Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

Accept What You See [on Flawed Wednesday]

I had the privilege to watch the work of the great Kichom Hayashi. He was a master of the middle way, helping polarized groups find middle ground and shared purpose. I have more than once wondered what Kichom would say about our great national divide.

For someone whose life work has been steeped in the art of “seeing” and perspective flips, I find myself utterly incapable of seeing the perspective of those on the other side. In truth, it’s not that I am incapable, it’s that I believe I already see it and what I see is ugly to the bone.

I remember a heated conversation in 2016 with my dear friend who stands on the opposite side of the divide. Too emphatically I said, “You wouldn’t leave your daughter alone in the same room with this man! How could you vote for him?” To date, 26 women have accused the outgoing president of sexual assault or misconduct. I can’t NOT see that nor can I pretend that it isn’t relevant. Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, my emphatic question to my friend unearthed the crux of the matter. This man has no moral compass. This man is capable of anything.

Standing on my side of the divide, the conversation that pops up again and again is a dilemma that goes something like this: “I want to find common ground but I can’t NOT see what my family, friends, neighbors have embraced.” The list of lies is extensive and pervasive. The corruption is life-long. A scam called Trump University. Bilking donors through his foundation. A businessman, famous for stiffing the working men and women who built his projects, who has been bankrupt six times, is not the biz-wizard he pretends. The emoluments violations are breathtaking. The art of his deal is the art of the swindle and I am utterly mystified at what my loved ones standing on the other side of the crevasse do not see.

And, actually, that sheds light on my fear. I am afraid that they DO see it. That they see it and either don’t care or that they embrace what this man represents. Misogyny. White supremacy. Authoritarianism. Conspiracy theories a-go-go. Fear mongering. Hatred of others. Rob. Rape. Pillage. I can’t NOT see what I know they MUST see.

I’ve provided an excuse for myself, something to make me feel better: they don’t see because they have their heads so firmly thrust into the fox hole. The story that they are being told blinds them. They are filled with info-goop that has all the truth-merit of the National Inquirer. But, in my quiet moments, I have to admit to myself that they must want to eat that bile. Who would choke down so much hatred unless, to them, it tastes good.

I rolled my eyes when my sister repeated the inanity, “There are more COVID cases because they are doing more testing!” I hung up the phone and shouted to the sky, “She can’t be that stupid!” She’s not stupid. She’s caring and loving and works hard in her community to make a better world. So what is it that she doesn’t see? Or doesn’t want to see?

On the other side of the crevasse I hear fear cries of “SOCIALISM” and, again, I roll my eyes. In a nation in which the top 1% holds and controls more of the wealth than the entire middle class, you’ll have to forgive my loud guffaw. “They can’t be that stupid!” I shout from the back deck. They either do not know what socialism is or they cannot SEE what is right in front of them. Or, they don’t care to see it. The slop that they are being fed must taste good. It must feed something inside of them. It certainly profits those who are feeding it to them.

Them. They. It is too easy to fact check what we are being fed. It only takes a moment to investigate media bias. What is it that THEY do not want to SEE?

And, most alarming to me, this is what I SEE: it is not just a difference of opinion that divides us. A difference of opinion orbits a common center of ethical understanding, of moral agreement. Kichom Hayashi could bring seemingly irreconcilable differences to a middle way because he knew the center, the moral compass, was shared.

To my friends and loved-ones, to those that have lined up behind a pathological lie, a gaping virtue-void, I can’t UNSEE it. I can’t justify or pretend there is any merit to the empty center, the grotesque morass of what you embrace. I would never leave my daughter alone in a room with a rapist. I wonder why you would.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNSEEING IT

See The Break [on KS Friday]

a double haiku:

She crawled in the tube,

face down, arm above her head.

Magnetic portrait.

Miraculous hand,

as seen from the inside-out.

Tiny bone, big soul break.

read Kerri’s MRI haiku

Kerri’s music – what she makes with her hands – is available on iTunes

Consider The Circumstance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Easy Way Down. We laughed. The sign only makes sense in the context of winter and deep, ski-able snow. Just out of the frame of this photograph is a chair lift. There is an easy way down because there is an easy way up. Later, as we knew we would have to do, we matched our easy walk down with a breathless slog back to the top.

Circumstance is everything. Sense-making requires a context. Stories only make sense within a specific context. Plunk a choice or a story line into an unrelated context and it seems like madness. Or stupidity. Yank Romeo and Juliet from the context of a society deeply divided by conflict and there is no story. There is no obstacle. It becomes the story of two delusional self-absorbed teenagers. Their choices would seem ridiculous without their circumstance.

I’m certain that Captain Obvious is yawning at my pedestrian observation. Circumstance is everything to sense-making. “So what!” the good Captain sighs.

Well, stop for a moment and consider this: we are in the grips of a worldwide pandemic. That is our circumstance. On this day in these once-united-states, roughly 8 months into our pandemic circumstance, over 220,000 of our citizens have perished from the virus. More than 8 million Americans have been infected. There are 42 million cases world-wide with more than 1 million deaths.

I might agree that a mask mandate – absent the circumstance of a global pandemic – might seem like an infringement on my personal liberties. It would make no sense. However, within the context of a global pandemic, railing against simple public protective measures – mask-wearing, social-distancing, washing hands – seems like so-much-lunacy.

The pandemic is our circumstance. Despite whatever noise and misdirection is being circulated within the fox-bubble, the pandemic is our circumstance. Denying the existence of a pandemic while the rates of infection break records daily is the madhouse equivalent of dumping Frodo and his mission into a Hallmark movie [a Hobbit with a mission finds himself in Christmas town where nice looking citizens offer him hot cocoa and the opportunity to find love in a tree farm]. It makes those within the fox-bubble crying “HOAX!” seem angry, petulant, delusional, and self-absorbed. It makes their dedicated resistance to mask-wearing and social-distancing infantile. It makes their gun-toting, testosterone-riddled protestations puerile.

The pandemic is our circumstance. It is the circumstance of the world. Denying it does not make it go away. As Doug might have said, “Wow! Every goddamn country in the world is pretending to have a deadly pandemic just to throw an election in the USA! I’ll bet that took some serious diplomacy!” [note: his language would have been much more salty]. Denying our circumstance creates worldwide incredulity at our utter stupidity and, above all, facilitates the spread of the virus.

I’m certain that theatre companies across this land are planning productions of Romeo and Juliet set in America 2020. Romeo is a child of the Blues, Juliet is the child of the Reds. The two youngsters, for a moment, with hearts full of new love, transcend their circumstance. Their society’s dedication to division will, of course, kill them both. Remember, too, that other cherished family members die along the way. Mercutio. Paris. It’s an old story asking a current question: how many will have to die, what [or who] is the loss so great that it/they will finally and at last open our eyes?

The pandemic is our circumstance.

read Kerri’s blog post about EASY WAY DOWN

Choose To See [on Flawed Wednesday]

If there are angels, they speak to me through books. Today’s post is a perfect example. We often choose our melange quotes and images a week ahead of time. The point is to NOT know what to write about until we sit down to write. That is the game we play. See what pops up. This morning, I opened Anam Cara, my current slow-read-book, and John O’Donohue’s thought-string could not be a more perfect angel.

“The human eye is always selecting what it wants to see and also evading what it does not want to see. The crucial question then is, What criteria do we use to decide what we like to see and to avoid seeing what we do not want to see?”

I’m hard pressed to find a more appropriate quote for our times. People deciding what they like to see and evading what they do not want to see. In gentler times – in healthier times – people are more willing and capable of challenging their criteria for seeing. Learning, in this sense, is nothing more or less than seeing what was previously unseen. Expanding the criteria.

“Many limited and negative lives issue directly from this narrowness of vision.”

Sadly, we do not live in healthy times. Isn’t it true that our national divide is predicated on NOT seeing? Contraction of thought, reduction of thinking, shrinkage of seeing is the rule of the day. Dedicated narrowness of vision is a necessary prerequisite for clusters of red hats to gather unmasked during a pandemic and cheer for a grifter. Conspiracy theories like Q are only possible when NOT seeing is more vital than seeing. Fox news depends upon viewers dedicated to narrow vision.

“To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed…It is sad that a greedy person can never enjoy what they have because they are always haunted by what they do not possess.”

Leona Helmsley and the current occupant of the White House are doppelgangers. Motivated by “naked greed.” I once directed a version of The Taming of the Shrew that dove headlong into the question of what happens when people try to fill their spiritual void with possessions. The short answer is that they twist and become grotesque. They bloat and become blind. You’ll never find a better image for the “greedy eye” or the current potus than Paul Cadmus painting of Gluttony & Greed.

“This greed is now poisoning the earth and impoverishing its people. Having has become the sinister enemy of being.”

Expanded seeing is the gift given to those who orient on this earth according to what they bring. Narrowness of vision is the result of those who orient on this earth according to what they get. It’s no longer a mystery why we are so divided. It’s now our choice to either see or to evade what is right in front of our eyes.

Read Kerri’s blog post about THE LITTLE PEOPLE

Shift [on Merely A Thought Monday]

shift key framed copy

Shift is not an insignificant key. In a nanosecond it can take you from lower case to upper. It can throw your backslash into question. The simple finality of a period can be pitched into a statement of worth: greater or lesser.

Doesn’t it feel like a malevolent pinky just hit the universal shift key in our world? Of this we can be sure: it’s a new sentence and there’s no going back to what we once knew as “normal.”

In spiritual circles, shift is what happens when our otherwise cloudy consciousness becomes crystal clear. In circles of learning and growth, shift is what happens to our perspective when what was previously unknown becomes readily apparent. The penny drops and we can never again not-know what we now comprehend.

Perhaps the omnipotent pinky pushing our shift key is not malevolent. Perhaps it was long past time that we took stock of the gap between our rhetoric and our actions, our professed history and the full accounting? Perhaps we needed a boost from our lower case value-set to actually approach our upper case potentials.

In the great stories, as in life, there is a paradox associated with profound shifts. They come, not through pursuit or seeking, they come when the protagonist stops looking, surrenders and stands still. The shift always comes with the realization that what is sought has been readily available all along. The belief in separation creates the necessity to seek. The commitment to division creates the necessity to fight for dominance.

Shift words like “unity” or “common” or “harmony” or “accord” or “wholeness” or “integrity” arise when the seeking and fighting and pursuing cease. They show up when we stand still, when we stop looking for them. They become options when we realize that they have been available all along.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SHIFT

Kerri is still in the Facebook penalty box so if you enjoy reading her thoughts please consider subscribing to her blog. I do – even though I get to read what she writes before she publishes. As her greatest fan it is always a pleasure to read the before-publish AND after-publish versions.

 

 

prayerflags pastel website box copy

 

 

color & contemplation copy

an oldie but goodie: contemplation

 

contemplation ©️ 2004 david robinson

Learn to Look [on KS Friday]

part of the wind dandelion fluff copy

“At the heart of beauty must be a huge care and affection for creation, for nowhere is beauty an accidental presence.” John O’Dononue, Beauty, The Invisible Embrace

I read yesterday in my Brain Pickings that Georgia O’Keeffe believed her close-up paintings were “a magnifying lens for paying attention.” I read and appreciated this phrase: Painting these close-ups was a way of learning to look, a way of removing the blinders with which we gallop through the world, slowing down, shedding our notions and concepts of things, and taking things in as they really are.

It is the astonishing miracle of a human being: we can choose to see or choose to not see. Also, we can choose what we see or we can choose to deny what is right in front of us. In any case, seeing is predicated on slowing down, on taking the time to “shed our notions and concepts of things.”

Seeing is an intentional act or perhaps it is a creation-in-the-moment – which implies it is an intentional relationship. In this way, as I understand it, seeing the beauty of this life is a decision, it is a lens. It is a dance.

I’ve never been in a hot-air balloon. Kerri had the experience once, it is the source of this composition. Hovering in a basket above the earth, moving with the wind, very few controls. It was, I imagine, an exercise of giving over, of letting go. I think seeing is like the experience she describes of hanging in the basket of a hot-air balloon. All concepts of hurry-up or getting-things-done drop away. Hard time dissolves. There is nowhere else to be. And, in that space, beauty makes known her presence. She opens your eyes.

 

PART OF THE WIND is on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PART OF THE WIND

 

 

HH coffee cups website box copy

 

 

part of the wind/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

  blanket of blue sky ©️ 2004 david robinson

Face The Sun [on Two Artists Tuesday]

clover copy

Walking the river trail I couldn’t help but whirl in the contradiction: everything has changed and nothing has changed. While the world of people is awash in pattern disruption, the rest of creation is following the script exactly.

Spring. The muddy season. The world pops green just as we knew it would. Just as it did last year and the year before and the year before. I believe our backyard ferns are growing 6 inches a day. Even the daily Dog-Dog assault cannot deter their reach for the sun. Life returns from darkness. Demeter sings at Persephone’s return.

If you seek an affirmation of life come sit in our backyard. The bird song will lift your spirits, these flying shocks of color will make you giggle with delight. Vibrant yellow, a cardinal more salmon than red. My eyebrows cartoon-pop in disbelief. We sit facing the sun in our broken Adirondack chairs and drink in the warmth.  “This doesn’t suck.” I say, eyes closed, basking in appreciation of the sun as it reaches to my bones. I’m certain I said the exact same thing last year and the year before that. Rituals of renewal need not always be solemn.

Sometimes I think this game of life is really an exercise in focus placement. I can choose to see the world as the work of Hieronymous Bosch– and sometimes I do. Beautifully horrific. Or, I can swivel my lens to Georgia O’Keefe and look at the wondrous small things, the miracle of nuance and the close-up. Sometimes, when I am at my best, I turn my eyes to see as Ellsworth Kelly did, when he imagined his chapel of light. “I think people need some kind of spiritual thing,” he said.

And so, with the vibrant greens popping, the screaming yellows flying, the blue-blue of a cloudless sky, tender lettuce leaves breaking through topsoil, I find myself surrounded by a Hieronymous Bosch narrative cycle but with just a little refocus, I am stunned by the grander cycle of marvel and mystery in this Ellsworth Kelly world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

 

lastlittlehousefeet website box copy

 

 

 

 

 

See Anew [on Merely A Thought Monday]

baconwrapped pears copy

It seems that everything during the pandemic is a study of circumstance-driven-change. For instance, I am a painter of people. I’ve never been interested in still life studies. Even in school, I cringed at the bowls of fruit placed before us by the instructor. Shape, shade, blah-blah-blah. Give me figure drawing any day! Suddenly, to my great surprise, I am photographing big bowls of fruit. They are gorgeous. I’m thinking about a painting featuring fruit.  What’s happening to me?

The devil is in the pandemic detail. We used to go to the store everyday. We used to buy what we needed for the next 24-48 hours. There were no big piles of fruit, no explosions of color in the fruit bowl or waves of color rolling across the counter. Now, in the time of pandemic, we stock up. We are – like you – buying massive amounts of bananas and oranges and apples and pears. They are, to an artist’s eye, when assembled, simply beautiful. They are, I suspect to an accountant’s eye, also beautiful, but my thoughts stray beyond merely eating.

Beautiful.

We are also in a fit of food experimentation. To delay our need to go into the wild COVID world and shop, we comb the empty larder, asking “What do we have? What can we make with what we have?” We throw our random ingredient list into the Google pool and voila! Yummy options emerge. Bacon wrapped pears. Oh. My. God. It never would have occurred to my bear-brain to wrap a pear in bacon. I savored it. I moaned. My eyes rolled back in my head.

Beautiful. Delicious.

When you study change processes, you bumble across something akin to a rule. It goes like this: if you know where you are going, then it is not really change; it is controlled reordering of what already exists. It may look new but is really the same old wolf in new sheep’s clothing.

Change is what happens when you step into unknown and strange lands, when all of the old points-of-orientation are gone. Only then will you step into something new and surprising. Only then will you see without the old dulling filter. For me, apparently, change looks like a big bowl of beautiful fruit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BACON WRAPPED PEARS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

banana copy

Look For The Manatee [on DR Thursday]

canopy copy

This has never been Kerri’s favorite painting. When I chose it for this week’s melange I asked her why she didn’t like it. She said, “Because there’s a manatee in it.”

“A manatee?”

“Keep in mind,” she said, “that I’m inkblot challenged.”

Wait. What?

Responding to the blank look in my eyes, she added, “I could never see Jesus in the pancake. Stuff like that.”

“The pancake?” My synapse fell short of the hoop. She Googled inkblots to demonstrate her disability.

“See (she pointed to an inkblot on the screen)! There’s Florida and I’m supposed to see Jesus. Wait. Oh. There he is. Wait! There’s a lot of stuff in there!” she marveled, squinting at the blot.

Blink. Blink.

“Oh! Maybe it’s that I see too much stuff in the inkblot!

I pulled up the image of the painting. “It’s called Canopy,” I said. I enlarged the image.

She looked close. “Wait. That’s not a manatee!” she exclaimed. “That’s a person’s leg!” She looked closer. “Hmmm.”

It is, after all, what I love about art: It is never complete. It emerges anew with each new look, each new performance. What I intend has very little to do with what is perceived and in that space between artist and audience, a new creation, a new conversation arises. Imagination is like that. It opens worlds of surprising possibilities. It projects itself into the known, into the painting, and magically transforms it.

“So, you don’t like manatees?” I tease.

“I love manatees!” she huffs. “Just not in your paintings.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post on CANOPY

 

 

 

 

 

not our best morning minturn website box copy

 

canopy ©️ 2009 david robinson