Shape The Vessel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

George Ohr was one of the great ceramic artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Like Van Gogh, he died unknown, never experiencing the success of his work. Robert reminded me of George Ohr’s story and I reminded Robert that Ohr would be a terrific story for him to tell through a one-man play.

What is it to follow your art-call with heart and dedication with nary a hint of financial reward or success on the horizon? Vincent Van Gogh would have been called an amateur during his life since the making-of-money is the flag we plant in the sand marking the line between being a professional and a dilettante. Those lines do not exist for artists with a deeper call. The money does not the artist make.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, quite a journey for the unseen work of George Ohr’s life to find so much vibrant admiration after his passing. Had he known it would have changed nothing. He’d have spent his days at the potter’s wheel either way.

“Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut out doors and windows from a room; It is the holes that make it useful. Therefore, profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.” ~Lao-tzu

Profit and usefulness. Shape and space. Mary Oliver asked the question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? It hits the nail squarely on the head. It was not the pots that George Ohr made or the paintings that Van Gogh painted, it was the space they entered while throwing pots and painting paintings. It was the world they entered through their artistry, more expansive than financial success, more necessary than renown. A wild and precious life lived wildly and with avid appreciation.

Standing amidst the brilliant orchids, some of the flowers were in their last days. Their beauty fading, they cared not a wit. It is not in their nature to stretch their faces and pretend that the cycle of life is more valuable in the early bloom than it is in the late retreat. All is treasured, beguiling. Every last moment, not to be stalled or held onto. The root as necessary as the bloom, the winter as indispensable as the spring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FIREWORKS

Gain The Force [on KS Friday]

It seemed appropriate, in order to conclude our year of water, that we travel to visit a region of the country with 250 waterfalls. Of course, we didn’t know about the waterfalls until we arrived. Water, water everywhere. I howled with laughter and secretly affirmed that our unintentional pilgrimage to the waterfalls might appease the great WHATEVER and finally release us from water-resistance into the watercourse way.

I will someday look back at our journey to the falls and realize the extent to which we “let go.” It already serves as a marker, a breaking through the resistance and fight of the last chapter and into the next. The new chapter.

Yesterday, at work, I had the opportunity to tease apart a question en route to asking a better question. I am fortunate to have a team of collaborators that, instead of rejecting my alternate perspective outright, even amidst the frustration of my challenge of the norm, ask me to lean into it. My assignment was to return next week with a better question. I am a firm believer that the form of a question – the way that it is asked – determines the answers that are seen or – more importantly – not seen.

Better questions are like the watercourse way. They show up when, instead of swimming against the current, against “what is,” the swimmer/questioner turns and allows the current to carry them. Wu-wei. Natural action. Every creator knows the moment of frustration when trying to force something into being. More force can only produce more frustration. Or, it breaks something. The best thing to do, when force can only produce an eddy, is put down the brushes, step back, and look at what-is. Force never produces a better question. Stepping off the mountain so it becomes visible – or acknowledging the direction of the river’s flow and giving into it, always reveals new possibility.

It is what I remembered for myself at the waterfall. It made me chuckle, then, when my first moment back at work, I was doing for my team what I’ve done all my life: attempting to flip or free a perspective by lobbying for flow; acknowledge what exists-in-the-moment versus what we want to exist. The better question – for me – and others – is always found when we turn and gain the full force of the river.

[I can’t imagine a better piece of music to carry us into 2022. Give yourself a treat – truly – and listen to Riverstone]

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATERFALL

riverstone/as it is is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

riverstone/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Note The Beautiful [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

There is a genius in simplicity.

Lately, one of the conversations swirling around me, a conversation I very much appreciate, is about beauty. What is a beautiful building? What makes a software beautiful? Certainly, beauty is subjective though I suspect a sunrise over the ocean is beautiful to all. A baby’s smile. A first kiss.

We are surrounded by noisy advertisements telling us what is (and what is not) beautiful. By this standard, most of us fall into the not-beautiful category. Though, deep down, we know, that the real test of beauty is not in what is concealed but in what is revealed. A warm heart is more potent than skin creme or make-up.

My niece had a birthday yesterday. She is on this earth to help people. She is creating a beautiful life. She probably doesn’t know it – and, that’s a mark of true beauty – it doesn’t need to call attention to itself.

Every collaboration I’ve had with MM was beautiful. We had fun. We explored ideas. We have nothing but respect for each other. We’ve made each other better people, better artists. When I revisit any one of the many projects we created together, I smile and feel rivers of gratitude and pride. A memory that inspires a smile is the very definition of beauty. It brings the goodness of the past into the present moment. Light travels.

20 is a master of the beautiful because he knows the power of simplicity. A heart shape torn from a piece of paper – acknowledging grief that goes beyond words. A construction paper bow. He’s not forgotten the lessons he learned in kindergarten. Laughter, he knows, is the most beautiful gift of all and we receive it from him weekly.

What makes a design beautiful? Aspen leaves shimmering in fall. I’ve stood in front of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, John Singer Sargent…and cried. They were so beautiful. I’ve held Kerri’s hand, walking on a trail, and wanted the moment to never end. Simple.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOW

Become Simple Enough [on KS Friday]

I took a photo of Kerri taking this photo. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than watching an artist at work. Her focus was singular. Pure. I saw her “see” this possibility. She turned, left the reality that the rest of us occupied, and approached the window as if it was an animal in the wild. Carefully, quietly. Reverently.

Her photo immediately brought to mind Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, his temple of light. The vibrant squares of color. Someday we will make a pilgrimage to the Blanton Museum to stand in Austin and, in that moment, I will remember Kerri’s window.

In a world of just-get-to-the-point, time-is-money, and bottom-lines, and the centuries-old-delusion that we are rational beings and the analytical is supreme, an artistic heart and mind is an outlier. We use too many words. We are not reserved in our gesticulation. We express what words cannot reach because we see what lives beyond words. And, developing eyes-that-see takes time. Ellsworth Kelly designed his Austin in his last years. It takes years and years to become simple enough to see the sacred.

Recently we were told, not for the first time, “So many people want what you have but they don’t want to pay for it.” Kerri and I looked at each other. Her great pet-peeve, the pinnacle of all pet-peeves, is how often she’s been asked to play, not for money, but for exposure. She’s considered by Yamaha, the maker of fine pianos, to be one of their select artists, a modern master. Yet, all of her life, with frightening regularity, she’s heard, “It will be good for you!” the face smiles, “It might lead to something.” Yes. It does lead to something: more people wanting what you have but not willing to pay for it. Point in any direction to anyone who’s achieved the pinnacle of their career, and imagine asking them to perform surgery or keep the books or go to trial or build the house for exposure. Can you imagine? She – we – have heard it throughout our lives.

And, when she turned and saw the window, her sudden awareness shocked the people in the gallery into silence. Everyone turned, made space, and watched. She had no idea that she was on stage. Pure. And, without exception, everyone in that room wished they could see what she was seeing. They wished they could see how she was seeing. Sacred. It takes a lifetime. Austin. The window. Priceless.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WINDOW

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

Learn Where To Listen [on KS Friday]

“Her mother told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted to be so she grew up to be the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, the wolf leading wolves.” ~ Nikita Gill

A long time ago I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a young fox who had extraordinary abilities. Her talents made her an outlier in the pack, something strange, so they hammered her into compliance. She buried her gifts. The story is, of course, how she came to embrace her gifts despite the court of fox-public opinion.

Lao Tzu wrote, “Care about what other people think of you and you will always be their prisoner.” It is a lesson that every artist must learn. Do your work. YOUR work. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Some will walk by without a second glance. You can never determine what another person sees or thinks so waste no energy in that fruitless cause. Do your work.

It’s a tough lesson, a mammoth paradox, since we are, after all, a pack animal, a social being. An artist has no reason to work if there is no audience or community to receive the work. Traditionally, artists live on the edge of the community so they can both see in and express what they see but also serve as a channel to what lies beyond the spiritual perimeter. The tightrope walk is about belonging while marginalized enough to remain clear-sighted. The artist must step back from the painting in order to see it.

I’m enjoying a slow read through Kent Nerburn‘s book, Dancing With The Gods: Reflections On Life And Art. Master Miller recommended it and I’m finding the simple wisdom of an artist-elder a refreshing daily meditation. Were I to write a sequel to my long-ago-children’s-book, it would be about this: coming back to your gift is not a one-and-done affair. It is a cycle. We embrace it and run from it and embrace it and lose it and find it and smother it and resurrect it and step back and look at it. Again and again. To become the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, is not an achievement, an arrival platform, it is a relationship. Yes, with the community, but it is mostly a walk with your self and what lies beyond that spiritual perimeter. It is ongoing. Never static. Somedays you are the strongest of the strong. And, on other days, you are empty and weak. Full spectrum palette. The only way to know and reflect all of the colors of life is to experience them firsthand. And, so, it is imperative to learn where to listen, where to invest your tender care.

The gift grows as more colors enter the paint box.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HER MOTHER TOLD HER

Kerri’s albums are available in iTunes or streaming on Pandora

Feel The Rhythm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We lay awake in the night listening to the waves pound the shore. Boom. Rest. Boom. Rest. This lake that is sometimes glassy-in-stillness can rival the Atlantic Ocean in restlessness. It has many moods. It can turn on a dime. I have found great peace walking the shores. I have stood in awe as it blasted those very same shores, hurling boulders with ease.

When we were fortunate to live for a summer in the littlehouse, right on the lake. Kerri had to adjust to the constant sound. Her musician’s ears were caught in the rhythm of sound lapping the shores. Nature’s metronome. We teased about parking a piano on the back deck so she might compose an album of pieces set to the lake’s pulse.

The most striking visceral-revelation that I brought back from Bali is that we function together. Just as I am impacted by the lake, my pace and rhythm are impacted by the people around me. No one is an island. David Abram wrote in The Spell of the Sensuous that it is nearly impossible to meditate in the un-united states. We are an angry frenetic lake, fast moving wave. Changeable. I will always remember pausing at the custom’s gate re-entering the country. It was too much. Finally, I stepped through the doors and felt sucked into a chaotic turbulent whitewater river. It was months before I adjusted, before a walk down the street didn’t feel like a fist fight.

Columbus (my dad) would sit for hours each morning, on the porch. Listening. When I was younger I wondered what he was listening to – or for. He grew up in Iowa and came into adulthood moving to the rhythm of the corn. He lived his adult life in Colorado. It was a different rhythm, the metronome of the mountains. For many years he yearned to live where he understood the rhythm. He was, I think, listening for the corn.

When I return to Colorado I feel an immediate recognition. The mountains are the rhythm I was born into. Alignment. My original dance was a mountain dance.

Kerri and I are both transplants to the lake. Perhaps that is why we hear it so clearly. Jim E. told me that people go to the shore to stare into the infinite. We listen to the lake with the same awareness. The lake was here before me. The lake will be here after I am gone. The mountains, too. We are, of course, delusional to entertain the idea that we control it – nature. That we are somehow separate. Sometimes I think it is the artist’s job to bring proper perspective to the community, to pop the separation-notions – even for a moment – out of ego-brains.

This lake could hurl me like a pebble. It also brings peace to my soul. Stillness. We are not as distinct as we want to believe. That recognition is the single greatest blessing of artistry. It’s a circle dance. Just as my dad is disappearing back into the corn, I, too, will someday rejoin my original rhythm and fold back into the mountain.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

Root And Fly [on KS Friday]

“Inspiration does exist but it must find you working.” ~ Pablo Picasso

At some point I realized that all of the good guidance I have received, all of the masters that I have admired, made statements about Roots & Wings.

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” ~ Tom McKenzie

“You must write 10 bad pages to arrive at one good page.” ~ John Guare

“Live on the plateau (in the present moment).” ~ George Leonard

“Cultivate your serendipity.” ~ Tom Quinn

I remember Jim E. teaching actors not to push their voices to be heard but, first and foremost, to root down into the earth.

After years of practice I am approaching the lesson that Saul taught his tai chi students: stay on the root and the energy will move you. He also taught me, on a brilliant Saturday morning when I was trying to bend the world to my will, to look beyond my opponent into the field of opportunity. It is two ways of saying the same thing. Root. And the wings will appear. Root, and possibility will find you.

Work at the easel, and inspiration will arise.

all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s gorgeous blog post on ROOTS AND WINGS

give me roots, give them wings/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Climb The Ladder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Very few images are as potent as Tom Mck’s story of finding his 90 year old aunt Bunty on the roof of the farmhouse. There had been a storm. She’d hooked her cane on a rung and climbed the rickety ladder to make sure the shingles were intact, “Papa put a fine roof on this house,” she said, staring down at her alarmed nephew. Bunty was a farm woman. She saw no reason why she should not be on the roof. As the elder of the family, she was the keeper of the legacy. The house and ranch were the tangible creations of her ancestors and she was the steward.

Years later, when Bunty was gone and Tom was the ancestral steward, his task was untenable. The city was spreading like a fire, gobbling up farm land. He knew it was only a matter of time before the ranch was consumed. A Walmart was being built and he could almost see it from the porch. “What am I going to do?” he asked, knowing that he was the end of the line. His question was rhetorical. Sometimes the steward’s job is to close the door on an era. He knew what he had to do.

After Tom passed and the ranch was sold, I imagined him, like Bunty, standing on the roof of the farmhouse. He made sure that, as the land was lost, the legacy remained intact. He was strong, like Bunty. His ladder was rickety but he climbed it none-the-less. He made sure the shingles were intact. He met his task without self-pity.

I learned from him that life can forge you into strong metal or, if you choose, if you feel sorry for yourself, it can break you into tiny pieces. Jonathan told me that a tree must split its bark to grow and I understood that as a metaphor for aging. The bark splits because the spirit outgrows the body’s capacity to contain it. Beaky was like that. And, Dorothy. Mike. Grandma Sue. H. I admire them. Bodies break down. Aging hurts. Spirits, on the other hand, need not wither.

I’m told that, in her elderhood, Margaret stopped what she was doing each day to go out back and watch the sun set over the desert. She was made hardy by a hard life. She was made kind by how she chose to live within her hard life. Drying her hands, stepping out on the back porch, the sky electric with peach and pink, she met each sunset with gratitude. Intentional thankfulness for the day.

Gratitude is not a soft thing. It is an attribute of the strong. Hard won from a long life of choices. Bitterness is easy, a lazy thing. Climbing the ladder, standing on the roof, feeling the aches and the loses, facing the running sands with a smile and admiring the day’s end, celebrating the shingles that held fast through the storm and those who placed them, that takes grit. Courage. And, an understanding of the connected power and responsibility of standing in the long line of ancestry.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRONG WINGS

Appreciate The Moment [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Monumental moments in a life sometimes seem so small at the time. They pass as incidental but, in retrospect, are profound.

In his recent visit, Bruce and I reminisced about my inability and horror of singing. In the majority of my life, I couldn’t find a pitch if it was sitting on my shoulder. Kerri jumped into the conversation telling Bruce that I’d found my voice. Well, to be honest, she helped me find my voice. A patient teacher who simply taught me how to hear. Bruce’s mouth dropped open when I told him that I sang at my grandfather’s funeral. “It was terrifying,” I said.

“But you did it,” Kerri added.

When I met her, as I’ve previously recounted, I told Kerri that, “I don’t sing and I don’t pray.” And, then came the ukulele band. On the day I flew in for my third visit, Kerri picked me up from O’Hare and we rushed back to make the first rehearsal of her new group, the ukulele band. We met in the gardens of the Kemper Center, Lake Michigan humming by our side. She handed me a black uke. She taught the group to tune. We learned a chord or two. And picked and sang our way through a few easy songs. I dare anyone to avoid singing when they are in a group of silly colored ukuleles. It was my first of many lessons. I was having so much fun strumming, that I forgot that I was singing.

Such a simple moment. The beginning of challenging a faulty life-story. A self-imposed limit. Kerri was wise enough to know that I needed to begin with fun. Laughter is a great maker of courage. The first step.

Eight years ago. At the time it seemed so incidental. Following this amazing musician through her day. Playing along. Carrying her books. And, all along, it was her gentle way of saying, “Let’s challenge that obstacle. There’s a way around it and all you have to do is have fun and learn again to listen.”

read Kerri’s blog post about UKULELES

Read A Tiny Note [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I was still in shock. It was late, beyond midnight. The roosters were watching for the sunrise. The ritual I’d witnessed that night blew the metaphoric wheels off my car. Wave after wave of knife-wielding priests ran at the Rangda, a priest chosen for the evening to wear the mask, to enter the trance and become the demon. The priests stabbed the Rangda but to no avail. The blades bent. They were repelled. Eventually, all entered the trance and turned the knives on themselves, taking the energy, the protection of the Rangda, into their bodies. Into the community. No one was injured. Peace was made with the Rangda. Balance was affirmed.

I held one of the knives after the ritual was complete. It was not a stage prop. I could not have bent the blade on my chest without doing injury to myself.

Budi explained it all to me. I had so many questions. In his culture, the dark forces are not to be resisted or banished. There is no hell separate from heaven. Evil and good are not compartmentalized. There are energies, some dark and some light. There is no need to make peace with the light. The necessity is to face and make peace with the dark. Balance is created, an intentional relationship with a dynamic whole. It’s a dance of responsibility, a balance of dark and light. The middle way.

Balance.

I loved this photo when Kerri showed it to me. Clover. You can’t tell but it is tiny. It is bursting from beneath the stone that serves as the step onto our deck. It made we wonder if the fairy people were close at hand. They serve, in the western tradition, a similar role to the Rangda in Bali. Nature spirits. It was most important to keep in the good graces with the Fairies. Honor their places. Respect and maintain the balance. According to tradition, they went into hiding, they left because we assaulted their spaces; we came to value the path of resources, mining, deforestation, fracking, damming…over the path of balance.

This tiny breath of clover. I sat on the stone last night. The air was cool after a humid and hot day. DogDog was doing his rounds. I had not thought of the Rangda in years. A tiny community on a tiny island. The “mayor” of the town introduced the ritual to us as their art. “We have so little to offer you,” he said in his broken English, “but we bring you our most prized offering, our art.”

Art. A prized offering. The dance of energies, an intentional relationship with the dynamic whole. An ongoing ritual of balance. It was the first time I witnessed a community that had yet to exorcise its art from the sacred. It bent knives. It restored balance. It belonged and gave deep meaning to every member of the community.

Tiny. Like the Fairies or the community on the island. A simple respect for what is good for the whole. Balance is expressed in the tiny things, the choices of where to walk, what to say. What helps in the long run. What does not. What gives meaning and cohesion to a community. What does not.

Budi would caution us with COVID and guns and a globe that is weirding and warming, “Rangda is ignored,” he’d say.

“Yes,” I’d reply, “the fairies have gone into hiding.”

But, all is not lost. They left a tiny note at our back door. Balance, it reads, is a relationship, an intentional act. It is an ongoing ritual, a tiny sacred thing.

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER