Know Their Name [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As I let Dogga out each morning, I stand for a few moments and listen to the birdsong. Our particular spot on the earth is alive with birds: starlings, finches, sparrows, robins, hawks, crows, owls… The Mourning Doves always stop my motion. Their song is hypnotic.

The pandemic changed – and continues to change – many things. Our world became significantly smaller. The table in the sunroom. The backyard. Our trails. As someone with his head in the clouds I am a dedicated generalist. I have always appreciated bird song yet never, not once, thought of identifying the specific birds and their song. “Sparrow? Finch? Who cares! They are beautiful and that’s enough for me! I spend too much time in my left brain as it is! The last thing I want to do is categorize the birds!”

COVID changed that. Sitting on the back deck or at the COVID table staring out the window for hours on end, our relationship with the birds grew. From general appreciation to specific experience. From passive appreciation to personal connection. We began to see nuance. Pattern. We wanted – and want to know more about these beings that sing us awake each morning, that alert us to changes in the weather, that signal alarm in the neighborhood.

While visiting the Botanical Gardens, Kerri found a small book, coded by color, that identifies the birds in our region. In a flash we can open the book and identify the bird. “Hey! Look! That’s Paul!” I say.

“Stop!” Kerri scowls. “It’s Martha. Paul’s on the fence.”

Just kidding. House Sparrow. Carolina Wren. My favorite to pronounce is Grackle. Great-tailed Grackle to be exact. I’ve decided that, were I to somehow achieve tough-guy status and ride a Harley to breakfast, my motorcycle-dude name will be Grackle. “Hey, Grackle,” the waiter will say, as I come through the door en route to my usual stool. “Hey,” I respond. Motorcycle-dudes named Grackle are birds of few words.

Deb showed us an app. Merlin. It identifies birds by their song. Now, armed with our book from the Botanical Garden and our Merlin app, when I ask, “What’s that?” Kerri – who is always alarmingly way ahead of me – has the answer. “Eastern Towhee,” she says.

“You’re making that up!” I cry, knowing she can’t stand to be challenged so will immediately jump to prove to me that she is right (it’s my secret fast-track to knowledge).

“Look it up!” she insists, showing me both the book and the Merlin return.

“Wow,” I say. “Towhee. Who knew. Maybe my pen name should be Grackle Towhee!”

She yanks the book from my hands. “Oh, Look!” she exclaims. “Merlin has identified you: Midwest DoDo.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BIRDS!

Imagine The Possibilities! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~ Lao Tzu

I’ve had this quote sitting on my desktop for months. I’ve been on a Lao Tzu kick, a Kurt Vonnegut kick, a Rainier Maria Rilke kick…all at the same time. They are, not surprisingly, in alignment on many topics, among them self-mastery. “The secret?” they whisper. “Stop trying to control what other people think or see or feel and, instead, take care of what you think and see and feel.” Their metaphoric trains may approach the self-mastery station from different directions but the arrival platform is the same.

It’s a universal recognition: take the log out of your own eye.

Sometimes a penny drops more than once and so it is with Saul’s advice to me. “Look beyond the opponent to the field of possibilities.” “And, just what does that mean?” you may shout at your screen. It sounds like new-age hoo-haw.

Ghandi said, “Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong.” It is the height of self-mastery to bring ideas to the table rather than a gun. It is the height of self-mastery to bring to the commons good intention and an honest desire to work with others to make life better for all. Power is never self-generated but is something created between people. Power is distinctly different than control. Power endures since it does not reside within a single individual. Power lives, as Saul reminded me again and again, not in throwing an opponent but in helping the opponent throw themself. “Focus on the possibilities,” he said again and again. Throw yourself to the ground often enough and, one day, it occurs that there may be another way.

Work with and not against. It seems so simple. The bulb hovering over my cartoon head lights-up. Work with yourself, too, and not against. Place your eyes in the field of all possibilities. Obstacles are great makers of resistance, energy eddies and division. Possibilities are expansive, dissolvers of divisiveness.

I am writing this on the Sunday that Christians celebrate their resurrection. The day that “every man/woman for him/herself” might possibly and-at-last-transform into “I am my brothers/sisters keeper.” All that is required for this rebirth is a simple change of focus; a decision to master one’s self instead of the never ending violent attempt to exercise control over others.

It’s the single message, the popcorn trail left for us by all the great teachers. Instead of fighting with others, master yourself. Imagine the possibilities!

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CEILING LIGHT

Love The Wreckage [on DR Thursday]

It sounded like a thousand bees hitting the glass, trying to break the pane to get inside the house. Hail. Little pellets driven by the wind, appearing from nowhere. The last time I’d looked out the window it was sunny. And then, the rain. I stood at the window and watched the water find its path of least resistance from sky to glass pane to ground.

I was grateful for the bees hitting the window. The hail called me from the other world and back into this reality. When I work I tend to be too focused. I’ve always been that way. If I’m painting or – these days – assembling Powerpoint slides to map an idea or make a point – I am no longer available in this world. In my past life, you could come into my office or studio and sing an aria and I’d miss it. My focus was like a fortress.

Years ago when I lived in L.A., my friend Albert would “drop by” my studio every afternoon and make me join him for a cup of coffee. He was the best of friends. He knew I would not – or could not – come out of my other world without some prompting. He was like the bees hitting the window. Intentional hail. He’d sit with me, sipping coffee until I once again became verbal, until I wandered out of the fortress. I think he saved me. It’s too easy to get lost in a fortress.

Yesterday Kerri and I had a “talk.” I confessed that moving to Kenosha was like being a brakeless semi-truck hitting the sands of a runaway truck ramp. Full stop. Pieces of me flew everywhere. All momentum stopped. Wreckage and a broken nose. And, there, the lessons began.

I fought hard to keep the fortress intact but there were too many pieces scattered across the gardens. Light was pouring in. Focus became less about blocking out disturbance – disappearing – and more about attending. Giving attention. There’s a balance and for me it is a high wire act everyday. Learn to walk the wire of presence rather than disappear into a myopic fortress.

Pieces scattered akimbo do not reassemble but they do provide nutrients to the soil for new growth. Spring is calling. New shoots of green are poking from the crusty ground. The hail calls me from my creation. The fortress was a dark place. I much prefer the ruins and the budding gardens fed by the driving rain.

read Kerri’s blog post about RAIN

in dreams i wrestle with angels © 2017 david robinson

Make It Beautiful [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The media center was in the basement of the library. I left behind the bright New Mexico sun each day as I descended the stairs to my work-study assignment. In the days of cut-and-paste layout, 5 years before I touched a computer, part of my duties included readying the weekly campus newsletter. X-acto knives, glue sticks, blue non-photo pencils, liner tape were the tools of my day. I loved my work-study, not because of the work, it required hyper-attention to detail and ask anyone, I am not a detail-guy, but I knew my life was being changed under the careful tutoring of my boss, Brother Bill. His instruction had little to do with media and everything to do with orienting to life.

Each day at 3:00, Brother Bill would push a cart into the workroom laden with fresh strawberries or cookies and a pot of tea. “Tea time!” he’d announce and we’d stop work. We’d enjoy a cup of tea together.

It wasn’t the tea or the break in the day or even the laughter and enjoyment of each other’s company. Brother Bill was teaching us to make an event of the ordinary moments of our lives. To attend to the quiet beauty available in the details. Presentation mattered. The plates we used for our snack mattered. How we oriented ourselves to each other mattered. It wasn’t the grand gestures but the attention to the daily routines that transformed a life.

Occasionally he took his work-study students to dinner. Always to a fine restaurant so we might have the experience of – an experience of dining. Linens and wine pairing. Food to savor instead of snarf down. Lingering over coffee with laughter and conversation. Being no where else. Taste the moment. It was his single lesson, offered without instruction but by simple demonstration. Feel the sun. Take the time to fully fill out the experience. Fully attend to your moments and your attention will fully fulfill you.

Kerri and I end our work day with happy hour. A glass of wine and crackers and cheese, maybe a pear. Tapenade. One evening we realized that we had a cupboard full of beautiful plates and trays. “Why aren’t we using these for happy hour?” we asked. “What are we saving them for?”

I heard the voice of Brother Bill, “Make it beautiful,” he said. “It matters.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BEAUTIFUL PLATES

Create Something [on DR Thursday]

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

I’m on a Vonnegut bender. Lately, I’ve fallen into his quotes and I think I’m about to re-read everything he wrote. Standing on the threshold of synesthesia, he submitted his master’s thesis in anthropology on the shapes of stories. It was rejected by “the committee” as being too simplistic, but embraced by the world after he achieved success as a writer. The man was as witty as Quinn and a definite stander-on-the-margins of society, reflecting back both its beauty and brutality.

Trapped in the amber of the moment. Gorgeous. And, standing at the center of the moment, all the explanations necessarily fall away. There is no “why” because there is no separation, no other place to be or person to become. The committee would reject the notion outright since committees are dedicated to explanations and justifications. The elevation of one idea above another. The writer, the artist, serves a different master. “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” Yes, another Vonnegut quote. Create something. Soul growth rather than reasoning.

At the center of the moment there is no why. There is no space for puzzling-it-out. There is simply this: a rousing and rowdy “why not!” Blue sky. Tall grasses dancing. Feel it. All of it. No single explanation can possibly contain it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GRASSES AND SKY

prayer of opposite © 2004 david robinson

Ready The Wings [on KS Friday]

“Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow/Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow” ~ Cat Stevens, Moonshadow

An appreciation of life, no matter what comes. It is the meaning of this lyric, this song – or so I’ve read. It seems obvious. I’m having many, many conversations about loss these days. This has been an era of loss and, so the cliche’ goes, with loss new opportunity arrives. It’s true though one must move through the loss in order to arrive at the new. On the way, there is weeping and fear and anger and disorientation. Chrysalis. The trick, we are told, is about focus placement. One day we shift our eyes and see what we have instead of what we no longer possess. We move toward rather than look back.

Kerri has, for years, surrounded herself with symbols of peace. They are on our walls, on rings that she wears, on chains draped on the corner of our bathroom mirror. She draws them in the sand on the trail. A prayer for the world she desires to create. Inside and out. Since she fell, my solo-piano-playing wife has lost more than mobility in her wrists. Strange stuff is happening. Fingers that sometimes refuse to respond. Pain that shoots, seemingly from nowhere. After a photograph – a wish for the world, a peace sign in shadow – she said, “Come look at this. Look how much my finger is bending!” Strange stuff.

What is most remarkable about this shadow is, a year ago, it would have been cause for frustration. A reminder of loss. Full of fear. Today, it was a curiosity. She looks back, she looks forward. Each day she writes lyrics and poetry and wisdoms. She hums the music running through her mind and heart and, sometimes, she dances. Standing at the crossroads of what was and what is to become. Peace replaces pain. All in good time. Good time. Wings readying to unfurl.

[peace. this is one of my favorite pieces of Kerri’s]

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about PEACE

peace/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

With Fresh Eyes, See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In retrospect, many of the experiences I used to facilitate were meant to pop people – even for a moment – out of the fog of their life story. It’s a curious intention for a guy whose career was/is centered around the telling of stories.

I loved working with masks, especially with people in corporate settings or lofty educational towers. They feared the exposure that a mask might bring so they approached it with eye rolling and whatever-ego resistance. Yet, in every case, they put the mask on with reverence. There is a sequence, after donning the mask, that the wearer “wakes up” and looks at the world for the first time through fresh eyes. Everything is new. Everything. Their hands. The movement of their arms. The color and feel of the carpet. Jaded people, blunted with puffy assumption, through the eyes of the mask, are astonished by the miracle of their fingers. And then, imagine the moment that they discover each other. Their discussion during the debrief would make you weep. It was quiet. Respectful to the point of sacred. In every case the people, newly out of the mask, had to tell of their astonishment and discovery. Their eyes wide with the utter beauty of the world in and around them. And, their new eyes never carried further than the next day. The old mask, the one worn daily, the one full of fear and inflated self-importance, is powerful, too. As they say, masks reveal and masks conceal.

Masks reveal and masks conceal. The phrase refers to the wearer but it also applies to the world seen or not seen through the mask. New eyes are astonished with the ubiquitous beauty of the world newly revealed. Eyes fogged through been-there-done-that stories are dulled to the point of inattention. The magical world is concealed from their sight.

I am working on a script for a piece that I’ll perform in the fall. I realized in my latest draft that it is really about masks. The astonishment of seeing – and seeing is nothing more than or less than the revelation of connectivity. Paying attention is a step toward the eyes that see crackling vibrant color, ears that hear the birdsong. When the dull eyes open, even for a moment, the next impulse is to reach, to “call attention” to the connectivity. “Do you see that?” “Listen, isn’t it gorgeous!”

read Kerri’s blog post about PAYING ATTENTION

Trip And Trip Again [on KS Friday]

One of the advantages of having stepped in every pothole, tripped on every cobble, and made every mistake at least twice, is that I’ve learned about potholes, cobbles, mistakes, tripping and stepping where I ought not step. If I could boil down to the essence the single thing I’m beginning to grok it is this: life is not elsewhere.

I laughed aloud when I at last I realized the absurdity of “practicing mindfulness” as if it was something to achieve. Mindfulness arrives when the practice stops. Of course. Meditating for self-improvement, I’ve read, is a uniquely Western oddity. “Trying” to be present is ridiculous if you think about it. You are present. What else? Because your mind is running amok does not actually magically transport you to the past or the future. You are present with a mind that is running amok. Minds are like puppies: chase them and they run away. Stand still and they will eventually come to you.

Is any of this pothole wisdom helpful? Absolutely not. Like mindfulness, wisdom arrives when the obsession with knowledge-for-betterment ceases. I’ll let you know what that looks like when I stop trying to attain it. There’s no end to the tripping stones. I’ve learned that, too. Again and again. And again.

The best things in life are not achievements. They are relationships. Me to you. Me to me. Me to the world I am passing through, one moment at a time. With you. Stand still in the moment – you might as well since it is where you are – and you’re libel to experience all manner of beauty.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWFLAKES

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

kindred spirits…away/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Look Back [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Our 3am conversation was about the horrible clothes we once wore. We both lived through the 70’s and 80’s so there was plenty of fodder for shudders and laughter. I couldn’t be more delighted that cameras in that era used film that was expensive to process, and were not ubiquitous, so there’s limited visual proof of the alarming garments of my past.

Looking back. My favorite aspect of our horrible-clothes-conversation is how much we loved the offending items when we wore them. I had a Huckapoo shirt that was only worn on special occasions. I’d scream and run from that shirt if I opened my closet and found it there today. Kerri described a favorite periwinkle blue dress with black polka dots that had me crying with laughter. The woman I know would faint in fright if she awoke wearing that dress. “Get it off! Get it off,” she’d scream, as if it was a spider.

For two people who spend most of their lives wearing black thermal shirts and blue jeans, it was delicious to trace our past lives through the costumes we’ve worn. The people we were. The investments we made. The colors we donned.

What was sacred is now profoundly silly. What was serious is now grin-worthy. What seemed so important turned out to be so-much-powder.

“Time just rolls. It just keeps rolling,” she said. The hard times and the good times. Hang on long enough and what-is will become what-was and a new-thing will have replaced the previous thing. “It just rolls on through.” At 3am, what matters in life could not be more clear. It’s the conversation. The laughter at our foibles, the sweet, “Shall we try and get some sleep?” It’s what we will see of this age when time rolls on and, late one sleepless night, we look back.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LOOKING BACK

Blur The I [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We capture quotes all week. Some we see. Some we hear. Some find their way into the Melange. Most do not. We usually note where we heard or found the quote so we remember the context. It’s a practice. It’s not as if we are perpetually eavesdropping on conversations. We’ve simply tuned ourselves to immediately write the amazing words and phrases that catch our attention.

A common phrase is mind-over-matter. Athletes and actors and dancers are conditioned to ignore the limits of their bodies. To keep going. The mind as master over body. I loved this quote because it is the flip side. The mind, the “I”, wanted to stop but the body did not listen. It kept going.

Lately I’ve been reading about – so, paying attention to – the false separations that language necessitates: Mind and body are spoken of, thought of, as separate things. And, the question is this: where does one begin and the other end? Mind over matter. Body did not listen. I made myself do it. Once you start listening for it, it is ubiquitous. Exactly where is the line between “I” and “myself”? When your toe is in pain, isn’t your whole body is in pain? Follow your gut. What does your heart say?

When Dogga gets excited, his little body bounces. He runs in circles. He has to work hard to sit still. Say, “Do you want to go…” and he’s bouncing before the words “on errands?” reach his ears. He knows he won’t actually go on errands until he first sits on the rug. Eventually, he bounces his way into compliance. Control follows unbridled enthusiasm. Control is a means to an end. Rug before errands. Sit before snack.

Dogga might say, while bouncing enthusiastically, “I wanted to stop but my body kept going!”but I doubt it. Given his unified happy spirit, I’m certain the phrase would come out of his muzzle this way: I wanted to stop but I kept going. Watching him is like reading the I-Ching: no separation.

read Kerri’s blogpost about I AND BODY