reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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a beginning. [saturday morning smack-dab.]

no book on menopause or post-menopause – that i have read thus far – really prepares us. i haven’t found a steponesteptwostepthree-handbook on how to sort this. the phases of a mom’s life intersect and overlap and are messy and as full of emotional upheaval as they are full of gratitudes for blissful. every piece, in my own messiness-of-this, is sticky and pulls at every other piece, like marshmallows in hot-off-the-bonfire s’mores. no matter the professional pursuit, the hobby, the exercise, the diet, the zen-yen, it is all interwoven with the loss of mom-identity, the constant babystep-by-babystep redefining of relationship with one’s children and one’s self.

of early days of motherhood, anne morrow lindbergh in “gift from the sea” wrote essays sparked by seashells, “eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.” she is the “still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations, and activities.” in a metaphoric nod to the shell argonauta, anne paints the picture of the mother argonaut floating to the surface and releasing the young, then floating away to a new life. sailors, she says, consider this shell “a sign of fair weather and favorable winds”. yet, she muses, “what does the open sea hold for us? we cannot believe that the second half of life promises ‘fair weather and favorable winds’.”

it is a total reorientation. it takes time to re-find the center of gravity. true center. even with a child of 32 and a child of 29, i find this not to have been or be instantaneous. one does not click off the light-switch, or touch the base of the 1980s brass touch-on-touch-off lamp, turning off the questions of identity. it’s the yarn of a new cape, from mom (and all the other titles) to woman (and all the other titles).

“whether we’re talking about giving up baby clothes, toys, artwork or schoolwork, the issue is not mere sentimentality. it’s about letting go of our children. […] we think that keeping all of those things will let us keep a little of each child who left us.” (claire middleton – “the sentimental person’s guide to decluttering”) i would guess that, even in my intentional attempts to set wind for their sails, my children would cite my fierce hanging-on to them. at the least, they would attest to my quiet weeping at their leaving, each time they leave.

i clean out the house, clean out one thread of four decades of career, glance at my piano – always whispering to me “don’t forget this is who you are too”. i write, i cartoon, i write more. and then, more. i think about composing – new simple feathers of music, pieces that would float in breezes and find center. i sit in quiet. i wonder.

is this an identity crisis?

“but there are other beaches to explore. there are more shells to find. this is only a beginning.” (anne morrow lindbergh)

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this SATURDAY MORNING

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the glue. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

it would seem a giant compliment to be called a “glue person”.

glue people are those “who pull teams together to make them greater than the sum of their parts” (linkedin.com). like the tabs and pockets of an interlocking jigsaw puzzle, glue people are the ones who quietly and efficiently make it all happen. they are not front-of-stage necessarily. they are not leadership-paid necessarily. they are not lauded or recognized necessarily. but they are absolutely and without-a-doubt essential; they are the actual anchors.

in my own life and work experience, the glue people are those people who hold up the pillars that hold up the organization. they work at making the goals, the mission, come to fruition. they take a back seat to those in charge but actually are at the crux, shoring up, growing, bringing life and light to the place, lifting others, magic-wanding the whims of the leaders, building community among the members of the institution. they are simply the glue that holds it all together.

i suppose there are those people who are wary of glue people. they feel threatened by the glue-success; they suffer insecurity. instead of rallying behind gluepeople, these types will undermine them, speak hostility toward them, diminish their role in the organization, get rid of them.

and the walls will come a’tumblin’ down.

because, like this simple wooden trainset that my little boy loved playing with – that is now in the possession of the cutest little boy in florida – our little great-nephew – the interlocking of all is what holds it together.

without the glue all hell can break loose, and often does.

and sadly, it’s because someone could not recognize a glue person when they had one. someone did not value their glue.

*****

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a run on “be kind” buttons. [merely-a-thought monday]

inc. magazine has surprised me time and again. in this period of marveling over the inclination of people in leadership positions around me making what-would-seem really questionable decisions, i have found inc. to be wise and thought-provoking and practical.

i have read articles about management, about good leaders, about equipping employees with confidence, about building people up and not tearing people down. i have read about innovation and support and equality. i have read about not taking things personally, about not ruling your workforce with fear as your greatest tool, about not undermining or being deprecating toward your workers. i have read about organizations working in collaboration, with communication, with transparency. i have read about creating places of compassion and constructive feedback and shared vision. i have read stellar writings about limiting leadership-driven agenda, about truth, about acknowledging discriminatory practices and addressing them. i have read about conflict in the workplace, about identifying it, qualifying it, mitigating it. i have read articles asking challenging questions, sparking maturation of companies and businesses and organizations.

inc. magazine has rocked in its simple approach. it makes me wonder why more manager and leader-types clearly don’t subscribe – in either print, digital or philosophical ways. it’s too bad. any measure of brutally mean dominion over employees does not seem to be a mission of goodness or of growth. organizations that participate in the mission of goodness do not fall into chaos or an abyss of hypocrisy. instead, they grow and change and fluidly adapt. they share ownership with the community they serve and they gratefully appreciate each spoke in the wheel, knowing they didn’t get there without each other.

so when inc. magazine had an article about thanksgiving, we clicked on it. again, a simple approach. instead of going around the table with the question “what are you thankful for?”, the writer suggested you ask the question “what will you do to make others thankful?”. an active verb. what WILL you do?

there’s been a bit of a run on our “be kind” buttons. maybe others are gifting them for the holidays. maybe they are challenging students or service groups to disperse them. maybe they are standing on corners and just giving them out. or, i hope, maybe them are giving them to managers who need be reminded. i don’t know. i do know, however, that we will likely be at the public market or ogilvie handing them out one of these days. or maybe we’ll leave wrapped bundles on the trail or at the check-out line or in the public restroom. free buttons. who can resist? it’s my hope it will make others smile, to concentric those circles out, to generously spread gratitude and kindness.

because inc.’s question is a good one. just like so many of their others. bravo, inc.

*****

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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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the glimmer and the glint. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

the glint in his eyes was there. columbus told us about the business he was running from his memory care apartment, as steadfast as i suspect he has always been about hard work and dedication. though he was imagining that the bathroom was a library and that the lack of customers was due to the inclement weather, he remained dutifully on duty, waiting for the end of his work day with good humor. talking about his “shop” and his customers and challenges he, always humble, admitted, “i can make as good a mistake as anybody.” i took photographs of his sweet face as he talked and gestured, hands lined with age and the evidence of toil. i caught my breath more than once as he spoke and as i looked around, taking in this phase of columbus’ life. though he seemed content, dementia is a cruel robber.

my sweet poppo’s favorite saying was the quote, “be not concerned, be not surprised, if what you do is criticized. mistakes are made, we don’t deny, but they’re only made by those who try.” (unknown) with a glimmer in his eye, he was also famous for repeating (and repeating) “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” a believer in the re-do, the fix, the oh-well, the humanness, my dad never lingered in the mistake. he was also aware that he could make as good a mistake as anybody and i would bet that, given the chance, he and columbus would have been pals. these two gentlemen were raised in a certain era and times of challenge; even fifteen years or so difference would not have mattered. their humility and simple straightforward approaches run parallel, both smart and extraordinarily capable in unique ways. their commitment to family and a strong work ethic would have united them.

up in the mountains we sat at dinner and listened to my amazing daughter talk about physical therapy for a concussion she got while coaching snowboarding. she spoke of climbing and ropes and uncomfortable shoes you stuff your feet into to elicit a better grip. she and her sweet boyfriend talked about the challenges of living spaces in high elevation and adventure and camping. the one thing missing from the conversation was anything about fear. there is no fear of making a mistake, of a choice-gone-wrong. there is only fluid adjusting, correction, a different direction, a new tack. it is acknowledging, without words, that we all can make as good mistakes as the next. it is living without concern of criticism for those mistakes. it is being those who try.

were they to have been at the table with us all, in our first restaurant experience in well over a year, i imagine that columbus and my poppo would nod their heads in proud appreciation. “yes,” they would say in chorus, “that’s the way to live.”

and the glimmer and the glint would smile.

*****

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in the may apple village. [two artists tuesday]

once upon a time in the middle of the forest there was a may apple village. canopies of verdant green umbrella-ed a world of little tiny beings living little tiny lives. the village went on and on, deep into the trees. if you got right down on the ground and looked underneath all those canopies you would be amazed at what you saw, er, imagined. the village doesn’t last long. it appears and then disappears, showcasing short-lived flowers blooming and then going dormant in the summer. and the little tiny beings move on.

it is in my nature to try and make people laugh. i want to hear them giggle, guffaw, snort. i want to see cheer on their faces and to know they are amused by some self-deprecating thing i said or some story i told or some weird-action-that-would-instantly-embarrass-my-kids thing i did. i am not afraid to talk for my dog, skip in the airport, talk to strangers in elevators or subways or grocery lines, or make up loud songs-with-his-name i would sing to my cat. the reason i adore rehearsals is the chance to see people, in community, laughing. it’s never about perfection. it’s always about joy.

and so it was pretty darn weird to be on an interview call recently during which … no one laughed. i was stunned by this. i could not elicit one snicker, not even a draw-breath-in-breathe-out-a-soft-‘haha’. it concerned me. after six decades on the planet, i understand seriousness, job dedication, commitment to work. after six decades on the planet, i also understand the best way to get things done is in joy. the big picture. short-lived flowers.

the little tiny may apple village was bustling the other day in the woods. i could see tiny bistro tables and chairs, tiny beings milling about laughing and getting things done. the community was aware of all the work it had to do in the short period of time the encampment – and they – would be there. they were not overwhelmed; they were not undone. they realized that they were each spokes in relationship in the big-picture-wheel.

and they – these tiny beings under their awning-of-green – realized that their mirth was the thing that held the leaf-canopies open and kept things in motion, that kept them sharing and working with each other, through the burdens and the successes, that kept them from being divided and, instead, made them a community of inclusion, exuberant and productive, making their tiny mark.

*****

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whittled. [merely-a-thought monday]

“we all travel the milky way together, trees and men.” (john muir)

the pandemic rages on, wreaking destruction; after 800 years, jupiter and saturn line up in the sky. and i cannot wrap my head around the absolute-insignificant-significance of each of us. in this moment, on this piece of earth, under this sky, we whirl through space and time, reaching out to grasp onto bits of life – merely air – and make a dent in the atmosphere where we stand.

2020 has been a year of whittling. it has whittled away at our safety. it has whittled away at our health. it has whittled away the physical companionship of our loved ones. it has whittled away relationships, through political divide, social justice mores, the pursuit of personal freedoms over community. it has whittled away trust, heaving it to the side as we watch, astonished, as untruths, gaslighting, even propaganda surround us both under the cloak of country and up close and personal. it has whittled away the security of our finances, our work suspended. it has whittled away at our shock gauge; each time thinking there has been enough and being surprised by yet more, the baseline of dismay ever-changing. it has whittled away the convergence of reality and logic and it has left confusion in its place; it has paralyzed us and it has frightened us. it has whittled away what we understand.

and yet, the trees stand steadfast. they continue to reach for the sun, arms held out to the light. they neither seek to understand as they grow nor question the storms that have battered them. they just are. their place in the milky way dents the atmosphere a tiny bit, just as ours does. we travel, in various rotational directions, hundreds of thousands miles per hour along with the trees. all of us, together.

“you are a child of the universe; no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” (max ehrmann, “desiderata”)

*****

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


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artists. funambulists. [two artists tuesday]

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between us we have two master’s degrees, two bachelor’s degrees, four businesses, a coaching and consulting practice, various certifications, multiple states of teaching credentials, fifteen albums, four singles, hundreds of paintings, multiple play-scripts, countless productions and concerts and performances and gallery showings, a radio show, four cartoons, books, blogs that contain a few thousand posts, numerous and diverse leadership positions in theatres and churches and educational institutions, too many non-profits to count, long resumes and a combined total of over eighty years of work experience.

we are artists.  and, as you know, that is not the easy path.  it’s gig economy in a corporate environment.  it means piecing things together, working a plethora of jobs at once, purchasing your own healthcare, investing in your own so-called retirement, advocating for your own value, balancing, balancing, balancing.  the tightrope is thin, but anyone doing the tightrope dance (funambulism) is well-acquainted with the balancing pole and standing tall in the center of mass on the rope, necessities in an artist’s life.

in a workplace conversation once, i was asked how i would even speculate about having a second job.  an incredulous moment, as a person who has always had simultaneous multiple jobs, it was ludicrous to me that the person asking this, who apparently has always lived in absolute bullet-pointed stability, could not fathom having more than one job at a time.  were artists to be so lucky.  were any gig workers, in their area of professionalism, to be so lucky.  that is another world entirely.

so we are always on the lookout for additional gigs, so to speak.  education, experience and skills from the wide spectrum of the first paragraph speak well to helping with growth and change processes and insight and honoring students and employees, not to mention the separate and interwoven threads of music, painting, theatre.  these experiences that span decades speak to the arts, that which the world turns to in times of chaos, unrest, dis-ease, periods marked by adjectives like distraught, devastated, frenzied, unprecedented, uncertain, arduous, splintered, divided, distrustful, untrue, exhausted.  the arts – that which feeds society.  yet, “creativity takes courage,” understated henri matisse (painter, 1869-1954).

as many of you, we receive solicited and unsolicited lists of jobs in our email.  we peruse through the obvious ill-fitting options like neurosurgeon or stem cell biological researcher; we look for opportunities to plug our work as artists into the world.  we are also emailed positions that line up with our professional abilities and tenure in the arts.

and this is what we’ve been sent:  sandwich ARTIST and GALLERY advisor.  it’s hard to know whether to laugh or be insulted.  sandwich artist?  if this is really what subway calls their employees, i would say most of us have related experience since the first time, at like age 3, we spread peanut butter and jelly on our wonder bread.  and gallery advisor?  tesla, really?  car dealer concierge maybe?

it’s a dim future if you cannot see relevance for the arts in a society, if they are secondary to anything and everything else, if they present in sandwiches and on dealership floors.  where are the organizations, the institutions, the employers who recognize the multi-faceted diamonds in an artist’s perspective, an artist’s drive, an artist’s commitment, an artist’s vision, an artist’s project-driven dedication and multi-layered stamina, an artist’s sensitivity, an artist’s heart?

as two artist-funambulists, we’d like something better for the gifted artists giving breath to joy and hope and tomorrow.  from the tightrope of this gig economy, it makes our toes curl to think any differently.

read DAVID’S thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY

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the organ bench. [k.s. friday]

organ pipes

no one else.  there was literally no one else i knew who took organ lessons.  eight years old and i was the only one.  everyone else i knew took piano lessons.  they went to the new local music store –munro music on larkfield road in east northport – and had lessons in itty studios downstairs and came back upstairs to pick out sheet music from a big wall featuring the latest hits and books of collected artists, written out for various levels of piano-playing ability.  me?  i went to mr. i-never-knew-if-he-even-had-a-first-name sexton’s house (now, think about the torture my peers had with that name) and took organ lessons in the addition adjacent to the garage.  there was no wall of sheet music, were no cool guitars hanging up begging to be purchased, no amplifiers or drums.  just that one organ.  no windy or ode to billie joe or i’m a believer easy piano for me.  it was beautiful dreamer and long, long ago.  and hymns.  lots of hymns.  but i had been asking for lessons since i was five and the little chord organ that was my grandmother’s was moved aside and a ‘real’ organ with two manuals (keyboards) and real pedals and cha-cha button settings was added to the corner of the dining room that was next to the kitchen and the living room.

when i was ten i tearfully played the pipe organ for my brother’s wedding, the processional as my sweet sister-in-law walked down the aisle to my big brother.  yesterday i was talking to john whelan, a master celtic accordionist the exact same age as me, and we talked about the first real gig we did.  his was at 12 and he actually got paid.  mine was this wedding and, for obvious reasons, payment was out of the question.  i got to wear a really pretty peach-colored party dress and white shoulder stole and wept my way through the difficult piece.

after some time, i somehow convinced my parents that they needed both an organ and a piano and they signed me up for piano lessons.  joan ostrander, the very chic music teacher, was my first piano teacher and i adored her.  she pushed me and i adored that too.  i spent long hours practicing on the piano bench with my dog missi sleeping underneath, my dad whistling in the background.

in years to come i studied with the teacher-of-all-teachers alan walker and was convinced that the piano and i were kindred.  i taught more piano lessons on long island (and later florida and even wisconsin) than i can remember, back then driving from one house to another, delighting in each student’s joy playing the piano and progress no matter the pace, hoping to emulate the teaching style of this amazingly kind man.  after lessons we talked life and ham radio and ate open-faced crunchy peanut butter sandwiches.  music is not just about music, you know.

during my undergrad, i studied piano in college with one of the professors but kept bringing in pieces of original music and kept veering off course from assigned large scale pieces, hoping he wouldn’t notice.

as no real surprise, i majored in music composition, the first (?) step toward living as an artist, the first step in a road that leads to here and now.  so much in-between.  the gigging composer music timeline is filled with albums, concerts, performances, cd sales, radio and tv, qvc appearances, barnes & noble and borders, listening wall placement, phone calls, yamaha, traveling, shipping and more shipping, recording labels, carrying boxes, standing in the rain on flatbed trucks playing and singing, driving, driving, driving, press releases, graphic design, writing, recording, supportive family and friends and coworkers and a person named hope hughes.

but that organ.  it has kept on re-appearing.  somehow it is one of the threads that has woven its way through my life.  there aren’t that many of us out here:  people who play the organ, who can finesse a chosen timbre through the pipes and who can actually play lines of bass notes on the pedals.  those lessons from the very beginning somehow set the stage for me to work for three decades already as a minister of music.  conducting choirs and handbells and ukulele bands and worship bands, choosing music for services and performing groups, leading and shaping worship and, yep, playing the organ…it has been a constant.  there are days that i will pull out all the stops and play as loud as the organ pipes will allow.  its bellowing echoes through the sanctuary and i giggle as i think of my ten year old self, sitting on an organ bench in williston park on long island and crying.

what would i have thought if i had known that fifty years later i would still be sitting on an organ bench?

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read DAVID’S thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY

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constellation. [merely-a-thought monday]

constellation poem.jpg

at night, if the weather is clear, with the backdrop of waves lapping at the shore, we look up and see the milky way in the night sky.  it makes us feel tiny.  tiny in a vast world.

we string happy lights about our home, inside and out.  they are the simplest of holiday light strands, eensy white lights on green or white cords and we use them year-round.  one white light alone barely lights a space, but together, a constellation of tiny bulbs, the illumination is magical.  one alone.  all together.  it makes a big difference.

we are working in a place that is divided.  the division is deeply rooted and exacerbated by stubborn attitudes and time.  we must “string the stars together” to bring hope; we must “sing light in common song” to move forward.  community must prevail over a schism of proportion.  no place can truly be beautiful without stringing together.  we have our work cut out for us.

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fair isle books is one of the sweetest spots on this island.  a breath of fresh air with warm ambience and overtones of the joy of learning, this little shop is owned by deb, whose heart is gigantic.  outside her shop is this plaque, a snippet of a poem ‘constellation’ by wisconsin poet laureate bruce dethlefsen, a presenter at the washington island literary festival in 2013.

how fortuitous that this poet should capture in a mere 33 words the work that is to be done.  we are not alone, each of us on this tiny-planet-in-the-vastness.  though seemingly individually strong, we are indeed actually weak.  we must link arms, act in community, string together, work collaboratively.

division doesn’t create more for each on the sides of the chasm.  it creates less.

collectively, we can create boundlessly.  our constellation -together- creates hope.

we have our work cut out for us.

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

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