Stop And Rest [on KS Friday]

At the height of the pandemic she recorded music on her phone and posted it for the community. It was a warm blanket, a comfort sent to people separated by the virus. Yesterday, she stumbled upon the recordings. There are hundreds. She played one for me. Pressing pause, she looked surprised and said, “These were good.”

I appreciated her honesty. I smiled at her surprise. Having been taught that it’s not nice to brag, she rarely acknowledges the scope and depth of her gift. Her pat response when I genuinely gush about her latest composition: “It’s okay.” It is good medicine for a gifted artist to say to herself, “My work is good.”

Also yesterday, she had a “talk” with me. She advised that I be less hard on myself. “Hold yourself softly,” she said. She was spot on. She can see it in me because she can see it in herself. She was telling me that, like her, my work is good. I swallowed my immediate response, “It’s okay.”

“Okay” is a hard word. It comes from a long road of vulnerability and a dedication to getting better and better. Minimizing is both armor and a practice. The path of artistic passion runs through, “Love what you do.” Yes, love it, but don’t get lost in it.

A life of mastery is built upon a mountain-range of mistakes and a dedication to never arriving. Keep walking. Keep growing and opening. Keep discovering ways to say more with less. Every once in awhile, it’s nourishing for the artistic soul to stop for a rest and crawl under the warm generous blanket of, “My work is good.”

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about QUILTS

and goodnight/and goodnight…a lullaby album © 2005 kerri sherwood

Use Your Words [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Kerri calls this photo ‘Dish rack with orange cup.’ “It sounds like the title of a painting!” she exclaimed.

We generally go through our day making fun of the words we paste on our experiences and pull from our conversations. I am forever proclaiming, “That sounds like the name of a band!” Or, “Hey, that sounds like a lyric!” For a guy that can’t hear lyrics in songs – and is famous for singing my-own-made-up lyrics – I’m particularly adept at thinking I hear lyrics in conversations all around me. I know, I know. I am a walking paradox, a living conundrum, a human-thought-puzzle with a few pieces missing from my box.

Lately, our language game has a new and always surprising twist: simple words that refuse to come to mind. For instance, reaching for the word”ravioli” necessitated, “You know, little pasta pillows with stuff inside.” Tell me honestly, doesn’t that description sound like the beginning line of a poem or a silly lyric? Little pasta pillows with stuff inside. 20 drew a little green orb on his shopping list because the word ‘avocado’ refused a timely recall.

I was on the ground howling with laughter when Kerri’s brain refused to pull a word from the abyss. Twisting her wrist back and forth, making a Tin-Man-esque-joint-with-no-oil sound, she begged for my help. “Come on!” she pleaded, “What is it?”

“Arthritis?” I offered, tears rolling down my cheeks.

“YES!” she danced. “ARTHRITIS! That’s it! That’s it!”

Side note: YES was a rock band in the 70’s. The band members most certainly now have arthritis. Their biggest hit was Roundabout. The song lyrics begin with this: I’ll be the roundabout/The words will make you out n’ out…[side note to side note: I’m not making up the lyric. I Googled it to avoid worldwide criticism].

Speaking of roundabouts, we took down Dogga’s roundabout sign in the yard. Actually, the weather did it for us when it snapped the metal support pole. He doesn’t seem to care. He continues to run circles without his sign giving him direction. The sign will soon go up in my office as a reminder that my brain’s movement and Dogga’s running path are one and the same: circular. Each cutting a trail in our own way.

It’s simple really. Arthritis! Dish rack with orange cup. A still life or almost-haiku-line? “What’s the word for…?” Reminders all to take ourselves less seriously. To never invest too much in or believe too heartily in the words used or the stuff we think. It’s all made up poetry, a band name, a lyric, anyway.

read Kerri’s blogpost and BUY THE PRINT!

Know Secret Things [on DR Thursday]

I wanted to begin this post with a quote from Rainier Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. As I always do, I opened his book this morning and fell into it. I couldn’t decide which quote to use – there are so many! Finally, I put it down because I concluded that I’d have to place the entire book into this post. So, I begin this day both quote-full and quote-free. Nothing to share and everything to share.

Showing me her photo, Kerri asked, “What do you think of this still life?” I don’t think I’ve ever heard her use the phrase, “still life.” It’s a painter’s phrase, much like the word “garment” belongs to costumers. “I love this,” I said, knowing why she used the painter-phrase. “It looks like a painting.”

My very first art teacher was a jolly older woman named Jackie Fry. She offered oil painting classes at the recreation center. I carried my paint box and canvas boards to Saturday morning classes. I was the odd ball in the class because I didn’t want to paint trees. I wanted to paint people. Not portraits. People. I felt badly about being the odd ball and she gave me the tidbit of advice that has informed my choices for decades: “Tree painters are a dime a dozen,” she said. “Follow your star and not theirs.”

Great advice. She made me paint still life set-ups. “You have to learn to see basic shape and color,” she said when she saw my frown. “People are shapes.”

People are shapes. Learn to see. Follow your star and not theirs. Advice worthy of Rilke, which brings a quote to mind:

“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.”

Phew. Now you don’t have to read the entirety of his very wise book just because I couldn’t decide which beautiful phrase to use.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE GOURD

john’s secret (pray now) © 2010 david robinson

Make Dandelion Delicacies [on KS Friday]

Because our yard is a festival of dandelions and our trail is alive with the vibrant yellow flowers, just for kicks, I Googled “dandelion recipes.” Coffees and teas, salads and pizza, quesadilla, syrup, jelly and cookies; eat the root, chomp the greens, it seems dandelions are nature’s one-stop-yummy-snack-shop. Brats! And, of course, let us not forget about dandelion wine!

How is it that this pervasive-misunderstood-as-an-invader-plant is so edible and rich in possibilities? I’ve never eaten a dandelion. If I can find an insecticide-free-zone I’m going to pick a bucket full and try a few recipes. My bet is that Master Marsh has washed down a dandelion or two en route to picking a tune on his guitar. He can make anything – and does – so my future dandelion meal will follow MM around the kitchen and learn his favorite dandy-lion recipe and then enjoy the concert after the plates are licked clean. I’ll do the dishes after the show. It’s the least I can do.

One of my favorite rituals of the spring season is to watch Kerri discover and photograph the first dandelion. It’s like the return of an old friend. “Look-It!” she points and cheers. The camera comes out and a sweet photoshoot commences. She has a fond spot in her heart for dandelions. I wish I had the series of First Dandelion Sightings of the Season. Her eye has changed. The more photographs she takes, the better her composition-eye is becoming. Art works like that. Do it again and again and it gets better, more sophisticated. Easier. Her eye was great to begin with but now I do double-takes. “Whoa!” I say, “Let me see that again.”

Tom used to tell me that the alternative schools were filled with artists. Young people who do not fit in and cannot thrive in the restriction of the lawn. Pervasive-misunderstood-invader-plants. Pulled and placed where they cannot disrupt the blanket of green. Yet, so rich in possibilities. So versatile in form, capable of feeding the soul. Medicinal people. Seers. And, when they age (ahem), they make dandelion delicacies, play music for their friends, and celebrate the small pop of yellow on the side of the path.

It’s good not to be a lawn.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about DANDELIONS

fistful of dandelions © 1999 kerri sherwood

Pass The Cheer [on DR Thursday]

We do some quirky things. Driving an aspen tree halfway across America in the back of our car is certainly on the list of quirky.

It’s from a place special to us. We honeymooned at Linda and Bill’s condo in Breckenridge, Colorado. I am from Colorado and our honeymoon trip felt like coming home – for both of us. We return to that special place when we can, though not often enough. There is a trail we like to hike. It’s become an old friend that we need to visit when in the area. If we do nothing else, we strap on our boots and begin the climb. It follows a brook up the side of the mountain. We’ve never made it to the top but one day…

On our mantel is a piece of driftwood from Long Island, Kerri’s home. In our dining room is a log – literally a log – we carried from our trail in Breckenridge. Elemental. We have stones from our respective birthplaces, too. Our house is filled with confused cairns, pointing both east and west.

We named the little aspen tree Breck. It traveled in a pot with its tippy top branches bent against the car ceiling for the ride. It survived the journey. For the first few years it lived in a pot on the deck in the warm months and was wrapped and protected in the winter. Breck’s quaking leaves make us smile and instantly transport us to the special town in the high mountains.

Breck did not like its first spot where we planted it in the yard. The top branches died. When we moved it last fall, we were afraid that Breck would not make it through the winter. We talked to it. We cheered for it. “You can do it!” we chirped. Imagine our relief and celebration a few weeks ago when we went out back and found Breck budding. Lots of buds. More sun. Better soil. New Growth!

A reminder of a special place. A symbol of resilience and a hearty can-do. This spring it feels as if Breck is speaking to us, too. More sun! Better soil! You can do it. New growth. Art-life budding.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BRECK

Create Something [on DR Thursday]

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

I’m on a Vonnegut bender. Lately, I’ve fallen into his quotes and I think I’m about to re-read everything he wrote. Standing on the threshold of synesthesia, he submitted his master’s thesis in anthropology on the shapes of stories. It was rejected by “the committee” as being too simplistic, but embraced by the world after he achieved success as a writer. The man was as witty as Quinn and a definite stander-on-the-margins of society, reflecting back both its beauty and brutality.

Trapped in the amber of the moment. Gorgeous. And, standing at the center of the moment, all the explanations necessarily fall away. There is no “why” because there is no separation, no other place to be or person to become. The committee would reject the notion outright since committees are dedicated to explanations and justifications. The elevation of one idea above another. The writer, the artist, serves a different master. “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” Yes, another Vonnegut quote. Create something. Soul growth rather than reasoning.

At the center of the moment there is no why. There is no space for puzzling-it-out. There is simply this: a rousing and rowdy “why not!” Blue sky. Tall grasses dancing. Feel it. All of it. No single explanation can possibly contain it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GRASSES AND SKY

prayer of opposite © 2004 david robinson

Call It An Art Piece [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When the ancient television antenna tower fell in the windstorm, it snagged on the neighbor’s fence and tilted precariously above their garage. We did not know what to do – so we did what we always do in similar circumstances: we texted our tribe with a rousing, “HELP!!! And then we asked, “What do we do?”

No one had a clue. This was a first. The insurance company was certainly clueless. Their advice was to (I’m paraphrasing and scrubbing for courtesy) let it fall. The fire department didn’t know. We called a contractor friend who recommended finding a crane. We called tow trucks. We called antenna companies who told us that this problem was out of their league.

A single, sensible, and fantastic piece of advice came as it always does, from Master Marsh. “Just leave it and tell the neighbors it’s an art piece: The Death of Broadcast Television.” Had it not been dangerous, I’d have taken his sage advice. I’d have gone so far as to make a plaque for the base. I’d have sent out a press release. Our art piece might have one day been moved to the permanent collection at The Chicago Art Institute or been featured at Biennale Arte 2022. It would be necessary to compensate the neighbors for a piece of their fence – since it is a crucial element of the statement – but that is a minor detail and certainly worth sorting out for such a prestigious end to our dilemma.

It did make me wonder how many of my life’s tribulations would have been better solved with a bit of rebranding? Call it an art piece and make it all better with plaques emblazoned with clever titles. I laughed when I imagined moving through my life’s calamities as a gallery show. Children asking their grandparents, “What is broadcast?” The raging waterfall through the ceiling would be fantastic!

In the end, rather than art, we opted for a tree service. These amazing guys came, sawed up and carted away our precarious antenna in less than 30 minutes. An entire era of technology disappeared in less than half an hour.

As they say, in our times, the only constant is change and, if you keep asking the right question, “What do we do?” a proper answer is certain to find you. And, if not, there’s always the art route.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BROADCAST TELEVISION

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

Care For Your Space [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It seems like such a simple concept. Tom taught it. So did Paul. And, since I was one of their students, I taught it, too. How you treat your space is a reflection of what you think of your art. The concept is universal. Replace the word “art” with “work” or “life.” You and your space are not separate. We worked hard at the theatre to become better artists and produce better plays and a significant part of that work was bettering and maintaining our artistic “home.” We were proud of our work and it showed -everywhere. Our “space” included our community and our art was meant to make it better.

Yesterday it was warm so we took a walk on a favorite loop. As we returned to the car we watched a man clean out his truck. He’d come to the park, not to walk or appreciate the quiet. His purpose was to dump his trash onto the paved lot. In an earlier time, pre-gun-gun-everywhere, we might have said something. Instead, we stared in disbelief. His space,I thought, does not extend beyond his truck. Neither does his community.

Yesterday, after the walk I received a text from Mike. He was a big part of my long-ago theatre. He’s realizing a dream and opening his own theatre. He’s led a company for a few decades but they didn’t have their own space. Now, they do. He – the artistic director – was mopping the floor and paused to send me a text. It’s the other part of the lesson from Tom and Paul. And Demarcus. And Quinn. There’s no hierarchy. There’s no above and below. Loving the space, loving the art that happens in the space: no separation. One and the same for everyone involved and everyone needs to be involved.

You and your space are not separate. The care you take of your outer space is equal to the care you give to your inner space. And, vice-versa.

[visit Justin’s to see how a company can make a better world]

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEAT EARTH

Step Out Of Line [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“…the fountain of creative work is an intelligent questioning of the rules.” ~Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way

“If someone tells you they know, they most certainly do not.” It’s not a direct quote from Quinn but it’s close enough. Art school almost snuffed the art in me; there were so many rules and nary a hint of curiosity allowed in the studio. I fled into the theatre after a single year for fear of losing my heart to a book of rules. My theatre professors were explorers of nature. Their refreshing mantra was, “Well, let’s find out!”

What if…? What happens if…?

Nature is boundless expression. Boundless expression is human nature, too, until it is taught otherwise. Boys don’t cry. Be a good girl. Sit in your desk. Follow the rules. There’s a right way. My way or the highway…So much effort to force nature – your nature, your curiosity, to stand on a line.

Einstein revolutionized our world because he dared to posit that Newton had it upside-down. Thank goodness, as Alan Watts observed, “The scientist and the mystic both make experiments in which what has been written is subordinate to the observation of what is.” In other words, they look beyond established belief, expectation and entrenched norms into what is.

What is? Curiosity. A desire to know what’s over that hill. No child begins their life-walk by desiring to color within the lines. Lines are a learned thing. The word “wild” was invented by people whose ancestors emerged from the woods and who have forgotten that they, too, are part of nature – so have become afraid of stepping into the woods. What might they – we – find there?

“It’s not an idea problem,” David Burkus wrote in the HBR, “It’s a recognition problem.” Stepping beyond the known – a great definition of curiosity – is too often seen as an aberration or an assault upon authority. Nip it in the bud. Forcing flow into a fixed state invariably causes idea-blindness and the imperative to think-outside-of-the-box. Innovations are too often smothered in the crib by “What we know,” or “We don’t do it that way.” Coloring in the lines, once ingrained, is a life-long-book-to-follow.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve been invited into an organization or hired by a client to help them “see what they cannot see,” and then subtly or not-so-subtly, been rebuked for opening their eyes to what is in plain sight…or the availability of alternative paths. “We want a vital arts program but we only want art that entertains,” said the school board after the student play asked a serious question of their audience. “…the scholastic theologians would not look through Galileo’s telescope because they considered that they already knew, from Scripture, the order of the heavens.” (Alan Watts)

Think outside the box – as long as you stay within the model or the expectation or the rules. So many models. So many lines. So in love with the struggle and afraid of the simple, natural joy of curiosity. Bend your will to the line. See what you are supposed to see and look no further. What, exactly, are we trying to control?

read Kerri’s blog post about CURIOSITY