Take Note [on DR Thursday]

Although it may not be at first apparent, this is a map for product development. A single stout stalk that supports shoots of replication that explode in support features. One clear central intention. Multiple expressions that return nutrient to the stalk.

Although it may not be at first apparent, this is a map for healthy community. A single stout story stalk that supports shoots of replication, diverse paths that explode in seeming individual expression. One clear central narrative. Multiple expressions sending sunlight back to the root.

Who hasn’t seen the time-lapse films of plants growing, forms expressing and then retreating, the accelerated motion of people commuting on a city street, what seems like chaos is, at speed, cooperation. Those people on the street in real time, walking to work, a to-do list on their mind, are mostly unaware of their symphony of togetherness.

It’s easy to forget the stout stalk when standing at the individual expression point. I have been witness to the demise of many organizations who turn against the stalk in favor of the feature. For instance, the fastest way to kill a non-profit organization is to attempt make it run like a for-profit business. It will forget its story-stalk and lose its heart and mind in a spreadsheet.

The quickest way to destroy a community is for its branches to forget that they are individual expressions of a single stout story. They are not separate as much as extensions. To focus on the multiple tiny expressions as if each small branch is a stand-alone truth is absurdity-creation. Chaos masked as convention. Inverted, the plant dies.

In our literature we are riddled with advice to turn toward nature. Existential crisis? Lost? Go to the meadow, find the woods, take a hike. Get quiet. We go there because…we are there. Alan Watts wrote,”We don’t come into the world, we come out of it.” We are not separate from the stalk; we are expressions of it. Occasionally, the map to sanity that we seek is hiding in plain sight dressed as a platitude. Go to nature. You cannot do otherwise. Realize it.

When I’m running abstract questions of design in my dreams, I know it’s time to take a walk. It’s time to stop, look around, take note of nature’s design, the perfection of a plant. A perfect yoga, branch-fingers reaching for the sun, root-fingers reaching deep into soil.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PARSNIPS

sam the poet, 48×48 (painted and sold a long time ago)

sam the poet © 2004 david robinson

Step Back And Realize [on Flawed Wednesday]

If you are like us, every day brings another report of a friend or loved one who has Covid. As someone recently said to me, “With Omicron, it’s only a half degree of separation between you and someone who’s carrying the virus.” I’d say, given the wave of people we know falling sick and reporting positive test results, it’s true. It’s no time to let down your guard.

On Saturday we watched a documentary film, The First Wave. It’s a film everyone should see. It chronicles the first few months of the pandemic in a New York hospital. It is shocking how, in a few short years, we’ve normalized hospitals being overrun. How removed we, the populace, are from the tangible horror of this pandemic. Refrigerator trucks used as temporary morgues. We stand today at 865,000 deaths and counting. People. By comparison, 620,000 people died in the Civil War. 418,500 US citizens, military and civilian, died in World War 2. We ought to be grieving instead of dividing. We ought to be reaching to help rather than peacocking our politics. This film will slap you awake. It will help you step back and realize what we – all of us – are passing through. It might help you grieve.

Kerri tells me that the woman in the next car thought she and 20 were doing a drug deal. He felt sick, needed a test and could find none. We had a few so they met in a parking lot to make a safe pass. While making the exchange, he handed her an envelope. Money for the phone bill but I’m sure it looked suspicious.

It reminded me of the time, many years ago, that Sam asked me to meet him in a parking lot. He rolled down his window and passed to me a sheaf of poems. The window went up. I was to tell no one. It was terribly vulnerable for him to share. I cried the day he published his first book of poetry. It was a titanic journey from fear-of-certain-shame to proudly publishing his beautiful work. He was transformed.

I imagine someday we will stand and look back at this titanic journey. I hope that I remember with fondness the story of Kerri and 20 making an exchange in the parking lot, the women one-car-over shocked by what she thought she was seeing, and we smile. Transformed. Remade as better people in a better community making better assumptions of each other. Stronger.

For now, as the credits rolled on The First Wave, we looked at each other and together said, “I’m exhausted.”

read Kerri’s blog post about THE EXCHANGE

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

Sing Red! [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We were awake much of the night so we ate bananas and talked. Our conversation rambled over miles and covered acres of territory. In the wee-hours, Kerri explained to me the compositional elements of a symphony, the placement of a solo in a piece, and the foundational support offered by the other instruments. In other words, it takes a village to raise a solo.

There’s a famous story of Leonardo Da Vinci, paintbrush in hand, staring all day at his mural-in-progress. Finally, after hours of staring, he approached the wall and added to his composition a single brushstroke. If you are a painter you understand that the story is not about the single brushstroke but where it was placed. Color lives or dies relative to other color. Leonardo spent his day assessing relationships.

We are new gardeners. It may seem silly to expert growers, those who’ve been around the farm a time or two, that through the fall, we jumped out of bed every morning, ran to the kitchen, to see our cherry tomatoes. When we pulled the plants at the frost, the vines were laden with green tomatoes. Not to worry, Kerri told me; put the little green orbs together in a sack (ours landed in Tupperware and never left because we delighted in watching them) and they will make the journey to red. They’d help each other to ripen. And so it was. Each day the palette changed until, one day, the entire tomato choir sang red. I am filled with wonder.

It is a cliche’ that every great journey begins with a single step. A single step and lots of encouragement. A single step and a team of support. Explorers need financing. Too often we place the accent on the single player and ignore the symphony. We get a big kick out of the crowds of individuals standing in line to stand atop of Mt. Everest, thrusting their hands like Rocky Balboa in the very-thin-air, playing conquerer of the mountain, forgetting that a Sherpa carried their gear, set up their tent, cooked their food, set their ropes, tended their wounds, warmed their tea, hauled away their waste and sometimes carried their bodies back down when they couldn’t make the round trip.

No one walks this walk alone. Individualism is like Leonardo’s brushstroke: it only works if it furthers community, when it makes life better for all. How’s that for a paradox!

We are tomatoes, all. Green and small by ourselves. But when brought together in our little Tupperware crossroads, red, red, red, red, red!

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES!

Place It In The Hollow [on DR Thursday]

For some reason, people need to leave a trace of their passage. We paint on the walls of caves. We erect monuments to ourselves and our heroes. We build cairns to mark the way for those who come behind; we build cairns so others will add stones to the marker. We put plaques on benches and engraved bricks in walkways. We graffiti bridges and walls. Banksy has made a fortune tracing his masked passage.

Growing tired as we hiked up the trail, we sat on an old log. We looked over the valley, turned our faces to the sun. And, as we stood to continue up the trail, Kerri pulled a sharpie from her bag. We left two small dots on the log. “We were here.”

Our work in the world not only can be a marker, it is a marker. Every little action is a stone on the cairn: we contribute to the whole whether we like it or not. The person who delivers packages to my door makes my life better. Easier. The score of people who created this computer, invented this software, manufactured the chip that makes it all work, have made my life better. Someone coming behind us will see the cairn we’ve constructed and add to it. Improve upon it. The first computer I touched was a toy compared to this miracle sitting on my lap.

I’m an artist and sometimes wonder if my paintings will live beyond me or will they end up in the Goodwill as so much used canvas. I hear the advice, so often offered to me: “Yours is to paint them, not decide what happens to them.” Too true. Mine is to make the offer. I have no control over the acceptance.

Returning down the trail, Kerri peered into the hollow of a stump. It was filled with stones! Hikers, just like us, had left a note that also served as an ancient invitation: I was here. We picked up stones, the sharpie came out of the bag, scribbled a heart and a peace sign on our rocks before placing them in the hollow. “Do you think anyone will see our stones?” Kerri asked.

An ancient question. Deeply human. Heart and Peace.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE HOLLOW

three graces © 2012 david robinson

Feel The Rhythm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We lay awake in the night listening to the waves pound the shore. Boom. Rest. Boom. Rest. This lake that is sometimes glassy-in-stillness can rival the Atlantic Ocean in restlessness. It has many moods. It can turn on a dime. I have found great peace walking the shores. I have stood in awe as it blasted those very same shores, hurling boulders with ease.

When we were fortunate to live for a summer in the littlehouse, right on the lake. Kerri had to adjust to the constant sound. Her musician’s ears were caught in the rhythm of sound lapping the shores. Nature’s metronome. We teased about parking a piano on the back deck so she might compose an album of pieces set to the lake’s pulse.

The most striking visceral-revelation that I brought back from Bali is that we function together. Just as I am impacted by the lake, my pace and rhythm are impacted by the people around me. No one is an island. David Abram wrote in The Spell of the Sensuous that it is nearly impossible to meditate in the un-united states. We are an angry frenetic lake, fast moving wave. Changeable. I will always remember pausing at the custom’s gate re-entering the country. It was too much. Finally, I stepped through the doors and felt sucked into a chaotic turbulent whitewater river. It was months before I adjusted, before a walk down the street didn’t feel like a fist fight.

Columbus (my dad) would sit for hours each morning, on the porch. Listening. When I was younger I wondered what he was listening to – or for. He grew up in Iowa and came into adulthood moving to the rhythm of the corn. He lived his adult life in Colorado. It was a different rhythm, the metronome of the mountains. For many years he yearned to live where he understood the rhythm. He was, I think, listening for the corn.

