Connect The Poles [on KS Friday]

Though it is not, this could be a close-up of an x-ray. Arteries carrying blood away from the heart, veins carrying blood back to the heart, and the capillaries that connect the them. Outgoing. Incoming. And the connection between the two. And, as is always true of language, in the naming and the action-describing, the whole system is obscured. This part does this. That part does that. Mechanical mind applied to a miracle of pulsating life.

In North Carolina I overheard an old guy grousing about climate change. He is a sceptic. “There’s record snow in California!” he decried, “And, we’re having record heat here! You can’t have it both ways!” His reluctant listener bobbed her head. “It’s either warming or it’s not!” he railed. “Explain that to me!” Mechanical mind. Parts-thinkers cannot see the whole system. The capillary-word that tumbled from his mouth but bypassed his mind was “record.” The poles are, after all, connected.

I am fascinated by my current work. I am witness to and a participant in the creation of software. The language is familiar though the meanings are new: epic and story. Bug. My mind, lately, has been awhirl. The developers necessarily talk of information as content-objects. Items. The language of “fixed” things. Yet, the problems in the world that they design and solve for are “fluid.” Information, in our day-and-age, never stops. It grows exponentially everyday. It is movement, constant motion. More/faster. Sometimes I get a glimpse behind the curtain and see the developer’s work of content-items-in-motion. You’ve never seen a faster moving current of symbols. Is it a particle or a wave? It depends.

The tree in our front yard reaches toward the house. Kerri tells me that our children climbed through the branches when they were young. When the crew had to clear some branches to trench the yard, Kerri winced each time a branch snapped and fell to the ground. “I can’t look,” she said, not taking her eyes off the tree. Holding vigil. Holding her heart.

It’s easy to forget that, in all cases, no matter the eyes though which we see, the movement is always back to center. To the heart-of-the-matter. The pieces are never isolated. This tree is not separate or distinct from the sky or Kerri’s heart. The poles are always connected, whether we recognize it, see it, acknowledge it, or not. Breathe in. Breathe out. Two actions or one?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE TREE AND SKY

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

Jump Out Of Your Chair [on KS Friday]

If I want to think clearly – or clear my thinking – I walk. Sitting still has always been and continues to be an invitation for thought-log-jams. It was a problem when I was a student. Classrooms come with desks and an expectation that the learner will sit still. I became a master of the controlled wiggle, not because it broke the logjam but because it helped maintain my sanity. For me, sitting still is like a hair shirt with an itchy tag. Sitting still makes my IQ plummet several points. Sitting still interrupts my synapses.

Tom Mck told me that the alternative schools were populated by artists. I intimately understood his observation. Artists need to move to think. They thrive in an alternative to still-sitting.

I’ve made sure that my work throughout my adulthood included movement. Directing plays. Painting big paintings. Facilitating workshops. Even as a teacher I cleared the room of desks. This morning I saw a headline in Forbes Magazine declaring that children learn more through play than through guided instruction. It was curious to me that this was a headline. Sugata Mitra’s been shouting the news for decades. Neil Postman spent his life reading the research and advocating for what the research implied: turn little people toward a passion and get out of the way. Curiosity and desire are an unbeatable team. They will move faster than you might imagine. Move, move, move. Dance. Paint. Sing. Construct. Act. Play. They will let you know when they need you.

I’m learning the lesson again. My work places me squarely in front of a computer for hours each day. Flow. Eddy. Logjam. Wiggle. Move. Sigh, as the synapses start firing up again. Repeat. At this advanced stage of earth-time, you’d think I’d have grasped the full understanding that, for me to be effective, I have to move around. Each morning I review the previous day’s work and immediately know whether or not I found a movement/sitting-still balance.

When we stepped on the trail and entered the woods in North Carolina, my mind was chock-full-of-thought-logs. Like everyone else, I stare at the screen and lose track of time. A day can pass me by and I never leave my swivel chair. I swivel for survival. For months, I’d been swiveling and forgetting to stand up and dance my ideas. Fifteen minutes into our hike, the jam broke free. My mind cleared. I could see the subtle landscape inside and outside. I breathed a deep breath. The forest was gorgeous. My mind was spacious and flowing! I resolved, once again, yet again, to attend to the necessity of movement that keeps my mind and heart flowing. Wiggling is maintenance, merely. Swiveling is not a solution. The real game, the full flow, is only available when I jump out of my chair and move-it.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOREST

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

meander/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Porch Sit [on KS Friday]

Quinn used to say that two things ruined western civilization: salad bars (serve yourself) and attached garages. “It all went south when we started inviting our cars into our homes,” he mused. To his list I might add air conditioners. Porch-sitting and the neighborhood evening promenade, with accompanying neighbor conversations, went away with the invention of cool indoor air. Imagine what we might be able to solve if we actually talked to each other on a regular basis. Imagine what nonsense might dissipate if we pulled our heads out of the television and, instead, strolled the neighborhood to see what was going on.

We look for porches. And, when we don’t have one, we create it. I knew I would be with Kerri forever because (among other things) she had two Adirondack chairs sitting in the grass outside the front door of her house. Early in out time together, we sat out front, sipped wine, and waved and chatted with people walking by. She’s dedicated to greater things than cold-air comfort.

When we travel, our airbnb’s almost always have porches. A porch is on the list of requirements. It never fails. The porches in our travels are always sources of good stories, special moments, new friendships. They are not magic. They were invented for peace and polite conversation. They are liminal spaces, both public and private. People wave and greet each other. People stop and chat – even for a moment. You can learn a lot about a new place by sitting on the porch and asking a local carrying a pizza where the good food is to be found (a true story). People like to share what they know.

As Skip reminded us yesterday, people write things on Facebook or other social media that they’d never say otherwise. I think there’s a lot of that going around these days. Forums for ugliness. I’m certain it’s nothing that a good porch and an evening constitutional couldn’t cure.

time together/this part of the journey is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about PORCHES

time together/this part of the journey © 1997 kerri sherwood

Light A Few Candles [on KS Friday]

“An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.” ~ George Santayana

It was like a visual Zen koan. The candles were placed close to the window and the reflection stretched back and back into infinity. What is real and what is reflection? We sat for several minutes, caught in the light trail that seemed to reach into the future/past.

We light candles for remembrance. We light candles for comfort. We light candles for the quiet they invoke. Inspiration. For hope. Buddhist prayer flags flutter and “release” their prayers to the wind. We light candles with the same intention: the remembrance is carried deep into the future/past. The comfort floats and fills our home.

It was our practice, prior to Covid, late at night on christmas eve, after Kerri was finished with work, to illuminate our street with luminaria. Little paper sacks weighted with sand and holding single candles ran up and down the sidewalk, the entire length of the street. We’d place fire pits in our driveway. Neighbors, friends and family would gather around the fire, drink wine and grog, eat snacks, sing a song or two, laugh. Somewhere, deep into the night, our fingers and toes would protest the cold, we’d say goodnight, douse the flames, and call it a night. Crawling into bed, it always felt as if the good humor of our gathering caught the breeze and carried a light-heart into the world.

Tonight, Kerri and I will light a few candles in sacks, weighted by sand. We will sit, sip wine, laugh and remember. Luminaria. Gatherings. Good wishes carried on the wind. The laughter and candlelight from the past will find us as we reminisce. We’ll send a wave of good intention into the future so that it might one day find us standing around a fire pit with neighbors, family and friends, shaking our heads and saying, “Do you remember when…”

you’re here (kerri sherwood rough cut)

hope/this season available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT INFINITY

hope/this season © 1998 kerri sherwood

you’re here © 2018 kerri sherwood

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

Become Simple Enough [on KS Friday]

I took a photo of Kerri taking this photo. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than watching an artist at work. Her focus was singular. Pure. I saw her “see” this possibility. She turned, left the reality that the rest of us occupied, and approached the window as if it was an animal in the wild. Carefully, quietly. Reverently.

Her photo immediately brought to mind Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, his temple of light. The vibrant squares of color. Someday we will make a pilgrimage to the Blanton Museum to stand in Austin and, in that moment, I will remember Kerri’s window.

In a world of just-get-to-the-point, time-is-money, and bottom-lines, and the centuries-old-delusion that we are rational beings and the analytical is supreme, an artistic heart and mind is an outlier. We use too many words. We are not reserved in our gesticulation. We express what words cannot reach because we see what lives beyond words. And, developing eyes-that-see takes time. Ellsworth Kelly designed his Austin in his last years. It takes years and years to become simple enough to see the sacred.

Recently we were told, not for the first time, “So many people want what you have but they don’t want to pay for it.” Kerri and I looked at each other. Her great pet-peeve, the pinnacle of all pet-peeves, is how often she’s been asked to play, not for money, but for exposure. She’s considered by Yamaha, the maker of fine pianos, to be one of their select artists, a modern master. Yet, all of her life, with frightening regularity, she’s heard, “It will be good for you!” the face smiles, “It might lead to something.” Yes. It does lead to something: more people wanting what you have but not willing to pay for it. Point in any direction to anyone who’s achieved the pinnacle of their career, and imagine asking them to perform surgery or keep the books or go to trial or build the house for exposure. Can you imagine? She – we – have heard it throughout our lives.

And, when she turned and saw the window, her sudden awareness shocked the people in the gallery into silence. Everyone turned, made space, and watched. She had no idea that she was on stage. Pure. And, without exception, everyone in that room wished they could see what she was seeing. They wished they could see how she was seeing. Sacred. It takes a lifetime. Austin. The window. Priceless.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WINDOW

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

Relax And Prime [on KS Friday]

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon yesterday drawing cartoons. I had to get away from the computer screen. I’ve learned – relearned – that staring into the screen too long makes me myopic and unimaginative. I’m not certain if this is true for everyone but I am kinesthetic. There’s a necessary balance. Sitting still and staring at a screen without the opposite focus are creative-killers for me. I do my best thinking when I move around, when I stop trying to solve or deconstruct. I’m fortunate that drawing with a #2 pencil at an old-fashioned light table is part of my job.

Greg lives his life in front of a screen – multiple screens – and, to get away, he dives. His underwater photography is gorgeous. In a meeting a few days ago, he said that diving clears his mind. His greatest insights come when he’s underwater or sitting on the beach after a dive. There’s good science behind his insight. Relaxation triggers dopamine: the more dopamine, the more creative. Comfort and relaxation prime the creative pump. Stress and tension unplug the pump.

The best thing to do when trying to squeeze out a revelation is to walk away. Take a drive. Take a shower. Stop thinking so hard. Daydreaming is very productive. I’ve learned that anger and frustration rarely – if ever – lead to creative insight and generally produce the opposite of what’s desired. Anger (like too much time in front of a computer screen to me) is myopic. It narrows. It squeezes off the dopamine. It blinds the mind and heart to possibility.

Kent Nerburn wrote that, “For those of us in the arts, enthusiasm is never outlived. The sun is always rising before us, and our wonder at the world, the true source for all meaningful art, only grows stronger as life slows from passage to moments…” There’s always a next painting to paint. Another song to write. A photograph to take. It’s one of the reasons I love taking walks with Kerri: we rarely get very far before she gasps, and stops to take a photograph of some small miracle. And, while she’s collecting images of small miracles, I look to the sky and let my mind wander, a walking meditation, a creative pump primer.

And, almost always, somewhere on the trail, the dot that refused to connect while I was too-long staring at the screen, takes me by the hand and says, “It’s so simple. Do you see?”

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERGREEN

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

Know The Moment [on KS Friday]

“A work needs to relax toward finality. It cannot be pushed, it cannot be worried, it cannot be analyzed to completion. Pushing against the natural rhythms of creation will just churn up the waters. Clarity comes only when the waters settle and the air clears.” ~Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

Because I tend to speak in metaphors in a world enamored with goals, what I say often, at first, goes unheard. Skip is stewarding an amazing creation and has, from my perspective, just passed a significant milestone. I told him that, in working with many playwrights and painters and actors, there is an initial phase in every creative process in which the creator works for form. It’s like the tide going out, dumping everything down on the page to gather and find the story-form. Then, in a beautifully mysterious moment, the tide turns and finding form is no longer the intention. Clarity becomes the aim. Skip is a listener. Metaphors tossed into an analytic frame generally seem out of place or perhaps arrive too early to the party. But I’ve learned they are seeds that, when planted, begin to work their way up through the crusty soil.

John Guare said that a writer has to write ten bad pages to arrive at a single good page. The ten bad pages are the search for form. Reducing ten into an essence of one is the work of clarity. The phases, the exhale for form and the inhale of clarity, are two different yet interrelated energies.

When I am working on a canvas I might evolve the image for days. Sketching, painting, wiping, adjusting, wiping, sketching, painting. The search for form. Adding and subtracting. Moving the composition, tilting the symmetry. And then, something clicks and I know. The painting is formed and now the pursuit is to hold its hand and bring it into the light. Inhale.

Because my father recently passed, followed hard upon by my dear Ruby, I have been reviewing much of my life. Roger used to say that the first 30 years of life were about trying to become something and then, one day, you realize that you are that thing you were trying to become. The rest is learning how to be it. Searching for form. And then, clarifying. I think Roger was half-right. Becoming and being are cycles, not arrivals.

The cycles of my life are explicit. I enter into worlds that I know nothing about – either by accident or invitation. That I know nothing about the world is precisely why I’m invited in – or bumble in. I see it. I bring it metaphors. It is uncomfortable to not-know so I learn about the world as an outsider. It helps me see more clearly. I know the moment when form turns toward clarity. I see when the process roils into an eddy. I understand how to free stuck energy. I’m a midwife to creative process, a guide across unseen bridges.

We stood in the November sun admiring the giant flowers against the blue sky. I loved the idea that I was experiencing an ant’s view. These past many years I have been looking for the new form. Pushing. What was I? What am I now? And, in a beautifully mysterious moment, I realized that the tide was at long last coming in.

read Kerri’s blog post about GIANT FLOWERS

find Kerri’s music on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

Find Your Motley [on KS Friday]

“Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.” ~ Horace

There is a famous photo of a gathering of the world’s religious leaders. Readying for the photographer, poised with their serious, “I’m-a-religious-leader” faces, the Dalai Lama turned trickster, and the group burst into laughter. Instead of a wall of stony import, the photographer caught the humanity, the real people hiding behind the official masks. The silly revealed the real.

We are not well represented by our walls of respect, our certificates and degrees and resumes. The letters after our names are often layers of obfuscation.

Although I am not a religious person, I went to a Catholic college. Some of my fondest memories are the moments sitting on the barracks steps with Father Lauren talking about life and personal belief. I knew the road to a rowdy conversation was to bring up the topic of reincarnation. Father Lauren, a Franciscan, always took my bait. He could only maintain his official-priest-role for a few moments and then the real guy, the man full of laughter and curiosity, came out to play. Inevitably, we’d talk into the evening of choices and dreams and plans and roads-not-taken.

Sometimes I think of fall color as a jester’s motley. The world explodes into vivid fuchsia and gold set against the green. Nature’s play, a silly dance meant to make us gape and coo and laugh. I’ve read that the only person in the court that dared speak truth to the king was the court jester. Truth is available if it arrives in foolish clothes. Thus, Stephen Colbert.

Quinn was full to the brim with laughter. He was a master of tossing the silly into the serious so the truth might be heard. Skip initially hired me to draw cartoons. A serious product that speaks to a serious problem. It’s very possible that the only way it will be heard is though a silly message, a quirky stick poking the bear. The overriding lesson I am learning at this stage of my life is to not-take-it (I am “it”) so seriously. And, so, each week, I lob silly bombs into serious camps – my own camp and others.

I’ve taken special delight this fall. Kerri’s photographic eye is on high alert. We walk and every third step she says, “I’m sorry,” and stops to take a picture. I’ve stopped asking, “What are you apologizing for?” Now, I simply watch and wait for the moment she looks at the screen, scrutinizing what she’s just captured, turns to me with silly glee, saying, “Lookit!”

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

read Kerri’s blog post about FUCHSIA

every breath/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood