Feel The Change [on DR Thursday]

And, in one day, a single day, it’s changed.

In general, we like to write our posts a day or two ahead. This week, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to write Wednesday’s post until after the inauguration. The Capitol was a military zone. There were looming threats of attack and violence. In recent months, the chaos-of-the-day often left us feeling that we wish we’d have written something different.

And, that is precisely what changed. Mayhem flew south and stability was sworn into office. Good intention (with a recognizable plan) took the helm. It’s as if a cleansing wind blew through and, in a moment, swept away the dark corruption. The adults are back in charge. Poetry stood strong and tall and spoke directly into the heart of the matter. Suddenly, after years of numbing reduction, words mattered again. Vocabulary was restored.

As we reviewed the day I told Kerri that there is only one thing more powerful than a dark wizard and that is a good man. A good person. Good people (side note: I confess to blubbering a bit when Kamala Harris was sworn in. Sometimes change is very hard to see and sometimes – like yesterday – it is impossible to miss).

This morning, for the first time in years, I did not dread to read the news. The sun was shining. BabyCat found a good spot and crawled into the warmth and purred. DogDog chewed contentedly on his bone. We sat in bed sipping coffee.

“You can feel it, can’t you,” Kerri said. “It’s palpable.”

Yes. Yes I can.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SUN

at the door ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

at day at the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson

Sit In The Sun [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I made a third run at my Polynices & Eteocles painting. Brothers who kill each other over control of the kingdom. Reds and Blues. In the two previous attempts, the brotherly violence morphed into images of shared fatherhood. A quiet unity. On this, my third and last attempt, I grew bored with the image and the statement I wanted to make about these-un-united-united-states.

Kerri avoided my basement studio while the brothers, sketched in charcoal, were killing each other on canvas. With a few swipes of a rag and adjustments of line, the murderous brothers became an angel embracing a dejected soul. And, although Kerri was much happier passing through the studio en route to the laundry room with angels on the easel, I found that I was equally as bored with my feel-good statement as I was with my feel-bad statement. The rag cleared the offending charcoal angel.

I don’t want to make statements.

I know I am in an artistic growth phase when I find myself at cross-purposes. Sit still. Get busy. Get Quiet. Say something. The sitting still and the getting quiet are what’s really required. Germinate. Listen. The getting-busy and saying-something are puritanical overtones. Fear of…

A few years ago, Jonathan told us that a tree must split its bark in order to grow. It seems my bark is splitting.

Yesterday, while moving through my david-yoga practice, I had a wee-epiphany. Every yoga pose is a study of oppositions. The stretch, the balance, comes from oppositional reaching. Inner-space, flexibility, equilibrium are intentional contrast. Contrast need not be combative. I think I am out of balance.

Angels and dejected souls. Brothers warring for control. Combat and consolation. No wonder I’m bored. My statement-subjects are as dusty and old as humanity itself. I think the truth floating to the top in my silent sitting is that I have had too much of darkness. There is a lighter side to poetry and human nature.

I just might need to cross over and sit in the sun for a while.

read Kerri’s blog post about TWO PATHS

Get To Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On page one of the despot’s handbook is this instruction: silence the artists. Mute the intellectuals. Authoritarians have power only when people become sheep. Silence in the face of abuse is tacit agreement. Permission to bully.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve stood before a school board and explained that art is supposed to be powerful, that it plays a very important role in a healthy society, I’d have a lot of nickels. I was generally called to speak when a play or a painting upset the apple cart, when the art made the community confront a truth or look at a reality. Brecht’s Epic Theatre or the plays of Artaud were/are meant to shake the irrational in people, force them into discussion and revelation.

Art can be beautiful, poetry can soothe, but that is only one side of the coin. It can also shine a light and expose an ugly truth. It can give voice to what is not-being-spoken. It can work out problems on the stage instead of sending the violence into the streets. It can ask us to take a hard look at ourselves and our motives. Picasso’s large painting, Guernica, a response to horror wrought by fascists on the people of a town in Spain, is a powerful art-mirror.

The conscience of a community, like the conscience of every individual that comprises the community, lives beyond the superficial, it bubbles in the place beyond words. An artist’s job is to reach into that place, pull the veil for a moment, root or re-root the community in its values.

A despot’s job is to secure a unanimous vote, no questions asked. Sheep.

Art is not superficial. It is not the image or the words on the page. It is what the image, the words, the dance, the music, touch. Hearts. Souls. Conscience.

Without it, what remains is propaganda. Propaganda is never news, it is the opposite of art. It snuffs the question, it prevents the quest for meaning and deep-felt-truth. Without it, communities flatten, lose their center, wither, and fall apart. Silence, eyes downcast or sideways glancing. Permission to bully. Sheep.

It’s time for the artists to get to work.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS

Stand Still And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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~Beloved by Sam Magill, from his collection of poems, Fully Human

Today my thoughts return again and again to Sam, a secret poet, a bard, a believer in the goodness of humanity. Sam knows that a wound, when properly honored, can lead to something far greater than mere healing.

He would look, as we do, with awe at the ferns. He would giggle at how quickly they change color with the light. He would delight in the frog that magically took up residence in our pond. He loves, as we do, the things of this life that live beyond explanation.

If you asked Sam what we need do as our cities burn, as a pandemic rages, as leadership fails and the face of inequity stands naked and unmasked, he might tell us to do nothing. To stand still and listen. “The hard crusty soil is cracking open,” he might say, “there is new growth struggling to push through.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FERNS

 

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Slow Down And See [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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There is a theme emerging in my posts this week. Substance vs. the appearance of substance. The flattening of importance.

During an exceptionally stressful and contentious period this summer, we streamed the entire run of Parenthood. Six seasons of escapism!  “Let’s go to  California,” we’d say, all too ready for a leap out of reality. And then, in a moment of horror, the episodes of Parenthood ran out. Our escape hatch closed with a bang. In desperation we surfed and landed in Schitt’s Creek. It was a series a bit too relevant to our circumstance and we howled when one of the characters, in the face of kindness, said that she’d been raised to see that “kindness is a sign of weakness.”

“That’s our problem,” Kerri said, “we see kindness as a virtue.” She was raised to be kind.

That night we had a long discussion about kindness and its general absence in public discourse.

I’ve been thinking much about our conversation since we found ourselves meditating on kindness in Schitt’s Creek. This is my observation: mean is easy. It is fast. Like all forms of reactivity and thoughtlessness, meanness and contention are elementary.

We are surrounded by friends who are kind.  They are kind because they cultivate kindness, thoughts of others, as essential to their character. That’s why we are attracted to them. We are the recipients of unbearable gifts of kindness through our friends. They break us open. They make us bigger.

Kindness is a virtue. It is also a strength. And, it takes time. Kindness is like poetry. It takes development and some higher order thinking.

Lions eat zebras for food. People hurt people for a lesser reason.

In a world obsessed with speed, it is all too easy to run past substance in pursuit of the superficial. Slowing down, taking some time to see, exposes all manner of beauty.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

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Hold It Lightly [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Roll this description around in your thought-bowl:

“The Spoon River Anthology, a sequence of free verse epitaphs spoken from [the occupants of] the cemetery of the town of Spoon River. When the collection first saw publication in 1915, it caused a great sensation because of its forthrightness about sex, moral decay, and hypocrisy…”

We saw a snippet of Spoon River performed last week at our new artistic home, TPAC. It’s almost impossible to see even a bit of Spoon River and not realize how fragile and temporary is life. It’s a not-so-subtle poetry-reminder that most of what we think is sooooooo important is, in fact, a tilt at windmills. In its forthrightness, its perspective on hypocrisy and moral decay, we found Spoon River to be remarkably contemporary.

Tom told me that he always used Spoon River to teach his beginning actors. “It’s all there,” he said, “All of it!”

He read a piece from the anthology at his great aunt Bunty’s funeral. It takes life to love life. After Tom’s death, Kerri and I performed the same piece in my play THE LOST BOY, a script derived from interviews with Tom. Words that end the first act. Words that described Bunty. Words that Tom adored:

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It’s the best of paradoxes. Kerri and I remind each other everyday that our work, our artistry is not nearly as important as we think it is. We remind each other to hold it all lightly. And in holding it lightly, we open the door to experience it richly. To laugh rather than resist. To know, that we will, one day, populate a plot on the hill, and the only thing that will have mattered is that we paid attention and participated in our moment, that we loved the little bit of life that we had.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DUST

 

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Bend It [on DR Thursday]

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The terminology in art reads like so much poetry. Zero point perspective. Chiaroscuro. Foreshortening. Rococo. Image plane. Vanishing point. Oblique projection. Intaglio. It goes on and on, these tasty and magical words.

They should be poetry. They describe fields of possibility. They attempt to codify the making of illusion or the impulse of an explorer. Bending space. Deconstructing and reconstituting. Perceptual distinctions. The visual language of cultural norms.

There has been for centuries a mathematics of art. Optics and relativity, movements in science that have their conjoined artistic twins. Rebellions. The maintenance of form. Rules and rule breakers.

I sat in on a class taught by a master artist. He was a lover of landscape (another yummy word) and taught his students an earth-shattering lesson: reality, like time, cannot be caught. It’s a fools errand to try. Painting is a conversation. It is an infinite game. Bend space. Move the tree. Color is fluid, moving, never fixed.  Be like color. Play. Discover. Transform.

I do not consider myself a landscape painter. And then I remember the master teacher and I remove the word ‘landscape’ from my vernacular. And then, suddenly, there is a universe of movement, color, light, and shapes to bend.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about a LANDSCAPE SKETCH

 

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newborn. deconstruction. reconstitution.

 

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newborn /landscape sketch ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

 

Let It Catch You [on DR Thursday]

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a morsel of Earth Interrupted IV: shadow of division

Sometimes you have to stand still to let what you seek catch up to you. Kerri said that to me one day. Her words found their way into me and then became a poem and then the poem found its way into a painting, Earth Interrupted IV.

This week the painting found its way into a morsel for Studio Melange. A wisdom inspired a poem, became a painting, became a morsel called Shadow Of Division. Today, it becomes a post. Which, I am sure, will inspire another poem or a song (anything is possible in our house).

Art begets art. The well of possibilities is bottomless. And, rather than chase the possibilities as was once my strategy, I am learning to stand still. A wisdom, a poem, a painting, a morsel, a post about cycles and all things life giving.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SHADOW OF DIVISION

 

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My favorite thing about shadows? They blend divisions. They make cool new and surprising shapes out of seemingly separate things. Transformation is so simple and just a small shadow away.

 

shadow of division/earth interrupted IV ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Find Your Poetry Tree [on Chicken Marsala Monday]

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I stood before a school board and found myself defending daydreaming. I’d piloted an experiential learning program in the district and the board wanted to ensure my students would be “nose-to-the-grindstone” every moment of every day.

Learning (a creative process) has nothing to do with grindstones. Constant activity, rote exercises and busy-work-for-the-sake-of-busy-work may give the appearance of learning but that’s about it. People learn when in the pursuit of something real and my students were making movies, writing plays or starting businesses. Staring out of the window, I explained, was not only valuable but necessary. I wasn’t making excuses. I had brain science and learning theory to back me up.

There are very good reasons that most “aha moments” happen in the shower, while driving, or, like my students, staring out a window. Inner-space and quiet are necessary ingredients for insight. A good gaze out the window is, in actuality, an inward look, it’s a mental walkabout, a mind-stroll that allows a noisy brain to take a breath and let the logjam of thoughts to relax and flow.

Quinn used to tell me to cultivate my serendipity. He meant that I should open myself to insight, to make myself available to surprises and possibilities, to the utter magic of “where did that idea come from?” Opening yourself requires a good window or, like Chicken, a special poetry tree. On this Chicken Marsala Monday, get your nose off the grindstone, find your poetry tree, and allow the insights to find you.

POETRY TREE gifts and reminders

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Read Kerri’s blog post about FIND YOUR POETRY TREE

www.kerrianddavid.com

find your poetry tree ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

find your poetry tree designs/products ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Taste It Fully

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ice circles on the lake

We heard the angry barking of crows before we saw them. They were haranguing an owl. It flew into a tree only a few yards in front of us. For several moments, through the ruckus of the crows, we stared at the owl and it stared at us. Time stopped. Nothing else existed. The owl’s eyes, our breathing, the crow’s chorus.

For our wedding gift, H and Teru sent several collections of poetry, “Manuals on marriage,” they wrote in the note that came with the poems. Kerri and I are savoring the poems, reading one or two aloud to each other every day. They are a source of warmth and inspiration during these cold dark winter months. A poem cannot be rushed or read merely. It must be slowly tasted. It is meant to be entered like a meadow; to be experienced. Try to make sense of a poem and you will miss it. Just like life.

She said, “inner quiet is low maintenance,” and I laughed. Yes it is. The trick is in getting quiet. It is not something that can be found or achieved. It is not a place or a state-of-being. It is what happens when you stop looking for it. Like the hermit says to Parcival when the Grail Castle suddenly reappears, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

For years Sam the poet was afraid of his poems. Like all great art, his poems, his art, revealed the artist, and so he kept them locked up, un-tasted. He came alive and supremely dissatisfied when he finally unleashed his poetry. He let himself want more but also refused to let himself experience more; one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes. To taste fully one must be willing to be tasted.

A snippet of a poem (a koan imbedded in a poem), RELAX by Ellen Bass:

The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But, there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice – one white, one black – scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.

Taste your moment. Taste it fully.

I wrote in my black and red notebook a simple recognition. The field of possibilities cuts both ways: in your despair you must remember that anything is possible. In your joy you must remember that anything is possible. Tiger above (the past), tiger below (imagined future). Do not reject your moment or attempt to hold on to it – both are methods of missing the moment. Taste it regardless of the circumstance. Taste it fully.