When I return to Colorado I feel an immediate recognition. The mountains are the rhythm I was born into. Alignment. My original dance was a mountain dance.

Kerri and I are both transplants to the lake. Perhaps that is why we hear it so clearly. Jim E. told me that people go to the shore to stare into the infinite. We listen to the lake with the same awareness. The lake was here before me. The lake will be here after I am gone. The mountains, too. We are, of course, delusional to entertain the idea that we control it – nature. That we are somehow separate. Sometimes I think it is the artist’s job to bring proper perspective to the community, to pop the separation-notions – even for a moment – out of ego-brains.

This lake could hurl me like a pebble. It also brings peace to my soul. Stillness. We are not as distinct as we want to believe. That recognition is the single greatest blessing of artistry. It’s a circle dance. Just as my dad is disappearing back into the corn, I, too, will someday rejoin my original rhythm and fold back into the mountain.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

Look. Really Look. [on KS Friday]

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).” ~ e.e. cummings

The ritual became real when Kerri asked the bride and groom to turn and look at the community of people assembled as witnesses to their wedding, “No, really look,” she said. Eyes met eyes. Family. Friends. The unspoken but oh-so-apparent moment: We’re here for you.

Rituals, like a good story, are about single moments. Everything builds to the moment. In the ceremony, Kerri told the couple that they would have days that they could not take their eyes off of each other and that they would have days that were…not so much, but in all of their days, through all of their challenges and celebrations, they would have this moment, and this single-moment, when all else dropped away, would carry them through everything: standing before their community of support, they looked into each other’s eyes and said, “I do.” I carry your heart.

Initially, when they asked her to perform their wedding, she was stunned. “Why me?” she asked. After their ceremony, unique in all the world, simple and profound, I wanted to ask but did not, “Now do you know why they asked you?” My wife understands the power of a moment, the deep river of a ritual, and the long ripples that simple words and intentional actions can send through the long-body of a lifetime.

“Are you ready?” she whispered to the couple when the music faded. “Yes. Oh, yes,” they replied.

read Kerri’s blog post about I CARRY YOUR HEART

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

Refresh [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s been true since we met. People stop us in airports and on the street, they give us thumbs up or take a faux paparazzi-photograph. They tell us that we are cute or “lookin’ good!” Once, a shopkeeper came out of his store to tell us that we made him smile. When we walk the neighborhood, we are often met with people who tell us that we make their day. It always takes us by surprise and it always makes us smile.

What are people seeing? We are older and link arms when we walk. We hold hands. Our clothes are unintentionally the same. Black on blue jeans. We walk slowly. We talk to each other. We stroll; a walk without a destination. We don’t know what inspires the comments but always appreciate them.

Kerri always coos when she sees a horse. In our imaginary life, she has horses, a donkey, and an old truck. We were walking on the trail in our flip flops (that always gets a raised eyebrow or two) when the cowboy came around the bend. “A horse!” Kerri whispered, and squeezed my arm. The cowboy sat up in his saddle, nodded as he rode passed, then said, “You look like you like each other.”

“We do.” I replied.

Perhaps it is that simple. We like each other.

We’re fortunate. Our work allows us to be together all day. Every day. That would, I’m sure, be the end of most relationships. We like it. When I need feedback on a painting, she is my best wise-eyes. “What do you see?” I ask. We read our posts to each other before we publish. We edit together. We cook together. We create together. Our list of joint projects is growing. Lately, our once-weekly-cartoon about…well…us, Smack-dab., is giving us tremendous energy. It is fun. We poke fun at ourselves. We capture the ridiculous and the poignant. We pay attention to the marvels of simple relationship.

Picasso said that, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” He also said that, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Those thoughts, placed side-by-side, I believe, holds the reason a cowboy sat up in his saddle and a shopkeeper ran into the street. We are refreshed. We practice the elimination of the unnecessary – on canvas, at the piano, and in life.

We didn’t try to make 24/7 togetherness. There was no rule or expectation. It’s what we wanted. It’s what we want.

I am on jury duty this week and was at the courthouse most of the day. When she came to fetch me I got in the car and we said at the same time, “That was weird!”

“Tell me everything!” she said.

“No. You first! What did you and Dogga do?” Our conversation took us deep into the night. There’s so much life and so little time. Perhaps that’s it. We know this day is precious and fleeting and act accordingly. It must show.

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU MUST LIKE EACH OTHER

Consider The Revelation Necessary [on KS Friday]

An exercise that is designed for generic failure is also designed for specific success. And, so it is with the bridge. The instruction is simple: get everyone safely across the space. If anyone touches the floor, all must go back. Invariably, the first attempt is an abject failure. The group ignores the word “everyone” and, instead, opts to try and get themselves safely across the space. They believe the game is about them, that “winning” is a singular affair.

After being sent back to the beginning more than once, they come to a spectacular yet inevitable innovation: if they work together, crossing the space will be easy. It is only a matter of moments after their revelation that they, together, construct a secure bridge and are all safely standing on the other side of the room. Specific success wrought from generic failure. And, once they have their realization, they cling to it. They own it. They must, the stakes are raised, the rules are tipped against them during the ensuing phases of the exercise.

I’ve led this exercise hundreds of times. Every single time the group has the necessary revelation. They are not in the game alone. They can only “win” if they join together. If they build it together, everyone will safely cross the space. It gives me hope.

Last night, during the town hall, President Biden said something that ought to slap us from our divisive stupor. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin believe the 21st century belongs to the autocrats. The pace of change is moving too fast and democracies, in their divisiveness, move too slow. So far, we are proving them right.

Once, as an experiment, rather than set the challenge of the bridge, I forced the answer. The group did as I said but collapsed in the ensuing rounds. When I raised the stakes, the people gave up. The harder it got, the less they tried. They coalesced in apathy. They never made it across the bridge again, even though they knew how to build it.

This is what the autocrats do not understand. There is no ownership, no game, in a forced answer [educators could pay attention to this simple rule, too].

We are being divided through titanic campaigns of misinformation. And so, no one will make it safely across this time-space. Generic failure. Wade Davis wrote that we now live in a failed state and, so far, we are proving him right. But I have hope. The necessary revelation, the specific success, bubbles in the frustration. Those stoking the division, feeding fear, will have their day but, in the long run, the lie collapses, people join together and, like a prayer flag, build a bridge to ensure that all make it safely across. They recognize that they are not in this game alone. Winning is hollow if half the team is lost in the process.

This game, the bridge. The necessary revelation is in our nature; nature’s prayer flag. It gives me hope.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE’S PRAYER FLAG

hope/this season ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Choose Your Way [on DR Thursday]

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankel

I always feel a bit disappointed in myself after writing a post like the post I wrote yesterday. It was a near-rant, an ugly system becoming more ugly as it fights to protect its ugliness.

It’s been a battle all of my life, wrestling with what to do or say when my desire to focus on the life-giving runs headlong into the harsh realities of the life-denying. To shine a light on the life-denying is sometimes the most life affirming thing to do, it just doesn’t feel very good. “Look at the ugly. No, really look.” Last night, I listened to a conversation – in all seriousness – about the collapse of our democracy. It’s been a minor fascination of mine to witness how self-destructive people and organizations – and nations – will become before they admit that they need to change. Before they turn and say, “I’ve been lying to myself and to you.” Sometimes they destroy themselves rather than turn and face their truth. That was the crux of the conversation. It seems more and more likely that we’ll set ourselves on fire before we embrace the truth of our dysfunction.

One of Kerri and my greatest losses during the time of pandemic was our weekly ritual dinners with 20. Thursday night we’d cook at his condo. Sunday night we’d cook at our house. We’d cook for each other. Sometimes we’d cook with each other. Always we’d drink wine, laugh, and reaffirm what is most important about life. Each other.

Post-vaccination, after a long year of isolation, we recently, gratefully, returned to our ritual. We cook. We talk about our days. We laugh. 20 and I tease Kerri. She feigns indignance and loves every moment. We talk about art. We share the curiosities that have crossed our paths and screens. Sometimes we talk about the nation’s self-immolation but only briefly as we very quickly realize that it pulls us from what is really important. Each other.

Tonight is dinner with 20. We can’t wait and are making our menu, designing our day around what will be the most important thing to happen all day. Time with each other.

As a nation, “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, in a letter discussing slavery.

How a question is framed determines the answers/paths-forward one sees or does not see. It could be said of our national trauma that we’ve framed our dilemma with justice pitted squarely against self-preservation, or, to be clear, self-preservation will be at the cost of justice-for-all. It’s too bad. As the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-preservation will always negate a reach toward justice. You’d think that we’d someday recognize that the wolf we have by the ears is of our own creation and that justice-for-all is the only path to self-preservation, national self-actualization. You’d think that it might occur to us, rather than do the same old thing in the same old way, to ask a different question.

If I had a magic wand I’d ding the noggin of this nation with the one strength we share, the one thing that 20 and Kerri and I know without doubt, the only real path to laughter and support and all the other good things we can offer: time with each other. A good meal made with heaps of love. A ritual born of a simple desire to each week make the world a bit better for each other.

read kerri’s blog post about DINNER WITH 20