Do Good Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

As a purveyor of story, I’ve regularly explained away the large mound of dirt in our front yard as either the tunnel-sign of an enormous gopher or an ancient burial mound. Neither story had sticking power but I had to say something about the mountainous mess left behind after the crew dug a moat to fix our broken water line.

Kerri and I visited the mound daily and asked each other the same question: what are we going to do? The paperwork for the repair mentioned our responsibility for possibly doing “light landscaping” after the repair. With weeds wildly growing atop the burial mound, snaking their way through the chunks of concrete and asphalt, an answer to our question became pressing. Our neighbor, the landscaper, wheezed every time he looked our way. “We have to do something,” she said, marching inside and picking up the phone.

These are a few of the responses to her initial appeal to the company that dug the hole and made the mound: It will eventually settle. It can’t be that bad. It’s not our responsibility.

These are a few of Kerri’s replies to their responses: It is that bad. It will never settle. It’s your responsibility.

Initially they thought it was a smart move to send someone out to see the mound that was not so bad and would eventually settle. I’m certain they sent someone as a gesture, a token visit to demonstrate their concern, to quiet the complaint of the customer. The guy that came took one look and said, “This is a mess. We did this?”

A few days later a dump truck appeared, followed by a large scraper. They took away the mound. They smoothed the scar with a layer of new top soil. They scattered new grass seed. They covered it all with protective hay. We were shocked. We expected mound removal and nothing more.

Kerri and I visited the new hay-covered flat land front yard. Gopher and burial mound tales suddenly a thing of the past. She texted the story of the mound disappearance to Dan, our new-grass advisor and renowned-lawn-master. He wrote, “It’s nice to find people who want to do good work, who want to take responsibility for their work.” True. So true.

“I can’t believe it’s gone,” she said and smiled. “The squeaky wheel…”

Clapping imaginary dirt from my hands, feigning boy bravado, strutting with mock accomplishment, “Well. What’ll we take care of next?” I asked.

read Kerri’s blog post on HAYNETS

Add To The Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Our water theme continues though, instead of pipes breaking, surprise waterfalls in the basement, or spontaneous fountains in the front yard, we’re dancing on the other side of the theme. What was broken or compromised is slowly, as we can afford it, being fixed or replaced. And, as metaphors go, I welcome what this implies.

It is our very own kintsugi. Golden repair – or in our case – copper repair.

“…treating breakage and repair as part of the history…rather than something to disguise.” We’ve consciously created our home to be a keeper of stories: the driftwood that adorns our mantel, the rock cairns stacked by the plants, the chairs in our sunroom… all tell a story. A walk on a special beach. A mountain top. The day the car broke down in Minnesota. Adventure. Routine. Accident. Surprise.

We have a series of old suitcases stacked in our dining room. They are our “special boxes.” Each is filled with momentos of our life together. Concert ticket stubs, birthday cards, notes, old calendars, the bits chain from Pa’s workbench that we once wore as bracelets… Our story fodder. Connective tissue to our shared history.

The copper that Mike-the-plumber has installed in key locations around the house serve as connective tissue to the era of water. Our house is a special box, too. It’s nearly 100 years old so we are a chapter in its story, stewards merely. The copper repair is a visual keepsake, a golden repair from a time when the old pipes and fittings, having done good work, let us know with no uncertainty that they were retiring.

We love this house. We love being stewards to its story. We love that it is the keeper of our story. And, lately, we especially love being on this side of the water era, putting all the pieces back together again, adding to our entwined history, with undisguised copper-gold.

read Kerri’s blogpost about COPPER PIPES

Use Your Words [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Kerri calls this photo ‘Dish rack with orange cup.’ “It sounds like the title of a painting!” she exclaimed.

We generally go through our day making fun of the words we paste on our experiences and pull from our conversations. I am forever proclaiming, “That sounds like the name of a band!” Or, “Hey, that sounds like a lyric!” For a guy that can’t hear lyrics in songs – and is famous for singing my-own-made-up lyrics – I’m particularly adept at thinking I hear lyrics in conversations all around me. I know, I know. I am a walking paradox, a living conundrum, a human-thought-puzzle with a few pieces missing from my box.

Lately, our language game has a new and always surprising twist: simple words that refuse to come to mind. For instance, reaching for the word”ravioli” necessitated, “You know, little pasta pillows with stuff inside.” Tell me honestly, doesn’t that description sound like the beginning line of a poem or a silly lyric? Little pasta pillows with stuff inside. 20 drew a little green orb on his shopping list because the word ‘avocado’ refused a timely recall.

I was on the ground howling with laughter when Kerri’s brain refused to pull a word from the abyss. Twisting her wrist back and forth, making a Tin-Man-esque-joint-with-no-oil sound, she begged for my help. “Come on!” she pleaded, “What is it?”

“Arthritis?” I offered, tears rolling down my cheeks.

“YES!” she danced. “ARTHRITIS! That’s it! That’s it!”

Side note: YES was a rock band in the 70’s. The band members most certainly now have arthritis. Their biggest hit was Roundabout. The song lyrics begin with this: I’ll be the roundabout/The words will make you out n’ out…[side note to side note: I’m not making up the lyric. I Googled it to avoid worldwide criticism].

Speaking of roundabouts, we took down Dogga’s roundabout sign in the yard. Actually, the weather did it for us when it snapped the metal support pole. He doesn’t seem to care. He continues to run circles without his sign giving him direction. The sign will soon go up in my office as a reminder that my brain’s movement and Dogga’s running path are one and the same: circular. Each cutting a trail in our own way.

It’s simple really. Arthritis! Dish rack with orange cup. A still life or almost-haiku-line? “What’s the word for…?” Reminders all to take ourselves less seriously. To never invest too much in or believe too heartily in the words used or the stuff we think. It’s all made up poetry, a band name, a lyric, anyway.

read Kerri’s blogpost and BUY THE PRINT!

Stroll [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday, for some reason, I revisited days of early childhood. I played four-square in the driveway. I threw dirt clods at the site of new home construction. I raced my cars off the side of the abandoned building above Del and Dorothy’s house in the mountains; the cars tumbled and I ran to retrieve them so I might send them flying again and again. I ran home in a panic the day I learned that Nancy’s little sister had drowned in utility hole that was filled with water. It was on the route I walked to school and passing the hole filled me with trepidation, it was a dark portal, my first experience of death. I didn’t really understand it.

Late at night, Kerri and I sometimes talk about everything that has happened in the short time of our relationship. We’ve lost parents and lost careers, spiraled in a free fall of uncertainty, had surgeries and broken bones. We’ve also climbed mountains, watched sunrises and meteor showers, we hold hands when we walk, we write together every day. We dance in the kitchen. I am the sous chef to her cooking artistry.

I’m not sure if we practice paying attention to our moments or it’s something that has come naturally to us. She is rarely without her camera, noticing the smallest flower, capturing the angry sky. I hold the space and hope someday she stops apologizing for stopping again to take a photo; I love watching her discover the shapes and colors of this world. Besides, I get to see what she captures in her lens with an excited, ‘Lookit!”

Today the plumber comes. Yesterday we appealed to the company that destroyed our yard replacing the waterline to come back and strip off the top layer of soil, now filled with hardware and concrete and asphalt. Slowly, we are digging out, repairing and replacing all that was destroyed or delayed in our free fall. Our lessons seem to be about stress – or, rather – not stressing. We are having experiences, rich and varied. Some things we can control. Most, we cannot. The best we can do is hold hands and stand together in each experience. Appreciate them no matter whether they look like tragedy or comedy. We’ll make meaning of them later down the road.

The artist dances with death. The appreciation of the fragility of life. Each day I walk by that metaphoric utility hole, only now it does not fill me with trepidation. It makes me squeeze her hand and fills me with gratitude for this life, this moment, this shadow we cast together as we take our time strolling through the garden.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SHADOW

Do It Together [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Our house is beginning to breathe. As each bag or box leaves, as another load goes to Goodwill, space opens. Air moves. Stuck spaces relax. New possibilities circle our imagination. And, as the house takes a deep inhale and long slow exhale, so do we.

This is a task she must do on her own. In the past I tried to make it happen and only created more turmoil. I am a relative newcomer to this house so my memories do not run as deep. What looks like junk to me might carry a sacred family story.

That is the continual lesson of my life. My eyes can never see the full extent of your story. Your eyes can never see the complexity of my story. The creation of “our” story requires constant tending. It’s always best to ask a question. “Our” story becomes vital, rich, and inspiring the moment I cease trying to get you to see my way. There’s a space between – called “relationship”- that we can both see because, together, we create it. Together, we speak to it.

Those few simple lessons apply to all relationships, even the most casual.

And so, while I’m working upstairs, she is downstairs unpacking boxes and bins. Sometimes I hear her sigh. Sometimes there is laughter and I know a good story will come my way. Each day, before I climb the stairs, I ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Her reply is always the same. “I don’t know but, if there is, I’ll let you know.”

read Kerri’s blog post about CLEANING OUT

Add More Pulp [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Last night Jupiter and Mars converged without us. We had the best of intentions to rise at 3:30am and walk east to the water’s edge where we might see the event. Somehow, we slept through it. “Do you think they converged anyway?” I asked in a moment of grand ego inflation. I’m not the first human to delude myself into thinking the heavens spin around me. Kerri sipped her coffee and pretended she was alone.

Do you remember Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree? A story of the sacrifices made in relationship. The little boy in the story takes everything the tree has to offer. And the tree, in return, is happy. I was not aware – though I’m not surprised – that such a simple book for children could be so controversial. Banned and excoriated for sexist messages. Loved and embraced for altruism. Both/And. Symbols and metaphors are open to interpretation, planets of meaning circling the life-experience of the interpreter.

Jonathan once told us that “A tree must split its bark to grow.” Though he did not know it at the time, I was gaining weight and en route to splitting my bark. Now that the splitting is done and I am at least one size bigger, I’m wondering if my new expanse provided space for wisdom or if I’ve simply added another ring of wood. More pulp.

Don’t ask Kerri. She’s sipping her coffee, quietly pondering the inordinate sacrifices made in relationship. While she’s suffering her obvious conclusion, I’m think I’ll phone Jupiter and Mars and apologize for not showing up. Who knows, maybe when I didn’t show, they decided to reschedule! It wouldn’t be a proper convergence without me, right?

read Kerri’s blogpost about BARK

Find Your Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I will never forget the day I followed the stream, watching the life-ending struggle of the salmon as they fought the current the final mile to return to their place of origin, their spawning ground. To the local people, the people who tended the hatchery, the salmon were gods. Gods or not, watching their struggle to return was sacred. The utter necessity to continue life through the next generation – as the final act of life. Cathedral building.

We brought home a Selenite crystal. It is raw, translucent, gorgeous. A Google search of its properties reveals that it promotes calm and provides clarity. I’ve never actually been invested in the debate about whether or not a crystal has powers. I’ve made the association so, when I look at it or hold it, I have in my mind that we brought this beautiful crystal home to elevate our spirits. And, so it does.

I live in the golden age of marketing. I’m told that a new truck will make me sexy, the latest medication will make my life a snap, that a pizza delivery will bring my family together like never before. Status and power are available through the purchase of machines and clothes. One year, no interest. We buy these messages, filling our closets with passing satisfaction. Is the fulfillment of a new pair of shoes imagined, less-than-genuine? We are consumers so doesn’t it make sense that contentment lasts no more than a spin through the washing cycle? Momentarily satisfied. What’s next?

I suppose the question is whether or not the crystal brings peace to me or do I bring more calm to my day because I’ve surrounded myself with messages – and, therefore, intentions – of serenity?

I know without doubt that a new truck will not imbue me with sex appeal. Yet, I have a pair of jeans that I save for the days that I want “to look good.”

Skip drove two days to find the sun so that he might stand in it and rejuvenate. I go to the basement and stand amidst the boxes that currently fill my studio and stare at a large blank canvas. Like the sun, it rejuvenates me. Yesterday, the nurse at the community health clinic said she loved her job because she felt that she was really helping the people who need her the most, “There are better rewards than money,” she said. Imagine the necessity – the hope – she brings to her life and work. Rejuvenation.

I do not know whether we are gods or not, but our struggle to find our way home is no less beautiful or fraught than the salmon. It is breathtaking, this swim upstream. Confusing. Sacred.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRYSTALS

Skip Again And Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On this day* nine years ago I exited an airplane, walked down the concourse, a little nervous to finally meet the woman with whom I’d been corresponding – an email every day – for the past 6 months. She’d written the previous evening that “she’d be the one holding a daisy” so I’d recognize her. I laughed since it hadn’t occurred to her that I’d studied her album covers and would recognize her with or without the daisy. She was at a distinct disadvantage since my face was nowhere to be found in the Google-sphere.

I exited the concourse, saw the woman holding the daisy, and knew I was meeting the woman who would someday be my wife. I knew it. I’d seen this moment before…

We stared at each other and laughed: black shirts, blue jeans, and boots. Both. We were dressed like twins. A hug amidst the laughter, we turned, holding hands, and spontaneously skipped out of the airport.

Two years later, after saying, “I do,” we held hands and, without a second thought, skipped out of the church.

Nine years ago, either my life changed or my life finally arrived. Either way, today (like every day in my lucky, lucky life) is a day to celebrate holding hands and skipping.

[We’ve decide this is our new song. You & Me by Eldar Kedem. It’s good for skipping]

*May 14

read Kerri’s blogpost about SKIPPING

Say The Word [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“In the realm of ideas, everything depends upon enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.” ~ Goethe

To outside eyes it looks like a small stack of plastic Adirondack chairs. To our eyes, it is a marker of something almost unimaginable to us during these past few years: stable ground.

If you want to know what these semi-cheap plastic chairs represent to us, look no further than the movie Gravity. Sandra Bullock in space in a story of “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Through a rolling series of disasters peppered with just-in-the-knick-of-time hand-holds, against all odds, she splashes down to earth, safe. She stands on a beach, shaky legs. For the first time in a seeming eternity: stable ground.

Perseverance is a word used after the fact. During the free fall to earth, nothing feels even remotely like tenacity. Survival-mode does not allow for meaningful reflection or personal congratulations. Look for anything to grab to stop the fall. Believe that the ghost of George Clooney will crawl into the space capsule with a kick-in-the-butt speech at the very moment when giving up seems like the only option.

“There’s always another option,” we told ourselves. There’s always another step to take. Any step. There must be…

During our free fall we sat on our back deck in our broken white, cracking-and-en-route-to-collapsing plastic Adirondack chairs. We felt the sun on our faces. We talked of appreciating our moments. We encouraged and affirmed each other when “hope” was a word that made us roll our eyes and laugh-out-loud.

Last week, in a daring gesture of new times, we bought (on sale!) six black Adirondack chairs. Six! For friends to sit in when they come to visit. A statement of “hope” during a season of pandemic.

Yesterday we sat for the first time in two of our new chairs, faces in the sun, appreciating our moment. And, for the first time in three years, we dared utter the word “perseverance.” Shaky legs. Stable ground.

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEW CHAIRS

Marvel The Resilience [on Two Artists Tuesday]

The guys at the water utility told us not to bother replacing our yard until the fall. “The dirt needs to settle,” they said. After trenching from the street to the house, tearing up great chunks of the sidewalk and curb, blowing a hole in the foundation, throwing dirt into the moat and covering it with straw, ripping up the street and quickly tossing temporary asphalt over the hole, our front yard is a hot mess of destruction.

Our neighbor owns a landscape design business; he scowls every time he looks our way. It pains him that his pristine yard sits next to our ruin. “The dirt needs to settle,” I say and shrug as he looks in horror at his worst nightmare. To add insult to injury, I’ve threatened to park the truck on our ruin but Kerri gives me THAT look. If I want to stay above ground, the truck stays in the driveway.

Standing on the front porch, amazed at the hardy green shoots reaching up through the devastation, straw and lawn netting, I thought of Tom. He marveled at the resilience of young people, students in the schools that he stewarded. Some of the children lived in extreme circumstances or had suffered terrific injury, and yet, they consistently transcended their situation. Pushing through the wreckage and reaching for the sun. “The human spirit,” he’d say and shake his head in amazement. “Marvelous.”

Despite being trenched, torn, mixed with concrete and rock, thrown about, turned over and over again, covered with straw and netting, the Day Lilies have not only survived, they are thriving. Just as a fire brings renewal to the forest, it seems the destruction served to energize the plants. More than a comeback, this is a riot of Lily return. A reunion.

“The impulse to life,” I whispered to Tom. “Unbelievable.”

“Yep,” he smiled.

read Kerri’s blog post about RESILIENCE