Use Your Words [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Kerri calls this photo ‘Dish rack with orange cup.’ “It sounds like the title of a painting!” she exclaimed.

We generally go through our day making fun of the words we paste on our experiences and pull from our conversations. I am forever proclaiming, “That sounds like the name of a band!” Or, “Hey, that sounds like a lyric!” For a guy that can’t hear lyrics in songs – and is famous for singing my-own-made-up lyrics – I’m particularly adept at thinking I hear lyrics in conversations all around me. I know, I know. I am a walking paradox, a living conundrum, a human-thought-puzzle with a few pieces missing from my box.

Lately, our language game has a new and always surprising twist: simple words that refuse to come to mind. For instance, reaching for the word”ravioli” necessitated, “You know, little pasta pillows with stuff inside.” Tell me honestly, doesn’t that description sound like the beginning line of a poem or a silly lyric? Little pasta pillows with stuff inside. 20 drew a little green orb on his shopping list because the word ‘avocado’ refused a timely recall.

I was on the ground howling with laughter when Kerri’s brain refused to pull a word from the abyss. Twisting her wrist back and forth, making a Tin-Man-esque-joint-with-no-oil sound, she begged for my help. “Come on!” she pleaded, “What is it?”

“Arthritis?” I offered, tears rolling down my cheeks.

“YES!” she danced. “ARTHRITIS! That’s it! That’s it!”

Side note: YES was a rock band in the 70’s. The band members most certainly now have arthritis. Their biggest hit was Roundabout. The song lyrics begin with this: I’ll be the roundabout/The words will make you out n’ out…[side note to side note: I’m not making up the lyric. I Googled it to avoid worldwide criticism].

Speaking of roundabouts, we took down Dogga’s roundabout sign in the yard. Actually, the weather did it for us when it snapped the metal support pole. He doesn’t seem to care. He continues to run circles without his sign giving him direction. The sign will soon go up in my office as a reminder that my brain’s movement and Dogga’s running path are one and the same: circular. Each cutting a trail in our own way.

It’s simple really. Arthritis! Dish rack with orange cup. A still life or almost-haiku-line? “What’s the word for…?” Reminders all to take ourselves less seriously. To never invest too much in or believe too heartily in the words used or the stuff we think. It’s all made up poetry, a band name, a lyric, anyway.

read Kerri’s blogpost and BUY THE PRINT!

Re-Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The latest addition to my “Terms in this Unknown Land” document is TL;DR. Too-Long-Didn’t-Read. I laughed aloud when I heard this new acronym in a meeting. If there is a sign of our times, an identifying marker of our era, it is this: TL;DR.

We communicate through text and emoji. Chat. Twitter is a thing because it mandates brevity. Scrolling the news app is a study in cramming the full story into a brief headline. Marketers have mastered the 5 second ad. Businesses are liberal in their use of “narrative” and “story” but have no time to actually hear one. A short synopsis will have to do. Get to the point.

As a member of my culture I find that I scan more than I read. If I can find it on Youtube, I’d rather watch it than read about it. When I began writing blogposts ten years ago, the “rule” was 800 words or less. The rule has adjusted with our attention spans and now the target is between 400 and 600 words. Often, when I receive links to articles, they come complete with an estimate of how many minutes are required to read them. Yesterday, I read advice from a marketing guru that suggested we restrict paragraphs to two sentences or less; more than two sentences is a red flag: too much information. Less than two sentences is…a sentence.

So much information is coming at us all the time, we have no time or thought-space to take it all in. I wonder if we can discern relevance from dreck. A quick look at our leaders leaves me with a resounding “No!” Relevance is lost in the dreck and, since they represent us, they are us, our information inundation has rendered our attention spans tiny and blunted our acuity. We are awash in information while wisdom has gone missing.

Each week I attend meetings; the central concern is explicitly or implicitly about helping people connect. It reminds me of the conversations I heard in graduate school: while living in a city of a million people, the concern was about how to create community. So many people. So little community.

I ponder these things every day. With our ubiquitous technology, we couldn’t be more connected. Through social media, I know what people had for dinner or what cute thing the kids said. I receive advertising that confirms my devices are listening to me. Yesterday, for-the-hell-of-it, I said, “Machu Picchu.” Today I am awash in travel ads for Peru.

We are connected. Connection to everything is connection to nothing. Relevance is hard to discern in a tsunami of information masking as connectivity.

Relationships – real relationships – take time. Values cannot be communicated in a text. They must be demonstrated and deeply rooted in lived narrative. Stories that carry relevance cannot be well-told in synopsis. Opinions are so easy to tweet. Dreck is easy to fling. It is not the capacity to share that we lose in the crush. It is not connection. It’s the capacity to be present. With presence comes the capacity to listen. Presence is not in a hurry to be some other place.

Rich connectivity requires more than quick consumption of information. Sharing, real sharing, the kind beyond pressing a “send” button, is a two-way street between people who have the time to invest in each other. Once, it was called relationship.

TM;CL. Too much. Can’t listen.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TL;DR

Say The Word [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“In the realm of ideas, everything depends upon enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.” ~ Goethe

To outside eyes it looks like a small stack of plastic Adirondack chairs. To our eyes, it is a marker of something almost unimaginable to us during these past few years: stable ground.

If you want to know what these semi-cheap plastic chairs represent to us, look no further than the movie Gravity. Sandra Bullock in space in a story of “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Through a rolling series of disasters peppered with just-in-the-knick-of-time hand-holds, against all odds, she splashes down to earth, safe. She stands on a beach, shaky legs. For the first time in a seeming eternity: stable ground.

Perseverance is a word used after the fact. During the free fall to earth, nothing feels even remotely like tenacity. Survival-mode does not allow for meaningful reflection or personal congratulations. Look for anything to grab to stop the fall. Believe that the ghost of George Clooney will crawl into the space capsule with a kick-in-the-butt speech at the very moment when giving up seems like the only option.

“There’s always another option,” we told ourselves. There’s always another step to take. Any step. There must be…

During our free fall we sat on our back deck in our broken white, cracking-and-en-route-to-collapsing plastic Adirondack chairs. We felt the sun on our faces. We talked of appreciating our moments. We encouraged and affirmed each other when “hope” was a word that made us roll our eyes and laugh-out-loud.

Last week, in a daring gesture of new times, we bought (on sale!) six black Adirondack chairs. Six! For friends to sit in when they come to visit. A statement of “hope” during a season of pandemic.

Yesterday we sat for the first time in two of our new chairs, faces in the sun, appreciating our moment. And, for the first time in three years, we dared utter the word “perseverance.” Shaky legs. Stable ground.

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEW CHAIRS

Chew On It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The first and most important question of the day is, “What is nougat?” I’ve always been more of a peanut M&M’s guy or, these days, a straight-up almonds, sea salt in dark chocolate lover. I’m currently accepting donations of Chocolove’s Salted Almond Butter in Dark Chocolate. You should be, too.

So, what is nougat? Originally it was honey, nuts, and egg whites but in this era of “it’s-better-not-to-know-what-I-just-put-into-my-mouth-and-called-it-candy,” I wonder what passes for nougat? I only ask because I’d never heard of a Charleston Chew so, to understand the reference, I looked it up. When I read that a Charleston Chew is, “…flavored nougat covered in chocolate flavored coating…” I immediately spotted the word “flavored” twice in the same sentence. If the chocolate isn’t really chocolate then what are the odds that the “flavored” nougat is really honey, nuts and egg whites?

To borrow and bastardize a bit of Hamlet”To eat; perchance to savor: aye, there’s the rub.” Kerri assures me that a Charleston Chew is yummy. Who cares what’s in it if it makes my toes wiggle with satisfaction? It’s the inverse argument of all those nasty foods adults made us swallow as children: who cares if it’s good for me if it makes me gag? Make me go hungry and send me to my room! Please! Caring adults forget that kids squirrel away and hide Charleston Chews beneath the mattress so banishment to the bedroom for not choking down brussel sprouts is tasty a reward.

This is key to understanding why people do what they do: we know what’s in a brussel sprout*. We have no idea what’s in a Charleston Chew. We’ll clamp down our jaws or pitch public fits rather than eat what’s good for us. Yet, we’ll happily binge on mystery snacks that are certainly no good for us but, damn-do-they-taste-good. Insight: humans are not rational beings. We puff up and proudly defend all manner of thought-nougat but can’t be bothered to look up the source or verity of the dreck we’re feeding on.

Of our current dilemmas, there is one thing that is certain: we can’t Charleston Chew our way out of this.

Take heart. There’s always Chocolove.

[*now that I’m rumored to be an adult I love roasted brussel sprouts]

read Kerri’s blogpost about CHARLESTON CHEWS

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

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

Say Uff Da [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I never met Kerri’s dad. He passed before I came into the picture. I feel as though I know him. When a nasty bit of home repair is staring me down, I often ask his advice. “What should I do with this one, Pa?” I ask. Generally, he crosses his arms in quiet consideration and mutters, “Uff da.” And soon a solution comes to mind.

Hanging beside our back door is a bamboo wind chime. It was Pa’s. Sometimes when we open the back door it voices and I respond with a hearty, “Good morning, Pa.”

His nickname for Kerri was “brat.” I know exactly why Pa gave her that nickname. Let’s just say she earned it and, to be clear, has never outgrown it. 20 often looks at me in desperation and says, “She’s torturing me!” He wants me to intervene, to come to his rescue. I know better. Kerri laughs. So does Pa. We love the brat even if we are the recipients of her mischief.

Earlier this year I lost my dad. Yesterday while on the trail, I confessed that I was overwhelmed with a wave of missing him. “Cycles of grief,” as the Wander Women say. Growing older is filled with cycles of grief and I had cycled in. I sighed. Kerri squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“This sucks,” I thought.

“Uff da,” Pa said.

read Kerri’s blogpost about UFF DA

Know The Poem [on KS Friday]

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ~Rainier Maria Rilke

“First robin!” she said.

“What?”

“First robin. That means spring is here!” she looked at me with “duh” eyes. I was new to Wisconsin so the rituals were not yet known to me. I did not yet understand that in this strange land a water cooler is called a “bubbler” and that cheese curds are sacred food. Before the week was out, I’d heard it three times from strangers. “First robin!”

Years ago, during my first winter in Seattle, after months of gray, the sun came out for an hour and all the people working downtown poured out of the tall buildings and stood facing the sun. They moaned with satisfaction. “What’s this!” I exclaimed. Weird behavior. The next year, after months of dreary gray, the moment the sun peeked from behind the drab curtain, I ran out of my apartment to revel in the return. Leaning against a brick wall, eyes closed, feeling the warmth on my face and the heat reaching my bones, I knew this was my passage to becoming a “local”. I moaned with satisfaction.

Poetry is visceral. It has it roots in the moans of sun drinkers and robin-seers. The green pushing up from dark soil. The smell of spring or the first hint of warmth on the winter wind. Words cannot capture feelings but isn’t it glorious that we try?

We were walking the neighborhood on a cold afternoon. She squeezed my hand and pointed. “First robin,” I said and she smiled. “Spring.”

Now, doesn’t “First robin. Spring!” sound like a grand start to a poem of renewal? Ahhhhhh, yes. A hint of warmth on the wind, harbinger of green shoots reaching. Someday soon, sun will call me out of hiding and color my pale face.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FIRST ROBIN

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

baby steps/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

See The Signs [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Religions around the world and across time have personified this moment. The return of the green. From one day to the next buds appear on trees. The signs of life’s vibrant enthusiasm returning (again) from long winter, barren earth, metaphoric death. Persephone’s homecoming from the underworld and Demeter, her mother, goddess of the earth, allows the return of life.

It’s a very, very old story told in many, many different ways. Human beings, storytellers all, making sense of death and life, generalized across the real experience of cycles and seasons, all pressed through the lens of this-causes-that. Reduce us to an essential oil and we are makers of metaphor and seers of pattern.

I told Kerri that I got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. An idiom. Imagine the power in brains that utilize idioms! The meaning cannot possibly be carried by a literal interpretation of the individual words. We pull the meaning out of or inject it into the collection of words. We know what it means because the meaning has a long history. The Romans, I’ve read, believed there was a correct side of the bed. Arising on the correct side of the bed would ensure good luck. The right side of the bed was positive, the left side was dubious. Jump out of bed on the left side and the day was ruined!

Superstition: making sense of the happenings of a day or a life, pressed through the lens of this-causes-that.

Mostly, I am restless. It snowed all day yesterday. I yearn for the moment when I can, for the first time of the returning (pattern) spring, lean against the wall and feel the warm sun on my face. I will, like I did last spring, enjoy the moment to the point of non-thinking. I will drink it in with no need to wrap a story around it or make sense of what I am feeling. I will appreciate it to my bones and revel in the return of warmth, new growth, and light.

read Kerri’s blog post on GREEN

Step Off [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A tree is not made of wood, it is wood.” ~ Alan Watts, The Watercourse Way

Language is powerful. It’s a drum I have beat for a long time, the notion that we insist that the narratives we wrap around ourselves are somehow “reality.” We are told that 50% of Russians believe the hell wrought on the Ukraine is merely propaganda. A made-up story. Not true. It is the narrative they are fed and, in order to eat it, they must ignore any evidence to the contrary. Their economy crumbles. The ruble falls. How could they not see it? Don’t laugh. 40% of USAmericans still believe the last presidential election was stolen, a plausible story only if wearing blinders with fingers placed firmly in ears. Burying your head in the sand is not a Russian or American trait, it’s uniquely human. We see what we believe, not the other way around. Our language makes it so.

Years ago I read that the word “wild” could only come from a people who believe all things must be tamed. Wild makes no sense without the concept of tame. Wild, bad. Tamed, good. So, a people afraid of their own “nature” must become tamers. A people who think “nature” not only can be but must be managed. To be “above” it all, in charge and atop the pyramid, giver of names. It is the necessary narrative for such tamers of the wild, those who story their very nature as corrupt. Tamed, good. Above it all. Separate. Is it any wonder the intrinsically conflicted human world rarely embraces peace? Our narrative leads us to believe, amidst so much inner and, therefore, outer conflict, peace is something to be created because we are naturally conflicted. What else?

Where, exactly, does wild end and tame begin? Where’s the line that delineates nature from civilization? What if nature is neither good nor bad? What if your nature was neither good nor bad? Perhaps self-love would be within reach and, as a natural extension, the love of others, too. It’s an alternative narrative though not possible in a belief-story that fears the wild. Wholeness begins with a step off the pedestal.

It’s in the language. Somehow separate from the world in which we live, not “in” nature or “of” nature , we are deluded to believe we are made of different stuff. Above it. Divinely manufactured. Made.

Manufactured. Made. Trees made of wood.

And, just what are we made of? I guess it depends on the story we decide to tell. Wild stuff.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREES