reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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initiative. [flawed wednesday]

(sign on the door of the milwaukee institute of art & design)

a year and a half.

jen told me yesterday that the 1918 pandemic, though most often referred to as a two-year pandemic, actually lasted two and a half years.

two and a half years.

i shudder to think of the toll this pandemic will have taken if it lasts yet another year or more. we have learned so much; we have learned so little. the pandemic has been like a kaleidoscope and like a microscope, both. it has scattered us into constantly changing patterns and it has brought everything into minute focus. yet i wonder where this will take us.

artists aren’t typically conservative in-the-boxers. we take risks, live gig lifestyles, put ourselves out there, are vulnerable and push back against things we consider inequities, ironic double-talk, disinterest in humanitarianism, opacity where transparency is touted. we aren’t quiet, for it is our job to speak – in whatever medium our talent. we are, as artists, there to raise questions, to promote pondering, communicate ideas, tell stories, express emotion, encourage engagement, inspire connection and collaboration, reiterate interdependence of all people.

though this burden does not remain singly on the shoulders of artists, even banksy has participated in making statements about safety and guidelines in this pandemic. i’m not sure how much more blatant it needs to be. encouraging covid-19 responsibility, his work in the london tube in july 2020 was titled, “if you don’t mask, you don’t get.” he spray-paints the words, “i get lockdown, but i get up again” at the end of the video featuring his rats on the tube.

though attendees were 100% vaccinated, the invitation read, “masks required at all times unless actively eating or drinking.” they provided masks, sweet ones with the initials of the wedding couple and a heart. the venues had high high ceilings, exposed rafters and ductwork. the wedding was outside, cocktail hour was outside, dancing was outside.

when the rain came, we all kept dancing. outside, twinkling lights all around, we breathed in fresh air. even with masks on.

“a lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to.” (banksy)

initiative (noun): the ability to assess and initiate things independently; the power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do.

the milwaukee institute of art and design has posted signs on all their doors. they have taken a stance.

wearing a mask in public spaces – and vaccination – have been scientifically proven to lower the rate of transmission, sickness and death of a deadly global pandemic. already a year and a half.

exactly what additional kind of initiative do you need?

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this FLAWED WEDNESDAY


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pastrami mountain. [d.r. thursday]

“there are always flowers for those who want to see them.” (henri matisse)

through a rainy windshield we peered out. the windows were fogging up from the vast temperature change that the weather system had brought with it. the lake was grey, light glistening and playing upon it – the sun coming out from behind the clouds. the sky – left to sunset in salmon with lines of dark clouds dissipating – seemed to highlight the snow on the mountaintops in the distance. puddles had formed on the land lakeside, the point that jutted out near us. a photograph after the storm. after our pause, we traveled on.

sometimes things are not what they appear. the same object translates differently to each of us. the same place reads positive/negative; our interpretation determined by the lens through which we view, the way we approach life. we learn to discern what is real, what we imagine. we learn to assess what we see using mature tools of sagacity.

sometimes things are not what they appear. everything is a matter of perspective, where you are seeing from, where you are in life. we arrive at destinations, full of expectations specific to our own hearts. we see what is there through our eyes. it is important work to be sure to be aware of how others perceive the place, the circumstance. we learn differences. we learn compassion. we learn empathy.

sometimes things are not what they appear. some places are not as they seem. we learn to listen to our intuition, to be wary, to ask questions of what we see and of what we are told, to do research, to wonder. we don’t follow as lemmings and we don’t remain silent. we learn to speak up, to give voice to the disparity between what a place says it is and what it shows itself to be. we learn boundaries and we hold our lines in the sand.

sometimes things are not what they appear. some wizards are merely people behind a curtain. their bluster is bluster, their words intended to suggest power, control, whereas their voice becomes synonymous with hurting others and self-aggrandizement. we learn sympathy, even pity. we learn distrust and not to be blind to agenda.

sometimes things are not what they appear. some people are not as they seem. though their roles imply otherwise, we learn to cautiously be with these folks. we realize that others can manipulate our perception of things, others can run over our viewpoint. and we realize those tsunamis are without truth-seeking. there is little communication – it is silent and colorless. there is little transparency – it is opaque. we learn discretion. we learn that there are those who will throw you under the bus, who will subvert you, to raise themselves up or to accomplish their objective. we learn to expose this kind of betrayal for what it is, to push back on this brand of sabotage, weeds attempting to strangle.

but there are always flowers for those who want to see them. we find places and things and people who are indeed flowers in our garden. places and things and people from which and from whom we learn grace and wisdom and adaptability and kindness. blossoms.

and i suppose the converse-henri is also true. if you don’t want to see flowers, you won’t. your perspective will grant you that, an empty garden. if you decide ahead of an experience that you will dislike it, you will likely see only in black and white, your experience void of the colors of sunflowers and peonies, aster and purple mountain sage.

so, yes, henri, there are always flowers. there is always the single ray of sunlight in the clouds. there is always the glass half-full. there is always the beautiful in the ordinary.

and there are always mountains. for those who want to see them, they are even in the trader joe’s shrink-wrapped pack of nitrate-nitrite-free pastrami.

sometimes things are not what they appear.

*****

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sistered. [d.r. thursday]

the quiet is one of my favorite things each early morning. the world has not yet awakened, save for the birds. as the sun rose red into the sky today it was as if a silent movie was playing in the sky, strewn with color.

“stillness is the canvas against which movement can become beautiful. we can only appreciate movement against the background of stillness. were everything kinetic, we could not know what movement is. as sound is sistered to silence, movement is sistered to stillness.” (john o’donohue – beauty)

sistered.

it’s the rests that give meaning to the music – the breathing that makes owning a passage only yours.

it’s the white space that gives design power – balance revealing subject, a viewer’s ability to see.

it’s the negative between the positive – giving definition, directing eyes to move.

it’s the imperfection that accords perfection.

it’s standing still that makes dance dance.

it’s less words that gives impact to more words – wisdom is not measured in the verbose.

it’s dark that gives the stars life – a stage for shimmering pinpricks of light, gigantic close, tiny from afar.

it’s noise that makes the whisper worthy of delicious goosebumps.

it’s the tide going out, coming in that makes the waves, the low-tide sand pushing the wave higher.

it’s absence that reminds us of the potency of presence.

it’s sleep that gives energy to awakeness.

it’s dreams that give shape to reality.

it’s quiet – gentle hushed sunrising birdcall-punctuated quiet – that feeds the wearied cacophony in our minds as we start anew. offered with possibility, with crayons or colored pencils or thick oils to fill in our day, peeking into spaces of nothingness, seeing past what we see, coloring over the lines, entering the negative space, uncluttered and still.

sistered. beautiful.

*****

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no timely manner. [d.r. thursday]

now i understand. at least, i am beginning to understand.

my sweet momma and poppo would linger…watching birds, gazing at flowers, studying the horizon – be it shorefront or mountainside, cityscape or tiny town or rural farmland, slowly taking it in. in the hurry-hurry of my younger years, i would scurry past, noticing but maybe not really.

i am moving slower now. not because i can’t scurry, but because i am choosing to list to the linger side. though we still watch re-runs after re-runs of joey hiking and climbing and backpacking and pitching tents any and everywhere, imagining ourselves in those canyonlands keeping up, imagining ourselves on the pct or the john muir or the colorado trail, i know that our pace would not match the pace of joey or the exuberant younguns on heading somewhere or walking with purpose or the meticulous norwegian xplorer. we would be slower, lingering, lingering. i’m not sure that would get us from point a to point b successfully or in a timely manner, but i’m thinking that our definition of ‘timely manner’ may have to just be different. because now – in the middle of this grand middle age – is different.

for now i want to watch the birds and gaze at flowers up-close. i want to stop and stare, drop to sit on a nearby log and take it in. i want to notice the intricasies of all of it, the undertones, the overtones.

as i look at the close-up of this milkweed trailside i am struck by the layers of detail. it somehow makes me recall decisions between the major chord and the relative minor, a continuum of impact. it makes me think of melodic gestures, a spectrum of color and of grace. a horsehair brush extended from the heights of the universe, painting perfection in the woods. artists’ hands waving paint on canvas, cupping clay on a wheel, flying over the white and black on a piano, coaxing lines that make you weep from a cello. all the same. creation in all its iterations.

on the call pat told me that the music – my music – had harmonics, tuned with the universe, that made her travel. humbling.

for i see that is what my momma and poppo were doing. traveling. they allowed the beauty around them to touch them, to slow them down, convincing them – in all the infinite glory that beauty -and art- can muster – that ‘a timely manner’ was relative, that time was relative. that time spent in a slow linger was precious.

*****

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linger on DAVID’s online gallery


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pointers. [d.r. thursday]

“i believe art is utterly important. it is one of the things that could save us.” (mary oliver)

in those moments – so many of them – when all else fails to reassure – beauty reminds us. it keeps us present, in the moment, working to get to the next moment, breathing in deep breaths, slowly, slowly.

the work of an artist, in any medium, is as a pointer, just like the wooden ones with the rubber tip that your fourth grade teacher used as she pulled down the world map on the roll above the blackboard to show your class the track of an expedition or the location of a country. artists pull down the map and point to it, making it accessible to anyone, making it alive, bringing an infinity of beauty, pulling your attention away from the narrative inside, whatever it might be. it is a tool of healing, a balm, a salve. it is freeing. it is free.

we immerse in music, in the ecstasy of dance, in the flow of poetry, in the spectrum of paint on a canvas, the feel of clay pots in our hands. we sometimes forget and are driven into the angst of life’s dimensionality, missing the limitlessness of the simplest. these are the moments we turn to art.

for in the end it is not the accumulation of things or wealth or titles or power. it is simply and utterly the sheer beauty of being here, the absolutely stunning realization that we get to be here in this moment in a continuum of moments we share – albeit tiny within the vast – with the universe. inside the art.

“you can’t take it with you,” my sweet poppo would say as he would refer to money or stuff. in those pondering moments he had, he somehow knew watching the cormorants on the lake out the window, listening to music on their stereo, puttering and creating in his garage workshop, quietly coffee-sitting with my momma – these were the things of value. the day he threw caution to the wind and purchased a large painting at the splurgy karl’s mariners inn restaurant perched on northport harbor; he was answering the call of art – the pointer that drew him in and wrapped him, in this case, in the fjords of norway and endless dreaming. it moved home to home with them and always was a source of calm, a reminder of beauty and peace.

each day i walk downstairs and see this canvas on the easel. each day it reminds me of the trail we often walk, for it is the paused and erased beginning of a painting of the woods of that trail. i pay attention to it because it affords me tiny spaces of river trail within my day. it reminds me, as i scurry about attempting to get things done, to remember. it slows me down and i can hear the rustling of leaves, the birdcalls, the crunch of our feet on dirt, the chatter of squirrels. i can feel the sun atop my head, the breeze in my face, my arm looped through david’s. i can see the color of wildflowers, lush green underbrush, rough grey-brown bark, cloud-dotted blue sky. i can sense a bit of time on my hands, but just a bit. and i am right there, stepped out of the up-close worries, stepped into beauty. i am paying attention. art has done its good work.

to pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. (mary oliver)

*****

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touchstones. [d.r. thursday]

yoga series: iconic (54 x 54, mixed media)

in the beginning i knew very little. we wrote every day but only talked twice. i read his newsletters and appreciated his perspective on things. i had seen only one tiny photo of him online but we shared pictures of our coffee mugs perched in different places in our homes or on our travels. and i had studied his paintings.

you can learn a lot about a person immersing in their art. whether it’s prose or song, paint or instrumental musings, the clues are there.

i am not a fan of thomas kinkade. his paintings are tight and controlled and, for me (but not for the one in twenty homes in the US that hangs one his prints), somewhat trite and contrived. i know that “tommy k” (as scordskiii and i nicknamed him) was (and his paintings still are) inordinately successful, serene, idyllic images of cottages and streams, gardens and gates. his galleries are all over the world. the “painter of light” (as he trademarked himself in a smart marketing ploy) was not necessarily the same as his paintings. i met him one evening at QVC when i was on air during a year-long or so promotion of my music. waiting to go on-stage and on-camera, yamaha CFIIIS at the ready, i met him in the hallways between dressing rooms. he was not a light and airy friendly guy that evening. i don’t know if he was having a bad day, but really everyone at these studios was normally refreshingly jovial. except for him. this did not really bother me, however, as, though i could see “success” written all over him, having tommy k greet me and have conversation was not important. dick clark, of american bandstand fame, on the other hand, was a gem. he and his wife were lovely and generous folks and it was delightful to meet them and chat in the hallways. but i digress.

when david mentioned he was a painter i did not know what to think, what kind of paintings to imagine that he painted. our developing friendship was candid and didn’t include fluffing up the other so my curiosity about the form of his art needed sating. i visited the website he had at the time. and i was stunned. one of his newest works back then – thereafter named iconic – was graceful and beautiful and full of respect for the body woman. i dove deeper into the site. each painting i studied engaged me – the color, the white space (so to speak), the balance, the composition, the texture. i was joyous. there was no need for fluff. i loved his work.

downstairs where, prior to a real painting studio’s emergence, i had thrown paint on a few large canvasses to hang about the house, sits his easel. there are paintings stacked and rolled in various places, in and amongst the boxes and boxes of cds that find themselves housed down there.

some of these – paintings and cds – are truly relics, artifacts of our art, dating back decades, skipping stones through periods of our lives.

some of these are touchstones, moments of new form, of changing form, of solidity in an uncertain world.

some of these, the relics, the artifacts, the touchstones are cairns, pointing the way to the future, suggesting we follow both paths we know and paths we do not know. art is like that.

*****

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visit this painting ICONIC

ICONIC ©️ 2010 david robinson


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cut out. [d.r. thursday]

i hadn’t looked at the original since he extracted what he felt was a better painting. the 9×12 canvas he just mounted is, oh goodness, a close-up of my face, though fortunately painted as more of a profile than a full face straight-on. in its previous iteration it was part of a painting of me directing a ukulele band rehearsal in our home, on a humid summer evening when all gathered here to play and practice and talk and share lives. now it’s a lovely small painting and, though it is of me, i can see what he likes about it.

i hadn’t looked at the original until just now when he came upstairs with this photograph to use in today’s blogpost. with enthusiasm and laughing, he said, “let’s use this today!” i reached over to look at the photograph on the iphone in his hand and my heart dropped.

this is the way i feel about my previous job. cut out. my face was cut out, leaving behind the legacy and fun and music of the ukulele and, for that matter, all the other music that was created and offered with love and celebrated and made a community joyful. simply cut out. boxcutter-straight-edge-cut-out. erased.

as i keep glancing at this photograph to write about the image, it doesn’t change. as a matter of fact, my reaction is becoming more intense instead of lessening. it takes my breath away. it’s bracing.

i have tried to explain to others what this felt like – to articulate this cutting-out. i know that many people experience downsizing and rightsizing and personnel changes in their positions. mostly these are jobs in corporate america with possibly six-figure incomes and benefits, healthcare and 401k’s, though this is not always the case. there is often not a heavy emotional tie, though this is not always the case. there is often not a family community, though this is not always the case. there is often not a deep sense of loyalty and long-term commitment to growth of the organization, though this is not always the case.

but in my case, in this position that had no benefits whatsoever and a salary that wouldn’t touch six figures even if it had whopping ten percent increases for the next decade, in this position heavy on emotional ties and family community and loyalty and commitment and heart, this trimmed painting depicts how it feels. still.

stunningly, without melodrama, just a straight-up two-dimensional portrait of an emotion in a three-dimensional world, i have now found the way to articulate it – in a simple image.

my face, with no explanation, was cut out.

and i don’t know what else to say.

david named this painting ‘beautiful k.dot’

*****

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BEAUTIFUL K.DOT ©️ 2021 david robinson


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and the gasket smiles. [d.r. thursday]

every day i hold my breath and touch it. i slowly open the closet, bend down and approach it. i nudge the tiny trap door over to allow space for my hand. the coupling has no idea it wields such power, such angst. but it does. it is disconcerting what 1/2″ pvc pipe can do to your psyche. and so… i reach out and grasp the connection. i daresay i even close my eyes. and every time it is dry i thank our lucky stars. a search of great proportion, text messages and voicemails from our “village” and treks to every plumbing supply house in the area later, we seem to (knock wood!) have solved the problem with a 99¢ rubber gasket and a little repositioning of the pipe. and so we attempt to move on. the ptsd of waterinthebasement demands i test it often; i am trying to release some of this and move from every day to maybe every other day. suffice it to say, the big black plastic bin remains – and will remain – in its spot directly below the offending coupling for some time to come.

this little adventure has set us on a course in the basement. the havoc created a ripe invitation to sort, to clean, to reminisce, to give away. a task undeniably time-consuming and cumbersome, but gratifying nonetheless. the leak itself was smack in the middle of david’s studio, but fortunately had not affected any canvasses. now, at last, as he puts his studio back into place, he will dance with the black bin and his patina-rich easel.

we love patina. perhaps it is because we have patina ourselves. at 60 (whatever) you have no choice but to own it, this “gloss or sheen on a surface resulting from age or polishing”. i never thought of it as “polishing” before. age, yes. polish, no. it seems the opposite. it seems that one removes patina with the act of polishing, an action misguided and not recommended by antique collectors everywhere. which does make me think about all the work we do in this country, in particular, to avoid ‘looking our age’, to eliminate wrinkles and age spots and the bumps and lumps of time-spent-on-earth. seems contrary to the upholding of patina, the celebration of the worn, the shabby-chic, the tattered, the threadbare, the velveteen-rabbit-ness. let’s just call it all wizened-beauty.

much of the basement is dedicated to glorifying wizened-beauty as this is an old house, 93 years worth. in the section of the basement where it is studio, all the pipes and walls are painted bright white. there are spotlight tracks in each area. it does not feel old-basement-ish. instead, it feels to us simply a cozy space, inviting our presence. the studio that holds david’s standing easel, the space that holds paintings-waiting-for-homes, the storage that holds boxes of my cds, all analog in a digital world. that studio also holds two rocking chairs, both with treasured history. one from spaces-of-painting past and one from the nursery upstairs that only exists in memory now. how often we have each rocked in those respective chairs. how much time has gone by. not fancy and definitely sans polish, they hold steadfast. they are there for the times of muse and the times-in-between the muse. and times like now.

the studio in the basement waits, just as my studio where my piano waits. raw opportunity, beckoning each of us as we rearrange, store away, go through, readjust and re-enter.

the gasket, up above and comfy in the coupling, looks down and smiles at what it started.

*****

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“the pace of nature.” [merely-a-thought monday]

“…adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.” (ralph waldo emerson)

no matter how hard we try, there is not one thing we can do to make the sun appear or the day warmer or the moon to rise or the snow to fall. we accept that time will come, time will pass, time will form and time will destroy. we give over to nature, anticipating that which we know, expecting the unexpected. we baby-step through this very time in the universe, our footprints barely visible on the timeline that is forever. we learn that no matter our stride, we are simply tiny beings. eventually, we learn, after giving over to patience, that that is enough.

the john denver sanctuary in aspen is a treasure trove. we have been there three times now. a garden of trails and large river boulders etched with lyrics and quotes, perennial daisies and aspen trees, it is a gentle sinking into peaceful. the city sounds of aspen fall away and the river and streams are lulling.

we wandered for hours, reading, sitting, pondering, the sun on our faces, the sound of quaking leaves slowing us down. i stood on a giant rock, like a stage under my feet, and bowed deeply to no one and to the brilliance of a man who knew how to tenderly shape melody and weave lyric into a fabric like a soft blanket.

we were immersed in poetry, in words, delicious to read aloud. we were quietly taking it all in, i in all my john-denver-glory, reliving the cassettes i wore out, rewinding, rewinding, listening again and again. this exquisite place, tempting all-day-hooky-playing, wielding a magic defined by thought, encouraging reflection, softly begging you to tumble in your own thoughts. this place slowing you down, reminding you that it is not stuff that defines you, it is not the stuff-of-you that will remain with others.

we wrestle with timing, with suspense, with expectation and disappointment. we measure against ladders of success and hold ourselves to higher higher higher standards of accomplishment.

nature quietly treks on, luminescent and glorious, patiently acknowledging every babystep moment of its impact, surrendering judgement and secretly, from the heart of the universe, signing its autograph on all of us, whispering to us to slow our pace.

*****

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chipping away, i suppose. [merely-a-thought monday]

long island has nicer springs than wisconsin. considerably warmer temperatures, more consistent sunshine, earlier flowers, i remember my birthday in late march as sweater-weather, with many birthday pictures taken in front of the yellow forsythia at the front corner of our yard where the grass met the curb of the street. not so much in wisconsin. it’s still cold, still windy, still cloudy, still rainy, even still snowy. as my birthday rolls around i am always hopeful that it will suddenly change and there will be 60 degree days and we will hike with no coats and no 180 earmuffs. invariably disappointed, we layer up and hike anyway. saturday was no exception. no in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb for this state.

birthdays always seem to be a time of reflection. the generosity of wishes texted, emailed, called, zoomed, facetimed, mailed, shipped and wrapped on the doorstep are a heaping portion of goodness and they enveloped me in warmth all day. the lion of march did not reign the day. instead, the only roar i heard was laughter on the trail, on facetime with my niece, on zoom with best friends, reading the glittery-unicorn-poop card from my other niece, the lingering echoes of my girl and her boyfriend singing to me, my son’s voice on the other end of the phone, a dinner invite from him and his boyfriend, singing memojis, exploding confetti on a text from crunch, music and spattered painting in an ecard from my mother-in-law, words in messages penned or typed, thoughtfully chosen. i lit my new candle, named my adorable new gardenia bonsai, and pulled my concentric circles ever tighter to me, hugging them back. there are days i think that every day should absolutely be lived like a birthday.

there was a common denominator in messages. my husband cleverly made a birthday book about life and love from a pa-pad, pads of scrap paper cut and glued by my sweet poppo in his effort to save trees and the environment. a dear friend from elementary school wrote that she hoped all my wishes come true. my oldest friend ever, a cherished friendship that has sustained through the years, wrote that she hoped i was celebrating. in one card that wished me “all things beautiful” i read, “may you always see the beauty in this world and be encouraged to keep pressing on, regardless of the stumbling blocks or hurdles that stand in the way.” in another was simply the word “forever”. another made me laugh aloud, poking fun at growing older. another wished me a better year. and one reminded me that “we are all works in progress.” in that card, my wise friend added “to ever evolving you” to the message “to another good year of chipping away…”

ever evolving.

the spring rains gather on the deck. they clean off the last of the snow and dirt that have been left there through the winter. like periods on sentences, they mark a new time of growth, an end to fallow, warmth on its way. there have been so many periods on sentences this year. too many. it is a time of wondering. clarity is elusive. it is a time of giving over to not-knowing.

i suppose it is possible that this is the lesson after all. not-knowing. ever. i suppose that spring – even in wisconsin – could surprise me. i suppose no time is really a time of stasis. i suppose that is why riverstones are so smooth. i suppose that, no matter what, the promise is to be ever evolving.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY