Go Home [on KS Friday]

Haiku From The Road

The blue mountains rise,

Like phantoms from the prairie.

Cairns to the way home.

Read Kerri’s blog post about THE WAY HOME

Catch His Hand [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago, somewhere in the middle of the 1990’s, I painted a portrait of my dad. It is monochromatic and a fairly quick study. In the painting, he is either emerging or returning to the corn. Or both. I can’t remember why I painted him in the corn except that he was born in Iowa and wished his entire adult life to return to the small town where he grew up. Perhaps this is a painting about yearning. Perhaps it is a painting about returning home.

It occurred to me, when I found it while re-stacking paintings after the great studio flood, that I painted this when he was roughly the age I am now. For a fleeting moment I wanted to paint a monochrome self-portrait simply so I might place it across the room. We’d have a staring contest that reached beyond both of our lives.

I chucked the idea for many reasons but mostly because I had no idea what “field” I might emerge from or into? My symbolic return home would be…what? I am not connected to a single place, a tiny town in Iowa or, like Tom Mck, a ranch in California. I have been a wanderer.

I’ve always loved hands. They are, in many ways, more expressive than faces. They are not as guarded and rarely put on airs. My dad was a working man and has working man hands. He was proud of the work he did. It was hard and broke his body but he loved it. It was out of doors under the open sky. He started his career as a teacher and, although he never confessed as much, I think he hated teaching. The classroom was suffocating. He needed to get his hands in the dirt, feel the sun on his face. Even after he retired, as he aged, he sat on the porch in the mornings, he worked his garden or clipped his grass or cleaned his gutters; anything to be outside.

I had a dream many years ago that has stayed with me. My dad and I were free-falling through time. As we fell, he reached out his hand. I stretched out my arm, tried to grasp his hand, but in falling, we were just out of reach. In the dream I stared intently at his hand as I tried to extend my arm, tried to grasp his hand. I knew, if I was successful, if we could catch his hand, it might not stop our fall, but we, neither of us, would fall alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLUMBUS HANDS

Make Belief [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” ~ Saul Bellow

In addition to meaning uneducated, it occurred to me that the word ‘ignorant’ also means to ignore. It’s an adjective, a descriptor. Someone who ignores is ignorant, is an ignorant. I looked up the root of the word to be sure. To disregard.

Early in the pandemic, we placed a table in our sunroom. We call it our pandemic table. In our isolation it helped us to end the day, looking out at the back yard, and watching the light wane. Through the spring, summer, and into the fall, we’d sit at the table and talk about the news of the day. We’d ramble on and on about our disbelief in the angry wave of intentional misinformation rolling over the country, the big things and small things people have to ignore in order to make belief. To support an angry illusion.

One evening, we shook our heads in utter incredulity as a member of our community re-posted a QAnon assertion that the CDC was exaggerating the numbers of COVID deaths just to make the then-president look bad. As proof, the post included a morbidity chart extracted from the official CDC website. We pulled up the website – it took less than 15 seconds – to see the extracted chart nestled on a page with multiple charts detailing comorbidity data; the many many ways that COVID kills. We felt compelled to write a note. It was too easy to debunk the assertion. We asked him to take a moment and go to the site, to look at all of the data. He was being fed a chart cherry-picked from a veritable mountain of information. Nothing was being hidden. No evil plot was in play. His reply was angry, defensive. He unfriended us. We’d done the unthinkable and revealed what he was ignoring.

We learned a lesson about the power of invested ignorance.

Over the year our pandemic table has changed. It’s been populated with sparkling lights and plants. A bonsai gardenia, a birthday present from Kirsten to Kerri sits next to the ponytail palm, both surrounded by succulents. It’s become a sanctuary. We’ve changed, too. We rarely give our time to shaking our heads in disbelief or pushing back against the non-sense things people-in-our-world believe. I’ve stopped exclaiming, “Check Your Sources!”

We occasionally comment about the big things and small things – the mountains – being ignored in order to sustain the modern bubbles of make-belief. The big lie. We are no longer shocked by the dreck that people swallow without question or thought. We’ve moved beyond our own naive illusion and admitted that many people simply do not want to know anything that might challenge their make-believe.

We sit at our pandemic table. We listen to the mourning doves. We eat our lunches looking out at the vibrant green returning to the backyard. We laugh at Dogga running circles in delight. We talk about replacing the very-worn rug beneath our feet. We appreciate the bonsai gardenia, checking the moisture of the soil. We celebrate when our friends and family are vaccinated. We know more than ever it is important to hold dear the baseline, to not disregard our responsibility to check our sources, to carry a healthy doubt about what we are hearing on the news, the story we are being told.

read Kerri’s blog post about BONSAI GARDENIA

Finish The Race [on DR Thursday]

We are nearing the anniversary of SHAYNE. As heart projects go, high atop the list of projects that mattered, sits SHAYNE.

One night, Kerri’s mom, Beaky, called in tears. Nearing the end of her life, she wondered what she’d achieved. A brilliant woman born in the early part of the 20th century, many roads open to a man were utterly inaccessible to her. She wondered, as Kerri said, “What comes after the comma behind her name.”

Decades earlier, Beaky had written manuscripts for three children’s books based on the family’s dog, Shayne. She’d submitted them without success to a publisher. Kerri searched the earth and found the manuscripts. In a matter of days, we illustrated and published the first in the series. We constructed a website, set up and publicized an author’s reading. Over 70 people came, complete with the press and photographers, to hear Beatrice Arnson read and sign her new children’s book. Her first sale was in The Netherlands so I teased her that she was an international author.

Beaky passed away 18 days after the event. The word, “author” followed the comma after her name. She saw the cover art for the second and third books in the series but never saw them published. In fact, we published the second book posthumously but have yet to publish the third. It’s been too hard.

And, each year, on the anniversary of the book signing, we revisit publishing the third book. We simply need to a take a week, lay it out (the illustrations are complete), and publish it. The anniversary we approach is not only about the publication of the first book. It is the closure, the lingering necessity, of publishing the final book and complete the race that we started more than 6 years ago.

Resolution. Conclusion. Completion. More than just words. A symbolic mountain that is very difficult to climb.

The books are more than just books. The illustrations are more than just drawings and paint. They are a dream come true. A gift from daughter-to-mother and mother-to-daughter; the best kind of love-loop. They are a word that follows the comma after a name.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHAYNE

Try [on DR Thursday]

The operative word in this Chicken Nugget is “try.”

To try is a verb, an action. It’s also a noun but the synonyms used in either variation are mostly the same: attempt, endeavor, make an effort.

Try. It’s such a small word but its impact is unfathomable. It is the defining line between intolerance and empathy. Empathy begins with trying to see what others see. Intolerance begins with refusing to try to see what others see.

Try. It is the epicenter of advise that every parent offers to their children. Take a crack at it. Why not put it out there. Give it your best shot. You can’t win if you don’t run the race. You’ll never know unless you try.

A verb. An action. Try. A noun. A way of being.

Try is the foundation stone of curiosity. Wanting to know, wanting to experience what is “just over there.” To see not only what others see, but why they see it.

I sometimes try to see the unbridled enthusiasm that Dogga sees in each and every moment. I try to see the world of unlimited possibilities that Dawson sees every time he touches a crayon or paint brush. I do not delude myself. My eyes are not so pure. But I try.

Imagine what we might do in this world if we only gave it a try.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRY

Live By Increments [on KS Friday]

In this case, healing is incremental. One degree at a time. Her doctor told to be patient. “Expect no more than 5 degrees a month,” he said.

After her fall, the second fall, the one on a newly-mopped-but-unmarked-wet-floor, she had a mere 6 degrees of movement in her right wrist. She showed me her range of motion and the movement was so minuscule that I had to ask, “Did you move yet?” Her stare told me that I probably could have asked a better question.

Years ago, preparing to direct a play, I did research on medieval torture devices. You’d be surprised at human ingenuity when it comes to inflicting pain. The device that Kerri uses between occupational therapy sessions to aid in the recovery of her increments looks a lot like the machines I researched so long ago. It has cranks and dials. Straps. It finds the edge of possible movement and then, with one teeny-tiny turn of the dial, stretches a fraction beyond the previous possible. Increments of possibility achieved through increments of pain. Human ingenuity cuts both ways, to the creation of promise as well as pain.

In this part of our journey, we have learned to live by increments. Our journey of a thousand miles truly begins, each and every day, with a single step. The torture device, as we lovingly call it, serves as a mechanical reminder that the greatest triumphs are often the smallest. 5 degrees a month. It’s a reminder that it is best not to rush. One tiny turn of the dial at a time. Each new increment is cause for celebration. My composer wife, in these hard-recovered-increments, steps toward her piano, toward her promise, each day, one step closer.

kerri’s albums, including THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY, are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about INCREMENTS

this part of the journey ©️ 1997, 2000 kerri sherwood

See The Verb [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Random fact of the day: my waking thought this morning was about The Geography of Thought. No kidding. It’s a terrific book by Richard Nisbett. The subtitle is “How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why.” Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I must have been pondering the bumper sticker we recently saw: I’m With Earth.*

One of the points made in the book, the one that permeated my dream state, is that different languages place different emphasis on different parts of speech. For instance, many Asian languages place emphasis on the verb. English speakers place the emphasis on the noun. In listening to mothers talk to their infant children, an English speaker will say, “Look at the red truck! Do you see the red truck?” An Asian mother will say, “Look at the red truck go!” Do you see the red truck go?”

Why does it matter where the emphasis lands in a language structure? Noun or verb?

The language we use shapes our thinking and seeing. It shapes basic worldviews. Earth as a noun or earth as a verb. Earth as a stand-alone-thing or earth as a moving interrelationship. These are vastly different worldviews.

This was my thought/image coming out of sleep: earth and sky. In a noun world, earth and sky are two distinctly different things. In a verb world, earth and sky are not separate things, they are verbs, actions, interplay of a dynamic relationship. In a noun world, I am also a distinctly different thing. In a verb world, earth, sky and I are not separate things, we are a dynamic inseparable relationship. We.

The bumper sticker is a declaration: I am with earth. It makes perfect sense in a noun world because it is also possible, in a perceptual world of separate things, to be against earth. Nature needs to be conquered, tamed. In a noun world, earth, once tamed, is a resource and resources are meant to be used. In a noun world, we are capable of believing that our actions have no impact on our environment. Action and environment are nouns, separate things.

In a verb world, what you do to the earth is what you do to yourself. No separation. In a perceptual world of relationship, of verbs, it is understood that your actions not only have impacts, your actions are impacts.

We woke to the news of yet another mass shooting. This one in Colorado. As usual, we know that our community and leadership will offer thoughts and prayers but nothing really – not really- will be done to address it. In a noun world, we protect the rights of the individual, the separate thing. In a verb world, there are no mass shootings. None. Violence done to one is violence done to all. In fact, more people are gunned down in the United States in a day than are killed by gun violence in Japan in a decade. The differing linguistic emphasis extends to differing understanding of rights and responsibilities.

Language matters. Where we focus matters. What we emphasize matters. The story we tell is determined by the language we use to tell it. I am with earth. Or, I am earth. I go to worship. I am worship. I seek purpose. I am purpose. Separation. Relationship. A whole philosophy of living reduced to a simple bumper sticker.

So, when we ask complex questions like, “Why can’t we do anything about gun violence?” or, “How is it possible that people in a pandemic refuse to wear masks to protect each other,” our answer is really very simple: our language makes it so.

Perhaps in a world of nouns a declaration is the best we can do. It is a step toward the middle way, a declaration of responsibility to the commons. Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. Stop Asian Hate. I’m With Earth.

*The “I’m with Earth” sticker is from the very cool company Gurus

read Kerri’s blog post about I’M WITH EARTH

Pace The Loss [on KS Friday]

The loss of BabyCat will be forever linked with my father’s disappearance into dementia. I was away from home, helping my mother move my father into memory care, when Kerri called about BabyCat. One loss was sudden. The other loss is glacially slow.

The pace of loss.

I read once that we don’t lose our beloveds all at once. No matter what, sudden or slow, it happens in stages, the heartbreak comes in pieces. Missing daily rituals. Holidays. Last night, as has been my practice these many years, I peeked over the couch to see if BabyCat was going to “check into the hotel” (sleep on the couch) or spend the night with us. And then I remembered.

When I saw him in Colorado, I thought I had grown accustomed to my dad not being able to recognize me. I wasn’t. The tidal wave of loss nearly knocked me off of my feet. Empty eyes.

It’s been several weeks since Kerri chose a piece of her music for our melange. Both of us have, for reasons we cannot articulate, lately eschewed using our artistry in the melange – my paintings, her compositions. I’ve sorely missed diving into her chosen piece of music when preparing our KS Friday posts. When she decided this morning to use her piece, MISSING, I was strangely relieved. A bit of normalcy returned. As I listened, I found myself lingering in the comfort of her composition, the warm yearning of her solo piano, sun through shades, the promise of spring. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. The comforting refuge of memory evoked in Kerri’s MISSING. A sweet-bitter pathway through this forest of loss.

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about MISSING

missing/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Wiggle And Be Warm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!” ~ Thomas Nashe, Spring, Sweet Spring

“It’s not possible,” we said in unison. For weeks, the temperatures were bitter cold. The mound of snow at the end of our driveway was as tall as I am. The sun finally emerged. We pulled on our snow pants, our heavy boots, and walked into the snow-shocked world. Rounding the corner by the dentist’s office, at the base of the south facing wall, through a patch of cold wet earth surrounded by mounds of ice and snow, tender shoots of green were breaking through, reaching for the warmth. Daffodils. Spring.

We stood staring as if slapped. It was as if we had rounded the corner and come face-to-face with alien hope, something we thought existed only in some distant future, a Hallmark promise of light in the darkest of winters. Yet, there it was, tenacious and tender, a harbinger of Persephone’s return to the sweet surface of the earth. “I have to take a picture,” Kerri whispered, as I broke into a spontaneous sun dance. Passing motorists stared at the lady climbing into the bushes and the wiggling crazy man.

I felt as if I suddenly held a precious secret. I did a slow 360 degree turn and saw only winter, winter, winter. Cold, frozen, frigid, freezing, ice damming, black ice, snow plow, sand and salt world with people puffed out and covered in too many layers to please-god-stay-warm. And, in the middle of it all, a tiny patch of promise. A force greater than despair or depression or pandemic fatigue. Life.

We stayed just long enough to make sure it wasn’t a mirage, linked arms and set course for home. Cold fingers but warm in our core.

As we trudged home, breaking trail in snow, I thought of a small piece by Ellsworth Kelly. He pasted a chunk of warm yellow on a postcard image, a Japanese print. He called it “Spring (Yellow curve).” A shock of yellow completely out of place yet transforming the entire world. I imagine, one day, he took a walk in the bitter cold and saw a shock of yellow blowing through the soil. So out of character yet so welcome. Spring. Yellow curve. “Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!”

read Kerri’s blog post about SPRING?

Understand That Little Is More Than Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I think that maybe\ I will be surer\ of being a little nearer.\ That’s all. Eternity\ is in the understanding\ that that little is more than enough.” ~ R.S. Thomas [via Anam Cara by John O’Donohue]

And so our dear H is gone. I have written about him before, about how I learned from him how to age well. To “have a wonderful urgency to live life to the full” [John O’Donohue]. H was a study in wonderful urgency. He did not grow cranky as he grew old. He did not darken his sight with what he could no longer do. He gently pushed the edges of what he could do. He was a master of focus-placement.

I have known many people who proclaim a spiritual life. They are quick to advertise their illumination. They live to stand on the mountain top and call attention to their heights. H was not one of those. He simply lived his faith as he lived his life – without need for acknowledgment or recognition. No trumpet necessary. I suspect that his why I was drawn to him. He was simon-pure. Genuine.

“We’re afraid you’re going to take her from us,” H said to me, more warning than salutation, when I sat next to him in choir. It was my first rehearsal in my first choir and, as an avowed non-singer, I was intimidated. Kerri was the director. She’d recently asked H, at 87 years old, to rap Via Dolorosa. He’d jumped at the challenge and, as I heard the story, performed brilliantly, complete with costume and bling. He and Kerri were thick as thieves.

He guided me through that first rehearsal, laughed when I honked a bad note – which was often, and, by sweet example over time, steered me through my confusion until I found more joy than fear in singing. At the end, as he was moving into his 94th year, just before the pandemic made rehearsals impossible, it was my joy to help him find his place in the music. A perfect circle.

This morning, just before we received the news of his passing, I spent some time in the final pages of Anam Cara. The last words are a Blessing for Death and this phrase struck me: May you live compassionately and creatively and transfigure\ everything that is negative within you and about you. When the news came of his passing, I was certain it was H who’d tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Pay attention to this phrase.” It describes him perfectly. It encapsulates what I believe, H, without words, was trying to teach me. Through compassion and creativity, transfigure everything that is negative within you and about you. That is how to live well and age with wonderful urgency. No trumpet necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about H