Ask A Peony Question [on KS Friday]

The peony in our yard is sandwiched between tall grasses. We’re careful to cut back the grasses so the peony has space and air to breathe. Kerri watches it. She checks on it daily. She calls me to “Comesee!” when the buds appear. She pulls my arm, “It’s happening!” on the day the buds open into full bloom. In our house peony-bloom is cause for celebration.

The blossoms do not last long, a week, perhaps a few days more if we’re lucky. And then they are gone.

The blooms are passing but the plant is sturdy. Sometimes I feel that the peony is a good artist. It works all year drinking in sun and water and life so it might produce a few moments of lovely. Every single day, through the dog days of August, the harsh cold of winter, the wet and muddy spring, is necessary for the peony to bring its fragile and passing burst of pink beauty – its expression – into plain sight.

Late at night, the tornado sirens sent us to the basement. We sat in rocking chairs and listened to the roar of the storm, the flash and house-rattling thunder. I looked at my easel. Currently, my studio is filled with boxes. Kerri eyes her studio; it’s next up for a good cleaning-out. Revamp and refresh.

In the basement, sirens blaring and storms howling, we talked about whether or not she would ever play again. Whether or not I would ever again pick up a brush. It’s an open question. It’s a deep-in-the-night question.

It’s a peony question. I wonder if, in the dead of winter, roots reaching deeper than the frozen ground, if the peony knows that it will, with certainty, bloom?

In A Split Second from As Sure As The Sun

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE PEONY

in a split second/as sure as the sun © 2002 kerri sherwood

Embody The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

Everything in the Japanese Garden is symbolic, intentional. Pine trees represent longevity. Rocks, I’ve learned, represent the bones of the earth. They are as necessary in the design as are the “ephemeral blooms of the iris, rhododendron, and plum.” The symbol is not complete without both.

“The ephemeral existence of human life and the timelessness of nature.” Balance.

Entering the small yard of the Shoin House at the Chicago Botanical Garden is instantly calming for me. The small house is designed to “merge the outdoors with the indoors.” It is closed to the public but always beckons. I want to sit in the alcoves and write. Or do nothing at all. In the garden, I am instantly “connected.”

“Connectivity” is a word that has moved to the center of the work that I am currently doing. Amidst our ubiquitous capacity to share (Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok…email, chat, tweet, slack, text…) we are less and less connected. As Neil Postman wrote, we have made the irrelevant relevant and the relevant irrelevant. We share but do not connect. Shared information is not – and never will be – shared meaning.

Symbols empty of meaning when a community ceases to understand, honor, tend or acknowledge the significance of the symbol. And, symbols are the glue of a community. They are the physical, tangible location of an ideal. Disconnect from the symbol and the house falls apart.

I think that is why I am drawn to the Japanese Garden. There, beauty is intentional. The symbols are so well tended, so intentional, that one need not know the specific meanings to enter the symbol.

And, that’s the point. Connectivity happens when people, together, embody their symbols. They enter them. They become embodiments of their symbol(s).

It is the artist’s job to bring people into a shared moment. To give them access to a unified experience. To help them transcend the splinter symbols that divide – and see them for what they are. To help people step back and take a good look at what they, together, are creating. A garden? A desert? Balance? Imbalance?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ROCKWAY

prayer of opposites © 2006 david robinson

Open The Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Put on your swimmies for a dive into the esoteric.

It was hot last night so I lay awake thinking and that’s never a good thing for the people – like you – who pay attention to the random things I write or say. This is what I thought in the heat of the night: Saul always instructed me to look beyond my opponent and place my focus in the field of possibilities. “Look a hundred feet beyond your opponent,” he said.

It’s universally true that a mind needs something on which to focus. And, left untended, most minds will focus on complaints or problems. During my tilt-at-windmills-consulting phase I’d tease my clients with the notion that, rather than eliminate challenges, people create them. We need them. We call them hobbies. Or play. Or problems. After all, stories are driven by conflict and we are, at the base, storytelling animals. It’s worth noting that a great collaboration is not the absence of conflicting opinions but the capacity to use the heat of creative tension to find/discover a third way.

What does this have to do with Saul and the field of possibilities? A focus, to be useful, needs to be specific. What exactly does the field of possibilities look like?

The reason our untended minds sort to the negative is that the negative is usually concrete, an easy fixation. Fear is a clear picture – even when imaginary. Obstacles are easy to spot. Possibilities are rolling and amorphous. Changeable. It is the nature of a good possibility to shape-shift.

The masters of meditation mostly tell us to soften our focus. Or to let the thoughts roll through the brainpan like clouds; do not attach to what we think. Do not take ourselves so seriously. Practice flow instead of the hard fixing of thought.

And, therein is the source of my late night esoteria: the mind needs something to focus on. Or does it?

If I soften my gaze, if I look beyond the problem-of-the-moment to a vast field of floating possibility, am I tossing myself into a feedback loop? I lay awake wondering what the field of possibility might look like if it was graspable. Some people make vision boards for just this reason. Quinn used to hum and fill his mind with lyrics.

Tjakorda Rai laughed at me and told me I needed to “open my story.” At the time I thought he meant to take responsibility for my story. Now, I know exactly what he meant: let it flow. Get out of the way. The demons and monsters and fears and problems and challenges are…passing things. Story fodder, nothing more. So look beyond them. Flow. Focus on the flow. Open the story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOUNTAIN

Stroll [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday, for some reason, I revisited days of early childhood. I played four-square in the driveway. I threw dirt clods at the site of new home construction. I raced my cars off the side of the abandoned building above Del and Dorothy’s house in the mountains; the cars tumbled and I ran to retrieve them so I might send them flying again and again. I ran home in a panic the day I learned that Nancy’s little sister had drowned in utility hole that was filled with water. It was on the route I walked to school and passing the hole filled me with trepidation, it was a dark portal, my first experience of death. I didn’t really understand it.

Late at night, Kerri and I sometimes talk about everything that has happened in the short time of our relationship. We’ve lost parents and lost careers, spiraled in a free fall of uncertainty, had surgeries and broken bones. We’ve also climbed mountains, watched sunrises and meteor showers, we hold hands when we walk, we write together every day. We dance in the kitchen. I am the sous chef to her cooking artistry.

I’m not sure if we practice paying attention to our moments or it’s something that has come naturally to us. She is rarely without her camera, noticing the smallest flower, capturing the angry sky. I hold the space and hope someday she stops apologizing for stopping again to take a photo; I love watching her discover the shapes and colors of this world. Besides, I get to see what she captures in her lens with an excited, ‘Lookit!”

Today the plumber comes. Yesterday we appealed to the company that destroyed our yard replacing the waterline to come back and strip off the top layer of soil, now filled with hardware and concrete and asphalt. Slowly, we are digging out, repairing and replacing all that was destroyed or delayed in our free fall. Our lessons seem to be about stress – or, rather – not stressing. We are having experiences, rich and varied. Some things we can control. Most, we cannot. The best we can do is hold hands and stand together in each experience. Appreciate them no matter whether they look like tragedy or comedy. We’ll make meaning of them later down the road.

The artist dances with death. The appreciation of the fragility of life. Each day I walk by that metaphoric utility hole, only now it does not fill me with trepidation. It makes me squeeze her hand and fills me with gratitude for this life, this moment, this shadow we cast together as we take our time strolling through the garden.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SHADOW

Experience It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Dogga was fast asleep just outside the back door. The early morning air was cool and the sun was shining on the deck. He found the perfect spot for a re-pouch.

I was concerned because his usual morning habit is to raise a ruckus and run in circles. His silence brought me to the back door. I was so surprised to find him sleeping that I was at first concerned but the morning was so still, so unusually quiet, that I, too, felt overcome by the peace of it all. I watched him sleep. I wanted to lay down in the sun and cool air and enjoy the rare moment.

Kirsten was here for the weekend. She and Dogga have a special bond. He was laying at her feet; sleepy eyes bobbing. I told her that Dogga was just beginning to have some old-dog behaviors. More naps. Sometimes he allows the squirrels to run across the yard without a chase. He’ll be nine years old soon.

There’s a phrase that’s recently popped up several times in my reading. The purpose of life is to experience life. I thought about that on Saturday night. Kerri was inside prepping for dinner and Kirsten was upstairs. I sat on the back deck to watch the waning light. Dogga came and rested his head on my shoulder.

There are moments that you want the world to stop, moments that you want to rest in, drink deeply and savor, yet you know they are special because they are passing. That particular combination of loves will never again coalesce in just this way. A snowflake .

The purpose of life is to experience life. In all of its snowflake forms. Fully. Deeply.

[Jim Seals passed this week. His passing has Kerri singing We May Never Pass This Way Again]

read Kerri’s blog post about WE MAY NEVER…

Drive The Backroads [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

I thought I’d always be a city rat. I love museums and galleries and concerts. And then, something happened. Now, the pull is to quiet places. Space. I still love my art museums but I no longer need to live next door.

We drive the backroads as often as possible. We are much more interested in enjoying the ride than we are in “getting there.” Surrounded as we are, by Chicago to the south and Milwaukee to the north, our meandering down the backroads is often speedier than the aggressive congested freeways. We’ve become the turtle in the race with rabbit.

Last Friday, after work, we drove the backroads to The Chicago Botanical Gardens. It was a gorgeous evening. We held hands and Bali-walked the paths through the Japanese Gardens. Walking with no desire to arrive.

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

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Sit On The Horizon [on KS Friday]

We are the first wave of humans to experience a pace of change so fast that the media of our memories becomes irrelevant – and sometimes inaccessible – even before the paint on the memory is dry. A crank driven film camera caught a toddler version of me running down the hall in my footie pajamas on Christmas morning. Images rare and, at the time, expensive to develop, our technology makes those films seem prehistoric. Kerri and I work on computers that are separated by over a decade. Mine works lightning fast and hers…is teaching her patience.

I’ve recently been pondering a quote attributed to many: “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” Facebook is a tool. Twitter, too. This screen that opens entire universes for me is a tool. These screens that pull us into them are tools. Our stories, our expectations, our experience of time and space and each other, shaped by our tool. This river runs so fast that front page news is less than an afterthought tomorrow. We take so many photos and movies that we can’t remember taking them. It’s a million miles from the days of precious and rare footage in footie pajamas.

Kerri found the bin. It holds many treasures. Movies that her dad recorded of her first album release concert. Early performances. Recording of movies complete with commercial breaks (before tevo was a glimmer in its inventor’s eye). Luckily, we have a VHS player. And it works! Some night, very soon, we’ll plug in the player and I will get to see her, at the very beginning of her career, long before we met, play.

Reaching back. Racing forward. Little miracles of remembrance rendered obsolete by faster and smaller miracles of moment-capture.

We sit squarely upon the event horizon, our memories both a bin found in the basement and an intentional composition – Instagram stories, Facebook memories, a story shaped by our tools, tools shaping us, a creative act.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE BIN

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

let me take you back/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Wrap It [on DR Thursday]

Christo wrapped mountains in fabric. He wrapped coastlines. He populated passes with umbrellas. When I saw the candlesticks wrapped in plastic and ready to roll out the door, I thought, “Little Christo.” Wrap it and it becomes something else. Visible, invisible.

My favorite part of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s website was found way at the bottom. Click on the words, “Projects Not Realized.” There were so many ideas! Whacky and wonderful visions that, for one reason or another, never made it off the drawing board. Why was one building wrapped and another rejected? Why did the mountain of barrels never block the intersection? What sense is there to be made of projects that are not invested in sense-making?

Sense-making follows experience and, in these times with so much media shouting for attention and propagandizing belief, it’s very hard to have a direct experience. I suppose that’s why Christo wrapped mountains. It takes an extreme act of non-sense to shock us into silent what-the-heck-ness.

I saw his umbrellas popping vibrant yellow along the pass from Bakersfield to LA. Giant dandelions stretching for miles. What I most remember as I stopped to get a closer look: children found it impossible not to dance at their bases. Make sense of that.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CANDLESTICKS

greet the world © 2011 david robinson

See The Glue [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It’s a new phrase to me but I liked it immediately. I liked it because I have known some amazing people, those rare birds who keep the runaway-egos focused on the project, who naturally and seemingly without effort coalesce disparate talents into a cohesive creative team. The ‘glue people’ is a perfect description.

Glue people intuitively understand power as something that is created between people, not something wielded over people. I suspect that is the epicenter of their glue-gift: they see beyond the parts to the sweeping possibility of the whole. They know that “every man/woman for themself” is a recipe for disaster.

Despite our dedicated cowboy mythos, innovation is never the province of a single person. There may be a single visionary but the vision is never accomplished in a vacuum. Inventions, like organizations or nations, come to fruition through the efforts and skills of the many-working-as-one. Glue people generate “the-working-as-one.”

Stage managers, production managers, executive assistants, contractors…those highly overlooked people at the center of the information, who quietly make sure the work of creation happens without collision while also making certain all the parts and pieces know how much they are valued.

Meaning makers. Making value explicit. Glue people. Just try to get an idea off the runway without them.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GLUE PEOPLE

Do It Together [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Our house is beginning to breathe. As each bag or box leaves, as another load goes to Goodwill, space opens. Air moves. Stuck spaces relax. New possibilities circle our imagination. And, as the house takes a deep inhale and long slow exhale, so do we.

This is a task she must do on her own. In the past I tried to make it happen and only created more turmoil. I am a relative newcomer to this house so my memories do not run as deep. What looks like junk to me might carry a sacred family story.

That is the continual lesson of my life. My eyes can never see the full extent of your story. Your eyes can never see the complexity of my story. The creation of “our” story requires constant tending. It’s always best to ask a question. “Our” story becomes vital, rich, and inspiring the moment I cease trying to get you to see my way. There’s a space between – called “relationship”- that we can both see because, together, we create it. Together, we speak to it.

Those few simple lessons apply to all relationships, even the most casual.

And so, while I’m working upstairs, she is downstairs unpacking boxes and bins. Sometimes I hear her sigh. Sometimes there is laughter and I know a good story will come my way. Each day, before I climb the stairs, I ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Her reply is always the same. “I don’t know but, if there is, I’ll let you know.”

read Kerri’s blog post about CLEANING OUT