Get Lost [on DR Thursday]

We delight in taking Sunday drives. Sometimes we have a destination but most of the time we have no idea where we are going. We head “out into the county,” the farm land, and with great intention, we get lost. “Left or right?” Kerri asks when we come to a crossroads. “Left.”

The goal is to “not know.” Drive down roads we’ve never experienced. There is a direct correlation between “not knowing” and “clear seeing.” When lost, we open our eyes. It’s something that every artist understands, “always-knowing-where-you’re-going” is a killer of the magic. It is the dividing line between art and craft.

I’m currently working with a team of analytical minds. “Lostness” is often interpreted as failure. It’s not welcome. But, to my great delight, even in the most analytic of creative processes, the engineers and entrepreneurs, shaking their fists at the sky when adrift, find their greatest magic arrives only after time spent wandering the wilderness.

After many twists and turns, rolling country roads and, “Which direction are we headed?”, we pop out of lostness and know exactly where we are. “Hey!” we laugh, “How did we get here?”

The art of getting lost. The art of exploration. The art of having an experience without a predetermined outcome. The art of having an outcome and letting it go, making space for something better. It is the art of cultivating surprise, allowing for the bigger idea to come through. “Left or right?”

It’s a practice. Learning-to-see and letting-go-of-needing “to know.” It’s the same thing. And, a great way to practice, is taking a nice Sunday drive.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ROAD

pax © 2015 david robinson

See The Wonder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

What is this thing called ‘wonder’ and where does it go? Awe. Astonishment. Surprise. The stuff of sunrises and sunsets. The first. The last.

I am of the opinion, like most people I know, that wonder does not go away. We simply stop looking through eyes that see it. Been there, done that. Nothing new. The daily grind. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It’s too bad. It’s no way to live.

We moved our chairs to catch the sliver of sun. We sat, closed our eyes, bathed in the warmth, and sighed. Wonder need not be complicated. Tom Mck, his mind already slipping, forgetting why we came to the cemetery, heard the grieving husband across the way wail in pain. “Listen to the wind!” he said to me, eyes wide in amazement.

“We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep.” ~ William Shakespeare, The Tempest. We are such stuff. It is a very short window, a single moving moment, rounded with a sleep. The real question is: What moment in this brief life is NOT alive with wonder?

read Kerri’s blog post about WONDER

Meet The Saw [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As the magician saws the woman in half, he tells her that, “Magic is not an exact science.” It is among my favorite Flawed Cartoons.

“There’s nothing sadder than a forty year old production assistant,” she said, sipping her drink, looking across the room at a man she clearly thought was a loser. I was living in Los Angeles and was at a party with movers-and-shakers. The gathering also included a few of the people who carried the cables, loaded the trucks, moved the electrics – the lowest rung on the ladder. The runners. I swallowed hard. At the moment she said it, I was thinking the exact opposite. There is nothing more interesting than a forty year old production assistant. I wanted to be standing with the very man she considered a loser. He’d have stories to tell. Experiences to share. The movers-and-shakers bored me. Dulled by their dedication to security, thoroughly protected from the unknown or surprising experiences, they sneered at the people who’d actually lived. I found my way across the room and spent the rest of the evening sitting in the kitchen talking with a man who traveled the world.

Were I at the party today, she would look across the room at me and whisper, “Sad.”

Life is like magic. It is not an exact science. Ideals collapse. Dreams implode. Yet, the luckiest people I know are the few who have stepped out of their seats and volunteered to climb on to the stage. They’ve taken chances. Built wood buses or put their lifeblood into starting a theatre company or went boarding instead of dying in a cubicle. They’ve stepped beyond traditions and expectation. They’ve been cut in half, opened, challenged, surprised, disappointed, scared, triumphant, awed. They’ve learned. They’ve questioned their beliefs and perceptions. They’ve made titanic mistakes. They’ve stared down their demons. They’ve opted for curiosity rather than being right. They stepped off the edge. They followed, “What if…”

There’s no shortage of people who watch life from the safety of their seats. As Tom used to say, “They paint with a limited palette.” There are those lucky few who, if you see them at the party, most likely the people serving drinks, who’ve been cut in two and know from scary experience that there’s nothing more numbing or illusory than certainty. Follow them into the kitchen and ask about their lives. You’ll be amazed at the full spectrum of colors you find in them.

read Kerri’s blog post about SAWED IN HALF

flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson

Expect Surprise [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Walking through the Lake District in a driving rain, cold and soaked to the skin. Roger had a high fever and was near delirious. The hostel closed. We had to leave. It was miles to the next village. This day was not going according to plan. The trip was not going according to plan. It was the darkest moment in a series of dark moments. “What else could go wrong?” I asked. There was nothing to do but shiver and take another step. And then, unheard of at the time, an RV rounded the bend. The door popped open and a cheery voice asked, “Do you need a ride?”

I often think of that ride. That unlikely RV. Suddenly there were towels to dry ourselves. Aspirin for Roger. The mother of the clan took over and attended to my sick friend. Mugs of hot tea. We were delivered safely to the next village. They did not leave until they knew we had a warm place to stay until the rains passed. Something went right. It was breathtaking.

It was a life lesson for the younger version of me. My very own Aesop’s Fable. What looks like tragedy is often an opportunity, and vice versa. When it appears that things cannot get worse, they often do get worse en route to something better. The real lesson was to be in it, rain or shine. Joyful participation. I didn’t get the lesson right away. It took a few laps before it stuck.

That trip was decades ago and, to me, seemed ill-fated from the outset. But, when I think back on it, I remember the kind family in the RV, the man standing in line behind me who secured a ticket for me when I didn’t have enough money. The kindnesses too many to count. The utter shock of serendipity. What we needed always appeared somehow, in unexpected ways.

Quinn used to say, “Cultivate your serendipity.” Open yourself to chance, to the unexpected. Expect surprise.

read Kerri’s blog post about THINGS GOING RIGHT

Look Closer [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Arnie recently sent me a book, Connection by Kristine Klussman. As is my practice these days, I’m reading it slowly, a few pages at a time. I recognize much of what she’s writing about: focus placement, meaning making, cutting through the ‘should’s’…all in the process of re-connecting to what is really important in this life. The book offers specific exercises and process steps to help readers take a closer look at their lives. To identify the gaps between espoused and lived values in order to make different choices and close the gap. Alignment.

In art school, the most valuable lesson (for me) was to learn to see beyond what I ‘think.’ I’ve written about the professor who asked us to look at our yellow #2 pencils and tell him what color were the pencils. A riot of eye rolling ensued but, in the end, he helped us to see that the simple yellow pencil was alive with green and purple and red. Our minds generalize. It requires a bit of slowing down and, dare I write, a bit of presence, to see and experience how rich and alive even the simplest things, a yellow pencil, really are. The dictum applies to each and every day of life, especially the days we generalize into boredom or “same-old-same-old.” Slow down. Look again. There’s more to the yellow pencil than you think.

When Kerri and I arrived home from our trip to move my mother into an independent living community, we poured a glass of wine and opened the box my parents had kept with the artifacts of my life. Old newspaper clippings of play reviews, playbills, gallery opening announcements, elementary school report cards, photographs that reached back through proms and school portraits to blurry black and white infant prints with “David, 4 months” scribbled on the back. It was a poignant exercise of pulling the life-camera in for a closer view. Life-fragments in a box are like the yellow pencil. They require a closer look.

I’ve always appreciated Kerri’s tendency to pull the camera in closer. She is forever taking photographs and then pulling the image this way and that, like so much taffy, looking for the most interesting slice, the most dynamic composition. In her photographic-push-me-pull-you, there is often a discovery. “Look at this color!” she’ll exclaim. Or, “Did you see this! Look at the spines on this plant!” She cultivates surprise. She understands that a closer look will always reveal tiny not-yet-seen-miracles.

Expecting surprise. Taking the time to look beyond yellow-pencil-expectations. Closing the gap between lived and espoused values. Slowing down just enough to realize that there is no such thing as “same-old-same-old.” These are age-old sage suggestions for living a rich and meaningful life. All of it, born of a tender, quiet suggestion to take a deep breath and have a closer look.

read Kerri’s blog post about A CLOSER LOOK

Turn To See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Joseph Campbell said, “None of us lives the life that he/she imagined.” We have an idea, perhaps a plan, a good map, and then, well, life happens. As anyone who’s ever done home repair knows, things rarely go according to the plan. A good life, a life well lived, allows for both the well-laid-plan and the home-repair-rule. Things happen. Plans change. Visions grow. Pipes burst. Pieces don’t fit. Good angels arrive.

Dreams are fluid things. Despite expectations, very few life paths are straight lines.

One of the tenets we taught in The Circle Project was to plan for surprise. Expect the unexpected. There is nothing worse than an inflexible plan. There’s nothing better than a happy accident that alters the course of an idea, the direction of a life.

That we have penicillin in our world is the result of a famous happy accident. Intention met mishap met serendipity. A surprise discovery in a Petri dish in 1928 took years, many more Petri dishes, publications and happy discovery by other scientists who held a similar intention, followed by additional happy accidents to at last become a useful antibiotic available to the public in 1942.

Though I rarely include it in my list of gratitude, I would not be alive today were it not for that accidental mold in the dish and the subsequent scientists who included in their plan time to read journals and follow up on the research they found there. I’ve never come across a life plan that included a bout with life-threatening infection but I’ve heard countless tales of relief when the antibiotic – no longer a surprise – arrived. Surprise meets plan. Plan meets surprise. They are dance partners, not adversaries.

A team can practice, practice, practice, but they cannot know or predict the outcome of the game. It must first be played. And, as any athlete will tell you, the game is only worth playing – or watching – because the outcome is unknown.

Plan for the unknown. Welcome the surprise.

The long view is what we desire before life is lived. Pick a point on the horizon and walk that way.

The long view is something we can only truly see after the fact, when we arrive at a point, and turn to see the surprising path we have traveled.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LONG VIEW

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

Learn The Single Lesson [on Two Artists Tuesday]

dogga babycat end of day copy

At the end of each day, with great enthusiasm and mission, Dog-Dog herds us into the living room. Because it is hysterical to see how many different strategies Dogga can pull from his Aussie bag of tricks, it has become a game for us to give him several false starts. We step toward the living room and then return to the kitchen. We say, “Let’s go!” and he races away with fervor while we remain firmly planted. He returns moments later with a wildly wagging tail. He never gets frustrated. He only gets more clever, more lively in his intention. He is eternally hopeful and more excited by the chase than the finish.

It is the single lesson I hope to learn from him. He is an excellent teacher and I am a very slow student.

It is the last day of 2019 and it has been, to put it mildly, an exhausting year. We are making special preparations to launch the good ship 2019 into the annals of time-gone-by. We might wave a polite so-long as it departs but most likely we’ll turn our backs on the passage, and, like Dogga, we’ll run into the next year with hopeful-tails a-wagging.

We know it is an imaginary line, a made-up calendar distinction. We don’t really expect a clean break, a new, fresh start. Or, perhaps we do expect it. Or perhaps, we desire it in the same way Dogga desires us to go to the living room. It’s the game of chase!

Perhaps the coming year will be less exhausting and more fulfilling if I learn the single Dog-Dog lesson: drop all expectation of outcome, all fear of circumstance, all investment in things that exist only in my too-active-imagination, and love my people whether or not they meet me in the living room. Love my people when they send me on a wild goose chase, not once, but many times. Love them because they love me and it’s fun to be alive and, after all, the circles I run will bring me back to them. Or to myself. Why not laugh?

Perhaps in this new year I will at last learn to fully live what I preach and enjoy the chase simply because it is ALL a game of chase, even the parts that look momentarily like completions. Even the parts that look overwhelming. They pass, too.

The mantra many years ago was to cultivate surprise. Expect surprise. The truth is, I don’t know what will happen in ten minutes or two seconds or in ten days. Do you? Why do we pretend that we know? I think it is the key to Dog-Dog’s delight, he doesn’t pretend to know. He lives in the truth of surprise as opposed to the preconception of boredom or fear or fulfillment. He leads with his heart and his heart is bursting with hope (another name for the expectation of surprise). It is why, after his people-sheep have ambled to the couch [what?! A surprise!], he can sleep so soundly, so completely unburdened by resistance to the day gone by or trepidation-stories of tomorrow.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE END OF THE YEAR

 

 

shadow des plaines river trailwebsite box copy

Paint A Surprise [on DR Thursday]

and now painting copy

This painting hangs in Kerri’s studio. I painted it in secret. It was my wedding present to her.

More than once she came down the stairs into my studio while I was working on it. It’s harder than you might think to surprise someone that you are with 24/7. I’d hear the door open at the top of the stairs and scramble to put a sham painting in front of it.

“How’s it going?” she’d ask.

“Fine,” I’d pant, feigning nonchalance and hoping she wouldn’t notice that the paint on my brush didn’t match the painting on the easel. I’d dab a little here and there to sell my diversion.

She’d stand back and examine the sham painting. “Tell me what you’ve done since the last time I saw it?” she asked, puzzled.

“It’s subtle,” I’d say. “You probably can’t see the changes yet.” She’d squint and purse her lips and continue into the laundry room. I’d sigh and “work” on the sham until she went back up the stairs.

I love this painting. I love how I painted it (it was fun making a secret gift!) and I love why I painted it. It is both simple and complex (like we are). It is alive with symbols that trace stories about us, about our life together, our origin. It is a painting that becomes more “true” with each passing year.

Today, four years ago, I successfully surprised her with this painting. Later in the day, we skipped out of the church, transformed.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AND NOW [THE PAINTING]

 

wedding pic with website copy

 

photo-1

my bride at our reception! this picture captures exactly what i adore about her.

Give Over [on DR Thursday]

#8 Held In Grace -Surrender Now copy 2

It’s called Surrender Now.

I chose it for this week’s Melange because, from this vantage point, surrender seems the only path forward. Giving over rather than giving in. Nonresistance to the forces fighting all around us.

Nonresistance is a scary word. In modern parlance is presupposes tyranny. Unjust authority run amok. It is a path of exposing suppression en route to peace. Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

The surrender in the painting, the surrender of which I write, is a much more personal variety. It is the surrender of aging. It is the surrender of pushing for outcomes and achievements, the release of long-held loss and disappointment. Giving up old stories. giving over to unknown paths and definitions.

Surrender the push-away of life as it comes. Rather, embrace the day with all its surprises. Held in grace. Surrender now.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SURRENDER NOW

 

 

SurrenderNow framed copy

arches shadows k&d website box copy

 

held in grace: surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson