Wink With Piet [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My first thought was of Piet Mondrian. Not the colorful compositions but a never-before-seen shadow side. Abstract reduction into simple geometry. An artistic vocabulary concerned with spirituality and universal values. I used to ponder how a utopian pursuit of the spiritual landed on clean hard geometry; bold primary colors set inside hard black lines. I’m certain that, given a similar pursuit, my visual vocabulary would have been softer. Ethereal.

It was the first snow. I looked down at the aging planks of the bench. A criss-cross-apple-sauce of workmanship dusted with white. We’ve never painted the loveseat. After so many years, so many winters and summers, rain and snow and sun, the grain of the wood is alive with texture. An aged face.

One of my favorite rituals of spring is the first sitting. After another freezing winter, another year of age, will the wood continue to hold my weight, our weight? We hold hands and sit slowly, gingerly. Our knees creak before our weight finds the planks. Like a baton pass, the wood takes on the groaning as our knees pass our load to the seat. We sit for a moment with eyes open wide. And then, after a slight bounce-test, we relax. The wood will hold. Our loveseat is like a faithful friend.

The snow melted as fast as it arrived. That is the way of first snow. Blink and you’ll miss it. Except for the love seat and matching chair, we hauled all the other summer furniture into the garage. The table and umbrella. The small ladders that serve as end tables. The fire pit. The first dusting of snow is the cue. The pond freezes so we pull the pump and fountain. Soon, we’ll stack the plastic Adirondack chairs and they’ll take the last available spot in our tiny garage. We push the loveseat to the wall beneath the kitchen window.

We stand on the deck and sigh, feeling the weight of coming winter. The dark days. For a moment, the yard seems bleak. But then, the birds land on the wire. The squirrel highway is open for business. We hear the ancient croak of the cranes in the distance. A cold gust brings a blizzard of falling leaves. A wholly different kind of abundance. The energy moves underground. A time for sleeping and quiet rejuvenation.

Simple geometry. Reduction to cold days and hard lines. Brilliant blue sky. A wink from Piet Mondrian.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE DECK

Cross The County Line [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Drive west from our house near the lake for a few miles and you’ll come to the interstate freeway that runs north to Milwaukee and south to Chicago. Cross under the freeway, continuing west and you enter what we call “the county.” Rich farmland. The freeway serves as a dividing line from urban to rural.

Sometimes it feels like crossing the line into another culture. Blue to red. The county redness puzzles me but that’s a topic for another post. We drive into the foreign culture with the same curiosity we might bring to Tunisia or India. “I wonder what they see…” is a common refrain.

Sometimes crossing the freeway line feels like an escape into open space and a breath of fresh air. Once upon a time we took Sunday drives; the point was to go get lost in the county. “Left or right?” Kerri would ask. Both choices leading to the unknown.

We are avid freeway avoiders. It doesn’t bother us to take extra time traveling to Chicago or Milwaukee on the backroads. Less aggression. We relax and enjoy the ride. Often, especially during rush hour, our backroads travel proves faster than the traffic jam.

Last week, en route to the hand specialist in Milwaukee, we traveled our usual backroad path, winding through the county. There was no snow at our house when we left. We crossed the freeway into another landscape, blanketed with white. It was as if we crossed the line into another season. We entered an alternate reality.

“That’s so odd,” I said.

“No,” Kerri replied. “That’s the county.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE COUNTY

Face The Sun [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Brilliant yellow leaves are raining down in our backyard. The pond is disappearing beneath the blanket and although the little fountain has been knocked off center, it refuses to relinquish its duty. November. The temperatures are dropping like a stone.

We were awake deep into the night. We’d given up on sleep. We’d already indulged in a snack and were about to watch a PCT hiking video when we heard the owl. Our neighbor, John, told us it was back but we hadn’t yet heard it. At first, we thought we imagined the quiet who-whoo. Kerri opened the window. Cold air and clear hoots poured in. An old friend returned. We wanted to jump up and dance and clap but refrained. Sometimes quiet revelry is best.

We came around the bend in the trail we’ve come to know so well. The shady parts were cold and the sunny bits felt divine. Warmth to the bone, the kind you drink in through your face and the palms of your hands. Emerging from a shady bend we turned toward the sun when the dandelion caught us off guard. Seasonal confusion? Or, perhaps, dandy-outlier? How on earth was this splash of summer-yellow shining in the late autumn chill?

Kerri knelt to capture the intrepid weed. I thought about her Fistful of Dandelions, a song to warm a mother’s heart. This rebellious single flower was, like me, turning its full face to the sun. A kindred spirit. A weed to warm my hiker’s heart. A spirit-lift in a time of too much darkness.

I’m given to metaphor so decided this hopeful weed with deep, deep roots, was, like the owl, sending me a message. An old friend returned. Offering encouragement. Chin up. Face to the sun. Anything is possible. Optimism need not flee with the onset of cold.

read Kerri’s blogpost about the DANDELION

Sit In The Megaphone [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It was like crawling into a time capsule. The nature megaphone was where we remembered it. The wood weathered into light grey, we crawled inside as we once so often did.

There was a time that we walked this trail several times a week. In winter, we strapped on snowshoes and huffed our way around the green trail. Bristol Wood. It sounds like a place of elves and fairies, a place Shakespeare might set a comedy. We regularly left the difficulties of our day and disappeared into it, emerging after an hour or two refreshed.

The megaphone served as a resting spot on the trail. Like little kids in a fort, we’d crawl inside and soak up the sun. Often we’d pass a small bottle of wine and snack on broken chips from a ziplock bag. Sometimes we’d talk. Mostly we listened, closed our eyes, felt the warmth of the day.

We stopped going to Bristol Wood when the county contracted with an adventure company to build an extensive ropes course in the center of the woods. Suddenly, our sanctuary was transformed into an amusement park. That was 3 or 4 years ago.

On a lark, we drove to Bristol. It was an unseasonably sunny day, mid-week, the ropes course closed until the weekend. No one was there. We tied on our boots and stepped into the woods. We went back in time, our feet shushing through the leaves.

Our bodies knew the trail, pulled along by remembrance, we smiled at the familiar trees. Old friends. At one point we stood silent and still on the trail as the autumn leaves rained down. It seemed that Bristol was happy to see us, too.

And, then, we came upon the megaphone. “It’s still here,” she said, crawling inside. I followed, nestling into the sun, feet planted firmly on the curving side wall.

“I could fall asleep,” I said, knowing we might be risking a Rip-Van-Winkle. A deep and dreamless sleep. If we slept for a hundred years, I wondered what world we’d step back into?

As if she read my mind, she snuggled into the megaphone and said, “This world is so different than the one we knew the last time we sat in here.” True. Too true.

Our time capsule. Nature’s megaphone.

read Kerri’s blogpost about the MEGAPHONE

Re-Invert [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Three snakes crossed our path. A sign, some would say, that the world is about to go upside-down. Topsy-turvy. Of note: Topsy-Turvy is a brewery in Lake Geneva and also a movie about Gilbert and Sullivan. Also of note: our world flipped over a few days after the snakes-on-the-path.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when things are upside-down. Inversion need not be dramatic or accompanied by a marching band. It can be a slow process. A multitude of weirdness piles up. Also, we live in “interesting times” so upside-down is not so easy to spot because, mostly, our national-world-order is already on its noggin.

Sitting at our kitchen table late at night, we had a hysterical conversation with Rob about panic. The inner-voice of reason advising calm while you thrash around making things worse. Even though relaxing-amidst-the-tangle is the only way to extract yourself, every muscle in your body flails. Panic eats reason for lunch.

As the blood rushes to our brains and we realize that the leaves ought to point in the other direction, we diligently go out on the trail to entice a different number of snakes to cross our path – or perhaps a nice deer or two. We happily entertain the possibility of another sign or symbol, something to foreshadow the righting of the upended ship. Feet on the ground. Blue sky above.

In the meantime, there’s a brewery in Lake Geneva. A movie about Gilbert and Sullivan.

read Kerri’s blogpost about Topsy-Turvy

Send The Cash [on Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

Evidently, we’ve made it to the swanky-wine-promotion-(scam)-list. This came as a text. No words. At first, we treated it as a mystery. A quick Google of the bottle reveals this wine is more expensive than both of our cars combined. “Ooooh, Maybe this is a heads-up! Maybe They’re sending us a bottle!” I suggested.

“Maybe we should call them and tell them to keep the bottle and just send the cash,” Kerri replied.

Victor is Betsy Ade’s manager. He recently posted an attempted scam. Someone wanted to hire Betsy to do a show. They needed to pay with a check and also needed to make it out for a larger amount (insert ridiculous scenario) and requested that Victor return the difference. In the scam world, it’s an old saw. You may or may not be amazed at how many people have reached out to buy paintings but, since they were sailing in the North Atlantic on a scientific expedition, needed to send a too-large-amount-check. After deposit, would it be possible to return the difference?

I’ve thought of papering my bathroom with the schemes, a hall-of-fame for imagination gone bad. To do it, I’d have to print the emails and photos, including the bottle of wine – but I want my paper to be used for worthier causes so I’ve rejected the idea. Plus, the ink would fade over time. I’m having enough trouble with my eyes as it is and don’t want my future self to have to squint to have a chuckle.

“Don’t they know that we’re incapable of enjoying a bottle of wine that costs that much?”

“Yes. We’re goats,” I agreed. “We’d never be able to discern the difference between our wine and this bottle. But, maybe that guy in the North Atlantic would be interested!”

read Kerri’s blogpost about WINE

Be With [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

We attended the funeral rites via Zoom. It was moving. Intimate. We felt grateful to be included.

Kerri attempted to keep the ukulele band going. There was a delay in the signal so the group played gloriously out of sync, our rehearsals a hysterical cacophony. In the end it didn’t matter because we met each week and shared stories. We asked the most important question: how are you doing?

We Zoomed with friends across the country. The screen between us punctuated the distance, exaggerated the separation.

The pandemic put a new twist on the word “presence.” How do we – how did we – remain present for each other, with each other, when distancing was one of the few routes available to slow the spread of the virus? We learned both the expanse and limits of technology, sometimes giving us communication but not always the capacity for presence.

It certainly made us more intentional. Presence required scheduling time. Presence required confronting the line of can-this-be-in-person-or-not. It made us slow down and question. In the early days of Covid, Kerri and I had a heated debate en route to Colorado to see my parents: do we wear masks or not? After a few moments the masks came off. We needed to be present. Fully.

“Presence” and “going slow” hold hands. One cannot walk without the other. A slow walk will invite presence. An intention to be more present invites slowing down.

When I returned from Bali I was different. Changed. I understood the necessity of going slow, of being in my life rather than racing through it.

The pandemic years have been equally as profound. Like everyone, we lost jobs, lost identities, lost connections, lost security. Every possible pattern of life was disrupted. Isolation brought a new level, a different understanding of going slow. A two-dimensional and three-dimensional understanding of presence.

We are emerging as different people. I feel it. I can see it. I cannot place words on how we are different. I simply know that we are not in such a hurry anymore. We are much more intentional. We draw deeper lines in the sand.

There are people we want to see. There are people we need to see, beyond a Zoom or a phone call. To sit in the same room, laugh. To hold hands. To go slow. To be “with.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about GOING SLOW

Lose The Plan [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Plans are maps of territories that do not yet exist.

Working in a software start-up, Skip has taught me a new phrase: infinite regress. The next step is determined by the last step and there is both no end to the steps and no way of knowing a destination because there are so many possibilities. Every step is a plot twist. The Plan would go wrong on a daily basis – an hourly basis – if the expectation to follow it was rigid.

In infinite regress there is no arrival. There are decisions. There are choices. The plan is to take another step.

Taking another step is a good plan! Live another day.

Think of the stress reduction if plans were held lightly, in cupped hands. It’s great to have a destination in mind. It’s not so good to step over the treasure-of-the-moment en route to some imagined gain. Some idea of control or fortress-safety.

Today, as an exercise in reality, every step I take I intend to yell, “Plot Twist!” Kerri will quickly put an end to my yelling, so I’ll transform my exercise into a mental experience. I’ll keep it to myself. That’s the plan, anyway. A mental experience. Hey! It’s an infinite regress.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PLOT TWIST.

Renew [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I’m not sure why it hit me with such force. It’s a simple thing. It happens every day. A business fails. This business has been, for years, the place where I catalogued my paintings. Artmoi.com. It is the platform I use to publish my art website. The email notification suggested we export our work. It came with suggestions for other cataloguing options and sites. Generous in their exit. Responsible to their customers. It’s why I signed on in the first place.

I felt it as the end of an era. I wondered if it was the end. It would be a good time to pull it down. Let it go.

For a few years I’ve been writing about my struggles as a visual artist. The time of pandemic has also been the epic of water in our basement, my studio. The subsequent shuffling and reshuffling of boxes and crates and books and clothes and furniture has left my studio filled with our life-stuff. No where to stand. My easel sits above the high water mark.

The disruption came at a good time. I was becoming bored with my paintings. I was becoming disgruntled with the growing stack of paintings. Showing on the web has not proven very useful. I was primed for some productive disarray. And, when it came, it came with a vengeance. Pandemic. Broken wrists. Job loss. Economic free-fall. A curious series of water events; water falling from the ceiling, water rising from the floors, water line breaking through the walls. Water, water, everywhere. Full stop.

I sit on the stairs and look at the easel standing tall above the boxes and bags. There’s a canvas clamped in, ready. Waiting. It looks like an art installation entitled “Wreckage or Relegation?”

In the meantime, I’m drawing cartoons. We write every day. My work remains a thrilling creative challenge and requires full engagement of both sides of my brain. I’m lightly rehearsing for a performance in May. There’s no shortage of creative energy expenditure in our house.

On the trail yesterday, surrounded by flowers at the end of their season, I recognized that the end of Artmoi will become the beginning of renewal. An opportunity for a new site, a next-identity, is an opportunity for new eyes. A new approach. One that is much more appropriate to this chapter of my artist’s life, this season.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HIGHER GROUND

Discover It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

The mist from the falls danced with the sunlight. Waterfall aura. Waterfall halo. We stood in the bands of color and laughed. Full body color tickle.

And then, a hush of utter appreciation. We listened to the chamber music of rushing water over the edge of rock. It was so beautiful there was nothing to be done but to close our eyes. Drink it in. Mist on our faces.

And then, we continued upward. The trail was steep so our steps were slow.

Krishnamurti wrote that, “To find out what is truth there must be great love and a deep awareness of (hu)man’s relationship to all things – which means that one is not concerned for one’s progress and achievements.”

In his book, Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse wrote that for every truth there exists an opposite truth. We humans are largely resistant to grasping both sides of wholeness. We like to be right so we tend to “fix” our half-truth in white-knuckled abstractions. Lost in our minds and paging through our rulebook-for-living, we miss the fullness of our relationship to all that surrounds us.

Standing by the waterfall, slowly climbing the mountain, it was easy to love our relationship to all things. The trail brought quiet to our minds. Each step, moment to moment, a full vibrant discovery of truth.

read Kerri’s blogpost about WATERFALL HALO