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

Call It Realism [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This garlic could have been painted by Jan Vermeer. To my eye it looks like the work of a Dutch master, an artist more concerned with realism than the ideal.

Art that reveals the beauty in the ordinary. For a few weeks in my surly youth I studied with a realist painter. I was wowed by his technique but could not yet grasp his dedication to capturing the everyday. Only later did I come to understand that his art was not about the technique but about bringing attention to the experience of the everyday. He rejected the aloof and desired to pull art down from the pedestal so it might reflect the lives of the “common people.” He believed that people needed to literally see themselves in the paintings to have access to the painting. They needed to see their hardship and toil as well as the objects that surrounded them.

Bertolt Brecht believed the opposite. In order for people to have access to the deeper messages of a play, they needed to be removed from their circumstance. So, in his way of thinking, people are more capable of seeing themselves in a piece of science fiction than in a reality-mirror.

David is working on a re-imagining of Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of an Author. One of the questions of the play is, “Who is telling your story?” And, how are they telling it. I reread the play and was struck by how relevant it is to our times.

The beauty in the ordinary. The turmoils and struggles of the everyday. Ours is a time of tumultuous story tug-of-war. I wonder, in a hundred years, what historians will write about our time. I wonder what aspect of artistry – if any – will be considered “realism.” As defined by Vermeer and Pirandello, it’s to reach across a social line, from the privileged to the working class. For Brecht it is spatial: step out to look in.

One thing is constant, while reaching across time and artificial boundary, it is always the role of the artist to help their community ask the questions: Who is telling my story? Whose story am I telling? What is the story that we are telling?

I imagine those someday-historians will write tomes on our messy struggle to sort out what is “real” and what is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GARLIC

See The Signs [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Religions around the world and across time have personified this moment. The return of the green. From one day to the next buds appear on trees. The signs of life’s vibrant enthusiasm returning (again) from long winter, barren earth, metaphoric death. Persephone’s homecoming from the underworld and Demeter, her mother, goddess of the earth, allows the return of life.

It’s a very, very old story told in many, many different ways. Human beings, storytellers all, making sense of death and life, generalized across the real experience of cycles and seasons, all pressed through the lens of this-causes-that. Reduce us to an essential oil and we are makers of metaphor and seers of pattern.

I told Kerri that I got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. An idiom. Imagine the power in brains that utilize idioms! The meaning cannot possibly be carried by a literal interpretation of the individual words. We pull the meaning out of or inject it into the collection of words. We know what it means because the meaning has a long history. The Romans, I’ve read, believed there was a correct side of the bed. Arising on the correct side of the bed would ensure good luck. The right side of the bed was positive, the left side was dubious. Jump out of bed on the left side and the day was ruined!

Superstition: making sense of the happenings of a day or a life, pressed through the lens of this-causes-that.

Mostly, I am restless. It snowed all day yesterday. I yearn for the moment when I can, for the first time of the returning (pattern) spring, lean against the wall and feel the warm sun on my face. I will, like I did last spring, enjoy the moment to the point of non-thinking. I will drink it in with no need to wrap a story around it or make sense of what I am feeling. I will appreciate it to my bones and revel in the return of warmth, new growth, and light.

read Kerri’s blog post on GREEN

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

Keep The Embers Glowing [on Two Artists Tuesday]

If you encourage us to talk about porches of our past, we’ll tell a tale of sitting in the rocking chairs at our airbnb in the mountains of Colorado, one evening, watching the traffic go by, accidentally drinking the whole bottle of wine (at 10,000 feet), “walking” down the street to get a burger, and instead, finding ourselves at the center of what the locals called “experimental drink night.” I’m sure, to this day, they laugh at the two black-clad tourists who were too polite to turn down what came out of the bartender’s blender. We dialed 20 at 1am and too loudly told him the tale. Good friends will listen to anything that comes out of your mouth at anytime, day or night, and 20 is the best.

Last night, sitting on our airbnb porch in this North Carolina mountain town, sipping a glass of wine, watching the traffic go by, I “remembered” that night. This is our first venture out – just for us – since COVID washed over our lives. It’s become habit to plan our travel path – through an ordinary day or, in this case, miles from home – with minimal human contact as a top criteria. Watching the traffic go by, I thought about that, too. Now, we’d never stumble down the street to get a burger. We’d sit tight – as we did last night – and make ourselves a meal.

As part of our meal, we lit a few luminaria. We brought a few sacks and candles with us. I realized that we’re keeping a tradition going, however small, so that one day we’ll tell the tale of how we kept our holiday traditions alive – traditions that were once about gathering together, traditions that were meant to bring people into proximity to each other rather than carefully maintaining distance. Our tradition always includes candles. Luminaria. Fire and light. One day – someday – the light we place on the porch will include other people. For now, we keep a small flame to keep the tradition intact.

We’ve started a new tradition that I adore: pop-up dinners. We carry with us a small bistro table and two folding stools. They are lightweight and, in a moment, can appear anywhere. Last night – our last night here – they popped up on our porch. We made a special dinner, surrounded ourselves with luminaria, and watched the world go by. We greeted the people who walked by. We shouted greetings over the traffic across the street to the old guy who’s so beautifully decorated his house for the holidays. He loved our lights. We loved his. At a distance.

We keep the flame alive. We keep the embers of tradition glowing. We’ve established new variations on our adventure theme. Experimental drink night was a one-off affair. Pop-up dinners are here to stay. Be careful what tales you inspire us to tell. Someday, when we’re all together on the porch, we’ll give you an ear-full.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT

Look To The Field [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“…if you observe your mind very quietly without giving explanations, if you just let the mind be aware of its own struggle, you will soon find that there comes a state in which there is no struggle at all, but an astonishing watchfulness. In that state of watchfulness there is no sense of superior or inferior, there is no big man or little man, there is no guru. All those absurdities are gone because the mind is fully awake; and the mind that is fully awake is joyous.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

Saul told me to look beyond my opponent to the field of all-possibilities. He even gave it a location, a hundred feet beyond where he stood. We were doing an exercise called push-hands and, as a tai-chi master, he was teaching me not only where to place my focus but also where to place my belief. It took me a few years to grok: believe in resistance and resistance will appear. Call it an opponent and you’ve defined the relationship and, therefore, your choices. An obstacle is only an obstacle because it is identified as so.

I met Kerri because my world collapsed. Did my world collapse or did it open? Saul would say, “Neither.” Energy is energy. It moves and we give story to the movement, thereby shaping it. Storytelling is more powerful than we know.

Saul might as well have said, “The opponent lives in your mind. Look beyond your mind. Look beyond the story.” It’s a good practice to have an experience before naming it. It’s a better practice to have an experience and not name it at all. I’m not there yet, though I can see the field that Saul recommended. It exists beyond my definition-noise.

Saul threw me across the room yet never touched me. He laughed. I wanted to ask, “How did you do that?” but I already knew what his answer would be: “I didn’t. You threw yourself.”

read Kerri’s blog post on this Two Artists Tuesday

tree and sky © 2021 kerri sherwood

Touch Back. Look Forward. [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In stories of impending change, as in life, it is common for the protagonist, before stepping off the edge of the known world, to first turn, reach backward in time, and touch their past. When Tom Mck knew he was en route to leaving this earth, he took me on drives to show me the location of his family ranch, the creek he played in as a boy, the cemetery that held his ancestors. We spent long evenings together as he told me and my tape recorder stories, that, although were meant to be stories of the lost boy, Johnny, they were more accurately stories of the lost boy, Tom. The keeper of the legacy. “I have a promise to keep to Isabelle,” he said of his great grandmother, a woman he never met but knew as intimately as if their lives had crossed. “I have a promise to keep.” We spent many, many days and nights reaching back so that he might have some peace when taking his next step.

I came down from the upstairs office to find Kerri, a dedicated holiday-white-light girl, untangling strings of colored lights. “These were my mom and dad’s” she said with more than a little excitement in her voice. “I’ve put together a strand with bulbs that still light up! I think we should put them on the railing out front.” What could be better, as we turn our eyes to the future than having Beaky and Pa alight at our front door.

Touch back. Look forward. Build a bridge – live a bridge – from one dot to the next.

This morning I dug through Columbus’ record collection. We brought it home with us and, quite suddenly, I wanted to find his holiday albums. I took out our little suitcase record player, and put on the carols of my youth. Julie Andrews. Vic Damone. A Firestone Christmas album sang to us through our breakfast. Columbus filled our house with his good music.

Now, with Beaky and Pa at the front door, Columbus filling up our home with cheer from Christmas past, we relish our touching back. And, I think we’re both ready, as we breathe-in what was, to turn and take a solid step toward what will be.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLORED LIGHTS

Follow The Twine [on DR Thursday]

[Day #2 of no image upload capacity so, for the melange image, see Kerri’s post or visit the Melange]

Follow the thick neon pink twine, winding through the park, and you’ll eventually come to a giant ball of string. I delighted in the thought that an enormous barn-sized Kitty, had recently been at play. Across the park giant flowers towered into the blue sky. Strolling beneath the stems and petals gave us an ant’s perspective.

Imagination. It’s working all of the time. And, sometimes it takes a giant ball of pink neon twine to make it visible. When we look forward to an event or dread a meeting, we are in full imagination. What else? When we desire a certain future or run fast from an opportunity, we are deep in our imagination. Kerri’s toes curl every time she drives under the train trestle while a train passes overhead: she imagines disaster.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard in my life, from students or clients or friends, who’ve said, “I don’t have a good imagination.” The greatest figment of imagination is the notion that there are greater or lesser degrees of imagination. Sense making, personal story, idea generation, brainstorming, hypothesis checking, retirement planning…are all processes of imagination. We sense the world and then story it and the story always begins with the generation of an image. To be human is to be a wild. imaginer.

I’m privy these days to many thought models and process maps. I’ve spent the past 48 hours in a deep conceptual exercise. Emerging from my office at night I squint at Kerri and say, “My brain is tired.” The lovely paradox about the models and maps and conceptual paths is that they are not real. A map of the city is not the city. A model for product development is not product development, it is a map at best, a place to locate the imagination. The imagination uses itself to discover itself.

And, therein lives the paradox: imagination is as much about “discover” as it is about “invent.” We imagine our future so we can walk toward what we already see. As every artist knows, the canvas tells you where to go, the character tells the writer where the story turns. We discover ourselves in our imagination. Follow the pink twine far enough and you’ll eventually come to a giant ball of string.

read Kerri’s blog post about PINK NEON

watercolor fun: dog dreaming © 2010 david robinson

Walk With Samuel [on DR Thursday]

“The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.” ~ Samuel Beckett, Endgame

When is something finished? Beckett wrote Waiting For Godot in 1953; characters waiting for what will never arrive. A finish. A completion. Beckett’s life spanned both wars-to-end-all-wars, Korea, Vietnam. He wrote about humanity’s dedication to nonsense. His work has been called bleak and dark. His work is shelved with the canon of The Theatre of the Absurd. And, yet, given the news of the day, these days, who doesn’t feel as if they are living in a Beckett play?

What is often missed in his absurdist plays is the beautiful human capacity to keep walking, to keep trying. Waiting and walking through tragedy, mostly of our own making, with unwavering hope. We story ourselves with nobility even when wrapping ourselves in a lie. We make rules and laws that apply to some but not to all and then we set about to justify the inequality. Money and morality are not the same thing though there’s plenty of storytelling meant to have us believe that wealth only flows to the worthy.

Art is not supposed to make sense because life doesn’t make sense. We make sense of life through the stories we concoct. Emperor’s buried with thousands of statues to keep them company in the afterlife, an artist painting the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel, gods and angels and saints. How many people died building the great pyramids, tomb for a pharaoh? Who would possibly spend their life in abject poverty smearing color on canvas? Van Gogh. A legion of others not known. Are we better for it? I cried the day the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, 6th century statues that I had not seen in person and was likely to never see. Were my tears more or less absurd than the Taliban’s animosity toward carved stone?

Matters of the heart. When are they finished? Where do they begin?

It was a gorgeous day, perhaps the last warm day of the season. We met our pals at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. Throughout the gardens, preparations were being made for the annual holiday light exhibit. A tree of shiny stars. Giant flowers. Faux candles floating in the waterway. Strings of colored lights were being placed along the walkways. Even during the light of day it was impressive.

In this time of transition, many of the gardens were being prepped for the winter, the pathways were packed with people cooing at the wave of the grasses, the shape of the trees in the Japanese garden. I was gobsmacked by the color of the moss on trees, the shock of red leaves against vivid green. No matter which direction I looked, someone, some special gardener and designer, had crafted beauty. They knew that their work would stop me in my tracks and allow me to whisper, “Unbelievable.”

Winding our way back to the Visitor’s Center, I told Brad that, seeing so many people out enjoying the gardens, excited to walk in beauty, filled me with hope.

To walk in beauty. Dollars and cents can’t reach the reason. Data can’t touch the impulse. There is so much light in this theatre of the absurd. Beckett knew it, writing about the stories we tell, the relationships we create, waiting for something – a beauty – that by definition, will never arrive because we are surrounded by it each and every day.

read Kerri’s blog post about RED SCULPTURE

www.davidrobinsoncreative.com

Choose [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“It’s a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” ~ Mary Oliver

Were I to have been born in an earlier century I would not be alive today. Twice on my life-path doctors have declared that, “You are now a miracle of modern medicine.” Leeches and blood-letting would not have cured what ailed me.

This thing called ‘science’ is what gave me more days of life. It is the same science that developed vaccines for a pandemic but also made possible the technology that makes mass-media-misinformation possible. Here is the medicine. Here is the disease. It is exactly as Sophocles wrote: Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.

One morning, deeply tired, I arose to go do a job that I did not like. It was a means to an end and I dreaded the day ahead of me. Stepping out the door, the cold morning air stopped me in my tracks. It slapped me awake. The air was crisp and clean, the neighborhood was quiet. The light in the sky was brilliant. I drank it in. I vowed never again to dread a day of my life. In truth, I had no idea what the day held for me. Why then, would I story my day with a frame of dread? Why tell myself a tale of just-getting-through-it? Why not open to the possibilities of surprise and miracle? Why not embrace the already-stated-obvious-thing: I had no idea what the day held. That simple fact would be true every single day of my life. Dread was a choice, not an inevitability.

To be alive on this fresh morning. It is a serious thing. In this world, broken by the little story of us-and-them, the tiny tale of power-over. Choices. The miracle of the new day is present whether it is seen or not. We can cloak it in dread or gratitude, in support or division. It doesn’t care either way. The miracle of the new day, the gift of being alive on this fresh morning in a world that is broken or healed, whole or fragmented – it all depends upon the story-frame we wrap around it. The story we tell is a choice, not an inevitability.

read Kerri’s blog post about JUST TO BE ALIVE