Listen To Claude [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In his 60’s, the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet went blind. Cataracts were removed, restored his sight, but also changed his capacity to see color. He painted in blues because he couldn’t perceive red and yellow. He was not fond of the paintings that he produced. He painted what he could see. Historians, on the other hand, credit his blue paintings as an important link to abstract painting.

We never really know the impact of our actions or our work.

The path paralleled a stream. As we walked up the mountain, she stopped often and took photographs. The sun on the water was enticing so she aimed her camera at the stream. “Look!” she said, showing me. “These look like abstract paintings!”

“They look like Monet,” I said. “Gorgeous.”

Whether they know it or not, artists are always having conversations with their artistic ancestors. I was amused at the idea that Kerri and Claude were having a chat. The world of a master painter, living before ubiquitous photography, meets they eyes of one who sees and quickly captures.

I was also amused that, through Kerri’s picture, Claude and I were having an exchange. “I love your blues,” I say. Claude responds, “Ah, but it’s the reds and yellows that make the blue so vibrant. Contrast principle,” he winks.

Excited, she returned to the stream to take more photos.

I turned my face to the sun. I breathed in the mountain air, the aspen leaves fluttering. I have not finished a painting since the pandemic began. “I feel empty,” I say to Claude.

“We paint what we see, ” Claude whispered. “Sometimes we simply cannot see.”

“Yes,” I said, “I am blind. But my cataracts are not in my eyes.”

“No,” Claude replied. “You are not blind, you see well enough. You’ve closed your eyes.”

“Lookit!” Kerri smiled, “These are so cool!” She shows me more water close-ups, a symphony in orange, blue and gold.

“Don’t worry,” Claude smiled. “When you are ready, you’ll open your eyes again. You’ll see a whole new world. New colors and shapes. More than blue.”

“You think so?” I ask.

“Isn’t it beautiful!” Kerri glowed.

“Do you see?” he smiled and faded into the photograph.

“Yes,” I laughed and nodded, “It’s really beautiful.”

read Kerri’s blog post about MONET WATER

images of water © 2021 kerri sherwood

Exhale [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was younger I had a dream. I was walking through an aspen forest in autumn. I was not trying to get anywhere. I was not lost nor did I need to know where I was – other than wandering through the forest. The dream was visceral. Real to me. And, I’ve never felt more peaceful or present or quiet.

Because of my dream I equate aspen forests with peace. If I am off balance and need to regain center, I think of aspen forests.

The leaves make a specific sound. It is completely accurate to say they “quake.” Quaking also describes how they move when the breeze catches the leaves on the branches. If the light is right, they shimmer as well as quake. They can be electric in yellow, pale green and orange. Their quaking and shimmering serves as a mind-cleanser. And, not just for me. I dare anyone with a troubled mind to hold onto their troubles when in the presence of an autumn aspen grove.

Before leaving Colorado, we drove into the mountains. People were flocking to see the leaves. We found our destination off the beaten path: the lake, surrounded by stands of brilliant quaking aspen. We thought we’d spend a few minutes there but hours passed before we realized it. That’s the thing about peace, it does not dance with time. We walked. We took pictures. We sat in the resounding, shimmering quiet. And, for the first time in days, we exhaled.

read Kerri’s blog post about ASPEN FORESTS

Honor Yourself [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“There’s a trailhead,” Loida said, “It’s just up the road.” She could see that we needed some quiet time. Some space. Some nature. We dropped our other plans. All errands went out the window. More importantly, all obligations, made-up and otherwise, fell to the wayside. Or, said another way, we honored ourselves, our needs. We ran to the hills like thirsty people running for an oasis.

“Why is that so hard?” Kerri asked. “Why should I feel guilty for taking a few moments for myself?” Later, deep in the night, we’d express intense – not an overstatement – gratitude for having given ourselves a short hike into the foothills. The sun. The deer. The hawk. The cyclist who cried, “Snake!” There were signs warning of rattlesnakes so we walked with caution. We laughed at our imagined-snake-paranoia.

Those few moments allowed us to be present with family when we needed to be present with family. Our short hike refilled our people-gas-tank. Kerri’s question was spot-on. Why is it so hard to do the thing you most need to do? Why is it so hard to put your needs above the demands of others – especially when attending to your needs is the single action that ultimately enables you to attend to the needs of others. To be present with and for others.

We are both introverts. Quiet, not cacophony, recharges the battery.

Kerri gasped, “Look at this!” she knelt and carefully took a photograph of the autumn blossom beside the trail. “This is exactly what I needed,” she sighed. Face to the sun. Awash with an awe-some blossom discovery, we took a moment, a necessary moment, to drink in the beauty and the sage mountain air.

read Kerri’s blog post about AUTUMN BLOSSOM

Feel The Empty Space [on Two Artists Tuesday]

A Double Haiku

With the harvest moon,

he waned and found his way out.

A return to earth.

His whisper, the wind.

Invisible yet present,

We hug empty space.

Read Kerri’s blog post about STAR FLOWER

Say, “Hi Pa.” [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Our morning ritual involves turning on the coffee, feeding Dogga, opening the windows, and greeting the plants. As part of our intentional beauty creation this summer, we surrounded ourselves with succulents and plants that called out to us. The plants have names: KC, Boston, Ralph, Spiky, Lil’ Bitch (she bites if you’re not paying attention). We call this beauty Snake-In-The-Grass.

We have to reach over Snake-In-The-Grass to open the back window. It’s an awkward maneuver and my elbow inevitably hits-and-sounds the bamboo chime that lives above and to the left of Snake-In-The-Grass. I don’t know when it started, but each time that chime sounds, I automatically say, “Hi Pa.”

Pa is Kerri’s dad and the bamboo chimes were his. I never met him, he passed before I met Kerri, but I have a nice relationship with him. I feel that I know him. Knew him. Kerri talks of him often. I swear he touched my shoulder one night, early in our relationship when we were in Florida visiting Beaky. It scared the hell out of me. It was a sweet touch, approval (I hope). That single touch began my relationship with Pa. I invoke him when I’m doing home repairs. I sit with him when Kerri is driving me nuts. He nicknamed her “Brat” so I usually ask his advice for how to navigate The Brat. He never answers but he does laugh out loud. Kerri and I both wear on our wrists a length of pull-chain that came from his workbench.

We received news the other day that my dad is failing fast. The message in the email was, “This may be it.” It. I.T. Two letters that point to the unfathomable. The inevitable. Later, after receiving the email, I was closing up the house for the night and I brushed the chime with my elbow. “Hi Pa,” I said, and my voice stopped me in my tracks. The bamboo whispered. A second touch on the shoulder. Reassurance.

“Thanks, Pa.”

Two dads. Pa. Columbus. Rich, rich relationships. Time moves. The nature of the relationship changes. I fear it and am comforted by it. The wind gently sounds the bamboo. Snake-In-The-Grass makes me reach. An awkward maneuver. A lovely way to begin and end the day, the certainty of a father.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNAKE-IN-THE-GRASS

Look At The Display [on Flawed Wednesday]

Del and Dorothy’s house sat on the side of a mountain. It was small. The kitchen table accommodated two and was placed close – very close – to the front door. Dorothy cooked on a wood burning stove. The house listed to the downhill side. It had a small yard that seemed carved out of the mountain. Del’s WW II jeep sat close to the edge. Dorothy populated the yard with blue glass and hummingbird feeders. It was a quiet home. A peaceful place.

Artifacts of a time gone by. Del fought in the second world war. He kept a corner display cabinet with things he’d brought home from the war. A Luger. Nazi insignia. A flag. Patches and medals. Booty from the enemy. It seemed out of place, especially in a home dedicated to simplicity and peace. The display was a curiosity for me. Why enshrine in your home objects from an enemy-of-the-past? I wanted to ask Del about it but he was not a talker. In fact, while, 50 years later, I would recognize Dorothy’s voice if I heard it today, I have no recall of the sound of Del’s voice. I can’t remember him uttering a word. I never broached the subject of the artifacts.

Each day we receive an alert on our phone. Exposure Notification Available. Recently, when Kerri officiated a wedding, we both took two Covid tests to make certain, while also vaccinated, that we were negative. Dangling from a clip on the side of our refrigerator are masks. Many, many masks. We put in our special box the flag they gave us on the day we were vaccinated. Wave the flag if you have a question or need help. The artifacts in a time of pandemic, now so normal that we barely see them.

This weekend, with all of the observances of 9/11, I watched a tour of the 9/11 museum. A crushed firetruck. A shoe. Xerox pages with faces and the word, “Missing.” Del whispered into my ear, “Pay attention. This is why I kept my display.” The tour guide said, “So we never forget.” The Luger. The Nazi flag and insignia. The medals and ribbons. The reason Del and Dorothy retreated to the mountainside, the reason they simplified and built a life of quiet and peace, the reason he kept his glass-cabinet-display. So they wouldn’t forget. The horrors that people enact upon each other in the name of…righteousness, control. Superiority. The madness people embrace when they are angry or scared. The lies so easily told and so hungrily gobbled.

People are capable of great things. We know because those things are meant to draw us together. They unite us. Great art.

People are capable of appalling acts. We know because those actions are born of and meant to divide. They rend us apart.

Del lived through the full savagery of what people are capable of doing, one to another. He came home and with Dorothy lived an intentional life of quiet, on the mountain, out of the main. I’ve noted of late that Kerri and I talk often, dream, of a mountain retreat. We are witness of what people are capable of doing, one to another. We are also witness of and generators of the beauty meant to draw people together. Her music. My paintings. The things people are capable of doing, one for another. We are surrounded by artists and art. Both/and.

History repeats itself. The story is told – again and again – through the art and artifacts we display, the symbols we keep. The memories we carry forward. Guernica. Empty shoes. A simple mask.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTIFACTS

Appreciate The Other Life [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Every so often we pick images for the melange according to a theme. A few weeks ago all of the images were green. This week we noticed that we had several photos of words or phrases so we decided to have a theme week. Yesterday featured a message on the tailgate of a truck, “Every day above ground is a blessing.” Today, the other life. La Otra Vida.

Kerri and I met in middle age so our history together is short. Our pals are couples who’ve been married for decades. It is common for us to leave dinner with friends, after lively conversation of raising kids, vacation stories or tales of pets from the past, and need to talk about the eras in life that we didn’t pass through together. Our cartoon, Chicken Marsala, came from a conversation about the kids that we didn’t have. What kind of parents would we have been together? What would we have done differently in life had we met when we were younger? Would we have fallen in love had the previous-versions-of-ourselves met at an earlier phase in our lives?

La Otra Vida. The other life. We’ll never know the answers to our speculative questions. I was not the person at 25 that I am today. Kerri did not know me during my train-wreck years. I was – and in many ways still am – a restless wanderer but I have developed over the years the capacity to sit still. To appreciate where I am.

Last night, sitting on the deck sipping wine, the sun was down and we had the torches burning. Dogga was asleep at our feet. We were listening to the soundtrack from the movie About Time and Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, a heartbreaking piece for piano and cello, began playing. I memorized the moment because, in another life, at a time that I was not so happy, I knew that La Otra Vida was out there somewhere. The other life. I knew someday, minus a few demons and with a few more miles behind me, that I would one day sit outside on a cool evening, my wife’s hand in mine, my dog asleep at my feet, and know with absolute certainty that life could not possibly be better.

I savored the moment. I will never take for granted this, the other life.

read Kerri’s blog post about LA OTRA VIDA

Read The Walk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Between the morning rehearsal and the evening wedding, we had several hours without commitments so we did the thing we most like to do. We walked. It was a gorgeous September day. We were in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, a miracle of reclaimed and converted warehouses, shops and condos that line the waterway. We followed the Riverwalk, Kerri snapping photographs, ambling our way to Lake Michigan.

It’s odd in this age of pandemic, to be in a city on a beautiful weekend day. The rules of engagement are different. The rules of enjoyment are different. Be out in the day but avoid the crowds. There was an art fair, a crush of people, so, as artists, normally pulled toward art gatherings, we walked the other way. In years past we would have waded in to the fray, talked to the artists, enjoyed people enjoying art.

Instead, we found a bounty of art on our walk. The shadows playing on the walls. The flowers. The finials. The sculpture. Everywhere we looked we found riches of intentional design. People dedicated to creating beautiful spaces had a field day re-imagining what had once been an industrial wasteland on the water.

Chiseled into the the boards upon which we walked was a narrative history of the city. We stepped on top of important dates of the Civil War. We walked across innovations, breweries arising in a city of beer, World Wars and the changes they wrought. Sports victories. We walked across the story of a previous pandemic, a hundred years ago. A few thin boards, markers of a tragic toll.

For a moment I stood and watched the kayaks paddling, the pontoon boats cruising the channel, the diners seated beneath umbrellas, the strollers, like us enjoying the day with no destination calling. Full moments in lifetimes that someday might be told in a few thin boards of narrative highlights.

I wondered how many people, how much dedicated action, it took to make this moment beautiful and possible. The architects. The artists. The artisans. The craftsmen and women. The laborers. The florists, The gardeners. The shopkeepers. The waiters. The chefs. The suppliers. The mail carriers,…Dreamers all, stretching back through time. Interconnected and interdependent in ways that only few recognize.

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Were I to chisel the story of our pandemic in a boardwalk, or create a sculpture meant to capture our moment in narrative time, my theme would be interconnection and interdependence unnoticed. Unmasked. A myopic madness, a messy delusion of every-man-for-himself, a sure-fire way to perpetuate a pandemic or warm a globe.

There is, of course, no evidence for life thriving in a vacuum. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence, apparent on a stroll in a city on a beautiful sunny September day, killing some time before a wedding, that it takes all of us, every last life, to thrive. An artist needs an audience. A developer needs a supplier. A doctor needs a patient who wants to be healthy. Who wants to do more than survive. Thriving is, after all, a group sport. A careful reading of the boards tells a very specific tale: no one does this walk alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about OUR WALK

Walk As WaWo [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It was past 3am when Kerri asked me if I wanted to “watch a trail.” We were wide awake. The air was hot and still. We’d recently stumbled upon The Wander Women: Kristy, Annette, and Lynn, woman our age, walking the PCT. They’re doing a flip flop, having started their hike in the middle of the 2600 mile trail and walking to Canada, then, they’ll return to the center point and walk the distance to Mexico. We watched the installment, posted this week, as they reached the Canadian border.

Still wide awake, we went to their channel and listened as they answered questions about their hike of the Appalachian Trail. They are sirens of the possible, guides of give-it-a-try. They are not hikers who pound out miles to reach a goal. As Kristy said, “We want to enjoy every single moment.” Their yoga is a matter-of-fact-presence. They plan and improvise; both/and.

We’ve listened to more than one Q&A with the Wander Women. In an answer to their follower’s questions about living full time in an RV and life on the trail, Annette responded, “Home is where we put up our tent. You carry home inside yourself.” It was the answer of someone who’d transcended their stuff. It was the response of someone who’d internalized her security.

We couldn’t plug our windows with air conditioners this summer. We had too much of isolation last year. We needed to hear the birdsong and feel the summer air. We knew that would bring uncomfortable days, humid and hot nights. We have always walked our neighborhood and the local trails, but our decision to feel-the-summer pulled us more out-of-doors than usual. We extended the sanctuary of our sunroom out onto the deck. We placed torches along the patio and fixed the lights around the pond.

Each evening, after our work is done, we sit outside in our ever-expanding sanctuary. We listen to the cicadas. The cardinals and the chipmunks vie for a place at the bird feeder. Sitting at our table I had a mini-revelation about why I was so enjoying The Wander Women and following the few couples also out on the trail and posting weekly updates. They talk about the community of support that they find in the trail. It is often unexpected and yet ubiquitous. Both/and. They offer a staunch counter narrative to the horror we hear in the news, the contention and division. There are people dedicated to helping them and they, in turn, are dedicated to helping others. “You can do this!” they say to anyone listening. “We’ll help you do this,” their followers echo back to them. They broadcast friendship, kindness and support.

It is a breath of fresh air, a sparkling optimism for the best in humanity. It rises on the trail. Generosity that cultivates generosity. Hope that is grounded in the experience of the unprotected, the heat and cold and bugs and rain and challenge of being-what-they-are-doing. Shared experience. Sanctuary. Here. Everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about SANCTUARY

Be Indeterminate [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Through the good graces of our tomato plants, I’ve learned a few new concepts this summer. Determinate and indeterminate. Bush and vine. Determinate tomato plants (bushes) are bred to stop growing. Indeterminate tomato plants (vines) will grow indefinitely or until the weather conditions “are no longer favorable.”

Our plants are indeterminate. Each morning, Kerri visits our planting bench and checks her tomatoes. 20 taught her a few simple tending-rules and now, each morning, there are more and more little indeterminate miracles moving backward along the color spectrum, finally arriving at a brilliant red.

Life is indeterminate.

My new tomato-terms come just in time. My current project has me revisiting my past life as a teacher and facilitator. If I apply my new terminology to people I can’t help but think it is the lucky few who survive so much dedicated energy to stop the learning-mind in the name of education. The natural output of a system designed on manufacturing principles is to truncate the questioning mind by patterning the notion that there is a predetermined answer. It becomes a game of finding the answer that teacher wants – a closed loop – instead of an incitement of curiosity. Children are excellent game players and translate the gaming pattern into their now-dulled-adulthood.

There is a cycle apparent in all genuine learning processes. It begins with discontent. Curiosity is a movement born from some form of discontent. It leads to questioning. Questioning always leads to disturbance (the interruption of the known). And, just like that, out of the disturbance something new is seen, call it a breakthrough, call it an insight, call it new learning…Many classrooms – certainly the systems – are designed and organized to keep disturbances to a minimum. The mantra is ‘control’ rather than ‘inspire curiosity.’ Business has the same dedication.

We’re taught that disturbance is the sign of something wrong rather than the crusty earth breaking to reveal new verdant life.

Discontent leads to questioning, leads to disturbance, which leads to breakthrough. And, an insight will always lead to discontent. It’s a story cycle, where yearning meets obstacle. Learning is by definition uncomfortable and at its best when it is uncontrollable.

Last week I attended a meeting. My two companions and I brought our homework back to the team. One was content. The other two of us were filled with discontent. The leader of the session, at first, was angry. He did not get the result he’d anticipated from his exercise. “So, you two are telling me this process was worthless!” he raged. We’d spent our week questioning instead of answering. Discontent. Questioning.

“No! It was great!” we chimed in chorus. “Look at all the good information we uncovered!” It was a mess. Big disturbance. We cycled through our misalignment a few times, wrangling over perception and usefulness. More rage. And then…an insight. The breakthrough. All of the rage, all of the appeasing, began to flow in a single direction. A possibility took shape. A target materialized that was much better than the prescribed pursuit. Energy filled our zoom-osphere. Laughter. Excitement.

Learning. Indeterminate. Open questions. Hot pursuits.

I am drawn to and surrounded by the dedicated indeterminates; those who refuse to stop learning: David, Mike, Horatio, MM, Bruce, 20, Judy, and yes, Kerri…I am a very fortunate man to be surrounded by so many tomatoes moving their way backward along the color spectrum, not afraid to walk through their discontent toward bigger and bigger questions.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES