Live Life At The Pace Of A Letter [on KS Friday]

“…what we feel is always larger than our means to express it.” ~ Declan Donnellan

Ruby, like Columbus is winding down. The forwarded-email let me know that she enjoyed my letter but also that she was not getting out of bed. Over the weekend she did not want to eat or drink. Pete is in hospice care.

I’ve not heard from Mike in months. Like Ruby, she is in her 90’s and I often wonder how she is doing. She is made of sturdy stuff and has a curious mind but even those powerful forces are no match for the running sands.

Although we live in the age of email and text, fast communication, these dear ones are solidly old school. A letter. A stamp. A mailbox. News comes at a different pace.

Ruby wrote a letter. It was dated last October and was mailed sometime in April. She typed it because she feared that I would not be able to decipher her handwriting. I typed my reply because I knew for certain that she would not be able to read my scribbles. Although it was lost on my young ears, time is different when you age. Both more meaningful and less. I’m living my way into hearing the simple wisdom of elders.

Tom Mck and I used to sit on his porch and watch the sunset over the fields. One evening he told the story of a letter mailed to his great-grandfather Lak. The pony express took six years to deliver the letter. It had to come all the way across the country. It was from his siblings telling of his mother’s passing. Although six years in the past, the news was fresh to Lak. His grief, therefore, was timeless.

It is always a time of transition but, sometimes, it is simply more apparent than others. This is one of those times. There is a pandemic. There is civil unrest. Moral upheaval in the nation. I feel none of that as acutely or potently as I do Columbus taking a labored breath or Ruby no longer interested in eating. It is the reason we sit on the back deck each night, light the lamps, and, often in silence, we enjoy the evening as it wanes. Living life at the pace of a letter.

It’s not that there is nothing to be said, it’s that no words – no matter how quickly delivered or slow – can properly capture the enormity of this time, this inevitable rolling transition.

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read Kerri’s blog post about THE FLAME

in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Ask A Coneflower [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I was surprised to learn that Echinacea is a coneflower. Actually, the opposite is more correct. The coneflower is Echinacea. Filled with antioxidants, immunity booster, inflammation reducer, it is a heavy lifting herb. It’s also beautiful.

“I want to use the coneflower on Monday,” Kerri said. “It would have been Momma’s 100th birthday.” I asked if Beaky liked coneflowers and she smiled and said, “No. It’s just beautiful. And falling away. It just reminded me of my mom.”

Beautiful and falling away. I only knew Beaky for 18 months but felt as if I knew her a lifetime. She was rare and special. A gifted teller of stories. She was like the coneflower, filled with antioxidants, an inflammation reducer. I watched her more than once boost someone’s spirit, cool an angry intention. She was a dedicated see-er of the positive, a believer in the goodness of people. These days, those qualities are not easy to come by and even harder to cultivate.

On the morning that she was going into surgery, we wheeled her down the hall of the rehabilitation center en route to the ambulance. The staff lined the walls to wish her well, to cheer for her. It was a Beaky parade. I think the Beatles had it right: the love you take is equal to the love you make. She made people want to be better. She made me want to be better.

When taking your leave from her, she would always say, “Be kind to one another.” It’s a proper wish for all of us, a baseline expectation in a time of deep division. Beaky’s wish at age 100, I imagine, is the same as it was when she was 93 or 82 or 56 or 30. Be kind. One to another. The path to a better world is not so complicated after all. Just ask a simple coneflower.

read Kerri’s blog post about CONEFLOWERS

Go Empty [on DR Thursday]

Readers…will welcome the enlightening description of ’emptiness as a beneficent state before creation.” ~ Anna Freud, forward to ON NOT BEING ABLE TO PAINT by Joanna Field

Kendy gave me the book, On Not Being Able To Paint in 1999. That was the year I burned almost all of my paintings. Let’s just say that I hit a wall. Another interpretation of my 1999 big fire is that I needed to create space. It’s a paradox I very much appreciate: as an artist, the overwhelming need to create space when feeling completely empty. ‘Being empty’ is not in-and-of-itself spacious.

Emptiness before creation is…biblical – it is pre-biblical, Chaos and Abyss are players in the Greek-god-canon. The universe abhors a vacuum but welcomes space.

This painting, lovingly dubbed THE RED MESS, has been on my easel for months. It predates the great basement flood. It’s what I was painting when I entered the void, when my tank went empty. I must have known I was low on creative fuel because I was trying something new. Red. The painting was, before I wiped it, an image of Kerri taking a photograph of a train through the trees on the Des Plaines river trail. She has a series of Trains-Through-Trees and I’ve delighted in watching her race to catch the shot.

Karola, perhaps the wisest AND happiest person I have ever known, encouraged me to allow myself to “go empty.” At the time, I was in my twenties, I feared emptiness. I thought my muse might leave and never come back. I fought her advice while trying to take her advice. One foot on the gas and the other foot on the brakes. “David,” she said in her German accent, “you have to let the glass go empty before it has the space to fill up! Let yourself go empty!” She laughed so hard at the look on my face that tears came to her eyes.

Now, I’ve sorted out my pedals. I descend into the studio every day and stand before this red mess. I don’t want to take it off the easel. It’s helping me embrace-the-space. It’s a loving postcard to myself, a reminder to respect the emptiness. To stand in the void and welcome the spaciousness.

Muses do not leave. People routinely turn their backs on the muse. Mine is right in front of me, sitting on my easel, draped in brilliant red, just like a stop sign. It is not a matter of hitting the gas or the brakes. Sometimes you just have to get out of the car and rest your eyes for a while.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE RED MESS

See The Opportunity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

we all fruit copy

In the past few days, two phrases have been injected into the common parlance in such a way as to be interchangeable: cancellation culture and replacement theory. Here we go!

Cancellation theory is a pop culture phrase – the withdrawal of support for a company or person after they say or do something offensive in the media-sphere. For instance, right now many advertisers are cancelling ads with Facebook until Facebook does a better job policing hate speech on its platform.

Replacement theory is a far-right conspiracy theory. It is scaremongering and asserts that, with the help of the “liberal elite,” the white population (and history) is being replaced with “non-Europeans.”

Conflate the two phrases, as was done with great intention at the foot of Mount Rushmore and again the next day at the national Independence Day celebration, and the fear-message is clear: them is out to cancel us. It’s a win/lose game and the dividing line runs along multiple fault lines but mostly racial and political. We’ve gone so far down the division-rabbit-hole that we turn our bile on ourselves. If successful, it is the tried and true fascist checkmate move.

Good heavens. It’s as if this nation is either short on brain cells, has no memory for history, or we are simply gullible to the point of believing almost anything. Sadly, Issac Asimov comes [again] to mind: There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Don’t we see this quote play out everyday in these United States? A cult of ignorance.

There is a vast difference between replacing a story and telling the full story. Communities and individuals are alike in this aspect: they cannot become whole until they deal with their shadow side. They cannot realize their promise until they have the courage to turn and deal with rather than deny the totality of their path.

In this moment we stand at a rare opportunity. The full story of our nation has some seriously ugly truths. Slavery is the original wound in the national psyche. Our rhetoric is and always has been out of alignment with our actions. And, because we have yet to fully face the gap between who we are and who we say we are, we continue re-creating the shadow, tearing open the wound. Systemic racism. Police brutality.

How do we know that we stand at this opportunity crossroads? The fearmongers are in full voice. The fox hole is working overtime to scare the ignorant to death. To the usual screeches of, “They’ll take away your second amendment right!” or “Socialism!” or ‘Protestors are thugs!”  add, “They’re trying to rewrite history!” or “The radical left, the marxists, the anarchists, the agitators,…the angry mob…is out to take away your freedoms” [insert eye roll].

The other night, having drinks at social distance across the driveway, John pondered how we would ever cross this gaping chasm, this canyon between the red and blue. I speculated that we really weren’t that far apart. Division is the tool of a weak leader and the propaganda machine that profits from his poverty of thought. We are being made to think our teams are irreconcilable. We are being force-fed a finite game, a world view of limited pie.

I suggested that, if people could pull their heads out of their propaganda-narrative, we might find that we are much closer in belief than we think. We might, at this crossroad of history, be able to step into our ideal rather than pander to the politics of identity. Ignorance is a choice, as is knowledge.  Somewhere beyond knowledge, wisdom is possible, but only if we have the courage to live what we espouse, to face the full truth of the wound. Then, maybe, just maybe, we might be able to live as if all are created equal. Embrace equal opportunity under the law. One nation bubbling with diverse people made strong with respect for diverse perspectives. Our story is, and always has been, multi-cultural. Apples AND oranges.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about APPLES AND ORANGES

 

shadows on TPAC sidewalk website box copy

 

 

Read Marc’s Notes [on DR Thursday]

marc chagall quote copy

One of my most prized possessions is a handmade notebook, stitched together by a young DeMarcus Brown, mentor of my mentor, in a time before corner drugstores and readily available school supplies. It is filled with the fading pencil notes Marc made when he was a student learning about color, probably in 1918 or 1919. It occurred to me as I wrote that guesstimate of time that he was scribbling notes about color during a pandemic.

It reads like an enthusiastic discovery of miracles. On page one the word COLOR is triple underlined. “Light is a form of radiant energy transmitted by wave movement through SPACE and is perceived VISUALLY. Opposite is DARKNESS. Qualities of Light: 1) Physically – Life giving. 2) Mentally – Intelligence. 3) Spiritually – Divine Wisdom.”

From Marc, on page one, on day one of his study of artistry, I learned that color is life giving, intelligent, and a source of divine wisdom.

“Objects reveal light.  All forms and substances REFLECT or ABSORB LIGHT. THINK OF COLOR AS LIGHT REFLECTED.”

There are other words and phrases: vibration, proportion, visual sensation, light is individualized by its contact with substances into color. COLOR is Light PROPORTION.

All of this awe is written in block letters on the first two pages. His enthusiasm is palpable. As you move through Marc’s notebook of discoveries, his writing shifts to cursive, he matures in color and intention. His passion intensifies. He is beginning to see.

Toward the end of his notebook, in his growing sophistication, you’ll read these phrases:  “Train our eyes to DEGREES of Neutrality. Establish relationships of Intensity. Hue. Value”…and a reminder “vibrating surface!”

The stitching that holds the notebook together is impeccable. Beautiful. Careful. Considered. It took him time to make his notebook. It mattered.

I can’t help my metaphor mind from finding a universe of guidance in Marc’s notebook for a nation that perpetually struggles with color – or, ironically, the negation of color. The fear of color relations. A commitment to a narrative of dominance, this or that but never both. A palette of loss. We’ve limited our color study to a polarity and eliminated the infinite shades of possibility in the picture we might paint. Insistent chiaroscuro.

What happens when the door of possibility opens? When change, that big blank canvas, sits on the easel?

In the middle of his 90’s, Marc gave me his paint brushes, his paint box. “Use them!” he said, “Don’t save them for remembrance.” He knew I was sentimental. “Reverence is off limits. These are not meant to collect dust on a shelf.” He laughed, “Use the damn things. Don’t be safe!”

Color. Vibration. Relationship. Proportion. Life Giving. Intelligent. Divinely Wise. Walk into the unknown. Learn to see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COLOR

 

their palettes website box copy

 

 

 

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

 

Welcome The Turtle [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

the moon and first ave copy

the view from our gathering

Horatio and I had a hysterical phone conversation about the injuries that have slowed us down. He was, at the time of our conversation, supine on his couch with strategically placed ice packs easing his pain. I made him howl with my gruesome tales of catheter bag mishaps and the levels of humility that I have come to know.

Slowing down.

Sometimes when a be-suited business professional clacks past us en route to a very-important-something-or-other, Kerri leans in and whispers, “Strider.” Trying to become or achieve or attain. It is, as 20 says, age and stage. We’ve all been Striders.

I’ve decided that wisdom is a slow moving turtle. It takes some time on the couch or achy bones or a realization that life is a limited ride in order for slow-moving to become more important than racing to get “there”; it takes some dedicated slowing down before the turtle can catch up. And, perhaps wisdom is nothing more than paying attention. And, paying attention is nothing more than appreciating where you are.

We are surrounded by many great reasons to slow down. They are called “friends”. It never fails, during one of our spontaneous-filled-with-laughter gatherings, that time stops, I catch my breath at my good fortune and know to my core that there is no better place to be on earth. There is no other reason to be on earth.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FRIENDS

 

neighborhood cheers website box copy

Love The Mud [on Two Artists Tuesday]

maturity with background copy

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” ~ Picasso

It would seem to be a no-brainer. Mastery comes from a lifetime of doing. Trial and error. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule: success is nothing more than practicing the task for many hours over many years. As the old joke goes, it’s how you get to Carnegie Hall.

Efficiency. Ease. Body knowledge. Body of Knowledge. Flow. Wisdom. The blossoms of a long-body of experiences. The farmer, over a lifetime of living and working the same plot of land, knows the signs that no one else can see. They sense the storm coming. They smell the time for planting. They waste no time; their 10,000 hours having developed a solid relationship, a kinship with their environment and work.

An artist, over a lifetime of living and working the same plot of music or paint or dance, knows the signs that no one else can see. Artistry is efficiency, a single line saying more than 20. A musical phrase capable of reaching deeper into hearts than was once possible. Like the farmer, their 10,000 hours becomes 20,000 and then 30,000. Their worth, their work, after so many hours of hands in the soil or fingers on the keys, is incalculable.

Awash in abstractions, organizations play by a different set of understandings. Bottom lines are blind to mastery. You’d be amazed (or not) at how many people I know who’ve been “let go” because a younger, less expensive person, might “fill the role” and “cost less.” Mastery as deficit. You’d  be astounded (or not) at how many people I’ve coached who were punished because they became highly efficient. Their life-of-experience made their work look too easy. They were either squeezed for more or released as unnecessary.

What happens when all of the organizational knowledge, the ease and efficiency that comes via experience, becomes a liability? Wearing my consulting hat I’d routinely shake my head at the standard folly of leadership – people in power suits and ties a hundred miles from the dust and grit of the boots-on-the-ground – determining with pencil and paper the time and worth of a task. Abstracting the worth of a life. Budgetary efficiency driving the carefully calculated undervaluation of experience. Actual efficiency red-lined by abstract efficiency. As John would say, “Penny wise and pound foolish.”

Maturity in season of life. It comes from a job description that came across Kerri’s desk. Maturity as a job requirement! A search for someone with the experience necessary to paint like a child. Seeking the mastery that results from years and years of plowing the same fields.

I wonder if the hiring committee merely tossed out flowery language or actually understood that their ideal candidate would come through the door with boots made muddy from a lifetime of walking the fields?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MATURITY IN SEASON OF LIFE

 

buffalo adirondack chair website box copy

 

Release The Peace [on Two Artists Tuesday]

prayer flags copy

Peace. Compassion. Strength. Wisdom. The idea is that prayers and mantras symbolized on the flags are blown by the wind, spreading their peace, compassion, strength and wisdom into the world. It’s not a bad idea. It’s not a bad reminder.

We pass beneath our prayer flags everyday. It is our version of the Balinese split gate. A symbol of bigger things. Coming or going we pass through a moment of meditation, a fluttering reminder of the path that threads through time’s center. The place of presence. It is the place where divisions fade – even for a moment. The place where the drama-of-the-day and turmoil – all expressions of separation – fall away.

The flags quiver and dance. We stop and listen to the quiet flapping, the release of peace into the wind. The basic elements of compassion, strength, and wisdom. Water, fire, earth and sky. A renewed focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

archeswebsitead copy

 

Let It Catch You [on DR Thursday]

the shadow of division copy

a morsel of Earth Interrupted IV: shadow of division

Sometimes you have to stand still to let what you seek catch up to you. Kerri said that to me one day. Her words found their way into me and then became a poem and then the poem found its way into a painting, Earth Interrupted IV.

This week the painting found its way into a morsel for Studio Melange. A wisdom inspired a poem, became a painting, became a morsel called Shadow Of Division. Today, it becomes a post. Which, I am sure, will inspire another poem or a song (anything is possible in our house).

Art begets art. The well of possibilities is bottomless. And, rather than chase the possibilities as was once my strategy, I am learning to stand still. A wisdom, a poem, a painting, a morsel, a post about cycles and all things life giving.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SHADOW OF DIVISION

 

shadow des plaines river trailwebsite box copy

My favorite thing about shadows? They blend divisions. They make cool new and surprising shapes out of seemingly separate things. Transformation is so simple and just a small shadow away.

 

shadow of division/earth interrupted IV ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood