Face In [on KS Friday]

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“…gentleness can be a greater force for transfiguration than any political, economic, or media power,…” ~ John O’Donohue

Here is my utopian fantasy: The protesters put down their signs, the police put down their shields, the militia drops their weapons, the citizens of all races, creeds, colors, political identities and economic stripes come out of their houses and hold hands facing into a circle of their creation. Nothing need be said. What are we protesting FOR if not this?

We are excellent at pushing against what we do not want. We are practiced at screaming in rabid reactivity. Finger pointing and blame is among our most popular Facebook pass times.  We like to make noise and bluster about the violation of our rights and ignite fearmongering fires warning of imagined assaults on our amendments. Propaganda and lie make for good reality television ratings. They provide permission to smash glass, loot, denigrate “others” and give cover to murder in all its forms, but are lousy foundations for a civil and civilized society.

Truth is intentional, not reactive. It steps toward an ideal. It provides a national focal point, a guide-star that will not cotton with lie and propaganda.

We seem utterly inept, absolutely incapable at walking toward what we profess. Our ideal is printed on our dollar bills and chiseled into the facades of our buildings: e pluribus unum: out of many, one.  Our division is chiseled into our history.

My utopian fantasy is not so hard to realize but notice it requires a common first step: a putting down of weapon and rhetoric and dedicated division. The  second step is also not difficult: reach out, take the hand that is closest. Circle up with those who you most disagree. The third step may be the hardest: say nothing. Defend and justify nothing. Prove or claim nothing. Face in, not face off.  The greatest intentions, like the most profound truths, are often silent. Step four: live the circle.

We can figure it out. It’s no greater matter than walking toward what we want, what we espouse, instead of forever pushing against what we do not want. Perhaps our first truth is to admit that there is a lie built into what we chisel in walls and what we actually live. We need to intend oneness if we are to realize our central ideal.

Doc Rivers, a black man and coach of the LA Clippers said this yesterday: “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.” Love. Love back. There is no better or simpler statement of intention. Walk toward it.

He also famously said, “Average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth.” His dictum applies to nations as well as players: great nations want to be told the truth. Average nations want to be left alone.

 

FIGURE IT OUT on the album RIGHT NOW is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FIGURE IT OUT

 

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figure it out/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

 

 

 

Step Into The Dark Wood [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Midway through one of our favorite hikes, the trail cuts through a section of dense tall reeds. I feel as though I could run and jump at the wall of tightly knit green and it would reject me outright. No entrance. I always imagine there must be a magic door, a secret phrase that will unlock passage to the wonders awaiting on “the other side.” Narnia will open if I know which reed to press.

In stories, the dense woods and murky places are to be avoided. They are where the monsters lurk, the bandits hide, where witches offer poison apples to little children. The community cautions against going there but the protagonist, usually to save the community, must enter that place, the place where no one is supposed to go.

The light must turn and see the shadow. Great power is always found there. Wholeness is never experienced by standing safely in the light but is brought back into the light from the dark side of the moon.

Jonah must go into the belly of the whale. The young wife must seek the Crescent Moon Bear. Luke Skywalker has to enter the dark cave on Dagobah. Adventures are not adventurous without a step into the scary unknown. Growth and new knowledge is not accessible from a safe seat on the couch. What we find in the dense wood or dark cave is often upsetting and unsettling. Revelation creates movement. That’s the function of the shadow. The ring of power is dark and dangerous and must be thrown into the volcano if middle earth is to survive. Who will take it?

Stories are there to help us both understand and navigate our personal and communal journey through this life. They help us know what to do when we have no idea what to do.  They help us know that the answers are not easy and usually arise after a step off the lighted path. They will come after a good bit of struggle, mess and misstep. The answers are rarely at first welcome because they challenge our smallness and will inevitably crack our safe denial.

Today, sitting in our city on fire, another night of protests looming, scary rumors running rampant, I can only hope that we – as a nation – listen to the great stories, that we step with shaky legs into our dark woods and face our dragon once and for all. The great stories assure us that what we find will not be easy or welcome. It guarantees that we will make messes and mistakes. But, it reassures us that our vulnerability and willingness to go through the dark passage will one day make us strong.

It will certainly transform us. I find that intensely hopeful.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DENSE

 

 

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Embrace The Mush [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We walk almost everyday. We always have. We walk to clear our minds or to stir our creative conversations. Since we work together, we sometimes call our walks “meetings.” Neither one of us is good at sitting.

Lately, we walk as an escape or a pressure release. Between job losses and broken wrists and pandemic fears and aging bodies and titanic leadership failures and civil unrest and financial collapse and missing-family-because-it feels-unsafe-to-travel…there’s very little quiet mind space. We hit the trail and have to remind ourselves to slow down. Be in it, not get through it.

It’s a life reminder: be in it. All of it.

We walked across the busy highway to the trailhead and a butterfly circled Kerri and landed at her feet. She’s been having many butterfly encounters lately. They circle her. They fly with her, crisscrossing her path. This butterfly stopped her motion completely. It snapped her into the present moment. She pulled out her camera and the butterfly hopped. She followed and the butterfly hopped again. It seemed to be leading her. It wanted her to follow. Another hop.

While watching the chase I couldn’t help myself from thinking of the symbolism. A butterfly, the universal symbol of change and transformation, leading Kerri on a chase. Perfect!

Our world is changing.

The process of becoming a butterfly requires the caterpillar to cocoon and then dissolve into mush before reforming, taking on the new shape. There’s no way to rush through the mush phase. There’s no way to rush into a thing with wings. In fact, the arduous process of busting out of the cocoon is necessary. It takes time for the wings to dry and the struggle to get free of the safe house provides the drying time. That, and the what-the-heck-are-these wings-doing-on-my-body phase of new recognition. Fear of the first step affords a few more moments of structural prep.

Going to mush takes time. Re-forming takes time.

No one willingly goes to mush. People famously grouse about changing but avoid change at all cost. I imagine that if the caterpillar had any idea of what was about to happen, it would yammer on and on about its dream of flying but would run screaming from the very idea of cocooning.

COVID has us cocooning. We are going to mush. I can only hope my country is also going to mush. A caterpillar that attempts to ward off the necessary transformation distorts and does not live long. A caterpillar that attempts to control its change process is delusional. It will rush and step off the limb before its wings are ready. Another route to disaster.

We are going to mush. Losing the known form is not easy. Living in uncertainty is uncomfortable. That’s the point. Discomfort heralds change. It opens new paths of thinking and possibilities for experience.

Watching Kerri hop after her hopping butterfly, I found myself laughing. This is what mush feels like. I’ve been here before. There will be another side, a breaking out, a fearful flapping of wings. A timely leap and a discovery. Butterflies are also symbolic reminders to step lightly and with grace in times of change. There’s nothing to be done but take nice walks, breathe a bit slower and hop after photo-shy butterflies.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the BUTTERFLY

 

 

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greet the world ©️ 2011 david robinson

 

 

Gather Around The Fire [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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An unseasonably cool June evening. We sat around the fire. At social distance and wearing masks. Friends. “It’s so odd,” we said more than once. Eyes and assumed smiles. Muffled laughter. “I’ll never again take for granted a hug or being able to sit close together around the table,” she said. “It’s the little things that I miss.”

Fire is elemental. Water. Air. Earth. And, sometimes, Spirit though I think the 5th is always implicit. Friendship is elemental and spirit-full. Especially when the world is off center. It is a forge for strength and determination. Our friends, so generous, feed air into the fire. Support. Encouragement.

As we talked through face coverings about our newest daily obstacles, I wondered how hard it must have been to communicate across distance with smoke signals. Measured fire. Kerri said, “My mask is slipping again! There must be something wrong with my face.” We laughed and made up problems with her nose.

So much fire on the streets across the land! Transformation is afoot! Creative fire is out of the barn and teasing the status quo. This hot fire illuminates. It smacks of a ritual fire and, if properly honored and tended, can set us on a new path. Dark corners revealed and more than simply acknowledged, truly addressed.

Prometheus stole fire from the gods to spark life into his new creatures.  To ignite breath. Humans, made from earth and water. Four elements, come together. He was punished for his transgression. The spark lit an entire forest fire of humanity and creative potential. Beings capable of looking at the elements within themselves, at asking each other in magical moments, “How can we be better?”

All of this wonder and wandering on an unseasonably cool summer evening. Meeting with friends across a fire. A sip of wine. In earnest, we ask the question of each other, through our masks and across our distance, “How can we be better?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KEEP THE FIRE BURNING

 

 

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Look For The Manatee [on DR Thursday]

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This has never been Kerri’s favorite painting. When I chose it for this week’s melange I asked her why she didn’t like it. She said, “Because there’s a manatee in it.”

“A manatee?”

“Keep in mind,” she said, “that I’m inkblot challenged.”

Wait. What?

Responding to the blank look in my eyes, she added, “I could never see Jesus in the pancake. Stuff like that.”

“The pancake?” My synapse fell short of the hoop. She Googled inkblots to demonstrate her disability.

“See (she pointed to an inkblot on the screen)! There’s Florida and I’m supposed to see Jesus. Wait. Oh. There he is. Wait! There’s a lot of stuff in there!” she marveled, squinting at the blot.

Blink. Blink.

“Oh! Maybe it’s that I see too much stuff in the inkblot!

I pulled up the image of the painting. “It’s called Canopy,” I said. I enlarged the image.

She looked close. “Wait. That’s not a manatee!” she exclaimed. “That’s a person’s leg!” She looked closer. “Hmmm.”

It is, after all, what I love about art: It is never complete. It emerges anew with each new look, each new performance. What I intend has very little to do with what is perceived and in that space between artist and audience, a new creation, a new conversation arises. Imagination is like that. It opens worlds of surprising possibilities. It projects itself into the known, into the painting, and magically transforms it.

“So, you don’t like manatees?” I tease.

“I love manatees!” she huffs. “Just not in your paintings.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post on CANOPY

 

 

 

 

 

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canopy ©️ 2009 david robinson

Follow The Intention [on DR Thursday]

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It occurred to me, last night, when writing about the heart symbol, that the mistake we too often make is to hold fluid aspirations as ‘fixed’ states. Heart as a frozen symbol. An achievement. An arrival station on the train of life.

Nothing in this vast universe is still. Every molecule, every cell, is in constant movement. Constant transformation. Peace, hope, heart, love,…are not end-games. They are not winnable sports. They are dynamic, fluid, ever moving. Try to wrap your fingers around them and they will slip through, fog in a butterfly net. They are unattainable.

What, then, does it mean to dwell in your heart? To be at peace?

None of us are ‘fixed’ states. We, too, are in constant movement. Constant transformation. Constant relationship. Constant choice.

Last week I told the choir that their voices would go where their eyes go. Look up. Look to the back of the hall. In that way all are included in the song. It is also true that our actions will go where our thoughts go. Meditate (think about) division and opposition and that’s where we go. That’s what we see. That’s what we create. It’s a choice.

The words on this painting come from the Buddhist prayer of loving kindness. It is a prayer that ripples out, ripples back. Constantly moving. Peace as a motion, hope as a practice. Love as a dynamic action that follows the intention of a fluid mind.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BE PEACE

 

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yoga series: may you/morsel: may you be peace ©️ 2015/2017 david robinson

 

 

 

Bend It [on DR Thursday]

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The terminology in art reads like so much poetry. Zero point perspective. Chiaroscuro. Foreshortening. Rococo. Image plane. Vanishing point. Oblique projection. Intaglio. It goes on and on, these tasty and magical words.

They should be poetry. They describe fields of possibility. They attempt to codify the making of illusion or the impulse of an explorer. Bending space. Deconstructing and reconstituting. Perceptual distinctions. The visual language of cultural norms.

There has been for centuries a mathematics of art. Optics and relativity, movements in science that have their conjoined artistic twins. Rebellions. The maintenance of form. Rules and rule breakers.

I sat in on a class taught by a master artist. He was a lover of landscape (another yummy word) and taught his students an earth-shattering lesson: reality, like time, cannot be caught. It’s a fools errand to try. Painting is a conversation. It is an infinite game. Bend space. Move the tree. Color is fluid, moving, never fixed.  Be like color. Play. Discover. Transform.

I do not consider myself a landscape painter. And then I remember the master teacher and I remove the word ‘landscape’ from my vernacular. And then, suddenly, there is a universe of movement, color, light, and shapes to bend.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about a LANDSCAPE SKETCH

 

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newborn. deconstruction. reconstitution.

 

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newborn /landscape sketch ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

 

Circle Back To Change [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A long time ago, in addition to naming my posts, I used to number them, too. Today, as I considered what to write, I realized that I had an old post sitting on my desk top because I’m slowly (very slowly) working on a maybe-someday-book called For Art Sake. I opened the old post and laughed aloud when I read it. It is  from a younger version of me writing about the wheels of change [I’ve made a few edits]:

1174. MEET THE FIRE

In order for the phoenix to rise it must first burst into flames and be reduced to ash. Every rebirth requires a death. I imagine the phoenix does not relish the flame but after a few cycles it recognizes the necessity of the fire.

The same image (metaphor) is everywhere: the caterpillar must first cocoon and then be reduced to mush before the impossible happens. The leaves must fall from the tree before the root can replenish, revitalize, and do the impossible: bring forth new life.

The healers in Bali assured me that a wound is necessary to open the door to the gift – each of them had suffered a devastating wound or loss en route to fulfilling their healing power. The journey through the wound was necessary to realize and fulfill their gift. The heroes cycle, the belly of the whale, the quest through the wasteland, finding joyful participation in the sorrows of the world; change is a fiery, difficult business.

In my life I’ve worked with many, many people in all manner of change and transformation processes. It is surprisingly common for people to want their phoenix without experiencing the flame. It took me a while to realize that people (organizations and otherwise) were hiring me under the guise of helping them transform but in truth they really wanted me to help them circumvent the fire.

People go to great lengths to avoid the flame. No one willingly seeks the wound and no one transforms without it. No one in their right mind jumps out of bed in the morning ready to jump into the abyss and yet the adventure is impossible without it. If a full rich experience of living is the aim of our limited time on this earth, then the fire is necessary. The fire is part of the ride.

Fire avoidance is what dulls an otherwise vital life. Comfort is certainly a worthy aspiration but as the only aspiration it deadens, it limits the life-color-palette to taupe. The trick, as all the stories teach us, is never to avoid the fire (you can’t) but, once there, to be alive in it.

After ashes comes honesty. With ashes comes a deeper knowing, call it faith, that  somewhere deep inside, the phoenix-in-you will someday rise just as spring will always return.

[Kerri took these photos. They are the treads of the massive tires on the enormous earth moving equipment that is transforming our beloved Bristol Wood into a high ropes course. We grieve it daily, watching the woods reduced to ashes]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WHEELS OF CHANGE

 

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Mix It [on DR Thursday]

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True confessions: I never clean my palette. I like the messy build up of color. I like the chunky texture. It serves as a gunky history of my work, a genealogy of paintings past. And then, over time, it becomes a tactile work of art in its own right. Unfettered by any of the mental gymnastics or over-ponderous considerations that plague my “real” work, it is the closest to child-mind that I will achieve. It is accidental. It is free.

This might be a stretch but it is, for me, nevertheless true. I love my palette because it is the place of alchemy in my artist process. It is the true liminal space. I begin with pure color. I smashed the pure color together with another color and transform it into a third color, the hue I intend. On a palette, color becomes intention. And then, once transformed, with a brush or knife I lift the color-intention from my palette and in an action that is often more responsive than creative, I place it onto a canvas. It transforms yet again relative to all the color it touches. An image emerges. More color is called for.

And, somewhere in this call and response of color, I become like the palette. The pass-through of alchemy, the door that color passes through en route to something beautiful. And, in the process, perhaps I, too, in my messy build up of life/color, grow closer to that child mind. Unfettered. Accidentally interesting. Free.

“You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough” ~ William Blake

 

read Kerri’s blog post about my PALETTE

 

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Hear The Whisper [on KS Friday]

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One of my favorite books is John Irvings, A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY. The narrator of the book, after losing his mother, tells us that when we lose someone we lose them in pieces, not all at once. A birthday comes. A holiday. A graduation day. The absence is acute, fresh.

Kerri told me that when she listens now to  HEAR YOU WHISPER, she hears it differently than when she wrote it. Distance and time have transformed it. The experience of loss that inspired this song is mostly remote, with the exception of a few notable days when she discovers another piece. Like the song, distance and time – and the experience of loss – have transformed her.

Early in my career in the theatre I had the opportunity to assist old warhorse directors in auditions. They’d watch an especially talented actor do an especially polished and heartfelt audition and afterwards say, “They were great but they haven’t lived enough life yet. They are operating out of an abstraction.” Artistic depth comes from experiences and many experiences are painful. It takes artistic heart to walk into the hurt, take hold of the tender pieces and rather than wallow in them or add yet another layer of armor, work an alchemy and share them through image or dance or song.

Give yourself a gift on this KS Friday. Let this huge artistic heart work her powerful alchemy on you through her song, HEAR YOU WHISPER, so you might transform your life experiences, your pieces, from base metal into life’s gold.

HEAR YOU WHISPER on the album AS SURE AS THE SUN available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEAR YOU WHISPER

 

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hear you whisper/as sure as the sun ©️ 2002 kerri sherwood