Open The Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Put on your swimmies for a dive into the esoteric.

It was hot last night so I lay awake thinking and that’s never a good thing for the people – like you – who pay attention to the random things I write or say. This is what I thought in the heat of the night: Saul always instructed me to look beyond my opponent and place my focus in the field of possibilities. “Look a hundred feet beyond your opponent,” he said.

It’s universally true that a mind needs something on which to focus. And, left untended, most minds will focus on complaints or problems. During my tilt-at-windmills-consulting phase I’d tease my clients with the notion that, rather than eliminate challenges, people create them. We need them. We call them hobbies. Or play. Or problems. After all, stories are driven by conflict and we are, at the base, storytelling animals. It’s worth noting that a great collaboration is not the absence of conflicting opinions but the capacity to use the heat of creative tension to find/discover a third way.

What does this have to do with Saul and the field of possibilities? A focus, to be useful, needs to be specific. What exactly does the field of possibilities look like?

The reason our untended minds sort to the negative is that the negative is usually concrete, an easy fixation. Fear is a clear picture – even when imaginary. Obstacles are easy to spot. Possibilities are rolling and amorphous. Changeable. It is the nature of a good possibility to shape-shift.

The masters of meditation mostly tell us to soften our focus. Or to let the thoughts roll through the brainpan like clouds; do not attach to what we think. Do not take ourselves so seriously. Practice flow instead of the hard fixing of thought.

And, therein is the source of my late night esoteria: the mind needs something to focus on. Or does it?

If I soften my gaze, if I look beyond the problem-of-the-moment to a vast field of floating possibility, am I tossing myself into a feedback loop? I lay awake wondering what the field of possibility might look like if it was graspable. Some people make vision boards for just this reason. Quinn used to hum and fill his mind with lyrics.

Tjakorda Rai laughed at me and told me I needed to “open my story.” At the time I thought he meant to take responsibility for my story. Now, I know exactly what he meant: let it flow. Get out of the way. The demons and monsters and fears and problems and challenges are…passing things. Story fodder, nothing more. So look beyond them. Flow. Focus on the flow. Open the story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOUNTAIN

Pass The Cheer [on DR Thursday]

We do some quirky things. Driving an aspen tree halfway across America in the back of our car is certainly on the list of quirky.

It’s from a place special to us. We honeymooned at Linda and Bill’s condo in Breckenridge, Colorado. I am from Colorado and our honeymoon trip felt like coming home – for both of us. We return to that special place when we can, though not often enough. There is a trail we like to hike. It’s become an old friend that we need to visit when in the area. If we do nothing else, we strap on our boots and begin the climb. It follows a brook up the side of the mountain. We’ve never made it to the top but one day…

On our mantel is a piece of driftwood from Long Island, Kerri’s home. In our dining room is a log – literally a log – we carried from our trail in Breckenridge. Elemental. We have stones from our respective birthplaces, too. Our house is filled with confused cairns, pointing both east and west.

We named the little aspen tree Breck. It traveled in a pot with its tippy top branches bent against the car ceiling for the ride. It survived the journey. For the first few years it lived in a pot on the deck in the warm months and was wrapped and protected in the winter. Breck’s quaking leaves make us smile and instantly transport us to the special town in the high mountains.

Breck did not like its first spot where we planted it in the yard. The top branches died. When we moved it last fall, we were afraid that Breck would not make it through the winter. We talked to it. We cheered for it. “You can do it!” we chirped. Imagine our relief and celebration a few weeks ago when we went out back and found Breck budding. Lots of buds. More sun. Better soil. New Growth!

A reminder of a special place. A symbol of resilience and a hearty can-do. This spring it feels as if Breck is speaking to us, too. More sun! Better soil! You can do it. New growth. Art-life budding.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BRECK

Use A Bag [on DR Thursday]

To Chris Crites, grocery shopping day is a feast. To Chris, these sacks are more than functional. They are more than ordinary shopping bags. These bags are canvas. They are opportunities for art. They are surfaces meant for brilliant mugshots. The underbelly of society made beautiful on brown paper sacks.

I’m not sure if it was Chris or the other artists in my Seattle pod that prompted me to experiment. One of my forays into “where will this take me” required paper sacks. Lots of paper sacks, torn to bits and pasted on a canvas. I drew and painted on top of the bits.

I forgot about my experiment until I met Kerri and one day unrolled all the canvas to show her what was in the pile. She cooed at my paper bag experiment. “This should be a series,” she said. “It should be called Earth Interrupted.” And, so it was.

