Look. Really Look. [on KS Friday]

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).” ~ e.e. cummings

The ritual became real when Kerri asked the bride and groom to turn and look at the community of people assembled as witnesses to their wedding, “No, really look,” she said. Eyes met eyes. Family. Friends. The unspoken but oh-so-apparent moment: We’re here for you.

Rituals, like a good story, are about single moments. Everything builds to the moment. In the ceremony, Kerri told the couple that they would have days that they could not take their eyes off of each other and that they would have days that were…not so much, but in all of their days, through all of their challenges and celebrations, they would have this moment, and this single-moment, when all else dropped away, would carry them through everything: standing before their community of support, they looked into each other’s eyes and said, “I do.” I carry your heart.

Initially, when they asked her to perform their wedding, she was stunned. “Why me?” she asked. After their ceremony, unique in all the world, simple and profound, I wanted to ask but did not, “Now do you know why they asked you?” My wife understands the power of a moment, the deep river of a ritual, and the long ripples that simple words and intentional actions can send through the long-body of a lifetime.

“Are you ready?” she whispered to the couple when the music faded. “Yes. Oh, yes,” they replied.

read Kerri’s blog post about I CARRY YOUR HEART

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

Consider It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.” ~ Marshall McLuhan

At the first theatre company I artistic directed, we cut silk screens and pulled ink to make our posters. They were crude but we didn’t know it at the time because that was the most advanced process available. At the time they looked cool and we were proud of them. They took some effort.

I remember the day a student came into my office and showed me how we could design our posters on the computer. His designs were gorgeous, easily adjusted, took almost no time, and came back from the printer quicker than I could cut a good screen. We felt like our status bumped up a notch. We looked professional, and, what we’d been so proud of only a year before, now looked primitive.

My first website cost an extraordinary amount of money. It took weeks of working with a designer. Changes were costly so were made rarely. Now, Kerri and I design, redesign and make changes to our site every week. A few years ago we set up a site for a theatre company, complete with ticket service, database and newsletter capacity all in one easy-to-use app. It cost them almost nothing and any fool could adjust and make changes to it.

People who only a few short years ago considered themselves voiceless can now say any old thing they want to an audience no less than world-wide. Patti once asked a conference attendee, “If you had a voice, what would you say?” If I could go back in time I’d beg her to retract that question.

We live in a time of high anxiety. There are few substantial anchors to moor our reality. I’m about to make the ultimate old guy statement: I remember when…a few limited news channels actually attempted to broadcast the news. They had a limited window of time to tell the news so they made their information count. We now have hundreds of information and misinformation sources that can rattle at us 24/7 and from multiple devices. The challenge is not editing-down-to what-matters, it is filling too much time with loads of spin that mostly has limited substance.

Information spreading – for me, too – has become easy-peasy. I can lob an opinion as easily and as readily as the next person. But, as Marshall McLuhan said – and I whole-heartily concur, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.” In other words, (don’t tell Kerri) I am sometime reactive. Sometimes, I think I know more than I do. Sometimes, I make mistakes. Slowing down seems to be the only cure. Thinking things through. Researching before spouting. Breathe and breathe again. Consider what matters. Really matters.

I’ve walked a complete circle in my life. Now, in all it’s shiny capacity, within the amazing miracles of technology, I find much of what people say and do and assert with this glorious ability – to be crude. Without thought. It’s too easy so it doesn’t much matter. The stream will quickly carry away even the most offensive opinions and endlessly wash in some more. I wonder how considerate people might become if their easy voices were less easily shared? If saying something actually took some time and effort – let’s say, as much time as it took to design, transfer and cut a silkscreen – what might they say? If it was less easy to “like” or “dislike.” If one slip would send the thought back to the arduous start? Maybe we’d be more considerate because we’d take the time to consider what we were expressing – to think about what we were saying and why we were saying it.

I suspect most of our “whys” would get our knuckles rapped by grandmothers who held decorum and polite communication as a high virtue. Saying stuff so-as-to-belong-or-pile-on…or to hear ourselves talk, certainly wouldn’t spare the rod.

That whole thought stream came from taking a walk, looking down, and finding a rock smiling back at me. Someone took some time. Chose a rock. They chose what to paint and had a grandma-approved-reason-why. And, they did a good job of it. “Ahhhhh,” Kerri said, smiling back at the rock. “How considerate,” I added to her awe.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROCKS THAT SMILE


Be Indeterminate [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Through the good graces of our tomato plants, I’ve learned a few new concepts this summer. Determinate and indeterminate. Bush and vine. Determinate tomato plants (bushes) are bred to stop growing. Indeterminate tomato plants (vines) will grow indefinitely or until the weather conditions “are no longer favorable.”

Our plants are indeterminate. Each morning, Kerri visits our planting bench and checks her tomatoes. 20 taught her a few simple tending-rules and now, each morning, there are more and more little indeterminate miracles moving backward along the color spectrum, finally arriving at a brilliant red.

Life is indeterminate.

My new tomato-terms come just in time. My current project has me revisiting my past life as a teacher and facilitator. If I apply my new terminology to people I can’t help but think it is the lucky few who survive so much dedicated energy to stop the learning-mind in the name of education. The natural output of a system designed on manufacturing principles is to truncate the questioning mind by patterning the notion that there is a predetermined answer. It becomes a game of finding the answer that teacher wants – a closed loop – instead of an incitement of curiosity. Children are excellent game players and translate the gaming pattern into their now-dulled-adulthood.

There is a cycle apparent in all genuine learning processes. It begins with discontent. Curiosity is a movement born from some form of discontent. It leads to questioning. Questioning always leads to disturbance (the interruption of the known). And, just like that, out of the disturbance something new is seen, call it a breakthrough, call it an insight, call it new learning…Many classrooms – certainly the systems – are designed and organized to keep disturbances to a minimum. The mantra is ‘control’ rather than ‘inspire curiosity.’ Business has the same dedication.

We’re taught that disturbance is the sign of something wrong rather than the crusty earth breaking to reveal new verdant life.

Discontent leads to questioning, leads to disturbance, which leads to breakthrough. And, an insight will always lead to discontent. It’s a story cycle, where yearning meets obstacle. Learning is by definition uncomfortable and at its best when it is uncontrollable.

Last week I attended a meeting. My two companions and I brought our homework back to the team. One was content. The other two of us were filled with discontent. The leader of the session, at first, was angry. He did not get the result he’d anticipated from his exercise. “So, you two are telling me this process was worthless!” he raged. We’d spent our week questioning instead of answering. Discontent. Questioning.

“No! It was great!” we chimed in chorus. “Look at all the good information we uncovered!” It was a mess. Big disturbance. We cycled through our misalignment a few times, wrangling over perception and usefulness. More rage. And then…an insight. The breakthrough. All of the rage, all of the appeasing, began to flow in a single direction. A possibility took shape. A target materialized that was much better than the prescribed pursuit. Energy filled our zoom-osphere. Laughter. Excitement.

Learning. Indeterminate. Open questions. Hot pursuits.

I am drawn to and surrounded by the dedicated indeterminates; those who refuse to stop learning: David, Mike, Horatio, MM, Bruce, 20, Judy, and yes, Kerri…I am a very fortunate man to be surrounded by so many tomatoes moving their way backward along the color spectrum, not afraid to walk through their discontent toward bigger and bigger questions.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Let The Outside In [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Civilization excels at manufacturing anesthetics.” ~Declan Donnellan

“What are you waiting for? Snow?” 20 was sweating. It was July, hot and humid, and he wondered why we had yet to put the air conditioner units in the windows. Our house was built in 1928 and central air is something we can only imagine. In truth, we’d been asking ourselves the same question all summer. Why are we suffering the heat and, yet, so resistant to putting the ac units in the windows?

Finally, the penny dropped. We realized why we had no desire to plug up the windows, shut the door, and manufacture cold air. Last summer, as the pandemic numbers soared, as our city burned with civil unrest, we shut the world out. We isolated. We turned on the cold air and made certain we felt as little of the heat as possible. This summer, even though we are still keeping our circle small, we want to feel the summer. We want to breathe the real air, not the manufactured stuff.

The real air is hot. Humid. Uncomfortable.

I made breakfast after reading the news. Poor Kerri had to listen to my epiphany-rant: While cracking eggs I realized that the horror story of the GOP wouldn’t be able to perpetuate their pandemic-denial-march if the people listening to them wanted to hear truth. “If I was born in 1700,” I said, “I’d have an excuse for being ignorant. I’d be illiterate and have very limited access to information. I’d be easily led because I wouldn’t have the capacity to check the story that I was being fed. That’s not true today.” We have, unlike any time in human history, immediate access to information. I rarely participate in a conversation that doesn’t involve someone pulling up information on their phone, checking a fact or the veracity of a story being shared. How then, in the middle of the national pandemic hot spot, can the governor of Florida block every science-based mitigation measure and whip up a fruit smoothie of fear – how can he manufacture so much empty air – without his constituents crying foul? The answer is easy: they would rather not feel or know what’s really going on outside their comfort-bubble. They are choosing fluff over fact, anger over curiosity.

In our day and age, ignorance is a choice. Denial is a choice. Plugging the windows is a choice. Insular is a choice. The device carried in every pocket could, in a heartbeat, puncture the gasbag-foolishness.

Reading this post, MM will be compelled to once again send me this quote, so I will preemptively include it: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.” E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology.

I know. I know.

Belief, like sugar, is easy to consume. Knowledge takes some effort and self-reflection. Anger and fear and division are easy, too, especially when the target audience of the fearmongers has no desire to challenge the narrative. It is the great paradox of our times that those waving their flags and screaming the loudest about their freedoms are so ready and willing to abdicate their freedom of thought. They parrot the fox. They inhale the anesthetic, the manufactured air.

Last night we watched a great short documentary, Lessons From The Water: Diving With A Purpose. Black divers searching for the shipwrecks of slave ships. One of the founders of the projected said,“Here in the US, our (African American) history has been ignored,” he adds. “They don’t really teach anything about slavery in schools. And I think if you don’t teach your history, you’re bound to repeat it.”

They dive to find the artifacts, to tell a fuller story. They dive. They look for artifacts. Facts. A complete narrative.

It made me think about the enormous resistance to critical race theory, the intense counter-narrative to climate change, the ferocious dedication to perpetuating The Big Lie, the ubiquitous conspiracy theories and global rise of authoritarian voices…all of it an appeal to an insular story. Close your eyes. Trust without question what you are told.

The real story is uncomfortable. It is hot. It needs telling. Fingers out of ears, eyes wide open. Forward movement, growth, health, is never the result of suppression, distraction or numbness. Health, equilibrium, always follows the revelation and acceptance of the full story. It’s open windows. It’s letting the outside in.

read Kerri’s blog post about LET THE OUTSIDE IN

Live Life At The Pace Of A Letter [on KS Friday]

“…what we feel is always larger than our means to express it.” ~ Declan Donnellan

Ruby, like Columbus is winding down. The forwarded-email let me know that she enjoyed my letter but also that she was not getting out of bed. Over the weekend she did not want to eat or drink. Pete is in hospice care.

I’ve not heard from Mike in months. Like Ruby, she is in her 90’s and I often wonder how she is doing. She is made of sturdy stuff and has a curious mind but even those powerful forces are no match for the running sands.

Although we live in the age of email and text, fast communication, these dear ones are solidly old school. A letter. A stamp. A mailbox. News comes at a different pace.

Ruby wrote a letter. It was dated last October and was mailed sometime in April. She typed it because she feared that I would not be able to decipher her handwriting. I typed my reply because I knew for certain that she would not be able to read my scribbles. Although it was lost on my young ears, time is different when you age. Both more meaningful and less. I’m living my way into hearing the simple wisdom of elders.

Tom Mck and I used to sit on his porch and watch the sunset over the fields. One evening he told the story of a letter mailed to his great-grandfather Lak. The pony express took six years to deliver the letter. It had to come all the way across the country. It was from his siblings telling of his mother’s passing. Although six years in the past, the news was fresh to Lak. His grief, therefore, was timeless.

It is always a time of transition but, sometimes, it is simply more apparent than others. This is one of those times. There is a pandemic. There is civil unrest. Moral upheaval in the nation. I feel none of that as acutely or potently as I do Columbus taking a labored breath or Ruby no longer interested in eating. It is the reason we sit on the back deck each night, light the lamps, and, often in silence, we enjoy the evening as it wanes. Living life at the pace of a letter.

It’s not that there is nothing to be said, it’s that no words – no matter how quickly delivered or slow – can properly capture the enormity of this time, this inevitable rolling transition.

all of kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FLAME

in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Step Beyond Words [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Truth is a pathless land.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

I have done my share of seeking and, also, my share of not finding.

I believe that I began painting because, while doing it, while lost in the discovery of an image, I experienced truth – or something close to it. Always in quiet studios. Always beyond the place of mind chatter. Something “bigger” washed through. Something beyond words.

That must be why I associate truth with silence.

All around I hear people proclaiming transparency. No hidden agendas. Everything up-front! As Quinn used to say, “If they have to tell you that they are being transparent, it’s a good bet that they are not.” Words, words, words.

Many evenings we sit on our back deck. The umbrella shields us from the heat. We watch Dogga run circles, dig holes, and bark at squirrels. The birds perch at the feeder or drink from the pond. A chipmunk dashes across Barney’s keys. The crows call from the treetops. The sun drops behind the trees. The mosquitoes come out; our cue to go in.

So much life! And not a single word required though, clearly, it is more than tempting to try and describe it. Try is the best I can do.

I often remind myself that I have never lived this day and will never again live this day. No trail to follow even when I think I know what will happen next. I don’t. That’s the truth.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE UMBRELLA

Use Your Chalk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There are two words floating around in my universe these days: structured and unstructured. Structured data. Unstructured data. Structured time. Unstructured time.

The world as seen through the Puritan lens gives great preference to structure. Unstructured anything is suspect. “Idle hands,” we are taught, “are the devil’s workshop.” Yikes. Apparently it’s dangerous to take a stroll, to sit and ponder, to clear the day and do nothing.

I suspect it explains why our notion of business is hyper-focused on the bottom line and often misses the value of relationships. Bottom lines are easy structure. Relationships, not so much. It is the same with test scores in education. Easy structure. However, stepping into the unknown – the very definition of learning – is largely eschewed because it begins in an unstructured pursuit. Creating the structure, making the meaning, discovering the connectivity is what our hearts and brains like to do. When learning isn’t merely a factory, when business is more than a bottom line, people prosper. They come alive.

Unstructured time. There was a time when time had no structure. Monks attempted to “keep” time by monitoring water through a bucket or sift sand through an “hour” glass. Sometimes the water froze in the bucket so the structure of evening prayer was disrupted. The sand clumped in the hour glass and the measure of time clumped with it.

There are moment on the stage when the actor forgets their lines. It’s called “going up” or “drying.” It is always, in the re-telling, the moment when everything becomes real, alive. It is the moment when the structure becomes unstructured. Hearts race. Eyes widen. The stakes are suddenly palpable. The actor breathes, stands in the vast unstructured universe, and the words return like a swinging bar to a high-flying aerialist. The play is infused with aliveness. Presence is mostly unstructured.

As is common in the structured and unstructured use of the English language, oppositions are easily constructed. Unstructured simply means the meaning has yet to be made. Structured data, structured time, are the tip of a largely unknown iceberg. Love, joy, despair, awe…the full spectrum of experiences, bubble in the unstructured spaces. Numbers can describe a moment in time, can orient for a moment, but will never “explain” yearning or desire or our fundamental need to tell stories (put structure on unfathomable experiences). Structure & Unstructure: they are dancing partners, not combatants.

Where do we come from? What are we here to do? I am going to die, what then? It takes a good deal of unstructured time to sit in these unanswerable questions. There are, of course, plenty of people who will gladly provide structure to your unanswerable – and therefore uncomfortable – questions. Perhaps that is why we adore our structure and demonize the empty spaces? Comfort. Ease.

Kerri cannot pass a hopscotch template chalked on the street. It’s almost automatic. Step, hop, hop, step, hop. The little girl in her connects to the child who chalked the squares on the sidewalk. A simple game. Play. It’s one of the things people do with unstructured time. Set challenges. Make up obstacles. Seek puzzles. Invent. Dream. Connect to the deeper places. Where’s the structured bottom line watching the little-girl-in-my-wife hop and skip and turn in the game-chalked-on-the-sidewalk? The laughter of remembering? The giggle and freedom of the woman hopping the scotch, just because she can?

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPSCOTCH

Run Through Norway [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

DogDog is a very vocal pooch. He sings his body electric, he gives full voice to his soul. There are times that I, with great delight, watch him run fence to fence, barking for the simple pleasure of making sound. He is a vocal hedonist.

Sometimes he barks and listens. He wants some dog out there to bark back, a pooch call-and-response. There is no better gift for DogDog than when one of his neighborhood pals barks in response. Pure pleasure, he runs circles around the yard. When his call does not evoke a response, he waits a few minutes and tries again. He is an eternal optimist.

DogDog knows when he’s NOT supposed to bark. Inside the house is a no-bark-zone. When Tim, the neighbor gets in and out of his car. When Lucky, the dog that recently showed up in the yard behind ours, comes to the fence. When we are in the car, going on errands, and he sees another dog; his body quakes with full-bark-desire but he knows better. Kerri taught DogDog a bit of Norwegian. “Hold Kjeft,” she says, when we he winds up for a good bark-in-the-car. DogDog hears Hold Kjeft and he moans and whines and complains. He performs a melodramatic Medea until something else captures his attention.

Initially, she didn’t use the phrase in any other situation. Norwegian was reserved for the car. Hold kjeft, in translation, means shut-up but for us it has become a preemptive command, “no bark.” Norwegian was so successful in the car that it has now spilled out into all other situations. She never has to raise her voice. She simply opens the back door, says, “Hold Kjeft,” and all barking turns to enthusiastic circle-running. It’s magic. It’s Norwegian.

It doesn’t work when I use it. For some reason that I can’t explain, my “Hold Kjeft” elicits howls of laughter from DogDog. He looks at me and, as if to make a point, “Your Norwegian is no good!” he barks in reply. And then, to sear in his criticism, he barks again. I revert to my Frankenstein English “No Bark!” DogDog immediately complies. “That’s more like it,” he wags and runs for the back door.

Language is a mysterious and magic beast. Lately, I’ve noticed, that when I am whining and complaining and feeling like performing my version of melodramatic Medea, a tiny voice in the back of my mind whispers, “Hold Kjeft!” So taken aback by the sudden whoosh of Norwegian, my performance is short-circuited. My mind shuts up.

I look to Kerri to suss out whether that tiny voice is hers or coming from some other mysterious source. She always appears to be innocent and asks, “What?” to my inquisitive stare. “Nothing,” I reply and look to DogDog, who wags and rolls for a belly-belly.

I suspect that, rather than DogDog, it is I who am being trained. Belly-belly. Hold Kjeft. I am suddenly suspicious about my overwhelming desire to wash the dishes. What is going on here?

There is only one thing of which I am certain: my path to inner quiet runs through Norway. Hold Kjeft! On me, Norwegian works.

read Kerri’s blog post about HOLD KJEFT!

Live A Sockdolager [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Word genius sends me a word everyday. Some I know. Most I do not. Yesterday, my word-of-the-day was sockdolager. Sockdolager is a word that, when typed, is unrecognizable to the vocabulary in my spellcheck and is adorned with a screaming-dotted-red-line meant to notify me that either I spelled the word incorrectly or it’s not a word at all. Language is a fickle companion.

In Seattle, when the rains clear, people are fond of saying, “The mountain is out.” Mount Rainier, hidden in the clouds, makes a grand – almost impossible – appearance when the weather clears. Where there was no mountain, suddenly a Titan appears. It is a sockdolager, an exceptional occurrence. A forceful blow. The first time I saw it I almost crashed my car.

Mount Sopris hit us with a similar wallop. We arrived in Carbondale “in weather.” A day later, making a run to Main Street to meet Kirsten, we rounded a corner and nearly crashed the truck. There was a mountain towering over us where, previously, there was none. Clouds swirled around the summit. The late afternoon light made it glow. Sockdolager! Sockdolager!

I very much appreciate that my snotty spellcheck does not recognize or appreciate my use of sockdolager. No word can adequately capture the experience of being hit by a mountain. “Awe” is a word. So is “amazement.” They fall short, too. Language can reach toward but never quite touch that which it hopes to describe.

The day after the wallop we took a stroll on the Rio Grande Trail. We intentionally walked away from Mount Sopris, knowing that, at some point, to get back to our airbnb, we’d need to turn around and walk toward it. Like Orpheus leading Eurydice, we tried not to turn and peek but the majesty was too much. We’d giggle and turn and gasp. “My god!” we whispered.

We go to the mountains to remind us, to refresh our eyes and hearts and minds. This life. An exceptional event. A forceful blow. Grander than words can describe. Sometimes the mountain is hidden. Sometimes it shows its face. Either way, it never ceases to surprise you, to take your breath away. Sockdolager.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAIN

Make Belief [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” ~ Saul Bellow

In addition to meaning uneducated, it occurred to me that the word ‘ignorant’ also means to ignore. It’s an adjective, a descriptor. Someone who ignores is ignorant, is an ignorant. I looked up the root of the word to be sure. To disregard.

Early in the pandemic, we placed a table in our sunroom. We call it our pandemic table. In our isolation it helped us to end the day, looking out at the back yard, and watching the light wane. Through the spring, summer, and into the fall, we’d sit at the table and talk about the news of the day. We’d ramble on and on about our disbelief in the angry wave of intentional misinformation rolling over the country, the big things and small things people have to ignore in order to make belief. To support an angry illusion.

One evening, we shook our heads in utter incredulity as a member of our community re-posted a QAnon assertion that the CDC was exaggerating the numbers of COVID deaths just to make the then-president look bad. As proof, the post included a morbidity chart extracted from the official CDC website. We pulled up the website – it took less than 15 seconds – to see the extracted chart nestled on a page with multiple charts detailing comorbidity data; the many many ways that COVID kills. We felt compelled to write a note. It was too easy to debunk the assertion. We asked him to take a moment and go to the site, to look at all of the data. He was being fed a chart cherry-picked from a veritable mountain of information. Nothing was being hidden. No evil plot was in play. His reply was angry, defensive. He unfriended us. We’d done the unthinkable and revealed what he was ignoring.

We learned a lesson about the power of invested ignorance.

Over the year our pandemic table has changed. It’s been populated with sparkling lights and plants. A bonsai gardenia, a birthday present from Kirsten to Kerri sits next to the ponytail palm, both surrounded by succulents. It’s become a sanctuary. We’ve changed, too. We rarely give our time to shaking our heads in disbelief or pushing back against the non-sense things people-in-our-world believe. I’ve stopped exclaiming, “Check Your Sources!”

We occasionally comment about the big things and small things – the mountains – being ignored in order to sustain the modern bubbles of make-belief. The big lie. We are no longer shocked by the dreck that people swallow without question or thought. We’ve moved beyond our own naive illusion and admitted that many people simply do not want to know anything that might challenge their make-believe.

We sit at our pandemic table. We listen to the mourning doves. We eat our lunches looking out at the vibrant green returning to the backyard. We laugh at Dogga running circles in delight. We talk about replacing the very-worn rug beneath our feet. We appreciate the bonsai gardenia, checking the moisture of the soil. We celebrate when our friends and family are vaccinated. We know more than ever it is important to hold dear the baseline, to not disregard our responsibility to check our sources, to carry a healthy doubt about what we are hearing on the news, the story we are being told.

read Kerri’s blog post about BONSAI GARDENIA