games, mock-challenges (the is-it-a chihuahua-or-a-blueberry-muffin? challenge is my current favorite). Creativity flourishes within constraints. It is a form of paradox-magic that I’ve always appreciated. A good constraint has the power to yank people out of their daily problem solving morass and turn them around into the creative.

Robert Fritz has the best definition for this magic: problem solving is trying to eliminate what you don’t want. Creating is trying to bring into being what you do want. It is a matter of direction (wink, wink: the direction of intention). At first glance these challenges and games might seem frivolous but a deeper look always reveals something more profound. We are opening our eyes to what is right in front of us. We are sharing, trying to help each other through a difficult time. Our natural capacity for play and whimsy rises to the top. Possibilities rise to the top. Instead of asking “why?” we begin asking “why not?” We create.

Idealistic blather or pattern? Problem solving has a way of creating more problems – it is a myopic. Turn around and consider the world you want to create. Walk at that. You’ll find that your eyes open, your thoughts expand. Playing-to-play will be valued and necessary. You’ll note, with gratitude, that you are not in this creative ride alone.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIRCLES

 

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Listen To Chicken [on DR Thursday]

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The original conceit behind Chicken Marsala came during a road trip. Kerri and I started talking about what life might have been like had we met when we were younger. Our conversation wandered into the question of mutual children and then became utterly hysterical when we started tossing possible names back and forth. Chicken Marsala, the imaginary child of two people who met late in life, was born.

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Chicken had friends. Chicken went to school. Chicken had a full blown imaginary life. Chicken terrified his parents, making them do and say things that they would not have otherwise done. Chicken became the inner and outer voice of two artists trying to make their way in a world where they do not necessarily fit.

All of my life people who have cut themselves off from their inner artist have asked me, “Where do I begin?” They build studios for themselves, buy supplies, and then sit, frozen. Tom McK used to tell me that there was only one answer to that question: a writer writes and a painter paints. There is no magic. The muse can’t help unless you pick up the clay and throw the pot. Write many, many bad pages and soon you will discover that you are following an impulse rather than grinding “it” out or making “it” up.

One day, someone asked Chicken’s mom a question about composing. “How do you do it? What’s your secret?” It was a question from someone desperate to uncover their long buried inner artist. What’s the secret charm, the divine key? Chicken leaned into his mom and whispered: Sometimes you just have to put your fingers on the keys and follow the music.

It is no mystery, after a few years banished in the drawer, that Chicken is suddenly pulling on my sleeve. I haven’t been active in the studio for months. ‘A dry spell,’ I tell myself. ‘All of my creative energy is going to other things.’ ‘I’m bored with my work!’ ‘I’m blank…’ Yada Yada. Chicken shakes his head. ‘Not again!’ He giggles.

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Put your fingers on the keys. Pick up your brush. Use that great imagination to play rather than plague yourself. Follow the music. It will always lead you home.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FINGERS ON THE KEYS

 

 

 

 

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

play 2 play illustration ©️ godknowswhenprobablybeforeyouwereborn david robinson

 

Noodle [on KS Friday]

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It happened again. We’d just finished rehearsal. Kerri began to play and guitar Jim joined. As the non-musician in the group, my job is to listen and bask in their playing. It’s tough duty but I’ve resigned myself to it. I take my role seriously. So seriously, in fact, that I always make the same mistake. I always assume they are playing a piece that they know. They aren’t.

I can be forgiven for my mistake. First, they are effortless. Easy. Secondly, they appear to know where they are in the piece and also know where they are going. They don’t. They are making it up as they go.

There is a guiding rule in improvisational theatre: say ‘yes’ to the offer coming your way. Go with it, not against it. Listening to Kerri and guitar Jim is like witnessing masters of the rule. Their ‘yes’ is so complete, that they cease being two players and merge into one river of sound. In my mind, this merging is  the very reason, the ultimate purpose of art. When the audience falls into the world of the play, the soul of the witness enters into the soul of the painting, the listener gives over and becomes the music. The tribe knows who they are by the stories they tell. Shared experience. Say ‘yes.’

When they play their final note together, I always ask when they last played the piece. I don’t remember hearing it before. They smile and tell me “Never.” They were noodling. Making it up as they go. Playing together.

It’s like a sand painting. here for a moment and then gone. “No one will ever hear that one again,” Jim and Kerri laugh.

I always wish that I had a recorder running and then, I remind myself that point is not to capture it. I am greedy in wanting to share all that I am fortunate enough to experience. The power of the moment, the potency of the sand painting, is not diminished, rather it is increased, when the wind joins and sweeps the sand away.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on NOODLING

 

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go here for all of kerri’s albums though you’ll find none of her noodling in these many, many albums (there are more albums than seen here).

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Learn The Single Lesson [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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At the end of each day, with great enthusiasm and mission, Dog-Dog herds us into the living room. Because it is hysterical to see how many different strategies Dogga can pull from his Aussie bag of tricks, it has become a game for us to give him several false starts. We step toward the living room and then return to the kitchen. We say, “Let’s go!” and he races away with fervor while we remain firmly planted. He returns moments later with a wildly wagging tail. He never gets frustrated. He only gets more clever, more lively in his intention. He is eternally hopeful and more excited by the chase than the finish.

It is the single lesson I hope to learn from him. He is an excellent teacher and I am a very slow student.

It is the last day of 2019 and it has been, to put it mildly, an exhausting year. We are making special preparations to launch the good ship 2019 into the annals of time-gone-by. We might wave a polite so-long as it departs but most likely we’ll turn our backs on the passage, and, like Dogga, we’ll run into the next year with hopeful-tails a-wagging.

We know it is an imaginary line, a made-up calendar distinction. We don’t really expect a clean break, a new, fresh start. Or, perhaps we do expect it. Or perhaps, we desire it in the same way Dogga desires us to go to the living room. It’s the game of chase!

Perhaps the coming year will be less exhausting and more fulfilling if I learn the single Dog-Dog lesson: drop all expectation of outcome, all fear of circumstance, all investment in things that exist only in my too-active-imagination, and love my people whether or not they meet me in the living room. Love my people when they send me on a wild goose chase, not once, but many times. Love them because they love me and it’s fun to be alive and, after all, the circles I run will bring me back to them. Or to myself. Why not laugh?

Perhaps in this new year I will at last learn to fully live what I preach and enjoy the chase simply because it is ALL a game of chase, even the parts that look momentarily like completions. Even the parts that look overwhelming. They pass, too.

The mantra many years ago was to cultivate surprise. Expect surprise. The truth is, I don’t know what will happen in ten minutes or two seconds or in ten days. Do you? Why do we pretend that we know? I think it is the key to Dog-Dog’s delight, he doesn’t pretend to know. He lives in the truth of surprise as opposed to the preconception of boredom or fear or fulfillment. He leads with his heart and his heart is bursting with hope (another name for the expectation of surprise). It is why, after his people-sheep have ambled to the couch [what?! A surprise!], he can sleep so soundly, so completely unburdened by resistance to the day gone by or trepidation-stories of tomorrow.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE END OF THE YEAR

 

 

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Have Fun [on DR Thursday]

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I actually wrote and illustrated my children’s book, Play To Play, for adults, for grown-ups who’d lost the love of play in the tangled weeds of incessant competition. At the time I was facilitating workshops for people dulled by the daily grind of corporate America or the under-siege-mentality of education. When I’d scratch their paint, get beneath their veneer, they’d confess to feeling that life was passing them by. Their creative impulse was waning or worse, being snuffed. They’d forgotten how to play. They’d forgotten why to play.

I’d tell my groups that they ought to read James Carse’s book, Finite & Infinite Games. Most couldn’t be bothered. No time to read. Or, possibly, a book recommendation is a lousy response to someone who is suffocating.

In any case, I decided to condense the central idea and draw some cool pictures mainly because I like to draw cool pictures. Drawing cool pictures is one of the many ways I tend my creative flame. I thought that fewer words combined with fun pictures would be a better response to suffocation.

I wrote it. I drew it all. I put it in a folio. I stuck it on a shelf. I’d show it now and again to someone who’d ask, “What’s this?”

Inevitably, I’d ask myself, “Why didn’t you try and publish this?” Drawing the cool pictures, writing the tiny story, must have served its purpose: I took deep long breaths and laughed heartily during the process. I drew pictures to draw pictures. I had fun for no other reason than to have fun. I played to play. In the end, I suspect, this book must have been written for me.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PLAY TO PLAY

 

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