Know Their Name [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As I let Dogga out each morning, I stand for a few moments and listen to the birdsong. Our particular spot on the earth is alive with birds: starlings, finches, sparrows, robins, hawks, crows, owls… The Mourning Doves always stop my motion. Their song is hypnotic.

The pandemic changed – and continues to change – many things. Our world became significantly smaller. The table in the sunroom. The backyard. Our trails. As someone with his head in the clouds I am a dedicated generalist. I have always appreciated bird song yet never, not once, thought of identifying the specific birds and their song. “Sparrow? Finch? Who cares! They are beautiful and that’s enough for me! I spend too much time in my left brain as it is! The last thing I want to do is categorize the birds!”

COVID changed that. Sitting on the back deck or at the COVID table staring out the window for hours on end, our relationship with the birds grew. From general appreciation to specific experience. From passive appreciation to personal connection. We began to see nuance. Pattern. We wanted – and want to know more about these beings that sing us awake each morning, that alert us to changes in the weather, that signal alarm in the neighborhood.

While visiting the Botanical Gardens, Kerri found a small book, coded by color, that identifies the birds in our region. In a flash we can open the book and identify the bird. “Hey! Look! That’s Paul!” I say.

“Stop!” Kerri scowls. “It’s Martha. Paul’s on the fence.”

Just kidding. House Sparrow. Carolina Wren. My favorite to pronounce is Grackle. Great-tailed Grackle to be exact. I’ve decided that, were I to somehow achieve tough-guy status and ride a Harley to breakfast, my motorcycle-dude name will be Grackle. “Hey, Grackle,” the waiter will say, as I come through the door en route to my usual stool. “Hey,” I respond. Motorcycle-dudes named Grackle are birds of few words.

Deb showed us an app. Merlin. It identifies birds by their song. Now, armed with our book from the Botanical Garden and our Merlin app, when I ask, “What’s that?” Kerri – who is always alarmingly way ahead of me – has the answer. “Eastern Towhee,” she says.

“You’re making that up!” I cry, knowing she can’t stand to be challenged so will immediately jump to prove to me that she is right (it’s my secret fast-track to knowledge).

“Look it up!” she insists, showing me both the book and the Merlin return.

“Wow,” I say. “Towhee. Who knew. Maybe my pen name should be Grackle Towhee!”

She yanks the book from my hands. “Oh, Look!” she exclaims. “Merlin has identified you: Midwest DoDo.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BIRDS!

Look Out [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Perhaps the most useful and profound lesson I’ve learned happened under the water. I was doing my first night dive. I was scared. I was not yet a confident diver. As we descended the world became inky black. All I could see was where I pointed my light.

It was that simple. I can see where I point my light. That’s it. And, more to the point, I choose where I point my light. I have the capacity to choose what I see. I can…and have…chosen to focus on hardship and lack. I can…and have…chosen to focus on what I love. On any given day my focus bounces full spectrum between complaint and appreciation. And then I remember: it’s my light, where do I want to aim it?

There’s a second aspect of the lesson. My focus is a beam. My light is not all encompassing. Each of us looks at life through a soda straw. None of us has the big picture. That’s why the commons is so important. In order to know what to do, we need to bring our many perspectives together to approximate something close to a full picture. Rather than fight about disparate points of view – who is right – it’s more useful to try and assemble all of those differing views, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, into a bigger picture. No one wins when the pieces refuse to interlink.

With two broken wrists the cello became impossible to play. It has sat in her studio, the case unopened, since her fall over two years ago. I remember the day we bought it. We were early in our relationship, not yet married. I knew she was having cello dreams. We went to the music store for some other purpose, I can’t remember. The cello was sitting in the corner. She sat. She began to play. It was a perfect fit. And, although we could not afford it, we also could not leave it behind. It was a perfect fit.

Our lives these past two years have been a descent into dark water. We’ve worked hard to shine our light at our good fortune in a dark and inky landscape. As we make our way back to the surface, we are cleaning out. Taking stock. “The cello needs to be played,” she said, deciding to sell it. “I’ll never be able to play it, now.” She took photographs of her cello. Sent out a message through the network.

At the end of the day she showed me the photo. Edges. The view from inside the empty cello case, looking out. A slice of the world visible outside the case.

What’s “out there” is rarely clear. We see a small slice. It tickles our curiosity. The cello dream moves on making space for…? Who knows? We can’t see that far. In the meantime, we keep our eyes and hearts uplifted as we slowly kick our way back to the surface.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EDGES

See The Signs [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Religions around the world and across time have personified this moment. The return of the green. From one day to the next buds appear on trees. The signs of life’s vibrant enthusiasm returning (again) from long winter, barren earth, metaphoric death. Persephone’s homecoming from the underworld and Demeter, her mother, goddess of the earth, allows the return of life.

It’s a very, very old story told in many, many different ways. Human beings, storytellers all, making sense of death and life, generalized across the real experience of cycles and seasons, all pressed through the lens of this-causes-that. Reduce us to an essential oil and we are makers of metaphor and seers of pattern.

I told Kerri that I got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. An idiom. Imagine the power in brains that utilize idioms! The meaning cannot possibly be carried by a literal interpretation of the individual words. We pull the meaning out of or inject it into the collection of words. We know what it means because the meaning has a long history. The Romans, I’ve read, believed there was a correct side of the bed. Arising on the correct side of the bed would ensure good luck. The right side of the bed was positive, the left side was dubious. Jump out of bed on the left side and the day was ruined!

Superstition: making sense of the happenings of a day or a life, pressed through the lens of this-causes-that.

Mostly, I am restless. It snowed all day yesterday. I yearn for the moment when I can, for the first time of the returning (pattern) spring, lean against the wall and feel the warm sun on my face. I will, like I did last spring, enjoy the moment to the point of non-thinking. I will drink it in with no need to wrap a story around it or make sense of what I am feeling. I will appreciate it to my bones and revel in the return of warmth, new growth, and light.

read Kerri’s blog post on GREEN

Look Out The Window [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I came down the stairs, having just finished work for the day, and found her staring out of the bedroom window. “You have to come see this!” she said.

Atop John and Michele’s house, hundreds of birds, starlings, jockeying on the roof, taking turns diving into the gutters. And then, in heartbeat, the entire murmuration whirled as one into the sky. The visual impact of their singular launch nearly knocked us over.

And then, they were in the trees and swooping down to the pond. We ran to the sunroom where we could see the backyard. Dozens and dozens of birds and, we realized, not just starlings, great-tailed grackles were in the mix. The starlings, apparently late for a date or not willing to wrestle the grackles, swirled into the sky and disappeared, leaving the great-tails to enjoy the pond.

For a few moments it was like watching a bird ballet. The pulse of bird dancers, rising and falling in groups to the water, according to a symphony that we could not hear but could see in their choreography. And then, like the starlings, in a heartbeat, they were gone.

We looked at each other to confirm that we actually saw what we just saw. No dream or hallucination. It happened and we were lucky enough to look in the right direction at the right moment.

It’s not that it’s rare. This ballet happens all day, everyday. It’s rare that we are privy to the performance or are captured by the play happening around us.

“What if I hadn’t looked out the window?” Kerri asked.

read Kerri’s blogpost about STARLINGS AND GRACKLES

Shape The Vessel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

George Ohr was one of the great ceramic artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Like Van Gogh, he died unknown, never experiencing the success of his work. Robert reminded me of George Ohr’s story and I reminded Robert that Ohr would be a terrific story for him to tell through a one-man play.

What is it to follow your art-call with heart and dedication with nary a hint of financial reward or success on the horizon? Vincent Van Gogh would have been called an amateur during his life since the making-of-money is the flag we plant in the sand marking the line between being a professional and a dilettante. Those lines do not exist for artists with a deeper call. The money does not the artist make.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, quite a journey for the unseen work of George Ohr’s life to find so much vibrant admiration after his passing. Had he known it would have changed nothing. He’d have spent his days at the potter’s wheel either way.

“Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut out doors and windows from a room; It is the holes that make it useful. Therefore, profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.” ~Lao-tzu

Profit and usefulness. Shape and space. Mary Oliver asked the question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? It hits the nail squarely on the head. It was not the pots that George Ohr made or the paintings that Van Gogh painted, it was the space they entered while throwing pots and painting paintings. It was the world they entered through their artistry, more expansive than financial success, more necessary than renown. A wild and precious life lived wildly and with avid appreciation.

Standing amidst the brilliant orchids, some of the flowers were in their last days. Their beauty fading, they cared not a wit. It is not in their nature to stretch their faces and pretend that the cycle of life is more valuable in the early bloom than it is in the late retreat. All is treasured, beguiling. Every last moment, not to be stalled or held onto. The root as necessary as the bloom, the winter as indispensable as the spring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FIREWORKS

Arrive At The Essence [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This past Saturday we passed a milestone. We began writing our Melange on February 12, 2018, four years ago. We’ve published 5 days a week, every week, no matter what chaos or crazy storm blew through our lives.

Our Melange has moved through many phases. Originally, we wanted to regain some control over the publication of our music, paintings, plays, children’s books and cartoons. In our first post I called it our “pile of creative perseverance.” Also, we wanted to make a living from our mountain of work so we set up Society6 storefronts and spent hours each day developing products based on what we published. It was a blast and a total bust.

Eventually, the stores fell off, the daily themes changed, and we arrived at a pure essence: we love to sit together and write. Each day. There’s always a visual prompt, mostly from photos Kerri’s taken during the week. There’s only one rule: we can’t read or know what the other is writing about until we’ve completed our drafts. And then we read to each other, talk about our posts and clean them up. It’s my favorite thing to do. It feeds our hearts, energizes our artistic souls and that is more than enough.

Somedays I feel as if we are writing ourselves into existence. Our Melange is the story we tell each other – and you – of our life together. It’s a continuation of the Roadtrip, the daily emails we wrote to each other before we met. And, if the Roadtrip was a narrative offering of “this is me,” the Melange is a narrative offering of, “this is us.”

We launched the Melange with this Chicken Nugget (below). I wrote, as an introduction in the inaugural post, that this Nugget – and the Melange – was “a quiet reminder that the universe of feelings was – and is – so much bigger than words can possibly contain.” Ironic, yes? Coming from two people who, each and every day, write words as their way of reaching into this vast universe of feelings.

Thank you for reading what we write. We appreciate every step you take with us on our journey.

read Kerri’s blog post about 4 YEARS

chicken marsala © 2016 kerri sherwood & david robinson

the melange © 2018-22 kerri sherwood & david robinson

Make A Savory Day [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I only believe in pleasures.” ~ Ira Glass

Among other things, covid has been a great disruptor of our patterns. Our life today barely resembles the life we knew two looooong years ago. Yesterday, while driving through the farmlands en route to buy a loaf of bread at Simple Bakery in Lake Geneva, Kerri said, “It’s all so weird.”

Among our new patterns is more appreciation of our time. We are less willing to stuff our day with things to do, rather, we’ve established a slower rhythm and points during the day to stop, sit together, and savor the events of the day. It began at the onset of the pandemic with our covid-table in the sunroom. A place to sit and watch the sunset at days end. Soon, there were snacks. And then a glass of wine. It became a ritual. Now, there is nothing more important in our day than to meet at our table. Talk. We call friends and family from the table. Dogga leads the way. He meets us there, positioned just behind our chairs with his bone or a few mauled toys. Sometimes we sit for hours – far beyond sunset. We eat our meals there.

We’ve also established patterns of anticipation within our patterns. My favorite, the silliest but most effective, is french fries for snack. There’s nothing more satisfying on a cold winter evening, than hot salty french fries. We make sure that it’s not a common, every night affair. We save it for the tough days or as a surprise. “Is it french fry night?” Kerri hops and claps in anticipation when she notices that the oven is preheating. Yes. Oh, yes.

The new pattern, of course, is not the table or the fries. It’s the decision to make moments special. We decided amidst the pandemic, the broken wrists, the job losses, the civil unrest, the loss of family and friends, to make lemonade from this time of abundant lemons. We decided to accent the pleasures. To walk slower. To meet our days, not with a list of things-to-do, but with the intention of making a most savory day from the ingredients found in our pantry.

Pattern disruption. Within the hard breakdown of the known, the loss of the comfortable, we are fortunate. Many times, sitting in our sunroom, the happy-lights reflecting in the windows, Dogga quietly behind us chewing his bone, Kerri says, “I love this space.” I nod my head. Me, too. The literal and the metaphoric.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FRENCH FRIES!!!!

Share Appreciation [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal”

~Low Bridge, Everybody Down, music and lyrics by Thomas Allen, 1913

She’s a donkey, not a mule, yet I couldn’t help but appreciate the collision of power sources present in this photograph. From donkey to solar.

I’ve read that the innovations of the industrial age were meant to spare humans of muscle-toil. If an engine could power it, a human didn’t have to. The innovations of the information age are meant to spare us mental and sense toil: why stress to parallel park your car if the car can do it all by itself? Why add the numbers if the spreadsheet does it for you? Why look up information if Siri or Alexa can bring it to you? What does it now mean to stay in touch? Text and facebook and tweet and email and zoom and facetime and slack and chat and…call.

Oil, coal and gas are the energy systems of the past. They are donkeys and mules standing next to renewable energy sources like wind and power. It takes time for an infrastructure to be built. It takes time for people to wrap their imaginations around a different way. Do you remember the loud resistance in the early days of the credit card proclaiming that plastic would never replace paper money? That was not so long ago. There were similar angry voices declaring the auto-mobile was a flash-in-the-pan. “Nothing will replace the horse!” Our local supermarket just installed banks of electric car charging stations. Energy systems are slowly moving away from grids: the power source and the property will (mostly) be one and the same.

Industries, like people, either adapt or die. Most retail chains that came late to online shopping are going or already gone. Many have said that they didn’t see the change coming. Or that they couldn’t imagine a world in which people bought stuff without first touching it. Cars are in vending machines. Isaac Asimov would have loved it!

Did I mention that the solar panel in the photograph senses and moves with the sun? As it turns out, the donkey does, too. Much for the same reason. Only, for the donkey, the heat of the sun feels good and I doubt the solar panel cares or feels anything. Sensing and feeling are still on opposite sides of the change-line. At least so far. There may come a day in the not-so-distant-future that the donkey and the solar panel share appreciation for the heat of the sun. The donkey will wag its tail. The solar panel will stretch and sigh. The stuff of children’s books or sci-fi. At least for now.

read Kerri’s blog post about DONKEY & SOLAR PANEL

Find A Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In the age of Covid, the rules are different. We keep our distance from friends and loved ones. We make rules for engagement. Vaccinations, boosters and negative tests are the requirement for a visit. What was once connective tissue – like an airplane – is now a barrier. A cost/benefit analysis is required before stepping into a terminal. And then, spin the world of rules and boundaries on its axis and this is also true: we find a way. It’s what I appreciate most about people. Will finds way.

A species ends when it can no longer adapt to changes in circumstance.

For weeks we searched for a way to see Craig. To give him his xmas presents. A restaurant that required masks, proof of vaccination, and had a protected outdoor patio provided the necessary ingredients. On a January night, with temperatures dipping into the low 20’s we sat at a table nested between heaters and shared a meal. We exchanged gifts. And, we weren’t the only guests dining on the patio. Other patrons also searched for and found a way.

We loved our meal and our time together. We laughed at the absurdity of the situation. We acknowledged and embraced the necessity of outdoor dining in sub-zero temperatures. We made a story that we’ll tell in years to come. Do you remember when…?

Zoom has become a way. To a point. We’ve learned in this time of pandemic that seeing someone on a screen doesn’t replace seeing them in person. At work we’ve learned that many things can be done through a screen but many generative experiences are slower or inhibited without presence.

Presence.

Energy begets energy; the fire of enthusiastic idea generation is dampened through an app. As Skip said at our end of year meeting, “Nothing replaces breaking bread together. Someday we’ll share a meal.” I look forward to that time, to meeting the incredible people that I see each day through my screen.

We are racking up stories as we adapt to an ever-changing circumstance. To drive rather than fly takes time so we’re learning to take more time. To not rush to arrive. We feel the limits on the distance of our reach. We’re learning the depth of yearning to be-with as opposed to merely-look-at. We’re learning the necessity of boundaries and the health-considerations that come with saying “No.” Mostly, we’re learning the hard line between what’s do-able through a screen, and when we need to consider the ridiculous – and find a way.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEATERS

Choose How [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My friend’s children are having children. The top-of-the-list advice my friends offer their children, now parents themselves, is this: it goes so fast. Appreciate every single moment. Love every phase. You will blink your eye and they will be grown and gone.

I lost my dad in September. I have, like most people who’ve lost a loved one, spent much of the time since his passing remembering and reflecting. It’s a mixed bag of treasuring moments and wondering why I didn’t fully appreciate others. It is true, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

What is so hard about appreciating – fully appreciating – the limited moments of your life?

I used to facilitate an exercise. It had four phases. Working in small groups, the first phase was to have a group member identify a problem in their life and then tell a blame-story about the problem. The rest of the group helped by supporting the person in their story of blame. The groups howled with laughter. Blame is fun. It’s addictive, like sugar.

In the second phase, the groups tried to “fix” the problem. The serious, concerned faces puzzled possible fixes but inevitably dissolved into more laughter: there’s nothing like trying fix a problem to create more problems and loop back into a juicy blame story.

Phase three was simple: I asked the original problem-story-teller to retell their story as a story of choice, not blame. I asked the other members of the group to support the teller in their story of choice. Silence ensued. And then, quiet presence as the new narrative – the story of choice – slowly inhabited the room.

Blame stories are like too much candy. They are easy to eat and yet have no real sustenance.
Stories of choice are much harder to tell but they are rich in awareness and appreciation of the moment.

We never arrived at the fourth phase: stories of opportunity. Activating choice. The notion of taking responsibility for choices always stopped the exploration. Our conversations about choice-avoidance usually filled the time.

What we gain in blame, we lose in appreciation of our moments. In order to taste the moment, one must first choose to be in it – and then choose how to be in it.

Grief is a phase to be loved, not avoided. As is the celebration of a first birthday. A new life. A lost love. A full spectrum. Taste every moment.

read Kerri’s blog post about MOMENTS