Attend [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ~Thomas Merton, Love and Living

I had an odd-thought-revelation as we drove into the parking lot of the Hospice Alliance. We were there to make a donation. In cleaning out the house, Kerri found several throw-blankets. She washed and freshened them, preparing them for donation. In a past life she was a volunteer at the Alliance and wanted the blankets to go where they would be the most useful, provide the most comfort.

My mom tells me that my dad’s last days were lovingly tended by amazing hospice caregivers. His passage was eased by their guidance and attention. In some small way, the blanket donation felt like a thank-you-note. I was not present in his final weeks and it brought me comfort knowing he was in the care of such extraordinary people.

And that was the seed of my odd-thought-revelation. As we pulled into the parking lot, on the first bright sunny day in weeks, I stepped out of the car and turned my face to the sun.

In the warmth I understood that we are all in hospice care. Our time is limited. Every single moment is precious. Every single moment is shared. We’d do better if we realized it. We’d do better if we attended to each other, to relieve pain and suffering, to pay attention to the quality of each and every life in our passing moment. In our tender and oh-so-temporary lives.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BLANKETS

Re-Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The latest addition to my “Terms in this Unknown Land” document is TL;DR. Too-Long-Didn’t-Read. I laughed aloud when I heard this new acronym in a meeting. If there is a sign of our times, an identifying marker of our era, it is this: TL;DR.

We communicate through text and emoji. Chat. Twitter is a thing because it mandates brevity. Scrolling the news app is a study in cramming the full story into a brief headline. Marketers have mastered the 5 second ad. Businesses are liberal in their use of “narrative” and “story” but have no time to actually hear one. A short synopsis will have to do. Get to the point.

As a member of my culture I find that I scan more than I read. If I can find it on Youtube, I’d rather watch it than read about it. When I began writing blogposts ten years ago, the “rule” was 800 words or less. The rule has adjusted with our attention spans and now the target is between 400 and 600 words. Often, when I receive links to articles, they come complete with an estimate of how many minutes are required to read them. Yesterday, I read advice from a marketing guru that suggested we restrict paragraphs to two sentences or less; more than two sentences is a red flag: too much information. Less than two sentences is…a sentence.

So much information is coming at us all the time, we have no time or thought-space to take it all in. I wonder if we can discern relevance from dreck. A quick look at our leaders leaves me with a resounding “No!” Relevance is lost in the dreck and, since they represent us, they are us, our information inundation has rendered our attention spans tiny and blunted our acuity. We are awash in information while wisdom has gone missing.

Each week I attend meetings; the central concern is explicitly or implicitly about helping people connect. It reminds me of the conversations I heard in graduate school: while living in a city of a million people, the concern was about how to create community. So many people. So little community.

I ponder these things every day. With our ubiquitous technology, we couldn’t be more connected. Through social media, I know what people had for dinner or what cute thing the kids said. I receive advertising that confirms my devices are listening to me. Yesterday, for-the-hell-of-it, I said, “Machu Picchu.” Today I am awash in travel ads for Peru.

We are connected. Connection to everything is connection to nothing. Relevance is hard to discern in a tsunami of information masking as connectivity.

Relationships – real relationships – take time. Values cannot be communicated in a text. They must be demonstrated and deeply rooted in lived narrative. Stories that carry relevance cannot be well-told in synopsis. Opinions are so easy to tweet. Dreck is easy to fling. It is not the capacity to share that we lose in the crush. It is not connection. It’s the capacity to be present. With presence comes the capacity to listen. Presence is not in a hurry to be some other place.

Rich connectivity requires more than quick consumption of information. Sharing, real sharing, the kind beyond pressing a “send” button, is a two-way street between people who have the time to invest in each other. Once, it was called relationship.

TM;CL. Too much. Can’t listen.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TL;DR

Fulfill The Promise [on KS Friday]

Look up the word “suffrage” in the dictionary and you’ll discover it means, “the right to vote.” Synonyms include “voice,” “enfranchisement,” and “choice.” It took a hundred years of protest for women to secure the right to vote in these un-united United States. As we prepare to take a giant step backwards it should not be lost on us that the battle for a woman’s voice to be heard continues to this day.

The size of the tide rising against a woman’s right to choose has a long root in suffrage. A woman’s choice. The crusty old ideal: “The Cult of True Womanhood, that is, the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother concerned exclusively with home and family.” is yet again rearing its ugly head.

I’ve written before of my experience in a jury pool. I was in the third group of 50 to be called into the courtroom. The judge gave us a single instruction: “Raise your hand if you either have been or know someone who’s been the victim of sexual assault.” Every member of my group raised their hands. The same had happened with the previous two groups. Out of 150 potential jurors, 150 had either been or knew intimately someone who had been the victim of sexual assault. “How am I ever going to seat an impartial jury,” the judge said to us and to himself.

It was a great question. Here’s a better question: why is sexual assault so prevalent in our nation?

The cult of true womanhood is, of course, a man’s idea. What about a powerful woman, with full protected rights and choice over her body, makes (a minority in) this nation froth and scream? What exactly are these few trying to control?

Equality. Actual equality. A promise unfulfilled for so many.

To my long ago judge I would say that we cannot seat an impartial jury until we experience an impartial court and a governing body willing and able to protect the rights of all citizens equally. It’s the ideal, the organizing principle of this nation-of-promise. Or is it?

A woman with an equal voice and equal pay, with the same protections a man enjoys, will, of course, express fully her equality. It begs the rhetorical question: What exactly are these few afraid of?

Suffrage. Enfranchisement. Choice. Equality.

Kerri’s music is available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about MADE FOR WOMEN

silent days/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

Say The Word [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“In the realm of ideas, everything depends upon enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.” ~ Goethe

To outside eyes it looks like a small stack of plastic Adirondack chairs. To our eyes, it is a marker of something almost unimaginable to us during these past few years: stable ground.

If you want to know what these semi-cheap plastic chairs represent to us, look no further than the movie Gravity. Sandra Bullock in space in a story of “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Through a rolling series of disasters peppered with just-in-the-knick-of-time hand-holds, against all odds, she splashes down to earth, safe. She stands on a beach, shaky legs. For the first time in a seeming eternity: stable ground.

Perseverance is a word used after the fact. During the free fall to earth, nothing feels even remotely like tenacity. Survival-mode does not allow for meaningful reflection or personal congratulations. Look for anything to grab to stop the fall. Believe that the ghost of George Clooney will crawl into the space capsule with a kick-in-the-butt speech at the very moment when giving up seems like the only option.

“There’s always another option,” we told ourselves. There’s always another step to take. Any step. There must be…

During our free fall we sat on our back deck in our broken white, cracking-and-en-route-to-collapsing plastic Adirondack chairs. We felt the sun on our faces. We talked of appreciating our moments. We encouraged and affirmed each other when “hope” was a word that made us roll our eyes and laugh-out-loud.

Last week, in a daring gesture of new times, we bought (on sale!) six black Adirondack chairs. Six! For friends to sit in when they come to visit. A statement of “hope” during a season of pandemic.

Yesterday we sat for the first time in two of our new chairs, faces in the sun, appreciating our moment. And, for the first time in three years, we dared utter the word “perseverance.” Shaky legs. Stable ground.

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEW CHAIRS

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

Marvel The Resilience [on Two Artists Tuesday]

The guys at the water utility told us not to bother replacing our yard until the fall. “The dirt needs to settle,” they said. After trenching from the street to the house, tearing up great chunks of the sidewalk and curb, blowing a hole in the foundation, throwing dirt into the moat and covering it with straw, ripping up the street and quickly tossing temporary asphalt over the hole, our front yard is a hot mess of destruction.

Our neighbor owns a landscape design business; he scowls every time he looks our way. It pains him that his pristine yard sits next to our ruin. “The dirt needs to settle,” I say and shrug as he looks in horror at his worst nightmare. To add insult to injury, I’ve threatened to park the truck on our ruin but Kerri gives me THAT look. If I want to stay above ground, the truck stays in the driveway.

Standing on the front porch, amazed at the hardy green shoots reaching up through the devastation, straw and lawn netting, I thought of Tom. He marveled at the resilience of young people, students in the schools that he stewarded. Some of the children lived in extreme circumstances or had suffered terrific injury, and yet, they consistently transcended their situation. Pushing through the wreckage and reaching for the sun. “The human spirit,” he’d say and shake his head in amazement. “Marvelous.”

Despite being trenched, torn, mixed with concrete and rock, thrown about, turned over and over again, covered with straw and netting, the Day Lilies have not only survived, they are thriving. Just as a fire brings renewal to the forest, it seems the destruction served to energize the plants. More than a comeback, this is a riot of Lily return. A reunion.

“The impulse to life,” I whispered to Tom. “Unbelievable.”

“Yep,” he smiled.

read Kerri’s blog post about RESILIENCE

See The Exact Center [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Kerri took this photograph a week ago. We’d set up our pop-up table in the middle of the woods. We had a small cooler with cheese and crackers, tabouli and chips and wine. It was cold. We needed to take off our gloves to eat a bit of our snack and then put them on again, fingertips stinging. Since she is a photography maven, I knew to stand back after setting up so she might take shots of our snack-laden table. She finished, sat, and then pointed her camera to the sky.

Despite what you see in the photo, the trees did not reach to a common center. That is an illusion. Perspective as taught in art school. The point of view of a lens. “Lookit!” she said, red fingertips holding the camera so I could see the image. “We must have found the exact center of the forest,” I thought and smiled.

I often feel like that these days. We must have found the center.

Last night, on an all-too-rare warm evening, we sat with friends on their deck. The Up North Gang. We ate dinner. We laughed. I had my first ever sip of salted caramel whiskey. Dessert as a drink. Time stood still for me and I studied the moment. I wondered if anyone on earth was as fortunate as Kerri and me.

Perspective as taught in art school. Points converge creating the illusion of distance. At one time in history, a crossroads of art and mathematics, this simple recognition was a revolution. Linear perspective. A unique point of view. The accurate portrayal of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface was powerful – the creation of illusion, shape and distance, produced new intentions and mathematical rules.

It also changed forever the viewer. To see the illusion one must occupy the illusion of a unique center. A new psychology. It’s possible to draw a direct line of descendancy from the hard perspective of the Renaissance to our abstract expressionism. The artist’s point of view, unconscious expression without limit or rule, is all that matters. Two ends of the same pole.

I told Horatio that I am, at long last, learning to keep quiet. To share what I see when asked, and not before (he says as he writes a blogpost about what he sees). I have made a career out of too adamantly trying to get people to see what I see. My adamancy might be traced to the Renaissance and the notion that I occupy a unique center, a specific point of view that makes my illusion of shape and distance somehow privileged and necessary.

Age is helping me challenge and release my investments. It is also a grand teacher of movement and moments. Nothing stands still, especially time. The best we can do is savor the spaces between, always shifting and moving. Children become parents become grandparents. A warm night. A cold day on the trail. It matters less and less what I see and sense-make with my unique hard lines and more and more that I taste the tastes and see the colors, my lens aimed at a common center, sharing the passing moments with others.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE WOODS

Tell The Full Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

If you Google Harriet Beecher Stowe you’ll come across a confounding question: Did Harriet Beecher Stowe cause the Civil War?

Think about it. Tease it apart. If the question doesn’t make you shudder ever so slightly, you’re not paying attention to the happenings in our day.

A woman in 1851, a full seventy years before women in our nation had the right to vote, wrote a book depicting “the harsh conditions experienced by enslaved African Americans.” She did not write a fantasy. She wasn’t concocting a circumstance. She wrote a book “which highlighted the evils of slavery.” She called attention to a moral horror story.

The question jumps the long and legislated history of slavery in the land of all-men-are-created-equal. It ignores the economic engine that made enslavement of human beings an institution in our nation. It suggests that shining the light, calling attention to the immorality, not the immorality itself, caused the war. The slavery wasn’t the cause, the industry and economics and political drivers had nothing to do with the war. Looking at slavery, calling attention to it, was.

If we close our eyes it doesn’t exist. If we ban the books it will not be part of our history. It’s a game we play with infants. It’s the puerile mentality of Fox news.

“Since January of 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism or sexism, according to an Education Weekly analysis.”

To be clear: “Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

Why do we work so hard to cover our eyes and plug our ears? The path to health begins with admitting and taking a good hard look at the disease. Slavery is a part of our history. As is Jim Crow. The Civil Rights Movement. Red lining,…Black Lives Matter. A clear narrative path.

Isn’t the frenzy to introduce bills restricting discussion about our history yet another example of racial bias embedded into our policies? We are watching critical race theory in action.

Talking about what ails us isn’t the cause of our division. Our inability to fully look ourselves in the mirror and acknowledge all aspects of our story – perpetuates our dis-ease. We would do well to revisit the Serenity Prayer and muster our courage.

According to Harriet, there is hope. There will someday come a place and time that our tide turns, a time when we can without fear or shame or legislation, look at each other and tell our full story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE TIDE TURNING

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