Discern [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It’s a little over two miles to Steve’s garage. When we drop the car for a repair, especially in the early morning, we like to walk home. The route takes us by the lake. We take our time, more stroll than stride, and breathe in the early morning quiet.

We are dedicated walkers. We’ve become dedicated seekers and creators of quiet. It’s as if we are counterbalancing the crazy-noise-of-the-news with a stalwart sanctuary that we take with us wherever we go. We walk slow enough to notice. We walk slow enough to appreciate.

There is, of course, a direct correlation between pace-of-movement and paying attention. It’s hard to smell the roses when racing through the day. Lately, much of my work-in-the-world involves addressing information overload. The pace-of-movement need not be physical, it also applies to the river of information rushing across our screens. It’s no wonder we’re angry and anxious and aggressive. I’ve adopted a phrase from my colleague, Greg; he calls the info-torrent More/Faster. We live in the age of info-gluttony and have difficulty discerning between what has nutritional value and what is dross.

Until we slow down. There is a correlation between the pace of movement and peace-of-mind. There is a correlation between pace and the capacity to determine relevance.

It’s why we walk to or from Steve’s Garage. It’s why we end the work day holding hands and walking the neighborhood. It’s why we begin each day sitting side-by-side writing. To slow it down. To discern relevance in a fast moving info-river of dedicated draff. To see what matters in a More/Faster world racing too fast to see anything at all.

We smell flowers. Feel the dew on leaves. Turn our faces to the sun as it reaches through the morning clouds. Real stuff. Stuff of the moment. The small discoveries available when racing to the next thing is the last thing you want to do.

read Kerri’s blogpost about MORNING SKY

Drink It In [on Two Artists Tuesday]

…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” ~Vincent Van Gogh

We stood for a long time staring at the quaking aspen trees. Initially, we went to the nursery to look at grasses to plant against the fence. Tall grasses. Pampas. Oddly, Colorado called and we were drawn as if hypnotized by the siren song of the aspen stand. In the breeze, the leaves make this sound…

Like all things in our life, our backyard has been blasted to bits by the force of the events of past few years. We are now, slowly, pulling the pieces back together again. We’re working our way toward blank canvas, clawing our way back to zero. We are, at long last, beginning to dream the dreams that percolate beyond mere survival. To design life with more than duct tape solutions.

The aspen quaked for us and we quaked for it. We exchanged a silent promise. Not yet. There are too many things on the list that need to be done. But the promise is made and a design is taking shape.

The gift of free fall is that it indelibly sears appreciation of the small moment, the passing kindness into your soul. It’s a great perspective giver. Precious life is the thing that passes while wishing and moaning to be safe and secure somewhere else. If you’re lucky, as we are, you hold hands and experience the full palette of life experiences.

“The grasses remind me of the beach and Long Island,” she said. “Someday, we’ll bring the aspen and the grasses together. Both of our birthplaces in the backyard.”

A design intention. A new experience. A promise to a vibrant stand of trees made on a sunny day in a quiet nursery. Drinking it all in. Beautiful.

It is enough. More than enough.

read Kerri’s blog post about the ASPEN STAND

Notice It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I’m chuckling at the absurdity of myself.

Yesterday, I wrote that the theme this week at the melange was “noticing.” I wrote that everything we write is, in one way or another, about noticing. Paying attention.

Nothing gets by me! Nope.

Recently, we shared with the Wander Women our smack-dab cartoon featuring their impact on our lives. They shared our cartoon and blogs with their audience. Our readership exploded, some very nice comments rolled in, and while reading the comments, Kerri urged me to check the “comments” tab. “The what?” I asked. “What ‘comments’ tab?”

Years of generosity and kind responses flowed just beneath my nose and I had no idea. None. I never saw it. In my very weak defense, there’s a notifications-pull-down menu with comments and I assumed…

To the writers of kindness and sharers of thoughtful story, thank you. Tom told me of his great grandfather, Lak, who, as a young man, travelled west across the country in a covered wagon and took a ship through the Panama canal to arrive at last in California. A letter from his siblings took several years to travel from Ohio to his promised land. I live in the age of the internet and, although your letters reached me instantly, it took me longer than the pony-express-letter-delivery-service to notice your correspondence. Lak saw his mail faster than I saw reader’s comments.

There is, of course, no expiration date on gratitude, and I am as grateful today as I would have been on the dates those thoughts were sent. I can only hope my appreciation reaches you with the same force as your words impacted me.

And, remember, I notice everything except for what passes just beneath my nose.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CHERISH

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

Embrace Wabi-Sabi [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“I love this photo,” she said, “because the flower isn’t perfect.” Wabi-sabi. Appreciation and acceptance of impermanence and the absence of perfection. The full embrace of ‘what is’ rather than some imagined belief or ideal.

I read that the church leaders refused to look through Galileo’s telescope because their book already explained to them how the universe worked. I don’t know if this account is true or not but I’m given to believe it. I see the same story playing out in all shapes and sizes of blind-belief systems today. The wily Fox has millions refusing to look through the telescope in favor of an abstract and angry conviction.

Imperfection. Appreciation of nature and its forces. Look up. Open eyes. Open mind. Open heart. Direct experience that has the power to challenge the staunch and rigidly held opinions. Modesty.

Wabi-sabi. I love this photo.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WHITE BLOSSOM

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