I have (mostly) been a painter of people. I’ve learned that art – and theatre – for me are a means and not an end. In other words, I don’t paint because I want to master the craft of painting or make brilliant paintings. I paint to study people. I paint because it is a meditative space. I paint because I lose myself and enter someplace bigger. I paint because it helps me “to see.”

I completed six additions to the Earth Interrupted series and then stopped. I lost my way. That’s always been my experience when I abstract- when I leave the figure and mess with texture and shape. I know I’m not finished with it. Getting lost is part of the process.

Unloading the groceries last week brought me up short. I felt like Chris Crites. So much possibility sitting on the counter. So much material begging to be transformed.

Earth Interrupted I, mixed media, 48x53IN

read Kerri’s blog post about BAGS

earth interrupted I © 2012 david robinson

Choose How [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My friend’s children are having children. The top-of-the-list advice my friends offer their children, now parents themselves, is this: it goes so fast. Appreciate every single moment. Love every phase. You will blink your eye and they will be grown and gone.

I lost my dad in September. I have, like most people who’ve lost a loved one, spent much of the time since his passing remembering and reflecting. It’s a mixed bag of treasuring moments and wondering why I didn’t fully appreciate others. It is true, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

What is so hard about appreciating – fully appreciating – the limited moments of your life?

I used to facilitate an exercise. It had four phases. Working in small groups, the first phase was to have a group member identify a problem in their life and then tell a blame-story about the problem. The rest of the group helped by supporting the person in their story of blame. The groups howled with laughter. Blame is fun. It’s addictive, like sugar.

In the second phase, the groups tried to “fix” the problem. The serious, concerned faces puzzled possible fixes but inevitably dissolved into more laughter: there’s nothing like trying fix a problem to create more problems and loop back into a juicy blame story.

Phase three was simple: I asked the original problem-story-teller to retell their story as a story of choice, not blame. I asked the other members of the group to support the teller in their story of choice. Silence ensued. And then, quiet presence as the new narrative – the story of choice – slowly inhabited the room.

Blame stories are like too much candy. They are easy to eat and yet have no real sustenance.
Stories of choice are much harder to tell but they are rich in awareness and appreciation of the moment.

We never arrived at the fourth phase: stories of opportunity. Activating choice. The notion of taking responsibility for choices always stopped the exploration. Our conversations about choice-avoidance usually filled the time.

What we gain in blame, we lose in appreciation of our moments. In order to taste the moment, one must first choose to be in it – and then choose how to be in it.

Grief is a phase to be loved, not avoided. As is the celebration of a first birthday. A new life. A lost love. A full spectrum. Taste every moment.

read Kerri’s blog post about MOMENTS

Gain The Force [on KS Friday]

It seemed appropriate, in order to conclude our year of water, that we travel to visit a region of the country with 250 waterfalls. Of course, we didn’t know about the waterfalls until we arrived. Water, water everywhere. I howled with laughter and secretly affirmed that our unintentional pilgrimage to the waterfalls might appease the great WHATEVER and finally release us from water-resistance into the watercourse way.

I will someday look back at our journey to the falls and realize the extent to which we “let go.” It already serves as a marker, a breaking through the resistance and fight of the last chapter and into the next. The new chapter.

Yesterday, at work, I had the opportunity to tease apart a question en route to asking a better question. I am fortunate to have a team of collaborators that, instead of rejecting my alternate perspective outright, even amidst the frustration of my challenge of the norm, ask me to lean into it. My assignment was to return next week with a better question. I am a firm believer that the form of a question – the way that it is asked – determines the answers that are seen or – more importantly – not seen.

Better questions are like the watercourse way. They show up when, instead of swimming against the current, against “what is,” the swimmer/questioner turns and allows the current to carry them. Wu-wei. Natural action. Every creator knows the moment of frustration when trying to force something into being. More force can only produce more frustration. Or, it breaks something. The best thing to do, when force can only produce an eddy, is put down the brushes, step back, and look at what-is. Force never produces a better question. Stepping off the mountain so it becomes visible – or acknowledging the direction of the river’s flow and giving into it, always reveals new possibility.

It is what I remembered for myself at the waterfall. It made me chuckle, then, when my first moment back at work, I was doing for my team what I’ve done all my life: attempting to flip or free a perspective by lobbying for flow; acknowledge what exists-in-the-moment versus what we want to exist. The better question – for me – and others – is always found when we turn and gain the full force of the river.

[I can’t imagine a better piece of music to carry us into 2022. Give yourself a treat – truly – and listen to Riverstone]

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATERFALL

riverstone/as it is is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

riverstone/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

See The Life [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There was a transformation the moment we raised the branch and secured it in the pot. “It looks happy,” Kerri said. I was thinking the exact same thing. This broken branch, muddy and discarded and sad, we brought into the house, trimmed it, lifted it, and positioned it, was instantly revivified. The moment was palpable.

“Are we just making it up” she asked.

“No,” I responded, not certain what, exactly, I was seeing, but this branch was suddenly full of life. It was warm and energetic where, only a few moments before, it was downcast. “I think it likes being here.”

We stood and stared and tried to make sense of what we were seeing. “This would make a good children’s book,” we said at the same moment. Happy, happy, happy.

We added a few simple lights, a single ornament, but mostly we let it be. Its happiness is decoration enough.

We visit our tree during the day. Its exuberance is infectious. Before retiring each night, we turn off all the lights in the house except for the tree. We sit with it and drink in the warm feeling it radiates.

“That tree is like good sculpture,” 20 said, admiring it. “It reaches,” he added. Good energy.

We remain amazed. We’ve not yet grown used to the sudden metamorphosis. I hope we never do. It’s become more than a symbol for the season. It’s a possibility. A promise. A reminder.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE TREE

Imagine The Stack [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Driving into Colorado, from any direction, I know, will require a lengthy stop at the Welcome Center. Some people stop for a rest or to stretch their legs. Some people stop to give their dog a walk. We stop for the brochures. County by county, city to city, Kerri moves through the brochures like a driven detective; what is going on in this state that might require our participation? While she info-scours, I stroll.

I recognize that the stack of brochures I carry to the car, sometimes stacks, represents possibilities. They are a stockpile of imaginings, a library of what-if. They ride with us throughout our trip. They come in handy. And then, they make the journey home with us. And then, they join us in our daily lives. They come to the grocery store. They wait while I pump gas. They age, get wet, wrinkle, and bleach with the sun.

As part of our prep for a trip back to the mountains, I secretly remove the stack(s), a little at a time, and put them in the recycle bin. Just once I made the mistake of recycling the mouldering brochures with no trip to Colorado in sight. I learned. There’s more to the brochure stack than simple travel information. There’s a deeper anchor, a promise, a beckoning, a heart-call in-print. For something of this weight and import, a few brochures will not do. A couple brochures cannot contain the expanse of Kerri’s imagination. A mound, a mountain, is barely enough. The only limit we must acknowledge, is the size of our car. Little Baby Scion is intrepid, but like all of us, has certain limits.

read Kerri’s blog post about BROCHURES

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

See The Subtle Color [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“The most colorful thing in the world is black and white, it contains all colors and at the same time excludes all.” ~ Vikrmn

I loved watching Kichom facilitate groups. His specialty was impasse. He spent years developing and refining processes that opened pathways in hopelessly divided communities. He helped them find a third way. His was not a process of compromise. I’d describe his work as escalation-to-breakthrough. In minds and hearts entrenched in black-and-white, he’d reveal the nuance of color. He loved the moment when eyes-squeezed-closed-against-possibility opened ever so slightly to see.

Kichom understood that, to fully open a story, it was necessary to first look at the full story.

I often think of Kichom and wonder what he would do if these un-united states were his client. I wonder what he say to a nation built on slavery that refuses to discuss something as simple (and obvious) as critical race theory. Every healing path begins with acknowledgement of the wound. Perhaps Kichom would tell me that our current escalation might very well lead to a breakthrough. That is my inner idealist speaking.

It was a very cold day. Even wearing gloves, the tips of our fingers were growing numb. When Kerri said she wanted to leave the trail and step into the grove of trees, I jumped up and down to stay warm. She waded into the thicket, took off her gloves, and pointed her camera to the sky. A few minutes later, as I jumped up and down, she waded back through the thicket to the join me on the trail. “Isn’t this cool!” she exclaimed, red fingers holding the camera for me to see. “People will look at this photo and think it’s black and white but it’s not! It’s winter!”

Looking at the photo, divided on the diagonal, I heard Kichom’s laughing voice. “It’s never black and white,” he giggled. “It only seems that way. Keep looking and soon the eyes will open to a world filled with subtle color.”

It’s something to be hoped for. The opening of the eyes. The acknowledgement of a problem. A good hard look at the full story. A breakthrough in a community that is dedicated to seeing in black and white.

read Kerri’s blog post about BLACK AND WHITE

Relax And Prime [on KS Friday]

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon yesterday drawing cartoons. I had to get away from the computer screen. I’ve learned – relearned – that staring into the screen too long makes me myopic and unimaginative. I’m not certain if this is true for everyone but I am kinesthetic. There’s a necessary balance. Sitting still and staring at a screen without the opposite focus are creative-killers for me. I do my best thinking when I move around, when I stop trying to solve or deconstruct. I’m fortunate that drawing with a #2 pencil at an old-fashioned light table is part of my job.

Greg lives his life in front of a screen – multiple screens – and, to get away, he dives. His underwater photography is gorgeous. In a meeting a few days ago, he said that diving clears his mind. His greatest insights come when he’s underwater or sitting on the beach after a dive. There’s good science behind his insight. Relaxation triggers dopamine: the more dopamine, the more creative. Comfort and relaxation prime the creative pump. Stress and tension unplug the pump.

The best thing to do when trying to squeeze out a revelation is to walk away. Take a drive. Take a shower. Stop thinking so hard. Daydreaming is very productive. I’ve learned that anger and frustration rarely – if ever – lead to creative insight and generally produce the opposite of what’s desired. Anger (like too much time in front of a computer screen to me) is myopic. It narrows. It squeezes off the dopamine. It blinds the mind and heart to possibility.

Kent Nerburn wrote that, “For those of us in the arts, enthusiasm is never outlived. The sun is always rising before us, and our wonder at the world, the true source for all meaningful art, only grows stronger as life slows from passage to moments…” There’s always a next painting to paint. Another song to write. A photograph to take. It’s one of the reasons I love taking walks with Kerri: we rarely get very far before she gasps, and stops to take a photograph of some small miracle. And, while she’s collecting images of small miracles, I look to the sky and let my mind wander, a walking meditation, a creative pump primer.

And, almost always, somewhere on the trail, the dot that refused to connect while I was too-long staring at the screen, takes me by the hand and says, “It’s so simple. Do you see?”

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERGREEN

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

Dump The Suit [on DR Thursday]

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” ~ Lao Tzu

Lately, I’m on a Lao Tzu quote kick. Have you noticed? An advocate for a simple life, his words – or those attributed to him – appeal to me at this moment in my walk.

The outstanding characteristic of my working life is that I have mostly been a sore thumb, the person in the collective who doesn’t belong to the collective. That’s been my value: I am the consummate outsider. I do not sit on the mountain so I can more clearly see the mountain. The alternative perspective. I’ve not always found that to be a comfortable role. For instance, alternative perspectives are invited into conversations but the alternative perspective, when voiced, is rarely welcome. The first response to the alternative perspective is almost always an emphatic whisper, “Conform!”

I have, my entire life as the sore thumb, been told that, “Our people will never do that!” or “They don’t think that way, therefore you must conform-modify-edit…” The emphasis is placed squarely on the limit, the notion that “They can’t…” or “They won’t…”

And, I’ve never found that to be true. In fact, that’s precisely the perception that a sore thumb is hired to challenge. “They” can. “They” will. The job of the alternative perspective is to emphasize the possible, to open paths to the not-yet-imagined, to the revelation of, “We didn’t know we could do that.” Or see that. Or feel that.

In order to walk in an alien world, the sore thumb necessarily steps into the unknown. The first step is to listen and learn: to open to the possible within themselves, to challenge the inner-limiter. The alternative perspective lives on a two-way-discomfort-street with their client.

It is never comfortable to “not know.” It’s never comfortable to say, “I have no idea what that means.” However, it’s a great exercise, a necessary practice. And, it’s actually what the alternative perspective is paid to do and to model. “We didn’t know we could do that,” are words that come after a step into discomfort, a step beyond the known limits. “We step together because we both know how this feels.”

The alternative perspective is never right or wrong, it is simply an alternative. “These are the patterns I see. They may be useful or not.” Conformity bristles when the unknown beckons. Conformity is safe, and the emphatic whisper, while meant to maintain comfort for all, is the line that a sore thumb is hired to help the whisperer cross, “The possibilities we seek live beyond this line.”

The first day I put out my consultant shingle, I bought a suit. It’s what I thought I was supposed to wear. I bought my suit because I’d snagged a client, a financial advisor who wanted me to work with his staff. He’d seen my work – he’d seen me work – in another context. After the job, he asked me, “What’s up with the suit?” I’d always been told by well-meaning teachers that I should “dress for the job I wanted,” so I told my client that I’d dressed for the job. He gave me some great advice: dump the suit. “I want you to show up as you are, not as the person you think we want to see.”

His words became my mantra.

Truth: I hated that suit. I felt like an imposter wearing it. My client gave me a great gift. Be content to be yourself. Challenge the inner-limiter. Inner-limiters are very loud, and like outer-limiters, are generally not worth listening to; they will always advise you to conform, say nothing, and put on an ill-fitting suit.

[Happy Thanksgiving]

read Kerri’s blog post about GOURDS

tango with me © 2018 david robinson