Dance With Parallax

My favorite word of the week is ‘parallax.’ Horatio pulled it out of the word bin during our latest conversation about art and artistry. We were discussing the difference between what an artist sees in their work and what others see – and how artistic “sight” changes over time. I scribbled the word along with the phrase, “the difference in what you see and what others see. Perspective over time.” After our call I looked up the word in my dictionary:

paral-lax (noun) 1. Apparent change of position. 2. Angle measuring star’s distance from Earth.

Many years ago in a fit of vulnerability I showed my mentor, a great theatre and visual artist, my paintings. I lined them all up for him to see. I followed him around the room as he quietly studied each piece. Finally, after taking in all of my work, he asked, “What’s the meaning of the spheres?” I was dumbfounded and had no idea what he was asking. “Spheres? What spheres?” So he led me back around the room, revisiting each painting, showing me the three spheres that appeared in EVERY single painting.

“What’s with the spheres?” he repeated, knowing that there wasn’t an answer but there was certainly a vast new question. My universe spun a bit that day so astounded was I at my inability to see the unifying principle in my own paintings.

I needed his eyes to see my work. Isn’t that the point?

When I think back on that day, on that younger version of my self, I revisit the fear, the raging vulnerability I felt in sharing my paintings. I feel again the deep doubt I held against myself. I recall the nausea of inviting someone I admired into my house of doubt. I somehow believed that, to be an artist, I had “to know” what I was doing – yet knew with certainty that I had no idea what I was doing. I knew with certainty that he would see through me to my lack of knowing.

And, he did. Thank goodness. “What’s with the spheres?” Such a simple question yet it spun my universe and pitched me through the portal of a new perspective.

I learned that day that artistry has nothing to do with knowing. Life has nothing to do with knowing. Knowing is an illusion, temporary at best. Knowing has everything to do with hiding.

Making a life, as Master Marsh just reminded me, is an engagement with the unknown. It is to have experiences. It is to make meaning of the experiences. If you are lucky, you learn to have the experiences first, and make the meaning second. It is to understand that, in this dance of knowing and not-knowing, sight and blindness, chaos and order, consciousness and unconsciousness, there are no fixed points. There is dance:

dance (noun) 1. An act of stepping or moving through a series of movements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fine art prints available at society6.com

my original work on zatista.com

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Change Nothing

a detail from In Peace I Pray.

Thoughts from the mountain.

I grew up with these mountains so it should come as no surprise that I get quiet the moment I step into them. Like a too-tight coat the chaos I wear in my day-to-day life simply drops off; stepping into the mountain is to step out of the noise. Literally and figuratively.

Tom once told me that people change when they are ready. Rich once told me that people change when the pain of staying the same grows greater than the pain of making the change. Change when you are ready, change when you are in pain. Skip taught me that a business intending to change people was destined to fail. It is a fool’s errand. Business is about business not change. I loved this bit of advice from Skip because he is a natural-born change agent, a mentor of mentors (and, poetically, entrepreneurs). In a moment of frustration Kerri told me that people don’t change, they simply become more of who they really are. The masks drop off and we unwittingly reveal ourselves. Change as revelation.

As I hike through the snow toward the summit I wonder if change, at least the human notion of change, is as made-up as the rest of the stories we tell. It is in the forest, which is a festival of the cycles of life, that ideas of different ways of Being seem…superficial. Disconnected. Within seasons there are plenty of changes that roll around and around and around again. Perhaps this thing we call ‘change’ is nothing more than a recognition of the cycle, a readiness to release our dedicated resistance to life? A readiness to release our stories of limitation and division.

Kerri caught me staring at the mountain

Toward the end of his life, Joseph Campbell said that he suspected that all life (energy) was consciousness. There is 1) energy and 2) the forms that energy takes. Although seemingly disparate, seemingly separate, all forms fall back into energy. He said, “The universe throws forms up, then takes them down again.”He might have said that change is nothing more than the cyclical movement between energy and the forms it expresses.

Jim taught me that the art of acting was the art of being present. I know that when I stand in front of a canvas and begin to work, all notions of time disappear. Another day on the mountain, sitting in an adirondack chair midway up the slope, basking in the sun on warm day, we watched Kirsten snowboard. She flew by us several times. When she rides, it is clear, there is no other place, there is no past or future. There is now. She is vital, alive. In that place, riding the present moment (the only place that actually exists), the noise drops off. I know, and Jim knew, when fully in this moment there is no need to pester yourself with misplaced notions of being somewhere else, being anyone else.

 

a blast from the waaay past: August Ride. I lost track of this one and if you know where this painting is, let me know.

Look To The Living Thing

my latest, as yet un-named, painting

Kerri looked at this painting and told me it captures how she feels when our daughter is hurting and calls home. “Describe that feeling to me?” I asked. She pointed to the painting, and said, “Just like that.”

Some things are universal and understood regardless of political affiliation or religious belief. What does a mother need to know to support her child? The political investments and religious doctrines are abstractions, separations. Motherhood is direct; it lives beyond the capacity of language to capture and articulate. It is the impulse to unity. It transcends all divisions. It knows nothing of conceptions like the rational and irrational.

Jim and I just had one of our famous phone calls. Our discussion romped through many fields but we returned again and again to the notion that the important things in life cannot be rushed. For instance, relationship takes time. Relationship takes attention and tending. It is fluid and dynamic so it is nearly impossible to slap a single word-label on it. It changes. It grows. In a single day it can pass through many descriptors. Dog-Dog can drive me crazy in one moment and melt my heart the next. The important stuff, like relationship, is not static or containable. It is not a concept. It is a living thing.

So What?

The best language can do is point to the living. Language can describe experience but can never be experience. Language, of necessity, reduces while the important stuff – like relationship – like love – expands. Language, as a tool of abstraction, can never be true. It can only point toward truth. Language separates. Truth is like relationship. Truth is a living thing, dynamic and changing. To be known, it must, like motherhood, be experienced directly.

Again, so what?

Direct experience is always (obviously) personal. Truth is not so easily captured. Is it exclusively liberal or conservative? Is it Christian? Buddhist? Is it unique to Islam, Judaism, or the Tao? Leave the city lights some night, take a good long look at the stars, and realize what you are staring into.

Last week we rushed 20 to the hospital. He couldn’t breathe. He walked to the edge of the abyss and looked into it. We watched him teeter on the edge. As we watched, all other concerns, pursuits, bills, frustrations, news,…, dropped away. The stuff of separations and abstractions went to dust in the face of the actual. Ask me what I experienced watching 20 grasp for life? There are no words. Ask him what he experienced in those long hours and he will shrug his shoulders. There are no words – but it is clear in his eyes.

The important stuff, the stuff beyond words, leaps the boundaries of separation and abstraction; all else falls away. The important stuff always leads to a universal place, a common ground. It is a beautiful paradox.  As a test, try this: if language can reach it, ask this very important and often absent question: Is it really true or merely another entrenched point of view?

a detail

Live Your Metaphor

2mayyoubepeace-jpegA view from 30,000 feet (a meditation on metaphor):

Joe used to say that the universe tends toward wholeness. “Tends” is a precarious word of movement, like a tree that leans. Still, to me, Joe’s sentiment – his metaphor – is hopeful. He might have said that the universe tends toward confusion.

Chris and Janelle are starting a new theatre company, The Seadog Theatre Company. They are dedicating their work to exploring stories of alienation and reconciliation. Both alienation and reconciliation are words of movement. The first, alienation, is a movement away from wholeness (toward confusion?). The second, reconciliation, is a movement toward wholeness. Push away. Reach across.

Chris and I agree that all stories, from the deepest mythology to the most whimsical lampoon, are explorations of alienation and reconciliation. It is the human journey, it is humanity’s journey. It is the human experience. Journey is a word of movement, from here to there.

The Big Bang is science’s great narrative of alienation and reconciliation. Out of nothingness (formlessness) in a violent explosion of energy, all forms took shape. Stars, meteors, planets, atoms and oceans and daisies and Dog-Dog. Energy expressed in form. And then, so the narrative goes, form returns to energy. Like the tides going out the energy of the explosion will eventually turn, exhausted, and fall back toward the center in the Big Merge.

The eye blinks open, a universe comes into being. The eye blinks closed, a universe disappears. The tide comes in. The tide rolls out. It’s a cycle of movement. Metaphor.

“Your words are alienation and reconciliation,” I wrote to Chris, “mine are separation and unity. Same thing, yes?”

I’ve never been comfortable with religions because they often claim their metaphors as fact – and that freezes movement. For instance, Adam and Eve were Big-Banged out of the Garden of Eden for eating an apple from the tree of knowledge. One bite of the apple blew their minds open to differences. Separation. It is the experience of birth into this whacky world of duality and confusion. And just like all the stars and planets and oceans and daisies of the field hurtling through space and time, it is a story meant to help us seek wholeness as we stride though this field of opposites.

The universe may tend but we can intend. We can create. We can choose. We can point our ships toward alienation, we can cleave our world into us-and-them, run in fear and separation. Or, we can make conscious our stories (as Chris and Janelle intend in their theatre), we can walk the middle path (a potent metaphor), and recognize that the separation is at best temporary and arbitrary. Like the stars and planets and oceans and daisies, we will also exhaust the force of our explosion into form and fall back into the Big Merge.

products-may-you-be-jpegcool stuff like prints/mugs/pillows/cards/iphone cases/clocks

 

Peace.

kerrisherwood.com

PEACE on iTunes:  kerri sherwood – track 5 on AS IT IS

 

 

 

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Have A Conversation

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

Yesterday I learned that my conversation with the stained glass window was only on hiatus. Several months ago we simply stopped talking. In the silence I thought the conversation was complete. For almost two years we had a weekly chat. I took lots of notes.

I recognize that one is not supposed to have chats with windows – at least not admit to it. Master Marsh teased me saying, “There’s help for things like this.” I’ve decided that my conversation with the window is more ordinary than odd: plenty of people around the world talk to statues. Most of us have had silent reckoning with the sky. I’ve witnessed mechanics talking to their tools and bakers wooing their dough. Who hasn’t cursed the object of a home fix-it job-gone-wrong (plumbing regularly gets a tongue lashing from me!) or praised a project done well? Traffic gets a regular talking to. In this region, at this time of year, more than a few brides make deals with the weather. A soul in exchange for sunshine.

Who hasn’t, in a moment of turmoil, looked inside themselves and asked for help? Who hasn’t uttered a quiet thank you or asked for guidance or made an appeal? Call it prayer, meditation, epiphany, catharsis, intuition, gut instinct, reading the signs, hearing the call, or communing with nature, it’s a conversation.

I’m not the only artist – or scientist for that matter – that, in moments of flow, feels as if something bigger is coming through. In that sense, all of my paintings might serve as the record of a conversation with something bigger. Writers often speak about having the experience of the characters writing themselves, of following rather than creating. Following, surrendering, allowing, listening, responding, getting out of the way. Play the chords long enough and you no longer need to think about them. In the land beyond thinking about it, music becomes possible. It’s a conversation.

Sitting on the chancel, listening to Kerri play, I stared as I often do at the morning light pouring through the colored glass. I studied the symbols. Birth and death. Tree of knowledge, Tree of Everlasting Life. The Grail standing between two flames. It’s a repetition in symbol of the same idea. Born into an experience of duality and distinctions, a world fighting over its differences, we have the opportunity to walk the middle path, the unity consciousness, the “something bigger.” “Between the two, one,” I the heard the window whisper. “It’s simple, really.”

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

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Heed The Call

A detail from my painting, Will Is Belief

A detail from my painting, Will Is Belief

“It’s hard to explain to people,” said Chris. “I’m answering a calling. I know in my bones that I’m doing with my life exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. There is nothing else that gives me life. There is only this that I can give my life to. I don’t have a choice and that makes no sense to my family and friends.”

Chris is an artist, a brilliant actor. He acts because he needs to act and that is impossible to understand to those who’ve never had a soul-deep calling. It makes no sense to those witnessing the hardship his life path requires. His family and friends want him to have a better life. They want him to have a big home and two cars. They want him to have a back yard and a barbecue. What they can’t grasp is that Chris, like all artists with a calling, is acting from a selfless imperative. They aren’t doing it for themselves. They are not indulging an ego-need. They are, as Chris said, “creating to translate experiences for others.” Artists are meaning makers in a world that often makes no sense.

It is simple. Artists serve the force of unity in a world dedicated to the forces of division. And, that makes no sense.

Pastor Tom has a calling. He left a big salary career for the meager salary of a pastor because he could no longer ignore the inner voice demanding that he answer his call. It need not make sense because Pastor Tom can say that he answered God’s call. Chris’ calling is coming from the same source though, in our world, the connective tissue of his claim is not as easy to grasp.

Many people can draw, write, dance, act, sculpt, trumpet, and paint. A very few actually need to do it. They can do nothing else. Just as many people are capable of sermonizing and leading a church, it is the rare person who has to do it, who can do nothing else. Chris would wither if he did, as his elders suggest, leave his crazy pursuit and get a real job that pays real money and provides real stability. They do not know what Chris knows: stability has nothing to do with money or jobs that make sense.

Sense-making is a matter of the head. Chris is a servant of the heart.

There is a very powerful Hungarian film, called White God (though if you are a dog lover as I am you should probably steer clear). It is film about violence and suppression begetting nothing but more violence and suppression. It makes sense. In the final scene of the movie, when faced with a tide of horrific violence, a young girl pulls her trumpet from her backpack and begins to play. The beauty of her playing stops the unstoppable. It breaks the cycle of violence. It makes no sense: beauty has the power to extinguish violence.

Beauty has the capacity to unify a world dedicated to division and violence. This is what Chris’ call is all about. This is what he knows in his bones. It is the reason he gets on the stage for meager pay. It is the reason he spends his days going to endless auditions and producing plays on subway platforms and other places where few will ever stop and take notice. It is the reason a big backyard and sensible job make no sense. He is a servant to the power of beauty, the wonders of art, the necessity of illuminating unity amidst the madness of division. With this calling, all other paths are closed. They simply make no sense.

Make Quiet

A sanctuary

A sanctuary

It is Thursday night. Kerri is attending a meeting at the church and I have tagged along so I might sit alone in the sanctuary. I’ve always loved entering the quiet spaces. Once, a lifetime ago in Sedona, John called me “guru dude” because I sat for hours nestled in the quiet of a vortex. It felt like minutes to me. I think it unsettled him that I was so completely settled. I know it unsettled him that I would rather seek quiet than make noise.

Sanctuaries, I’ve learned, are everywhere.

My task, my mantra, and my delight of a few years ago was to realize that all the world is my studio. I had some amazing help and more than one universal dope slap before that realization sank in. I used to believe that in order to create I had to escape the world to find the refuge and quiet of my studio. I felt like I had to go to my studio to find my creative place just like I felt like I needed to go to a vortex to experience deep quiet. I had it upside-down. A studio, like a meditation practice, is meant to bring us into communion-with, not reinforce our isolation-from. It is not a place of escape. It is a place of joining. Quiet is not something we find as much as something we allow.

To me, the word “studio” and the word “sanctuary” are now equivalents. They are the places that creating happens and creation is a quiet process: the inner chatter stops, channels open, and something comes through. A few weeks ago, in the second performance of The Lost Boy, we stepped onto the stage and everything was quiet inside. There was no past and no future; there was only the moment – and it joined us, audience and performers, in a single, shared story. Something came through us; together we created. There was no effort, there was no striving; there was, as Jim Edmondson used to say, “a dance of giving and receiving.”

This “joining” is the dirty little secret and great power of the arts. It is something that school boards will never understand but something that dictators across the ages have feared. Artists are the vortex of joining, of shared identity, of explosive quiet, of laughter that crosses lifetimes. The arts do not separate; when at their most potent they unite. They clarify. They delineate substance from chatter en route to a powerful common center that is as holy, as quiet, as it is creative.