See The Pattern [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Virgil: From what you wrote, I see that you think you have a problem. The first recognition is simple: you do not have a problem. You have a pattern. ~ David Robinson, The Seer

I’ve stared at this napkin for a long time wondering what to write. It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s that I have too much to say. I’ve killed more than one dinner party going on and on and on about patterns.

In 2014 I published a book, The Seer. The first three chapters are about patterns of seeing, patterns of thinking. Patterns of self-story. So, rather than rewrite something that I have already written, here’s a small slice, an email conversation, from the first chapter of The Seer:

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Me: I realized that I think in patterns. I think the same stuff over and over. This is a puzzle: the act of looking for patterns opened my eyes. So, patterns reveal. And yet, later, when I became aware of the patterns of my thinking, I recognized that those patterns were like ruts or grooves. It’s as if I am playing the same song over and over again so no other music can come in. My thinking pattern, my rut, prevents me from seeing. So patterns also obscure. Make sense?

Virgil: Yes. It must seem like a paradox to you. Think of the song or rut as a story that you tell yourself. Your thoughts, literally, are a story that you tell yourself about yourself and the world; the more you tell this story the deeper the rut you create. So, a good question to ask is: what is the story that you want to tell? Are you creating the pattern that you desire to create? We will return to this many times. This is important: the story is not happening to you; you are telling it. The story can only control you if you are not aware that you are telling it.

 Me: Can you say more?

 Virgil: We literally ‘story’ ourselves. We are hard-wired for story. What we think is a narrative; this pattern (song) that rolls through your mind everyday is a story that you tell. You tell it. It defines what you see and what you do not see. What you think is literally what you see.

 There was a pause. That was a lot for me to take in. When I didn’t respond, he continued:

Virgil: So, what you think is nothing more than a story; it’s an interpretation. You move through your day seeing what you think – instead of what is there. You are not seeing the world, you are seeing your interpretation of the world. You are seeing from your rut and your rut is a pattern. So, your patterns of thinking, your rut, can obscure what you see. Make sense?

 Me: Yes. I guess 😉 So, when I started looking for patterns outside of me, I…stopped seeing from within my rut? I stopped assuming that I knew what I was seeing. So, I was capable of discovering new patterns and connections?

 Virgil: Yes, something like that. You said that when you looked for patterns you slowed down and felt that you could see. I would say it this way: you stopped moving through your world and for a brief period you were actually in your world. For a brief period you were no longer lost in thought but present with what was right in front of you. You suspended what you think you know so you started to see again. You were curious. To be curious is synonymous with “not knowing.”

 Me: Okay….

 Virgil: Humor me and entertain this notion: your thought, your story, is not passive. It is a creative act. What you think IS what you see. Most of the time people create what they see based on their rut. They see what they expect to see. To practice curiosity is to suspend the assumption of knowing. To practice curiosity requires us to step out of the rut. Stop assuming that you know and you gain the capacity to see beyond what you think.

 A glimmer of light pierced the dark recesses of my mind. Suddenly I was back in front of the Sphinx and I could see the answer to the riddle. It was so clear! I typed:

Me: Wait! Is this why I need to distinguish between problems and patterns? If I tell myself that I have a problem to solve, I am telling a certain kind of story. If I tell myself that I have a pattern to change, I am telling an entirely different kind of story. Is that true?

Virgil: Yes. It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? A problem is a story. It is a lens that filters your sight. A problem does not exist unless you insist that it is there. You say that you are an entrepreneur. How many great products and services were the results of an accident in the lab? How many innovations were missed because the ‘solution’ did not fit the ‘problem’ as identified? A problem is a rut that separates you from possibilities. On the other hand, a pattern connects you to possibilities. See the pattern not the problem.

 

[go here for a fun Escher-activity about pattern to use during this time of social distancing]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE NAPKIN

 

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the seer ©️ 2014 david robinson

Find Another Door [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Roger and I used to discuss life and career. He would say, “There is a time of becoming and then, one day, you realize that you have become it.” He was right. I wanted to be an artist. For years I chased it. For years I practiced it. And then, one day, I realized I was it. Not because I’d arrived at a place called Artist, but because art was my practice. Art was my pursuit. Art called me.

It’s a paradox. You become the thing that you pursue on the day that you realize it is not an achievement. Becoming is a choice of practice, a dedication of your limited time on earth to an exploration. Follow the Siren long enough and she will claim you.

Long after his retirement, Tom continued to toss his hat into the ring for regional directing assignments. During his career, he was a force in the theatre. He was a master-teacher-director who opened the door to many of my peers, theatre artists, the people I most admire. I heard about Tom long before I met him. And, although he continued his passionate pursuit after his retirement, the world of opportunity could not see beyond his grey hair. Even his former students, those people I most admire, stopped considering his resume or returning his calls.

It was in the midst of recognizing that he had more to give but the old routes were now closed that he pulled me aside and said, “I need help telling a story.” And then he asked, “Will you help me?”

Our project, The Lost Boy, opened ten years later,  several months after Tom’s death.  The opening night audience was a packed house of Tom’s family and relatives, people who brought photographs of the lost boy, Johnny, to the theatre. They clutched them as they watched the play. After the performance, they stayed in the theatre sharing their stories until the management asked them to leave.

A dream. Tom’s practice: uniting people through telling and sharing a common story. Art in its purest form.

His final lesson for me: storytellers (artists) age but the force of their dreams does not grow old. They will inevitably hit walls and freshly closed doors and rather than sit down and throw up their hands, they simply turn, ask a few questions, and look for another way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEVER TOO OLD

 

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The Chili Boys in rehearsal for The Lost Boy. They wrote gorgeous music for the play. I will always be grateful to them.

 

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carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

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50 minutes before stepping onto the stage. Kerri and I performed together for the first time.

 

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Take A Picture [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Our time on island was a polarity. The antagonism of the organization was balanced by the utter peace of the littlehouse. Just as we learned to roll with the quickly changing faces of our board, we stood in awe of the swiftly shifting personality of the lake. One moment it was still and the next moment it roiled and took great bites of the shore. It was (and is) a study of the degrees of change, the subtleties of ever-changing-movement.

Each morning Kerri walked to the water’s edge and took a photograph. Reviewing three months of mornings is eye-opening. So much life! So much variation and beauty and power. If I am ever again bored or delusional enough to think that life is dull, I will remember our morning photographs. Were I still working with artists or corporate types I’d make it a mandatory exercise to take a photograph at the same spot everyday for three months. The review at day 90 could slap awake even the most dedicated blindness.

It is the visual equivalent of morning pages. See what you do not see. Aim your focus and realize that, in fact, you have the power to aim your focus, to determine what you see and, therefore, what you study. And, therefore, how you story your life.

During our last pass on the island, Kerri, as is her custom, took her morning photograph. Later, she wandered out of the little house to capture a midday shot. In the evening, I found her by the water’s edge photographing the sunset. She created a panorama, a sweeping story of the day. “Everywhere I look, it’s perfection,” she said.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PERFECTION

 

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Tell The Story [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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In our house, everything is a story. Sooner or later, all things are personified and become a character in our play. The old air conditioner units are cranky. The soap dispenser has eyes bigger than its stomach and routinely takes on too much soap. Gluttony in bubbles.

The cat does a killer soft-shoe, paws dancing on the table. The studio calls. The piano yearns. The pots and pans complain about the inconsistent burners on the old, dare I say ancient, stove. Rather than retirement, the stove dreams of holding the longevity record for kitchen appliances. Frankly, we think it has a good shot at fulfilling the dream.

And then there is the stuff we do. That, too, finds its way into story-dom. For instance, a few weeks ago we took a rug on a train. It went with us to an urban grocery store and helped us buy a bag of chips. It rode the escalator up and then down, went through a revolving door, evaded a collision with a stranger’s hat. Then, it strolled with us for a few miles, looked at the changing leaves and finally came to rest in its new home, Craig’s apartment. I think it appreciated seeing a bit of the world before meeting its destiny as an area rug. At least, that’s the story I tell myself. Rugs are hard to read so I might be projecting the contentment it felt when it finally left my shoulder for the floor.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE RUG

 

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Make It Up! Why Not? [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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What exactly is going on here?

It’s possible that this cat through osmosis is assimilating large amounts of information, data, and e-knowledge by sleeping on a computer.

It’s also possible that this cat has an emotional bond with an inanimate object. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Consider that this cat, like a tree felled in the woods, toppled in exhaustiob and landed belly up in this unlikely position.

It might be the heat of the computer that attracted the cat. It’s uncertain in the photograph if the day is cold. This may be a heat-seeking cat. It’s possible.

This cat may not be sleeping at all. After all, this is a photograph, a moment of stop-action-time. This cat might be blinking or this could be a cat yoga pose. This could be an instance of deep-cat-satisfaction.

It’s hard to glean the truth of this photograph. It’s possible in our day and age that this enormous cat is nowhere near a computer. Photoshop is capable of making us see the unlikely, the absurd, the unimaginable. This cat might never have met this computer.

What, exactly, is going on here? We may never know.

I can tell you that this very-large-cat snores like a drunken sailor, especially when sleeping on or near the computer. It’s uncanny and I understand if you doubt what I’m writing. You have absolutely no reason to believe me.

You will undoubtedly make up your own story about this huge cat-snoring-computer convection. Heat transfer. You will assign your unique belief to this image. It’s what we do. It’s why, without doubt, anything is possible. Even the absurd. Especially the absurd.

What is really going on here?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE CAT AND THE COMPUTER

 

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*this photo is unaltered. This is not two cats or a large black creature engulfing a cat. This shape is what happens when too much cat meets the floor [help].

 

 

 

Live In The Middle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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The first of Don Miguel Ruiz’s 4 Agreements is to take nothing personally. He writes that everyone (in their mind’s eye) is the star of their own movie and you are merely a bit player in their story. Their drama is theirs. Their drama is not yours. So, when they hurt you or shout at you or call you names, it is not personal. It is their story, their drama, and there is no need to make their story yours. In fact, to try and own their story or take responsibility for what is playing through their head is impossible. It is, in fact, madness.

It’s easier said than done: don’t take ownership of other people’s drama.

I laughed aloud when, many years after reading the 4 Agreements,  I read the 5th Agreement: Doubt everything you think. In other words, in addition to not owning other people’s drama, realize that your own drama is not as serious as you might think. It’s a passing cloud, a made-up story in which you are the star and other people are cast as bit players. Take seriously your story and you will yell at others, call them names, try to hurt their feelings as you attempt to force your drama on them.

Bookends. Their drama is not yours. Don’t take it personally. Your drama is not nearly as serious as you pretend. Doubt everything that you think.

What lives between those two dramatic delusion-poles is sometimes called presence. Sometimes it is called peace. It is not a static state, not an arrival or an achievement. It’s a relationship available with others (and the world) when the realization comes that no single story is central or primary or really that important. It is, in many spiritual traditions, called the middle way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NotSalmon QUOTE.

 

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Reach Back [on DR Thursday]

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Artists are constantly reaching backward and forward through time. They daily pay visits to the work of the masters. They periodically revisit their own past creations. Their work sends ripples of inspiration and opportunity far into the future.

When Beethoven was young he wrote a ballet called The Creatures of Prometheus. It calls for a legion of dancers and is way too big for most contemporary ballet companies to attempt. Contemporary symphonies, on the other hand, desire to play the music because Beethoven, for the rest of his life, reached back into his ballet, mining for musical phrases, developing some of the phrases into his most famous work.

How to play the music from a ballet written in 1801 as a symphonic piece in 2009?

Yaacov Bergman, the visionary and laughter-filled director of the Portland Chamber Orchestra had an idea. Why not tell the story of the ballet. A storytelling would provide the connective tissue, weaving the music together into a cohesive symphonic performance. Because Beethoven wrote a ballet, 207 years later, I had the great good fortune to write and perform the story of The Creatures of Prometheus with the PCO.

And, since we were crossing time boundaries, why not cross a few artistic genres, too.  Yaki hired artist Liz Gil-Neilson to paint and produce a visual storytelling that was projected during the performance. Music, storytelling, contemporary visual art. Ripples, ripples, everywhere.

But, that was not enough. Since I am also a visual artist, Yaki asked that I translate my story into a visual statement. So, I painted three large canvases (Creation, Garden, Resurrection), one for each movement of the symphony, that hung with Liz’s original images during run of the symphony at the George Broderick Gallery in Portland.

Reaching forward. Reaching back. Today, more than a decade after our collaboration, I mine my experiences and paintings for inspiration. As new collaborations arise, as I stand at the base of a new series of seemingly impossible tasks, I’m fortunate to have my Creatures of Prometheus to remind me of the possibilities. They nudge me forward.  Like Beethoven, I reach back into my past work to find a path forward.

It makes me smile to know that in 1801 Beethoven, with a quill pen and ink, scribbled notes at his desk and those scribbles turned into dances and symphonies that inspired stories and paintings and a wacky multi-media collaboration (a phrase that did not exist during his lifetime). And more: a morsel image digitally altered for a blog post written on a computer keyboard. Pen and ink are hard to come by. Reaching backward. Reaching forward.

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Prometheus morsel

 

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prometheus resurrection ©️ 2008 david robinson