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the path back is the path forward


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not-still-life. [d.r. thursday]

there is a gold frame around the old black and white photograph. a still life of a family. it was taken in the 1920s and it captures the still-life of my sweet poppo’s family…at that very moment: his dad, his mom, his brothers and sisters as young children and babies.

i don’t have another like it; there is not another portrait – at least not in my collection of photos – that has both his biological parents and all his brothers and sisters. my dad lost his mom to metastasized breast cancer when he was merely eight years old. my grandpa married a woman – the only paternal grandmother i knew – who was willing to take on six growing children. life was not still.

in the way that families sometimes splinter, my dad’s family lost touch after the death of my grandparents. there was some rift and there were plenty of hurt feelings and, then, there was silence. i grew up the rest of my life without my cousins, without sharing in their stories, without the chance to know them or love them. it was like the still-life-portrait was carefully cut up and only my dad was left.

one of my uncles had drowned in the swimming hole in upstate new york during their teenage years. another uncle was lost at sea during the war. i think my third uncle passed somewhere along the way maybe in brooklyn, where they all grew up, as did one of my aunts, a fun-loving californian who always went by her nickname. and the aunt who had children – who would be my first cousins, wished for but lacking in my own circles – was in new england.

a couple years ago – after i broke my wrists – when i was sitting with casts and a laptop and the pandemic had just begun, i decided to google them. i wrote a bit about finding them – a golden moment of connection. suddenly, through research and social media and, unfortunately, posted obituaries, i discovered two of my four cousins.

i reached out, one on either coast. they reached back. and the ripped pieces of portraits that could have been taken through the years began to assemble. tiny bits of photo paper, a little glue, stories to be told.

my dad – on the other side but not too far away – smiled when i had my first conversation with his sister, my aunt. he no longer remembered the details of whatever the rift was and, besides, it was a ridiculous fifty years prior. how long does one hold onto these kinds of things?

my aunt, with a touch of brooklyn and a touch of boston, told me stories and i really pined to meet her, to hug my dad’s sister, to hear of my dad as a youngster, to sit with her. but covid and fragile health sadly combined to prevent this.

my cousin called while we were driving to the grocery store. he told me that earlier in the morning his momma, my 99-year-old-would-have-been-100-in-three-months-aunt helen, had died. once again, the still-life photo shattered. i would not capture a picture of us together, our jowls matching, perhaps our eyes, perhaps the curve of our faces. i watched her service online yesterday, trying to memorize the smiles and tears of my lost-now-found relatives.

i’m grateful for the brief conversations and the fact that she knows i looked for her, for her children. i’m grateful to have contact with two of my cousins and to someday meet their families and the families of my other two cousins who were holding a spot for their momma in that other plane. with great joy i listen to stories they tell me and i know that we’ll share time and snapshots, close-ups, wide angles, portraits, candids – reaching back and reaching forward – of our lives together.

i learn every day to let go, to hold on, to appreciate it.

the still-life is never really still.

*****

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the notion of attention. [d.r. thursday]

picture-of-the-day is a driving force. every day now – straight – for over two years – i have posted a picture of the day on our thread. when covid was first present in our world, now two years and a couple months ago, my son suggested that each of us, my son and daughter and i, post a photo a day and it would keep me feeling more in the loop; the connection would be reassuring. i oh-so-agreed and have been really deliberate about these images.

no words necessary, though any kind of descriptor is welcome, these photographs are a glimpse into each other’s lives. i take it really seriously and i celebrate any time either one of them posts a photo, loving the window-in. and all day i look for the photo-capture that will be my picture-of-the-day. it’s a practice i love. intentional observing of the world around me. we all see the same things; we all see different things. i love noticing. and i have found – as in anything – the more i notice, the more i notice.

“the notion of attention … to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer…” (“our world” – text by mary oliver, photographs by molly malone cook)

we hiked over the weekend. we hadn’t been on any trail in a couple of weeks as the weather has been uncooperative. our hike was punctuated with my stopping and stopping again. so much to photograph, so many changes in the forest. i want to go slow, slow; this is not a get-your-heartrate-up exercise, but my heart was exercised nonetheless. so much beauty to see, so many tiny miracles within my reach.

david does not rush me. we were there – on that trail – to rejuvenate, to breathe, to take it all in. how do i capture that in a picture-of-the-day, i wondered. i photograph the new dandelion sharing gravel with the path. i photograph shy tiny pink flowers bending down toward the earth. i photograph the mayapple which has suddenly burst into the underbrush world. i photograph the trillium not yet blooming and wonder aloud which warmer day this week they will open to the sun. so many greens. full spectrum, not just the verdant new spring grass. slow, slow.

“i lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass…” (walt whitman – “song of myself”)

it rained the day of this post’s photograph. again. it had been raining for days, grey end on end. my picture-of-the-day would depict the rain, a dissatisfaction with the lack of sun. but, even in that frustration-of-waiting for the lamb days, i knew i could find something to notice about the rain, something to give pause.

the trees in the reflection – still leafless – reminded me. the rain falling here – brutally absent in drought-corners of this world – gentle and insistent, driving and adamant in turn, brings new growth, a transition to a new season, washing away the dust and salt of winter and its tears.

“it was my pleasure to notice such things…” (mary oliver – “our world”)

*****

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the birdies. [merely-a-thought monday]

ehhhhh, i’ve turned into my parents.

that’s not a bad thing. it’s just a fact. well, at least it’s partially a fact.

on long island, in the middle of growing up, riding my bike with susan, writing poetry in my tree, practicing the piano and organ, doing my homework, playing frisbee at the beach all-year-round, toting my camera around, hanging out at the dive center, fishing with crunch, cruising around in my bug, adoring my baby nieces and nephew, i didn’t notice. maybe i just didn’t pay attention.

they talked birds. birds in the yard, birds on roadtrips, birds upstate, birds at the beach. birdcalls from the woods behind our house, birdcalls passing overhead. they tossed birdnames around and, every now and then, i’d catch one and it would stick somewhere in my memory. but for the most part, their lobbing of vital bird information swooped over me and flew by.

and now.

now i want it all back. because we.love.birds.

we watch their antics in our backyard…at the birdfeeder, at the pond, on the fence, tucked under the awning over the back door, in the trees, hopefully building a nest inside the old barnwood birdhouse on the pine. they are sweet, sweet, sweet.

we guess what they are…sparrow, grackle, mourning dove, starling, crow (oh, so obvious), junco, wren, finch, cardinal, red-winged blackbird, bluejay, chickadee, tanager, oriole… i recognize some from home-home, but some have so many similarities that identification is tricky.

surely they are not looking at us thinking human or ….? they just know. so it feels important to know the difference.

on a great adventure at the botanic garden, we picked up the handiest little spiral pocket-sized quick-guide book called “birds of the midwest“. there are color-coded tabs and you open to the color page that correlates with the primary color of the bird you are trying to identify. such a remedial approach is good for us. (it’s kind of like avoiding the issue of looking up a word when you don’t know how to spell it…you don’t have to look up the bird under what kind it is when you don’t know what it is.) we keep it on our table in the sunroom and use it often as we gaze out back. i imagine we will take it with us as we hike.

in other amazing tools, thanks to dear deb-on-island, we have an app on our phone that is a bird identifier. not only can it identify a bird from a photograph or a list of questions you answer, but – and this is soooo cool – it can identify a bird from the birdcall you record. amazing! the cornell lab of ornithology deserves a giant round of applause for this app, which can identify up to 6000 bird species. the power of science. !!

my sweet momma had an iphone. she adored it, sending random photos to people and receiving photos from everyone in the family. it kept her in the loop and, at almost-94, she was a texting maven. we were in easy contact with each other and she with family and friends from all walks. she both embraced it and made silly technological mistakes, just like us, but nothing a quick turn-it-off-turn-it-back-on couldn’t really solve. it assured her that she was involved, particularly after my poppo died. the power of connection cannot be underestimated.

i wish that i had known – back then – about this app. it would have rocked her bird-loving world.

as it is, i know that every time we are sitting and pondering what a bird is or admiring one aloud or peacefully listening intently or just simply watching the bird-play in our yard or in the woods or at the shore or anywhere, she and my dad are giggling, knowing i’d get there someday.

*****

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“went to visit mom.” [k.s. friday]

it’s an octave. though it is not obvious to most and though it is difficult to see, it is an octave. well, slightly more than an octave, actually. d to d and then e and f. f# too. there are still 88 keys, even aged. still 88 keys, even devoid of their black and whiteness. still 88 keys, even in their new patina. still 88 keys, even though some may now be missing. it is still a piano. its soul is intact.

my sweet momma has been gone seven years today. seven.

the other day, in a group text with some dear friends, i read one friend’s response to a question from another about whether she was home. “not home yet,” she wrote. “went to visit mom.” it stopped me in my tracks and i stood still for a moment. those words – “went to visit mom” – were powerful moment-freezers. time suspended just for a few seconds as i pondered what it would be like to be able to write those words – “went to visit mom”.

i know that i was fortunate. my sweet momma was almost-94 when she died. and i was 56, so almost six decades of me sharing the same plane of existence. her life was inspiring and i was lucky to have her cheering for me in every success, in every travail. she was steady and a rock who was always there, whether or not, in different phases of my life, i recognized it. it was true for me that there was no one who was a bigger cheerleader for me – she had pompoms out the moment i was born and never hesitated to use them. and, as is true for most of us, i’m quite certain there were times i took that for granted, took her for granted.

“went to visit mom.” wow. what i would give to have minutes, hours, days with her. to seek her wisdom, watch her enthusiasm, see the glint in her eyes and hear her laugh, coffeesit with her, have a giant bowl of pasta fagioli or a big slab of crumbcake or some silly adventure. to feel enormous unconditional love. to hug her. to be hugged by her.

“neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.” (desiderata)

barney will reside in our backyard for a long time to come. this gorgeous instrument will continue to be worn by weather and the elements. its keys will fall off, the wood laminate will peel. it will still be a piano and each octave will still be an octave.

my sweet momma, i know, is the same. she is still there, as perennial as the grass. i know her love supersedes my loss of her.

maybe sometime today i’ll go out by barney. i’ll take a candle and light it. and i’ll text d, upstairs in the office working, “went to visit mom”.

*****

LEGACY

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LEGACY from RELEASED FROM THE HEART ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood


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the soul of the earth. [two artists tuesday]

“it never occurs to us to wonder how the earth sees us. is it not possible that a place could have huge affection for those who dwell there? … could it be possible that a landscape might have a deep friendship with you? that it could sense your presence and feel the care you extend towards it? … perhaps each day our lives undertake unknown tasks on behalf of the silent mind and vast soul of nature. during its millions of years of presence perhaps it was also waiting for us, for our eyes and our words.” john o’donohue’s continued writing in this passage from beauty so reinforces personal responsibility for our good earth.

have you stood in a place, grounded into the dirt, unable to step away? have you hiked in, willing the trail to never-end, to not enter back into the sphere of bustling humanity? have you laid in the grass, your eyes on the clouds, pushing sleep just a bit to the side, creating words and shapes and animals in the sky, laden with sun-color, untouched by crayons or paint? have you touched the bark of a tree that whispered to you wise words with deep roots? have you cradled the petals of a flower gently in the palm of your hand, silenced by its fragility, its complexity?

and what has the good earth felt about us? have we offered the same solace to its soul? has it been moved by our tenderness? is it listening to our carefully-chosen words to each other or is it reeling, dumbstruck, at words thrown willy-nilly, demeaning phrases, curses and mean-spiritedness uttered in its place? does the earth trust we will do the right thing, that we will preserve its goodness for centuries to come? can it feel the love we have for it or is it begging us to notice the litter strewn on the ground or yet another person who throws trash out the car window? do places we go miss us when we leave or is there a sigh of relief as we pass through to the next place? does this soul wait for our soul to return?

the feeling you get when you arrive somewhere you have never been and yet you know you have been there before. the exhilaration of feeling the invisible source of serenity, the tethers of strength. the freedom you feel at the edge of the canyon, your heart beating wildly, a connection to all that has gone before you and all that comes after you.

how can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth?

how can we not know?

responsibility.

*****

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wishbones in the woods. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

we received a letter from the energy company that tree pruning may be required on our property. there is one tree that is closer to power lines than any others. this tree is out front and has been there the entire three decades plus that i have been here.

this old tree invited my children to climb it, was the source of limbs we used for christmas trees, shaded the front yard and gardens through the years. i watched this tree change through the seasons out the window as i rocked my children in the nursery; i’ve taken pictures of it with snow stacked up against its trunk. i’ve pondered what to do in the area around its roots, which rise above the surface of the ground; i’ve given up planting around it and allowed it to just co-exist with the dirt and scant grass. this tree has lost limbs in recent years and has some interior rotting causing some breakage to bear no leaves. but this is the source of long-time wisdom which has welcomed me home each time i’ve pulled into the driveway. each time i silently thank this tree and breathe a little bit easier to be at this place so familiar to me. i am wondering now if this is the tree. it pains me to think of this old tree pruned beyond recognition or, worse yet, taken down entirely. if indeed this is the case, i would hope to have pieces of this tree to save – slices as chargers for under dinner plates or even just simply a limb to wrap with happy lights and place in a spot of honor inside. yes. i am wondering if this is the tree.

the tree in the woods off the trail we follow was one that collected snow, its face to the wind. we hadn’t noticed it before; it blended into the rest of the woods and fallen trees. but, with snow on its bows it was clearly a wishbone, and, obviously, making a wish, i hiked into the underbrush to get a closer photo.

i wonder how often we pass by trees – and perhaps every living thing and perhaps people – without noticing them for what they are or who they are. how often do we turn a blind eye to that which is familiar or that which blends without any outstanding characteristic? it is possible that we participate in life more peripherally than we ought, more aloofly than the stuff of life deserves. the merit of each bow, each limb, each living thing, each person, is lost in our pursuit of next.

in the still threadiness of our hearts, perhaps slowing down and looking more closely might yield stronger connection to that which we understand, that which is familiar, that which we know well. more importantly, perhaps it might yield stronger connection to that which we don’t understand, that which is not familiar and that which we don’t know well. an opportunity to discard apathy and discuriousness and embrace old trees by the driveway and wishbones in the woods.

*****

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they laughed. [k.s. friday]

they laughed.

two people in a facebook thread LAUGHED (with the convenient use of laughing emojis) at a post i wrote responding to someone’s perception that there wasn’t a lot of peace and love going on in my town and to a comment about kenosha and what “BLM and rioters have done to beautiful cities” and that “denying that it exists [wouldn’t] make it go away.” i was sincere and fervently hopeful, while recognizing realities:

“here, with a house full of smoke from the fires, within hearing distance of the militia shots in the street. we could hear the blasts of tear gas, the yelling and chanting. we had a visceral front seat. but we also see many, many, many people coming together to try to address a long-standing (forever) problem of this nation. denying systemic racism exists will not make it go away. it is incredibly sad that conversation has to be aggressive and pointed, rather than generative and mindfully intentional. cities can be rebuilt, but lives are lost forever. i don’t want to live in a city that looks beautiful and is ugly underneath.”

and they laughed. LAUGHED. i had to step away to catch my breath before i could respond. what is becoming of human decency these days?

yes. kenosha painted boarded-up windows and painted over graffiti of negative messaging. yes. because, connectivity and love are the beginning. and reminders of those can only help. each positive message – in a city boarded up and burned and looted – reminds us of the most basic of emotions: LOVE. each positive message reminds us – as we walk about in this raw wound – that we are incomplete, we are flawed and we have much work to do. we need listen to each other, without overtalking. we need speak, without animosity. we need respect, without exception. we need conversation. we need connection. each positive message reminds us that hope exists, even in the tiniest brush of paint on wooden board.

this is a time of division, to be sure. day after day i am confronted with this reality and with peoples’ brazen attempts to undermine relationship with rhetoric and falsehoods, misplaced loyalties and inaccurate assumptions, and, worse yet, words of aggressive animosity and actual hatred. i wonder what the fallout will be. will the silken gossamer threads of connection sustain? will empathy fall by the wayside? will love of humanity – in all its shapes and sizes, genders, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic positions, religious affiliations – all its anythings – prevail?

“we live between the act of awakening and the act of surrender.” (john o’donohue) the question is always, every single day, how will we live? how will we spend that time? who will we be?

realizing the vast array of wise words that would also be appropriate alongside photographs we’ve taken in kenosha, i chose to post these words of dr. martin luther king jr., “darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” and i added this in answer to derisive comments about protestors:

“one of the foremost protestors in this land was dr. martin luther king jr. the thousands of people who walked in peaceful protest here, even drove and marched right by our house, were walking in that spirit. there have been rioters and looters in each city of unrest. they are spurred on by the vitriol and angry words of the current president, who seems to revel in discord and chaos. the fact is, the vast majority of people who are protesting in this nation are protesting in peace. just like in kenosha. this nation needs equality – the only way to get there is to listen to those who speak, listen to those who protest. their words count.”

and then, in a fine example of what conversation has defaulted to, i was called a “cupcake”, a “snowflake” and “infantile”. wow. i beg your pardon.

and they laughed? how dare they.

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CONNECTED ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood


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frosting and connection.

network connections

cupcakes.

and frosting.

i would talk to my piano students about practicing.  i drew a comparison of the time they spent, the way they allocated their time to cupcakes and frosting.   i would start by saying let’s talk about practicing, whereupon most of my sweet students would roll their eyes, a common reaction to the word ‘practice’.  i would suddenly switch topics to cupcakes and they would happily skip down that path, thinking they were avoiding the ‘practice’ chat.  we would talk about our favorite cupcakes and the very best frosting that could possibly earn the top spot on those treats.  and once we discerned that very-important-information, i would pose a question:

let’s say you have a small cup of frosting.   delicious, fluffy, sweet-as-can-be frosting.  it’s just a small cup – like the tiny sippy cups you drank from as a baby.  and you have a choice.  you can either frost one cupcake with that sippy-cup-full or you can frost all 24 of the cupcakes that are waiting on the counter from the oven.  which will you do?

my students, all brilliant cupcake-lovers and bright lights in the world, would sit and ponder for a second and then reply that they would frost the one cupcake.  otherwise, they would explain, the frosting would be so thin that you would barely know it is there, you would barely taste it, and it would be like there was no frosting at all.   and besides, if they got to eat the one cupcake, they wanted the one rich with frosting.  who can argue with that?

contrary to their belief that the ‘practice’ talk was over, i would clutch and shift gears back to the piano.  “if you have a little bit of time to practice and pieces of music that might be difficult to play, would it be better to hurry through every piece spending a few moments on each OR would it be better to spend that little bit of time on one or two?” i would ask (in student-age-appropriate language).   invariably they would frost one cupcake.

i believe the same applies to connection.  with the advent of the vast array of social media choices, we have applied an ultra-thin layer of frosting to our connections.  we have thinned out the time we truly spend on relationship – pure individual relationships.  we have, oddly, chosen to spend easily-addicted quantities of time and emotional energy on social media “relationships” with people we do not know rather than being in real touch with the people closest to us.  we expect those people to learn of things on outlets and from posts instead of simply telling them, picking up a phone and calling or texting them.

we are not connected to a network.  we are connected to a network.  both of these are true.

the question for me, one that i must look at as well,  is – how much time are we spending on that network, on individual people we love and care about?  is there any frosting at all?

read DAVID’S thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY

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iconic. yoga series. [d.r. thursday]

David RobinsonYoga Series 7 copy.jpg

when we were first talking, we discovered we were both artists.  he – a painter.  me – well, you already know that part.  we were far apart in distance so we did not see each other or the work of the other in person.  he didn’t come to any of my concerts.  i didn’t go to his gallery openings.  but….there is this thing called the internet.

it was with much curiosity that i sat down to view his paintings.  i wondered about his style, his choice of color, the movement in his paintings, the emotion.  our budding friendship would not be dependent upon whether or not i liked them, or even understood them.  but i must say – in all honesty – that it was incredibly convenient to find that i LOVE his paintings.  i love his style, his choice of color, the movement in his paintings, the emotion.

this painting, ICONIC, was the first large painting in his YOGA SERIES.  full of grace and the expression of inner peace, ICONIC is stunningly big (54″ x 54″), a statement piece that i have no doubt will soon grace the wall of the owner who hasn’t found it yet.

anyone who has purchased an actual painting – not a print or facsimile of some sort – knows that it is a relationship that develops, that the owner and the painting find each other, that it is not merely a purchase.  it is the bringing home of a piece of someone else’s heart.  the hanging-on-the-wall of someone else’s heart.  or, in the case of music, as i well know, the listening to of someone else’s heart.

iconic:  that which can trigger emotion.  yes.

view or purchase ICONIC in david’s online gallery

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ICONIC ©️ 2010 david robinson


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fiercely tender. [d.r. thursday]

MotherDaughter morsel copy

MOTHERDAUGHTER morsel

there are moments you remember as a mother.  more than you can possibly count.  but there are some that stand out.  you can feel it forever.  any reminder of it makes you draw in your breath and pause.  THIS morsel, THIS painting does that for me.  THIS is how i feel.

the moment you are safety in a storm, respite in chaos, time-out in exhaustion.  the moment of sheer relief, absolute validation, exquisite shared joy or devastating shared aching grief.  the moment of connected silence, words with no air.  an embrace that is forever.

all.  fiercely tender.

MotherDaughter (full) copy

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MOTHERDAUGHTER ©️ 2019 david robinson