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

Ask A Peony Question [on KS Friday]

The peony in our yard is sandwiched between tall grasses. We’re careful to cut back the grasses so the peony has space and air to breathe. Kerri watches it. She checks on it daily. She calls me to “Comesee!” when the buds appear. She pulls my arm, “It’s happening!” on the day the buds open into full bloom. In our house peony-bloom is cause for celebration.

The blossoms do not last long, a week, perhaps a few days more if we’re lucky. And then they are gone.

The blooms are passing but the plant is sturdy. Sometimes I feel that the peony is a good artist. It works all year drinking in sun and water and life so it might produce a few moments of lovely. Every single day, through the dog days of August, the harsh cold of winter, the wet and muddy spring, is necessary for the peony to bring its fragile and passing burst of pink beauty – its expression – into plain sight.

Late at night, the tornado sirens sent us to the basement. We sat in rocking chairs and listened to the roar of the storm, the flash and house-rattling thunder. I looked at my easel. Currently, my studio is filled with boxes. Kerri eyes her studio; it’s next up for a good cleaning-out. Revamp and refresh.

In the basement, sirens blaring and storms howling, we talked about whether or not she would ever play again. Whether or not I would ever again pick up a brush. It’s an open question. It’s a deep-in-the-night question.

It’s a peony question. I wonder if, in the dead of winter, roots reaching deeper than the frozen ground, if the peony knows that it will, with certainty, bloom?

In A Split Second from As Sure As The Sun

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE PEONY

in a split second/as sure as the sun © 2002 kerri sherwood

Sit On The Horizon [on KS Friday]

We are the first wave of humans to experience a pace of change so fast that the media of our memories becomes irrelevant – and sometimes inaccessible – even before the paint on the memory is dry. A crank driven film camera caught a toddler version of me running down the hall in my footie pajamas on Christmas morning. Images rare and, at the time, expensive to develop, our technology makes those films seem prehistoric. Kerri and I work on computers that are separated by over a decade. Mine works lightning fast and hers…is teaching her patience.

I’ve recently been pondering a quote attributed to many: “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” Facebook is a tool. Twitter, too. This screen that opens entire universes for me is a tool. These screens that pull us into them are tools. Our stories, our expectations, our experience of time and space and each other, shaped by our tool. This river runs so fast that front page news is less than an afterthought tomorrow. We take so many photos and movies that we can’t remember taking them. It’s a million miles from the days of precious and rare footage in footie pajamas.

Kerri found the bin. It holds many treasures. Movies that her dad recorded of her first album release concert. Early performances. Recording of movies complete with commercial breaks (before tevo was a glimmer in its inventor’s eye). Luckily, we have a VHS player. And it works! Some night, very soon, we’ll plug in the player and I will get to see her, at the very beginning of her career, long before we met, play.

Reaching back. Racing forward. Little miracles of remembrance rendered obsolete by faster and smaller miracles of moment-capture.

We sit squarely upon the event horizon, our memories both a bin found in the basement and an intentional composition – Instagram stories, Facebook memories, a story shaped by our tools, tools shaping us, a creative act.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE BIN

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

let me take you back/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Look Closer [on KS Friday]

As the cowboy rode passed us he asked if we’d noticed the Mayapples. We laughed. This same cowboy, a few years ago, taught us about the Mayapples. He’d forgotten but seemed pleased when we reminded him. “That cowboy loves his Mayapples,” I said as he rode on down the trail.

We see each other through soda straws. A few brief encounters, a man on a horse dressed as if he just rode in from Wyoming, a lover of Mayapples. I really know nothing of his story or the realities of his life. I thought about him as we continued our walk. He might be a surgeon or a professor of botany. He might be an apparition. I doubt that “cowboy, lover of Mayapples” is the totality of his identity. I have many story-possibilities rolling for the cowboy, yet, my bet is that I’d be surprised if I had more than a straw’s view into his life.

Most of our judgments about others is a result of the straw’s view. We are master storytellers and only require the slightest prompt to spin a full tale. We see a 30 second news spot and believe we have the complete story of someone’s life. I suspect most of what we fear about other people is mostly soda-straw concoction. Laura Blumenfeld’s book, Revenge, is a great reminder of what is possible when the soda-straw view, the assigned role, expands into a full human portrait. A closer look always reveals a richer human story.

Later down the trail I howled with laughter. We’ve been fans of the Mayapple since our first encounter with the cowboy yet never knew there was a blossom hidden beneath the canopy of leaves. “Oh, my god!” Kerri exclaimed, lifting the broad leaf, exposing the white bloom. We lifted a few more leaves, each hiding a surprise flower. “I had no idea!” we chirped in unison.

“Have you noticed the Mayapples?” asked the cowboy. Apparently not.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about MAYAPPLES

nurture me/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Lean On Poppo’s Cane [on KS Friday]

Next to the closet where we keep our shoes and old sweatshirts is a bucket. In the bucket are a few walking sticks we’ve plucked from the trail, used and brought home. We rarely walk with sticks so the few that made the trip home are in the bucket to remind us of special walks, the times we needed some stick-aid. And thank-goodness there was a stick available when we needed it.

In the bucket, alongside the walking sticks, is Poppo’s cane.

Poppo’s cane came in handy this week when Kerri broke her foot. She is a circle-walker and our house has square rooms so she regularly arcs too close to the doorjambs. She’s adept at breaking her pinky toe.

This time she broke more than one bone. When the yellow-green swelling hit her ankle we took her to the doctor and then she went for a spin in the x-ray machine. For a few days, I was her mobility prop and then Poppo’s cane took my place and became her trusty stick-aid.

She looked at me this morning and, with knitted-brow, asked the obvious question, “What’s going on?” I had no answer. In the span of a couple of years, she’s broken her wrists, torn ligaments, had fingers that simple refused to bend, lost mobility in her left shoulder, tendonosis, a tendon injury in her left foot, a digestive system that refused to digest,… She’s had a heaping plate of “what’s going on with my body? What’s going on with my life?”

Both are great questions to ask.

What do you do when your questions have no definitive answers? Lean on Poppo’s cane and take another step. What else? Appreciate the stick-aid. Perhaps one day, with a little perspective, while looking at the bucket of useful sticks, the story will make some sense. The questions will find understanding.

In the meantime, I’m considering moving Kerri into a furniture-less yurt. My theory is that circle walkers are safer racing around in obstacle-free circular homes.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about POPPO’S CANE

in these times/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Make Dandelion Delicacies [on KS Friday]

Because our yard is a festival of dandelions and our trail is alive with the vibrant yellow flowers, just for kicks, I Googled “dandelion recipes.” Coffees and teas, salads and pizza, quesadilla, syrup, jelly and cookies; eat the root, chomp the greens, it seems dandelions are nature’s one-stop-yummy-snack-shop. Brats! And, of course, let us not forget about dandelion wine!

How is it that this pervasive-misunderstood-as-an-invader-plant is so edible and rich in possibilities? I’ve never eaten a dandelion. If I can find an insecticide-free-zone I’m going to pick a bucket full and try a few recipes. My bet is that Master Marsh has washed down a dandelion or two en route to picking a tune on his guitar. He can make anything – and does – so my future dandelion meal will follow MM around the kitchen and learn his favorite dandy-lion recipe and then enjoy the concert after the plates are licked clean. I’ll do the dishes after the show. It’s the least I can do.

One of my favorite rituals of the spring season is to watch Kerri discover and photograph the first dandelion. It’s like the return of an old friend. “Look-It!” she points and cheers. The camera comes out and a sweet photoshoot commences. She has a fond spot in her heart for dandelions. I wish I had the series of First Dandelion Sightings of the Season. Her eye has changed. The more photographs she takes, the better her composition-eye is becoming. Art works like that. Do it again and again and it gets better, more sophisticated. Easier. Her eye was great to begin with but now I do double-takes. “Whoa!” I say, “Let me see that again.”

Tom used to tell me that the alternative schools were filled with artists. Young people who do not fit in and cannot thrive in the restriction of the lawn. Pervasive-misunderstood-invader-plants. Pulled and placed where they cannot disrupt the blanket of green. Yet, so rich in possibilities. So versatile in form, capable of feeding the soul. Medicinal people. Seers. And, when they age (ahem), they make dandelion delicacies, play music for their friends, and celebrate the small pop of yellow on the side of the path.

It’s good not to be a lawn.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about DANDELIONS

fistful of dandelions © 1999 kerri sherwood

Fulfill The Promise [on KS Friday]

Look up the word “suffrage” in the dictionary and you’ll discover it means, “the right to vote.” Synonyms include “voice,” “enfranchisement,” and “choice.” It took a hundred years of protest for women to secure the right to vote in these un-united United States. As we prepare to take a giant step backwards it should not be lost on us that the battle for a woman’s voice to be heard continues to this day.

The size of the tide rising against a woman’s right to choose has a long root in suffrage. A woman’s choice. The crusty old ideal: “The Cult of True Womanhood, that is, the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother concerned exclusively with home and family.” is yet again rearing its ugly head.

I’ve written before of my experience in a jury pool. I was in the third group of 50 to be called into the courtroom. The judge gave us a single instruction: “Raise your hand if you either have been or know someone who’s been the victim of sexual assault.” Every member of my group raised their hands. The same had happened with the previous two groups. Out of 150 potential jurors, 150 had either been or knew intimately someone who had been the victim of sexual assault. “How am I ever going to seat an impartial jury,” the judge said to us and to himself.

It was a great question. Here’s a better question: why is sexual assault so prevalent in our nation?

The cult of true womanhood is, of course, a man’s idea. What about a powerful woman, with full protected rights and choice over her body, makes (a minority in) this nation froth and scream? What exactly are these few trying to control?

Equality. Actual equality. A promise unfulfilled for so many.

To my long ago judge I would say that we cannot seat an impartial jury until we experience an impartial court and a governing body willing and able to protect the rights of all citizens equally. It’s the ideal, the organizing principle of this nation-of-promise. Or is it?

A woman with an equal voice and equal pay, with the same protections a man enjoys, will, of course, express fully her equality. It begs the rhetorical question: What exactly are these few afraid of?

Suffrage. Enfranchisement. Choice. Equality.

Kerri’s music is available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about MADE FOR WOMEN

silent days/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

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

Call It A Life [on KS Friday]

Seven years ago today, Beaky passed. The last time we saw her she was clutching a blue notebook to her heart. “You found it!” she exclaimed, rocking back and forth in glee. The journal she kept of a special trip to Europe. A memory, a connection to Erling she thought was lost. We searched the house high and low. We stayed an extra day knowing that meant a 24 hour drive/sprint home. In the last bin, truly , the very last, tucked in the far recesses of the garage, we discovered the notebook.

What I recall about that search is how many times we stopped, dust coated and tired. We sat in the middle of boxes, stacked papers and bins and said, “We’re never going to find it.” Or, “It’s not here.” And then we’d go to the next room of the house, open closets, pull out boxes, the search resumed.

As you might imagine we found more than the blue notebook. That night Kerri told me many stories of family and events sparked by something we’d unearthed. “Oh, my god!” she’d exclaim. “Look at this!” The vet papers for the dog named Shayne. A photo of the family at the house on Long Island. Good times. Stories. Our search became a connection for Kerri to times that she thought were lost.

Memories. Legacy. Doing what is yours to do, looking back and calling that a life.

Eric recently wrote in our Slack channel about my play, The Lost Boy: Your introduction — chronicled on Skips blog — stuck with me, and comes to mind frequently in daily interactions. “This is a memory, after all. It all happened. Though because it’s memory, it probably isn’t factual. So, if I contradict myself, if you catch me saying the opposite of what I just swore was true, if you find me standing smack in the middle of a paradox, it’s not that I’m lying to you. It’s a memory.” The Lost Boy was a story told to me by Tom. Originally, it was meant for him to perform, the story of doing what was his to do. It only became possible to produce after he had slipped into the land of memory. It became mine to do.

And isn’t that the magic of life. What is mine and what is yours to do is never separate. 50 years ago Beaky and Pa took a trip to Europe and she kept a journal of the trip in a blue spiral notebook. 7 years ago Kerri and I spent a long day and night scouring a house to find it. I am now part of the memory of her journal. Her journal is now part of the story of Kerri and my past.

“Never underestimate your power to impact or influence another person’s life,” Paul said to his actors. Doing what is yours to do. Never really understanding or knowing the impact of the simplest action. Calling it a memory. Calling it a life.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about BARNEY

legacy/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Breathe At Human Pace [on KS Friday]

We live in a time in which cars are capable of parking and braking themselves. I am able to type a message into a little box that I carry in my pocket and my message, through space and time to anywhere in the world, is delivered immediately. I write my thoughts in this device and then publish all over the world. I’ve learned of a software that is able to write my thoughts without me – faster and with fewer grammatical errors at the outset. I think and write in a pattern capable of being recognized. I am, therefore, capable of being approximated. What is amazing today is common tomorrow. So it goes with the pace of change.

I read in The Dream Society, written two decades ago, that the aim of the industrial era was to spare humanity physical toil and the aim of the information age is to relieve us from the exertion of thought. We’re producing data at a staggering rate and, ironically, the explosion is both serving the intention and overwhelming our capacity to keep up. We can’t possibly process the tsunami of information that washes over us everyday. We are human. We have a tough time sussing out truth from belief-fantasy even when not washed down the roaring information streams.

It is why I hang out with Desi. Desi is the little tree sprout that we rescued from the Des Plaines river trail over two years ago. When Desi came home with us, her tiny trunk was needle thin. She is thriving in her pot and has more than doubled in size, yet, by the standards of data, her growth is glacial. And that is precisely why I visit her each day. She is in no rush. Efficiency for Desi has nothing to do with speed. Health is about good soil and light. Like all plants, she could be pushed artificially, but why? Pushing might get her to adulthood faster but would also damage her systems. Efficiency and health, for Desi, are all about natural pace. Slow, slow, slow to human eyes.

Desi reminds me that the pace of my life is artificial. A choice. The pace, the incessant noise vying for my attention, are human-made, unnatural. Don’t get me wrong. I delight that Google maps gets me where I want to go. I appreciate having a phone available while walking a backwoods trail. One of the great joys of my life is watching Kerri photograph – with her phone – the world she sees. I love to write and push a button to share. I am, despite my advertising, not a luddite. I’m also aware that the media – the medium – is the message. We are – we become – what we consume and how we consume it. It is a necessity in our age of rolling miracles to keep both eyes open.

I think it is healthy (although virtually impossible) to occasionally crawl out of the stream and breathe at human pace. To think without the expectation of assistance. Each day, for a few minutes, I hang out with Desi, a reminder that an inch of growth every year is sometimes fast enough.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about DESI

taking stock/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood