Be Stone And Fire [on KS Friday]

We lit this candle for Linda. Her service was last Friday and out of our reach so we honored her in our way, fire and stone. And, we told stories.

“Find the people who are exactly who they say they are.” Wise advice from a long ago friend. “They are rare and worth more than gold.” With Linda, what you saw was what you got. She was genuine and unmasked. If she told you that she liked your work, you knew it wasn’t merely a feel-good compliment. She meant it. They same rule followed if she didn’t like something. She meant it. No games. No power plays. No illusions. No wasted time. She never left you pondering what she might have intended or wanted to say. With Linda, no shovel was required to mine for her meaning. You knew.

That kind of unvarnished communication was polished by her optimism, her unshakable belief in the goodness of people. If she left you no doubt about what she meant, she also left no doubt that her intention was to help. She was a lifter of spirits, an elevator of souls.

She was the kind of leader that people write about but very rarely encounter. As Tom Mck would say, “She led from the back of the pack.” If there was work to be done or meals to be made, she was in the kitchen chopping or carrying boxes or bags or trash to the dumpster. She’d cook it. She’d clean it. She’d organize it. She’d make it happen.

The ship was so steady while in her charge that we mistakenly thought the ship was solidly built. It was not. It was steady because she was steering. No illusions, no games, no power plays. Calm seas or rough waters, a ship fares well when the guidance, the guider, is authentic and unencumbered.

Linda has passed. No wasted time. Lots of people fed, literally and metaphorically. An example to emulate. Stone and fire.

Long ago Linda asked Kerri to sing at her funeral. That was not possible. So, this is for Linda.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LINDA

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

hate to say goodbye/blueprint for my soul © 1996 kerri sherwood

Make A Savory Day [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I only believe in pleasures.” ~ Ira Glass

Among other things, covid has been a great disruptor of our patterns. Our life today barely resembles the life we knew two looooong years ago. Yesterday, while driving through the farmlands en route to buy a loaf of bread at Simple Bakery in Lake Geneva, Kerri said, “It’s all so weird.”

Among our new patterns is more appreciation of our time. We are less willing to stuff our day with things to do, rather, we’ve established a slower rhythm and points during the day to stop, sit together, and savor the events of the day. It began at the onset of the pandemic with our covid-table in the sunroom. A place to sit and watch the sunset at days end. Soon, there were snacks. And then a glass of wine. It became a ritual. Now, there is nothing more important in our day than to meet at our table. Talk. We call friends and family from the table. Dogga leads the way. He meets us there, positioned just behind our chairs with his bone or a few mauled toys. Sometimes we sit for hours – far beyond sunset. We eat our meals there.

We’ve also established patterns of anticipation within our patterns. My favorite, the silliest but most effective, is french fries for snack. There’s nothing more satisfying on a cold winter evening, than hot salty french fries. We make sure that it’s not a common, every night affair. We save it for the tough days or as a surprise. “Is it french fry night?” Kerri hops and claps in anticipation when she notices that the oven is preheating. Yes. Oh, yes.

The new pattern, of course, is not the table or the fries. It’s the decision to make moments special. We decided amidst the pandemic, the broken wrists, the job losses, the civil unrest, the loss of family and friends, to make lemonade from this time of abundant lemons. We decided to accent the pleasures. To walk slower. To meet our days, not with a list of things-to-do, but with the intention of making a most savory day from the ingredients found in our pantry.

Pattern disruption. Within the hard breakdown of the known, the loss of the comfortable, we are fortunate. Many times, sitting in our sunroom, the happy-lights reflecting in the windows, Dogga quietly behind us chewing his bone, Kerri says, “I love this space.” I nod my head. Me, too. The literal and the metaphoric.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FRENCH FRIES!!!!

Find The Treasure [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Every so often in the grocery store I am struck by how many people are involved in making sure I – we – have food to eat. Pick any item from the shelf and work backwards. It was carried, priced, stocked, delivered, warehoused, produced, picked, manufactured, marketed, accounted, inventoried, scheduled. Imagined. And, I wonder, how many of the hundreds of people involved realized that their labor makes my life – our lives – better?

Sitting in front of my computer yesterday I was swirling in a thought-eddy. Attempting to map a workflow, the mechanics of a process, I was befuddled. There were too many variables. As is my practice when perplexed, I stood up and walked away. Halfway down the stairs my mind jigged. I re-remembered that the only thing that mattered in my silly map was the desire to make someone’s life better, someone I would never meet. I realized (again) that I didn’t need to figure it out. I shouldn’t figure it out. There was and is no single answer. Too many variables simply means I cannot know – but I can intend. I will “know” how it all works after the fact. I know that, if I keep focused on my north star, making a life better, then, at this phase, that is all I need to know. It’s an unbeatable criteria for clarifying what to do.

“Do you think someone found our buttons?” she asked. “Do you think they liked them?” On our last hike in North Carolina, she left a small sack of Be-Kind buttons in the knot of a tree. “I wonder who found them,” she giggled.

A small treasure left in the knot of a tree. A sack of potatoes found in the grocery store. Kindness. We get snarky when we divorce our actions – even the smallest action – from the very thing that makes them matter. We get lost when we forget how deeply interrelated are our every action and thought. Cause and effect, as Alan Watts wrote, are not sequential but simultaneous. If you think your actions do not matter or have no purpose, think again. If you think it does not matter how you treat others or that bottom lines are more potent than people, think again. It’s the miracle of a circle or a cycle: where does it begin? Where does it end?

read Kerri’s blogpost about BUTTONS IN A TREE

Wash And Wonder [on DR Thursday]

I actually like washing dishes. It gives me a sense of completion. Rarely do I finish a day of work with anything that resembles closure or accomplishment. Doing the dishes satisfies my western goal oriented needs. Ask me what I achieved today and I will proudly respond, “The dishes.”

While washing and rinsing the plates and pots I have a terrific view into the back yard. It’s like having a big screen tv into our teeming-with-life sanctuary. The squirrels and Dogga have a game (Dogga does not know that it is a game), the cardinals visit the pond, the rabbits and foxes and the occasional turkey, hawk or owl excite the noisy crows. The chipmunks are masterful ninjas finding ways to access the bird feeders and make off with pouches full of seed.

Sometimes, the window – the actual glass – becomes more interesting than the games unfolding beyond it. During a storm, in the winter cold, crystals form and migrate across its surface. It’s a giant kaleidoscope, especially as the string of lights stretching across the yard pop on. It’s enough to make me pause my dish washing fervor and stare in amazement. Window-wonder satisfies my eastern presence desires. Ask me to what I gave my full attention and I will smile and respond, “The window.”

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WINDOW

joy © 2014 david robinson

Say Her Name [on Two Artists Tuesday]

From the six-month-email-conversation that led to our first meeting, we compiled and edited a play – in the spirit of Love Letters – that we call The Roadtrip. We took the script through a workshop process, read it a few times for invited audiences, produced a soundtrack, approached a few venues…and then left it. Someday, perhaps, we’ll pull it off the shelf, dust it off, and realize it through performance.

Occasionally I open the script and read a section or two. It’s fun to read because it’s not an invention, not a fiction, it’s our actual coming-together story, edited for length and arranged according to themes. I visit my two favorite sections. The first is Kerri’s story of The Little Pillow (a story she must tell) and the second is our exchange the night we realized that we shared the same middle name. It was priceless. I vividly remember where I was the night I read her email-middle-name-confession – and asking if I had a middle name. My jaw dropped. I laughed heartily. And then I carefully crafted a too-long response finally landing on the surprise. Erle and Earl.

The coffee cup that later arrived in the mail, emblazoned with multiples of D.Dot Earl to match her K.Dot Erle twin cup, firmly established our monikers for each other. Over time we’ve condensed our names to K.Dot & D.Dot.

The crew that arrived this week to put in the temporary slab of sidewalk for the chunk we lost during the great-water-main-trenching-day, suggested that we sign our slab. It will come out in the spring when it’s warm enough to pour the real thing. We grabbed a screwdriver and happily scribbled our names in the wet cement.. As I stepped back to admire our scribble, I was struck by the names we scribed. K.Dot + D.Dot. Kerri and David, those two people who wrote to each other so many years ago, are transformed. Rebranded. It feels funny in my mouth to say, “Kerri.” I never do unless talking about her to someone who’s not familiar with the transformation.

We still write everyday only now we’re not 1500 miles apart. And we’ve finally met. And married. We sit together, side-by-side. And when the tap-tap-tapping stops, I say, “K.Dot, will you read what I wrote?”

read Kerri’s blogpost about NAMES

See The Adventure [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Let the adventure begin. We put the sign on the table when we moved into the little house on Washington Island. Our new job came with housing and we couldn’t have been more fortunate. Even as the job turned into a debacle, the little house grew in our hearts. It was – and is – a very special place. A few years down the road, we never give thought-space to the work-fiasco. We reminisce about the beautiful place we lived, the good people we met, starry nights, mornings in the canoe, the deer, the power of the lake right outside our door.

A few moments ago I was feeling anxious and was complaining – and realized that I have no business complaining about anything. I stopped myself. Adventures are hard. That’s what makes the experience an adventure. When people lack challenges, they create them. Jigsaw puzzles and computer games. I complain when standing on the threshold of learning something new. My complaining – as I realized a few moments ago – runs amok when I don’t know what to do. It marks the line between the fat-comfort of knowing and the utter-discomfort of not-knowing. Complaining provides cover. I expose my obvious not-knowing; I preempt the shame-strike by complaining. The moment I disallowed complaining, I once again saw the adventure. My anxiety dissipated. The adventure is a jigsaw puzzle all akimbo in the box. I’ll figure it out one piece at a time. Or not. The end result is not nearly as important as the spirit in which I bring to the task. To the moment. To my life.

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi studied, thought, and wrote extensively about flow. The optimal state of being. I’ve often wished I could invite Mihaly and Alan Watts to dinner and listen to their conversation. The psychologist and the Taoist conversing about flow, that magic space that opens when the path is hard, but not too hard, when boredom is no where in sight. The exercise, when either bored or overwhelmed, is to adjust my orientation to the challenge. Amp it up or slow it down. The zone is self-modulated, rarely an accident, which becomes apparent once the complaining stops. The knowledge that I can place myself in the zone is the spirit I hope to bring to every task for the rest of my days. It’s the practice. It is to see and choose the adventure.

Let the adventure begin. The sign now sits on our table in the sunroom where we meet at the end of each day and tell the stories of our day. While I tell my tale, I see the adventure sign, mostly in reflection, the message reversed. Each day an adventure if I choose to see it. Each day an opportunity for flow if I choose to own and modulate my steps, and place myself in flow.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ADVENTURE

Look Down [on DR Thursday]

To all the rugged individualists out there living under the grand illusion that you are blazing a new trail, I have only one thing to say: look down. Someone has been there before you. It’s why there’s a path. And, more to the point, someone – a crew of someones – worked very hard to make and maintain the trail you now tread. It’s true in the forest. It’s true in the big-bad city. Every time we flick a switch and the lights come on it might not be a bad idea to recognize how many people were – and are – involved in the maintenance of our comfort and our self-reliance-fantasies.

On the Pink Bed trail there’s a boardwalk that elevates hikers over the swampy sections. I stopped in utter admiration at the section that took a hard left. Someone – a crew of someones – spent a long time making my corner not only easy to walk but beautiful. Certainly there are more efficient ways to build a turn in a boardwalk and they could have chosen any number of simpler solutions but they didn’t. They took the time to make their work functional, sturdy, AND aesthetic.

Daniel was building a house on the lake. He only builds one a year these days, mostly for fun. He invited us in. Far from being finished, the craftsmanship was exposed. The joints were meticulous. The lumber he chose was solid. The materials mattered. There was beauty in the structure and he was proud to point out the love taken in every step, even the roughest stage of the build. The eventual buyers would never see or know the care alive behind the drywall. They might never fathom the depth of effort and design involved in making their comfort – their triumphant lake home – a possibility.

Horatio and I talk often of the deep philosophical divide in these un-united-united-states. The every-man/woman-for-him/herself camp is at odds with the I-am-my-brother/sisters-keeper folks. I understand the appeal of the self-made-man/woman story but I also recognize it to be mostly a fantasy. Sir Edmund Hillary understood that standing atop Everest, celebrated as the first, was only made possible by the efforts of hundreds of Sherpa, months of expedition planning by John Hunt and team, financing, travel arrangements, government officials, 8 previous unsuccessful expeditions, and the good graces and guidance of Tensing Norgay.

We’d be better off if periodically we stopped and simply looked down.

read Kerri’s blog post about the BOARDWALK

prayer of opposites © 2003-4 david robinson

Choose How [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My friend’s children are having children. The top-of-the-list advice my friends offer their children, now parents themselves, is this: it goes so fast. Appreciate every single moment. Love every phase. You will blink your eye and they will be grown and gone.

I lost my dad in September. I have, like most people who’ve lost a loved one, spent much of the time since his passing remembering and reflecting. It’s a mixed bag of treasuring moments and wondering why I didn’t fully appreciate others. It is true, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

What is so hard about appreciating – fully appreciating – the limited moments of your life?

I used to facilitate an exercise. It had four phases. Working in small groups, the first phase was to have a group member identify a problem in their life and then tell a blame-story about the problem. The rest of the group helped by supporting the person in their story of blame. The groups howled with laughter. Blame is fun. It’s addictive, like sugar.

In the second phase, the groups tried to “fix” the problem. The serious, concerned faces puzzled possible fixes but inevitably dissolved into more laughter: there’s nothing like trying fix a problem to create more problems and loop back into a juicy blame story.

Phase three was simple: I asked the original problem-story-teller to retell their story as a story of choice, not blame. I asked the other members of the group to support the teller in their story of choice. Silence ensued. And then, quiet presence as the new narrative – the story of choice – slowly inhabited the room.

Blame stories are like too much candy. They are easy to eat and yet have no real sustenance.
Stories of choice are much harder to tell but they are rich in awareness and appreciation of the moment.

We never arrived at the fourth phase: stories of opportunity. Activating choice. The notion of taking responsibility for choices always stopped the exploration. Our conversations about choice-avoidance usually filled the time.

What we gain in blame, we lose in appreciation of our moments. In order to taste the moment, one must first choose to be in it – and then choose how to be in it.

Grief is a phase to be loved, not avoided. As is the celebration of a first birthday. A new life. A lost love. A full spectrum. Taste every moment.

read Kerri’s blog post about MOMENTS

Get Lost [on DR Thursday]

“A person who never made a mistake never tried something new.” ~ Albert Einstein

Recently, I revisited Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity. Among his many points, the central idea was simple and clear: we reinforce knowing answers instead of the pursuit of the question. We reinforce “being right” when the beating heart of learning, the vibrant center of creativity, the foundation of scientific process, is to try-and-see-what-happens. To be “prepared to fail,” as he said, is to remove failure from the equation. A curious mind seeks discovery, not “rightness.” An experiment is meant to test a hypothesis not immediately arrive at the answer.

When Kerri and I stepped onto the trail, new to us, the signage was more than confusing. “It’s a loop,” I said, “What’s the worst that could happen?” We chose the orange trail and started walking. We followed the blazes rather than the signs. A storm or drunken ranger must have erected the signs because they were often out of alignment with the blazes. “If we followed that sign, we’d be in the creek,” Kerri said.

Early on in our hike, a man came crashing out of the woods. “Is this the trail?” he asked. “I think I’m bushwhacking,” he said. This man, I suspect, followed the signs. He was having a great time but was somewhat relieved to be back on the beaten path. He was the first of many. A woman stopped us. She and her husband were having a disagreement about which trail they were taking. “Is this the long or short loop?” she asked. We shrugged, a shadow of concern creeping up in the back of our minds.

There was supposed to be a waterfall somewhere on the trail. We asked more than a few people as we passed and received a marvel of contradictory instructions. “There’s a side path on the left.” “Somewhere ahead you’ll see a side trail on the right.” We took option B and had a lovely trek up the mountain but turned back when it became apparent that our choice did not include the waterfall. “Next time,” we said. It was late in the afternoon and we wanted to be back at the car before sunset.

With tired legs and lack of trust in the signage, we came to a trail crossroads. Orange went in three different directions. The sign that pointed the way to the parking lot did not inspire confidence but we followed it anyway. We passed an older couple, local hikers, that assured us we were on the right path. A couple crashed out of the woods, having lost the trail but were equipped with a GPS app: we were definitely headed in the right direction but had more than a mile to go to get back to the car.

“It does not feel good to feel lost,” we agreed. “Especially when the light is waning.”

Arriving back at the car, breathing a sigh of relief. “That was fun!” we laughed. “And stressful at the end.” We were never actually lost but we were successful at filling ourselves with doubt. We were grateful for the older couple that reassured us, the lost couple with the GPS that broke out of the woods exactly when we needed them.

And, we learned a lesson. Next time we’ll take the time to study the map. And, we’ll be equipped with a better app. Our lostness was always in our minds, in our doubt. The next time we lose ourselves in second guessing – and it is certain to happen – we’ll be better equipped to handle our self-imposed-disorientation.

In the meantime, we’re already whipping it up into a great survival story. I didn’t mention the bears or starting fire with flint and steel. Building a survival shelter from twigs. That version, the real story of our heroic adventure, is certain to come soon. Lostness, it seems, stimulates fabulous creativity.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAIN

Story A Romance [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

The town was mostly deserted. The streets alive with the light of christmas, almost past. The brink of the moment after. The birth of a memory. We strolled the empty streets. We took our time peering at window displays and pressing our faces to the glass to look at the old-time soda fountain. It was quiet. The night was warm. There was, at that moment, no one else on earth.

“It’s like a Hallmark movie,” she said.

“No, it’s like the set of a Hallmark movie. All the actors have gone home.”

My comment made me smile. Walking down the empty streets, alight and sparkling, perhaps we were the actors on this set. It was our scene to play. The actors had not gone home. The actors had just arrived on set. It was ours to make special, comic or tragic.

Actors on a set. Everyday. Somedays, it is more apparent than others.

“Everyone is just making it up,” Quinn used to say and laugh. Just so. We held hands and decided our story was – is – a romance. We couldn’t have chosen a better set.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE TOWN