Knead And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I am now among the legion of people that turned to baking bread during the pandemic-stay-at-home era. This loaf is gluten free, made with rice flour, since Kerri is allergic to gluten.

In truth, I’ve wanted to bake bread since I knew Brad the baker in California. He was a genuine hippie, a believer in peace and simple living. “Bread is a living thing,” he once said as I watched in fascination his kneading of the dough. You can tell a true master craftsman at work by watching their hands. They feel something in the dough or the wood that the rest of us do not.

My loaf was not made by a master. Not even by an apprentice.

Bill sent a photo of his first loaf and I asked for the recipe. It came as screen shots and I scribbled them into a recipe on notebook paper. Easy steps to follow but I knew from watching Brad that I would not find in my recipe any easy guidance on how to feel the life in the dough. That would come with time. Maybe. If I was lucky and diligent and practiced listening through my hands.

I’m not surprised people are turning to bread during this time of pandemic uncertainty. It is essential. The making of bread, the cultivation of wheat, made civilization, as we know it, possible. It is, therefore, a central symbol in many belief systems. Separate the chaff from the wheat. A time for harvest. This is my body. Eat.

Brad told me that the dough kneads you as much as you knead the dough. It’s a simple relationship between living things and requires complete focus. Mutual respect. Attention must be proffered.

Perhaps that is why we turn to bread in times like these. Simple relationships of attention and mutual respect are increasingly rare. Bread reminds us of what is possible, what is healthy. It reminds us of the patience that is required if we are to find our way to harvest. It reminds us of the necessity of knowing what is chaff and what is wheat, or remembering that there is a direct relationship between what is planted and what is grown.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BREAD

 

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Look Out [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I was one of those teachers who encouraged my students to stare out of the window. Visiting administrators occasionally admonished me for allowing my students to “daydream.” Imagination, I would explain, requires much more expanse than a classroom can provide. Looking out the window let the imagination-horses run free.  At graduation, I would remind the administrator, they would almost certainly endorse the graduates to follow their dreams so facilitating the pursuit of dreaming was, perhaps, the most useful skill they may ever acquire. Besides, keeping noses perpetually focused on the grindstone can be a great dream killer.

Mike wrote that Shakespeare penned King Lear while in quarantine for the Black Plague. “Any takers?” he challenged. What do you do when you can’t really go out and play? My bet is that good William stared out of his window between ink dips and parchment scratching. I’m finding, as we move deeper into our home stay, that I am repelled by electronic things that fill my time. Things that pull my focus down and in. I find that I want to stare out of the window. I want to go out and walk.

There are plays I want to write. There are paintings I want to paint. There are the necessities of life banging at my door (where will the next work come from?) Uncertainty surrounds us. I know there is no point in fretting; fretting and worry are inverse forms of imagination. Hornets buzzing inside the head because they haven’t enough space to become horses and run free. The best thing to do when your head is full of hornets? Find a good window and dream.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MAGIC MIRROR

 

 

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Expect The Magic [on Two Artists Tuesday]

pando copyIt reads like a quirky children’s book. One day the frog appeared in our little pond. It was fully grown. This was no pollywog-becoming-a-frog, it did not originate in our pond. It sprang forth fully frogged.

Kerri named it Pando for the year of the pandemic. I thought it sounded like a Commedia character but it seemed to like its name so it stuck. Pando feasted on the local cuisine. It sat still and let Kerri pet it on the head. It had a deep basso voice.

Truth be told, Pando was not our first frog visitation. Most years since we dug our little pond, fully mature frogs one day appear. Once we had twins. Where do they come from? We speculate endlessly, making up stories of adventure or wrong frog turns that somehow lead to our backyard. Apparently, Mr Toad’s wild ride passes through our pond. Mostly, they’ve become for us a sign of hope, of good things coming or an affirmation of good things already here.

Most of our frog visitors check in for a season. Pando was different. A few days after he appeared, Kerri went out to check on him and he was gone. Vanished. But, on the stone path that leads to the pond, she found a copper Jefferson nickel.

“Look what Pando left us,” she said, showing me the nickel, “He isn’t there anymore.”

Clearly it must be a talisman. It must have magic powers. What else could it be? A frog with a deep bass voice mysteriously appears. The frog just as mysteriously disappears but leaves behind a strange coin that betrays its inner alloy. It must be magic! Or, I suppose it could just be the story we want to tell.

It is, after all, what I love about us: we like to tell stories that include surprises, the impossible, and magical happenings. Life is better like that, when we allow ourselves to entertain the full spectrum of vibrant color. In any case, we can’t wait to discover what the frog magic brings.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PANDO

 

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Stand Still And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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~Beloved by Sam Magill, from his collection of poems, Fully Human

Today my thoughts return again and again to Sam, a secret poet, a bard, a believer in the goodness of humanity. Sam knows that a wound, when properly honored, can lead to something far greater than mere healing.

He would look, as we do, with awe at the ferns. He would giggle at how quickly they change color with the light. He would delight in the frog that magically took up residence in our pond. He loves, as we do, the things of this life that live beyond explanation.

If you asked Sam what we need do as our cities burn, as a pandemic rages, as leadership fails and the face of inequity stands naked and unmasked, he might tell us to do nothing. To stand still and listen. “The hard crusty soil is cracking open,” he might say, “there is new growth struggling to push through.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FERNS

 

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Face The Sun [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Walking the river trail I couldn’t help but whirl in the contradiction: everything has changed and nothing has changed. While the world of people is awash in pattern disruption, the rest of creation is following the script exactly.

Spring. The muddy season. The world pops green just as we knew it would. Just as it did last year and the year before and the year before. I believe our backyard ferns are growing 6 inches a day. Even the daily Dog-Dog assault cannot deter their reach for the sun. Life returns from darkness. Demeter sings at Persephone’s return.

If you seek an affirmation of life come sit in our backyard. The bird song will lift your spirits, these flying shocks of color will make you giggle with delight. Vibrant yellow, a cardinal more salmon than red. My eyebrows cartoon-pop in disbelief. We sit facing the sun in our broken Adirondack chairs and drink in the warmth.  “This doesn’t suck.” I say, eyes closed, basking in appreciation of the sun as it reaches to my bones. I’m certain I said the exact same thing last year and the year before that. Rituals of renewal need not always be solemn.

Sometimes I think this game of life is really an exercise in focus placement. I can choose to see the world as the work of Hieronymous Bosch– and sometimes I do. Beautifully horrific. Or, I can swivel my lens to Georgia O’Keefe and look at the wondrous small things, the miracle of nuance and the close-up. Sometimes, when I am at my best, I turn my eyes to see as Ellsworth Kelly did, when he imagined his chapel of light. “I think people need some kind of spiritual thing,” he said.

And so, with the vibrant greens popping, the screaming yellows flying, the blue-blue of a cloudless sky, tender lettuce leaves breaking through topsoil, I find myself surrounded by a Hieronymous Bosch narrative cycle but with just a little refocus, I am stunned by the grander cycle of marvel and mystery in this Ellsworth Kelly world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

 

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Why Ask Why [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A rare warm day, walking the Des Plains River trail. I should have been startled when Kerri suddenly jumped off the trail but I’ve grown accustomed to her spring-loaded-photo-impulsive-gambols. I actually love the passion of her image capturing so I’ve learned not to be surprised when she leaps and snaps. There is no danger. There is a photo opp.

“SEE!” she exclaimed, showing me the photo. “Even nature is asking ‘Why?'”

My first thought: Which “why” is nature asking? Why a pandemic?  Why so much division?

Simon Sinek has made a career of teaching people to ask “Why?” before asking “How?” It makes sense: you should probably know why you want to scale the mountain before asking, “How will I do it?” People need an answer to “why.” And, because we are human, the answer to “why” need not be reasonable or rational. “Because it is there,” is an acceptable answer to “why?” I want to. I need to know. I want to feel. I need to see what is there.

“How?” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. “How” is known through reflection. There is the plan. There is the reality that comes when the plan meets the unknown forces. The plan changes. The only honest answer to “how” is: do what makes sense and we’ll talk about it later.

Amidst a pandemic, it is only human to throw up our arms to the sky and demand an answer to our “Why?”  To borrow a lyric from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: “I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I know, darling,  that you do.” In other words, viruses are intention-free. Sometimes, even though we want an explanation, there is no “why.”

There is, however, always a plan, there is a path to “How?”  How do we protect ourselves? How do we deal with it? In fact, there are layers to the question “how?” The first layer of ‘how’ is simple: social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands. Looking back from this vantage point, we know it is the best we can do short of a vaccine. Simple science.

The second layer of the how-cake is more complex and, like all ‘how’ questions, we will only be able to talk about at some point down the broken road. Maybe a vaccine. Maybe herd immunity. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe we will be foolish, like the Philadelphia parade during the Spanish flu and escalate the death toll to the point that we wake up and listen to the first ‘how?’

The virus is a force like a tornado is a force. Why did it take my neighbor’s house and not mine? Why did the forest fire rage through this neighborhood and not that neighborhood?

Here’s the only “why” question we really need to consider: in the face of this virus-forest-fire, why did we rush out to light matches (pack into bars and onto beaches), parade around screaming about our individual rights instead of metaphorically rushing into the fire to save our neighbors in the only way we knew how (social distance, masks) –  as we would have done in an inferno?

I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I do believe in intentional human beings (conscious and otherwise).

Nature need not ask “why?” We do. It’s a sure bet that our answer will make little or no sense at all.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHY

 

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Find The Deeper Impulse [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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See a penny, pick it up. All that day you’ll have good luck. 

I saw a penny in the parking lot of the UPS store and, wanting to have a full day of good luck, I swooped down and picked it up. Kerri, horrified, said, “What are you thinking? Put that down!” I was marched back to the truck and slathered myself with hand sanitizer.

My penny swoop debacle in the parking lot of the UPS store is how I mark the beginning of the pandemic. It was the first time that the danger of a simple action, touching what someone else had touched, penetrated. The penny dropped [sorry – I couldn’t help myself]. It was early in this experience called pandemic, before masks, before social distancing. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. And, above all, leave the good luck penny on the pavement.

And it seems like years since I touched that penny.

My penny swoop was an impulse. Kerri asked me what I was thinking but I wasn’t thinking. I was riding on the instinct train. The child-rhyme ignited my luck desire and I went in for the grab. And, isn’t that the real hardship of this pandemic? Quashing the impulse to hug your friends, to walk toward your neighbor to say hello, to let the kids play together, to stop in the store and chat with acquaintances? 20 stands outside  his mother’s assisted living apartment; she stands on the balcony and they shout to each other. Each day I watch Kerri override the deep-mother-instinct to run and find her children, all-grown-up-and-moved-away.

It’s unnatural, this veto of instinct. And, it is what makes us human. It is natural to run from danger and yet doctors and nurses everyday walk into hospitals during this pandemic. They walk into exposure. First responders, police and fire people, everyday put the public safety above their own. It is what lifts us into our humanity; placing the needs of others above our own. It is what we celebrate, what we admire. What we claim as our highest ideal. People giving of themselves for the benefit of others.

We call that sacrifice. We call it service. We call it sacred. We  call it grace and generosity. We go to houses of worship and proclaim it. We make movies about it. Frodo must destroy the ring of power for the benefit of all. Otherwise, he twists in his selfish personal power lust and becomes like Gollum. This tale is universal for a reason.

And, I suspect that I am wrong. The survival instinct has a deeper nature. Soldiers talk about it just as first responders do: in the moment of real danger there is not a question about throwing themselves on top of their companion, sacrificing self to save the other. It, too, is an impulse. A purer survival instinct. It is not an override.  It is, when all else is stripped away, what we are.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PICKING UP SPARE CHANGE

 

 

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Consider Levitation [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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And what does this mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Certainly this was not a naturally occurring event! No pear could possibly achieve so grand a seat without some form of assistance. Or, could it?

Levitation is a possibility but it is doubtful that this pear – or any pear, for that matter – is capable of the necessary powers of concentration required to raise itself to wine bottle heights. And, if levitation is the answer, we are still left with the primary question: what does it mean?

The pear might answer, as George Mallory answered when asked why he might want to place himself atop Mt. Everest, “Because it is there.” Meaning making does not require depth but it does necessitate curiosity. “Because I can” really means “because I want to.” The grass is always greener. Why step on the moon? Why sail to the edge of the world? Why paint a painting or compose a song? Something calls.

Because it feels good. Because it is beautiful in my eyes. Because I might learn something about myself and, therefore, the world in which I create/inhabit. Most explorations are internal journeys even if they look like mountain ascents. Soul searching leads to more experiences with soul. The best questions lead to bigger questions, like this one (last week’s winner for best question): Does the soul live in the body or does the body live within the soul?

It seems like a good time to borrow a title from Joseph Campbell: what exactly are The Inner Reaches Of Outer Space?  What are the outer reaches of inner yearning?

Does this pear have yearnings? What does it mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Believe me, I’ve asked the pear and it remains silent on the subject. Wise pear! It knows I must make my own meaning and hopes that I will never cease asking my questions and, above all, never delude myself into thinking I have even the slightest bit of an answer.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the PEAR & THE BOTTLE

 

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Pray For Apollo [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I confess to seeing this contrail and thinking it might be Apollo’s chariot. Of course, if it was Apollo’s chariot then we’d all be in really big trouble. The sun seems untethered from the chariot. Depending on how the myth is told, the sun is either being pulled by the chariot or the sun IS the chariot and, either way, if you are seeing what I am seeing, Apollo has lost control.

Of course, the other side of my brain always kicks in and I think to myself, “Apollo flipping across the sky, gripping the reigns, sans chariot, is not a bad metaphor for these troubled days.” In addition to riding the chariot/sun across the sky, Apollo is symbolic of reason and logic. All things illuminating.

Our world is upside down. Fact is assailed as fiction. Conspiracy theories are traded like baseball cards to deflect attention from the actions of a feckless president  pushing disinfectant as a pandemic cure while science bites its tongue for fear of offending him. Blame inhabits the vaunted seat of responsibility. A good portion of the population willingly and knowingly plants their heads in the sands of propaganda.  Reason is shunned. Questioning and perspective are rejected. Sand is preferable to logic. We’ve reduced our hallowed ideal of jurisprudence to base partisanship; justice is no longer blind but sees in shades of red or blue.

Apollo twirls like a kite, hanging on for life to his mighty horses as they race across the sky, wild-eyed, in no particular direction.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CONTRAILS

 

 

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Keep Playing [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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As I reported several weeks ago, if you where standing on the far side of the piano, you’d never know Kerri was playing with casts on both of her wrists. You’d never know that she was playing with two broken wrists, her right thumb completely out of the line-up. Nine fingers doing the job of ten.

As a composer, singer-songwriter, a person whose entire career, her livelihood, has been about playing the piano, she was at the keyboard four days after her fall. She had to know if she could play. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. In my best mother hen voice, I suggested, “Maybe you should wait a bit.”

“I have to know,” she said with THAT tone in her voice.

When I first met her, I took note that she stands when she plays the piano. She is not a bench sitter. Rather, she is a full-body player. She is a full body composer. Sometimes the piano literally hops with the force of her playing. She is little but grows exponentially in energy and presence when she steps up to the keys. The first time she played for me I had to step back from the power that came through her.

Now, several weeks into her mending time, the casts are off and the splints are on. I tell her that they make her look all Mad Max. Michael Jackson’s glove is bush-league compared to her performer-fashion-statement: double black splints.  She looks like a pugilist getting into the ring with her piano. The disparity between her bruiser-piano-vogue and the beautiful music she creates makes my head swirl.

Of course, all of that piano punching has brought a new hurdle in the wrist recovery saga: tendonitis. She went on a Google frenzy when the hard nodules began forming in her palm. They hurt. “My palm is on fire!” she said, “What do you think they are?” Google inflamed her already wild imagination with horror diagnoses and none of the scenarios were good. In fact, they were downright dire.

Doctors were called. Photos of palms sent. A scary foray into the medical facility mid-pandemic was arranged. She emerged from the facility, pulled off her protective mask and climbed into the truck. “Well?” I prompted.

“I didn’t touch anything,” she announced.

“I’m asking about your hands,” I huffed. “What did they say about the nodules growing in your hands?”

“My tendons don’t like that I’m playing with casts,” she said. “Probably tendonitis.”

“That’s good news!” I said and she hit me with THAT look. “Okay, so. Well. Not great news. What are you supposed to do?”

“Keep playing,” she said, looking out the front window. “They gave me some exercises. Advil. But, I keep playing. What else can I do?” she asked, a question not to me.

“Good then. You’ll keep playing.” My mother hen suggestion went unvoiced: maybe some rest? I didn’t want to be hit with THAT look two times in a row. Instead, knowing full well that she is not a bench sitter, knowing that she is a full-body artist and that, for her, to play is to heal, I said, “Okay. Let’s do it. Let’s keep playing.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SAGA CONTINUED

 

 

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