Take It Home [on KS Friday]

A Double Haiku

“It smells like mountains,”

she said, nose deep in blankets.

“Can we take it home?”

Mount Sopris’ towers

above nose, bed, and blanket.

A coyote howls.

read Kerri’s KS FRIDAY HAIKU

Step Into The Next [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There is a plot of ground in the backyard of my growing-up-home, as Kerri calls it, that for many years served as my father’s garden. He has not tended it nor planted it for quite some time and yet, a few intrepid carrots have pushed their green shoots up through the crusty soil. The impulse to life never ceases to amaze me.

In the back of our refrigerator we found a red onion. It was not ancient and forgotten. We used half of it in a new recipe a month ago and laughed aloud when we pulled it out and found it sprouting. In the dark and cold recesses of the refrigerator drawer, it sent out explorers to find the sun. It looked like an alien creature, these pale arms reaching, reaching from a purple half-orb.

Before we drove away, I walked through the empty rooms of my growing-up-home, touching walls, gathering memories, shedding the skin of my childhood. We’d already moved my dad to a memory care facility. Now, my mother is settling into her new apartment. Closing a chapter as another opens.  All are reaching through a necessary uncertainty for what is next.

We left Denver and drove up the mountain into and through a furious snowstorm. Cresting the continental divide, we descended again into spring. There was snow and then, within a mile, there was a blanket of green climbing the hillside. This morning, outside of our door, the birds are in full chorus. The dandelions are in a heated competition with the grass and it’s anyone’s call which will win, though, left to their own devices, I’d put my money on the dandelions.

We think we are in control of nature but the last laugh is always on us. We are nature. Our control fantasy crumbles with age, making space for new life and next seasons. Whether we want to or not, we send out new shoots of pale green from our dark purple skin, hoping to punch through crusty soil to find the sun. Either way, we change form, stepping into the next, leaving well-known houses and used skin, filled with rich remembering, opening to welcome the new. The impulse to life.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ONION

See The Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Inosculation is a natural phenomenon in which trunks, branches or roots of two trees grow together. ~ Wikipedia

I’m re-writing my Creatures of Prometheus script. Yaki, the conductor of the symphony, asked that I re-imagine it so the story-within-the-music might better speak to the issues of our day. The original performance was in 2008 and the world has changed mightily since the last time we performed it.

Beethoven wrote his ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, as a creation story. Zeus ordered Prometheus to fashioned a human male and female. Zeus wanted them to be crudely made, their sole purpose, as he imagined them, was to worship the gods. Instead, Prometheus created something more powerful, more beautiful, more god-like. He knew Zeus would never allow something so beautiful to exist so Prometheus stole the spark of life so he might ignite the hearts of his creatures. That’s how the story begins; Prometheus steals fire to bring life to his beautiful creatures. The rest of the story is biblical. The creatures gain knowledge (separation). The gods corrupt the creatures and teach them division and the game of war, essentially booting them out of the garden. The gods like to watch war games like humans like to watch football on the weekends. It is a story of Prometheus’ punishment for daring to create something so beautiful, so capable, as human beings: he must watch them corrupt themselves for all eternity.

It’s a big story in a big ballet.

I take back what I wrote a paragraph ago. The world hasn’t changed so much. Our ancient and epic divisions and challenges have surfaced. They’ve bobbed to the top. The story Yaki asked me to specifically address is the black-white racial divide in these un-united-united-states. I have more thoughts on this story than I care to admit. And the story I will tell – so similar to the original – is a story of unity corrupted. The revision is a gift from Plato, a seed from The Symposium.

It was a common practice in colonial times, when the wealthy were vastly outnumbered by the locals and laborers – and the King’s army was an ocean away, to divide the commoners along some imaginary line. In the American colonies, the imaginary line was a color line. It’s explicit in our colonial logs and legislation. The fear. The solution. The cleaving. Any gain made by blacks is an automatic threat to white power. It’s a game the gods love to watch, like football on the weekends.

I have long thought that our division is impossible to heal when approached through a racial lens. It acts – and has always acted – as a trigger. Just as it was intended to do. The trigger is built into the system: approaching the racial divide as a racial divide will only serve to reinforce the divide. The division is knit firmly into our national DNA.

A systemic flaw must be addressed systemically. The division was designed in our colonial history because the colors united. For a brief moment the united colors were more powerful than the ruling class. The colors were cleaved and then knit back together through inequity. Keep ’em fighting. The dance of supremacy and suppression. United in discrimination. Unnatural inosculation.

Epic stories always end on a promise. There will be an awakening. The lost brothers will find each other. The Creatures of Prometheus, black and white, divided for the security and sport of the gods, will recognize that they are being used, distracted from their original state, and will join hands and together walk off the field. And only then will the natural inosculation, the branches and roots growing stronger together, become possible.

read Kerri’s blog post about INOSCULATED

See The Moon [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

From Japan comes the story of the Crescent Moon Bear. It is a story of rage and patience. A young wife must pluck a single hair from the crescent moon shape at the throat of the ferocious bear. The single hair is a necessary ingredient for a medicine that will cure her husband. I told the story at a facilitation. After the telling, the vice president of the company said to the gathering, as an apology and a revelation, “I am the bear.”

Sometimes bears are necessary. Just like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, without the bear or the wolf there would not be a story. The purpose of a fear is to face it. It is a catalyst. The lesson is almost always concealed in the obstacle.

I once had a terrifying dream. I was being chased by monsters. I ran but could not get away. Finally, desperate, I saw a warehouse and ran for the door. I was certain there would be plenty of places to hide. Bursting through the door I was horrified to find the vast space empty. Swept clean. With no other exit available, I had to turn and face the monsters rushing toward me.

Do a little research on the symbol of the crescent moon and you’ll read that she represents cycles and instinct, mystery and immortality. Change. Fecundity. Many years ago I took a class on art and transformation. One of the projects, guided by an elder, was to make medicine shields. The face of the shield was decidedly male, sun. Bull. The back of the shield was feminine, moon. Lizard. Two aspects of power that dance. One is incomplete, superficial and out of balance, without the other.

In the Crescent Moon Bear story, after an arduous journey through the forest of her fear, the bear allows the young wife to pluck the hair. The magic ingredient is not taken, it is given. The obstacle, the monster, the locked door, opens and offers its potion. Insight ensues.

Insight, literally, the sight from within.

All of this, whispers from the psyche, bubbles of deeper wisdom, regeneration, emergence from the dark wood forever changed; could there be a better symbol for our times, a better symbol of promise as we stand with no place to hide, facing our raging pandemic, our ferocious bear of racial injustice, our masculine disequilibrium, than the promise of the crescent moon.

read Kerri’s blog post about the CRESCENT MOON

Walk In Sync [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My Seattle studio was on the 4th floor. It was a corner space so I had windows on two sides. On one side, across the railroad tracks, were the stadiums. Out of the other set of windows I could see the streets that bordered the International district. People scurrying to and fro.

Many afternoons, working on a painting, I’d hear the roar of the crowds, touchdowns or home runs. The light rail pulling into the station. The Amtrak train pulling out of the station heading north. Sirens, car horns honking. I loved my studio because, although I was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of city life, I felt somehow removed from it, a witness.

Sometimes, when I was too much in my head or I could no longer ‘see’ my painting, I’d walk the streets. I’d wander to clear my mind or refresh my vision. I’d walk slowly, people rushing, rushing by. People trying to get somewhere. Trying-to-get-out-of-a-too-active-mind requires a much different pace than trying-to-get-somewhere. They are opposite actions. In my slow walk I’d feel the wind of impatience as people dodged around me. I was an irritant. I was a slow moving rock in a rushing river of humanity.

The wind of impatience.

I’ve always understood the artist’s role to be a witness, to live on the edges looking in. Master Marsh recently sent Wendell Castle’s “My 10 Adopted Rules of Thumb.” Rule # 2 is “It’s difficult to see the whole picture when you are inside the frame.” An artist’s job is to sit on the frame, to see and share what those inside the frame cannot see. Pattern. Movement. Illusion.

One of the first things I noted the day I met Kerri is that we had exactly the same stride. We were walking and our steps were weirdly identical. We strolled in sync. It made us laugh.

There is a special place in Aspen, Colorado. The John Denver Sanctuary. We make a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary when we travel to visit Kirsten. It is a place designed to make people slow down. Babbling brooks. Aspen leaves. Monolithic stones carved with the lyrics of John Denver’s songs, stones that carry the words of writers and artists and thinkers who appeal to the heart. It asks the visitor to sit for a spell. To listen. To breathe and see. To be, as nature teaches, no where other than here. It offers the gift of the artist: to fill-up with quiet before jumping back into the life-of-hurry-up-and-get-it-done. To remember what is natural and walk with exactly the same stride as nature.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATIENCE

Open [on KS Friday]

“…nothing really worthwhile can be owned. There is life. There is love. There is grace. But we can neither create nor possess a state of any of these. These visitors breathe through us, with us and in us the more we keep ourselves open.” ~ Declan Donnellan

Barney, the piano, was set to go to the junkyard. His soundboard was broken after years of being stored in a basement in a boiler room. We convinced the junkyard man to bring Barney to our house. We set up a stone foundation so he wouldn’t sink into the garden. In a move worthy of the Three Stooges, we rolled him across the grass until he came to rest in his new home, our backyard.

Over the years we’ve watched Barney age into gorgeousness. His veneer blistered and rolled. Pieces fell off. The superficial white covering on his keys mostly flaked away. His truth exposed by the sun and the rain and the snow, is more lovely than the facade he once maintained. His wood bleaches and cracks, the grain swirls like a rip tide. His nails and screws rust, the color pops in elegant contrast to his otherwise grey and green-moss tones.

Over time, the flowers and grasses have grown around and through his pedals. Each summer the green tendrils reach for his keys. He has become home and haven to chipmunks and squirrels. The birds sit on his lid and rest or sing. Dogga investigates the community living in and around Barney at least once every day. He is, in his slow march toward dust, a welcome sanctuary to all living things.

Unlike many of the human examples in my life, Barney has opened with age. He is akin to our dear H, who died not so long ago, a man who opened and opened and opened the older he became. Like Barney, a gorgeous spirit grown more gorgeous with age. Curious about life and engaged with its mystery to the very end. H was a study of opening to his experiences rather than resisting the changes.

This year I have wrestled with staying open. My veneer wrinkles, my truth is revealed by the circles I have made around the sun. I have, many days, felt like my soundboard was cracked, the purpose that I was built for ruined by life next to the boiler. And then I listen to the absurdity of my words. The purpose. Singular. Ridiculous. I am reminded of what H knew and Barney trumpets to me each and every day: in an open heart, purpose is never fixed. It is a fluid thing. It is a moving target, not a possession or plaque to be hung on my wall of respect. It is a home to chipmunks, a resting spot for birds. It is how I address myself to the world of mysteries, how I avail myself to the experiences that wash through me and over me each and every day. It is how I make breakfast for Kerri. It is how I sit with DogDog when he searches the house for his missing BabyCat. It is in my choice to say Yes or No to the wonders of this world.

read Kerri’s blog post about BARNEY

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

Look To 3 [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My long-ago-business-partner used to tell groups that every human being wears an umbrella hat called “normal.” That is, we try to maintain and make sense of the world according to our personal (and cultural) criteria. We carry the criteria around with us – it does not exist beyond us. We are comfortable when wearing our umbrella hats. We get really uncomfortable when something comes along that knocks our hats off of our heads.

When we lose our hats, we’ll do anything to regain our comfortable “normal.” The fear of losing our hats is what makes change – personal and cultural – so difficult. Despite what they say, no one wants to lose their hat. Organizations have a nifty phrase, change-management, to shield against the reality that change – real change- requires discomfort. How to prevent discomfort? Manage it! No worries! Everything is under control!

The other strategy – also not very effective in the long run – is to pretend that the hat is still on your head. No worries! It’s all made-up! Everything is normal!

The pandemic blew our collective hats off of our heads. We’ve had a front row seat to the realities and responses of a disrupted normal. The recent photos from Miami Beach, the aggressive non-mask-wearers, the absurd and deadly politicization of a pandemic…all in the name of hat retention and recovery.

In our circle of life, we’ve had the ubiquitous conversation about the return of normal. “When can we get together again?” Prior to the pandemic, our week was patterned on, our lives were grounded in, our Sunday and Thursday night dinners with 20. In a fluid artistic life, dinner with 20 was the shape-giver to our otherwise formless weeks. One day last March, we tossed our hats to the wind. It wasn’t safe to gather.

Over the year we left groceries at his door. He dropped goodies at our door. We waved from the car. We had regular phone calls. A few times, when the weather was nice, we sat in the back yard at great distance and discussed how weird life had become.

We looked for our new-normal-hats but they were nowhere to be found. It’s what happens when change cannot be denied: the management of discomfort is the best that you can do. Keep stepping. Chop wood/carry water. One day at a time. A new normal will surface sometime. A new pattern will be established. Pattern making is what we homo sapiens do.

In the past few months we three were vaccinated. We waited for a few weeks. We diligently read our CDC guidelines. And then, as if a year had not passed in the interim, we gathered to share a meal and drink a bottle of wine. Nothing had changed and everything had changed.

2 at the table is once again 3. We are slowly reestablishing what we once knew as normal. Our laughter is easy as it has always been. But the nation we inhabit, the community we see and experience, is transformed. There are stores we will never again support. There are relationships that will always be superficial. There is a bald ugliness exposed as never before in the nation. Ruthlessness. So many dead amidst such fatuous games of denial. The hot wind that blew our normal-hats away exposed the geography – the actual geography – beneath our nation that espouses equality but has deep division and favoritism woven into its DNA. Control by division. It is a mechanism: black gain is seen as white loss. White gain is built upon black loss. It is a seesaw, an angel/devil game. It’s a system doing – brutally – what it was designed to do.

Disruption is an opportunity for change. With so many lost hats, with so much ugliness exposed, a good look in the national mirror is possible. As we struggle to find our new normal hats, it occurs to me that angel/devil games, deep divisions, are never “solved” in twos. Movement is created by two points. Insight is a three-legged stool. Complexity is addressed through triangles, through a focus on relationship. Opposition-in-twos will keep us forever on the systemic seesaw.

Laughter is restored, possibility uncovered, through the lens of three.

read Kerri’s blog post about 3

Wiggle And Be Warm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!” ~ Thomas Nashe, Spring, Sweet Spring

“It’s not possible,” we said in unison. For weeks, the temperatures were bitter cold. The mound of snow at the end of our driveway was as tall as I am. The sun finally emerged. We pulled on our snow pants, our heavy boots, and walked into the snow-shocked world. Rounding the corner by the dentist’s office, at the base of the south facing wall, through a patch of cold wet earth surrounded by mounds of ice and snow, tender shoots of green were breaking through, reaching for the warmth. Daffodils. Spring.

We stood staring as if slapped. It was as if we had rounded the corner and come face-to-face with alien hope, something we thought existed only in some distant future, a Hallmark promise of light in the darkest of winters. Yet, there it was, tenacious and tender, a harbinger of Persephone’s return to the sweet surface of the earth. “I have to take a picture,” Kerri whispered, as I broke into a spontaneous sun dance. Passing motorists stared at the lady climbing into the bushes and the wiggling crazy man.

I felt as if I suddenly held a precious secret. I did a slow 360 degree turn and saw only winter, winter, winter. Cold, frozen, frigid, freezing, ice damming, black ice, snow plow, sand and salt world with people puffed out and covered in too many layers to please-god-stay-warm. And, in the middle of it all, a tiny patch of promise. A force greater than despair or depression or pandemic fatigue. Life.

We stayed just long enough to make sure it wasn’t a mirage, linked arms and set course for home. Cold fingers but warm in our core.

As we trudged home, breaking trail in snow, I thought of a small piece by Ellsworth Kelly. He pasted a chunk of warm yellow on a postcard image, a Japanese print. He called it “Spring (Yellow curve).” A shock of yellow completely out of place yet transforming the entire world. I imagine, one day, he took a walk in the bitter cold and saw a shock of yellow blowing through the soil. So out of character yet so welcome. Spring. Yellow curve. “Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!”

read Kerri’s blog post about SPRING?

Invite The Humor [on Two Artists Tuesday]

The sun at last. We pulled on our snow boots and walked the neighborhood, arriving at a place sacred to us, the Southport Beachhouse. It’s the site of our wedding reception and candlelight anniversary dinners on the beach.

Kerri packed a snow ball and another and another. She made a tiny snowman. We scrounged the snow for sticks, small cones for eyes. “He’s so cute!” she said. And then, “Do you think he knows the world is off its axis?”

“No.”

“Lucky snowman!” she sighed.

Horatio had me laughing during our call. He told me that the story of Job was meant to be a comedy and, in his telling, it was hysterically funny. He has me convinced. Grim circumstance is fodder for good humor. It’s why the classic slip-on-the-banana-peel is so funny. I told him that Kerri and I are waiting for the whale to burp. Despite what it seems, our time in the belly of the whale is temporary. Sooner or later, every good comedy comes to a happy ending.

The trick, I suppose, is to recognize that you are living in a comedy and it is better to laugh than shake your fist at the sky.

Sand paintings, like snowmen, are temporary. They are meant to invoke healing. They are meant to provide protection. “Do you think he’ll be here tomorrow?” Kerri asked as we walked away.

“No. He’ll enjoy his day in the sun and that will be it,” I said. She looked at me sideways.

Impermanence. A day in the sun. A snowman made for fun and not forever. In making it, we found an ounce of perspective, some tiny snowman healing.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SNOWMAN

Look To The Hand [on KS Friday]

This is the year of the hand. Not ox or rat or snake or dragon. Hand. Not merely as a symbol but as an overriding metaphor for our latest circle around the sun. And, like all good metaphors, “hand” is complex and signals more than one level of meaning.

You’d be amazed what you cannot do when both your hands are immobilized, when both your wrists are broken, when your thumbs are bound in plaster. So, the first level of meaning in our metaphor of “hand” points to all the things we take for granted. Try and wash your hair without your wrists. Try and cut a piece of bread without the use of your hands. Try to open a door without your thumbs. The failure of proper appreciation for simple function. There’s nothing like a good hard tumble, complete with casts, to revivify genuine indebtedness to the temple of the hand.

I’ve read that an opposable thumb is a physical adaptation that helped humans survive – and thrive – in our many habitats. In addition to all the things we take for granted (and now fully appreciate), our “hand” metaphor-of-the-year also reaches into the wonders of adaptation. I watched with utter amazement, two weeks after her fall and with no time off extended to her, my wife played the piano. Standing across the room you’d never know that she was in casts. This woman, who could not button a shirt, somehow, managed to play. To make music. To open hearts. Standing behind her, I was slack-jawed at the contortions required, the adaptations necessary, to reach the keys. Spread a thick layer of pandemic on top of lost jobs and injury, and the year of the hand is a miracle of rolling adaptation. An affirmation of the possible.

And, while considering miracles, I would be remiss if I did not mention the mittens. Gloves are not made for hands-in-casts. To keep hands warm while walking-through-winter we tried a succession of thick socks, borrowed mittens, and other inventions that included sacks, wraps and duct tape (I’ll leave it up to your imagination to fill in the gory details) – none of which did the simple job of keeping fingers warm. We visited multiple sporting good and camping supply stores and found possible solutions but they were not in the budget. Not even close. The year of the hand is, above all, a year of tenacity. One step at a time. Keep walking. Keep looking. Keep trying. And then, one day, an after Christmas sale brought to us, as Kerri likes to call them, her miracle mittens. They are easy to slide onto injured hands and over splints. On sale they were within our reach. “My hands are warm,” Kerri purrs as we crunch through the snow. “It’s a miracle.”

The year of the hand. Filled with appreciation for all that what was once taken for granted. Adaptation in circumstances that we might once have called impossible. Tenacity. There’s always a way. And, if we forget that we can do almost anything regardless of the fury that surrounds us – and we sometimes forget – all we need do is take a breath and look at our hands.

read Kerri’s blog post about MIRACLE MITTENS