Walk With Dorothy [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am fond of falling into rabbit holes. For instance, I just wrote the phrase, “racking my brain” and then doubted my spelling and wrote, “wracking my brain.” Was I wracking my brain or racking my brain as I tried to figure out who Lily Tomlin reminded me of? We’ve been binge watching episodes of Grace & Frankie.

This is what the oracle in the temple of google revealed to me: To rack one’s brain is to torture it or to stretch it by thinking very hard. To wrack one’s brain would be to wreck it. This might sort of make sense in some figurative uses, but rack is the standard spelling where the phrase means to think very hard.

After sufficiently stretching my brain on the rack, somewhere in the early episodes of season 2, I realized that Lily Tomlin’s character reminded me of my great aunt Dorothy. Not so much in specific action – but in orientation to life and in appearance. I admired her greatly.

Dorothy lived on the side of a mountain in a small house that may or may not have ever been level. It was a down hill stroll when walking from the kitchen to the living area. She cooked on a cast iron wood burning stove. Her tiny yard, also clinging to the side of the mountain, was a miracle of blue bottles glittering in the sun and brilliant red hummingbird feeders. Poncho, a dog older than god herself, sat in the yard and watched the day go by. My great uncle Del rolled cigarettes and kept his world war 2 army jeep in usable shape.

Dorothy and Del were more interested in living life simply rather than gathering possessions or stacking achievements. The promise of a week with them was a promise of adventure. Catching pollywogs in old coffee cans, building rafts so we could Huck Finn our way across high mountain lakes, bumping in the jeep over ancient gold mining trails, discovering cabins and shelters slowly being reclaimed by the land. There were old graveyards and the hillside that the mountain town considered its dump. Dorothy was famous (to me) for finding treasure there. She had the eyes to see possibilities and potential in the community’s discards.

I often wonder if my love of walking was a gift from Dorothy. I adored walking with her. She was, at the same time, a free spirit and completely grounded. She was dedicated to the appreciation of the moment. No frills. No illusions. The sun on her face was cause for celebration. She never traded simple present joy for some imagined future gain.

When I think of her, I smile. When I think of the many people who have influenced me, Quinn and Tom, Doug, MM, Mark, Judy…they all have a bit of Dorothy in their characters. Outliers. See-ers. Lots of laughter and ideas. The ability to find treasure – or make treasure – in the people and the possessions that society routinely throws away. Appreciators of the moment. Sharers of the riches they find there. Walkers-through-life that pay attention. Each and every one evokes a smile when they wander through my thoughts.

Ask me what makes a good life, what it is I hope to emulate, and leave behind, I will not need to rack or wrack my brain. I will point you to the long river of inspiration and smiles whose headwaters come from a tiny scrappy woman who lived in a tippy house on the side of a mountain surrounded by hummingbirds, colored glass, bacon and wood smoke.

read Kerri’s blog post about SMILE

Come Look! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The artist finds, rather than creates and controls.” ~ Declan Donnellan

I’m not sure when I began including floral shapes in my paintings. I’ve always appreciated the shape of symbols and shapes as symbols. One day in my Seattle studio, I lined the walls with my most recent paintings and was surprised to discover leaves and plants and stems etched into figures and the spaces. My charcoal and paint flora was generic; they were not studies of plants nor in any way representational. They were shapes. They were accidental.

Even when my plant-shapes became intentional they remained generic, improvisational. I didn’t go outside and study the shapes of leaves. It never occurred to me to step into the field next to my studio and look at the plant life. I’m slow that way.

And then I met Kerri. We walk almost every day. While my mind wanders into the ethers and gets lost in the sky, she is busy looking at life’s minutiae. She stops often and takes photographs, usually of a tiny treasure. A forest flower. The bud about to burst on a limb. A butterfly nestled into the leaves. “Look!” she exclaims and kneels on the path, camera in hand. She navigates thorns, wades into tall grasses, climbs over rocks, all to get close enough to see, really see the miniature miracle.

Because she sees, I see. She is single-handedly responsible for my ongoing Georgia O’Keeffe revival. And what I’ve re-learned as Kerri beckons me to, “Come Look!” is that my vast imagination is not capable of creating the amazing shapes and colors and delights that surround me. I’ve been walking through this intense world of marvels my whole life and noticed only the smallest slice. The best I can do is pay attention and dance with what I find.

It’s humbling – as it should be. I’ll never be a better creator than nature because I am a creation of nature. In fact, I realize again and again that my job as an artist is not to create, it is to discover what is already right in front of my face. To open eyes – my eyes and others’ eyes – to the enormity of what already exists. The wild shapes, the dancing colors, the glow of life that I’ll never be able to capture, no matter how great my technique or pure my intention. The best I can do is point to the mystery, with symbol, shape and color, and say, as Kerri does for me each and every day, “Look! Come Look!”

read Kerri’s blog post about SUCCULENTS

Turn To See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Joseph Campbell said, “None of us lives the life that he/she imagined.” We have an idea, perhaps a plan, a good map, and then, well, life happens. As anyone who’s ever done home repair knows, things rarely go according to the plan. A good life, a life well lived, allows for both the well-laid-plan and the home-repair-rule. Things happen. Plans change. Visions grow. Pipes burst. Pieces don’t fit. Good angels arrive.

Dreams are fluid things. Despite expectations, very few life paths are straight lines.

One of the tenets we taught in The Circle Project was to plan for surprise. Expect the unexpected. There is nothing worse than an inflexible plan. There’s nothing better than a happy accident that alters the course of an idea, the direction of a life.

That we have penicillin in our world is the result of a famous happy accident. Intention met mishap met serendipity. A surprise discovery in a Petri dish in 1928 took years, many more Petri dishes, publications and happy discovery by other scientists who held a similar intention, followed by additional happy accidents to at last become a useful antibiotic available to the public in 1942.

Though I rarely include it in my list of gratitude, I would not be alive today were it not for that accidental mold in the dish and the subsequent scientists who included in their plan time to read journals and follow up on the research they found there. I’ve never come across a life plan that included a bout with life-threatening infection but I’ve heard countless tales of relief when the antibiotic – no longer a surprise – arrived. Surprise meets plan. Plan meets surprise. They are dance partners, not adversaries.

A team can practice, practice, practice, but they cannot know or predict the outcome of the game. It must first be played. And, as any athlete will tell you, the game is only worth playing – or watching – because the outcome is unknown.

Plan for the unknown. Welcome the surprise.

The long view is what we desire before life is lived. Pick a point on the horizon and walk that way.

The long view is something we can only truly see after the fact, when we arrive at a point, and turn to see the surprising path we have traveled.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LONG VIEW

See The Invisible [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Oh my gosh!” She whispered. “These remind me of my mother!” She quickly pulled her camera from her purse and, to the amazement and amused curiosity of our fellow grocery shoppers, we had a straw-plate-holder photo shoot at the end cap of aisle 9.

It is, of course, among my favorite aspects of going through life with an artist wife. Everything is a story-thread. Everything is a possible composition, an opportunity for beauty. Everything is immediate. It is utterly unpredictable when the muse will strike. And, the immediacy of capturing the moment usually draws a crowd and she is blissfully unaware of the ruckus her immediate-story-composition creates. She is a rolling storm of performance art. I am the lucky one who gets to watch both the artist and the audience.

Augusto Boal, one of the developers of the Invisible Theatre, would be most proud of the unintentional performances Kerri creates. In an everyday setting, everyday life, a performance snaps an audience into awareness, shocks them out of their dulled sensibility, an audience that has no idea that it is functioning as an audience. Many stop to watch the crazed lady snap photos of straw-plate-holders as she tells sweet stories of her mother. Many scurry for the safety of anonymity. Either way, either response, a pure theatrical event takes place.

The performer scrutinizes her many photos, completely unaware of her performance. As she places her camera back in her purse, the audience immediately disperses, hopeful not to catch the attention of the performer and somehow be called into the play. They fold themselves back into the normalcy of their day.

But, something has changed. They have a story to tell, an unusual event happened in their day. The performer has touched back to her deep story and through her photographs, plucked her heart-threads.

And I have been the happy witness to art and artistry. All are fed by these lovely, oh so common, straw plate holders displayed at the end cap of aisle 9.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRAW PLATE HOLDERS

Walk In Sync [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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

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

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

The wind of impatience.

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

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

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

read Kerri’s blog post about PATIENCE

Open [on KS Friday]

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

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

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

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

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

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

read Kerri’s blog post about BARNEY

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

Take The Time [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

To see takes time.

Desi has been teaching us to see. She sits on the table in a clay pot. We join her at the table every evening to sip a glass of wine, watch the light wane, the robins and cardinals dart across the yard, debrief the day. We’ve been watching Desi all winter, spending time with her. Watching.

Truth be told, I did not expect Desi to live long in her pot. She’s seemingly so fragile, her “trunk” no wider than a sewing needle. And yet, throughout the winter, her robust green needles never yellowed. She thrived, verdant in her unlikely home.

Kerri talks to Desi more than I do. I’m the silent male but I regularly send her my good thoughts. She regularly reciprocates. Kerri and Desi can carry on for quite awhile about nothing in particular. Soil. Water. Warm days. Pine-tree-talk. Hope.

Hope. A few weeks ago, Desi stood taller. New tender sprouts pressed from nowhere , tiny arms reaching for the sun. We celebrated Desi’s new heights. We encourage her to keep going – and she does! Now, each evening, first thing when we sit at the table, we spend time ‘seeing’ Desi.

In a hard pandemic time she lightens our spirits. She cares nothing for the news cycle or the ridiculous foibles of bipeds and we find that refreshing. Most of all, if, for a moment, we forget that we are surrounded by hope – it’s everywhere – we take a moment or two and have a sit-down-visit with Desi. We take the time to see what is always right in front of our eyes.

read Kerri’s blog post about DESI

Be The Miracle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The infinity in the microscope is as dazzling as that of the cosmos.” ~ John O’Donohue

After my surgery, the doctor said, “You my friend are now a modern medical miracle.” It’s true. Had I been born in another century I would not have survived. In fact, had I been born in another century, I would have met the average life expectancy of 30-40 years. Each and every one of us, walking the streets with an expectation to live beyond our thirties, are modern medical miracles and indebted to the brave explorers of the microscopic cosmos.

Early in this pandemic, before it hit the shores of these divided-united-states, we watched the movie Contagion. So much of the world painted in the film was spot on. Pandemic deniers decrying the virus as a made-up assault on their freedom. Charlatans selling miracle cures and misinformation. Conspiracy theories run amok. The initial panic emptied shelves at the grocery store. Quarantine. An economy in tatters. A weary and anxious populace awaiting a vaccine that would stop the micro-assault. A microscopic threat vanquished by a microscopic man-made-miracle.

When we pulled into the abandoned-drive-through-bank to receive our vaccines, I felt that I was in the movie. We’d placed our names on a list to receive vaccines that would otherwise need to be discarded. The call came on a Friday afternoon, “Come now!” We jumped into the truck as the sun was setting on a frigid snowy day and raced to the given address: an abandoned bank turned into public health center. We were directed to stop at cone number 1. Nurses in snow pants, knit caps and mufflers came out to the truck. It was so cold that we had to open the door to communicate, the windows were frozen and would not roll down. A bit of paperwork, coats shed and arms exposed, and the vaccines were administered. Coats and gloves and hats were quickly donned again. We were asked to wait at cone number 1 for 15 minutes. They gave us a flag to wave if we needed help.

As we waited, engine running to beat back the bitter cold, we admired those amazing women who gave us our shots. They were absolutely delightful, upbeat, and incredibly kind. Pandemic. A blisteringly frigid day. They’d been giving vaccines since early in the morning, repeatedly taking off their gloves in frostbite conditions. We were the last two of the day. And there wasn’t a hint of exhaustion or suffering or complaining from the cold. “People can be amazing,” Kerri said. “It’s good to remember that sometimes.”

It was good to remember. Dedicated people selflessly serving others in the face of a deadly virus, enduring extreme cold, extreme misinformation, tip-toeing across ice and politics to bring big-heart-comfort and a bit of modern miracle to the dazzling cosmos called my body and yours. My health is your health. Intimately linked as we pass in the grocery store or on the street or trail, across the nation and the world. The microscopic world does not know us as individuals and cares not about our investments or beliefs or freedoms, imagined or not. All that I know is that I am, once again, a modern medical miracle, and owe a deep debt of gratitude to the men and women at the microscope and those that stand for hours in the cold.

read Kerri’s blog post about VACCINES

Really Look [on KS Friday]

20 watches the house, the dog and our very large cat when we are away. To keep us in touch with what’s going on at home, he sends us mystery photos: common things around our house made mysterious through an extreme close up or unusual angle. Our job is to solve the photo-riddle. I love the game because, no matter where we are, it instantly makes me look at the world in a different way. Or, better said, it makes me look. Really look.

I also appreciate the game because, upon returning home, I run around the house looking at the objects he transformed into enigmas. All that I have grown dull to seeing re-emerges as rich in color and shape and texture and story.

Kerri has the visual sensibility of a contemporary artist. She went down a path of music but might just as well aimed her artistry at the visual. Hers is a natural sense of design. Her camera might as well be an accessory or visual-opportunity-attachment since she moves through the day capturing photographs of passing detail. I’ve known her to be paying bills and jump up suddenly to catch the light on the wall or the texture of the door. Her eye is never passive. She and 20 are alike in that. They are visual twins with unique sensibilities and both serve to keep my eyes open and looking-beyond-what-I-think.

Yesterday, in mid-sentence, she stopped and said, “Oh! I want to show you something!” turned and ran down the hall. When I started to follow she said over her shoulder, “You can’t look! Stay there!” A minute later she returned, sheepish, and showed me the photo she’d just taken. “Do you know what this is?” she beamed. Too excited to wait for my answer she announced, “It’s the laundry chute! Isn’t it cool!” She walked away studying her photograph, muttering, “It’s so coooool.” I ran to the laundry chute to have a look. To really look as if for the very first time.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE CHUTE

find Kerri’s albums on iTunes

Catch The Glimmer [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday a treasure arrived in the mail. Mike sent it for my birthday. It is a painting, a study for class that her father, DeMarcus, did when he was a young art student. He was learning to see and use color. This painting hung in her hallway. More than once I stopped and studied it, his color swatches carefully placed at the bottom of the page. She must have noticed that I was drawn to this painting.

Many years ago, Mike gave me DeMarcus’ notebook from this same class on color. It is from a time before it was possible to go to the drugstore and buy a notebook. DeMarcus cut the paper, made a cover from old Levi’s, starched for strength, and stitched it together. The pages, a hundred years later, are tender, so I am careful when I read them. Reading his notes always buoys my spirit since they are a record of his revelation, of training his eyes to see.

During the bitter cold of the past few weeks, an entire ice-age played out on the top of the awning over our backdoor. A creeping ice shelf moved slowly down the awning, crawling over the side. One evening, the long fingers of the ice-age reaching for the deck below, became brilliant with the winter colors of the sky. Kerri grabbed her phone, flung open the door, frigid air blasting into the warmth of the room, she stepped out and snapped photos of the fingers.

“Look!” she said, showing me the screen. “I love this picture!”

Just above the center of the photograph, a glimmer of electric blue. Amidst the suspended bubbles and greens and purples and light-reflections, a tiny beacon of vibrant blue. I could almost hear DeMarcus laughing.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICICLES