Taste The Sound [on KS Friday]

Toadshade trillium. Say it out loud and taste the sounds. Toadshade trillium. Yummy words worthy of e.e. cummings.

I am working in a tech space and keep a document on my desktop: Terms in this Unknown Land. Tech folk speak in acronyms, PAI and SMB, SERP and TAM. Although my colleagues are mostly left-brainers, they are remarkably poetic in their language, peppering their acronym-speak with tasty terms like “cluster calculations” and “stemmings.” I admit to losing the sense of the conversation in the sound. They are, despite the stereotype, passionate and creative and unconsciously poetic. “Plots a curve of probability.”

Toadshade trillium. Plots a curve of probability. Forget the meaning and taste the sound! What might Mary Oliver have done with those syllables!

My lesson this week: I cannot stand and work at my computer all day. I can do the standing (I have a stand-up desk) but staring at a screen eventually shuts down my brain. Across from my stand-up desk is my drafting table. I think better with big pieces of paper and a pencil and then translate back to the computer. I need to move to think but that’s only part of the lesson. When at the drafting table I’m more likely to take things less seriously. I free myself. I get snarky and funny and scribble and draw big arrows and make fun of myself and the logjam in my thinking. I play.

And, while I play, I talk aloud, and hear the sounds of the shapes that I draw. Poetry and motion. Taste the movement. One and the same. Free the thinking. It’s enough to scare the dog but it’s liberating to my kinesthetic necessity. I scribble notes in every direction and dance back and forth between word and image. Consequently, I produce better work.

Thank goodness I finally tasted a few word-sounds that sent me tumbling into a productive scribble dance.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TOADSHADE TRILLIUM

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

pulling weeds/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Peek Behind The Scenes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I’ve tried to keep notes on my computer. I know that typing my notes into the digital world will make them searchable. Easier to find. It just doesn’t work for me. If I write with a pen on paper, I remember. Marking an important page with a Post-it note makes finding my notes faster than a search engine. It’s not that I am old school. I’m kinesthetic.

I’ve always kept notebooks. At this moment there are two within my reach. The Melange notes. On the desk in my office a is a notebook and three yellow pads. The yellow pads are a task-capture strategy. The notebook is idea capture. Quote capture. Thoughts-in-progress. The notebooks are like my sketchbooks, a place to work out my thought-compositions. They are the history, the breadcrumb trail of a project. For me, the riches are never in the outcome. The real treasures are alive in the notebook process paths.

I’d rather look at an artist’s sketchbook than the finished painting. I have a book of Picasso’s sketches that I treasure. Spend a few moments in Leonardo’s sketches or Michelangelo’s scribbles and you’ll forever toss away the notion of a mistake. Look behind the scenes at the process. A dancer will spend hours in repetition to incorporate a move into their body. The playwright will write hundreds of pages to arrive at a few, yet, those hundreds of pages are nothing less than reduction to essence. Refinement on the path of saying more with less.

Look behind to see the structure. Turn it over to see the pattern. I am, to this day, in awe of the Wayan Kulit master. I looked behind the shadow puppet screen to see the artist at work and, what appears in simple two-dimensions in front of the curtain, is a symphony of structure and improvisation. The man wore an oil lamp on his head to cast the light for the puppets, held a rock between his toes to tap, keeping time for the musicians seated behind him, all the while manipulating and voicing multiple characters, telling with simple clarity an epic tale. A lifetime of trial and error, complexity made simple, like a dancer, the story was deeply choreographed in his body. I wished I could have seen this elder storyteller-priest when he was young and developing his mastery. I’d love to see his notebooks.

I’ve recently had cause to return to my old notebooks. I marvel at the thought cycles coming back around. I’m taken again and again by the questions that still linger, and by those that seem antiquated. “How could I have not seen it!” I smile, knowing in just a few more drafts, a notebook or two down the road, the clarity would arrive.

A peek behind the scenes. It is for me, where the real beauty shines.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FLIP SIDE

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

Step Out Of Line [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“…the fountain of creative work is an intelligent questioning of the rules.” ~Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way

“If someone tells you they know, they most certainly do not.” It’s not a direct quote from Quinn but it’s close enough. Art school almost snuffed the art in me; there were so many rules and nary a hint of curiosity allowed in the studio. I fled into the theatre after a single year for fear of losing my heart to a book of rules. My theatre professors were explorers of nature. Their refreshing mantra was, “Well, let’s find out!”

What if…? What happens if…?

Nature is boundless expression. Boundless expression is human nature, too, until it is taught otherwise. Boys don’t cry. Be a good girl. Sit in your desk. Follow the rules. There’s a right way. My way or the highway…So much effort to force nature – your nature, your curiosity, to stand on a line.

Einstein revolutionized our world because he dared to posit that Newton had it upside-down. Thank goodness, as Alan Watts observed, “The scientist and the mystic both make experiments in which what has been written is subordinate to the observation of what is.” In other words, they look beyond established belief, expectation and entrenched norms into what is.

What is? Curiosity. A desire to know what’s over that hill. No child begins their life-walk by desiring to color within the lines. Lines are a learned thing. The word “wild” was invented by people whose ancestors emerged from the woods and who have forgotten that they, too, are part of nature – so have become afraid of stepping into the woods. What might they – we – find there?

“It’s not an idea problem,” David Burkus wrote in the HBR, “It’s a recognition problem.” Stepping beyond the known – a great definition of curiosity – is too often seen as an aberration or an assault upon authority. Nip it in the bud. Forcing flow into a fixed state invariably causes idea-blindness and the imperative to think-outside-of-the-box. Innovations are too often smothered in the crib by “What we know,” or “We don’t do it that way.” Coloring in the lines, once ingrained, is a life-long-book-to-follow.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve been invited into an organization or hired by a client to help them “see what they cannot see,” and then subtly or not-so-subtly, been rebuked for opening their eyes to what is in plain sight…or the availability of alternative paths. “We want a vital arts program but we only want art that entertains,” said the school board after the student play asked a serious question of their audience. “…the scholastic theologians would not look through Galileo’s telescope because they considered that they already knew, from Scripture, the order of the heavens.” (Alan Watts)

Think outside the box – as long as you stay within the model or the expectation or the rules. So many models. So many lines. So in love with the struggle and afraid of the simple, natural joy of curiosity. Bend your will to the line. See what you are supposed to see and look no further. What, exactly, are we trying to control?

read Kerri’s blog post about CURIOSITY

Jump Out Of Your Chair [on KS Friday]

If I want to think clearly – or clear my thinking – I walk. Sitting still has always been and continues to be an invitation for thought-log-jams. It was a problem when I was a student. Classrooms come with desks and an expectation that the learner will sit still. I became a master of the controlled wiggle, not because it broke the logjam but because it helped maintain my sanity. For me, sitting still is like a hair shirt with an itchy tag. Sitting still makes my IQ plummet several points. Sitting still interrupts my synapses.

Tom Mck told me that the alternative schools were populated by artists. I intimately understood his observation. Artists need to move to think. They thrive in an alternative to still-sitting.

I’ve made sure that my work throughout my adulthood included movement. Directing plays. Painting big paintings. Facilitating workshops. Even as a teacher I cleared the room of desks. This morning I saw a headline in Forbes Magazine declaring that children learn more through play than through guided instruction. It was curious to me that this was a headline. Sugata Mitra’s been shouting the news for decades. Neil Postman spent his life reading the research and advocating for what the research implied: turn little people toward a passion and get out of the way. Curiosity and desire are an unbeatable team. They will move faster than you might imagine. Move, move, move. Dance. Paint. Sing. Construct. Act. Play. They will let you know when they need you.

I’m learning the lesson again. My work places me squarely in front of a computer for hours each day. Flow. Eddy. Logjam. Wiggle. Move. Sigh, as the synapses start firing up again. Repeat. At this advanced stage of earth-time, you’d think I’d have grasped the full understanding that, for me to be effective, I have to move around. Each morning I review the previous day’s work and immediately know whether or not I found a movement/sitting-still balance.

When we stepped on the trail and entered the woods in North Carolina, my mind was chock-full-of-thought-logs. Like everyone else, I stare at the screen and lose track of time. A day can pass me by and I never leave my swivel chair. I swivel for survival. For months, I’d been swiveling and forgetting to stand up and dance my ideas. Fifteen minutes into our hike, the jam broke free. My mind cleared. I could see the subtle landscape inside and outside. I breathed a deep breath. The forest was gorgeous. My mind was spacious and flowing! I resolved, once again, yet again, to attend to the necessity of movement that keeps my mind and heart flowing. Wiggling is maintenance, merely. Swiveling is not a solution. The real game, the full flow, is only available when I jump out of my chair and move-it.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOREST

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

meander/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Turn The Shield [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

The rains have come. The light retreats. This is the time of year when we say, “I’m tired. Are you tired?” It’s the lack of light. The coming change of time. “It feels later than it is,” we rub our eyes and sigh.

I’ve always thought of this time as an in-between. Not-this-and-not-that. The leaves have dropped but the snow has not yet arrived. The sun and the wet clouds jockey for position and neither gains the advantage. Were we bears, nature’s indecision would signal that the time had come to look for a proper cave, a comfy spot to sleep through the winter. We are people and the signal is similar: it’s time to pull in, reflect, attend to the inner places, nestle into our bear-dreams.

Many years ago I took a class from an elder who taught us how to paint medicine shields. The exercise was not about the painting or the technique of stretching the skin over the willow, the exercise was about identifying the symbols. One side of the shield was the outer life, the sun. This face of the shield was seen by all. The other side, the inner face, was personal. The symbols were private. The moon. This is the season when the attention to the outer face shifts to the inner. The bear considerations turn to the owl, the lizard.

Just as each season is both a leaving and a return, both sides of the shield are beginnings and ends. Barney taught me that, in the winter, the energy of the plant retreats from the branch and, instead, goes to the root. Rejuvenation happens beneath the soil. I feel that shift in this time of increasing cold and rain, the shield flips. My eyes turn inward.

We huddle in the early dark and tell stories of the year past. We attend to our rest, move more slowly in our expeditions. We decide more often to stay in. We open the bin with gloves and scarves, prepare for a different rhythm of walking. We recount the past seasons, not yet ready to dream of the time to come.

read Kerri’s blog post about RAIN

Exhale [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was younger I had a dream. I was walking through an aspen forest in autumn. I was not trying to get anywhere. I was not lost nor did I need to know where I was – other than wandering through the forest. The dream was visceral. Real to me. And, I’ve never felt more peaceful or present or quiet.

Because of my dream I equate aspen forests with peace. If I am off balance and need to regain center, I think of aspen forests.

The leaves make a specific sound. It is completely accurate to say they “quake.” Quaking also describes how they move when the breeze catches the leaves on the branches. If the light is right, they shimmer as well as quake. They can be electric in yellow, pale green and orange. Their quaking and shimmering serves as a mind-cleanser. And, not just for me. I dare anyone with a troubled mind to hold onto their troubles when in the presence of an autumn aspen grove.

Before leaving Colorado, we drove into the mountains. People were flocking to see the leaves. We found our destination off the beaten path: the lake, surrounded by stands of brilliant quaking aspen. We thought we’d spend a few minutes there but hours passed before we realized it. That’s the thing about peace, it does not dance with time. We walked. We took pictures. We sat in the resounding, shimmering quiet. And, for the first time in days, we exhaled.

read Kerri’s blog post about ASPEN FORESTS

Feel The Rhythm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We lay awake in the night listening to the waves pound the shore. Boom. Rest. Boom. Rest. This lake that is sometimes glassy-in-stillness can rival the Atlantic Ocean in restlessness. It has many moods. It can turn on a dime. I have found great peace walking the shores. I have stood in awe as it blasted those very same shores, hurling boulders with ease.

When we were fortunate to live for a summer in the littlehouse, right on the lake. Kerri had to adjust to the constant sound. Her musician’s ears were caught in the rhythm of sound lapping the shores. Nature’s metronome. We teased about parking a piano on the back deck so she might compose an album of pieces set to the lake’s pulse.

The most striking visceral-revelation that I brought back from Bali is that we function together. Just as I am impacted by the lake, my pace and rhythm are impacted by the people around me. No one is an island. David Abram wrote in The Spell of the Sensuous that it is nearly impossible to meditate in the un-united states. We are an angry frenetic lake, fast moving wave. Changeable. I will always remember pausing at the custom’s gate re-entering the country. It was too much. Finally, I stepped through the doors and felt sucked into a chaotic turbulent whitewater river. It was months before I adjusted, before a walk down the street didn’t feel like a fist fight.

Columbus (my dad) would sit for hours each morning, on the porch. Listening. When I was younger I wondered what he was listening to – or for. He grew up in Iowa and came into adulthood moving to the rhythm of the corn. He lived his adult life in Colorado. It was a different rhythm, the metronome of the mountains. For many years he yearned to live where he understood the rhythm. He was, I think, listening for the corn.

When I return to Colorado I feel an immediate recognition. The mountains are the rhythm I was born into. Alignment. My original dance was a mountain dance.

Kerri and I are both transplants to the lake. Perhaps that is why we hear it so clearly. Jim E. told me that people go to the shore to stare into the infinite. We listen to the lake with the same awareness. The lake was here before me. The lake will be here after I am gone. The mountains, too. We are, of course, delusional to entertain the idea that we control it – nature. That we are somehow separate. Sometimes I think it is the artist’s job to bring proper perspective to the community, to pop the separation-notions – even for a moment – out of ego-brains.

This lake could hurl me like a pebble. It also brings peace to my soul. Stillness. We are not as distinct as we want to believe. That recognition is the single greatest blessing of artistry. It’s a circle dance. Just as my dad is disappearing back into the corn, I, too, will someday rejoin my original rhythm and fold back into the mountain.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

Root And Fly [on KS Friday]

“Inspiration does exist but it must find you working.” ~ Pablo Picasso

At some point I realized that all of the good guidance I have received, all of the masters that I have admired, made statements about Roots & Wings.

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” ~ Tom McKenzie

“You must write 10 bad pages to arrive at one good page.” ~ John Guare

“Live on the plateau (in the present moment).” ~ George Leonard

“Cultivate your serendipity.” ~ Tom Quinn

I remember Jim E. teaching actors not to push their voices to be heard but, first and foremost, to root down into the earth.

After years of practice I am approaching the lesson that Saul taught his tai chi students: stay on the root and the energy will move you. He also taught me, on a brilliant Saturday morning when I was trying to bend the world to my will, to look beyond my opponent into the field of opportunity. It is two ways of saying the same thing. Root. And the wings will appear. Root, and possibility will find you.

Work at the easel, and inspiration will arise.

all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s gorgeous blog post on ROOTS AND WINGS

give me roots, give them wings/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Await The Whoooosh! [on KS Friday]

Although the genre-labels attached to her music, words like “new age” or “easy listening,” might lead you to believe otherwise, Kerri is not a gentle player of her piano. She doesn’t sit at it. She stands. Often, when she plays, the piano literally hops. This diminutive woman is a force of nature when she steps into her music. For her, playing is a full-body affair.

In this day and age of electronically generated music (and art), it’s hard to explain the love of the analog, the delight in full-body art-making. There is a flow – there is no other word for it – that is possible when using brushes and paint on large canvas or making music on keys that aren’t digitally supported. It becomes a dance. It requires opening, getting out of the way.

Early in our lives together we’d listen to her recordings, “Can you hear the whooosh?” she’d ask. “That’s the pedal! I love that sound!” she’d say. “Whooooosh! I don’t like playing on keyboards. There’s no whooosh.”

No whooosh. I’ve watched her play on keyboards – many times. You’d never know it but she has to hold herself back. If she let herself play, full-body-play, she’d knock the keyboard off its stand. She has to contain the force, water through a dam.

It’s anybody’s guess how she’ll play after her wrist recovers from the wet-floor-fall. There are still some months to go. In the meantime, the piano is calling. I know because she’s cleaning her studio. A studio cleanse is always the sign of an artist preparing for the next…Open space. A gathering storm. There’s only one thing I know for certain: on that day, when the pain is gone and she calls, “Come here and listen to this!” DogDog and I will go into the studio, find a safe place clear from potential piano hops, and we’ll take full-body delight in the return of the whoosh.

listen for the whooosh

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

read Kerri’s blog post about PEDALS

that morning someday/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood