Make A Small Gesture [on Two Artists Tuesday]

small gestures copy

We’ve built our towering life together on the small gesture. Coffee in bed. A note stashed in a suitcase to be found when far away from home. We hold hands everywhere we go. When getting ready for bed, the first one in the bathroom always puts toothpaste on both brushes. Little kindnesses. The smallest of signals and courtesies that say nothing more and nothing less than, “You matter most of all.”

Looking for the grand plan that will change the world or, better, trying to be the grand plan, often blinds us to the real necessity of the moment. We look for the mountain that needs to be moved and miss the hand that needs to be held.

My younger, revolutionary self screams, “WHAT?! WE NEED TO PUSH BACK! WE NEED TO FIGHT THE SYSTEM!! WE NEED TO CHANGE THE WORLD!!! THIS SMALL-MOMENT STUFF IS THE CRAP-THINKING OF AN OLD PERSON! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!!!!

I’ve been more changed by a smile from across the room than by all the agitation that I’ve engendered across the span of my life. I have initiated more change by holding my tongue than by wagging it. Listening, I’ve learned, is a most powerful small gesture.

If I am old (I don’t feel old), if I have learned anything, then I have learned that real love is not noisy or flashy or grand. It is quiet. It steps behind you when you are frightened, puts its hand on your back and whispers, “I’ve made you a toothbrush.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SMALL GESTURES

 

cropped head kiss website copy

Balance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

prayer flags 1 copy

Each day we sit on the deck and watch the personality of the lake change. We are witness to the power of the elements at play. Wind drives wave. Wave evaporates and moves wind. Lighting hits earth. Rain feeds the plants. Too much rain, too much wind, too much fire, devastates.

Balancing the elements. It is the central thought in many traditions. The cardinal directions are associated with a color and an element. North, south, east, west. Air, fire, water, earth. People need associations in order to talk about things. In order to know where they fit.

The colors differ from tradition to tradition. Sometimes black, white, red, and yellow. Sometimes blue, green, yellow, red. Sometimes there is a fifth element. There is always a center. When there is the understanding of center point there is also an acknowledgment that separations, experiences like north, south, east and west, are illusions.

Balance is a radically different intention than dominance. Taming-your-nature is not the same as balancing-your-nature. In the tame-your-nature idea, nature, your nature, is corrupt and needs to be controlled. In the balance-your-nature idea, your nature is neither good nor bad, it is a dance of energy, a push-pull of wind and fire, air and earth. In the balance-your-nature idea, there is no such thing as “wild.” because there is no intention to “tame.”

As you might imagine, the artist that explores the tame-your-nature mindset understands their artistry much differently than the artist that explores balance. I was born into and oriented toward the culture of tame-your-nature and so I divine through brush and story the push-pull between goodness and badness. Combat, combat everywhere. Right/wrong. Us/Them. Good enough/lacking.

I desire to see through the other lens. I suspect this desire is the epicenter, the driver behind my paintings. To understand the world I inhabit as energies at play, to know beyond an intellectual understanding that the distinctions don’t really exist; wind is not separate from water, earth is not separate from fire, people are not separate from planet. Illusion. Our division is a play of shadow puppets at best.

I think it is why we hang prayer flags at our littleislandhouse and at our home. Surrounded by combat, we are drawn by the desire to balance, we are enticed by the possibility of harmony.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

 

 

 

skylake website box copy

 

island prayer flags photograph ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

Turn And Open [on Two Artists Tuesday]

canoe and dock copy

Real education is understanding the significance of life, not just cramming to pass examinations. ~ Krishnamurti

Tom used to call it The Little Green Bottle theory. The illusion of learning at the expense of real learning. It is the worst fate for a curious mind to confuse active pursuit with passing the test.

The worst fate for an artist is to be revered. Artists who are revered regardless of what they do, stop growing – or worse – they twist. They confuse themselves with their art. And, because they are lauded for any and everything thing they do, they lose their muse. They no longer need to listen or seek or try.  They insulate and turn in on themselves. Knowing that their feedback loop – called an audience – will give them a perfect score no matter what they do, oddly makes their work not matter at all. They – and their work – and their audience – become an energy eddy, an empty bottle with no substance. The circle closes.

Long ago, I guest-directed a play at a college. There was a student, an extraordinarily talented young man, who was coddled by his professor. She heaped praise on him. He was cast as the lead in all productions. In fact, I was (hush-hush-nod-nod) required to cast him. He was protected from the rules and rigors his peers were required to follow. He simply needed to show up.  I crossed his path again a few years later and he was a very sad and empty young man. He left his small pond and didn’t have the skills or work ethic to swim in the ocean. He wondered why no casting director would work with him, why no masters program would admit him. He expected reverence. His talent collapsed on itself. Many of his peers, those who had to work, to grapple, to reach, to struggle, had solid and thriving careers. Rather than helping him grow, his professor, his college community, stunted his artistry. His circle closed.

The waters are so calm this morning. Hog Island seems to float in the air. Sitting on the dock, I feel perplexed. Lately, the world so often feels upside-down, in service to the opposite of what it professes. Islands feigning connection. Closed circles working hard to stay closed even awash in the knowing that they can only breathe when opened. They can only grow when challenged, when they open the gates. They can only thrive when they turn, open the circle, paddle toward the limitless horizon and face the unknown.

The muse is out there, waiting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DOCK

 

sunrisewebsite copy

 

photograph: on the dock of the bay ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leap And Skid [on Two Artists Tuesday]

dogdog pondering copy

Tripper-Dog-Dog-Dog has now seen some things that only a few weeks ago were unimaginable. His first deer sighting was a revelation. His first pelican experience was monumental, something akin to an alien landing. The world, he is discovering, is much bigger and more vibrant than he once believed.

His new reality has made him something of a contemplative. He gazes at the horizon. He watches the surf. Sometimes he approaches it and jumps back and forth with it. It is a game he plays with the infinite, dancing with the BIG motion.

We take a walk early every morning. This morning the crows were out in force. He’s had previous crow experience but the sheer numbers, a full murder of them, was enough to make him stop and check in with me. “Is this to be expected?” he asked with his eyes. I nodded. They make me nervous, too.

DogDog has never been a fan of steps. There is no way to get into our littlehouse on island except by climbing steps. Our first few days here were problematic for DogDog. How to transcend the obstacle? At first he looked to us to solve it for him. We looked back and encouraged him. Now, the steps are no longer an obstacle. He’s developed a leap-the-steps-and-skid-to-a-stop technique. It has become fun for him. He delights in his new capacity to fly. The skid is great fun, too. Just like his world outside, his new inner reality is much bigger, much more vibrant than he once understood. Change is like that. Hard at first but then comes the leaping.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGDOG

 

dogga front yard website box copy

 

 

 

Look Up [on Two Artists Tuesday]

deer in woods copy

An evening sky awash with salmon pink and orange. Walking down the middle of the road. Strolling home.  We heard the snap of twigs and stopped. The deer was very still, suddenly aware of us. We found ourselves engaged in an old Viola Spolin acting exercise: you look at us and we’ll look at you. Who is the audience? Who is the performer? Who is the watcher? The watched?

I’ve been thinking about Quinn lately. He taught me that there is a marked difference between concentration and awareness. Concentration is a narrowing of the mind. A blocking of other thought. Resistance. Awareness is an opening to experience. All experience. An embrace. It’s a thought straight out of Alan Watts, one of the many, many authors and thinkers that Quinn introduced me to.

Walking the roads and beaches of the island, learning the nuance of this community and the needs of the performing arts center that we now guide, for me, has become an active reminder, a literal exercise of awareness, a class in paying attention. Open, not narrow. Experience rather than judge or resist.

I can hear Quinn laughing at the younger version of me who thought he had to contain it, capture and command it. The one who thought he had to know what to do. The one with a knitted brow who thought that being good at something was a matter of controlling it. So afraid to not know. The mirth-tears would roll down Quinn’s cheeks. “Look up!” he’d say. “If you keep staring at your feet you’ll miss it!”

“Miss what?” I’d ask.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DEER

 

feet on the deck steps website box copy

Hang It Up [on Two Artists Tuesday]

the clothesline copy

On island, we often hear phrases like, “throwback community” or “another, simpler time.” It’s a place with no stoplights. People leave their keys in their cars. Locked doors are a rarity. People wave when passing on the road.

It is not without its feuds and divisions. The conservative impulse meets the wheels of progress with creative tension, just like everywhere else in the world. Things change through a tug-of-war, albeit slower, perhaps at a more human pace.

We moved into our summer home and found that Deb told us the truth: the dryer doesn’t work well so it’d be better to put up a clothesline. We did.

I am no stranger to mindfulness meditations, I’ve read more books than I should have on presence, attention, and awareness. None of them are as useful or transformative as carrying a basket of freshly washed laundry out to the clothesline and pinning the clothes up. It cannot be done quickly. It must be done with care. The sun warms your back. The clothes smell fresh and the breeze is heavy with lavender and lilac.  The grass swooshes beneath your feet.

Efficiency and convenience can sometimes be great robbers of the moment, and too easily reinforce a life of getting-through-it or, at best, getting-on-to-the-next-thing.

After everything is hung up on the line it is nearly impossible not to turn around, breathe deeply, and take in the day.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE CLOTHESLINE

 

schoolhouse beach website box copy

Blink Carefully [on Two Artists Tuesday]

bayfly invasion copy

When I first saw them I thought they were leaves growing like ivy on the post office wall. And then, one of the leaves fluttered its wings and took flight. It took a moment for my mind and eyes to adjust. Not ivy. Thousands and thousands of…dragonflies?

We stood for a few moments marveling at the sheer number of them. An older woman, an islander, pulled up and caught us gaping. “Bayflies,” she said in passing. “In all my years I’ve never seen so many.”

Later, in the theatre, we stared out of the window at another mass of…bayflies or dragonflies, clinging to the warm wall just outside the lobby. Pete came up behind us. “Mayflies,” he said. “There are a ton of them.” Pete is given to understatement. What he called a ‘ton’ I’d call a ‘plague.’ Alfred Hitchcock would have had a heyday with this story.

And the next day they were gone. Just like that. Had you told me about the bayfly-mayfly-dragonfly invasion, I might have wrinkled my brow and smiled at your exaggeration. A fishing story; a massive bug infestation? No one really knows what they are? Yeah, right! Here and gone. Uh-huh.

But it happened. Blink and you would have missed it. Just like life.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE INVASION

 

wideopenmouths website box copy