Heed The Thwack [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Have a Drink

It occurs to me now that Marilyn J. was thwacking me on the back of the head. In her comment about my post, AGREE TO DISAGREE, she mirrored back to me something I have taught: without an antagonist there is no story. Without an obstacle there is nothing to drive the story forward. Marilyn was reminding me of two things. First,  the antagonists in my story were giving me fuel for forward movement. Second, that in my post, I was pushing against what I don’t like. She was reminding me that productive movement is toward what I wish to create rather than resisting what I do not want.

We have a new phrase in our lexicon though it feels ancient: social distancing. In thinking about what Marilyn wrote to me I have decided the real social distancing that we are experiencing has less to do with stay at home orders or six feet of space or wearing masks; it is about the distance between the world inhabited by the red and the world inhabited by the blue. They are, I believe, no longer merely divided, they are distinctly separate realities. What makes sense in one reality looks like utter nonsense in the other.

I just took a dive into quotes by E.O. Wilson. He wrote something about brilliant enemies and I wanted to find it: “Without a trace of irony I can say that I have been blessed with brilliant enemies. I owe them a great debt, because they redoubled my energies and drove me in new directions.”

This is point of Marilyn’s head thwack. Redouble your energies. There is no denying that my daily disbelief at the malignant narcissist and his propaganda machine is driving me in new and as yet unknown directions. It has filled me with fear for my family and friends. It is also filling me with energy and it is up to me to live what I believe and use my redoubled energy to move toward what I desire to create rather than become “the thing hate:” an angry absolutist incapable of listening. A resister. An energy eddy.

Or, as Saul-the-Tai-Chi-Master so often reminded me, “Look beyond the obstacle to the field of possibilities.” That is where all of life is truly found.

[note: if you want to feel good about humanity or just need some perspective in the time of pandemic, Google quotes by E.O. Wilson. Or, better yet, since we are in this for a while read one of his books].

 

read Kerri’s blog post on this NOT SO FLAWED WEDNESDAY

 

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Sacred Looking In with color copy 2

See Anew [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It seems that everything during the pandemic is a study of circumstance-driven-change. For instance, I am a painter of people. I’ve never been interested in still life studies. Even in school, I cringed at the bowls of fruit placed before us by the instructor. Shape, shade, blah-blah-blah. Give me figure drawing any day! Suddenly, to my great surprise, I am photographing big bowls of fruit. They are gorgeous. I’m thinking about a painting featuring fruit.  What’s happening to me?

The devil is in the pandemic detail. We used to go to the store everyday. We used to buy what we needed for the next 24-48 hours. There were no big piles of fruit, no explosions of color in the fruit bowl or waves of color rolling across the counter. Now, in the time of pandemic, we stock up. We are – like you – buying massive amounts of bananas and oranges and apples and pears. They are, to an artist’s eye, when assembled, simply beautiful. They are, I suspect to an accountant’s eye, also beautiful, but my thoughts stray beyond merely eating.

Beautiful.

We are also in a fit of food experimentation. To delay our need to go into the wild COVID world and shop, we comb the empty larder, asking “What do we have? What can we make with what we have?” We throw our random ingredient list into the Google pool and voila! Yummy options emerge. Bacon wrapped pears. Oh. My. God. It never would have occurred to my bear-brain to wrap a pear in bacon. I savored it. I moaned. My eyes rolled back in my head.

Beautiful. Delicious.

When you study change processes, you bumble across something akin to a rule. It goes like this: if you know where you are going, then it is not really change; it is controlled reordering of what already exists. It may look new but is really the same old wolf in new sheep’s clothing.

Change is what happens when you step into unknown and strange lands, when all of the old points-of-orientation are gone. Only then will you step into something new and surprising. Only then will you see without the old dulling filter. For me, apparently, change looks like a big bowl of beautiful fruit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BACON WRAPPED PEARS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inhabit Someday [on KS Friday]

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My life is nothing like what I imagined it would be. I had ideals and visions, hopes and dreams. Yet, here I am.

One day I awoke with the realization that I was spending an inordinate amount of my life wanting to be somewhere else, someone else, in a place I called “fulfillment.” In other words, I was giving away my day – my happiness – for an illusion. I spent that entire day paying attention to where I was. I didn’t have to try. I had to allow. You’ll not be surprised to learn that my day was extraordinary. An outside observer would have commented that nothing happened but they would have been…mistaken.

I painted for the pure pleasure of doing it. And breakfast (OMG)! I smelled coffee. I walked in the sun. I held my wife’s hand. I fixed again the perpetually broken handle on back door. I sat on the raft and wrote. I read aloud what I wrote (as we used to say, “tasting the words”). I laughed. We laughed. I played with dogga in the backyard. I listened as Kerri played the piano. She sang! We cooked dinner together. Sipped wine.

In fact, my day was much better than my imagined fulfillment because, well, it was actual fulfillment. True, I was not Leonardo Da Vinci, I had no Oscars on my shelf, and my financial situation was the stuff of comedy.  Yet, in fully inhabiting my actual moment, I was surprised at how little those other things mattered. As Quinn might say, my wall of respect had nothing on it and I couldn’t be more pleased.

My life is nothing like what I imagined it would be. It is so much better. That Morning Someday, I’ve learned, is nothing (quite literally nothing) if not today.

 

THAT MORNING SOMEDAY on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available on iTunes

 

 

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that morning someday/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Look For The Manatee [on DR Thursday]

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This has never been Kerri’s favorite painting. When I chose it for this week’s melange I asked her why she didn’t like it. She said, “Because there’s a manatee in it.”

“A manatee?”

“Keep in mind,” she said, “that I’m inkblot challenged.”

Wait. What?

Responding to the blank look in my eyes, she added, “I could never see Jesus in the pancake. Stuff like that.”

“The pancake?” My synapse fell short of the hoop. She Googled inkblots to demonstrate her disability.

“See (she pointed to an inkblot on the screen)! There’s Florida and I’m supposed to see Jesus. Wait. Oh. There he is. Wait! There’s a lot of stuff in there!” she marveled, squinting at the blot.

Blink. Blink.

“Oh! Maybe it’s that I see too much stuff in the inkblot!

I pulled up the image of the painting. “It’s called Canopy,” I said. I enlarged the image.

She looked close. “Wait. That’s not a manatee!” she exclaimed. “That’s a person’s leg!” She looked closer. “Hmmm.”

It is, after all, what I love about art: It is never complete. It emerges anew with each new look, each new performance. What I intend has very little to do with what is perceived and in that space between artist and audience, a new creation, a new conversation arises. Imagination is like that. It opens worlds of surprising possibilities. It projects itself into the known, into the painting, and magically transforms it.

“So, you don’t like manatees?” I tease.

“I love manatees!” she huffs. “Just not in your paintings.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post on CANOPY

 

 

 

 

 

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canopy ©️ 2009 david robinson

Admit It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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When we first met, a snowfall – especially at night – served as an immediate call to strap on our shoes, pull on our parkas, and walk into the quiet of the new snow. Somewhere in the passage of time, we ceased heeding the call and, instead, opted for warm blankets, wine and a gaze out the window. “Look at how huge those flakes are!” we exclaim and sip.

So it was a surprise that with last weeks sudden spring snow, we both felt that old giddy schoolchild’s enthusiasm and threw on our coats (pulled mittens over splinted wrists) and crunched into the evening flurry.

The sun was setting so the neighborhood was awash in purple and blue. The wind through the trees served to hush an already muted world. We came upon an evergreen tree that made us gasp. We pulled off her mittens so she could take a picture.

It is in moments like these that I remember all that I know about perfection, all that I forget the second I re-remember all that I know about perfection. Namely, it is not an achievement. It is not something to strive for. It is not distinct or otherworldly. It is here all the time. The challenge is in seeing it. The challenge is offering it admission into our otherwise busted and angst-ridden narratives.

A quiet evening. The crunch of our feet in new snow. A flurry of unique-in-all-the-world flakes falling into uniformity on the ground, resting in the needles of an evergreen. Kerri gasps, “Help me take off my mitten! I want a picture.” I step back, breathe in the cold clean air. The wind playing music through the trees. “Isn’t it gorgeous?” she asks moving in for a close-up.

‘Perfect.” I nod. Just perfect.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOW IN EVERGREENS

 

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Become Whole [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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When Barney came to live in our backyard, he’d been long forgotten in the dank dark basement boiler room. His soundboard was shot. He was headed for the junkyard when Kerri intervened and asked if Barney might come live out his days with us. It has been five years since Barney arrived in the junk man’s pick up truck. He has aged beautifully.

The first day in his new home Barney spoke when Kerri played his keys. He let go of his voice one key at a time. Within a week he was silent, no longer what he once was but not yet sure of what he was becoming.

We adorned him with flowers in pots for a few summer seasons. Certainly, he was content to support the flowers – like a crossword puzzle, it was something to do – but it never rose to the level of purpose. We realized he was doing it for us so when the third season arrived we let go our desire to give him meaning. He heaved a sigh at our revelation, and, at last, purpose-free, he enjoyed the sun for no other reason than it felt good. That season, wild geraniums grew around his baseboard and embraced him, the chipmunks used him as their hiding spot. The little critters made him laugh as they stood on his blistering lid and taunted the rowdy dog.

Initially, we tried to slow his inevitable peel, slathering him with marine oil, but his skin wrinkled and bubbled anyway. The white veneer of his keys was the first to go. We realized that Barney was becoming another kind of beautiful. He was, as Rilke wrote, living his way into the answer to all of his questions.

Jen and Brad suggested in our stay-at-home-seclusion that we exchange images of spring. I stepped onto the back deck and recorded the birds singing. And then I saw the wild geraniums were showing up and gathering around Barney. He was absolutely gorgeous in the morning light, sculptural and at peace. I’d just read something Thomas Merton wrote and it perfectly described Barney on this early spring morning: There is in all visible things…a hidden wholeness.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BARNEY IN SPRING

 

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Check Your Sources [on Flawed Wednesday]

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When I hung up the phone I turned to Kerri and said, “I have to make peace with the fact that Fox News is going to kill my parents. I have to make peace that Fox will inevitably kill someone I love.”

I remember writing research and opinion papers in high school. Beyond giving shape to thought, the lesson was about citation. Know your sources. Know the difference between a fact and an opinion. Perspective is just that, a point of view. When the internet roared into being, as a teacher, I hammered the same nail into my students, “In a world in which anyone can assert anything, it is vitally important, more so now than ever, to discern what has merit and what does not. You have to protect yourself and know what is perspective and what is fact.”

An educated person asks questions about what they are told. An educated person asks questions about what they are telling themselves.

A three minute Google search of media bias rankings will provide an number of links to follow and all issue relatively consistent reports: there isn’t a media watch agency in the world that considers Fox News a source of news. It is ranked as a solid source of right wing propaganda.  Sifted information with an agenda. And yet, so many of the people I love have rooted their hard perspective in this flimsy pseudo soil. The rankings will also point the curious to news outlets that are more neutral and fact based.

If it is so easy to discern, to check whether or not it is drek that you swallow, why are so few adults interested in doing what every middle school student is taught as an essential?

Fact is proclaimed as false news. “Alternative facts” are elevated as truth. Anger is strummed in a fearful populace. Absolute loyalty is demanded for tribal membership (do not question…). Conspiracy theories create a wall of white noise punctuated by cheer inducing blame games and name calling.  Deep state bogeymen and enemies-enemies everywhere. Feed the anger. Hype the fear. Think no thoughts in the face of blaring discrepancies. An unassailable thought-free-firewall is firmly erected in the Fox-votary.

From outside the Fox bubble we ask, “Are they really that gullible?” From inside the Fox bubble, they ask, “Are they really that blind?”

The divide is complete. Two warring narratives. And so we are conquered. The pandemic does not care whether we are in a bubble or not.

Outside the Fox bubble we practice social distance. We are told that it is the only tool we have in the box – in the absence of  adequate testing – to slow the spread. We see the comparison data and recognize that, given the hubris in the other narrative, that the USA is on track to repeat the horror that is now overrunning Italy. We listen to the the CDC and the WHO for our information. We see Spain converting ice rinks into morgues. We challenge the mind numbing notion put forward by a feckless president that this is “like the flu.”

The peace I need to make? The people inside the Fox bubble, many people that I love, are not gullible or stupid – not by a long shot. But, they’ve forgotten what they learned as a baseline to being an educated, curious and responsible adult: check your sources. They wouldn’t wholeheartedly buy the story of a used car salesman. They’d check out the car before they bought it. In this day and age, the same rule applies to news. They are making a choice.

Blind belief is a lemmings game. Human beings have the capacity to open their eyes and to question.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about RED AND BLUE

 

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Turn Around [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Jen suggested green. So, throughout the day, to keep us sane in our home-stay-life, we shared pictures of green things, surprising and ordinary, that we found around the house or in our walks. The next day was lines. Then circles. We use our seclusion to open our eyes and see what is beautiful and striking – and mostly unnoticed until now.

Late the other night, 20 and Kerri spent an hour on the phone. 20 is among the those at highest risk and has self-quarantined. There is a park close to his house and, once a day, when it is likely that few other people will be out, he walks the paths in the park. He takes amazing photographs and each day sends us his latest pictures. On the phone, he introduced Kerri to the app he uses to tweak his gorgeous photos. “This opens a whole world of possibilities!” she exclaimed.

Have you noticed the hysterical songs, art, games, mock-challenges (the is-it-a chihuahua-or-a-blueberry-muffin? challenge is my current favorite). Creativity flourishes within constraints. It is a form of paradox-magic that I’ve always appreciated. A good constraint has the power to yank people out of their daily problem solving morass and turn them around into the creative.

Robert Fritz has the best definition for this magic: problem solving is trying to eliminate what you don’t want. Creating is trying to bring into being what you do want. It is a matter of direction (wink, wink: the direction of intention). At first glance these challenges and games might seem frivolous but a deeper look always reveals something more profound. We are opening our eyes to what is right in front of us. We are sharing, trying to help each other through a difficult time. Our natural capacity for play and whimsy rises to the top. Possibilities rise to the top. Instead of asking “why?” we begin asking “why not?” We create.

Idealistic blather or pattern? Problem solving has a way of creating more problems – it is a myopic. Turn around and consider the world you want to create. Walk at that. You’ll find that your eyes open, your thoughts expand. Playing-to-play will be valued and necessary. You’ll note, with gratitude, that you are not in this creative ride alone.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIRCLES

 

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Step Toward The Center [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We had this quote in the melange line up long before there was a pandemic. Now, it is impossible to look at this phrase without pressing it through the lens of COVID19. What might we have written in a less chaotic context?

One of the best lessons I was taught, is that we cannot control our circumstance but we can control who we are within our circumstance. The hurricane will come. The pandemic. It is possible in the midst of the storm to panic. To hoard. To blame. To resent. It is also possible to stand in a center, to share, to support, to reach. You are not your circumstance.

Sitting in his study that smelled of instant coffee, book dust and cigarettes, Quinn and I used to talk endlessly about chaos theory. Within the seeming chaos of a dynamic complex system there exists pattern, repetition, self-organization. Pattern, repetition, organization – these are words of order, not of disorder. Chaos. Order. We only know order relative to chaos. We only know chaos relative to order.

Within the Hermetic laws (and Newtonian physics, equal and opposite forces) there is the law of polarity. Everything contains its opposite. Or, said another way, what might appear to be opposite, is, in fact, two ends (poles) of the same thing. Order. Chaos. We cannot know light without the contrast of darkness. We live on a continuum. What we experience is simply a matter of degree on the continuum. There is always a bit of chaos in my otherwise orderly day. In times of chaos, we become very clear about what matters and what does not.

Out of chaos we self-organize. In the throes of social distance we are finding ways to reach and connect. We are prioritizing connection. I’ve spoken with or texted more people in the last seven days than I have in the last seven months.

We see it every year. The hurricane blows away a city and the greater community always shows up to dig in and help out. And rebuild. In chaos we organize to make sure everyone makes it to the other side of the storm. Initially, the coming chaos reveals the ugliest aspects of our nature. We hoard. We price gouge. We run to the far end of the continuum and hang onto the poles, mine/yours, us/them. But, sit in it long enough, and chaos always reveals the deeper truths. Interconnectedness is another way of understanding a continuum. We turn our focus on relationship. The space between. Your need is my need. We are not separate.

Order arises when we step toward the shared center and away from the chaotic extremes. We are not our circumstance so the question remains: who are we within our circumstance?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHAOS & BOUNDARIES

 

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*this photo of BabyCat is not doctored. I have no explanation for the ordered shape that our very large cat takes in the moments prior to creating chaos.

 

 

 

Be Us [on KS Friday]

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It is times like these that the grand illusion of every man/woman for themselves drops away. It doesn’t take long in a crisis to reveal how interconnected and interdependent we really are. As New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, said this morning, what I do impacts you and what you do impacts me. There is, in essence, no such thing as you and me.

This is true in good times, too. It is true in all times. It is simply true. What I do affects you. What you do affects me. What I do is often a ripple of what you’ve done and vice versa. We are not nearly as separate nor independent as we like to pretend.

The delusion plays itself out. The run on TP. We’ve all seen the lines at the gun store. Sooner or later it will occur – as it always does – that the best form of self-protection is participation in community. Participation is protection.

Ironically, it is the sturdy fabric of the interconnection – in good times – that allows us to delude ourselves into thinking that – in bad times –  we can do it all by ourselves. Stop for a moment, look at the food on your plate and ask yourself how many people were necessary for you to enjoy your meal. The rings of interdependence will run farther than your capacity to imagine. That is always the case.

An article shot crossed my email this morning. It was from an artist sharing her realization in the midst of this pandemic that she does not create art for audiences, she creates with audiences. Like her, my paintings are not complete until people engage with them. People are not complete in the absence of art. Listening to Kerri play is more life-giving than any of the news broadcasts we’ve been glued to. There are levels to meaning making and the heart level rarely requires data but always requires other people and their gifts.

This morning we are hearing of the real difficulty of social distancing: mental health is stressed in isolation. We do not do well in quarantine. We, do, however, get creative. Jen prompted us to text images of all things green so we are looking around the house for green things. Emails and phone calls are on the rise. Mike reminded me last night that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine for the plague. He meant it as a challenge, “Any takers?” he winked.

Rob wrote, “In times like these we NEED art.” Yes. We need art because we need to create with people. To experience with people. To story our experiences with people. To grieve with other people. To laugh with other people. With. Always. Us.

 

 

ALWAYS WITH US from the album AS IT IS available in iTunes & CDBaby

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ALWAYS WITH US

 

 

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always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood