Find A Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In the age of Covid, the rules are different. We keep our distance from friends and loved ones. We make rules for engagement. Vaccinations, boosters and negative tests are the requirement for a visit. What was once connective tissue – like an airplane – is now a barrier. A cost/benefit analysis is required before stepping into a terminal. And then, spin the world of rules and boundaries on its axis and this is also true: we find a way. It’s what I appreciate most about people. Will finds way.

A species ends when it can no longer adapt to changes in circumstance.

For weeks we searched for a way to see Craig. To give him his xmas presents. A restaurant that required masks, proof of vaccination, and had a protected outdoor patio provided the necessary ingredients. On a January night, with temperatures dipping into the low 20’s we sat at a table nested between heaters and shared a meal. We exchanged gifts. And, we weren’t the only guests dining on the patio. Other patrons also searched for and found a way.

We loved our meal and our time together. We laughed at the absurdity of the situation. We acknowledged and embraced the necessity of outdoor dining in sub-zero temperatures. We made a story that we’ll tell in years to come. Do you remember when…?

Zoom has become a way. To a point. We’ve learned in this time of pandemic that seeing someone on a screen doesn’t replace seeing them in person. At work we’ve learned that many things can be done through a screen but many generative experiences are slower or inhibited without presence.

Presence.

Energy begets energy; the fire of enthusiastic idea generation is dampened through an app. As Skip said at our end of year meeting, “Nothing replaces breaking bread together. Someday we’ll share a meal.” I look forward to that time, to meeting the incredible people that I see each day through my screen.

We are racking up stories as we adapt to an ever-changing circumstance. To drive rather than fly takes time so we’re learning to take more time. To not rush to arrive. We feel the limits on the distance of our reach. We’re learning the depth of yearning to be-with as opposed to merely-look-at. We’re learning the necessity of boundaries and the health-considerations that come with saying “No.” Mostly, we’re learning the hard line between what’s do-able through a screen, and when we need to consider the ridiculous – and find a way.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEATERS

Laugh With It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Yesterday we celebrated an anniversary. Nine years ago we spoke on the phone for the first time. An offer of a free coaching call changed both of our lives. Kerri said, “Just think, we talked on the phone nine years ago and all hell broke loose.” I laughed. Her comment was, above all things, an understatement. Our road together has been both magical and tumultuous.

This season we are sitting on the cusp of the new. Appropriately, before turning our eyes to what’s-next, we’ve been looking back, sense-making what-was. We’re cleaning out. Making sense of the past is making space for the future. More than once I’ve said to myself, “If I knew then what I know now, I would never have had that problem. Or made that mess. Or tolerated that situation.”

What do I know now that I did not know then? Things are messy. Most of the ogres I fought existed nowhere but in my head. Some did not, but what was true of the imagined variety, the tangible ogres also were not worth fighting. “Take nothing personally” tops the list of “best-advice-ever.” Number two on the list is “Make no assumptions.” People are crappy. I’ve been crappy. People are great. I’ve been great. That’s pretty much true of everyone so a bit of grace and understanding goes a long way.

Burned into the things-I-know-now, way beyond a Facebook platitude, is this: life is as short as this moment so it’s best to appreciate everyone you love in this moment. For us, 2021 was the year of water but also it was a year of loss. Our sweet BabyCat left us quite suddenly. Our dear H passed in the summer. Peter died. We learned that Lance died, too young. My dad passed in September. And Ruby followed not long after. There are so many things I wish I’d said or done for Ruby. There were tug-of-wars that I had with my dad – that ate up months of life – that seem utterly silly to me, now.

The boxes that are coming out of my inner-attic are stuffed with the-need-to-be-right. Justifications. Explanations. Control fantasies. Armor. They are quite heavy and I am relieved to be tossing them into the bin.

I hope I am turning my face to see what Quinn knew and tried to teach me. Relationship is a messy business. No one knows what they are doing. There’s abundant love in all of it and it’s made visible when you choose to laugh with it rather than fight with it. The important stuff is lost or found in the very heart of the mess.

read Kerri’s blog post about MESSY

Catch The Glimmer [on KS Friday]

Barney, the piano that lives in our backyard, nearly had a chandelier suspended above his lid. We thought it would be funny to look out back at night and see Barney all-gussied-up.

We’re not really chandelier people but you’d be amazed at how many pieces of chandelier, separate crystal ornaments, live around our house. It’s as if a chandelier came to visit, had an unfortunate explosion, and the falling pieces conveniently landed near windows or light sources so they might catch and reflect the light. We like the glimmer yet are more subtle than a chandelier.

We finally decided on this year’s christmas tree. In our time together we’ve only had one traditional-looking-tree. Craig forced it on us. He was driving the day we went to the farm to cut a tree and threatened to leave us in the snow if we brought home our first choice. It was…unique. He had his heart set on a scotch pine so we brought it home and named it Satan. That tree had seriously sharp needles and a very bad attitude. On the 26th of December we lassoed Satan, drug him out of the house and down the street, through the snow, to the tree drop-off spot. For months afterward, his needles would jump out of hiding and stick our toes.

This year, our tree is large branch whacked from the aging maple tree by the heavy machinery that dug the moat in our front yard. Kerri saved it from the mulcher. I’m not sure how we got it in the house but we did. DogDog hid in the bedroom during the transition. His courage failed him, as it does when we vacuum or drop a cooking pot, when he saw the monster-branch entering through the front door.

We love our tree. It is, like us, simple and proud in its history. It carries stories. Long ago our children sat on this branch. It shaded Kerri and me the weekend we met and laughed tossing a frisbee in the street. It waved the evening we danced in the front yard. Now, it stands in the house, near the window, wearing a strand of white lights and holding a single ornament. A tin star.

We think it looks happy to be here. We’re certainly happy that it’s here. A different kind of tree. A glimmer, reflecting the many, many years of memories, the symbol of our year of water, and destruction transformed into beauty. What, for us, in this year and this season, could be more appropriate?

read Kerri’s blog post about GLIMMER

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

the lights/the lights: a christmas album © 1996 kerri sherwood

Await The Return [on KS Friday]

This time of year I do a lot of staring into the night sky, pondering vastness. Reflecting on the year. It’s what we’re hard-wired to do as we approach the darkest night of the year. And, along with the darkest night of the year, comes the turning point. The return of light. This fact of earth’s orbit has spawned ritual, religious metaphor, and all manner of contemplation, letting go, setting new intentions, since humans first started, as I did last night, looking into the sky. We feel our smallness looking into the face of starry infinity.

This year there’s a delightful serendipity associated with the solstice. We cross the line from darkest night to return of the light on December 21. On December 22nd, as we creep our way back into light, the James Webb telescope will be launched into space and, when it unfurls and points its lens into other star systems, it will be looking for life on other planets. It will be looking for other beings staring into the night sky who might also be pondering their relationship with the universe. I look at you, you look at me.

We are candle people. We light them all the time for various reasons, marking auspicious occasions or simply to lift our spirits. We bought a menorah this fall. Kerri’s clan is religiously complex and we wanted to celebrate Hanukkah with her cousins. I read a bit since I am fond of finding the roots of rituals. I learned that the menorahs with seven branches, among other things, represent the five visible planets plus the sun and the moon. The rounded shape of the branches represents their trajectories across the sky. We lit the candles each night, singing poorly but with love and conviction the prayers. Connecting with her cousins, connecting with the light and pondering our place in a spinning universe.

Sitting at my desk, upstairs, too long staring at a computer screen, I heard her at the piano. I crept halfway down the stairs not wanting to break the spell. She played a carol, quietly. It’s rare these days that she plays. Broken wrists. Resistant fingers. Bruised heart. Yet, the piano calls. The lighting of the candles, the quiet pondering of “what’s it all about”, has made a crack in the darkness. There is a vast inner universe, too. We shoot telescopes into our selves. I look at you, you look at me. Smiling on the steps, I realized that I am anxiously awaiting the return of the light.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT

Touch Back. Look Forward. [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In stories of impending change, as in life, it is common for the protagonist, before stepping off the edge of the known world, to first turn, reach backward in time, and touch their past. When Tom Mck knew he was en route to leaving this earth, he took me on drives to show me the location of his family ranch, the creek he played in as a boy, the cemetery that held his ancestors. We spent long evenings together as he told me and my tape recorder stories, that, although were meant to be stories of the lost boy, Johnny, they were more accurately stories of the lost boy, Tom. The keeper of the legacy. “I have a promise to keep to Isabelle,” he said of his great grandmother, a woman he never met but knew as intimately as if their lives had crossed. “I have a promise to keep.” We spent many, many days and nights reaching back so that he might have some peace when taking his next step.

I came down from the upstairs office to find Kerri, a dedicated holiday-white-light girl, untangling strings of colored lights. “These were my mom and dad’s” she said with more than a little excitement in her voice. “I’ve put together a strand with bulbs that still light up! I think we should put them on the railing out front.” What could be better, as we turn our eyes to the future than having Beaky and Pa alight at our front door.

Touch back. Look forward. Build a bridge – live a bridge – from one dot to the next.

This morning I dug through Columbus’ record collection. We brought it home with us and, quite suddenly, I wanted to find his holiday albums. I took out our little suitcase record player, and put on the carols of my youth. Julie Andrews. Vic Damone. A Firestone Christmas album sang to us through our breakfast. Columbus filled our house with his good music.

Now, with Beaky and Pa at the front door, Columbus filling up our home with cheer from Christmas past, we relish our touching back. And, I think we’re both ready, as we breathe-in what was, to turn and take a solid step toward what will be.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLORED LIGHTS

See The Dance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.” ~Lao Tzu

We had a hard time choosing the prompt for this day. Traditionally, on Monday, we use a quote, something we’ve heard or come across in the week prior. We had plenty of thought-provoking quotes and appropriate images from which to choose. A few would have inspired rants. We also had a few ready to go that would have required more time than we have this morning to do the thought justice. They were heart-thoughts. And, so, we sat and stared at our screens. We pulled the original choice just before we published our picks for the week. “Let’s wait on this one,” Kerri said, “I feel like I want to give it more time.”

More time. Yes. In a few weeks time, we will cross the four year mark of our Melange. Five days a week. Four years. It’s a significant body of writing. At least to us.

When Kerri offered this image as an option, she said, “Maybe we should write about silence.” The mums bow their head. It is the end of their season. The flower drops and dies but the plant lives on, readying itself through the cold winter for a blossom resurrection in the spring. The buds will appear to be new life and we will celebrate them as a new beginning. The plant will smile at our surface-worship. Life did not disappear with the drooping blossom.

The phone rang last night in the early evening. It was my mom calling, just to chat. We talked of our disbelief that my dad, Columbus, was gone. We talked of her exhaustion and need to be still, like the mum in winter. We talked of the emergence of new friends and, someday, the discovery of a new purpose. All in good time. Good time. She is heroic walking through this chapter of her good time. When energy turns to the root, when it moves to an internal focus, it necessarily feels lonely.

Some things cannot be rushed. Most things, those with the greatest import, cannot be pushed. They must be lived. Experienced. The blossom droops and drops. The plant knows just what to do. It is winter and energy must go to the root – that is precisely why the blossom dropped. The plant is not separate from the season. It’s a dance that only seems to be a movement with two but, in truth, is the motion of one, a push-me-pull-you. The inner focus, hibernation, once recharged, will, someday soon, feel the sun and turn its attention outward. New buds are certain to answer the call.

read Kerri’s blog post about MUMS

Hold A Greater Space [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The sun was setting as we drove away from the memorial service. A celebration of life. We were quiet, lost in our thoughts. “I don’t know if I’ve ever before been to a celebration of life where I LEARNED something about life,” Kerri said. I was thinking the exact same thing. I’d just received a master class on how to live a good life. I just learned about the untenable nature of love.

It was Nancy’s service. Her husband of many years spoke. Her daughters spoke. Her stepchildren sang and read poetry. She was a longtime member of the church so the pastor told stories about her. The service was alive with laughter and with tears. Both. People applauded at the end of the slideshow, a photographic journey of a life that began in 1933.

We are inundated with notions that ‘the good life” should have no pain. It should be above hardship. Nancy’s life did not support that half-narrative. She experienced canyons of loss. As her daughter said, “She could have become hardened and bitter.” But, she didn’t. She didn’t ignore her pain or deny it, she allowed it. It was part of the color of her life. She did as the Buddhists recommend: joyfully participated in the sorrows of the world. She participated. She chose. She decided. She created.

She surrounded herself with flowers and loved her garden. She made her table a magnet for family and friends. She did not sit and complain, she had no time for woe-is-me. She found opportunities to give and engage. Story after story of a woman, even in the heat of cancer, while awaiting the results of the latest scans that would determine the number of days she would have on earth, turned trips to the doctor into opportunities to shop with her daughters. Lunches. Expeditions to a beloved bakery. Create the extraordinary in the simple moment, regardless of the circumstance. We heard again and again these companion phrases, “She chose love.” The pain and the love, “Both belong,” Heidi said.

In an intentional life, one does not negate the other. Tragedy and triumph. Devastation and joy. It’s a decision. Where we focus will determine our experience of life. Nancy stood in her pain and uncertainty; she had every opportunity to become bitter. Instead, she focused on love. She created it. Nurtured it. Grew it. Offered it. She didn’t deny her pain. She held space for it in a greater container.

It was apparent in the laughter evoked in the stories told, it was apparent in the generosity of the service we experienced. This was not a Hallmark movie. It was a celebration of a life of texture, of impossible mountains to climb and of enormous blessings. It was the lesson Nancy lived because it was woven through every story told about her. “It’s what she taught me,” Heidi said, “Both belong.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BOTH BELONG

See The Dance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“You can only push the truth down for so long, and then it bubbles back up.” ~ Cassandra Clare

“Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul.” ~ D.H. Lawrence

Last night we made a fire in the fire pit. We decided to have a pop-up dinner by the fire so we set up our table, lit candles, poured some wine, and brought our dinner out under the stars on a chilly October night. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so we looked at the stars. We wondered if the brightest lights were planets.

There are many, many works of art from a genre in the Middle Ages known as the Dance Macabre. Dance with death. The scary images were meant to remind people of life’s fragility, its passing nature. They were also meant to point out the obvious: we are all united in our final destination. No one is better or worse than any other in the grand scheme of things, in the Dance Macabre. In the Middle Ages, the allegory was meant to suggest it was best to aim your focus at the afterlife. Do good works as an investment in your future or go to the fiery place below.

Were I to paint a series of Dance Macabre images today, my intent would be the exact opposite: aim your eyes at this moment. There is nothing more precious or wonder-full than this moment. If there is a heaven, it is now. And, it will go unnoticed if the dance is not acknowledged. There is no sadder phrase on earth than, “Same-old-same-old.”

According to some cultures, I am now in sacred space. I’m seeing all things relative to my dad’s recent passing. Sitting by the fire, our dinner complete, we talked about his death and my inability lately to invest too much emotional energy in anything. Things that would have upset me a few months ago barely register. I’m watching the usual list of anxieties and worries drop off. Why would I give an ounce of my wonder to something so…small? Perspective is the gift of the dance macabre. Clarity of sight and intention comes with this kind of perspective.

We clinked our glasses, the cold night and the heat from the fire colliding around us under the stars. DogDog slept on the deck, a few feet away. We realized our moment. Fully. Magic was alive, bubbling everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about BUBBLES

Light A Candle [on DR Thursday]

A Double Haiku

Candle on a rock,

His favorite fishing hole.

Observance, our own.

Electric aspen,

Trout slide through glassy water.

Quiet, like his voice.

read Kerri’s blog post about OBSERVANCE

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Honor Yourself [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“There’s a trailhead,” Loida said, “It’s just up the road.” She could see that we needed some quiet time. Some space. Some nature. We dropped our other plans. All errands went out the window. More importantly, all obligations, made-up and otherwise, fell to the wayside. Or, said another way, we honored ourselves, our needs. We ran to the hills like thirsty people running for an oasis.

“Why is that so hard?” Kerri asked. “Why should I feel guilty for taking a few moments for myself?” Later, deep in the night, we’d express intense – not an overstatement – gratitude for having given ourselves a short hike into the foothills. The sun. The deer. The hawk. The cyclist who cried, “Snake!” There were signs warning of rattlesnakes so we walked with caution. We laughed at our imagined-snake-paranoia.

Those few moments allowed us to be present with family when we needed to be present with family. Our short hike refilled our people-gas-tank. Kerri’s question was spot-on. Why is it so hard to do the thing you most need to do? Why is it so hard to put your needs above the demands of others – especially when attending to your needs is the single action that ultimately enables you to attend to the needs of others. To be present with and for others.

We are both introverts. Quiet, not cacophony, recharges the battery.

Kerri gasped, “Look at this!” she knelt and carefully took a photograph of the autumn blossom beside the trail. “This is exactly what I needed,” she sighed. Face to the sun. Awash with an awe-some blossom discovery, we took a moment, a necessary moment, to drink in the beauty and the sage mountain air.

read Kerri’s blog post about AUTUMN BLOSSOM