Hug The Pain [on Merely A Thought Monday]

you're my favorite copy

Put on your seat belt. I’m going to indiscriminately fling stereotypes at myself and my wife and that requires me to indiscriminately snag other fish in my broad net of oversimplification. To make you feel safe in reading further, please note that this a not so cleverly disguised survival guide for two people living together in this age of stay-at-home-orders.

We are both artists. I often wonder if the universe put Kerri and me in relationship as some kind of whacky psychological experiment. Imagine the laughter on Mount Olympus! If you are an artist or know any artists, please join me now in making a list of adjectives: volatile, hypersensitive, moody, procrastinating,.. Now, multiply that times two. Let’s just say that we do not cancel out each other. We are certain that our friends invite us to dinner for the sheer entertainment value of hearing about our latest train wreck. We are both good storytellers so we take comfort knowing that at least we make our mayhem amusing.

True story: yesterday I apologized to DogDog that neither Kerri or I was an engineer. “You have hard duty this time around,” I said, patting him on the head. He didn’t disagree.

Since we are already standing at the edge of chaos I can see no reason not to jump. It was too late in our developing relationship when we realized that, not only were we both artists but we are diametrically opposed in our approach . Kerri is so detail-oriented that it makes my head hurt. I am such a big-picture-generalist that she regularly has to run screaming from the the room so as not to get lost in my thought.

Kerri organizes through piles. I organize by eliminating piles. I seem incapable of learning the lesson that what-looks-like-a pile-to-me-looks-like-order to her. I’ve probably set her back a decade by imposing my idea of order to her system of filing. We’re still looking for the project notes she lost the day I moved in and decided to help out by cleaning up the piles. Last week I attempted to hang up her snow pants and her icy glare melted my good intention; I let them slip to the chair where they remain to this day.

She is easier in the world than I am. If I begin a project or a painting it is nearly impossible for me to stop thinking about it until it is complete. I dream about it. I ponder and muse. Okay, go ahead and think it: he is obsessive-compulsive. I cannot deny it. In my defense, by bride is incapable of holding on to a thought or completing a single task. She works in circles. Attention deficit. Now, imagine, if you can, the process we’ve developed in working together. If we were a band, our name would be Creative Tension.

DogDog walks in circles around the house. I used to think it was a trait of his breed but I’ve come to believe that circle-walking is what happens to an over-sensitive dog when one of his parents is obsessive and the other is ADD. He simply can never relax since we are such a danger to ourselves.

She’s a New Yorker.  I am from Colorado. I was taught that talking over someone else was rude. She was raised in a part of the world where it is essential. Our conversations are sometimes hysterical but mostly shattered language fragments and hesitations. If only I were a better playwright!

Now, flip all of this too-much-information over. Perceptive, deeply felt, intuitive, adventurous, improvisational. Sometimes mystic. We crawl out the window to drink our wine on the roof. Our life is never routine, never dull. We cultivate surprise whether we intend to or not. Her artistic eye makes mine better. She pulls me from my obsessive mind so that I might breathe and relax. I help her step back from the detail and see another perspective.

The moral: there is no better collaborator, no more treasured companion, than the pain-in-the-ass pushing back on your idea, the one talking over you, the one challenging your choices, the one that you love and trust with your most vulnerable life & artistic decisions because (you begrudgingly admit to yourself) they see things differently. This equal and opposing force that shares space with you is the very reason you are capable of expanding your mind, your perspective, and your heart.  They are what you mean when you utter this word: together.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAIN IN THE ASS

 

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Plant What You Love [on DR Thursday]

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“All that we are arises with our thoughts. Speak or act with a pure mind and heart and happiness will follow you as your shadow, unshakable.” ~The Buddha

What is it to speak or act with a pure mind and heart? I’ve often thought about Don Miguel Ruiz’s 4th Agreement: be impeccable to your word. He writes that being impeccable to your word is the most self-loving thing you can do. Mean what you say. Say what you mean.  And, beyond that, say nothing. How often have I said something I didn’t mean? How often have I done something out of anger or spite or fear that I knew I would later regret?

Pure (adjective): free of contamination.

Wayne Muller wrote a book I admire, How Then Shall We Live. In it, he asks four questions. The second question is, “What do I love?” He writes that “we must plant what we love in the garden of our lives.” Plant anger and you will grow anger. Plant generosity and you will grow generosity. Nurture reactivity and your garden will run amok with weedy reactivity. So, self love: say what you mean and only that. Mean what you say and only that. Jay made me laugh out loud when she told us what she used to say to her young students: “You can think it in your mind but don’t let it out of your mouth.”

Horatio told me that I needed to get back into the studio, even if it was only to sit and sip a glass of wine. I took his advice. On the easel was a canvas with the trace of an image that I had sketched and then wiped clean. On a cold autumn day, DogDog and BabyCat asleep on the bed, Kerri (pre-broken wrists) crawled between them and cuddled with DogDog.

An image of what I love. In this time of high anxiety, anger, division and fear, in the quiet of my studio (which induces quiet in my mind), perhaps my entry back into painting should be attention to my garden. In this first image, I will plant what I most love.

 

k.Dot Dogga BCat copy

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SKETCHES

 

 

 

 

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Give And Receive [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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DogDog has two distinctly different personalities. In the sunny hours he is high strung, high energy, high joy. He rarely stops moving, circling the yard, circling the rooms of the house, moving his toys from here to there and back again. When it is time to take out the garbage, he delights in clearing the yard of marauding squirrels. I am always well protected when I deliver the trash to the can.

At night, our energizer-bunny-of-a-dog collapses. He gently herds us into the living room and, if we sit, even for a moment, he believes that his people are securely in the pen and he is off duty for the day. He punches out,  settles on the cool floor and is asleep in a nanosecond. In that moment he is transformed into ‘sweet dog.’

Rather than serving as the protector, sweet dog is a sponge for affection. If we move, stand, cross the room, cough,… he rolls onto his back, availing himself for a belly-belly. Sweet dog does not bark. Sweet dog knows our nighttime travel patterns and is somehow always positioned in our path. Sweet dog is a no-apology opportunist.

High joy. Sweet. Giver. Receiver. Both are qualities to be admired.

At night, before he retires to his crate, he waits for us on the foot of our bed. We spend several minutes loving on him. He gives himself over completely to our affection. It is among my favorite rituals of the day to heap love on DogDog before putting him in his crate.

I read once that the phrase “unconditional love” was redundant. The quality that makes love love is the absence of condition. If what we call “love” comes with qualifiers or expectations then it is not love at all. It is something else.

High joy. Sweet. Love (unconditional). I am always, everyday, in awe of this furry teacher and mostly grateful that he is endlessly patient with the glacial pace of his student.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGDOG SLEEPING

 

 

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See The Series [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The closing moment of the film Love Actually is a wonderful montage of greetings at the arrival gate at Heathrow airport. The Beach Boys sing God Only Knows to images of children greeting grandparents, husbands rushing to their wives, friends opening their arms to friends. Hugh Grant’s voice over: “Love actually is, all around us.”

For reasons I’ve never quite understood, we human beings have an uncanny ability to focus on the negative stuff while completely missing the love all around us. We famously study ourselves and the data is overwhelming: we yammer on and on to all who will listen about the “bad” thing that happened in our day. We share the “good” stuff less and with far fewer listeners. There’s something about a fight that draws our eyes while a kiss will make us look away.

Stand on any street corner and  watch the world go by and one thing becomes immediately clear. There are far more acts of generosity than there are acts of violence. The kind hearts outstrip the mean spirits by far so why do believe the opposite?

Krishnamurti famously said that “Life is a relationship. Living is a relationship. We cannot live if you and I have built a wall around ourselves and just peep over that wall occasionally.”

Violence and division make for better ratings because it’s profitable [and easy] to focus the feed on all things negative. Low hanging fruit. It’s profitable to keep the eye off the thousand tiny miracles. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening all around us, every minute of every day.

What might it take to pull down the wall so we might more than periodically peep over it? So that we might see that love actually is all around us? To borrow a phrase from The Beach Boys, “god only knows.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A THOUSAND TINY MIRACLES

 

 

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Rest Full [on KS Friday]

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“The primeval beauty of silence becomes audible in the elemental music of the earth and in our music of instrument and voice. At the core of the world and at the core of the soul is silence that ripples with the music of beauty and the whisperings of the eternal.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

I have said more than once these past few weeks, that the silver lining of two broken wrists is that all the presses have stopped. The endless list of things-to-do fell into dust on the floor and the true priorities jumped into immediate clarity. The superficial things gave way to the essential.

Little things, like showering or getting dressed in the morning, are no longer mindless  rote activities. The are now intentional. Attention is paid to every movement, every moment.  They are care-full. I am learning once again that there are riches all around me when I am not racing to get to the next thing but, instead, occupying the moment that I am living. The other night at rehearsal I nearly burst into tears so beautiful were the people and the laughter surrounding us. A month ago, pre-wristgate, I might have missed it.

Caring for an other.  Caring for one and another. Other caring.

We rest. We do not push through. So many in our amazing community have asked me, as I care for Kerri, am I also taking care of myself? I love this question. It is generous. The answer is ‘yes’ and the question it raises is ‘why isn’t this level of self-generosity the norm?’ Are you caring for yourself? In the midst of all that life flings your way, first and foremost, as you care for others, are you also attending to yourself?

I’m learning that the two things are inseparable: caring for another is also caring for yourself. Or, flip it over: it is impossible to fully care for yourself without caring for others. We know ourselves through relationship. We can only thrive when loved and while loving. People in isolation go mad. Banishment from the group was once considered a punishment worse than death.

As silence is to sound. Caring as making beautiful life-music. We take our quarter rest.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about QUARTER REST

 

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Pick Your Star [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Mike Libecki is a mountain climber. He calls the necessary suffering of his sport pre-joy. “That way,” he explains, “I get to use the word joy in all of my sentences.” There’s joy at the summit. There’s pre-joy on the way up. It’s not a bad orientation to life, everything is relative to joy.

Skip’s meditation these days is on resilience. After a horrific car accident, he has more than a few tales of pre-joy. He has even more tales of joy. Human beings have a remarkable capacity to choose their stories, to orient to a path that is life-giving or to collapse their story into a state of no-joy. Skip chose resilience. The capacity to recover. To spring back in order to spring forward. Pick your star and sail toward it. That is Skip’s lesson to me.

Judy just wrote a book, Summoned By A Stroke. It is the blog posts she wrote to her community of support after her husband, Kim, suffered a major stroke. It is a remarkable testament to the invincibility of the human spirit when it intentionally orients to joy. It is also pays homage to the magnetic pull joy has on a community. There is  no attempt in Judy’s story to deny the pre-joy; there is a deep understanding that there would be no real joy without it.

During my Seattle years, when I was feeling blue, I would jump on the ferry to Bainbridge Island to visit Judy and Kim. This man wrecked by a stroke and, my friend, Judy, his wife, never failed to lift my spirits, to fill me up with laughter. More than once, on the return ferry, I would sit in utter amazement. I told myself that I should be bringing comfort and support to them but the opposite was, in fact, the case. What I experienced with them was beyond words. So much joy. If there is a place where pre-joy and joy blend together, Judy and Kim inhabited it. Today, this is Judy and Kim’s lesson to me:

“Kim and I are learning that happiness is not about what we do or where we go but how loving we are in relationships, how open and curious we are about where we find ourselves, and how inventive we can be with what we are given.” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke

 

read Kerri’s blog post on PRE-JOY/JOY

 

 

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Take Another Step [on KS Friday]

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We spent some time last week talking about our beginning. We’d written a post and it prompted us to remember. It was surprisingly necessary to recount our story. To revisit our genesis.

In the guest room in Kerri’s parent’s house was a wall of family photographs. Many were pictures of weddings. A proud man in a uniform about to leave for the second war to end all wars, arm-in-arm with his bride in her wedding gown. A generation back in time, stiff collars, seated brides. There were more recent grooms and brides, too. Kerri’s sister and Bill. Wayne and Jan. Wendy and Keith. Heather and Brian. Beaches and rains of rice. When we stayed in that room, I’d sit on the bed and study the pictures. People standing together on the threshold of a new life. All of the unknowns, the triumphs and tragedies, the obstacles and stories of overcoming, waiting to be lived. But, in this one photographic moment, the vow, the unsullied togetherness, shines: we will walk hand in hand through thick and thin. I promise.

I loved looking at those photographs. The people in them are focused on all good things. There is not a hint of future fear. It’s as if the camera crew at the edge of the mystery was taking snapshots of the bold adventurers on the day the expedition set sail. Anticipation. Hope.

Our photograph is on a wall now. Not Beaky and Pa’s, but on our wall. In our picture, we stand toe to toe. In another, we are skipping out of our ceremony just as we skipped out of the airport the day that we met. Ours, we remembered last week, is a story that began with skipping. With wine on a roof top. With burgers and champagne. With a mystic Taize.

Kerri wrote this song for her niece’s wedding a decade ago. So much life is being lived! So many roads walked. So many adventures ahead.  What would the camera crew at the edge of the mystery capture in their photographs today, at this stage in the adventure? Anticipation? Hope? Holding hands, squeezed in affirmation. Let us take another step together, my best friend.

 

 

the single, MY BEST FRIEND is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MY BEST FRIEND

 

wedding pic with website copy

my best friend ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood