Feed The Mantra [on KS Friday]

As part of the 2020 census, Kerri and I were randomly selected to participate in a healthcare questionnaire. On first glance this might seem worse than a spoon full of castor oil but we were excited because the system of healthcare in America has been ruinous to us. There isn’t a single life decision that we make that doesn’t run through the fractious draconian system we mistake for health care [note: the good people who populate the system, the nurses and doctors and technicians are remarkable. My barb is meant for the money machine that intercepts our capacity to create a system that places the health of the citizens as central to the mission].

We spent an hour on the phone with a lovely woman who asked us multiple choice questions that were carefully written to avoid any real data. When she asked us if, over the last 12 months, we’d experienced anxiety, hopelessness, or depression, we burst out laughing. She laughed, too. “Was our level of anxiety high, somewhat high, moderate, little, or very little?” We answered with more laughter and she said, “Well, I have to ask!”

I told her the story of taking Kerri to the hospital the night she broke her wrists. Wrapped up like a mummy, in great pain, we sat for several minutes in the parking lot staring at two doors. The first led to the emergency room and would, no doubt, also lead to bankruptcy. The second door led to urgent care and perhaps an inability to care for a pianist with two broken wrists. We debated our choices for several long minutes. Keep in mind, we have healthcare. It is more expensive than all of the rest of our bills combined. And, we are afraid to use it.

“Have you avoided treatment or refused treatment in the anytime in the last 12 months because of cost?”

“Yes.”

We told the lovely woman conducting the questionnaire how much our premiums actually cost and she gasped. Literally. “I had no idea,” she muttered. Her job provides healthcare.

We access our coverage through the misnomer, Affordable Care Act. It provides a supplement so we can actually “afford” our coverage but access also comes with a cliff. It’s constructed like a cage. It’s an all or nothing abyss that prevents us from earning a living. We cannot earn enough to pay our bills because we’d have to jump a mighty-premium-reimbursal-crevasse to make enough money to survive the cliff. Catch-22. It’s why I stopped showing or selling my paintings; a single extra dollar could have pushed us over. Our get-out-of-jail-free-card? A job with healthcare.

For a moment, the lovely woman winced and was silent on the other end of the phone. “There’s no space to put this information,” she said. “I’ll put it in the notes at the end,” she said to herself. We knew, all three of us, that no one will ever read the notes.

We left the questionnaire disappointed but affirmed in our belief that nothing will change anytime soon. Our fatal blind spot in these perhaps-soon-to-be-united-states is that we think everything needs to run like a business. It’s why our schools fail. It is why our prisons are over populated. Market forces come with levers that work well if you are selling electronics but are debilitating if your are trying to educate children or provide accessible healthcare to a citizenry. I’ve seen many, many arts organizations and other not-for-profits enter a death spiral when a “well-meaning” board member insists that the organization run like a business. Apples cannot be oranges.

We feed each other a not-insignificant mantra these days. This is where we are. Let’s not miss this day. Rise above the circumstance. Each day, new. Let’s live, fully live, right here, Right Now.

RIGHT NOW and all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post on EACH NEW DAY

each new day/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Give Yourself Time Together [on KS Friday]

In the pre-COVID world we had dinner with 20 twice a week. We’d cook on Sunday night. He’d cook on Thursday night. It was the rhythm of our week, how we’d locate ourselves in time. Nothing special, nothing fancy, just good food and laughter…and time together.

In the pre-COVID world, one of our favorite treats was potluck with Brad and Jen. We are a foursome with severe dietary restrictions so we found it was easier to have potluck rather than try and cook for each other. Our potlucks were time warps; we’d start talking and, in a moment, 5 hours would have passed. Our ritual question in the car driving home: “Where did the time go?” Time together with Brad and Jen has the lovely quality of never being enough time.

In October we drove to Colorado. My dad is slipping deeper and deeper into the land of dementia. In a pre-COVID world it would have been an easy decision but we delayed our trip for months. Fearing I may not see him if we did not go, we planned the safest trip possible and hit the road. He did not know me during the few days that we sat with him but there is no more precious gift I have ever given myself than those few days of time together.

If I have learned anything during this pandemic, it is that there is nothing better in this life than time together. A platitude. Maybe. But, if I could do anything right now, if I knew my time on this earth was short, I would hang out with Horatio, or MM, or Master Miller, all of the Chases…[you all know who you are]. Dinner with 20. Potluck with Brad and Jen. Every-single-moment precious. The chatter. The laughter. The quiet sitting. It is why, even in the severity of our circumstance, I consider myself, I consider Kerri and me, rich beyond measure.

This is no small revelation/admission for a dedicated introvert.

On the other side of this pandemic, it is how we will treat ourselves. Something commonplace and simple. Time together.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about TIME TOGETHER

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time together/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

Say, “If Only.” [on KS Friday]

“God is silent. Now if only man would shut up.” ~ Woody Allen

If only.

We knew this was going to be a chaotic week. A run off election in Georgia that would decide the control of the senate. The counting of the electoral college vote as a president openly mounted a coup against his own government. The District Attorney in our town revealing his decision not to prosecute a police officer that shot a black man 7 times in the back [we knew the decision prior to the announcement. Our little courthouse was better protected than the nation’s capitol]. And, let us not forget the out-of-control pandemic cracking our already-fragmented system of healthcare. Record numbers. Record deaths. Record denials of reality.

The election in Georgia is decided. The rats are jumping off the national ship after the violent coup they incited blew back on them. The local D.A. offered a litany of sad justifications that boiled down to the usual sleight-of-hand: the man was black so he was, therefore, dangerous. No charges. Case closed.

The spin whirling through social media would be hysterically funny were it not so readily embraced by so many. The info-bubbles remain intact. The blame game is run amok. Personal responsibility for words spoken – and unspoken – is too much to ask. Systems usual.

It’s too soon to tell whether or not we really survived this week. It is too soon to know whether we learned anything from our national shame, our jousting realities. We do know this: we are yet incapable or unwilling to address the problems that plague us.

Unlike any other time in the history of humanity, we have so many avenues in which to blather, so many media into which we can scream. We delight in our echo chambers – who doesn’t want to hear, over and over again, their beliefs parroted back at them? The sound is deafening. So many words wielded with nothing really to say. It seems the only tool in the box is to shout down the other side. Competing filibusters. We hold ourselves hostage.

Words matter until they don’t. Words, words, words.

If only.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORDS & SILENCE

Pursue The Quiet [on KS Friday]

If I were going to write an autobiography I’d call it IN PURSUIT OF QUIET. Drawing has always quieted my mind. The simple act of descending the stairs into my studio has the same effect. I’ve learned that it is not the picture on the page or the image on the canvas that I’m chasing, it is the quiet mind I enjoy.

When I was a teenager, Mahlon and I drove into the mountains, hiked through the snow and set up camp. It was so quiet, the cold wind whispering through the treetops, the only meaningful voice in the conversation.

During the first winter that Kerri and I spent together, the snow was a siren call. We had to go into it. More than once, late at night, we’d bundle up and walk and walk and walk. The sound of our feet crunching newly fallen snow, the wind off the lake – no words necessary.

I reread what I wrote on this day last year, the first day of the new year. I vilified the previous year. I spouted hope for a better year to come. I know better now. It’s best to be quiet. It’s best to reserve judgment, to stay far away from “should-be” or “might-have-been.” It’s best to stand on the back deck, face to the sky, feel the flakes hit my face, and appreciate…all of it. Every last bit of it.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOW WHISPERS

find Kerri’s albums on iTunes

Welcome The New Day [on KS Friday]

Strip the religiosity out of the word ‘Alleluia’ and you’re left with its essence: a sunrise. Pure and simple.

Last year – a decade ago – Kerri needed a song for her cantata. She noodled for a few minutes. There was a phrase. A line of music. The next day she said, “What about this?” She played and sang. Magic. I took out my phone and recorded it. “Someday,” I tell her, “someday we’ll record it in a studio.”

She sings of our broken lives, our shattered hearts. Strip the religiosity from it and her song is about tension seeking resolution. Natural order. Basic physics. Broken lives and shattered hearts seek wholeness. Sunrise. A new day. Pure and simple.

Joy does not have to complicated. No symphonic soundtrack necessary. No fireworks required. Yesterday, after spending a few moments with her son in Chicago, we drove the back roads home. It was dark. Gently snowing. She was heart-warm after having received the single item on her wish list. A few moments. No more. No less. Joy, like the first quiet rays breaking over the horizon, announcing a new day.

Years ago, decades ago, standing in the self-made-wreckage of my life, I sent a change of address card to friends so they’d know where I was. An arrow pointing to the earth. “I’m here,” it read.

We’re here. A new day. Pure and simple. Alleluia.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU’RE HERE

you’re here ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

rest now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Follow The Lights [on KS Friday]

Before moving to Wisconsin I had no holiday tradition. Being “not religious,” my celebrations were more spontaneous and improvisational than rooted in any specific custom or expectation. Dinners with friends. One year I baked bread with strangers. One year I took a boat to an island because there was a hot springs by the beach. One year, because I was alone and life was crumbling all around me, I scheduled for myself 30 coaching calls; that was the most memorable and profound holiday season of my life. I helped people. I met Kerri.

Since moving to Wisconsin my holiday tradition has been to help Kerri create choir performances for services. When I suggest that I helped, I mean I carried stuff, set up chairs, pushed pianos, moved bells into the choir loft, set up microphones, hauled big bowls of sand for candles. I am part Sherpa. It has been the busiest and zaniest time of the year. After playing the late night Christmas Eve service – the last of many running through the week, we come home, and with our neighbors, light luminaria up and down the street, pull two fire pits onto the driveway and stoke them for warmth. We open bottles of wine and place on a table bowls of snacks. People come and, huddled around the fire, we talk and laugh until the cold wee-hours of the morning.

This year, with the loss of jobs and collapse of community, with the pandemic spiking, our traditions are erased. For me, this feels like familiar territory. For Kerri, it is a profound loss and is disorienting. She had a full-on-old-fashioned-melt-down a few nights ago after cutting her finger on a broken wine glass. “It’s too much…” she sobbed. I couldn’t help but feel as she wept that I/We have walked a full-circle. Eight years later, life is again crumbling all around me/us. This could be the most memorable and profound holiday season of our lives. I didn’t offer my thoughts. I have learned in moments of crisis that silence is often more helpful than platitudes of encouragement. I am slow but sometimes I get there.

Leo had a Christmas tradition that I admired. He gave everyone in his circle an orange and a few walnuts. He grew up very poor and, as a child, those were the gifts he received. It was the most and best gifts that his parents could give. Throughout his long and successful life, he gave them to remind himself – and those he loved – that the holiday was not about the stuff. It was about the people who stand in the circle with you, the people who stand in the fire with you. The people who you love, who give all that they have: their hearts. An orange. A few walnuts. Big, big love.

This year, those people will stand virtually with us and we with them. The hot fire of this year has burned away the superficial. The recognizable patterns have all but disappeared. Yet, the essentials remain. The essential few remain. Deeply rooted. Deeply felt.

The cycle of life, the cycle of The Lights in Kerri’s song, reminds us of all that really matters. New life, linking back. Ancient hearts beating in our breasts. Full of light. Full of big, big love.

Kerri’s albums – including the lights – are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LIGHTS

the lights ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Intend And Stop Wishing [on KS Friday]

We walk. Each day we stop all work, bundle up, and find a trail. That is how we create peace.

We create peace.

It might seem that peace is hard to come by in our angry divided nation, pandemic raging, deniers denying, propaganda smearing,… It’s not so hard if you look for it.

We say to the departed, “Rest in peace.” It is a wish. It’s always seemed to me a bit late to wish peace on others only after they die. Why not wish peace for the living?

Actually, we do – as a seasonal ritual. This is the time of year we hear the hopeful proclamation, “Peace on Earth!” It is sung and inscribed on holiday cards, it is printed on banners hanging in malls and city centers. A wish. Good will toward men and women.

Good will. Peace – like anything else – will always remain a wish, a holiday bromide, until it becomes an action. An intention with effort. A priority. Until we decide it is more important to create peace than it is to wish it. To wish for it.

Good will. To will good.

Will [verb]: expressing a strong intention or assertion for the future.

We walk. We create peace for ourselves. Every day. It is a practice. We know that peace cannot ripple out if the center is turbulent chaos. We know that peace will remain a wish unless we stop work, bundle up, and act on our desire to experience it. To spread it.

Peace. Good will. They are choices. They are actions. They will only be hard to come by until we decide, with strong intention, that it is what we desire for our future. Until we decide peace is more important than division, until we decide to create it. And create it. And create it. Peace isn’t an achievement. It is a relationship.

Pie-in-the-sky? Here’s a thought from my inner cynic: If peace made a profit we’d be doing more than singing about it.

Here’s a thought from my inner idealist: Look around you. We are capable of creating anything. Most likely there’s a little miracle called a “cell phone” within your reach. Peace is no more difficult to create than that little device of connectivity. It is no more difficult than walking. A simple practice. A pursuit. An intention. One step at a time.

All of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE

Go Spelunking [on KS Friday]

Arnie is among my team of wise-eyes. In response to a recent post, he wrote that he was relieved that I was stepping back into the light. “Darkness,” he wrote, “has never been the place from which I observed you to start.”

I am also relieved to be stepping back into the light. And, I am most grateful for my foray into darkness. It was necessary. It was useful. “The anger burned off a resistant layer of the onion.” I wrote in reply. “It burned away many of the resentments I was carrying, opened a channel to the voice I was withholding. Nature is not balanced in a world that makes room for light alone.” I was out of balance and needed to walk into that dark cave. Again. There is great power to be found at the dark center of the earth. After defeating the monster Grendel, Beowulf had to go into the dark forest and dive into the dark bottomless swamp to confront a more dark and terrifying monster, Grendel’s mother. He emerged victorious and forever changed.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

As the night the day. The day the night. Darkness is necessary to perceive the light. It is not possible to thy self be true without a good grasp of the whole truth, including the bits we ignore and deny. I’m only now understanding that this dance in the dark has been central to my lessons and my non-stop-pondering these many months. It is neigh-on-impossible to be true to yourself, to be whole, without embracing the full spectrum of your self. Without both sides of the moon. Self love, it seems, requires a love of ALL parts of your self. Dark and light. There’s plenty of room at the table.

Nature, your nature, is not corrupt or bad. It is nature. There is no judgment in nature, just interrelationship. Cycles and dances. Seasons of growth and rejuvenation. Birth and death. Rather than applying a scalpel it is more useful to go spelunking.

There is no denying we are living through a very dark time. It is the understatement of this young century to suggest that we are finding – again – a host of monsters in our very dark cave. We can, as we have in the past, run from the truth that we find, or, we can at long last pull up a chair, sit with our monsters, and have a chat. Monsters tend to transform when given some time and attention. When light is brought into darkness and darkness is led into light.

It is symbolically perfect and appropriate – deeply human – that the darkest night of the year is the time when many traditions celebrate the return of the light. It is natural, this progression into darkness. It is natural, this journey into light. Roots gather energy during the cold dark months. We rest, knowing that, with the return of the light, there will be much work to do. New crops to plant. New thoughts to harvest and share.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE SETTING THE STAGE

find all three of Kerri’s HOLIDAY ALBUMS on iTunes.

Survey And Sit Still [on KS Friday]

“What does it mean?” I asked.

“An abrupt slowing down,” she said, “Like screeching to a stop.” She paused and added, “Like our lives, right now.”

Ritenuto Tacet Fermata. Airbags deployed. No new bone breaks. Oh, wait. Not true. There was that recent slip-n-fall on the wet floor at work. There’s nothing like a pianist falling on an-already-broken wrist to punctuate the force of the full stop. And then, the job disappeared shortly thereafter. “The last job standing,” as she called it. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!’

Surveying the wreckage, smarting, she asked, “So what do we do now?”

“Nothing,” I replied. She is still in shock. I am at a loss. “Why don’t we do nothing for a few days.”

It feels as if we stopped – our bodies abruptly stopped – but our souls kept going. They do not have the same constraints as their fleshy cases. It feels like we need to wait for our souls to realize that there was an sudden stop. “We need our souls to come back to our bodies.” She looked at me through sideways eyes.

Silence.

“This year…” she said, before lapsing back into the silence. A few minutes later she began lightly tapping her foot. “Maybe I will write a cantata for a single voice,” her far-away stare already standing in front of the keys.

I looked the other way and smiled. “I think our souls are back.”

Out of wreckage, creativity. “I think that’s a great idea,” I said, trying not to be too enthusiastic. Her idea a tender shoot poking through the crust of her imagining. Exuberance might make it retreat.

Tacet. Silence. There is no rush from the wreckage. Silence and still-sitting is a first step, a necessary step. Take account of what remains. Let go of what flew away. And, emerging from the wreckage, out of the silence, as we know, new music arises.

read Kerri’s blog post about RITENUTO TACET FERMATA

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

Pause And Listen [on KS Friday]

A pause. Unspecified length. Fermata. It reads like poetry. I, a consummate non-musician, am learning and loving new musical terms.

We live in a world of noise. Too much noise. Too much talking. Too many screamers competing for our shrinking attention spans.

So much noise blocks access to the still small voice, the soul voice. That whisper-voice of inner truth never shouts. It is very hard to hear things-of-depth in a world so enamored with the superficial, so consumed by the marketing-moment. The breaking news. The voguish sale. The hip. The hop. The latest tweet. The newest outrage. Tik-Tok, Facebook, Instagram, spin-your-noggin-round-and-round.

This morning I’ve heard and read a thought surfing atop all the noise-feeds: we have to find a shared truth. Without it, we will enter the ranks of the failed states, if we are not there already.

Standing on the streets shouting at each other is guaranteed to further gape-our-void. Running deeper into fact-less-“news”-bubbles that spit blather 24/7 will send us deeper and deeper into banana-republic-status.

Our hope of unity lies in the fermata. The pause of unspecified length. Quiet.

It is from the silence that we might recognize that shared truth never pops out of its hole in the middle of a street fight. Truth stays clear of cacophony. It is in the silence that we have a slight prayer of hearing some truth.* We’ll know when we’re ready to share truth again when, out of the shared silence, we begin our conversation with some form of this simple question: “What did you hear?”

[*this highly idealistic and slightly naive thought assumes the restoration of respect for facts & science in all parties, a shared baseline for all inner-listeners]

read Kerri’s blog post on FERMATA

find all of Kerri’s albums on iTunes