Recognize The Divine [on KS Friday]

“To say that life is destabilized by weakened institutions is merely to say that information loses its use and therefore becomes a source of confusion rather than coherence.” ~ Neil Postman, Technopoly.

“Regularly throughout conversation in Gaelic, ” John O’Donohue writes, “there is explicit recognition that the divine is present in others.” Social fabric is tightly woven and made strong by the recognition of value, divine or otherwise, in all members of a community. During my travels in Bali I was moved again and again by the interconnectivity, the deep assumption of coherence that wove together daily life and community. “If two cars crash, “Budi told me, “the driver’s first thought is not that the other is to blame, it is that they are supposed to meet.”

And when the devaluation of others becomes a national pastime as it has in these once united states, pushing down the head of an other in an attempt to elevate the self – the preferred action of all drowning people – saves no one. It only delays the drowning of all involved. That sound we hear is the rending of our social fabric, the breaking apart of the ship. Those shouts of triumph and scorn coming from the top deck will be short lived. Confusion is a lousy organizing principle and guarantees a watery grave for all on board.

We are awash in information and so we are also awash in an assault on information. Misinformation is our Achilles Heel. So weakened by gaslighting are our public institutions that the single most damning confession of our lifetime, a president admitting for all to hear that he knew and lied about the deadly virus, is shrugged off. “Yeah, well what about Nancy Pelosi’s hair!” I shuddered when I read the inane defense. We flatten. Our values fade as fast as our perspective. Thousands died who did not have to – heads were knowingly pushed under. Thousands will die who do not have to; an estimated 410,000 by the new year. Disposable people.

Neil Postman wrote, “What makes science possible is not our ability to recognize ‘truth’ but our ability to recognize falsehood.” Replace the word “science” with the word “community’ and the statement rings just as true. A community that cannot recognize falsehood is in trouble. A community that will not deal with truth is destined to drown in its own willful confusion.

We will not find our way through this paralysis until we can step out of this car crash and, instead of pointing our fingers and blaming, we step toward each other with wonder at what brought us together, until we are willing to ask, “Why did we meet?”

CONNECTED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

Honor The Line [on DR Thursday]

“We often need to lose sight of our priorities in order to see them.” ~ John Irving

Walking down the trail a few days ago, Kerri and I had a hysterical conversation. If you could go back in time, who would you tell to f**k off? There was a long list and some seriously funny stories of misplaced tolerance. We laughed at the moments when younger versions of ourselves were silent, when we should have spoken. We groaned at the moments that we let someone run over us. When we should have held a boundary but did not.

“Why didn’t I say something?” We chortled. Grace comes with time. What was years ago a violation is now head-shaking-story.

The next day, about to enter the local corner market, someone called Kerri’s name. Before she could stop it, in the middle of this pandemic, a time when we’ve been religious about social distancing, a woman threw open her arms and locked Kerri in an embrace. It was an awkward and short-lived hug; Kerri was like a stone cold post, her hand that was rising for protection was squished in the unwelcome clutch. The woman shrunk and retreated. We ducked into the store.

“Why didn’t I stop her?” Kerri asked as we walked home. There was no time. “Doesn’t she know there’s a pandemic?” A space violation.

Context is everything.

I was delighted when Kerri chose this snippet of a painting for the Melange. For her, it represented the moment that she could have interrupted the unwanted hug. She named this little morsel “Back Up!”

For me it is something entirely different. This full painting is called Pieta With Paparazzi. I’d mostly forgotten about this painting since I only showed it one time and that was over a decade ago. It is more relevant today than it was when I painted it. It is about the flattening of importance, the loss of perspective. It is about how – even a decade ago – everything seemed to be a media event. Mary contemplates the body of her dead son while the media circus swirls around her.

The shorthand phrase for our time: nothing is sacred. The line between a simple truth and a manufactured event has been blurred, perhaps irreparably. Lies are celebrated and vehemently defended. Truths discarded. Boundaries crossed. Hugs taken. Shots fired. The other day I heard someone say, “People say things on Facebook that they’d never say in person.” Too true. Social discourse and public policy are tragedies enacted on a social platform for a ready-made audience. All the world’s a stage.

In time, we might ask ourselves, “Why didn’t we do something?” or “What were we thinking?” Perhaps, in time, we’ll have the distance and the grace to see why we should have stepped back and stopped this incessant crossing of boundaries, this white house media circus. Perhaps, in losing sight of our priorities, they will someday come back into focus and we will see them again.

pieta with paparazzi

read Kerri’s blog post about BACK UP!

pieta with paparazzi ©️ 2010 david robinson

Walk With Me [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Lately, I’m dreaming of walking the Pacific Crest Trail. It is an escape fantasy. I want to unplug from this angry culture and its toxic division. I want to walk until it hurts. I want to listen to the wind. I want to think-no-thoughts.

I’m kinesthetic. Walking is a better form of meditation for me than sitting. I get quiet when I walk. Chris once told me that I should lead pilgrimages. At the time it made me laugh since I was certain I could probably guide the walk but had very little to offer seekers other than this bit of counsel: shhhhhhhhhhhh. Listen.

I grew up in Colorado and camped often. Say the word, “sacred” to me and I immediately hear the sound of wind rustling through the tops of pine trees. Once, walking a trail in the mountains, it began to gently snow. The forest stilled. It was so quiet I thought for a brief moment that I’d grown deaf. The wind. The quiet. I heard myself catch my breath. Sacred.

At the beginning of this pandemic time, we’d wake in the morning and, sometime during coffee, we’d remember. “Oh, right,” Kerri would say, “we’re living in a sci-fi movie.” The night had forgiven the previous day’s stresses.

One day in Bali, walking down a long road, I felt unsettled. A young man came from the fields and joined me. At first I was perturbed because I wanted to be alone but soon I found his company reassuring.  I asked where he was going and he said, “With you. I walk with you.”

I was confused and asked “Why?”

He was confused by my question. “You are a guest here,” he said in his broken English. “To let you walk alone…is not nice.”

I thought of this young Balinese man, my one-day companion, as I drifted off to sleep last night. The gentle courtesy of his act. His deeply felt obligation of presence. His work-of-the-day was less important, less vital, than showing spontaneous kindness to a stranger. Would I need my escape fantasy, my epic walk, if the people in my country were as generous, as respectful of each other, as he was to me?

“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” ~ Frederick Buechner

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ANOTHER DAY’S CHALKING

 

 

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held in grace: rest now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Mourn The Loss [on KS Friday]

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28 years ago, on this day, Kerri’s older brother, Wayne, died of lung cancer. If you want to know how she feels about it, you need only listen to LAST I SAW YOU. Grief made utterly beautiful in its yearning.

It is the gift of the artist to transform, to turn the darkest day, the breaking heart, into something bearable. It is the gift of the artist to communicate what cannot be captured in language, to transport us, in a safe way, into and through the hurt so we might touch the unfathomable depth of love. It is the gift of the artist to open new pathways and possibilities, to guide communities into and through impossible conversations. To point the way to a new story, a new perspective growing from an old and ancient root.

In my mind it is the greatest loss when an artist turns against their artistry. The entire world loses on the day an artists says, “Why bother.” There’s no money in it. The artist loses most of all because they’ve bitten the poison in the American apple. They wither and die. Not everything is or should operate like a business. Education is not nor ever should be a business. Worship is not a business. Healthcare is not nor ever should be a business. Run them that way and the priorities flip. The greater is lost in the lesser. When making money becomes more important than health or care or spirit or the expansion of minds, we lose our way. We send our kids back to school during a pandemic to open the economy. Sacrificial lambs. Throw them into a volcano to make it rain.

What we value in this nation is abhorrent.

And then there is Kerri. What a gift. What a loss. She read today that someone is now making silverware out of old CDs. “Look,” she said, showing me the article. “We have a basement filled with CDs! Maybe we should have gone into the silverware business!” Proving to herself once again that her gift is less than worthless. Worth less gift. No business.

Great! I thought but did not say. A world filled with forks but void of your music. No one to lead us through the dark, no way to reach the truly beautiful.

“My paintings,” I said, feigning alliance, “are destined for a thrift store.” I’ve given up the fight with her (though, by this post you can see that I am a liar).

I continue to paint with no illusion about “sales” or “showing” or the other necessities of “business.” It’s for me, now. Transformation of dark to light can be selfish, too. Personal. After all, for me, it’s always been a spiritual path. Business necessities pale in the comparison.

If you want to know what I [and Wayne] feel about Kerri turning her back on her artistry, you need only listen to LAST I SAW YOU. Listen for the strings. It will break your heart.

 

LAST I SAW YOU is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LAST I SAW YOU

 

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last i saw you/this part of the journey ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

meditation ©️ 2015 david robinson

Find The Deeper Impulse [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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See a penny, pick it up. All that day you’ll have good luck. 

I saw a penny in the parking lot of the UPS store and, wanting to have a full day of good luck, I swooped down and picked it up. Kerri, horrified, said, “What are you thinking? Put that down!” I was marched back to the truck and slathered myself with hand sanitizer.

My penny swoop debacle in the parking lot of the UPS store is how I mark the beginning of the pandemic. It was the first time that the danger of a simple action, touching what someone else had touched, penetrated. The penny dropped [sorry – I couldn’t help myself]. It was early in this experience called pandemic, before masks, before social distancing. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. And, above all, leave the good luck penny on the pavement.

And it seems like years since I touched that penny.

My penny swoop was an impulse. Kerri asked me what I was thinking but I wasn’t thinking. I was riding on the instinct train. The child-rhyme ignited my luck desire and I went in for the grab. And, isn’t that the real hardship of this pandemic? Quashing the impulse to hug your friends, to walk toward your neighbor to say hello, to let the kids play together, to stop in the store and chat with acquaintances? 20 stands outside  his mother’s assisted living apartment; she stands on the balcony and they shout to each other. Each day I watch Kerri override the deep-mother-instinct to run and find her children, all-grown-up-and-moved-away.

It’s unnatural, this veto of instinct. And, it is what makes us human. It is natural to run from danger and yet doctors and nurses everyday walk into hospitals during this pandemic. They walk into exposure. First responders, police and fire people, everyday put the public safety above their own. It is what lifts us into our humanity; placing the needs of others above our own. It is what we celebrate, what we admire. What we claim as our highest ideal. People giving of themselves for the benefit of others.

We call that sacrifice. We call it service. We call it sacred. We  call it grace and generosity. We go to houses of worship and proclaim it. We make movies about it. Frodo must destroy the ring of power for the benefit of all. Otherwise, he twists in his selfish personal power lust and becomes like Gollum. This tale is universal for a reason.

And, I suspect that I am wrong. The survival instinct has a deeper nature. Soldiers talk about it just as first responders do: in the moment of real danger there is not a question about throwing themselves on top of their companion, sacrificing self to save the other. It, too, is an impulse. A purer survival instinct. It is not an override.  It is, when all else is stripped away, what we are.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PICKING UP SPARE CHANGE

 

 

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Approach It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Because we have lost reverence of approach, we should not be too surprised at the lack of quality and beauty in our experience.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

There was a common thread that ran through the lessons my mentors taught me: how I treat my space is a direct reflection of how I approach my artistry, my work.

Whether they said it directly or not, they understood artistry as sacred, artistic spaces as sacred spaces. Places of communion.

Paul Barnes used to tell his acting students, “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.” There is a responsibility when getting on the stage. There is a responsibility when designing for the stage. There is a responsibility for how tickets are sold. There is a responsibility for how the theatre is cleaned and maintained, the studio, the shop… Tom’s students were famous for sweeping the parking lot of the theatre because they believed the audience experience began with the approach to the building. The sweepers understood themselves as artists.

During our last days on island, Kerri and I began cleaning out the theatre. We began the process of introducing a new approach. We started our job mid-season and were asked to come to the island and watch and learn. All summer, as a watcher, I repeated this phrase: everyone wants to use the theatre but no one wants to be responsible for it. Responsible to it. Groups entered and dumped their stuff. When they left, they left their mess for Pete to clean and why not? (Pete gets it, he is meticulous, and loves the space. But he is a lone sweeper fighting the tide of a dedicated mindless approach.)

TPAC is understood as a place to be used. It is a space the community fights over. A territory to be claimed. It is not yet approached as a space where beauty is touched, where actions matter because they are capable of unifying, where artistry is understood, not as a personal domain, but the grace of collective creation.

Sitting on the empty stage, the season closed, Kerri and I sat and listened. “It’s time to make the space ours, ” she said. “I think I’ll clean out the fridge.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE END OF SEASON

 

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Laugh Together [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Why don’t people care?” I frequently loop back to Stephen’s question – asked so many years ago – about art. He’s a prolific and gifted painter. I have so many responses, mostly contradictory. Everything from ‘People do care, it’s just inaccessible,’ to ‘Why should they care, it’s so personal to the artist (not communal, not inclusive) that it’s not accessible.”  The common word in all my inner-Stephen-musings is ‘access.’

My pot was irrevocably stirred during my time in Bali. There, the arts are practiced in the temple – a place, the central focus – for everyone and everything in the community. Every aspect of life is rooted-in and practiced-through the temple. That is to say, all things are still considered sacred – even and especially ‘the arts.’ As sacred, the arts belong to everyone, not just the artist or the elite who can afford it. They are accessible because they are not a possession, they are a sacrament. Additionally, the temple does not stop at the end of the compound. The whole world is the temple. In this temple, the arts serve as the binder, the carrier of the story that holds the treasure of the community: its identity.  The arts are not only accessible, they provide access. They affirm belonging.

In this temple, through this sacred story, laughter is highly valued. Laughter, foible, whimsy, – all reminders that, 1) we should not take ourselves so seriously, and 2) laughter is a potent force, like gravity. It joins us. It cuts through division, turns fear into powder. It provides perspective. Laughter is the sound of appreciation, the music people make together when worshiping the great mystery of life.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE NOBLEST ART

 

 

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Do A Rough Draft [on DR Thursday]

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the field in early october: a morsel

I love seeing artists’ rough drafts. One of my all time favorite art exhibits was the hundreds of drawings and sketches John Singer Sargent executed en route to his painting, El Jaleo.

I’m more interested in the process than the final piece. I’m more captivated by the search than the find. That includes my own work as well. For me, the final painting is less a finished piece and more of a pause in the conversation.

It bothers me when a curator tells people what a painting is about or what the artist intended. I’ve squirmed many times during openings of shows when the gallery curator, introducing my work, tells people what my paintings mean. It locks people out. It prevents them from having THEIR relationship with my painting. I squirm equally when the work is not mine. I want a more pure experience.

To me, art is a doorway to the sacred, to the deeper things that words often cannot reach. It is a passage back to the beginning, to the fingerpainter, the child freely playing – prior to the time when a judge is planted between the painter and the piece, the painting and the viewer. That is where the riches are. And in that place it is all a rough draft.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FIELD IN EARLY OCTOBER

 

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a field in early october/morsel ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

 

KS Friday

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Always With Us (track 14)

Kerri and I had a few days off. I’d never seen Door County so we jumped in the car and headed, as the folks around here like to say, “up north.” On our way back we stopped to say hello to Hans the music producer. Kerri and Hans have been for years dancing around producing an album together. Hans is also an amazing cellist. He gave us a tour through his recording studio and invited Kerri to give his studio piano a try. She sat and began to play. He sat at his cello and joined her. My mouth dropped open and I started to cry. Artistry, when it is pure, does that to me. I found myself standing in a sacred space created by two consummate musicians who were simply doing what they were born to do. They had no idea I was stunned to tears. They were playing around. They were having fun. They played together for about an hour, Hans dashing in and out to get different instruments to noodle around with, Kerri playing whatever came through the channel. I sat in the corner and tried to keep breathing.

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Always With Us [solo piano version, track 2]

No recording exists of that day. I would listen to it every day if it did. It was spontaneous and as holy and temporary as a sand painting. On the drive home I tried to describe my experience to Kerri and asked her why she and Hans had never recorded together. “It costs a lot of money to record, ” she said, adding, “and, nowadays, with people streaming music instead of buying it, there’s almost no way to recoup the investment. It’s better to enjoy the process, to have fun playing with someone like Hans.”

I remembered that day with Hans when we chose Always With Us for this week’s melange. It turns out that our melange conversation this week has been all about artistic process: stepping blindly, having faith, landing in pot holes, making bold offers, capturing moments, and most importantly, treasuring the relationship with “something bigger” that comes through when the artist(s) step out of the way and something sacred happens.

ALWAYS WITH US from the album AS IT IS (track 14) iTunes

ALWAYS WITH US from the album AS IT IS (track 14) CDBaby

ALWAYS WITH US from the album ALWAYS WITH US (track 2) iTunes

ALWAYS WITH US from the album ALWAYS WITH US (track 2) CDBaby

PURCHASE THE PHYSICAL CD: ALWAYS WITH US v. 1

 

KS DESIGNS on society6.com

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always with us LEGGINGS copy

always with us FRAMED ART copy

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read Kerri’s thoughts on ALWAYS WITH US

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kerrianddavid.com

ALWAYS WITH US from AS IT IS, ALWAYS WITH US v.1 ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

Pass It Forward

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david robinson at zatista.com