Climb The Ladder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Very few images are as potent as Tom Mck’s story of finding his 90 year old aunt Bunty on the roof of the farmhouse. There had been a storm. She’d hooked her cane on a rung and climbed the rickety ladder to make sure the shingles were intact, “Papa put a fine roof on this house,” she said, staring down at her alarmed nephew. Bunty was a farm woman. She saw no reason why she should not be on the roof. As the elder of the family, she was the keeper of the legacy. The house and ranch were the tangible creations of her ancestors and she was the steward.

Years later, when Bunty was gone and Tom was the ancestral steward, his task was untenable. The city was spreading like a fire, gobbling up farm land. He knew it was only a matter of time before the ranch was consumed. A Walmart was being built and he could almost see it from the porch. “What am I going to do?” he asked, knowing that he was the end of the line. His question was rhetorical. Sometimes the steward’s job is to close the door on an era. He knew what he had to do.

After Tom passed and the ranch was sold, I imagined him, like Bunty, standing on the roof of the farmhouse. He made sure that, as the land was lost, the legacy remained intact. He was strong, like Bunty. His ladder was rickety but he climbed it none-the-less. He made sure the shingles were intact. He met his task without self-pity.

I learned from him that life can forge you into strong metal or, if you choose, if you feel sorry for yourself, it can break you into tiny pieces. Jonathan told me that a tree must split its bark to grow and I understood that as a metaphor for aging. The bark splits because the spirit outgrows the body’s capacity to contain it. Beaky was like that. And, Dorothy. Mike. Grandma Sue. H. I admire them. Bodies break down. Aging hurts. Spirits, on the other hand, need not wither.

I’m told that, in her elderhood, Margaret stopped what she was doing each day to go out back and watch the sun set over the desert. She was made hardy by a hard life. She was made kind by how she chose to live within her hard life. Drying her hands, stepping out on the back porch, the sky electric with peach and pink, she met each sunset with gratitude. Intentional thankfulness for the day.

Gratitude is not a soft thing. It is an attribute of the strong. Hard won from a long life of choices. Bitterness is easy, a lazy thing. Climbing the ladder, standing on the roof, feeling the aches and the loses, facing the running sands with a smile and admiring the day’s end, celebrating the shingles that held fast through the storm and those who placed them, that takes grit. Courage. And, an understanding of the connected power and responsibility of standing in the long line of ancestry.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRONG WINGS

Appreciate The Marks [on DR Thursday]

Life leaves marks. When I look in the mirror these days, I see my grandfather staring back at me. Or, to be more accurate, I see aspects of both of them, all akimbo in a variation that I now recognize as “me.” The topography of DNA, crafted by my unique life, now sketched into my mask.

Quinn left marks in me. So did Tom. And Doug. And Kathy. I could go on. The list of amazing humans who had a hand in shaping my perception, molding my thinking, in informing my walk through this world, is lengthy. They are my fortune, the gold in my pocket. Their marks serve as my credo, define my intentions. Their marks have become the scale upon which I weigh value and importance. Laughter, according to their marks, carries enormous weight.

As we carried boxes out of the house, I couldn’t help but notice marks on the walls, scuffs on the floor. Each marked a memory. When the movers lifted the couch, its impression in the carpet was deep. It had sat in the same spot for years. In its absence, the entire space reeled. Soon it would find a new equilibrium as another family sculpted the now empty space. They will, no doubt, remove the carpet. The impression is too deep, the placement and accompanying memories are not theirs. Erasure is the necessary first act of new inhabitants. Eliminate the marks. Paint. Sand. Demo. And freshen. Clean the palette.

Leigh is an authority on rock art. Cave painting. The marks left by humans. Prophesy and map. Ritual and graffiti. Not all cultures are obsessed with leaving marks. Many try not to. My relationship to my marks, my paintings, changed the day I helped carry Duke’s brilliant paintings out of his basement. He’d passed and now the question was, “What do we do with all of his paintings?” I knew, someday, someone would ask the same question of my paintings. Carrying his paintings up the stairs and stacking them in the truck, I became less invested in the notion that my paintings, my marks, need matter. They no longer need to transcend me. They are immediate, fulfilling for me and perhaps me alone. That is enough. Bits of ego easily fall off when the perspective of age comes calling, when the marks are undeniable.

Marks fade. Life is what is happening now. A cliche’ that could not be more relevant. The couch, seemingly so permanent, will someday be hauled out. The marks will remain for a while. Only a while. And new life will move in and fill the old space, as it should.

read Kerri’s beautiful blog post on IMPRESSIONS

Weave With Intention [on KS Friday]

I have on my studio altar Demarcus’ paint box. Sitting atop the box is the nutcracker my grandfather used. He kept it next to the pool table. The nutcracker rests on a batik that Judy gave me. There is a laughing Buddha, a dancing Shiva, a sturdy White Buffalo. There is a woven braid of palm from Bali. Special rocks.

Dots that connect me to my heritage, to the people that inspire me. To ideas that open me and remind me to see the universal, the metaphoric.

I wrote a post this morning about history as events and history as interpretation. I tossed it because I lost my way, I lost what I really wanted to say in a forest of complexity. What I wanted to say is simple and that is why I lost it. What I wanted to say was this: I weave my history through the dots I connect, as do you. My history is not pre-wrapped. I crawl into bed each night and assign a story to the events of my day. Was it a good day or bad? Meaningful or insignificant?

There are events. DeMarcus and my grandfather have been gone a very long time. Yet, they are with me everyday. Encouraging me to play and discover. Crack nuts. Open my paint box. Feed the connection. Judy’s batik, a reminder to see the beauty. It’s all around if we care to see it. Connect the dots. Laugh. Dance. Stand sturdy. Weave the story. Weave with intention. Connected.

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

connected/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Catch The Glimmer [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday a treasure arrived in the mail. Mike sent it for my birthday. It is a painting, a study for class that her father, DeMarcus, did when he was a young art student. He was learning to see and use color. This painting hung in her hallway. More than once I stopped and studied it, his color swatches carefully placed at the bottom of the page. She must have noticed that I was drawn to this painting.

Many years ago, Mike gave me DeMarcus’ notebook from this same class on color. It is from a time before it was possible to go to the drugstore and buy a notebook. DeMarcus cut the paper, made a cover from old Levi’s, starched for strength, and stitched it together. The pages, a hundred years later, are tender, so I am careful when I read them. Reading his notes always buoys my spirit since they are a record of his revelation, of training his eyes to see.

During the bitter cold of the past few weeks, an entire ice-age played out on the top of the awning over our backdoor. A creeping ice shelf moved slowly down the awning, crawling over the side. One evening, the long fingers of the ice-age reaching for the deck below, became brilliant with the winter colors of the sky. Kerri grabbed her phone, flung open the door, frigid air blasting into the warmth of the room, she stepped out and snapped photos of the fingers.

“Look!” she said, showing me the screen. “I love this picture!”

Just above the center of the photograph, a glimmer of electric blue. Amidst the suspended bubbles and greens and purples and light-reflections, a tiny beacon of vibrant blue. I could almost hear DeMarcus laughing.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICICLES

Carry The Message [on Merely A Thought Monday]

*everyone is a messenger copy

Rick Stone, founder of the StoryWork Institute, began his workshops with this fill-in-the-blank prompt: I come from a people who___________, and from them I learned____________. Try it. You will be surprised by the characteristics that jump up, the things you don’t really think about that you hold dear or that you resist. The connectivity that, for better or worse, defines you. The seedling of the answer to “Who am I?”

Jean HoustonJean Houston called it the burning point: you are the living flame, the burning point, of an ancestral line. You carry those who came before you. You will live through those in your line who come after you. It is the greater story, “Where do I come from?” It is the greater story, “Where am I going?”

One day, I caught myself standing with my elbow bent, just as my father stands when he is thinking. It is the posture his mother took when she was deep in thought. I imagine it was how her father or grandmother stood. An entire line of elbow tension reaching back into dark history. My elbows connect me. Kerri said, “This DNA thing is real!”

With all the time, money, ego, and energy we spend in life trying to distinguish ourselves as individuals, as distinct, as separate, it is actually the opposite, it is our connective tissue that gives us definition. It is in and through our relationships – our stories – that we generate meaning. It is through our roots – our stories – that we understand who we are.

I come from a people who___________, and from them I learned_________. We are messengers, all.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MESSENGERS

 

boardwalk shadow feet website copy

Look Back [on KS Friday]

where i'm from songbox copy

Every artist has a root. They stand firmly on the shoulders of other artists that inspire and inform their work. They have experiences that color their expression. Every artist walks a seeker’s path. They, of necessity, stand at the edge of their village so they can 1) see clearly the machinations of their community, but more importantly, 2) they serve as a bridge to help their community across boundaries of time and space, providing necessary access to the unseen world, the greater things that cannot be grasped in law or calculation or bought with currency. Inspiration. Ancestry. Purpose. Love. Soul. Aspiration. Perspective. Hope. Possibility.

It is a happy accident that for this week’s Studio Melange Kerri shared a new piece of music, YOU’RE THE WIND, a song never  before recorded, while also choosing this piece for KS Friday, WHERE I’M FROM, recorded over 20 years ago. It traces her path. It speaks to her sources.

WHERE I’M FROM is an appropriate title. It is a reaching back, recorded before Kerri met broadcast constraints and the squeeze of the music industry’s labels (New Age) expectations. It radiates innocence. It took me back to my childhood, transported me to carefree days in the sun, mountain meadows, games of four square with the neighborhood kids, my dad teaching me to ride a bike. She took me across the boundary of time, she helped me touch my source, a visit to where I am from.

Take the time to let this artist hold your hand and take you across the boundary, back to your source, to touch for a moment the greater things that live beyond the day’s achievements. Let her remind you of all that truly matters as you turn and look back and visit your mountain meadow and perhaps, as I did, appreciate the riches of the life that you’re living.

 

WHERE I’M FROM on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHERE I’M FROM

 

skipper's pub, northport harbor, ny website box copy

 

 

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

you’re the wind ©️ 2005/18 kerri sherwood

Let Me Take You Back [it’s KS Friday]

jacketasitisjpeg copy

let me take you back

take me back product BAR copy.jpg

Before Kerri and I were married, I asked her daughter, Kirsten, to tell me ‘the one thing’ I should know and understand about her mother. Kirsten’s answer was immediate. “Mom’s the most thready person you will ever meet,” she said.

It is true. Kerri is the most ‘thready’ person I have ever met. Thready means threaded to the past. We mark auspicious days. Each piece of furniture in our house carries a story. Every day she writes in her calendar what we did or what happened; at the end of the year it is our ritual to read the calendar and retell the stories of the days just lived. We light candles for lost loved ones.

She is rooted, deeply rooted, in family, in ancestry, and she actively and consciously tends the root through her thready-ness. And, what is most remarkable to me, is that her thready-ness is not weighty. It is in no way heavy. It is light-hearted and surprising and lively, just like her composition Let Me Take You Back. On this KS Friday, take a moment, and let Kerri give your spirit a lift. Let her take you back.

 

LET ME TAKE YOU BACK on the album AS IT IS available (track 12) on iTunes & CDBaby

Kerri’s designs & TAKE YOU BACK products

record player CLOCK copy

read Kerri’s blog post about LET ME TAKE YOU BACK

www.kerrianddavid.com

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

let me take you back – designs & products ©️ 2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson

 

Protect Our Diversity

Many years ago, sitting in a Starbucks, my brother told me that I should be careful because not everyone wanted the diversity I was promoting. His warning struck me as odd. At the time I was partners in a business that facilitated diversity training and change dynamics. I was traveling to many places in this nation, north, south, east, west, and places in the middle, to work with people in corporations and schools and communities who’d come up against the startling reality that all people do not share the same reality, that equality is an ideal not yet realized, that we are a nation defined by our other-ness.

When I was in school I was taught that the USA was a melting pot, a hot crucible into which people of many backgrounds, creeds, and colors were transformed into something stronger. I was taught that we were a nation of immigrants. It is printed on our currency: e pluribus unum. Out of the many, one. Why, then, would I need to be careful? Diversity was not something I was promoting, it was (and is) our circumstance. It was an identity I was helping people navigate in their workplaces and communities.

I read somewhere that the real challenge of the American Experiment is that we have to reinvent ourselves everyday. Because we are not (and never have been) able to share a common ethnic-religious-origin story, we must strive everyday to create a shared story. We create our story. We were, at our inception, an experiment in other-ness. To insist that we were meant to be singular – white and Christian – is a concoction. Our shared story begins with the single common thread that runs through most of our ancestral paths: we came from some other place seeking freedom in one form or another: religious freedom, freedom from persecution, the freedom to pursue opportunities. What binds us, the single story-blanket under which we can all crawl, is our diversity. Out of the many, one.

There is and always has been a tension in our story creation. Each new wave of others is resisted and often persecuted by the previous wave. When, in a nation of diverse backgrounds, in a country made strong by its multiplicity, does one actually become an American? And, what does an American look like? And, how far are we from living the ideal of all being created equally? With liberty and justice for all? It’s a moving target at best. It is a worthy ideal and worth the struggle.

The Experiment, like all experiments, has had some miserable failures. It has taken some giant strides forward. It is riddled with paradoxes and often runs into a hard wall of hypocrisy. We’ve torn ourselves in half and pasted ourselves back together. We’ve had our share of hate-mongers and xenophobes. We have one now. And, we always transcend them because we do not run on fear or anger but on promise and opportunity. The conservative impulse is always at odds with the progressive desire. It provides the heat for the crucible. It provides the tension for creativity and growth.

The greatest centers of innovation and entrepreneurship in the history of humankind have all been crossroads, places where many cultures cross paths and come together. Difference is a great opener of eyes and minds. We are an intentional crossroads, a meeting place by design. Our make-up of differences might be the single reason why we have grown as a nation of invention, advancement, and possibility.

In one aspect my brother was right: I should be careful, we should be careful to protect and keep the ideal in the center. It is worth marching for, it is worth challenging the fear-mongering and stepping in the way of a leader who plays on anger to create division. We should be careful to honor and steward The Experiment forward to the next generation of diverse Americans.

 

 

 

End And Begin

photo-2My fascination with this play grows every day. It has had a hold on me for over a decade. I’ve told the story of The Lost Boy to everyone I know. And now, as we approach opening night, the story of the production, the timing of the production, the people coming out of the woodwork for the production, Tom’s relatives appearing with additions to the narrative that Tom originally relayed to me – is equal to or exceeding the marvel of the play itself. The story around the story is, in some ways better than the story itself. Or, perhaps it is an extension to the story, the next chapter. Roger once told me that he believed the most interesting aspect of the story was not the discovery of a trunk plastered into the walls, not the story Tom felt an imperative to pass on to me, but the story of my time with Tom. “I want you to tell that story,” he said.

I have a file of recordings that I made of some of my conversations with Tom. They were in a format that made them inaccessible to me. I kept them but have been unable to listen to them for several years. A few nights ago, on a whim, I searched for conversion programs and in less than an hour, I was listening to one of the recordings. It was like opening the trunk that had been plastered into the wall. I listened to one of our conversations. I listened to our laughter. I listened to the questions I asked and his thoughtful and generous responses. I listened as I told him that I believed the real story was not Johnny’s or Isabelle’s, but his. He considered it but could not see himself as anything other than a messenger. My suggestion to him was prophetic.

On a lovely August evening in 2013 I was on a pier in Wisconsin when I received the call that Tom had passed. I sat on a bench and talked with Marcia, Tom’s widow, for over an hour. After the call I walked with Kerri and as we watched the sun set I told her stories of Tom.

My attempts to produce the play while Tom was alive (though too ill to perform the piece) hit walls of brick and stone. If I wanted disaster to strike I only needed to attempt to mount a production of The Lost Boy. I’d all but shelved it and, although I’d rewritten it so I could perform the story, the script seemed incomplete, somehow awkward. When Tom passed, the end of the play became apparent – I saw the flaw. Tom needed to join the story, not tell it. I did a final rewrite and the play was ready.

I’ve been amused because, after so many obstacles, this attempt is almost producing itself. It is as if we couldn’t stop the transmission of the story if we tried. Jim said, “I think Tom is working his magic from the other side.” The other night, in rehearsal, just as I worked the section about Isabelle (Tom’s great grandmother) reaching through time, ringing a cow bell to summon Tom, the bells from the neighboring church began to toll.

It made me laugh and I recalled a question he often asked: where does a story end? Where does it begin?

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

The PoetGo here for fine art prints of my paintings.

 

Light The Way

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

Yesterday was Ann’s funeral. She died too young but by all accounts lived out loud – she packed a lot of life into her short time. One of the speakers said that she was neither a glass-half-empty nor a glass-half-full kind of person; her glass was always overflowing. I sat in the choir loft and listened to the stories, the grief and the laughter, the music that a community makes when it says good-bye. I only know her through their stories, through their eyes, and I was overwhelmed with the beauty that they saw in her. She was rooted in a community and the community was rooted in her. I was moved by the story she inspired.

Just before the service I was working on my play, The Lost Boy. We open in a few short weeks. I was memorizing the last two pages. The language of the play, the moment in the script that I worked, is about Tom’s ancestors answering his call. He worried about what to do with the ranch and the legacy that he guarded. He didn’t know what to do. There was no one to receive what he had to tell. He summoned the ancestors and, when he needed them most, they came. They didn’t answer his question. Instead, they took his hand and helped him join the story.

Jean Houston called us – the living – the burning point of the ancestral ship. Each of us carry forward the story, we add a chapter to a longer epic whether we realize it or not. Once, many years ago, John was directing one of Shakespeare’s plays for my company. While talking with the young actors about the play, he was moved to tears telling them how he realized that he was a link in a long chain that led all the way back to a first production in the 17th century. This play did not exist isolated in time. It was a burning point. Their work mattered because they were the guardians of a tradition. They were the burning point. The play was remarkable because the actors understood their root; even the smallest action mattered because if fed something bigger.

A few weeks ago we watched the film, The Descendants, with Brad and Jen’s movie group. It is a story of legacy and mattering – a story of what happens to descendants when everything looks like a commodity. The root withers. The story dissipates. As Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.” Joseph Campbell said that our mythology was dead and all the proof we needed was in the news. It took me years to fully understand his statement. And, the question he asked was this: once lost can a community revive its mythology? Can it reconnect with the root? Can it look beyond the immediate and see the rich soil of the greater story? As the burning point, can we light the way forward or is our dilemma the same as Tom’s: what do you do when you carry a root-story and no one is interested or capable of hearing it?

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

from my Yoga series

from my Yoga series

Go here to buy art prints, posters and such – of my paintings