Stay On The Root [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I wrote a note to myself and put it on the stairs. Later, I’ll carry the note up to my studio/office. It reads: standing still in the sacrament of uncertainty.

I know well this sacrament of uncertainty, this thing of mysterious and sacred significance. I’ve been here before, many times. Standing still is becoming easier.

This morning these words caught me so I underlined them in pencil: They are fully aware that their common ancestors, the Tairona, waged fierce but futile war against the invaders. In their mountain redoubt, lost to history for at least three centuries, they chose deliberately to transform their civilization into a devotional culture of peace.” ~ Wade Davis, The Wayfinders.

Deliberate transformation into a devotional culture of peace. Imagine it if you can.

She was so wise! Karola’s advice to the 30 year old version of me: let the glass go empty. That was terrifying advice to my younger self. At that age, I feared losing myself in the emptiness. At 60, having been empty (and emptied) more than a few times, her advice is sage. As she knew, empty is the only place that you have a chance of finding yourself.

I know now that I used to go into my studio to escape the noise. It was the only place where I could make sense – or find sense – of this crazy world. Studio as fortress. As armor. I will, at some point, re-enter my studio. I wonder what I will paint now that sense-making is no longer a priority. I wonder what I will imagine now that the armor is off.

I tell myself to “stay on the root.” Advice from Saul. That means to stay in the moment. Even in the intense discomfort of uncertainty I do not want to rush through a day of my life. Uncertainty and loss are life experiences, too. Colors on the palette. No less valuable than joy or conviction. When I listen to myself, when I sit solidly on the root, the circumstance remains but the discomfort disappears.

I’m doing what I’ve so often advised others to do: when you cannot see, ask those you trust to tell you what they see. Perspective requires some distance and I am sitting squarely atop my event horizon. I cannot see. These days I’m happily borrowing perspective. My friends have wise-eyes. They tell me – each in their own way – to stand still. Honor the sacrament. Listen. Empty and make space for imagination.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BEGINNING

Choose The Lesser Chaos [on DR Thursday]

“If I choose abstraction over reality, it is because I consider it the lesser chaos.” ~ Robert Brault

And what isn’t an abstraction? Dealing with ideas rather than events? Not-the-thing-but-is referential-to-the thing?

Every word in every language is an abstraction. Every thought that zips through every brain is an abstraction. Not the thing but referential to it. The word “chair” is not a chair.

I caught myself in a sticky net. Not once, several times. I’ve tried again and again to paint “abstractions” only to whine, ‘I can’t abstract!” [insert laugh track]. A painting of something is, by definition, not the something. Picasso had a heyday playing with people’s minds around this idea, this abstraction.

After an unexplainable medical event, my doctor shrugged and said, “Sometimes there is no explanation. People like to rationalize things. They think if they can explain it, they can control it.”

Explain Pollock or Rothko. Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series. Ellsworth Kelly.

And who wouldn’t rather spend time pondering the sense of Richard Serra than anything we read in the news?

read Kerri’s blog post about ABSTRACTION

earth interrupted © 2012 david robinson

Make Sense [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I told Kerri she was going to be fired two years before the ax fell. I needed no crystal ball and was not reading tea leaves. In my consulting life I’d seen it happen a few dozen times. When a not-for-profit organization promotes to leadership those who believe everything needs to run like a business, the people holding fast to the actual purpose and mission of the organization have to go.

It makes sense if you think about it. Profit is the purpose of a business. When profit is the purpose, the organizational structures and levers-of-power evolve according to the purpose: profit. People are expendable.

There’s a reason arts organizations, churches, educational institutions,…are called not-for-profit. They serve a different purpose. The organizational structures and levers of power evolve according to the central purpose: service. The creation of art. Learning. Health. Feeding the hungry. Helping the victims of disaster. Worship. The people, usually not well-paid, are dedicated to the deeper organizational mission. Not profit. The people are not expendable. In fact, they are the keepers of the flame. They are very hard to come by.

The quickest way to kill a service organization is to apply the power-levers of business. The purpose dies. The good people – the keepers of the organizational heart – have to be fired, whipped into compliance, silenced, or forced to leave. It’s not rocket science. That process takes a few years.

It’s sometimes hard for us to make sense of what’s happening in our nation and world yet the same principles that apply to organizations also apply to countries. The purpose of healthcare is not profit. The purpose of education was never supposed to be profit. We currently have in our vernacular phrases like “predatory lending” – people making millions from students who believe the dream is only accessible through higher education. It’s the message embedded in our mythology. The levers of business have twisted our vision. Just as prisons should never be money makers, healthcare-as-a-business obliterates the purpose. It profits a few. It crushes the many.

Apples cannot be oranges. Make sense?

What’s happening in our nation makes perfect sense. Big business, regularly bailed out or given tax breaks to the tune of billions of dollars, is protected. No questions asked. Yet, try to correct a corrupt lending scheme, a successful (highly profitable) application of business levers to education, built on the backs of working people trying to go to school, and the “it-has-to-run-like-a-business” crowd will move heaven and earth to keep profit at the center of the mission. Our education system, once the best in the world, is spiraling. Ridiculous. It’s inevitable when protecting the interests of business supersedes serving the purpose.

We may find our way through, we might return to our senses, when we stop pretending that business is somehow sacred, that the making-of-money is moral and a proper north star for all things. It is not. It is great for some things. It is devastating, senseless, for the most important things.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SENSE

Make Some Sense [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When standing at life’s crossroads, there is a choice to be made. Take the right-hand path or the left-hand path? Or, turn around and go back. Turning around is never an option since it’s akin to going back in time. So, right or left?

Symbolically, the right hand path represents the safe path. The conservative choice. The path that “makes sense.”

The “road less travelled” is to the left. Destination unknown!

It’s never made sense to me (ahem) that choosing the path to the right is considered the sensible choice. We’re a culture that celebrates the cowboy! We’re a nation that prides itself on its rugged individualism. We stomp across the wilderness, aim for the moon, yet the clear message to our children is “know where you’re going.” Choose the sensible path, “Go to the right.”

Sometimes I wonder why these two paths are set in opposition to each other. There can be no further-left-hand-path than the one free-solo climber Alex Honnold has taken, yet he is studied, methodical in his passion. Some of our greatest historians are actors and dramaturges; it takes precise study to be the mirror of a culture.

To act like you “got some sense” does not mean to ignore your heart. Every high wire artist begins with a net. Michelangelo and Leonardo were intense studiers on their left-hand-path, scientists both. Going to the left does not mean recklessness but it does imply vulnerability to new experiences. Curiosity. Sailing toward the horizon. Opening to the awe of being alive. Taking chances; try, try again. Following an impulse.

Knowing the value of a mistake as the vital necessity of learning.

What could make more sense than that?

read Kerri’s blogpost about GOT SOME SENSE

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

Wrap It [on DR Thursday]

Christo wrapped mountains in fabric. He wrapped coastlines. He populated passes with umbrellas. When I saw the candlesticks wrapped in plastic and ready to roll out the door, I thought, “Little Christo.” Wrap it and it becomes something else. Visible, invisible.

My favorite part of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s website was found way at the bottom. Click on the words, “Projects Not Realized.” There were so many ideas! Whacky and wonderful visions that, for one reason or another, never made it off the drawing board. Why was one building wrapped and another rejected? Why did the mountain of barrels never block the intersection? What sense is there to be made of projects that are not invested in sense-making?

Sense-making follows experience and, in these times with so much media shouting for attention and propagandizing belief, it’s very hard to have a direct experience. I suppose that’s why Christo wrapped mountains. It takes an extreme act of non-sense to shock us into silent what-the-heck-ness.

I saw his umbrellas popping vibrant yellow along the pass from Bakersfield to LA. Giant dandelions stretching for miles. What I most remember as I stopped to get a closer look: children found it impossible not to dance at their bases. Make sense of that.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CANDLESTICKS

greet the world © 2011 david robinson

Lean On Poppo’s Cane [on KS Friday]

Next to the closet where we keep our shoes and old sweatshirts is a bucket. In the bucket are a few walking sticks we’ve plucked from the trail, used and brought home. We rarely walk with sticks so the few that made the trip home are in the bucket to remind us of special walks, the times we needed some stick-aid. And thank-goodness there was a stick available when we needed it.

In the bucket, alongside the walking sticks, is Poppo’s cane.

Poppo’s cane came in handy this week when Kerri broke her foot. She is a circle-walker and our house has square rooms so she regularly arcs too close to the doorjambs. She’s adept at breaking her pinky toe.

This time she broke more than one bone. When the yellow-green swelling hit her ankle we took her to the doctor and then she went for a spin in the x-ray machine. For a few days, I was her mobility prop and then Poppo’s cane took my place and became her trusty stick-aid.

She looked at me this morning and, with knitted-brow, asked the obvious question, “What’s going on?” I had no answer. In the span of a couple of years, she’s broken her wrists, torn ligaments, had fingers that simple refused to bend, lost mobility in her left shoulder, tendonosis, a tendon injury in her left foot, a digestive system that refused to digest,… She’s had a heaping plate of “what’s going on with my body? What’s going on with my life?”

Both are great questions to ask.

What do you do when your questions have no definitive answers? Lean on Poppo’s cane and take another step. What else? Appreciate the stick-aid. Perhaps one day, with a little perspective, while looking at the bucket of useful sticks, the story will make some sense. The questions will find understanding.

In the meantime, I’m considering moving Kerri into a furniture-less yurt. My theory is that circle walkers are safer racing around in obstacle-free circular homes.

Kerri’s albums are available in iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about POPPO’S CANE

in these times/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Taste The Sound [on KS Friday]

Toadshade trillium. Say it out loud and taste the sounds. Toadshade trillium. Yummy words worthy of e.e. cummings.

I am working in a tech space and keep a document on my desktop: Terms in this Unknown Land. Tech folk speak in acronyms, PAI and SMB, SERP and TAM. Although my colleagues are mostly left-brainers, they are remarkably poetic in their language, peppering their acronym-speak with tasty terms like “cluster calculations” and “stemmings.” I admit to losing the sense of the conversation in the sound. They are, despite the stereotype, passionate and creative and unconsciously poetic. “Plots a curve of probability.”

Toadshade trillium. Plots a curve of probability. Forget the meaning and taste the sound! What might Mary Oliver have done with those syllables!

My lesson this week: I cannot stand and work at my computer all day. I can do the standing (I have a stand-up desk) but staring at a screen eventually shuts down my brain. Across from my stand-up desk is my drafting table. I think better with big pieces of paper and a pencil and then translate back to the computer. I need to move to think but that’s only part of the lesson. When at the drafting table I’m more likely to take things less seriously. I free myself. I get snarky and funny and scribble and draw big arrows and make fun of myself and the logjam in my thinking. I play.

And, while I play, I talk aloud, and hear the sounds of the shapes that I draw. Poetry and motion. Taste the movement. One and the same. Free the thinking. It’s enough to scare the dog but it’s liberating to my kinesthetic necessity. I scribble notes in every direction and dance back and forth between word and image. Consequently, I produce better work.

Thank goodness I finally tasted a few word-sounds that sent me tumbling into a productive scribble dance.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TOADSHADE TRILLIUM

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

pulling weeds/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Dissolve And Do [on DR Thursday]

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” Wise words from Tom. It was a mantra and his patent response when asked how one becomes an artist. I imagine Tom learned this wisdom from DeMarcus. DeMarcus certainly learned it from his mentor. Artistic ancestor to descendent, the quality that makes an artist is the practice. Nothing more. Ask me what makes an artist and you will hear what I learned from Tom.

There’s a special, hidden layer in this mantra. Someday, if you are a lucky artist, you stop thinking of yourself as an artist. The role dissolves in the doing. It no longer matters how others see you or the label you apply to yourself. It’s nice to separate yourself from the herd yet service to the herd is the point. That, I am coming to understand, is the moment that artistry fulfills itself. A deep trust ensues. No blue ribbon or large sale or shiny prize will change the essential. No outside eye or opinion or judgment or praise alters the fact in the least. A writer writes. A painter paints.

How do you pursue an artistic life? We take walks and pay attention. French blue sky and early tree blossom. And then, each day, as is our practice, we write or draw or compose.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREE BLOSSOM

Newborn, 48x32IN, mixed media

newborn © 2019 david robinson

Step Off [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A tree is not made of wood, it is wood.” ~ Alan Watts, The Watercourse Way

Language is powerful. It’s a drum I have beat for a long time, the notion that we insist that the narratives we wrap around ourselves are somehow “reality.” We are told that 50% of Russians believe the hell wrought on the Ukraine is merely propaganda. A made-up story. Not true. It is the narrative they are fed and, in order to eat it, they must ignore any evidence to the contrary. Their economy crumbles. The ruble falls. How could they not see it? Don’t laugh. 40% of USAmericans still believe the last presidential election was stolen, a plausible story only if wearing blinders with fingers placed firmly in ears. Burying your head in the sand is not a Russian or American trait, it’s uniquely human. We see what we believe, not the other way around. Our language makes it so.

Years ago I read that the word “wild” could only come from a people who believe all things must be tamed. Wild makes no sense without the concept of tame. Wild, bad. Tamed, good. So, a people afraid of their own “nature” must become tamers. A people who think “nature” not only can be but must be managed. To be “above” it all, in charge and atop the pyramid, giver of names. It is the necessary narrative for such tamers of the wild, those who story their very nature as corrupt. Tamed, good. Above it all. Separate. Is it any wonder the intrinsically conflicted human world rarely embraces peace? Our narrative leads us to believe, amidst so much inner and, therefore, outer conflict, peace is something to be created because we are naturally conflicted. What else?

Where, exactly, does wild end and tame begin? Where’s the line that delineates nature from civilization? What if nature is neither good nor bad? What if your nature was neither good nor bad? Perhaps self-love would be within reach and, as a natural extension, the love of others, too. It’s an alternative narrative though not possible in a belief-story that fears the wild. Wholeness begins with a step off the pedestal.

It’s in the language. Somehow separate from the world in which we live, not “in” nature or “of” nature , we are deluded to believe we are made of different stuff. Above it. Divinely manufactured. Made.

Manufactured. Made. Trees made of wood.

And, just what are we made of? I guess it depends on the story we decide to tell. Wild stuff.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREES