Break The Rules [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

When the tornado sirens sound, we have to carry Dogga to the basement. He doesn’t do stairs. It confuses him since he is hard-wired to take care of us. That we snatch him up and hurry into the basement leaves him discombobulated. In the basement, the essential borders to protect become unclear. He paces. The behavior of his humans signals a wolf is approaching but where’s the necessary line of defense? The rules are different in the basement.

Brad and Jen have a new puppy. They are diligent in their training. We confessed that during the pandemic, we’ve “ruined” Dogga. We never allowed him to beg or fed him scraps from the table. During the long dark days of isolation, we tossed all the rules. We breached every training boundary. He’s a smart boy so he knows the difference between snack time and dinner. Dinner remains off limits (mostly) but snack time is open season for begging. And, who am I kidding, he doesn’t need to beg. He sits between us at the table and waits for a steady stream of cracker bits to find his open muzzle. The metaphoric tornado came, we retreated to our safe place. Different rules.

This pandemic tornado is in no hurry to leave. And, haven’t we all been changed by it? Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are in the basement now. New rules apply. New realities are in play. The essential boundaries are unclear.

Just as was true before the tornado arrived, Dogga gives world-class eye contact. He reads our eyes to suss-out where we are going or how we are feeling. Sometimes I think he knows how I am feeling before I do. And, although we are in a hunkered-down world of new rules, the most important relationships remain the same. If he wants out, he establishes eye contact; the intensity of his stare and his nod-hint-to-the-door educates his too-slow-humans that the squirrels have breached the boundary. Action is required! I am captivated by those amber eyes and comply with his wishes every time. In-out-in-out. Kerri is made of stronger metal and responds with authority to his intense stare, “You can wait,” she says. The intensity drains from his face and he retreats to the comfort of his bone. I count to twenty and ask, “Do you want to go out?” Kerri shakes her head. Some old stories transcend the new basement reality and are, and have always been, about the complete absence of boundaries. A boy and his dog.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DOGGA EYES

Call It A Life [on KS Friday]

Seven years ago today, Beaky passed. The last time we saw her she was clutching a blue notebook to her heart. “You found it!” she exclaimed, rocking back and forth in glee. The journal she kept of a special trip to Europe. A memory, a connection to Erling she thought was lost. We searched the house high and low. We stayed an extra day knowing that meant a 24 hour drive/sprint home. In the last bin, truly , the very last, tucked in the far recesses of the garage, we discovered the notebook.

What I recall about that search is how many times we stopped, dust coated and tired. We sat in the middle of boxes, stacked papers and bins and said, “We’re never going to find it.” Or, “It’s not here.” And then we’d go to the next room of the house, open closets, pull out boxes, the search resumed.

As you might imagine we found more than the blue notebook. That night Kerri told me many stories of family and events sparked by something we’d unearthed. “Oh, my god!” she’d exclaim. “Look at this!” The vet papers for the dog named Shayne. A photo of the family at the house on Long Island. Good times. Stories. Our search became a connection for Kerri to times that she thought were lost.

Memories. Legacy. Doing what is yours to do, looking back and calling that a life.

Eric recently wrote in our Slack channel about my play, The Lost Boy: Your introduction — chronicled on Skips blog — stuck with me, and comes to mind frequently in daily interactions. “This is a memory, after all. It all happened. Though because it’s memory, it probably isn’t factual. So, if I contradict myself, if you catch me saying the opposite of what I just swore was true, if you find me standing smack in the middle of a paradox, it’s not that I’m lying to you. It’s a memory.” The Lost Boy was a story told to me by Tom. Originally, it was meant for him to perform, the story of doing what was his to do. It only became possible to produce after he had slipped into the land of memory. It became mine to do.

And isn’t that the magic of life. What is mine and what is yours to do is never separate. 50 years ago Beaky and Pa took a trip to Europe and she kept a journal of the trip in a blue spiral notebook. 7 years ago Kerri and I spent a long day and night scouring a house to find it. I am now part of the memory of her journal. Her journal is now part of the story of Kerri and my past.

“Never underestimate your power to impact or influence another person’s life,” Paul said to his actors. Doing what is yours to do. Never really understanding or knowing the impact of the simplest action. Calling it a memory. Calling it a life.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about BARNEY

legacy/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Imagine The Possibilities! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~ Lao Tzu

I’ve had this quote sitting on my desktop for months. I’ve been on a Lao Tzu kick, a Kurt Vonnegut kick, a Rainier Maria Rilke kick…all at the same time. They are, not surprisingly, in alignment on many topics, among them self-mastery. “The secret?” they whisper. “Stop trying to control what other people think or see or feel and, instead, take care of what you think and see and feel.” Their metaphoric trains may approach the self-mastery station from different directions but the arrival platform is the same.

It’s a universal recognition: take the log out of your own eye.

Sometimes a penny drops more than once and so it is with Saul’s advice to me. “Look beyond the opponent to the field of possibilities.” “And, just what does that mean?” you may shout at your screen. It sounds like new-age hoo-haw.

Ghandi said, “Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong.” It is the height of self-mastery to bring ideas to the table rather than a gun. It is the height of self-mastery to bring to the commons good intention and an honest desire to work with others to make life better for all. Power is never self-generated but is something created between people. Power is distinctly different than control. Power endures since it does not reside within a single individual. Power lives, as Saul reminded me again and again, not in throwing an opponent but in helping the opponent throw themself. “Focus on the possibilities,” he said again and again. Throw yourself to the ground often enough and, one day, it occurs that there may be another way.

Work with and not against. It seems so simple. The bulb hovering over my cartoon head lights-up. Work with yourself, too, and not against. Place your eyes in the field of all possibilities. Obstacles are great makers of resistance, energy eddies and division. Possibilities are expansive, dissolvers of divisiveness.

I am writing this on the Sunday that Christians celebrate their resurrection. The day that “every man/woman for him/herself” might possibly and-at-last-transform into “I am my brothers/sisters keeper.” All that is required for this rebirth is a simple change of focus; a decision to master one’s self instead of the never ending violent attempt to exercise control over others.

It’s the single message, the popcorn trail left for us by all the great teachers. Instead of fighting with others, master yourself. Imagine the possibilities!

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CEILING LIGHT

Step Off [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A tree is not made of wood, it is wood.” ~ Alan Watts, The Watercourse Way

Language is powerful. It’s a drum I have beat for a long time, the notion that we insist that the narratives we wrap around ourselves are somehow “reality.” We are told that 50% of Russians believe the hell wrought on the Ukraine is merely propaganda. A made-up story. Not true. It is the narrative they are fed and, in order to eat it, they must ignore any evidence to the contrary. Their economy crumbles. The ruble falls. How could they not see it? Don’t laugh. 40% of USAmericans still believe the last presidential election was stolen, a plausible story only if wearing blinders with fingers placed firmly in ears. Burying your head in the sand is not a Russian or American trait, it’s uniquely human. We see what we believe, not the other way around. Our language makes it so.

Years ago I read that the word “wild” could only come from a people who believe all things must be tamed. Wild makes no sense without the concept of tame. Wild, bad. Tamed, good. So, a people afraid of their own “nature” must become tamers. A people who think “nature” not only can be but must be managed. To be “above” it all, in charge and atop the pyramid, giver of names. It is the necessary narrative for such tamers of the wild, those who story their very nature as corrupt. Tamed, good. Above it all. Separate. Is it any wonder the intrinsically conflicted human world rarely embraces peace? Our narrative leads us to believe, amidst so much inner and, therefore, outer conflict, peace is something to be created because we are naturally conflicted. What else?

Where, exactly, does wild end and tame begin? Where’s the line that delineates nature from civilization? What if nature is neither good nor bad? What if your nature was neither good nor bad? Perhaps self-love would be within reach and, as a natural extension, the love of others, too. It’s an alternative narrative though not possible in a belief-story that fears the wild. Wholeness begins with a step off the pedestal.

It’s in the language. Somehow separate from the world in which we live, not “in” nature or “of” nature , we are deluded to believe we are made of different stuff. Above it. Divinely manufactured. Made.

Manufactured. Made. Trees made of wood.

And, just what are we made of? I guess it depends on the story we decide to tell. Wild stuff.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREES

With Fresh Eyes, See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In retrospect, many of the experiences I used to facilitate were meant to pop people – even for a moment – out of the fog of their life story. It’s a curious intention for a guy whose career was/is centered around the telling of stories.

I loved working with masks, especially with people in corporate settings or lofty educational towers. They feared the exposure that a mask might bring so they approached it with eye rolling and whatever-ego resistance. Yet, in every case, they put the mask on with reverence. There is a sequence, after donning the mask, that the wearer “wakes up” and looks at the world for the first time through fresh eyes. Everything is new. Everything. Their hands. The movement of their arms. The color and feel of the carpet. Jaded people, blunted with puffy assumption, through the eyes of the mask, are astonished by the miracle of their fingers. And then, imagine the moment that they discover each other. Their discussion during the debrief would make you weep. It was quiet. Respectful to the point of sacred. In every case the people, newly out of the mask, had to tell of their astonishment and discovery. Their eyes wide with the utter beauty of the world in and around them. And, their new eyes never carried further than the next day. The old mask, the one worn daily, the one full of fear and inflated self-importance, is powerful, too. As they say, masks reveal and masks conceal.

Masks reveal and masks conceal. The phrase refers to the wearer but it also applies to the world seen or not seen through the mask. New eyes are astonished with the ubiquitous beauty of the world newly revealed. Eyes fogged through been-there-done-that stories are dulled to the point of inattention. The magical world is concealed from their sight.

I am working on a script for a piece that I’ll perform in the fall. I realized in my latest draft that it is really about masks. The astonishment of seeing – and seeing is nothing more than or less than the revelation of connectivity. Paying attention is a step toward the eyes that see crackling vibrant color, ears that hear the birdsong. When the dull eyes open, even for a moment, the next impulse is to reach, to “call attention” to the connectivity. “Do you see that?” “Listen, isn’t it gorgeous!”

read Kerri’s blog post about PAYING ATTENTION

Look Again [on DR Thursday]

When I first moved by the lake I was astounded by the colors of the water. From deep turquoise to chocolate brown, azure with the sky, and foreboding green, it took my breath away. It changed every day and many times during the day. The lake is a festival of color.

When we stopped the car to take a picture I realized that I’ve stopped looking at the lake. It’s become normalized so I no longer see it. The day was frigid. I rolled down the window and the cold air stung our faces and made my eyes water. And, there it was. This vibrant lake, alive with color. Had the cold air not wrung water from my eyes, the beauty and power of this lake would have. Double tears.

There’s a moment in the Parcival tale that I appreciate. The knight has stripped off his armor and spent years in the woods with a hermit-master, chopping wood, carrying water, forgetting that he ever had a purpose. One day, he turns and sees the Grail Castle standing in the meadow. He’s shocked. He thinks he’s imagining it. The hermit laughs at him and says, “Boy. It’s been there all along.”

That’s how I felt looking at the lake. I rolled down the window and was bowled over by the color that has been here all along.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

may you © 2015 david robinson

Live A Great Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I suppose I must not have seen the small print requiring an extra fee for the petals to actually be attached to the stems. Silly me. I’m not a detail guy so it never occurred to me that ordering flowers was like flying on Frontier Airlines: if you want a seat you need to pay extra. If you want wings on the plane there’s an up-charge. If you want the roses fastened to the stem, it’ll-cost-ya.

Every story has a context. Without the context a story cannot be fully understood. Here’s the context for our sad-rose-tale. Kerri and I have out of necessity lived lean. Very lean. This is the first year since we met that I had the capacity to send my wife roses on Valentine’s Day. Context number two: since we spend 24/7 together and she monitors our expenses like a hawk (a necessary practice that comes from living lean) , it’s nigh-on-impossible to surprise her. Fromyouflowers.com seemed to be a solution for a long overdue surprise. “How bad could it be?” I asked myself. Woof.

Never ask yourself a question when you can ask other trusted people. I could have asked Jen or Gay or Jay. They would have warned me off. I could have asked them to arrange roses from a local florist and I would have secretly paid them after the fact. I did none of the above. I was having a nice conversation with myself and, left to my own devices, I’m perfectly capable of making a dumb idea sound titanically smart.

The roses (I use the term loosely) came, not on Valentine’s Day (today), but on Friday. Surprise! Gay’s response after seeing the picture truly captured their state: “Too bad they picked them in August,” she wrote. Even the leaves had abandoned the stems. Brad’s comment was my personal favorite: “How efficient,” he wrote, “you received roses and potpourri in the same order.” Efficiency was, after all, my aim.

Kerri, a gifted transformer of lemons-into-lemonade, separated the dead petals from those few still living and put them in a crystal bowl. And then, she offered me this consolation: “Think of it this way,” she said, “if they’d arrived intact, we’d never remember them. Now we have a great story to tell.”

First roses. A Valentine’s tale. We’ve laughed all weekend [I confess, the humor in the story took me a moment or two to see]. With or without roses, on this day of celebrating true love, this is what I know for certain: we live a great story so we have a great story to tell.

read Kerri’s blogpost about NOT-ROSES

Eat The Memory [on KS Friday]

You’d never know it by how we talk and write about food, but we have a smallish sweet tooth. We keep a bit of dark chocolate in the house. Sometimes we split a piece of flourless chocolate cake. Too much sugar is…too much. So, imagine my surprise last week in the grocery store when Kerri came to a full stop in front of the Entenmann’s Crumb Coffee Cake. Using her outdoor voice she exclaimed, “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! THEY STILL MAKE IT! WE HAVE TO GET IT!”

Memory runs through and is master of all of the senses. “I grew up eating Entenmann’s Crumb
Cake!” she said, returning to her indoor voice. The cake was in the cart and anticipation was on the rise. “Did you have Entenmann’s Crumb Cake growing up?” she asked, barely able to contain her excitement.

I’d never heard of it. She looked at me as if I was to be pitied, a poor waif raised in a cave without running water or crumb cake. Anticipation became a mission. “You have to have it!” Her eyes grew wide, intense. “You won’t believe it!” and then, the narrowing disclaimer, “I hope it’s as good as I remember.”

There is a rule in Kerri’s family and she carries on the tradition. It is a ritual of delayed gratification. Satisfaction constraint. For instance, when Kerri buys clothes, a new pair of jeans, she can’t wear them for at least six months. There is a magic moment, something I’ve never been able to identify, that signals the purchase is ready to exit its quarantine and can be worn. Or eaten. We have a new rug purchased last June that remains rolled and stored behind the door in the living room. Home decor, I’m learning, has an extended waiting period. We call it The Beaky Rule.

The cake came home. It went somewhere. A closet? A cabinet? A drawer? I’ve learned not to ask, “Where or when?” Had I shouted in excitement in the grocery store, that box would not have made it to the car. I’d have been covered in crumb cake before the keys came out.

A few days later, in the middle of the morning, Kerri called up to my office. “Do you need a break?” Up the stairs, like a precious treasure, came a memory from Long Island, a piece of crumb cake and a cup of coffee. The magic moment. The cake released and revealed. We savored it. And, I can report in my quiet indoor voice, it was definitely worth the wait.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRUMB CAKE!!!!!!!

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

the way home/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Fill The Pot [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s food week at the Melange. Well, truth be told, it’s always food week here. When we’re not in our studios we meet in the kitchen and either eat food or talk about eating food. Sometimes – okay – everyday, when I am up in my office working, Kerri sends me a midmorning text: “Are you staaaaarving?” My reply never waivers: “Yes. Yes I am.” Snacks appear and happiness ripples throughout the house.

It’s winter and it’s covid so our circle of experience has shrunk mightily. Kerri injured her foot so our daily winter walks through the frozen tundra are on hiatus. As our recent photographs have betrayed, we are explorers in our own house. Photos of Dogga. Photos of the moon. Clever shots of candles and glasses of wine. And food, food, food.

Because it is winter, the big pot has re-emerged. Soups or spaghetti sauce are often simmering on the stove. During the warm months, the big pot goes on vacation but faithfully returns when the temperatures drop. There are weeks when the big pot never makes it back to the cabinet. It’s a workhorse.

I appreciate the reappearance of the big pot because, in addition to being essential for soups, it evokes stories. It never fails. The pot comes out. The chopping commences. And the stories start to roll. Our big pot has been around for a very long time so it is alive with story. Big pots bring memories of parents and grandparents, holiday meals, Dorothy cooking on the cast iron stove. It evokes remembrance from childhood, steam rising from the pot and fogging the kitchen window. Once, as a boy, I couldn’t breathe and leaned over the big pot. The steam helped.

This week we are excited: we have a new soup to try. Last week we made a simple vegetable soup, a recipe we lifted from 20. The big pot also helps us to dream. We remember a pre-covid world when we had gatherings and dinner parties, when we squeezed people into chairs at the table, elbows negotiating heaping plates of pasta, crusty bread, and wine. Laughter. “It’s the first thing we’re going to do,” Kerri says, “when this is all behind us.” The pot will come out. A vat of sauce will bubble on the stove. Friends will pack into the kitchen, asking, “When do we eat?”

read Kerri’s blogpost about BIG POTS

Watch The Dance [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It was once a guilty pleasure. After a snowfall, through newly plowed streets, I’d tie on my red Nike shoes and go for a long, long run. In Colorado, the sun and the cold air play well together. Atmospheric sweet and sour. Run toward the sun in the snow quiet. Sensual pleasure. I’ve never felt more alive than during those treasured runs.

Our yard is a miracle of shadow-play after the snowfall. Between the trees and the tall grasses that grow along the property line, the cool blue sways and dances across the ice-white canvas, a visual conversation between limb and wind. It can be mesmerizing. Sometimes it reminds me of Wayan Kulit, the shadow puppets of the Balinese. An epic tale told on the screen of our front yard. The lesson of Wayan Kulit: we are not substance, not really. Rather, we are passing shadows projecting our story onto the canvas of our minds.

The mailwoman told me that she adored bringing our mail during the winter afternoons. “The light on the grasses,” she said, “they knock me out.” We wait until spring to cut back the grasses for exactly that reason. The pink, orange and purple light of a late winter afternoon makes the grasses luminous. And the shadows they cast! A gentle blue waving, aloha! Greeting or parting? Longing or fulfillment? I’m never sure.

Sylvia Plath wrote in The Bell Jar, “I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow.” Staring out our front window watching the dance, the frigid air and sun at play together, I think she was right. What could possibly be more heartbreakingly beautiful?