Make Good Mistakes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

At the front desk, we answered a long series of questions about our recent health, had our temperatures scanned and recorded. A ritual of the COVID era. Name tags rolled from a printer and, with masks on, the door clicked open and we entered the memory care facility. It was the first time visiting my dad in his new home.

We found him in his room, number 110. His bed was sharply made, something he’d done all his life. He was sitting in a cranberry colored easy chair and was, in his mind, tending the store. He breathed an audible sigh of relief when we came in. “Finally!” he said, “I’ve been watching the store all day and haven’t had a single customer.”

I learned long ago to jump into his reality rather than try and pull him into mine so we talked about his business. He was especially excited about the television and radio spots promoting the shop. He pointed to the door to the bathroom and told us it was the library and confessed that he’d started to organize it but had been interrupted so it was a fantastic mess. He laughed and the old sparkle, for a moment, returned to his eyes.

I told him I was really good at making messes. He leaned in, adjusted his oxygen tube, and spoke a lovely wisdom, a lesson from the very old that, in my opinion, should be taught to the very young, “I can make as good a mistake as anybody.” We laughed.

He was always a good teacher. Making good mistakes was, and still is, even deep in his dementia journey, the epicenter of his good teaching. Make mistakes freely and learn from what you find in the mess. Remove failure from the equation.

He walked us to the door when it was time to go, and, for a moment, he knew who we were. He looked at Kerri and said of me, “I’m sorry you have to look at that all the time. Damn, is he ugly.” In my clan, to tease is to love. “I get my looks from my father,” I replied. More sparkle.

“Keep making those mistakes,” I said, hugging him goodbye.

“I don’t think I can avoid it,” he smiled and, he turned down the hall. “Guess it’s time to close up the shop.”

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MISTAKES

Catch His Hand [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago, somewhere in the middle of the 1990’s, I painted a portrait of my dad. It is monochromatic and a fairly quick study. In the painting, he is either emerging or returning to the corn. Or both. I can’t remember why I painted him in the corn except that he was born in Iowa and wished his entire adult life to return to the small town where he grew up. Perhaps this is a painting about yearning. Perhaps it is a painting about returning home.

It occurred to me, when I found it while re-stacking paintings after the great studio flood, that I painted this when he was roughly the age I am now. For a fleeting moment I wanted to paint a monochrome self-portrait simply so I might place it across the room. We’d have a staring contest that reached beyond both of our lives.

I chucked the idea for many reasons but mostly because I had no idea what “field” I might emerge from or into? My symbolic return home would be…what? I am not connected to a single place, a tiny town in Iowa or, like Tom Mck, a ranch in California. I have been a wanderer.

I’ve always loved hands. They are, in many ways, more expressive than faces. They are not as guarded and rarely put on airs. My dad was a working man and has working man hands. He was proud of the work he did. It was hard and broke his body but he loved it. It was out of doors under the open sky. He started his career as a teacher and, although he never confessed as much, I think he hated teaching. The classroom was suffocating. He needed to get his hands in the dirt, feel the sun on his face. Even after he retired, as he aged, he sat on the porch in the mornings, he worked his garden or clipped his grass or cleaned his gutters; anything to be outside.

I had a dream many years ago that has stayed with me. My dad and I were free-falling through time. As we fell, he reached out his hand. I stretched out my arm, tried to grasp his hand, but in falling, we were just out of reach. In the dream I stared intently at his hand as I tried to extend my arm, tried to grasp his hand. I knew, if I was successful, if we could catch his hand, it might not stop our fall, but we, neither of us, would fall alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLUMBUS HANDS

See The Riches [on KS Friday]

My mom tells me that my dad is becoming a little bird. His body shrinks as dementia takes his mind. He is continually packing for a trip, his clothes wrapped in tight balls or stuffed in odd places. He waits at the door.

Listen to Kerri’s Fistful Of Dandelions. It tells the story of a life cycle. A mother and her small child. The child grows. The roles reverse. The son becomes the giver of care. It is nature’s cycle and, with each passing phase of the cycle, comes the appreciation of the true riches in this transient life: moments together. Holding hands. Picking dandelions. Titanic love. “…all the riches I will need today…” Simple presence chocked full of simple appreciation.

I interviewed for a job last week. The questions they asked were questions designed for a younger person, someone at the beginning of their career. I laughed and replied that their question had nothing to do with me. I no longer climb the achievement ladder. I am at the other end, the son holding tender space for the shrinking bird.

The illusions drop away as the sand runs out. The wall of respect might hold plaques and certificates but they grow more empty over time. Paper in a frame. The car in the garage never really provided the status it promised.

What remains is the real stuff. Holding hands. A fistful of dandelions. Shared time. Beer-thirty on the back porch. A pocket full of memories. Warm days fishing together at the lake. Listening to records deep into the night. Packing boxes and helping with the move. Making sure this tiny bird is safe as he waits with his bundle at the door. Just as he did for me.

all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about FISTFUL OF DANDELIONS

fistful of dandelions ©️ 1999 kerri sherwood

Dance In Timelessness [on DR Thursday]

“We cannot struggle to be present. We can only discover that we are present.” ~ Declan Donnellan

The struggle to reach across the divide and grasp hands with the one that you love. It is a universal story. Yearning requires an obstacle to ignite the story.

I painted this for Kerri when we were attempting to bridge the divide. I lived in Washington. She lived in Wisconsin. During a visit, sitting in Adirondack chairs in her front yard, sipping wine and listening to music, we discovered that we were present. We danced in timelessness.

Obstacles become surmountable when love is on the other side of the abyss. We moved mountains and then dealt with the consequences.

It’s a rule that an artist should never tell an audience what a painting means, should never rob a viewer of their response, interpretation, and story of a painting. Sometimes it’s alright to break a rule. I painted this painting for Kerri. It’s about reaching for love across the divide, discovering the present, and the promise of dancing our way through the obstacles.

read Kerri’s blog post about DANCING IN THE FRONT YARD

dancing in the front yard ©️ 2013 david robinson

Finish The Race [on DR Thursday]

We are nearing the anniversary of SHAYNE. As heart projects go, high atop the list of projects that mattered, sits SHAYNE.

One night, Kerri’s mom, Beaky, called in tears. Nearing the end of her life, she wondered what she’d achieved. A brilliant woman born in the early part of the 20th century, many roads open to a man were utterly inaccessible to her. She wondered, as Kerri said, “What comes after the comma behind her name.”

Decades earlier, Beaky had written manuscripts for three children’s books based on the family’s dog, Shayne. She’d submitted them without success to a publisher. Kerri searched the earth and found the manuscripts. In a matter of days, we illustrated and published the first in the series. We constructed a website, set up and publicized an author’s reading. Over 70 people came, complete with the press and photographers, to hear Beatrice Arnson read and sign her new children’s book. Her first sale was in The Netherlands so I teased her that she was an international author.

Beaky passed away 18 days after the event. The word, “author” followed the comma after her name. She saw the cover art for the second and third books in the series but never saw them published. In fact, we published the second book posthumously but have yet to publish the third. It’s been too hard.

And, each year, on the anniversary of the book signing, we revisit publishing the third book. We simply need to a take a week, lay it out (the illustrations are complete), and publish it. The anniversary we approach is not only about the publication of the first book. It is the closure, the lingering necessity, of publishing the final book and complete the race that we started more than 6 years ago.

Resolution. Conclusion. Completion. More than just words. A symbolic mountain that is very difficult to climb.

The books are more than just books. The illustrations are more than just drawings and paint. They are a dream come true. A gift from daughter-to-mother and mother-to-daughter; the best kind of love-loop. They are a word that follows the comma after a name.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHAYNE

See The Invisible [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Oh my gosh!” She whispered. “These remind me of my mother!” She quickly pulled her camera from her purse and, to the amazement and amused curiosity of our fellow grocery shoppers, we had a straw-plate-holder photo shoot at the end cap of aisle 9.

It is, of course, among my favorite aspects of going through life with an artist wife. Everything is a story-thread. Everything is a possible composition, an opportunity for beauty. Everything is immediate. It is utterly unpredictable when the muse will strike. And, the immediacy of capturing the moment usually draws a crowd and she is blissfully unaware of the ruckus her immediate-story-composition creates. She is a rolling storm of performance art. I am the lucky one who gets to watch both the artist and the audience.

Augusto Boal, one of the developers of the Invisible Theatre, would be most proud of the unintentional performances Kerri creates. In an everyday setting, everyday life, a performance snaps an audience into awareness, shocks them out of their dulled sensibility, an audience that has no idea that it is functioning as an audience. Many stop to watch the crazed lady snap photos of straw-plate-holders as she tells sweet stories of her mother. Many scurry for the safety of anonymity. Either way, either response, a pure theatrical event takes place.

The performer scrutinizes her many photos, completely unaware of her performance. As she places her camera back in her purse, the audience immediately disperses, hopeful not to catch the attention of the performer and somehow be called into the play. They fold themselves back into the normalcy of their day.

But, something has changed. They have a story to tell, an unusual event happened in their day. The performer has touched back to her deep story and through her photographs, plucked her heart-threads.

And I have been the happy witness to art and artistry. All are fed by these lovely, oh so common, straw plate holders displayed at the end cap of aisle 9.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRAW PLATE HOLDERS

Pace The Loss [on KS Friday]

The loss of BabyCat will be forever linked with my father’s disappearance into dementia. I was away from home, helping my mother move my father into memory care, when Kerri called about BabyCat. One loss was sudden. The other loss is glacially slow.

The pace of loss.

I read once that we don’t lose our beloveds all at once. No matter what, sudden or slow, it happens in stages, the heartbreak comes in pieces. Missing daily rituals. Holidays. Last night, as has been my practice these many years, I peeked over the couch to see if BabyCat was going to “check into the hotel” (sleep on the couch) or spend the night with us. And then I remembered.

When I saw him in Colorado, I thought I had grown accustomed to my dad not being able to recognize me. I wasn’t. The tidal wave of loss nearly knocked me off of my feet. Empty eyes.

It’s been several weeks since Kerri chose a piece of her music for our melange. Both of us have, for reasons we cannot articulate, lately eschewed using our artistry in the melange – my paintings, her compositions. I’ve sorely missed diving into her chosen piece of music when preparing our KS Friday posts. When she decided this morning to use her piece, MISSING, I was strangely relieved. A bit of normalcy returned. As I listened, I found myself lingering in the comfort of her composition, the warm yearning of her solo piano, sun through shades, the promise of spring. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. The comforting refuge of memory evoked in Kerri’s MISSING. A sweet-bitter pathway through this forest of loss.

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about MISSING

missing/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Unwrap Them Carefully [on DR Thursday]

I give you an emptiness,/ I give you a plenitude,/ Unwrap them carefully. ~ Norman MacCraig, Presents

John O’Donohue wrote that, “Nothingness is one of the faces of death. The life of the soul is about the transfiguration of nothingness.” As we watch DogDog search and search again for his missing BabyCat, as we quietly talk each day about the empty spaces left by BabyCat’s sudden death, I am hyper-aware of the changes already happening within us.

We are gentler in the world. We spend more time sitting with DogDog, we spend more time sitting with each other. We are not afraid of the silence. In fact, we seek it. We welcome it. Sitting at the table, we watch life-at-play in the back yard. Squirrels hauling leaves for their nest. The crows on patrol. A woodpecker. Green shoots peeking through the soil. We attend the sunset.

The emptiness we inhabit has altered our relationship with time and task. We do not seek distraction or fill our minutes with news-chatter or other noises. We are moving slower with more attention, doing less and experiencing more. Washing and drying the dishes has become an act of togetherness, a generosity, like holding hands.

Tom Mck taught me that, sometimes, it is necessary to close a program or a building and let it sit empty for awhile. The emptiness will eventually attract new ideas and bring new energy. New life seeks empty spaces. Our enormous love for BabyCat has created for us a monumental emptiness. We hold it as sacred space and will, over time, unwrap it slowly, carefully, and wisely, so that the monumental soul-plenitude created by BabyCat will find its way in.

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

at the door ©️ 2017 david robinson & kerri sherwood

nap with dogdog & babycat ©️ 2020 david robinson

Feel The Absence [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Because I was in Colorado helping my mother navigate her way through a maze-like life transition, I was somewhat detached from the reality of BabyCat’s passing. The full weight of loss smacked me when, coming through the back door late at night, returning from my travels, my ordinarily overly-effusive Australian Shepherd was not bouncing at the door to greet me. I came in, put down my bags and, out of the darkness, DogDog emerged, walked slowly to me, and pressed his head to my leg.

Kerri warned me that DogDog was hurting. She told me about his vigil at the door, waiting for BabyCat to come home. She described his looking-looking-looking around the house for his constant companion. She told me of his quiet, his disinterest in going-in-and-out-and-in-and-out during the day.

He stays close to us. His sadness is palpable. His light is dim.

Initially, when DogDog appeared in our lives, Kerri was worried that BabyCat would never accept a dog into his domain. We knew they’d crossed the bridge into friendship when, one day, to our great dismay, DogDog had BabyCat’s head in his mouth and was dragging him across the hardwood floors. We shouted for DogDog to stop. Always an obedient boy, he released BabyCat, who promptly slapped him. The cat-head-went-back-into-the-gentle-dog-mouth and the game resumed. “Boys,” Kerri looked at me and sighed, “are a mystery to me.”

This morning, as I made breakfast, rather than go out and clear the yard of marauding squirrels, his usual enthusiastic activity, DogDog stood in the sun room, sniffing the spot BabyCat always occupied when it was time to be fed. I sat on the step and ruffled his ears. We’ve explained to him that his BabyCat isn’t coming home, that his BabyCat loved him. We’ve accompanied him as he searches the house, telling him that it will be okay. Now, as is true for us, too, we’re beyond words. We sit together in the silence, in the place where no word can reach, and, together, feel the absence, that only great love, in loss, brings.

read Kerri’s blog post about CONSTANT COMPANIONS

Say Farewell [on Two Artists Tuesday]

And just like that, our BabyCat was gone.

He waited until I was traveling so I experienced his death through Kerri’s eyes. His sudden illness. The race to the vet. A dire diagnosis. He died before any decisions were made or treatments considered.

When I first met Kerri there were two approvals I needed to secure. Beaky’s [Kerri’s mother] and BabyCat’s. Beaky’s approval was easy. We took to each other right away. BabyCat’s acceptance took some time. He’d had Kerri all to himself for years and was cautious about this newcomer. It didn’t help that my entrance to his quiet world also came with a rambunctious puppy. After our honeymoon, one evening, with no warning, BabyCat jumped up into my lap and I knew I was in. “Well, look at that!” Kerri said. BabyCat purred. I beamed.

He joined me in my morning yoga. He bumped my legs to alert me of his empty bowl. He trained me to carry him up the stairs for his late night snack [his bowl was on the landing, safe from invasion, since DogDog is afraid of climbing stairs]. He crawled into bed with us each night as we watched our late night trail and made himself available for lavish pets. I willingly became his grateful servant.

Two days after his death BabyCat came to me in a dream. I was still in Colorado and felt badly that Kerri was all alone with her grief. In the dream, BabyCat came to the backdoor and yowled; he wanted to come in. He was an indoor kitty his entire life so I was surprised to find him outside. I opened the door and knelt down. He came in and crawled into my lap and we had a nice pet. He purred. I told him that I was going to miss him.

I awoke with a profound sense of peace. BabyCat was okay. I will always be grateful that he crawled into my lap. I will always be grateful that he gave me a sweet farewell.

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT