Have A Constitutional [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Have you not noticed that love is silence? It may be while holding the hand of another, or looking lovingly at a child, or taking in the beauty of an evening. Love has no past or future, and so it is with this extraordinary state of silence.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

As the evening cools the heat of the day, we look at each other, no words need be said, stand, hold hands and walk out the gate. In another era, they called this kind of evening stroll a “constitutional.” Walking at days end is good for your constitution, your health.

I’ve learned it’s good for my mental health. All of the energy swirling around inside my brain channels down and out through my feet. Fifteen minutes into our stroll, I take a deep breath. I sigh. The last swirl spirals out. With a clear mind, I relax. I squeeze Kerri’s hand. The beauty of the evening flows in. I can see beyond what I think.

We walk a loop through the neighborhood that winds toward the shore, past the beach house where we held our wedding reception. We follow the path through the park, emerging onto First Avenue along the row of houses overlooking the lake, by Jim and Linda’s old house. Echos of laughter. Good times gone by.

Sometimes we talk. Sometimes not.

The other night, as we strolled in silence, I smiled at how much of my life I spent trying to “get somewhere.” Trying to “achieve” or “obtain” some imagined thing. Always separate from my moment. It made my constitutional that much sweeter, knowing I had no where else I wanted to be. No imagined place, racing around my mind, pulling me from the lapping water, the cooling evening air, my wife’s hand, the sound of our slow walking.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EVENING

Go Roman [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Today we begin the Whole 30. The first time, we did it because Kerri’s system had run amok. The only way to find the culprit of her system’s craziness was to eliminate all the suspects, rebalance her system, and then slowly reintroduce foods. That’s the idea behind the Whole 30. It worked like magic.

This time, Kerri and her nieces are doing it together. They’ve made a pact. I am going along for the ride.

There’s a distinct difference between the days before our first experience and our run up to beginning today. Last time we were desperate. We needed to find something that would help her system. This time, we went full-Roman. We ate everything, even things we normally would not have thought to eat. We’ve made a full-on-food-assault on both our systems. “Since we can’t have wine for a month, I think we should have another glass,” I said…every day last week.

It’s human, isn’t it? To pretend that what you are about to do is nigh-on-impossible, so, the strategy to make it possible is to front-load the rewards. It’s the thought behind Lent. It’s the reason diets fail. It’s the story of “We deserve this…”

We created our own personal Mardi Gras.

I knew we’d given up all pretense the night Kerri looked at me and said, “When was the last time we had a Hostess cupcake?”

“We’ve never had a Hostess cupcake,” I said. “I used to eat them when I was a kid but you and I have never had one.”

“What!” I saw the wild cupcake intention in her eyes. It was late in the evening. “We have to have one!” she exclaimed jumping up. “Hurry! Ann’s is about to close!” Ann owns the local corner market. She carries cupcakes. And wine. And ice. And has a terrific deli. Kerri grabbed my arm. We ran-walked to Ann’s. Roman, Roman, Roman.

None of this would have happened without the looming Whole 30.

It’s not yet 8:00 in the morning, day one, and Kerri’s already asked me, “Do you remember the cupcake?”

Truth: I do. And my second thought? Cupcakes are better with red wine.

Human, human, human.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CUPCAKES

Be A Zebra [on KS Friday]

The Post-It note beside my desk reads “Zebra.” It is a reminder to be more like the zebra. After a near miss with a lion, the zebra does not return to the herd and perpetuate their stress by recounting the story over and over to any other zebra that will listen. The zebra shakes off the adrenaline rush and moves on. No extra stress necessary.

For many years I’ve known that most actions are relatively easy to perform, the stress we experience comes from the story we wrap around the action. There’s a full range of stress stories, from “I can’t do it” to “I have to be…” The it-has-to-be-done-now story is pervasive. At some point in my youth I got it into my human head that faster was better. It’s not a good story since it requires the lion to be on your heels all the time. Watch people sitting in a traffic jam: the story of stuckness has otherwise rational people red-faced and pounding on their steering wheels. The I-have-to-be-there-now story is a recipe for never being present. Running, running, running. Lion on your tail.

Zebra.

When I moved in Kerri cautioned me that the to-do list would never be done. We live in an old house and, like an old body, extra care and patience is required. It’s been quite a transition. This house has become my teacher. It’s in my nature to get-things-done. True confession: If I start a project, I become myopic until it’s finished. All my life, after starting a painting, I lay awake at night rolling the possibilities over and over in my mind until the final brush stroke hits the canvas.

This old house has taught me to let go of my story of need-to-finish. It’s softened the edges of my Puritan work ethic. I’ve grown to appreciate having to tighten the handle on the backdoor once a week. Some day we’ll get to putting knobs on the kitchen cabinets. I’ve come to appreciate jiggling the burner to make the stove work. Our monthly puddle-prevention-thaw of the freezer is part of the rhythm of our lives.

Zebra. No resistance. It’ll get done when it gets done.

Life is infinitely better without an imaginary lion on my heels. It makes me wonder why I spent so much of my life creating stress for myself. I’ll save my stress for the real lions and you can bet when one of those appear, I’ll tell you about it. Again and again. I’m a human after all. Half the fun of being human is telling the tale so I want to make certain my tale, if I’m going to perpetuate my stress, has bonafide lions snapping at my hooves.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE REFRIGERATOR

i didn’t know/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Consider The Brushes [on KS Friday]

As an artist, I have fondness for brushes. I’ve been known to disappear into an art store and lose significant amounts of time in the brush aisle. I rarely buy them – I am notoriously hard on my brushes and wait until they fall apart to replace them – but when I replace them I feel as if I just hit the lotto or found a buried treasure in the art store.

I cut my hair to make my first brush. It was mostly useless and left strands of my hair in the painting. It was the essential need for a brush that clued me in to my life path. I didn’t want it; I needed it.

Lately I found myself wandering through a strange and alien world: the Ulta store, followed by an eye-opening trip into Sephora. Despite the ubiquitous advertising, the fact that I live in this society, how is it possible that I had no idea of the nuance layers of soaps and cremes and removers and buffers and…brushes. Beautiful brushes. As Stephanie once famously exclaimed of me, “You are a man after all!”

Clueless.

I was, of course, fascinated by the brushes. Not just the brushes, but the need to have the right brush. Buffers and liners, fans and foundation and shadow brushes! I am a painter of people, I paint the image of faces, and was fascinated watching the painters of actual faces consider and choose their tools. The right brush. Blush, smooth, hard line.

I cannot count the number of times people have told me that they are not creative, that they do not have a creative bone in their bodies. Standing in the alien land, watching the painters carefully choose their brushes, I wondered how so much creative energy, so much enthusiasm for the right color, the right medium, the best brush, goes unrecognized.

This alien land was pulsing with imagination, desire for the right tool, and the drive to share and help and create. There was a generosity of spirit rarely found on the other side of the doors. Women helping women. Laughter and advice. I liked being in this strange land of strange brushes and kindness – even as an outsider. A stranger. I found a breath of fresh air (perfumed as it was) while following my guides through the brush aisle.

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

read Kerri’s blog post about BRUSHES

grateful/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Look Up. Look Higher. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about anything.” ~ Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

This will read like a blazing generality and I do not intend it to be so. Some of the best people I have known are readers of the book(s). They learned along the line to read their book(s) as metaphor instead of literally, as a history. There are, after all, many paths up the same mountain.

As for me, I was cured of religion when I was a boy but it’s taken a lifetime to understand what and why – and to find language to express what should (to me) be obvious to all.

It only takes a moment to lift your eyes from the book and look up – all the way up to the sky. The book is a human invention, as are the gods and the stories of the gods told in them. The sky, on the other hand, complete with stars and suns and universes beyond imagining, are not human inventions. The book lives in the human mind. That which the book is meant to illuminate is…wholeness…all around us. We are part of, not separate from. That’s it. It’s that simple. The game of separation and unity.

We are part of, not separate from. This word “Love” is unity, the absence of made-up-separations.

The book will have you believing that your body and its myriad of impulses are, like nature, in need of taming. Separation from yourself. The book will promote the notion of a chosen few, the singular path, a destiny that is manifest. Separation from other. Elevation for team-white. Moral authority for team-straight. It’s probably good to feel above others and certainly feels powerful to believe yourself keeper of the book’s rules. Isn’t it blatantly obvious that the rules were/are made by men to justify, as-the-voice-of-god, all manner of privilege and cruelty? Separation, separation, separation.

Here’s what I understood as a boy: any god that promotes separation in any form is very small, indeed, and probably not worth worshipping. At the very least it is a man-made god meant to make folks feel better about their obvious impermanence in an infinite universe.

There’s so much in this life worthy of our worship.

Whether or not we walk as one or decide to beat the hell out of each other for the color of our skin or the natural orientation of our sexuality has nothing to do with the vast universe outside of the book. We create the separations to justify our fear or to protect our property.

We are completely capable of love. We are completely capable of reaching across the unknown and living our short time on this earth in full support of the rich myriad of wonder and diversity expressed through us in this infinite possibility called life.

The book is an abstraction. The person standing before you is not.

Love is love. Love is not separation or division or privilege or a skin color or gender or sexual orientation. Love has nothing to do with how much money you have or do not have. Separations are the province of small people inventing small gods for very small reasons – so they can feel good about being separate and small.

Love is love.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PRIDE

Stand Still [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The understanding of what you actually are is far more important than the pursuit of what you should be.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

I wrinkled my brow the first time I heard Kerri say it: “We don’t change. We just become more of who we already are.” I didn’t like it. I wanted to pop the notion with pithy ideas of transformation. Something made me hold my tongue. “Consider it,” I said to myself.

Now, a full decade into the latest phase of my life-long-onion-peel, I see the wisdom in her words. The layers of protection, the suits of armor, the wall of respect, the race from shame, the measuring sticks and self-inflicted-social-expectations stripping away. Trying-to-be falls to the floor like a robe. The story-husks and fear-shells and false skins, false faces, false labels and roles and masks falling to the forest floor.

And, there you are. Just as you are. Naked and vulnerable and oh, so passingly human. Standing still. No ghosts to chase. No monsters chasing you.

And, there you are.

No distance between you and what you desire to create or experience. Finger painting. A child with a crayon and an empty wall for scribbles.

Kerri looks for hearts. She finds rocks shaped like hearts and leaves, heart-impressions in walls and heart-shaped clouds. Each one is a first-and-only and evokes delight. Last week on the trail, it occurred to me that she finds them everywhere, not because she looks for them, but because she expects to see them.

Seeing old friends. There you are.

read Kerri’s blog post about the HEART LEAF

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