Sing The Song Of Simple Lessons [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This is a song about the simple lessons. The amusing and eye-opening answer to “because we’ve always done it this way.”

As a budding young artist I was frustrated because my charcoal lines were not as alive or fluid as the masters I so admired. I wrestled and strained and struggled to achieve “alive” lines, doubling down on my technique, my personal bridge to nowhere, as if doing more of the same, rife with inner turmoil and tension, might achieve my aim of ease.

Watching me struggle, amused by my absolute dedication to doing the same old thing in the same old way, as if I might accidentally squeeze out a new result, my art teacher, a wisened older woman full to the brim with laughter and humility, came to me, took the charcoal from my hand, and showed me how to hold it, not like a pencil, but like a flower. My lines were instantly alive. My teacher laughed at my amazement.

New ways – better ways – are rarely discovered on a tension path. Why is it that we look in the same drawer multiple times when we’ve lost our keys?

We have, for years, made lunches from yummy food wrapped in a corn tortilla. More often than not, our food falls to our shirt, our plates, the floor, because the tortilla splits. “We have to do something different,” Kerri says each day as her tortilla disintegrates. Dogga delights in the mess and recovers the spoils that hit the floor. Day after day, year after year, the tortilla struggle has been a part of our lives.

During a recent visit, Kirsten, watching our struggles, shook her head, sighed and asked, “Why don’t you use two tortillas?” It was a revelation. A simple change that never occurred to us, babies of depression era parents.

“Two tortillas!” Kerri exclaimed. “Yes!”

I nodded with satisfaction. A better life, a cleaner meal, was in reach! Less mess in our future!

Two tortillas. Hold the charcoal like a flower. Revelations born of ease and the obvious answer.

Someday we will learn (or not): No stress necessary. Relax. Insight sings the song of simple lessons.

read Kerri’s blog post about Two Tortillas

Do Good Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

As a purveyor of story, I’ve regularly explained away the large mound of dirt in our front yard as either the tunnel-sign of an enormous gopher or an ancient burial mound. Neither story had sticking power but I had to say something about the mountainous mess left behind after the crew dug a moat to fix our broken water line.

Kerri and I visited the mound daily and asked each other the same question: what are we going to do? The paperwork for the repair mentioned our responsibility for possibly doing “light landscaping” after the repair. With weeds wildly growing atop the burial mound, snaking their way through the chunks of concrete and asphalt, an answer to our question became pressing. Our neighbor, the landscaper, wheezed every time he looked our way. “We have to do something,” she said, marching inside and picking up the phone.

These are a few of the responses to her initial appeal to the company that dug the hole and made the mound: It will eventually settle. It can’t be that bad. It’s not our responsibility.

These are a few of Kerri’s replies to their responses: It is that bad. It will never settle. It’s your responsibility.

Initially they thought it was a smart move to send someone out to see the mound that was not so bad and would eventually settle. I’m certain they sent someone as a gesture, a token visit to demonstrate their concern, to quiet the complaint of the customer. The guy that came took one look and said, “This is a mess. We did this?”

A few days later a dump truck appeared, followed by a large scraper. They took away the mound. They smoothed the scar with a layer of new top soil. They scattered new grass seed. They covered it all with protective hay. We were shocked. We expected mound removal and nothing more.

Kerri and I visited the new hay-covered flat land front yard. Gopher and burial mound tales suddenly a thing of the past. She texted the story of the mound disappearance to Dan, our new-grass advisor and renowned-lawn-master. He wrote, “It’s nice to find people who want to do good work, who want to take responsibility for their work.” True. So true.

“I can’t believe it’s gone,” she said and smiled. “The squeaky wheel…”

Clapping imaginary dirt from my hands, feigning boy bravado, strutting with mock accomplishment, “Well. What’ll we take care of next?” I asked.

read Kerri’s blog post on HAYNETS

Blink Open Your Eyes [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In an interview, Thomas Friedman called what we now face in this nation a “slow erosion.” Societies do not collapse all at once. They slow boil, frog in a pot.

Timothy Snyder said, ‘Ideas matter.” After all, ideas become action. Ideals matter, too. Democracy is an idea. It is not a given. Those who erode its foundation must believe it is inevitable, otherwise they would think twice before perpetuating The Big Lie, brazenly participating in sedition. Make no mistake, justifying an assault on the succession principle is to turn against the fundamental idea. Democracy is nothing more or less than a succession principle. Ideas matter.

Slow erosion. Slow boil.

Watching the news, reading the streams, there’s not much more that can be said after the court’s assault on a woman’s right to choose what happens with her body. Equality is an ideal. It is not a given. We not only have to choose it, we have to choose it again and again and again. Equality is a kind of power structure. It is the rhetorical central idea of our society.

And, so, we work on and on to make our central ideal more than rhetoric. We fought a war over inequality. We actively chose our central ideal with equal rights amendments. Early in our history, we chose it when we extended the vote beyond white male land owners. We chose it again when we prevented government from dictating what a woman could and could not do with her body. Equal rights.

Equality scares those who stand atop the hierarchy, who believe their privilege is their power. Ask Ginni Thomas what drives her sedition? Ask her husband Clarence why, now that the nation has rendered women second-class citizens, we now must revisit the rules of contraception and same-sex marriage? Ask Mitch McConnell about his life-long mission to pack the courts. What, exactly, might they be afraid of? Why are they working so hard to undermine rather than further democratic ideals? Why are they choosing to restrict equal rights while pushing forward autocratic candidates with authoritarian ideals?

My grandfather told me it was wiser to listen to a person’s actions and not their words.

Ideas, ideals – like equality – are powerful and made visible in chosen actions. Tom used to say that you can see the power of an idea by “the size of the tide that rises against it.” Right now there is a mighty tide rising against the democratic ideal of equality and the core principle of succession. It’s not a given. We are seeing what happens when the guardians of the principle turn against it. Slow erosion. Robbed nest.

The good news is that Tom’s phrase works both ways: you know the power of an idea by the size of the tide that rises to defend the idea.

Timothy Snyder also said that we have recently been a nation of sleepwalkers. Democracy is not inevitable. It is a choice made again and again and again. We create it on a daily basis through our choices and actions – or we lose it. Perhaps this latest assault on the ideal will wake us up? Perhaps we might blink open our eyes and realize that, as the stewards of the democratic ideal, we’d best start choosing to walk toward it rather than allow this minority, that so fears the power of equality, to continue their assault on the right to choose.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROBBING ROBIN’S EGGS

Arrive At Magic [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

It’s true. We read to each other. We read poetry to each other.

Lately, Kerri’s reading to me from Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions. First, she reads the question in Spanish and makes me guess what Neruda asks. It’s important to note that she doesn’t know Spanish. Her first poetry pass is lyrical Spanish-sounding-gobbledygook-syllables followed by a studied look of expectation (remember, she’s a composer and musician – even her gobbledygook sounds lovely). “Well?” she asks, arching her brow. I make up an answer or stare dumbly. After I fail miserably, she hits me with the English translation. Lovely either way, coherent and incoherent.

Lovely either way. The bluebells and dark hazel can come to us through the yummy words and imagination we share or while slow-walking a trail. We may not have the power to invoke a well-timed Amazon delivery but, truth-be-told, I much prefer the way we arrive at our blue-bell magic. Coherent or incoherent. Either way. Lovely.

read Kerri’s blogpost about POETRY

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Consider The Brushes [on KS Friday]

As an artist, I have fondness for brushes. I’ve been known to disappear into an art store and lose significant amounts of time in the brush aisle. I rarely buy them – I am notoriously hard on my brushes and wait until they fall apart to replace them – but when I replace them I feel as if I just hit the lotto or found a buried treasure in the art store.

I cut my hair to make my first brush. It was mostly useless and left strands of my hair in the painting. It was the essential need for a brush that clued me in to my life path. I didn’t want it; I needed it.

Lately I found myself wandering through a strange and alien world: the Ulta store, followed by an eye-opening trip into Sephora. Despite the ubiquitous advertising, the fact that I live in this society, how is it possible that I had no idea of the nuance layers of soaps and cremes and removers and buffers and…brushes. Beautiful brushes. As Stephanie once famously exclaimed of me, “You are a man after all!”

Clueless.

I was, of course, fascinated by the brushes. Not just the brushes, but the need to have the right brush. Buffers and liners, fans and foundation and shadow brushes! I am a painter of people, I paint the image of faces, and was fascinated watching the painters of actual faces consider and choose their tools. The right brush. Blush, smooth, hard line.

I cannot count the number of times people have told me that they are not creative, that they do not have a creative bone in their bodies. Standing in the alien land, watching the painters carefully choose their brushes, I wondered how so much creative energy, so much enthusiasm for the right color, the right medium, the best brush, goes unrecognized.

This alien land was pulsing with imagination, desire for the right tool, and the drive to share and help and create. There was a generosity of spirit rarely found on the other side of the doors. Women helping women. Laughter and advice. I liked being in this strange land of strange brushes and kindness – even as an outsider. A stranger. I found a breath of fresh air (perfumed as it was) while following my guides through the brush aisle.

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

read Kerri’s blog post about BRUSHES

grateful/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Pull In [on DR Thursday]

I suspect the turtle understood the giant blonde woman with the camera aimed at this face as a threat. He did what turtles do when stressed: retreated into his shell. “I’m not going to hurt you little guy!” Kerri said, on her knees, snapping pictures. The turtle was, at best, dubious of her reassurances.

We were considering going to an outdoor concert until we saw photos of large crowds of people packed together. Covid has made us crowd averse. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that,” we chirped together and laughed at our stereo response. “I wonder if I will ever be ready for that,” Kerri mused.

At this moment I know more people with Covid than I have personally known throughout the entire span of the pandemic. I suppose this virus that rolls on and on, shapeshifting as it goes, would exhaust our guard sooner or later. I am guilty of thinking, “What’s the point?” as I don my mask to enter a store. Yet, every day this week, a new name or group of names has joined my roster of friends-with-Covid. So, I put on my mask. I pull my head into my protective shell.

There are real threats and there are nice ladies with cameras that only seem dangerous. “May you live in interesting times.” We do. A pandemic. Global warming has arrived. Nationalist madness on the rise. We cannot send our children safely to school – or shop at the grocery store – or attend a concert – without the thought of gun violence. We are awash in real threats and, like countless societies before us, we seem dedicated to our own demise. Madmen and women are at the wheel and we are in the backseat whispering, “Slow down,” looking at each other with, “Do Something!” in our eyes.

When Kerri showed me the photo of the turtle I was struck by the calm on its face. I recognize that turtles probably don’t have the facial muscles to fully express their fear but nevertheless I was delighted by the notion that the turtle-in-retreat was calm. Nothing to be done but pull into the shell and wait it out. No reason to panic.

We’ve discussed being more turtle-like in our lives. We live in Interesting times and there’s not a thing to do about it, other than perhaps write. Make art. Change a few behaviors. We need not wrinkle our brows or cry out in fear while pulling our heads into our shells. The sunrise is still as beautiful, we hold hands when we walk, make dinner together, love on Dogga at night. There’s lots of love inside our shell, no matter the surrounding madness, a quiet center in the storm.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE TURTLE

shared fatherhood © 2018 david robinson

Add To The Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Our water theme continues though, instead of pipes breaking, surprise waterfalls in the basement, or spontaneous fountains in the front yard, we’re dancing on the other side of the theme. What was broken or compromised is slowly, as we can afford it, being fixed or replaced. And, as metaphors go, I welcome what this implies.

It is our very own kintsugi. Golden repair – or in our case – copper repair.

“…treating breakage and repair as part of the history…rather than something to disguise.” We’ve consciously created our home to be a keeper of stories: the driftwood that adorns our mantel, the rock cairns stacked by the plants, the chairs in our sunroom… all tell a story. A walk on a special beach. A mountain top. The day the car broke down in Minnesota. Adventure. Routine. Accident. Surprise.

We have a series of old suitcases stacked in our dining room. They are our “special boxes.” Each is filled with momentos of our life together. Concert ticket stubs, birthday cards, notes, old calendars, the bits chain from Pa’s workbench that we once wore as bracelets… Our story fodder. Connective tissue to our shared history.

The copper that Mike-the-plumber has installed in key locations around the house serve as connective tissue to the era of water. Our house is a special box, too. It’s nearly 100 years old so we are a chapter in its story, stewards merely. The copper repair is a visual keepsake, a golden repair from a time when the old pipes and fittings, having done good work, let us know with no uncertainty that they were retiring.

We love this house. We love being stewards to its story. We love that it is the keeper of our story. And, lately, we especially love being on this side of the water era, putting all the pieces back together again, adding to our entwined history, with undisguised copper-gold.

read Kerri’s blogpost about COPPER PIPES

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!

Look Up. Look Higher. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about anything.” ~ Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

This will read like a blazing generality and I do not intend it to be so. Some of the best people I have known are readers of the book(s). They learned along the line to read their book(s) as metaphor instead of literally, as a history. There are, after all, many paths up the same mountain.

As for me, I was cured of religion when I was a boy but it’s taken a lifetime to understand what and why – and to find language to express what should (to me) be obvious to all.

It only takes a moment to lift your eyes from the book and look up – all the way up to the sky. The book is a human invention, as are the gods and the stories of the gods told in them. The sky, on the other hand, complete with stars and suns and universes beyond imagining, are not human inventions. The book lives in the human mind. That which the book is meant to illuminate is…wholeness…all around us. We are part of, not separate from. That’s it. It’s that simple. The game of separation and unity.

We are part of, not separate from. This word “Love” is unity, the absence of made-up-separations.

The book will have you believing that your body and its myriad of impulses are, like nature, in need of taming. Separation from yourself. The book will promote the notion of a chosen few, the singular path, a destiny that is manifest. Separation from other. Elevation for team-white. Moral authority for team-straight. It’s probably good to feel above others and certainly feels powerful to believe yourself keeper of the book’s rules. Isn’t it blatantly obvious that the rules were/are made by men to justify, as-the-voice-of-god, all manner of privilege and cruelty? Separation, separation, separation.

Here’s what I understood as a boy: any god that promotes separation in any form is very small, indeed, and probably not worth worshipping. At the very least it is a man-made god meant to make folks feel better about their obvious impermanence in an infinite universe.

There’s so much in this life worthy of our worship.

Whether or not we walk as one or decide to beat the hell out of each other for the color of our skin or the natural orientation of our sexuality has nothing to do with the vast universe outside of the book. We create the separations to justify our fear or to protect our property.

We are completely capable of love. We are completely capable of reaching across the unknown and living our short time on this earth in full support of the rich myriad of wonder and diversity expressed through us in this infinite possibility called life.

The book is an abstraction. The person standing before you is not.

Love is love. Love is not separation or division or privilege or a skin color or gender or sexual orientation. Love has nothing to do with how much money you have or do not have. Separations are the province of small people inventing small gods for very small reasons – so they can feel good about being separate and small.

Love is love.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PRIDE

“Get Outside, People.” [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

When the Wander Women pulled the plug on their cross-country cycling attempt, my esteem for them, what they do, and how they live, skyrocketed. No small statement since they were already high on my list of the people I admire.

In this age of manicured image, they are refreshingly real. They decided in their retirement to use their precious lives gathering experiences instead of stuff, to open themselves to adventure rather than live in a comfy fortress. In the past three years they’ve completed thru-hikes of the Appalachian Trail, The Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Although that is impressive, the reason we follow them is the hope they inspire. They’ve developed a community of support that shows up for them. Because they are generous, they attract generosity. Rides appear. Baked goods show up. Offers of places to stay. They say, “Yes” to whatever life throws at them and know that life will throw a “Yes” back to them.

Sometimes saying “Yes” means to stop. The plan falls apart, the elements do not cooperate. Every good adventurer knows it’s not enough to get up the mountain, one must also make the return trip. The variables have to align and, if they don’t, it’s wise to wait. Saying, “Yes” means saying, “Not today.” As Kristy said, “It’s best not to get lost in the goal.”

It’s the reason I admire them: they are not stacking achievements. They are having experiences. They are enriching their moments rather than hanging certificates on the wall. They lead with joy rather than acquisition.

They end each of their vlog installments with encouragements: Live. Get outside, people. Make the tough decision. Say, “Yes.”

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

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com