Hunt Wabbits! [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When the current occupant of the White House declared this “Character Counts Week” I, at first, fell on the floor laughing. How is it possible that someone so completely empty of ethic and absent a moral compass could ask the rest of us to focus on the virtues of character? We live in strange times.

My head must have hit the floor when I fell because I had an epiphany. This grotesque pretender wasn’t asking us to focus on positive social attributes, he was asking us to choose a character to perform! He wants us, like him, to take on an imaginary persona! While he plays the role of president, he wants us, the citizens of the nation, each to choose a character to play!

Choosing a character to play is serious business! My first thought was to have a go at the Road Runner (“BEEP! BEEP!”). Kerri is trying on Yosemite Sam (“Ya doggone idgit galoot!”). She made me laugh heartily with her bowlegged walk and Sam-ish-indignation so I’m leaping from my fowl first choice to a personal favorite, Elmer Fudd (“I’m hunting wabbits!”). Kerri wants me to stay with the Road Runner as a limited vocabulary will give her a break from my usual incessant running commentary.

This might be the best week we’ve had in four years! Laughter has been in short supply during this era of the bully, the celebration of the lie.

Of course, epiphanies come in bundles. Along with my insight into the real intention behind Character Counts Week came this: the moment I stepped into Elmer Fudd the world, as we currently experience it, made sense. We are living a comic book or, at the very least, a children’s version of The National Enquirer. All of the outrageous conspiracy theories (laughable were they not so dangerous), the stoking of the rage-machine, the-victim-persecutor-in-chief and his foxy-network-megaphone creating scary socialist monsters at every corner…MAD magazine has come to the nation’s capitol wearing orange face and a too-long-tie. The entire cohort is worthy of a Warner Bros. cartoon!

Perhaps history will laugh at this proclamation of character. Some smart professor in the year 2100 will offer a seminar called “2016-2020 – What were they thinking?” The students will slap their thighs and hoot at our ubiquitous-ridiculous. In the meantime, we have no better option than to jump into this week in full character.

(Me-to-Kerri: “Shhh! Be vewwy, vewwy quiet!” Kerri-to-me: “You ornery fur-bearin’ rebel! You’ll pay fer this!”).

read Kerri’s blog post on CHARACTER WEEK

[I told you that you’d miss our haiku-brevity. It’s good to be home…sort of.]

Practice Thinking [on KS Friday]

“The capacity to think astutely is often undervalued in the world of action. But philosopher Hannah Arendt identified the capacity to think as the foundation of a healthy and resilient democracy. Having experienced totalitarianism in Nazi Germany, then having fled it, she devoted much of her life to studying it and its opposite, democracy. She believed that thinking thoughtfully in public deliberations and acting democratically were intertwined and that totalitarianism is built upon and sustained by deceit and thought control. In order to resist efforts by the powerful to deceive and control thinking, Arendt believed that people needed to practice thinking.” Westley, Zimmerman, Patton, Getting To Maybe: How The World Is Changed

If thinking clearly is the hard line between democracy and totalitarianism, then we in these once-united-states are in a world of trouble.

For evidence, look no further than this past week. I begin with a single word: debate. Full stop. To assume thought is to assume too much. It was painful to watch conservative pundits attempt to spin sense and justification into 90 minutes of lie-vomit and fact-abuse. It was even more painful to watch thinking people, already exhausted by years of gaslighting, grasp for some sense of what they had just witnessed. The transience of the American experiment.

I shook my head during a post-debate-news segment when a woman cloaked in MAGA swag said that there shouldn’t be fact checkers at the debates because, “People should be able to say their truth.” Where-oh-where has our thought-practice gone?

Beneath the noise of the debate was a ruling in a slander case brought against Tucker Carlson of Fox News fame. The court ruled in Fox’s favor citing,”… that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, that any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statements he makes.” It has not been my experience that watchers of Fox News are necessarily awash in reason or any amount of skepticism. They believe the spin they hear in that big bubble of fantasy. The judge wrote, “The “‘general tenor’ of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’ “

O accountability, where is thy sting? O thought, where is thy champion?

Democracy is dependent upon our capacity to discern between exaggeration and fact, lie and truth. We are now a nation that cannot grasp the simplicity of science in a pandemic. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Those two actions could have saved thousands of lives. They still could save thousands of lives. I shook my head in despair when people I love repeated with gusto the claim that our numbers of infection are so high because we do so many tests. I thought but did not say, “Think! For god’s sake, just think about what you are saying!” It is too much to ask.

Kerri and I have met walls of angry criticism when we ask folks to check their media sources. How dare we suggest that propaganda isn’t news! It’s easy to check whether or not you are being led by the nose if you care to do it. And that, I fear, is where the line between democracy and totalitarianism dissolves. The care to do it. We would rather be comfy and fixed in our news bubbles, gloating in our mutual agreement, than practice thinking.

Without that hard line, the foundation of our healthy and resilient democracy can only crumble.

TRANSIENCE on the album RIGHT NOW is available in iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about TRANSIENCE

transience/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Give It Away [on Very Flawed Wednesday]

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There’s a yearly ritual in our home that I have come to dread. The arrival of the BMI statement. Broadcast Music, Inc., one of the performing rights organizations (royalty collectors) that track and collect royalties for the worldwide play of Kerri’s music. If I could hide the envelope and feel good about myself I would do it.

The BMI envelope evokes a dark cloud. Kerri clutches it and disappears into a corner of the house where she meticulously adds the numbers. With each number, her inner emotional rubber band winds tighter and tighter and tighter until it approaches the snapping point. I hear mutters and curses, “Listen to this,” she shouts to no one, “27,000 plays and I made a whopping 6 cents! 50,000 plays and get this! I made 6 bucks! Six whole bucks!!!”

I stand by, phone in hand, ready to dial the medical rescue squad. If her exclamation is ever followed by hysterical laughter, I’m dialing. I swear it.  “Are you alright?” I call out as part of the ritual. There is never a reply, just more clicking sounds from her phone calculator. Click, click, click…More mutters. More frustration. More anger. She is no longer adding numbers, she is adding abuses. Stacking her fury. She is consciously stoking her discontent.

I lose her for days in the black BMI cloud. Ritual anger. Hot fire.

In the old world, these numbers would add up to a very healthy living, a very successful career. In the new world, the numbers mean Apple Music and Spotify and Rhapsody and SoundCloud and YouTube…are making a healthy living on her music and the work of other independent artists. The artists are circumvented from realizing the profits of their work.

“You know it’s coming,” I tell her, “so why put yourself through this every time? You aren’t going to change it.” My ritual appeal.

She doesn’t acknowledge my question. She doesn’t acknowledge my presence. Click, click, click…”Oh Great!” she exclaims! “I’ve had a decrease! Last time it was .00079 and now it’s .00074! OF A CENT!”

I go to the far side of the house where DogDog is hiding from the dark and angry storm. We sit together, DogDog and me, phone at the ready.

The thing is, I agree with her. It is not fair. It is not right. It is a sign of the times that the organizations intended to protect her rights are active participants in selling her out. They make more money by ensuring that the artists makes less. Far less. “It costs them more per penny to send me the check than I’m getting per performance play!” she writhes. “Ten Times As Much!” She’s done the calculation; her indignation is numerically exact.

It is also not healthy to obsess on it. They’ve literally taken her livelihood. For several weeks each year she freely gives them her sanity. She drop-kicks her peace out the door. Her health suffers. Her heart breaks. And, for some reason, she waits with anticipation for the next letter to come so she can descend into darkness and rail again at the injustice. It’s as if the BMI letter is the only real, last remaining validation to her artistry. Over a million people enjoy her music each year.  The red hot anger is her only remaining thread to that deep rich pool of creativity.

In the meantime, she refuses to go into her studio and compose.”Why Bother!” she shouts to no one listening. Click, click, click…

She has, of course, given them far more than they have taken. During one of these rituals, the rubber band will snap as happens to all artists who turn against their artistry. After the snap, after I dial the phone and the good people come to take the pieces away, I will play her albums – all of them – and listen to the life-giving beauty that came from that deep creative pool before she could no longer see beyond the BMI betrayal, before she allowed the clicking numbers to parch her wild abundant artistry.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BMI

 

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Lose The Argument [on KS Friday]

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I’m losing the argument and it just became nearly impossible for me to make my case. My loss goes like this:

In the school of great ironies comes this latest and greatest entry: recently when Kerri posts her music to Facebook, the platform often pulls it down with a copyright claim.

Don’t yet see the irony? Let me unpack it. She composed the music. Recorded it. She formed a holding company to protect the rights of her music. No matter how you spin the legal rubik’s cube, she owns the rights to her artistry (as it should be). A social media platform is blocking her from using her music for copyright infringement on music that she holds the copyright. There is no customer service person to pick up the phone. All appeals go into the black hole of “email us and we’ll get back to you.” There is a bot with nary a mind in its matter or care in the world.

Wait. There’s more. We have, since we met, spent entire evenings surfing the web to find the millions of people who use her music (royalty free) to play beneath their home movies, their nature videos, their wedding collages, their graduation montages, the news stories, the documentary previews, moving baby albums. It seems anyone has been able to pull down and use her music without nod or consideration to copyright or royalty.

Over the course of her career, entities like Napster and Spotify and Pandora and Apple Music sprang fully grown from Zeus’ head. They play her music – paying her – dare I call it a royalty – of .000079 of penny for every play (that’s documented). She has well over a million listeners each year (that are documented). Had she any form of royalty and copyright protection -any at all – she’d be a very wealthy artist, indeed.

The argument that I lost? I’ve been nagging her incessantly to record the pieces that now grow yellow in her composition book. Some of her best work. Her generic answer is, “Why bother.” In the past year, my campaign was gaining ground! She was considering it. And then, in a split second, the last avenue where she could exercise a modicum of control over her artistry – locked her out from sharing her own music.

Irony. In a split second.

 

IN A SPLIT SECOND on the album AS SURE AS THE SUN  is available on iTunes or you can, like so many, get it almost anywhere you look (that’s facetious).

 

read Kerri’s blog post on IN A SPLIT SECOND

 

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in a split second/as sure as the sun ©️ (though you’d never know it) 2002 kerri sherwood

Find The First Principle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I don’t know about you but the moments in my life that I am the least proud are the moments that I was steeped in anger. In anger, I have said things that I didn’t mean and done things that I now regret. There is no real strength to be found in anger. There is only blindness and weakness.

We live in the great age of the misnomer. In anger we slap a label of virtue on the mad face of vice.

Step outside and you’re likely to be trampled by a stampeding herd of verbal misdirection. If your brain is not pulped by rage and you are curious enough to question, you just might survive the stampede. But do not think you are safe! That roaring that you hear is nothing less than an avalanche of obfuscation.

Occam would have a field day using his razor on phrases like “alternative truth.” What are the odds that a lie is a lie and not an alternative at all? He would roll his eyes at us. “What entices you, ” he would ask, after slicing the alternative from the truth, “to willingly swallow so much word-gumbo?”

The answer is easy and readily apparent: anger. We are an angry nation getting angrier. Angry people rarely ask questions. Anger and Reason are never seen sitting at the same table. Angry people are especially gullible, easily whipped into an frenzy, and led by the nose into concocted fights. People are made angry in order to focus their blood shot eyes on made-up-divides. There is nothing that bonds an Us like the perception of an invading Them.

If you survive the avalanche of obfuscation, duck, cover, and roll as the squadron of conspiracy theories are certainly swooping in to drop their fantastic story-bombs. Misdirection. Obfuscation. Cries of “Hoax!” and “Witch hunt!”

Anger, so we’re told, is a secondary emotion. It is a cover-up emotion, a protection against feeling the primary thing, like fear or loss. Anger is what happens when the metaphoric dog is backed into the corner. It’s better to bark and snap than to feel shame or sadness or otherwise vulnerable, especially in public. It’s easier to punch, to blame, to rage than it is to deal with the first principle.

What we-the-people have in common, our first principle, is suffocating under all of this anger.

Sharpening his razor, Occam might ask, “What would happen if you dealt with what you were really feeling instead of covering it up with so much fury? What’s beneath the anger? Deal with that.”

History teaches that when a leader fans anger into a red hot flame, the purpose is to forge the gullible into a thoughtless mob. These are the necessary bellows: obfuscation, misdirection, conspiracy theories a-go-go. Blame. Blame. Blame.

Mobs are not really strong. They are flashes in a vapid leader’s pan. They return to their strength when the fire burns itself out, when their eyes clear, and they once again become capable of asking, “What’s going on?”

Anger and strength – despite what the stampeding herd would like you to believe – are not the same thing. One requires the presence of mind and clear sight – and the other is defined by blindness and the absence of thought.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ANGER AS PROXY

 

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Get Serious [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Looking back on the experience, I see a map of choices.

Kerri fell. Both wrists were painful. We knew it was bad. In the ski patrol hut, the medic’s advice was to go get x-rays. Choice #1: To get x-rays or to not get x-rays? We had a conversation in all seriousness with the medics, that, given the nature of healthcare in America, it might be a valid option to skip it. To go home. To ignore it and let it heal as it will. The problem with ignoring it: the loss of motion that comes with ignoring what might be broken or torn in her wrists.

So the choice was not actually to get x-rays or to not get x-rays. The choice, the real choice, was financial ruin or loss of motion. Kerri is a pianist. It is her livelihood and her life. So, choice made: financial ruin.

We pulled into the medical center and saw a sign. To the right was the emergency room. To the left was the urgent care center. We sat in the truck and debated the option. While Kerri writhed in pain, in all seriousness, we sat in an idling truck and discussed the merits [or lack thereof] of our insurance policy. If we chose the right hand path, we would meet the vast, gaping deductible. Like Evel Knieval attempting to jump his motorcycle over the Grand Canyon, we’d have to gun our engine and run at the edge. No parachute. So, we chose the left hand path. We went to the desk of the urgent care and asked if they did x-rays.

Choice #2 was not, in truth, the emergency room versus the urgent care. The choice was which canyon did we have the best chance of surviving?

A few days later. An appointment with a great orthopedic doctor. She, in all seriousness, told us that she ignores the part of the patient file that speaks to their health insurance. She explained that there is dilemma that doctors face: do I advise my patient to do what is best for their health or do I advise them to do the thing that might keep them out of bankruptcy? She ignores the file because she wants her patients to hear what is best for them. She told us that she needs to keep herself blind to the financial reality that her best advice might necessitate. “Yet another untenable choice,” I thought.

Our choices reminded me of an experience we had a few years ago. We were shopping for a new washing machine. The salesman, an older man, was embarrassed by the products he was selling. He, in all seriousness, took us down the aisle of appliances and told us what was wrong with each machine. He was convincing us NOT to buy his appliances. Mostly, he told us, they were designed to fail. He said, “We used to know how to make things in this country. Now we make crap on purpose.”

The healthcare in the richest country on earth is just like the appliances sold in the richest country on earth: Designed to fail. Making crap on purpose. The way I am certain that I see clearly? Sit with your wife, a world-class pianist, who has just broken both wrists, and listen to the choices you are considering. Clarity, in all seriousness, comes when the crisis hits.

As we shake our increasingly obese and unhealthy bellies, wave our angry signs and shout about making America great again, it seems we are falling further and further behind. We saw it this week in our senate, did we not? At least our capacity for denial of the truth [in our post-fact, low-information frenzy] is running in front of the rest of the world. I can only hope, as a nation, we break our collective wrists sooner rather than later. In our pain, perhaps we will look at the sign and have a real conversation, in all seriousness, about our choices, about what we can and cannot survive.

 

Read Kerri’s blog post [written with a cast and a splint!] on CHOICES

 

 

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Know The Matter [on Flawed Wednesday]

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I’ve had this conversation twice in my life. The first time I was working in The Netherlands. The second time I was working in Canada. The conversation, both times, started with exactly the same question:  What’s the matter with you Americans?

It is an irrefutable fact: we (Americans) pay more than 7 times what any other nation on earth pays for healthcare and we provide poorer coverage for less people. Our life expectancy is shorter. We are an obese nation. Our infant and maternal mortality rate is higher than any other developed nation.

What’s the matter with (us) Americans?

Here’s another irrefutable fact: the top 1% of households owns more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. The gap is, in fact, growing.

We are being force-fed the fear of socialism* but, if you dare, take off the blinders, plug your ears to the noise of heated misdirection, and look at the data. It’s clear that our fear should be of the oligarchy.

What’s the matter with (us) Americans? We are too easily led, susceptible to diversion by division, and extraordinarily fact-averse. We are too lazy to question, research or otherwise investigate the easy tribal narratives of red or blue. We are (to borrow a great book title) a confederacy of dunces.

The stresses of “healthcare” are making most of us sick while making a very, very few of us as rich as Croesus. That is another irrefutable fact and is the crux of what is the matter with (us) Americans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEALTHCARE.GOV

 

*try this experiment (I have and it is eye opening): To everyone who screams in fear the word “socialism,” ask them to define the word “socialism.” You will find, as I do, the screamers can’t define it. They don’t really know what they are screaming about. They (we) also are inordinately incapable of defining “oligarchy.” That is (sadly) why I’ve provided links. It is also an alternate answer to the question, “What is the matter with you Americans?” I decided in the final moment to exclude a link to the words “representative democracy.” Given the irrefutable but too often denied facts, it begs a whole other set of questions.

 

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Chase Your Tail [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Sometimes I think I am living in an Antonin Artaud play. Surreal. Surreal. Surreal. And very funny.

I came into the bedroom last night and Kerri said, “Dog drove doughnuts in a car for half an hour.” I fell on the floor laughing. She was reading a news headline but that did not make it less absurd.

Speaking of headlines, if this was kindergarten, the entire Republican Party would be sent to the principal’s office for advanced liar-liar-pants-on-fire. An entire cadre of seeming adults claiming that the dog ate their homework. I’ll bet that dog conspired to eat their homework, too!

Suddenly, this surrealist post has a dog theme.

“God struggles.” P-Tom said in all seriousness. I looked at Kerri and said, “I have a real problem with the idea that a god, any god, struggles.” She rolled her eyes.

An eye roll inspires an explanation. “Gods are not supposed to be separate,” I said, leaning in. “Things that struggle are separate.” She scooched away from me, a signal to stop my pontificating. “I struggle with the notion that god struggles,” I said proudly in an attempt at thought-condensation. Kerri narrowed her eyes, saying, “You ARE a struggle.”

Theme’s must be honored, especially dog themes so please note that ‘god’ spelled backward is ‘dog.’ In my philosophy, dogs struggle. Gods do not. As Anton Chekhov wrote in his play, The Cherry Orchard, “My dog eats nuts, too.” Try and write that about a god!

Jen and her “little” made pretzel-monster-cookies for Halloween [Jen is one of my heroes. She and Brad are ‘bigs’ in the organization Big Brothers, Big Sisters]. Kerri chose a cookie to eat but couldn’t do it because it was too adorable. She thrust it at me, saying, “You do it.” Suddenly, I was cast in the role of cookie executioner. I made cookie screaming noises. The cookie pleaded for a pardon but I was heartless. It was over quickly. It was a very, very good cookie.

If I were a dog watching me eat the cookie [my apologies to Chester and Henry], I’d go to the garage, jump in the car, start it up, and chase my tail, doing doughnuts until either the car ran out of gas or the police showed up to take me to the principal’s office. Either way, making sense of people must be hell for a dog. It’s hard for us, too.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about PHOOEY

 

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note: did I mention that BabyCat snores like a champion – especially when I am writing. This post was dangerously close to being cat-themed. ‘Cat’ spelled backwards is “Tac.’ Go figure!

 

 

 

Deny It [on Flawed Wednesday]

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Were I to give this image a title it would be called ‘Denial.’ It smacks of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: a holiday obsessed Chevy Chase pretends he is having the perfect family Christmas even as the house comes down around him. Of course, in Hollywood, denial has a happy ending for everyone but the snotty neighbors. Their suffering makes us laugh.

These days I think almost daily of the phrase Roger tossed out a few decades ago: denial is the most powerful of human capacities. He is a director of plays, a great student of human motivation. People are great at denying what they don’t like. People are great at having one too many drinks and getting behind the wheel, or texting while driving because, after all, bad things happen to other people. People are masters at pretending that they are not involved, above it all, or what they see is not happening. Ask the NRA.

The important detail that Roger understood is that denial is never passive. It abdicates responsibility. It assigns blame other places. Chinese hoax. It minimizes the impact. It paints pretty pictures of ugly situations. It throbs with intention.

Denial: the action of declaring something untrue.

Here’s the question that Roger’s observation invokes in me: at what point do we wake up and realize that we are all the snotty neighbors?

[now, don’t you wish that I’d just written about Hieronymous Bosch like I intended?]

 

read Kerri’s less pessimistic blog post on the PICNIC TABLE

 

 

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the picnic ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

 

 

Look For Erle [on KS Friday]

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When you pull up Kerri’s page on iTunes you’ll notice that they have a hard time placing her music in a category. New Age? Easy listening? Classical? Country? One does not easily fit into the filing system until one can be clearly labeled. How can you be effortlessly labeled?

It’s a challenge all of us face. What’s the label? How do you fit? And (here’s the rub), it’s bad enough that the greater-world-filing-system needs a label to locate you, the real confusion comes in the labels we impose on ourselves. Are you a dentist? A liberal? A conservative? A mother? A foodie? Self-made, dependent, injured, Christian (which branch?), Muslim, agnostic, vegetarian, cowboy, rich, poor, retired, globalist, nationalist, capitalist, socialist? Do you “know?” Are you the righteous? Professor? How do you place yourself in the greater-world-filing system? Never mind how the “the system” attempts to squeeze you into a role, what’s the little box that you try to squeeze yourself into?

Is that who you are? Is that little box where you belong? Is it the totality of your being?

Sometimes I think we spend most of our lives dividing ourselves so that we might fit into a very small box. And, what we do to ourselves we most certainly do to others. They. Them. Not us.

Divide. Label. Locate.

Reduce. Contain. Shelve.

Although there is a certain amount of safety-feeling when living in a very small box, there is also very little vitality. Little things look big from the vantage point of a tiny box.  Little things look threatening from the confines of a too-tight label. Little boxes are petri dishes for big fear.

We bandy these words about and paste them on the walls of our too-little-boxes: mindfulness, wholeness, vitality. “This life is not a dress rehearsal.” “You are infinite potential.” “Today is day one.” Maya Angelou, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Peace.

These ideals, all of them, wonder, magic, love, artistry, unity, harmony,…truth…crackle beyond the label. They are there – outside the box – and they are never found in the direction of division. They are always present if you care to put down the label-maker.

Get out of your box and turn around. Maybe spin around and around and lose your balance like you did when you were young and less needy of location. Look at the mystery that chases you and chase it. Play tag with this life. Remember how you laughed just because? Reach.

Kerri stood on the edge of a canyon and, although afraid of heights, she threw open her arms. Kirsten called me to tell me. “Mom’s on the edge,” she whispered into the phone. “I’m really proud of her.”

note: this composition has nothing to do with what I just ranted about except for maybe this: the only locators that really matter are the people who love you and show up for you. Your friends along the way. This is the label I am most attached to: Kerri and I are very rich in friends.

OLD FRIENDS REVISITED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ERLE

 

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old friends revisited/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

erle ©️ 2019 (and beyond) kerri sherwood