See Beyond [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Breck, the small aspen tree in our backyard, is beginning to change its colors for the season. Although we have yet in our neighborhood to smell autumn in the air, Breck is giving us a heads-up.

A decade ago I wrote that, in order to see beyond preconception (thought), artists and entrepreneurs need to master two skills: pattern recognition and metaphor. Look for patterns and you will eventually see beyond them. See beyond the pattern and, as Ash Bhoopathy said, “The familiar will become strange and the strange will become familiar.” What an amazing definition of metaphor.

In this pattern cycle, the green becomes brilliant golden yellow as Breck turns her summer attention from the sun and sends her focus into the root for winter nourishment.

Kerri’s photographs are often extreme close-ups. She has a bit of Georgie O’Keeffe in her artist’s eye. Often, when showing me the latest photo, she pulls the-already-close-up-image into a detail. I am always amazed at the pattern beneath the pattern beneath the pattern. The plumes of the grasses are a festival of pattern. The many feet of the caterpillar, perfect suction cups.

Despite our dedication to our perceived differences, we, too are a festival of pattern. The operative word is “perceived.” Pull the lens close-in and our divisions disappear as rapidly as our skin color. Pull the focus farther out and we move together in a sweet-and-sour ballet. Koyannisqatsi. History repeats, a pattern, like the cycle of the seasons. Order moves to chaos to order to chaos…mainly in our minds. Order is what we crave, so purblind are we to seeing the ubiquity of pattern.

The plumes explode pink and red on the grasses The chipmunks have picked up their foraging pace. The geese have reappeared. The miracles are in the familiar, strange and surprising when seen again for the first time. The feel of the hand of the one you love. The moon on a clear cold night. The yellow rim reaching through the green quaking leaves.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BRECK’S LEAVES

See The Pattern [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives.” ~ Oliver Sacks

Entrepreneur Ash Bhoopathy said, “The more you see, the more you see patterns.” It’s true. Take some time and sit on a busy street corner and watch. If your eyes are open, you’ll notice that you are surrounded by patterns. Not only the bricks in the buildings but the patterns of travel. The space between a red light and green light. The beeping of the crosswalk. The suits and ties. The paths walked by busy commuters.

“Comfort” and “home” are defined by patterns. What do you do to get comfortable? How do you signal the end your busy workday? Is it the same as you did yesterday?

Expectations are patterns, too.

Study “story” long enough and you’ll discover, as Kurt Vonnegut did, that there are patterns beneath every plot. We tell ourselves the same storyline over and over. Hallmark has its story pattern defined to the minute. It’s the secret to their appeal: the comfort of knowing the pattern. The comfort of asking, not “What” will happen, but “How” will it happen.

It’s a great paradox. The more you see, the more you see pattern. Yes. Yet, in order to see, often it’s necessary to disturb your patterns. That’s the beauty of patterns. When you are inside them, living a day of your life, you rarely see your patterns. It’s the reason Julia Cameron built artists dates into her Artist’s Way. Do something different. Break your routine. Challenge your expectation. Get out of your pattern rut. Only then will you be capable of seeing the pattern.

If you desire to change anything about your world, about this world, the change you seek will ultimately be a change in pattern. It’s a good practice to begin seeing them.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PATTERN

[the pattern image is the mat at our backdoor]

Dowse Your Data [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My favorite question of the week: What is the science behind divining?

I admit to laughing out loud when I read the question. In a world run amok with science-deniers and rabid propagandists, we might as well answer the question with a qualifier: it depends on what you decide to believe. Or, answer a question with a question: do you really want to know what the science says?

Since belief-divining is all the rage these days, the best available advice for adherents of critical thought is, “Don’t waste your breath.”

I took a peek at ‘dowsing’ in wikipedia. Divining is generally attributed to “ideomotor phenomena.” A psychological response. An accidental movement. Science reports dowsing is projection.

What is the science behind love? What is the love behind science? A moment ago Kerri frowned when I told her she was the sole-object of my ideometric phenomena. She’s learned not to ask and has developed a keen ability to move on from my thoughts to thoughts with more substance.

Science doesn’t prove. Science hypothesizes, gathers data, and then reports findings. Science is objective. It is both rooted in data and is open-minded. New data always come in. It takes an open mind to successfully roll with the theory of relativity. It takes an open mind to open to the data. Excessive carbon in the air is heating the planet. We are simultaneously cutting down the earth’s lungs to make room for more cattle production.

What’s your hypothesis of our recent spate of 1000 year storms year after year? Science is offering a fairly clear picture.

What’s the science behind divination? The science of seeing into the future? Projection?

I was delighted when I stumbled on an NPR story about U.K. Water Companies Sometimes Use Dowsing Rods. The companies admitted to the use of divination but were quick to add, that it’s not a company-wide policy. And then reinforced their disclaimer with the only disclaimer that we universally and wholeheartedly accept: it doesn’t cost money. If it cost money, we’d take it seriously. Like pet rocks. Or reality tv.

Deloitte (using scientific methods) reports the cost of climate change to the U.S.A. economy will be 14.5 trillion dollars over the next 50 years. We can expect to lose 900,000 jobs each year. Ideometric phenomena? Scientific divination? Data-dowsing?

For adherents of critical thought, it occurs to me to update the best available advice with another question: How much time do we have to waste?

read Kerri’s blog post on Y

Discern [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It’s a little over two miles to Steve’s garage. When we drop the car for a repair, especially in the early morning, we like to walk home. The route takes us by the lake. We take our time, more stroll than stride, and breathe in the early morning quiet.

We are dedicated walkers. We’ve become dedicated seekers and creators of quiet. It’s as if we are counterbalancing the crazy-noise-of-the-news with a stalwart sanctuary that we take with us wherever we go. We walk slow enough to notice. We walk slow enough to appreciate.

There is, of course, a direct correlation between pace-of-movement and paying attention. It’s hard to smell the roses when racing through the day. Lately, much of my work-in-the-world involves addressing information overload. The pace-of-movement need not be physical, it also applies to the river of information rushing across our screens. It’s no wonder we’re angry and anxious and aggressive. I’ve adopted a phrase from my colleague, Greg; he calls the info-torrent More/Faster. We live in the age of info-gluttony and have difficulty discerning between what has nutritional value and what is dross.

Until we slow down. There is a correlation between the pace of movement and peace-of-mind. There is a correlation between pace and the capacity to determine relevance.

It’s why we walk to or from Steve’s Garage. It’s why we end the work day holding hands and walking the neighborhood. It’s why we begin each day sitting side-by-side writing. To slow it down. To discern relevance in a fast moving info-river of dedicated draff. To see what matters in a More/Faster world racing too fast to see anything at all.

We smell flowers. Feel the dew on leaves. Turn our faces to the sun as it reaches through the morning clouds. Real stuff. Stuff of the moment. The small discoveries available when racing to the next thing is the last thing you want to do.

read Kerri’s blogpost about MORNING SKY

Be Different [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Inadvertently, 20 did me a great favor. On the day Kerri and I married, he carried a concealed camera and captured conversations and special moments of our ceremony. In his footage is a short exchange he had with my dad. My dad said of me, “He’s his own man.”

To that point in my life I’d wondered what he thought of me, my winding career path, my free-form seeming-feral existence. “He’s his own man,” brought me peace.

Once, during a conference that we led, Alan told me I should dress differently. “People would have more respect for you,” he said. Once, trying to fit in, I wore a suit to a facilitation and Rich told me I should dump the suit and dress as myself. I’ve awarded him the blue ribbon for best advice.

In my consulting life I wore clogs. I hated shoes with strings. The first thing I did at every job was kick off my clogs. You’d be surprised how invested people in power suits are in their footwear. You’d be heartened how human they become when they unlace and kick off their shoes. It’s like removing a mask.

People hire me because I am different. Because I see differently. My difference is my gift, the epicenter of what I bring to the world – and that is true of all people.

In a culture that prides itself on its individualism, it’s always been amusing to me how invested we are to “fit in.” Shopping at the right store, wearing the right clothes, we gush about our wild nature while synching tight the corporate tie. To “dress for success” means to fit a prescription, to NOT stand out. Business casual. The real real. All houses must look the same. Revealing behavior betrays the swaggering rhetoric.

Our individualism is at best a thin veneer. In truth, we fear difference. I dare the court of Supremes to uphold a coach’s right to pray before the big game on the 50 yard line if he’s Sikh. Or Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Buddhist. My son is gay. He lives a constant, never-ending battle to defend his difference. Why?

“But the truth is, I am different,” I said to Kerri who was red-faced with anger at the email from the concrete sub-contractor. He turned down the job to replace our bit of sidewalk, broken out during the waterline repair. Among his reasons, “…and he seems a little different.” He was referring to me.

“I’ve dealt with that my whole life,” I said as she furiously typed a reply. “It’s not a big deal. I’m an artist.”

“It is a big deal,” she snarled, typing harder, faster.

Listening to her ferocious key-pounding, I had a sweet wave of appreciation for her. In a lifetime of “different”, it is a rare and precious moment that someone vigorously defends your difference. Rather than hammer you into creased dockers, lace-up shoes or the right haircut, a furious defender was unfamiliar. She, too, is different and knows the bruise of the shame-hammer. I suspect we’ve all experienced its sting.

In my head, I heard my dad say, “He’s his own man.” Peace. I am what I am and the people who love me wouldn’t have me any other way. That makes a difference. All the difference.

This I know: it’s nice – so nice – not to be alone in my difference.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DIFFERENCE

Find Your Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I will never forget the day I followed the stream, watching the life-ending struggle of the salmon as they fought the current the final mile to return to their place of origin, their spawning ground. To the local people, the people who tended the hatchery, the salmon were gods. Gods or not, watching their struggle to return was sacred. The utter necessity to continue life through the next generation – as the final act of life. Cathedral building.

We brought home a Selenite crystal. It is raw, translucent, gorgeous. A Google search of its properties reveals that it promotes calm and provides clarity. I’ve never actually been invested in the debate about whether or not a crystal has powers. I’ve made the association so, when I look at it or hold it, I have in my mind that we brought this beautiful crystal home to elevate our spirits. And, so it does.

I live in the golden age of marketing. I’m told that a new truck will make me sexy, the latest medication will make my life a snap, that a pizza delivery will bring my family together like never before. Status and power are available through the purchase of machines and clothes. One year, no interest. We buy these messages, filling our closets with passing satisfaction. Is the fulfillment of a new pair of shoes imagined, less-than-genuine? We are consumers so doesn’t it make sense that contentment lasts no more than a spin through the washing cycle? Momentarily satisfied. What’s next?

I suppose the question is whether or not the crystal brings peace to me or do I bring more calm to my day because I’ve surrounded myself with messages – and, therefore, intentions – of serenity?

I know without doubt that a new truck will not imbue me with sex appeal. Yet, I have a pair of jeans that I save for the days that I want “to look good.”

Skip drove two days to find the sun so that he might stand in it and rejuvenate. I go to the basement and stand amidst the boxes that currently fill my studio and stare at a large blank canvas. Like the sun, it rejuvenates me. Yesterday, the nurse at the community health clinic said she loved her job because she felt that she was really helping the people who need her the most, “There are better rewards than money,” she said. Imagine the necessity – the hope – she brings to her life and work. Rejuvenation.

I do not know whether we are gods or not, but our struggle to find our way home is no less beautiful or fraught than the salmon. It is breathtaking, this swim upstream. Confusing. Sacred.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRYSTALS

Call It Realism [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This garlic could have been painted by Jan Vermeer. To my eye it looks like the work of a Dutch master, an artist more concerned with realism than the ideal.

Art that reveals the beauty in the ordinary. For a few weeks in my surly youth I studied with a realist painter. I was wowed by his technique but could not yet grasp his dedication to capturing the everyday. Only later did I come to understand that his art was not about the technique but about bringing attention to the experience of the everyday. He rejected the aloof and desired to pull art down from the pedestal so it might reflect the lives of the “common people.” He believed that people needed to literally see themselves in the paintings to have access to the painting. They needed to see their hardship and toil as well as the objects that surrounded them.

Bertolt Brecht believed the opposite. In order for people to have access to the deeper messages of a play, they needed to be removed from their circumstance. So, in his way of thinking, people are more capable of seeing themselves in a piece of science fiction than in a reality-mirror.

David is working on a re-imagining of Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of an Author. One of the questions of the play is, “Who is telling your story?” And, how are they telling it. I reread the play and was struck by how relevant it is to our times.

The beauty in the ordinary. The turmoils and struggles of the everyday. Ours is a time of tumultuous story tug-of-war. I wonder, in a hundred years, what historians will write about our time. I wonder what aspect of artistry – if any – will be considered “realism.” As defined by Vermeer and Pirandello, it’s to reach across a social line, from the privileged to the working class. For Brecht it is spatial: step out to look in.

One thing is constant, while reaching across time and artificial boundary, it is always the role of the artist to help their community ask the questions: Who is telling my story? Whose story am I telling? What is the story that we are telling?

I imagine those someday-historians will write tomes on our messy struggle to sort out what is “real” and what is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GARLIC

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

Imagine The Possibilities! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~ Lao Tzu

I’ve had this quote sitting on my desktop for months. I’ve been on a Lao Tzu kick, a Kurt Vonnegut kick, a Rainier Maria Rilke kick…all at the same time. They are, not surprisingly, in alignment on many topics, among them self-mastery. “The secret?” they whisper. “Stop trying to control what other people think or see or feel and, instead, take care of what you think and see and feel.” Their metaphoric trains may approach the self-mastery station from different directions but the arrival platform is the same.

It’s a universal recognition: take the log out of your own eye.

Sometimes a penny drops more than once and so it is with Saul’s advice to me. “Look beyond the opponent to the field of possibilities.” “And, just what does that mean?” you may shout at your screen. It sounds like new-age hoo-haw.

Ghandi said, “Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong.” It is the height of self-mastery to bring ideas to the table rather than a gun. It is the height of self-mastery to bring to the commons good intention and an honest desire to work with others to make life better for all. Power is never self-generated but is something created between people. Power is distinctly different than control. Power endures since it does not reside within a single individual. Power lives, as Saul reminded me again and again, not in throwing an opponent but in helping the opponent throw themself. “Focus on the possibilities,” he said again and again. Throw yourself to the ground often enough and, one day, it occurs that there may be another way.

Work with and not against. It seems so simple. The bulb hovering over my cartoon head lights-up. Work with yourself, too, and not against. Place your eyes in the field of all possibilities. Obstacles are great makers of resistance, energy eddies and division. Possibilities are expansive, dissolvers of divisiveness.

I am writing this on the Sunday that Christians celebrate their resurrection. The day that “every man/woman for him/herself” might possibly and-at-last-transform into “I am my brothers/sisters keeper.” All that is required for this rebirth is a simple change of focus; a decision to master one’s self instead of the never ending violent attempt to exercise control over others.

It’s the single message, the popcorn trail left for us by all the great teachers. Instead of fighting with others, master yourself. Imagine the possibilities!

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CEILING LIGHT

Collapse And Decide [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Brad calls it “paralysis by analysis”. Over thinking. Over researching. Reading every label. Considering every color combination relative to every other possible color combination. If you do some quick math, you’ll note that there are an infinite number of color combinations so arrival at a choice is a process of exhaustion. Waving the white flag. Conclusion via collapse. Decision by despair.

Neither Brad nor I suffer from this debilitating condition but both of our partners in life do.

It’s hard to watch. I learned at the very beginning to detach from the process. If I wait for the research and comparison phase to pass, if I say nothing until the desperation arrives, then I can tip the turmoil into a choice. And then I return to detachment because the paralysis has only reached its midpoint..

They say that summiting a high peak is not the dangerous part. Most climbers die on the return trip, the descent from the mountain. The same is true for analysis-paralysis-style-decision-makers. Once the decision is made, a river of decision-doubt and choice-remorse rushes in. The real paralysis happens after the decision is finally made. And revoked. And made again. And revoked. More spouses have collapsed on the way down from Mount Decision than on the initial ascent.

There’s a terrific scene in the movie About Time. The wife wants help from her husband in deciding which dress to wear to an important dinner meeting. She models dozens of dresses. He finds goodness in every option. She finds flaws in every dress. He becomes increasingly desperate, no matter what he says or enthusiastic support he offers, he finds himself swirling into the quagmire of no-good-answer.

I love that movie. Every time I watch that scene, I both howl with laughter and close my eyes. I know his desperation. I feel his fatigue. The minute she circles back and decides on the very first dress she modeled, with his wave of relief I whisper to the screen, “Now you’re really in trouble.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about DECISION FATIGUE