Light The Dark [on DR Thursday]

Strong contrast between light and dark: chiaroscuro. Renaissance painters loved it. The word ‘chiaroscuro’ literally means light-dark.

Today is Stephen’s memorial service. It is across the country or I would be there. I confess, I am haunted by Stephen’s death. When Mike wrote to tell me of Stephen’s passing, he told me that he was at peace when he died.

I’m not sure why his passing has hit me so hard. The last time I saw Stephen was 1998. He was following MM like a puppy. They were working on a set construction project. That’s what I remember. He was 14 years old, so, in my mind, he is frozen at 14. He was one of a pack of brothers that formed a solid core of Dimension’s Theatre Project, a theatre program that I spent more than a decade resurrecting and nurturing into artistic vitality. Stephen and his brothers were present in its heyday. For me, it was an artistic and learning laboratory, a place of spirited artistic creation. I loved every minute of it.

Of the brothers, I knew Stephen the least. I worked most directly with his older brother, Greg. I prided myself that Dimensions was a safe space. Artists, especially young artists, are vulnerable. They need to know that they can make strong offers, take chances, find their edges, without shame. That means living in and creating a culture of mutual support. The person selling the tickets mattered just as much as the actor on the stage. Every member of the community was directly responsible for the health and well-being of every other member. It is the philosophy I inherited. It is the philosophy I carried forward.

Mike took the reins of Dimensions when I left. He carried on the tradition, made it his own, Changing Faces Theater Company. Mike knew the artist that Stephen would become. The musician. The designer. The man who cared for the health and well-being of others, artistic and otherwise. Mike knew the dark and the light of Stephen’s short walk on the earth.

Usually, when I am confused or need to sort out my heart, I take a break and visit the pond. Magic, the frog, lives there. He’s a good hider but every few days comes out for a visit. After Mike’s news, confused at the depth of my confusion, I went to the pond and hung out for a few minutes with Magic. Dogga was running circles, making my visit safe from marauding squirrels. The sun was down.

“Look at this picture!” Kerri smiled. She’d caught Magic in chiaroscuro, made more dimensional and full in light-dark.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, looking at the photograph.

Light-dark. The Renaissance masters loved it. I smiled this morning when I read Stephen’s obituary. It began with a quote, something he must have often said. His words brought to me what I couldn’t find at the pond. Peace for Stephen. “Proper lighting can change the world.”

read Kerri’s blog post about MAGIC

surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Root Into The Worth [on KS Friday]

As Tom Mck used to say, “There are only three people in the United States qualified to review plays and none of them live in Stockton, CA.” His point: it’s best not to read your reviews but, if you must, don’t invest in what you find there. Good or bad, the review has little to say about the work of the artist and everything to say about the mind of the reviewer.

To be an artist is to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is an especially complex skill to master when the work of an artist is an open invitation for commentary.

The worst play I’ve ever seen got a standing ovation the night I saw it. Some of the best work I’ve ever done drew little or no audience. I directed a play that regularly had half the audience storm out of the theatre in anger while the other half was on its feet cheering; which half should I believe?

Many years ago I directed a play. One of my leading ladies had a family friend who was the theatre reviewer for the local paper. After opening night, my actress’ fine performance started to twist and sour. It was a mystery to me how her good work could go so bad. Later I learned that she was taking notes from the family friend. She lost herself in the cloudy opinion of an other and her performance suffered for it. She suffered for it.

Artists – not unlike everyone else – like to be liked. Most wait tables or teach lessons so they can pursue the thing they love. I use the word “love” purposefully. Most are regularly asked to give away their love/work for free on the empty promise of “exposure.” As Kerri says, “It’s hard to pay your rent with exposure.” It’s very, very easy for an artist to feel undervalued in a world where money defines value – while constantly being asked to perform for free. It makes being-liked an especially dangerous value-default.

Some of the greatest artists I’ve known lived marginal financial lives; financial success evaded them – but they knew without doubt the single secret that kept their work vital all of their lives: they alone were the judge of whether or not their work was good. They alone knew the pure driver of their pursuit. They knew the real danger of an artist’s life is to lose the purity of their artistic driver in the swamps of “being liked” or getting good reviews. They worked hard to stay centered and avoid becoming dancing bears at the circus.

It was Tom’s greater point: only you – the artist -will know if your work is good or not, if you’ve truly found and pushed your edge or discovered new territory. You will know when your work is shallow. No accolade can change that. You will also know when your work is exceptional. No criticism can change that. Its best to root into the worth of your pursuit, to grow and learn, rather than gorge on the ever-abundant-opinions of others. Good or bad. Moose or pig.

read Kerri’s blog post on MOOSE IN HEAT

all of kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & on Pandora

Take A Second Chance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

This is a story about second chances. Both of us had first go-rounds and neither went according to the dream. The gap between life and dream is sometimes daunting, vast. But, the good news with all-things-daunting is that, if you are lucky – and we are, you emerge on the other side, not only with a better sense of humor, but an understanding of the hard work it takes to make dreams a reality. Or, said another way, you live into a better sense of yourself. Kerri and I could be the poster children for people who’ve crossed the gap and come out laughing.

Early in our relationship we danced in the living room to Rascal Flatt’s song, The Broken Road. After our dance, we spent a long evening talking about our broken roads. There’s something powerful (and telling) about two people who willingly pull out their broken pieces and spread them across the table for the other to see, not for a pity-party but to say without shame, “This is me. This is what I’ve done and where I’ve been. I don’t want to hide any of it from you because I want you to see me, barnacles and all.” It is the mark of the tribe of second chances. Vulnerability as a strength.

In a second chance you have the opportunity to discover yourself anew. That might sound thrilling – and it is in retrospect – but it requires a good deal of hot fire to burn away the former shell. It’s as if the rules of life that have always applied, the rules that have always provided orientation to the game-of-life suddenly no longer apply. Trying to hold onto the old version is like trying to hide the fact that you are aging. It’s impossible. We started collecting our beautiful moments of denial and rude-awakening because, well, they were and are funny. For instance, I looked in the mirror one day and saw my grandfather staring back. It happened overnight and I was horrified! I spent the rest of the day looking for soft light so I might delay Kerri seeing my new grandfatherly face.

Second chances come to all of us. We have friends and family in our circle that are recent empty-nesters. The kids are gone. The house is quiet. They are asking two questions: 1) Who is this stranger sitting across the table? And 2) Who am I, the person looking back at the stranger across the table? Like us, they are walking through the rule changes, the body changes, the purpose changes, the identity changes. We hope that they, like us, recognize their barnacles as a shared map forward, a reason to bond and learn each other, and themselves, anew.

That’s the reason and the story behind our comic strip SMACK-DAB. Like us, it is a second run at a good idea only this time, less armored. For now, we’ll publish a new strip every Saturday. Our chronicle of second chances. Smack-dab in the middle of middle age. The laughter and good love that comes from splaying all the broken pieces across the table and saying, “This is me and I want you to know and share every last shard. For the rest of my life.”

Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
~ Bless The Broken Road, Rascal Flatts

read Kerri’s blog post about SMACK-DAB.

Pull Down & Lift Up [on DR Thursday]

If you could crawl inside of Kerri’s head and make a list of her greatest fears, the dentist would surely top the list. So, it was inevitable that dentists would find their way into the annals of Flawed Cartoon.

Flipping back through the syndicate-submissions-to-no-where I see a few themes emerge. Non-expert-experts. And dreams. When ants dream. When sled dogs dream. The two, I realize with some dismay, are connected.

No one wants to be the dentist’s first patient. No one wants the magician, while sawing you in half, to tell you that the science of magic is inexact. Cobwebs collecting on patients who’ve waited an eternity to see their doctor. Doctor Frankenstein misreading the blueprint and sewing the monster’s feet on backwards. Non-expert experts. Discovering that the people we hope to be competent, are, just like you and me, people. Filled with flaws. Sometimes over-inflated. Sometimes pretending confidence on the outside while inwardly uncertain of what they are doing. Taking the might out of the mighty so that only the y(ikes!) remains.

My dreams series features the opposite end of the spectrum: the subservient dreaming of life if the tables were turned. A giant ant stepping on tiny people who are trying to get away with the picnic. A sled dog mushing the mushers. Dreams of power borne of powerlessness.

Pulling down. Lifting up. A celebration of the mistakes, of our humanness, our yearning, our projections. Pointing us all to a common center: flawed and not-taking-ourselves-so-seriously.

When I drew the dentist, Kerri said, “Eeeeewwwwwww!”

And I said, “Exactly! That’s what makes it so funny.”

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DENTIST

flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Check Your Attribution [on KS Friday]

I have just had a front row seat to a full-blown, hyper-antagonistic, years-long, classic case of attribution-bias-escalation. It was [and is] ugly. The ripples are rocking boats, eroding foundations, ending friendships. The damage is thorough and, as is always true, infinitely avoidable.

Attribution bias. Making the assumption that you KNOW why someone did or said something. Assigning your reason to their behavior.

Years ago, a red faced executive called me, the consultant, in and fumed, “She said THAT to demean me!” I paused and asked, “Do you really know why she said it? Have you asked her what was going on from her point of view?” His blank stare told me all I needed to know. He would rather demonize her, be offended by her, than communicate with her. We sat down, drank a cup of coffee and decided that, rather than fume and escalate, rather than simmer in a victim-stew, he had at his disposal a better path. Communicate rather than assume, ask questions rather than blame, poison the well, and indulge in being offended.

It always amazes me how unconscious and/or resistant folks are to challenging their attributions. How eager they are to spin hard narratives and create vicious persecutors. How invested they become at being offended or otherwise insulted en route to being ‘right.’ It is monster-creation. It provides nothing more than a reason to draw a sword.

We do it so fast. Assume we know. And, once the attribution is made, we hold onto it as if it were gospel. It is easier to believe we know-all-things than it is to step out of the yummy-victim-archetype and ask a few simple questions, confess a few honest vulnerabilities. It is easier, more tasty, to take offense than it is to give consideration. Blame provides a great reason to never ask a question. Being ‘right’ is a hard stop to all inquiry.

In the canon of unconscious bias, attribution is one of the most-oft-used routes to really effective miscommunication. It makes mountains out of molehills. It makes muck from otherwise good working relationships. It savages careers. It makes vice presidents run to the phone and call consultants. It makes councils meet in secret and vote without investigation. It makes revenge a serious pursuit of otherwise grown-up adults. It makes weak leaders run for the basement and hide. It makes new-contract-creation and other tit-for-tat flexing a less-than-fun game of control. No one wins. No questions asked. It makes a hammer the only tool in the tool kit.

A few breaths to simmer down, the suspension of a snap-assumption, an honest “can I talk to you” conversation that comes with no blame and a wee-bit of vulnerability…could make a minor miscommunication remain minor. It could save all manner of hurt feelings, ill intention, relationship destruction, HR costs, separation agreements, litigation…all unnecessary wreckage that might have been avoided with an assumption-made-conscious, an attribution challenged. A simple word or phrase can usually be explained, “You took a bullet meant for someone else, I’m sorry.” Mountains return to molehills when we are willing to turn from our hyper-active-attribution-bias (“I’m right and I know it!”) and ask, “I’m not sure what just happened here. Will you help me understand?”

read Kerri’s blog post about ESCALATION

Let The Pieces Fall [on KS Friday]

longing copy

“It is the paradox of spiritual growth that through such bleak midwinter journeys we eventually come through a hidden door into a bright field of springtime that we could never have discovered otherwise. This is the heart of the mystical. It is not about building protectionist armour of prayer and religion; it is, rather, the courage for absolute divestment. In the sheer vulnerability of Nothingness everything becomes possible in a new way, but there is an immense temptation to flee back to the shelter of old complacency. Now could be the most important moment in life to steel our courage and enter the risk of change.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

Parcival returned to the place in the deep woods where he’d stripped off his armor. Was it yesterday? A year ago? Two? He couldn’t remember. While he searched for the place he remembered with satisfaction the battles he’d waged, the ogres he’d defeated. The mission he’d served. He longed to once again inhabit that simple clarity, that single focus.

His old armor was not hard to find but it looked nothing like he remembered it. No longer shiny and hard, it was brittle with rust and covered in moss and vines. Nature was reclaiming it. Still, he wanted to put it back on. He wanted to forget the reasons he took it off in the first place. The loneliness. The fear. Forever fighting the lost cause, the imagined foe. He wanted to remember the good and ignore completely the painful parts of the story.  He could go back! He could be the great knight once again.

His vision crumbled like his armor when he attempted to pick it up. Going back was a fantasy. Retreating back in time, donning again his old armor,  was perhaps the final ogre to fight. Like all of the other ogres, it, too, was an illusion. He let the rusty pieces fall back to the forest floor.

Now, allowing the full force of his vulnerability, the utter absence of role or definition, he no longer yearned for the tight closure of what was, but wholly surrendered to the expansive, the infinite and uncontrollable new.

LONGING on the album AS IT IS is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LONGING

 

HH waves feet website box copy

longing/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

FaceTheRain

Sip [on Two Artists Tuesday]

wine copy

Unlike wine, I am not getting better with age. The cliche’ would have me growing wiser with my years but the closer I walk to my end the farther away wisdom seems. I know less and less the more I live.

Yesterday, Kerri told a young man – a budding preacher – that he’d reach and impact more people through vulnerability than through knowledge. To be vulnerable is to open to life’s experiences. Knowledge is too often a protection against experience. A younger me used knowledge as a sword – just like this young man. I am only now finding gratitude for the day my sword shattered.

Perhaps standing at the edge of the mystery and acknowledging that I know nothing useful marks the beginning of wisdom. Quinn told me that wisdom had nothing to do with the stuff that you think you know.  I am catching glimpses of what he meant. Isn’t it true that the real stuff, the stuff of deep value, always leads to silence? To quiet? To listening? To sitting comfortably in the space between and enjoying the moment just because?

These are the reasons I enjoy wine more and more. I drink it with friends. I sit on the back porch and sip it as I watch the sunset. As my agendas fall away, I find more open space for simple appreciation, utter appreciation, for this single sip of life.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WINE

 

picnic table website box copy

 

Open To It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

stripes of grey copy

I stood gobsmacked on the deck. The horizon, the straight line bank of clouds. It was a piece of contemporary art worthy of Richard Diebenkorn or Ellsworth Kelly. A study in grays and greens and purples. Monumental.

Sometimes I forget that the very best art can only approximate what already exists in nature.  Try to capture the totality of a sunset. We simply can’t do it. We can approach the feeling but our scope will always be smaller, less dimensional. Our work is to see it – to see beyond the thought of it. To dance with it. To be vulnerable to it. To share the dance.

Last night we saw author/musician Michael Perry on stage. He closed his performance with thoughts about gratitude. He told his audience that, as an artist, he is vulnerable every time that he takes the stage or publishes a book. Opening himself to the thoughts and judgements of others is not an easy thing to do. It is, however, a necessity for an artist. But, here’s the gift: vulnerability becomes gratitude. If you are never vulnerable, living in a fortress, you will never arrive at gratitude. Gratitude is forged from the fire of vulnerability.

Openness begets openness. There is a full spectrum of color, an embarrassment of riches that vibrates between vulnerability and gratitude. Grays and greens and purples. Stand on the deck and open to it. Stand on the stage and open to it. Stand with your neighbor and open to it. The best of contemporary art. Monumental.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GRAY

 

sunsetonisland website box copy

 

Put On Your Rubber Boots [It’s Chicken Marsala Monday]

A Chicken Marsala Monday nugget to help kick-start your week.

We were clearing the room of furniture. We needed wide open space to do our work. It was early in our collaboration and my business partner and I were facilitating a workshop for a group of high powered lawyers. “They’ll never do it,” she said.  The office was fairly ostentatious, granite and polished wood. “They’ll never do it,” she repeated. “You’ll never get a bunch of lawyers to play.”

I’ve long believed (and proven to myself again and again) that everyone, regardless of status, role, or title, wants to play. Create safety and ferocious playfulness rises to the top. And, more to the point – especially when facilitating workshops, with play comes open-hearts, vulnerability, and the capacity to speak personal truth. Pathways forward become obvious.

Status is a great liar, role is a very thick protective mask. There is no better road to honesty than laughter. And, most often, all that people need to find the honesty-road is permission to play.

A few hours later, suit coats tossed aside, sleeves rolled up and ties strewn hither and yon, we were no longer working with a room full of lawyers; the people behind the role had emerged and they were playing mightily. In their play, great truths emerged and fortresses fell. They laughed. They shared.

From studio melange on Chicken Marsala Monday, we suggest that you put on your rubber boots. Give yourself permission to play.

PUT ON YOUR RUBBER BOOTS reminder/merchandise

 

 

society 6 info jpeg copy

puddles CHICKEN TOTE BAG copy

puddles LEGGINGS copy

go play in puddles LEGGINGS

puddles FLOOR PILLOW copy   puddles CHICKEN SQ PILLOW copy

puddles BEACH TOWEL copy

BEACH TOWELS

puddles CHICKEN FRAMED PRINT copy

read Kerri’s blog about PUT ON YOUR RUBBER BOOTS

melange button jpeg copy

kerrianddavid.com

put on your rubber boots ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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my original work on zatista.com

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