Make No Mark [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Many generations ago, just after the road was resurfaced, a hearty seagull stepped into the hot asphalt and, doing its best human imitation, left its footprints for posterity.

Everyone wants to leave their mark. A hand print in a cave, a plaque on a bench, an elementary school that carries their name. I was here. I did something worthy with my time. I mattered. I broke a record, amassed a fortune, discovered a cure, left a print in the Hollywood walk of fame.

Once, I painted a beautiful painting and I only know it was beautiful because a woman came to the gallery opening, caught her breath, and wept in front of it. Once, I fulfilled a promise long after it was capable of being fulfilled. Everything changed.

People draw lines in the sand. They take stands. They say, “This matters,” even if, from every other point of view, the scratch in the earth looks insignificant. To cross the line, to betray the mark, is…(fill in your word). My word is untenable.

I mostly wonder what kindness I might be capable of if I was not so concerned with making marks. I wonder what kindness might be afforded me if I were not pressed to step over my lines. What kindness my be engendered?

Time and again I have admired the words and work of people who managed to leave behind the desire for mark-making. They walked through their days, perhaps helping others and, without really meaning to, with no thought of personal gain or guarding of territory or making statements, like the seagull, they stepped and inadvertently left a few footprints for posterity.

 

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Leap And Skid [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Tripper-Dog-Dog-Dog has now seen some things that only a few weeks ago were unimaginable. His first deer sighting was a revelation. His first pelican experience was monumental, something akin to an alien landing. The world, he is discovering, is much bigger and more vibrant than he once believed.

His new reality has made him something of a contemplative. He gazes at the horizon. He watches the surf. Sometimes he approaches it and jumps back and forth with it. It is a game he plays with the infinite, dancing with the BIG motion.

We take a walk early every morning. This morning the crows were out in force. He’s had previous crow experience but the sheer numbers, a full murder of them, was enough to make him stop and check in with me. “Is this to be expected?” he asked with his eyes. I nodded. They make me nervous, too.

DogDog has never been a fan of steps. There is no way to get into our littlehouse on island except by climbing steps. Our first few days here were problematic for DogDog. How to transcend the obstacle? At first he looked to us to solve it for him. We looked back and encouraged him. Now, the steps are no longer an obstacle. He’s developed a leap-the-steps-and-skid-to-a-stop technique. It has become fun for him. He delights in his new capacity to fly. The skid is great fun, too. Just like his world outside, his new inner reality is much bigger, much more vibrant than he once understood. Change is like that. Hard at first but then comes the leaping.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGDOG

 

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Look In The Mirror [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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A few years ago Morris Berman wrote a book, Coming To Our Senses, that jumps with both feet into the complexities of mirrors. Believe it or not, there are societies that are not singularly obsessed with self-image.

What do we see when we look in the mirror? What image do we think we ought to project? Create? Reinforce? What image do we think we ought to match? What do we think we need to hide? What about that hair or those crow’s feet? What do we look for in the image that stares back? Have we ever considered that the image in the mirror is the reverse of what’s actual? That we will, in fact, always see the opposite and never see ourselves as we are?

What amazing power do marketers possess when crafting the images that sell stuff? Models with perfect profiles, men with Greek bodies, all of those images filtered through the magic of Photoshop to heighten, hide, or somehow manufacture a more desirable perfection, an unattainable you. That is the point, after all: to create a perfection that no mere mortal can attain. To create a purchase path, a product possibility of attaining the ideal, even for a moment.

On the island, there is a terrific little coffee house, The Red Cup. Someone at The Red Cup must have read Morris Berman’s book or at least caught on to the power of a mirror. They know, even after a few cups of good coffee, when washing your hands in the restroom, you are likely to look in the mirror and find something that needs changing, something lacking. And so, as a counterbalance to the programming, they offer a simple alternative, a suggestion, in fact, a possibility for what you might choose to see in the mirror: you are so cool, and intelligent and strong and fierce.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE RED CUP

 

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Take A Wrong Turn [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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As a wanderer, I am sometimes envious of those rare people in my life who have always seemed to know their destination and have appeared to walk a clear path to it. They have lived life according to a road map. Director, doctor, producer. Sometimes I want the comfort of a straight line but then I come to my senses. I remember that straight lines do not occur in nature.

I am given to taking side roads. Exploration trips. As Master Marsh once asked, “Why do you need to take a run at every cliff that you see?” Curiosity makes for a more colorful path than the taupe-existence of ‘knowing.’ It is more honest, too.

When I was a teacher it always irritated me when the adults placed enormous pressure on their students to “know where they were going.” Over-serious adults pretending that life required hard, unflappable predetermination. “The decisions you make today will impact you the rest of your life!”  Well…when is that not true? Tom used to roll his eyes and mutter, “Why is it that adults feel the need to threaten young people with advice that they could not, when young, take themselves?”

Things change. Hurricanes come. Minds go. We age. We discover ourselves or, as Kerri likes to say, “We become more of who we are.” It is comfortable to believe in our powers of control but it’s rarely our destiny that we actually command. The Greeks wrote more than a few good plays about the I-control-my-destiny-confusion. So did Shakespeare.

It is nice to have a map. It is great to have an intended target. It is worth mentioning to young people and old that life is not found in the target but in the walk toward it. Targets change. And, how rewarding would it be, when young, if all of the old walkers admitted that their paths were rarely straight, known, or easy. In fact, when I hear the tales and tell my own, it is the unseen forces, the happenstance, the wrong turn, the accidental bumping-into that gave the walk its riches.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MAPS

 

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Create A Ritual [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The deceased horseshoe crab was the perfect marker. It was the place we could leave behind our flip flops and venture onto the sand. And, like all actions that become repetitive, the horseshoe crab parking lot became one of our rituals.

It became assumed. Known. We leave our flip flops at the horseshoe crab. To the horseshoe crab we will return. There is comfort in knowing the leaping point. There is even more comfort in knowing the landing place. Home is just beyond.

Our ritual began like many rituals began – out of necessity.  From the house to the dunes and the beach beyond, it was necessary to cross the land of sand spurs. “You have to step with intention,” Kirsten instructed us. “Otherwise you get stabbed.” And, so, we put on our cheap flip flops and stepped with intention all the way to the dunes. The horseshoe crab marked the safe zone. To park our flip flops meant we were out of danger. It meant the armor required to cross back over to the house was waiting for us when we needed it. After several crossings and returns, the horseshoe crab became a location ritual. And then, the crab grew into a symbol.

Once, late at night, we stayed out too long and the houses in the distance blended into shapes without distinction. For a time we were lost. The only way we found our place, located our path, knew home was just over there, was finding the sentinel crab standing guard over our footwear.

It all sounds silly, doesn’t it? Consider how carefully we protect our holiday rituals, our morning rituals, our rituals of identity (what’s in your closet? Why do you wear your hair that way and not this way?). How vigorously we defend our rituals of location (‘This is where I belong!’). Our known paths. The repetitions that give us comfort. The expectations and the stories we tell. The beliefs we embrace despite all the evidence to the contrary. You are not broken. Nothing needs to be fixed. We, humans, create rituals. And then embrace them as story.

The horseshoe crab, for us, will forever mark the leaping place. It will, forever, be a symbol that home, that safety, is just beyond the dune.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FLIP FLOP PARKING LOT

 

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See Beyond Yourself [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Rounding the bend en route to Fort Atkinson we passed this billboard. It stands, not in church yard, but in a small grassy patch, a teeny tiny park.

prayer [noun]: a solemn request for help or an expression of thanks addressed to a deity or other object of worship.

This morning as I pondered what to write I was struck by this: I took the sign to be a solemn request for help. It never occurred to me that the sign might be an entreaty for thanks giving.

The United States is by far the single most individualistic country on the planet. We place the accent on the individual over the communal. Our hyper-focus on the individual has a nasty side effect. It makes us a bit more than narcissistic. We over-worry about how we  look. We create things like Facebook so we can talk about ourselves. We define success as climbing over the bodies of others to reach the top. We extend to corporations the rights of the individual.  Dog eat dog. Every man/woman for themselves. We’ve created a long-running “reality tv” show called Survivor. We relate to it.

These are expressions of who we are. Manifest Destiny and all of that…

And then we wonder why our elected representatives act [or do not act] based on their re-election chances rather than on the real needs of their constituents. We wonder why we fight to the death over ideas like universal health care or placing limits on guns. We wonder why conservatives pundits routinely scream “Socialism!” to frighten their listeners. “They will take away your rights!”

We wonder why we lack empathy. We wonder why our streets are violent.

Empathy requires a look to the other. A consideration beyond the limits of the self. A larger relationship with the other people in the neighborhood. A consideration of an opposing point of view. ‘Nation’ is, after all, a communal word.

Perhaps our ‘nation’ requires something simpler than an appeal for help from a deity: a consideration that what we do impacts others. What we say and how we say it matters. Maybe we should stop asking a deity to do for us what we need to do for ourselves.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAY FOR OUR NATION

 

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Make Better Assumptions [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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As a kid, riding up the mountain to Central City (long before it morphed into a casino town) to visit my great aunt Dorothy and uncle Del, I’d always look for the hermit. With my face pressed to the window I’d scan for him.

Perched precariously high above the creek, his shack seemed in constant danger of sliding down the mountain. The only thing holding it in place was the cascade of rusting bean cans that he’d tossed over the edge after each meal. Decades of cans. And, every once in while, I’d catch a glimpse of him.

He was uniquely grey; his clothes, his long miner-forty-niner beard, his pallor. He was always standing still, looking over the canyon. I don’t think in all of my rare glimpses that I ever saw him move. I wondered if he’d just thrown a can over the edge. I wondered if in his moments of standing-stillness he pondered how he came to be the hermit in the canyon. If life forged him into a hermit or if he came into the world wanting to be alone. I wondered where he got his cans of beans. It was a great mystery that I spent long hours considering. Hermits are not known for shopping trips into town and it was long before the age of home delivery. Where did he get his money to buy all of those cans? Was he a wealthy miner, a Howard Hughes type who retreated into a paranoid seclusion? Who facilitated his solitude?

I am mostly an introvert so his retreat from society fascinated me. I’d try ‘hermit’ on like a costume. He wasn’t a monk though I wondered what he did all day; contemplation had to be on the list of things to do. I wondered if his shack was filled with paintings or wire sculpture, a reclusive Alexander Calder? A disenfranchised artist (now, there’s an oxymoron!) I wondered if his shack walls were lined with good books.

I wondered, if I climbed up the mountain to his shack, would he meet me with a shotgun and tell me to go away? Or would he welcome me and tell me that he’s waited a lifetime for someone to come for a visit? I liked the second scenario but the realist in me knew it would be the first. He was grey because he didn’t want to be bothered. He was alone because it was not safe to be in relationship. It’s always easier to close the door and growl than it is to open it and ask, “Can I help you?”

We see this sign often. It marks the door of a house on the road to one of our walking trails. In the absence of a canyon I suppose the only thing to do is paste your anger on your door. Every time I see this sign I wonder what would happen if love came knocking?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GO AWAY

 

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