Ask A Familiar Question [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I’ve asked this question of clients a thousand times: What’s beneath? What’s beneath the fear, the yearning, the resistance, the denial, the dream? Asking, “What’s beneath?” is one way of “getting to the heart of the matter.”

The-heart-of-the-matter is rarely visible on the surface. The engine room, the place of power and life, is usually hidden at the bottom of the ship. It makes a lot of noise and is generally deemed “not pretty.” Getting to the-heart-of-the-matter usually requires a trip to the lower decks, a willingness to take off the mask or the armor, at least for a little while.

There is a stop on the way to the-heart-of-the-matter. This stop holds two contradictory options and both are misunderstood as the heart. Option #1: To stand out. Option #2: To fit in. To be valued and to belong. Both are wildly important and provide fuel for the trip but neither is the heart, yet it is a common stopping place for most people in their search for the heart-of-the-matter.

The real work of a heart is never dependent on the opinions of others. To get to the heart, one needs to press on.

When my job fell to dust, my first action was to let go of my symphony project. That choice surprised me. A younger version of me would have held onto that performance as if it was a life buoy. A way to stay afloat. A way of knowing who I am. This version of me knows the folly in that way of thinking: my artistry is not a flotation device. It is not a separate thing.

This time, near the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, I find myself in a wide open space, with an abundance of love and belonging and no absence of esteem. I am at the top and bottom of the pyramid at the same time! It’s a great opportunity to ask myself an all too familiar question: What’s beneath?

In this life, what is the heart-of-the-matter?

read Kerri’s blog post about BENEATH

Listen To The Sound Of The Wind [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.” ~Frederick Douglas

I began cleaning out old files, something to fill the time. I knew the job had come to an end but the formal announcement had yet to come. The file of voice recordings I made with Tom surprised me. I wondered why I’d stashed it in folder that had nothing to do with The Lost Boy project. I opened one of the recordings and spent a few minutes with Tom. His deep bass voice telling a story of hardship and perseverance. “His daughter’s carried his body out onto the flood plain,” he said, “where they could find softer soil to dig a grave.”

It threw me into a memory with Columbus. Sitting at the table out back, the evening was coming on and he was having a lucid moment in his path through dementia. I asked him what happened in his life that he shifted jobs and started working in construction. A tale of hardship and perseverance. Impossible circumstances. Stable ground was fleeting. A neighbor offered him a job that seemed ridiculous at the time. He took it. A strange unknown land. He loved it. He thrived through adversity. Just before disappearing back into the muddy waters of dementia he whispered, “That man taught me how to be a man among men.”

Today we sit in uncertainty. Life review. “Why does our path have to be so hard?’ she asked in the aftermath of the announcement. “Why can’t we have just a little bit of stable ground?” We are carved in hardwood. We are a study of perseverance. “We’ll find a way,” my only reply.

I stood with Tom in the cemetery. He wanted to show me a grave that he’d shown me several times before. In his dementia, he couldn’t remember so we returned again and again. Frankie, another lost boy in a story of lost boys. This time was different. I knew it would be our last trip. I took him to the grave. I told him the story of his ancestor Frankie.

As I finished the telling, a farmer, a big man, came into the yard, ham-sized-hands clutching a tiny bundle of store bought flowers. He didn’t know we were there or didn’t care. He kneeled at a fresh grave. He wailed his grief. Tom heard the sound of the man’s sobs and stood still, listening. Finally, glancing at me, his voice quiet with awe, he said, “Listen to the sound of the wind.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about YOU’LL MAKE IT

Recover The Reins [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”Phaedrus

My first question: is this the Phaedrus from Plato’s book or a quote from the guy who hung out with Socrates? Historically, they are one and the same person but one is a character and the other the person upon which the character is based. I suppose it doesn’t really matter since either way the words are sifted through time and translation.

And, either way, they are as relevant today as when they were spoken/written. They are especially relevant on this day since today we vote.

Phaedrus, the character-in-Plato’s-book, offers an analogy of the soul as a charioteer holding the reins of two horses. One horse is good and pulls toward the sacred. The other horse is bad and pulls toward material gain. The charioteer steers them to a common center. The middle way.

Things are not always what they seem. A wild teasel. A strawberry in a skeleton costume. It was my first thought when she showed me this photo. It’s appropriate to the Halloween season-just-passed and the election-day-present.

One thing is as it seems: this nation’s soul has lost the reins of the chariot, if it ever had them. The wild teasels are run amok, their pundits loudly claiming to be strawberries. Many are deceived and deceiving. Conspiracies. Angry thorns in their mouths.

The horses pull this way and that. They are quite capable of ripping the chariot in half.

Today we vote. Perhaps it is possible to see through the seeming. Perhaps we can recover the reins and bring our divided team toward a common center? A middle way?

read Kerri’s blog post about SEEMING

Send The Cash [on Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

Evidently, we’ve made it to the swanky-wine-promotion-(scam)-list. This came as a text. No words. At first, we treated it as a mystery. A quick Google of the bottle reveals this wine is more expensive than both of our cars combined. “Ooooh, Maybe this is a heads-up! Maybe They’re sending us a bottle!” I suggested.

“Maybe we should call them and tell them to keep the bottle and just send the cash,” Kerri replied.

Victor is Betsy Ade’s manager. He recently posted an attempted scam. Someone wanted to hire Betsy to do a show. They needed to pay with a check and also needed to make it out for a larger amount (insert ridiculous scenario) and requested that Victor return the difference. In the scam world, it’s an old saw. You may or may not be amazed at how many people have reached out to buy paintings but, since they were sailing in the North Atlantic on a scientific expedition, needed to send a too-large-amount-check. After deposit, would it be possible to return the difference?

I’ve thought of papering my bathroom with the schemes, a hall-of-fame for imagination gone bad. To do it, I’d have to print the emails and photos, including the bottle of wine – but I want my paper to be used for worthier causes so I’ve rejected the idea. Plus, the ink would fade over time. I’m having enough trouble with my eyes as it is and don’t want my future self to have to squint to have a chuckle.

“Don’t they know that we’re incapable of enjoying a bottle of wine that costs that much?”

“Yes. We’re goats,” I agreed. “We’d never be able to discern the difference between our wine and this bottle. But, maybe that guy in the North Atlantic would be interested!”

read Kerri’s blogpost about WINE

Harvest Tales [on KS Friday]

We sat on the back porch of the farmhouse. Columbus stared across the fields and told stories of his youth, working on a farm. He never talked about that time in his life, at least I didn’t remember hearing about the harvest times.

We rented the airbnb to take him back to his hometown. He wanted to see it one last time. He was slipping deeper into dementia and knew this visit would be his last. Earlier in the day, I found him in the kitchen. He was lost. He couldn’t remember how to make coffee. I’m not sure he knew who I was. We made coffee together and pretended all was well.

I was surprised that he didn’t want to spend more time in the little downtown. He wanted to walk the cemetery. He wanted to tell stories of his friends. He knew where every headstone was located. He knew right where his friends were and I listened, gathering more stories from his life. Sometimes I asked questions, prompts, to keep the storytelling going.

After the cemetery, we found the little house his grandfather built, the little house where my grandfather was born. It was being used as a storage shed because it was no bigger than a storage shed. It was in someone’s backyard. There wasn’t a fence and no one was home so we crossed the yard and walked around it. Holy ground for my dad. Now, it is sacred ground for me, too. He was a salmon swimming upstream returning to his origin. He was planting stories in us, reaching deep into his beginning tale. I was quiet, now. Listening.

We ended the day on the farmhouse porch. Staring across the field. Harvest tales.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HARVEST

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

millneck fall © 1997 kerri sherwood

Be With [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

We attended the funeral rites via Zoom. It was moving. Intimate. We felt grateful to be included.

Kerri attempted to keep the ukulele band going. There was a delay in the signal so the group played gloriously out of sync, our rehearsals a hysterical cacophony. In the end it didn’t matter because we met each week and shared stories. We asked the most important question: how are you doing?

We Zoomed with friends across the country. The screen between us punctuated the distance, exaggerated the separation.

The pandemic put a new twist on the word “presence.” How do we – how did we – remain present for each other, with each other, when distancing was one of the few routes available to slow the spread of the virus? We learned both the expanse and limits of technology, sometimes giving us communication but not always the capacity for presence.

It certainly made us more intentional. Presence required scheduling time. Presence required confronting the line of can-this-be-in-person-or-not. It made us slow down and question. In the early days of Covid, Kerri and I had a heated debate en route to Colorado to see my parents: do we wear masks or not? After a few moments the masks came off. We needed to be present. Fully.

“Presence” and “going slow” hold hands. One cannot walk without the other. A slow walk will invite presence. An intention to be more present invites slowing down.

When I returned from Bali I was different. Changed. I understood the necessity of going slow, of being in my life rather than racing through it.

The pandemic years have been equally as profound. Like everyone, we lost jobs, lost identities, lost connections, lost security. Every possible pattern of life was disrupted. Isolation brought a new level, a different understanding of going slow. A two-dimensional and three-dimensional understanding of presence.

We are emerging as different people. I feel it. I can see it. I cannot place words on how we are different. I simply know that we are not in such a hurry anymore. We are much more intentional. We draw deeper lines in the sand.

There are people we want to see. There are people we need to see, beyond a Zoom or a phone call. To sit in the same room, laugh. To hold hands. To go slow. To be “with.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about GOING SLOW

Try Them [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

I confess, it took some getting-used-to. Kerri experiences motion-sickness, even if she’s in the passenger seat. So, I rarely drive. I tease her when we’re with friends, saying, “My driving makes her sick!”

We avoid buses. Boats are problematic. Airplanes are not fun, especially during turbulence. A few years ago, our job required a ferry ride to the island so we lined the dashboard with ginger-chews, she wore pressure bands, and I had bags at the ready. Such a small thing; such a gigantic hurdle.

She showed me an ad for the glasses. They’re supposed to help with motion sickness. “Do you think they work?” she asked, hopeful.

“We’ll never know until we try them.” Such a small thing. Such a gigantic freedom.

read Kerri’s blogpost on this saturday morning smack-dab.

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Tell The Story [on KS Friday]

The last time I saw Emily she was showing her simple watercolors in a coffee shop in West Seattle. She sat at a table, her head wrapped in a scarf. Emily was not shy. She was wildly alive and would have had no problem revealing her bald head, a result of the treatment. She wore the scarf because she loved it.

At the time, I was telling stories. At conferences. At facilitations. With symphonies. Pulling people together through a story into a shared metaphor. I did a full stop in front of Emily’s piece, The Storyteller. I knew it was coming home with me. Artists love it when one of their creations speak-out-loud to you. I told Emily about my full stop and she confessed that she loved The Storyteller, too.

After I paid for the small painting, we talked about her treatment. We talked of her hope for remission. Recovery. She was upbeat. Laughter-full. As always. In recounting this memory, I remember that she had no health insurance. It was years before the ACA. We talked about her path through experimental treatments, the only route open to her. She was selling her paintings, everything she had, to try and defer the bill collectors.

I left the coffeehouse art gallery with a new treasure and filled with Emily’s bright spirit. How could she be so vibrant against such a monumental wave of adversity? You already know the next chapter of this tale. Emily died less than a month later.

The Storyteller has lived in my studio. It reminds me of many, many things but mostly of Emily’s lesson: I am not my circumstance. Life is vibrant. This little watercolor is among my greatest treasures.

Dan recently gave me this do-rag: Snap-on, Socket-to-Breast-Cancer. It came at the perfect time as my sister-in-law was entering treatment. I wore it for her on the day of her first treatment but I also wore it for Emily. I wore it for Beaky. I wore it for Beth. I wore it as a wish for a someday cure, for anyone who has or will have to sit at a table and hear a doctor say, ‘You have breast cancer.”

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Be a Storyteller and help pull people together.

This is a piece Kerri wrote and sang when she was working with oncologists raising awareness for Breast Cancer Research

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about BREAST CANCER AWARENESS

i am alive © 2005 kerri sherwood

Go With It [on DR Thursday]

If I was a hunter-gatherer, I’d have no choice. There is one option and it is called ‘flow.’ Going against the flow would mean a quick trip to join the ancestors.

Because I am a modern city dweller, I have ample opportunity to fret, to resist, to complain and yearn for another option. I can demonstrate my impatience with my lot and cut people off in traffic. I can scream at the top of my lungs “Me first! Me first! Me first!” as the central identifier of my culture. Fight rather than flow.

It is much more difficult to go with the flow when, standing in the grocery store, there are 17 different choices of stewed tomatoes. Which tomato can is best? Where is flow to be found when the national narrative mimics the National Enquirer? So much turmoil! So many choices. Amidst so many easy-reach stacks-of-food, you’d think we’d be awash in abundance, awash in a river of flow. Standing at the far end of the paper towel aisle, I giggled at the stacks towering above my head. I slow-walked through a canyon of paper towels, thinking, “The point of the fight is to stand atop the paper-towel-mountain.”

No wonder flow is an abstract concept, the topic of every self-help book and creativity-mantra, but nowhere to be found. “Improve thyself” is the heart of the conundrum. What chance do we have to go with the flow when we can’t possibly be good enough?

Sometime for kicks, try painting because it feels good. Achieve nothing. Sing loud like Charlie in the shower just because you can. Give a leg up to your neighbor and let them stand atop the paper-towel-mountain – just to have the experience of sharing, helping, thriving together. Float-all-boats is a good statement of flow.

After all, flow is ultimately an act of joining, of sharing, of giving over. Hold hands; find flow.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FLOW

A good yuck from our Flawed Cartoon archive. Paintings? Go here

Flawed Cartoon © 2016 david robinson, kerri sherwood, john kruse

Lose The Plan [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Plans are maps of territories that do not yet exist.

Working in a software start-up, Skip has taught me a new phrase: infinite regress. The next step is determined by the last step and there is both no end to the steps and no way of knowing a destination because there are so many possibilities. Every step is a plot twist. The Plan would go wrong on a daily basis – an hourly basis – if the expectation to follow it was rigid.

In infinite regress there is no arrival. There are decisions. There are choices. The plan is to take another step.

Taking another step is a good plan! Live another day.

Think of the stress reduction if plans were held lightly, in cupped hands. It’s great to have a destination in mind. It’s not so good to step over the treasure-of-the-moment en route to some imagined gain. Some idea of control or fortress-safety.

Today, as an exercise in reality, every step I take I intend to yell, “Plot Twist!” Kerri will quickly put an end to my yelling, so I’ll transform my exercise into a mental experience. I’ll keep it to myself. That’s the plan, anyway. A mental experience. Hey! It’s an infinite regress.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PLOT TWIST.