See Mike [on Flawed Wednesday]

Sometimes I think I am way ahead of the game only to realize that I am so late to the party that the party is actually over. When we chose this phrase for the melange about the current president’s re-election strategy, I knew exactly what I was going to write about: Mike the chimpanzee! Mike’s story is from Jane Goodall’s book, My Life With The Chimpanzees.

Mike was not an alpha male but for a few short days assumed the dominant role when he learned that kicking kerosene cans and making noise frightened his rivals. No substance, all noise. I thought I was so clever, my analogy spot on! And then, I found this from an October 2016 article in the Atlantic about the debates with Hillary Clinton:

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks…”

In the 2016 article, Jane Goodall mentioned Mike. I’m so late to the party. So late. My clever analogy is nothing more than yesterday’s news. If the world still believed in print media my pages would already be yellowed.

There are two definitions of audacity. The first is “willing to take bold risks.” The second is “rude or disrespectful behavior.”

Creating confusion and noise as a campaign strategy fits both definitions. Loud sound without substance is a bold choice if you assume a big enough slice of the populace is grossly ignorant and will be wowed by stamping and slapping the ground. Rude and disrespectful behavior is no more or less than what we’ve come to expect from this kicker of kerosene cans. It’s a daily event and it must be since, without an over abundance of disrespect and piles of rudeness, he might be met with expectations of policy or perhaps a few ideas on governance.

Perhaps I am not as late to the party as I imagined. It occurs to me that Mike-the-chimp kicks cans and makes noise to frighten his rivals. Good analogies are familiar. They express an abstract idea in terms of a familiar one. The current prez kicks cans and makes noise to get a rise from his base. Like his allies in the senate, they, too, like loud sound but eschew substance. They cheer deconstruction because it is a fun thing to do but I suspect will disappear when the time of reconstruction comes. Building takes ideas, a blueprint, a commitment to a bigger vision.

Vision is the sticking point. Mike, like the current prez, lacks vision. Mike wanted to feel like he was alpha and achieved his dream and temporary rule through frightening his community with strange and thunderous noises. The community soon caught on when no vision, idea, or leadership materialized. Communities of chimps and communities of people are susceptible to noise for a time but soon catch on.

I learned many good and useful life lessons during acting training – of all places (actors deeply study people and history). Most useful in governance is this: a real leader, a good leader, need not make noise. They need not raise their voice. Their power is assumed, never imposed. Authority, real authority, is a blossom of respect and a respected leader is never fearful of challenge. A great leader need not kick cans or scream or rage or name call or lie. Those are the sure signs of a pretender.

read Kerri’s blog post about CAMPAIGNING BY AUDACITY

Step Back [on KS Friday]

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When we first met we danced in the front yard. We danced in the kitchen. We danced in downtown Chicago. We skipped through airports. We crawled out of second story windows to sip wine on the roof. A spirit of play and celebration ran amok in our togetherness.

Later, we had a slow dance party. All of our pals came over with their favorite slow dance music. We played the songs, slow-danced on the patio, sipped wine, ate snacks, and laughed a lot. With Linda and Josh’s tricksterism, it became a wild line dancing free-for-all. Joy-full. It was meant to be a yearly tradition and, perhaps, in a post-pandemic world, the slow dance party will return and fulfill its promise.

Fulfilling promise.

Yesterday for my melange post I used an old cartoon, a Chicken Nugget. I spent some time poking around the hundreds of strips and single panel offers that we sent to the syndicate. They liked Chicken Marsala but wanted us to further develop it. At the time, we thought it was good and, although we tried and tried to “develop” it, Chicken languished. That was a few years ago. Looking now, I can see what was missing. “These aren’t very good,” I told Kerri. “The writing could be better. I could have drawn them better.”

Each week we look at our archives to choose a piece to write about in this Melange. Most often we are hyper-critical of our past work. “Yuck!” Kerri says. “Oh, god!” I say, “I can’t believe I ever showed that piece!” It’s what happens when you grow, when you improve. Your best work is never what you’ve done in the past but what you imagine for your future.

They teach an important skill in art school – step back. You can’t see it if you are too close – and you will always be too close when you are creating. Let perspective work for you.  It’s a slow dance: step away. Step forward. Step away. Leave it alone. Step back into it. Forget it. Look again.

Life is like that, too. You can never fully see it in the moment. It requires a step back, an intentional step away. It takes some time to recognize how varied and beautiful it really is.

 

SLOW DANCE in on the album AS SURE AS THE SUN

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SLOW DANCE

 

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slow dance/as sure as the sun ©️ 2002 kerri sherwood

dancing in the front yard ©️ 2013 david robinson

Inhabit Someday [on KS Friday]

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My life is nothing like what I imagined it would be. I had ideals and visions, hopes and dreams. Yet, here I am.

One day I awoke with the realization that I was spending an inordinate amount of my life wanting to be somewhere else, someone else, in a place I called “fulfillment.” In other words, I was giving away my day – my happiness – for an illusion. I spent that entire day paying attention to where I was. I didn’t have to try. I had to allow. You’ll not be surprised to learn that my day was extraordinary. An outside observer would have commented that nothing happened but they would have been…mistaken.

I painted for the pure pleasure of doing it. And breakfast (OMG)! I smelled coffee. I walked in the sun. I held my wife’s hand. I fixed again the perpetually broken handle on back door. I sat on the raft and wrote. I read aloud what I wrote (as we used to say, “tasting the words”). I laughed. We laughed. I played with dogga in the backyard. I listened as Kerri played the piano. She sang! We cooked dinner together. Sipped wine.

In fact, my day was much better than my imagined fulfillment because, well, it was actual fulfillment. True, I was not Leonardo Da Vinci, I had no Oscars on my shelf, and my financial situation was the stuff of comedy.  Yet, in fully inhabiting my actual moment, I was surprised at how little those other things mattered. As Quinn might say, my wall of respect had nothing on it and I couldn’t be more pleased.

My life is nothing like what I imagined it would be. It is so much better. That Morning Someday, I’ve learned, is nothing (quite literally nothing) if not today.

 

THAT MORNING SOMEDAY on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available on iTunes

 

 

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that morning someday/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Greet The Sentinel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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On the backside of Bristol Wood, on the winding green trail, there stands a new sentinel. Dedicated to her role, she watches over the path, guarding the safety of all walkers.

Similar to the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, try as you might, you can mock, make faces, do silly dances,… this guardian will not flinch. This guardian will not break from her duty [note: I’m only supposing. Kerri and I DID NOT do silly dances on the green trail at Bristol Wood! Ridiculous! Who would do such a thing?].

I am comforted by her presence. I find solace in the dichotomy between her serious role and her whimsical uniform. In a time of too much seriousness, I feel encouraged in her dedication to bringing smiles to strollers as part of her mission as sentry of safe passage.

Each time we pass her, I think, this watchwoman has much to teach us in the time of pandemic, in the time of fear and isolation. We can, each and everyone of us, keep the trail safe, take our role of guardian-of-the-other very seriously while, at the same time, inspire smiles and silly dances [note: okay, truth? Kerri MIGHT have done an abbreviated silly dance before the Guardian but I held my integrity intact and showed the utmost respect for the difficult job of the Guardian. Really.].

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Read Kerri’s blog post about THE BRISTOL GUARDIAN

 

 

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Hope [on KS Friday]

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Chris wrote, “So this is what a pandemic feels like.” He is a brilliant actor, the artistic force behind Sea Dog Theater, living with his wife and two children in New York City. I was worried about him and his family. “Overall, we are okay and grateful. It’s scary. And when we aren’t thinking of just our family, we are trying to help artists who’ve lost everything; creative gigs and day job wise.” Artists generally live on a thinner margin than most people.

It is what I most love about the people who populate my world: they think of the needs of others. They seek meaningful ways to help, to support their community. It is, when all is reduced to the essence, what makes an artist an artist. It is what makes a human being a human being.

We were on the raft choosing the images and music for this week’s melange. Kerri asked, “What about HOPE?” I laughed at the double entendre. Yes. What is most needed in these times of pandemic?

Kerri’s HOPE – like the yearning it reflects – enters the world quietly. It is a sturdy force that warms the heart but does not call attention to itself.  It will lift your eyes beyond the scary and refocus them on possibilities. Ways to help. Hope.

Chris added, “We are healthy and together, which is most important.”

From our seclusion, healthy and together, to yours, Kerri offers her HOPE.

 

HOPE from the album THIS SEASON is available in iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

 

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hope/this season ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

Step Toward The Center [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We had this quote in the melange line up long before there was a pandemic. Now, it is impossible to look at this phrase without pressing it through the lens of COVID19. What might we have written in a less chaotic context?

One of the best lessons I was taught, is that we cannot control our circumstance but we can control who we are within our circumstance. The hurricane will come. The pandemic. It is possible in the midst of the storm to panic. To hoard. To blame. To resent. It is also possible to stand in a center, to share, to support, to reach. You are not your circumstance.

Sitting in his study that smelled of instant coffee, book dust and cigarettes, Quinn and I used to talk endlessly about chaos theory. Within the seeming chaos of a dynamic complex system there exists pattern, repetition, self-organization. Pattern, repetition, organization – these are words of order, not of disorder. Chaos. Order. We only know order relative to chaos. We only know chaos relative to order.

Within the Hermetic laws (and Newtonian physics, equal and opposite forces) there is the law of polarity. Everything contains its opposite. Or, said another way, what might appear to be opposite, is, in fact, two ends (poles) of the same thing. Order. Chaos. We cannot know light without the contrast of darkness. We live on a continuum. What we experience is simply a matter of degree on the continuum. There is always a bit of chaos in my otherwise orderly day. In times of chaos, we become very clear about what matters and what does not.

Out of chaos we self-organize. In the throes of social distance we are finding ways to reach and connect. We are prioritizing connection. I’ve spoken with or texted more people in the last seven days than I have in the last seven months.

We see it every year. The hurricane blows away a city and the greater community always shows up to dig in and help out. And rebuild. In chaos we organize to make sure everyone makes it to the other side of the storm. Initially, the coming chaos reveals the ugliest aspects of our nature. We hoard. We price gouge. We run to the far end of the continuum and hang onto the poles, mine/yours, us/them. But, sit in it long enough, and chaos always reveals the deeper truths. Interconnectedness is another way of understanding a continuum. We turn our focus on relationship. The space between. Your need is my need. We are not separate.

Order arises when we step toward the shared center and away from the chaotic extremes. We are not our circumstance so the question remains: who are we within our circumstance?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHAOS & BOUNDARIES

 

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*this photo of BabyCat is not doctored. I have no explanation for the ordered shape that our very large cat takes in the moments prior to creating chaos.

 

 

 

Be Us [on KS Friday]

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It is times like these that the grand illusion of every man/woman for themselves drops away. It doesn’t take long in a crisis to reveal how interconnected and interdependent we really are. As New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, said this morning, what I do impacts you and what you do impacts me. There is, in essence, no such thing as you and me.

This is true in good times, too. It is true in all times. It is simply true. What I do affects you. What you do affects me. What I do is often a ripple of what you’ve done and vice versa. We are not nearly as separate nor independent as we like to pretend.

The delusion plays itself out. The run on TP. We’ve all seen the lines at the gun store. Sooner or later it will occur – as it always does – that the best form of self-protection is participation in community. Participation is protection.

Ironically, it is the sturdy fabric of the interconnection – in good times – that allows us to delude ourselves into thinking that – in bad times –  we can do it all by ourselves. Stop for a moment, look at the food on your plate and ask yourself how many people were necessary for you to enjoy your meal. The rings of interdependence will run farther than your capacity to imagine. That is always the case.

An article shot crossed my email this morning. It was from an artist sharing her realization in the midst of this pandemic that she does not create art for audiences, she creates with audiences. Like her, my paintings are not complete until people engage with them. People are not complete in the absence of art. Listening to Kerri play is more life-giving than any of the news broadcasts we’ve been glued to. There are levels to meaning making and the heart level rarely requires data but always requires other people and their gifts.

This morning we are hearing of the real difficulty of social distancing: mental health is stressed in isolation. We do not do well in quarantine. We, do, however, get creative. Jen prompted us to text images of all things green so we are looking around the house for green things. Emails and phone calls are on the rise. Mike reminded me last night that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine for the plague. He meant it as a challenge, “Any takers?” he winked.

Rob wrote, “In times like these we NEED art.” Yes. We need art because we need to create with people. To experience with people. To story our experiences with people. To grieve with other people. To laugh with other people. With. Always. Us.

 

 

ALWAYS WITH US from the album AS IT IS available in iTunes & CDBaby

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ALWAYS WITH US

 

 

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always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Find The Quiet [on DR Thursday]

 

 

I paint figures. I’ve never been a landscape painter or a painter of abstracts. I want to touch the spirit within the body.  I want to wander through the inner landscape.  I want to find the quiet-power places.

I didn’t know what to call this painting so Kerri named it A Little Modesty. I liked the name. Synonyms of modesty: unassuming, humility, simplicity. These are quiet-power words.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A LITTLE MODESTY

 

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a little modesty copyright 2012 david robinson

Take One Glorious Step [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This post marks the 100th week of our Studio Melange. As it turns out, to my great surprise, the body of work I leave behind in this lifetime will probably have nothing to do with my paintings. I write everyday. I do not paint everyday.

I read that Graham Greene, one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, wrote 500 words a day. Sometimes those 500 words took an hour. Sometimes they took several hours. Either way. Write 500 words a day, every day, and you, too, will be prolific.

Listen to enough mountain climbers and you’ll receive the same advice. One step at a time. One hand hold at a time. Don’t think of climbing the whole mountain. Rather, pay attention to the next step and the next and the next. The action of stepping will take you farther than the wishing. Step consciously and the summit will cease to be a goal and will become another glorious step en route to another glorious step [and, best of all, your odds of survival will skyrocket].

Were Kerri and I to scrabble together into book form our 100 weeks of writing, we’d have more than a few tomes on the shelf. A single prompt. He said/She said. Mounds of accumulated thoughts. Lots of writing. A few precious and treasured readers. Every once in a while, especially on these dark winter days, one of us asks, “Why do we keep doing this?”  The other will inevitably say, “Well, let’s stop.” The answer is always, “Nooooo! I love doing this!”

Why do it? Why climb the mountain? Why walk toward the horizon? Why paint what no one sees or compose what no one hears? Our answer, after 100 weeks, is becoming clearer and clearer: do what you love. Even better, do it with someone you love. One glorious step en route to another glorious step.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MAKING HUNDREDS

 

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Go Tiny And Skip! [on DR Thursday]

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Kerri called them ‘morsels,’ little snippets of my paintings. She’d isolate a spot, crop it, perhaps add some words or simply let the cropped image become a new, stand-alone design. We offered her morsels through society6.com [prints, cards, coffee cups, pillows, etc.]. This morsel is from the corner of a large painting, An Instrument of Peace.

The morsels had a profound impact on how I see my paintings. In many cases, I liked the morsels better than the paintings they came from. The morsels said more with less. They took me by the hand and led me back to the forgotten lands of shape, form, and color in their purity.

The morsels helped me comprehend and then dance back and forth across the crevasse between design and painting. Painting [for me] is a deep dive, personal spelunking. It is a meditation. Design is visual play. It’s skipping in the sunshine, looking for shells on the beach. Carefree [Kerri is the designer in our family so it is especially easy for me. I’m like the supervisor on a road crew; she does all the work and I stand there, pat my belly, look important, and get all the accolades].

Originally, Kerri made this morsel as a wish for peace. It is among her many morsels that celebrate this season, the return of the light. Peace seems in short supply in our divided nation, our angry world. She asked that we use this morsel today so I pulled it from the archive. She knows that art carries great power and can inspire people to see anew, to dance back and forth across their personal crevasses, and lead the way back to forgotten lands of community and shared vision. Shape, form, color. Beauty generated and shared inside as well as out. Reaching rather than rejecting as a first action.

All of this possibility, hope, an enormous wish, carried in one little tiny morsel.

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE ON EARTH

 

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for a print or wall art of this image, go here

 

 

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an instrument of piece ©️ 2015 david robinson

morsel: peace on earth ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood