Look Both Ways [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.” ~ Ray Bradbury

This is, perhaps, a quote sandwich.

Standing at the edge of the lake at sunset, the breezes calm, the quiet stills the water. Who hasn’t felt the beautiful impermanence, the last rays of sun on their face? The truth of life captured in a single moment. It is passing. Precious. Impossible.

Climbing back up the stairs, joining the group on the deck. Red wine. The conversation turns to the news: the state of the world. Politics.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” ~ Albert Einstein.

We are, after all, capable of the impossible. Full spectrum impossibility. We write symphonies that open hearts. We tell stories that touch the soul. We witness sunsets and desire for a better world for our children. We create telescopes to help us see deeper and deeper into space. To reach to alien worlds. All the while we divide. We lie and propagandize to feed false fire. We plant our heads deeply into the sand while we soil our nest. We reduce the impossible miracle to a book of man-made rules. Worshipping money and pretending otherwise.

Both/And. Impossibly capable. Impossibly inept. Impossibly hopeful and impossibly pessimistic.

We stand at the water’s edge.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE LAKE

Tally [on KS Friday]

“It’s a haiku day,” I said, feeling empty of anything useful to write. She’s already rapidly clicking away on her keyboard.

The sunflower grows/More beautiful over time/Green vine seeks wisdom.

Counting syllables/ on my fingers, I tally/the word “beautiful.”

Three or four? I ask/She’s deep in thought, can’t hear me/Syllables confound.

Beautiful is three!/”My haiku, my choice,” I quip/Who invents these rules?

Green vine seeks wisdom/Rust has seen many seasons/Green seeks. Rust stands still.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about SUNFLOWER

silent days/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

Have A Constitutional [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Have you not noticed that love is silence? It may be while holding the hand of another, or looking lovingly at a child, or taking in the beauty of an evening. Love has no past or future, and so it is with this extraordinary state of silence.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

As the evening cools the heat of the day, we look at each other, no words need be said, stand, hold hands and walk out the gate. In another era, they called this kind of evening stroll a “constitutional.” Walking at days end is good for your constitution, your health.

I’ve learned it’s good for my mental health. All of the energy swirling around inside my brain channels down and out through my feet. Fifteen minutes into our stroll, I take a deep breath. I sigh. The last swirl spirals out. With a clear mind, I relax. I squeeze Kerri’s hand. The beauty of the evening flows in. I can see beyond what I think.

We walk a loop through the neighborhood that winds toward the shore, past the beach house where we held our wedding reception. We follow the path through the park, emerging onto First Avenue along the row of houses overlooking the lake, by Jim and Linda’s old house. Echos of laughter. Good times gone by.

Sometimes we talk. Sometimes not.

The other night, as we strolled in silence, I smiled at how much of my life I spent trying to “get somewhere.” Trying to “achieve” or “obtain” some imagined thing. Always separate from my moment. It made my constitutional that much sweeter, knowing I had no where else I wanted to be. No imagined place, racing around my mind, pulling me from the lapping water, the cooling evening air, my wife’s hand, the sound of our slow walking.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EVENING

Give It Perspective [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Awe” is one of those complex words that contains its opposite. Wonder and dread. Astonishment and fear. Respect for the power of nature. Reverence. It’s a full-spectrum word.

Awe is what you feel standing at the ocean shore, knowing the waves will rush in long after you are gone. Water pulling at your ankles. Toes in the sand. Staring into eternity.

Awe is a perspective-giving word. It makes us both tiny-in-the-universe and fortunate-beyond-words, all in the same moment.

Once, I stood on a mountaintop in the bitter cold of dawn. The sun broke over the horizon and washed over me with a wave of warmth. Life-giving. Literally. I stopped shivering when the sun touched my bones. Filled with awe, I started to laugh and cry. Beautiful, magnificent and painful.

We stood on the deck and watched the cloud tower above us. Threatening and astonishing. She showed me the photo. “The wire makes it,” she said holding the screen so I could see it, “It gives it perspective.”

Perspective. Correct regard for the truly awesome power of nature.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TOWERING CLOUD

Embody The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

Everything in the Japanese Garden is symbolic, intentional. Pine trees represent longevity. Rocks, I’ve learned, represent the bones of the earth. They are as necessary in the design as are the “ephemeral blooms of the iris, rhododendron, and plum.” The symbol is not complete without both.

“The ephemeral existence of human life and the timelessness of nature.” Balance.

Entering the small yard of the Shoin House at the Chicago Botanical Garden is instantly calming for me. The small house is designed to “merge the outdoors with the indoors.” It is closed to the public but always beckons. I want to sit in the alcoves and write. Or do nothing at all. In the garden, I am instantly “connected.”

“Connectivity” is a word that has moved to the center of the work that I am currently doing. Amidst our ubiquitous capacity to share (Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok…email, chat, tweet, slack, text…) we are less and less connected. As Neil Postman wrote, we have made the irrelevant relevant and the relevant irrelevant. We share but do not connect. Shared information is not – and never will be – shared meaning.

Symbols empty of meaning when a community ceases to understand, honor, tend or acknowledge the significance of the symbol. And, symbols are the glue of a community. They are the physical, tangible location of an ideal. Disconnect from the symbol and the house falls apart.

I think that is why I am drawn to the Japanese Garden. There, beauty is intentional. The symbols are so well tended, so intentional, that one need not know the specific meanings to enter the symbol.

And, that’s the point. Connectivity happens when people, together, embody their symbols. They enter them. They become embodiments of their symbol(s).

It is the artist’s job to bring people into a shared moment. To give them access to a unified experience. To help them transcend the splinter symbols that divide – and see them for what they are. To help people step back and take a good look at what they, together, are creating. A garden? A desert? Balance? Imbalance?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ROCKWAY

prayer of opposites © 2006 david robinson

Find Your Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I will never forget the day I followed the stream, watching the life-ending struggle of the salmon as they fought the current the final mile to return to their place of origin, their spawning ground. To the local people, the people who tended the hatchery, the salmon were gods. Gods or not, watching their struggle to return was sacred. The utter necessity to continue life through the next generation – as the final act of life. Cathedral building.

We brought home a Selenite crystal. It is raw, translucent, gorgeous. A Google search of its properties reveals that it promotes calm and provides clarity. I’ve never actually been invested in the debate about whether or not a crystal has powers. I’ve made the association so, when I look at it or hold it, I have in my mind that we brought this beautiful crystal home to elevate our spirits. And, so it does.

I live in the golden age of marketing. I’m told that a new truck will make me sexy, the latest medication will make my life a snap, that a pizza delivery will bring my family together like never before. Status and power are available through the purchase of machines and clothes. One year, no interest. We buy these messages, filling our closets with passing satisfaction. Is the fulfillment of a new pair of shoes imagined, less-than-genuine? We are consumers so doesn’t it make sense that contentment lasts no more than a spin through the washing cycle? Momentarily satisfied. What’s next?

I suppose the question is whether or not the crystal brings peace to me or do I bring more calm to my day because I’ve surrounded myself with messages – and, therefore, intentions – of serenity?

I know without doubt that a new truck will not imbue me with sex appeal. Yet, I have a pair of jeans that I save for the days that I want “to look good.”

Skip drove two days to find the sun so that he might stand in it and rejuvenate. I go to the basement and stand amidst the boxes that currently fill my studio and stare at a large blank canvas. Like the sun, it rejuvenates me. Yesterday, the nurse at the community health clinic said she loved her job because she felt that she was really helping the people who need her the most, “There are better rewards than money,” she said. Imagine the necessity – the hope – she brings to her life and work. Rejuvenation.

I do not know whether we are gods or not, but our struggle to find our way home is no less beautiful or fraught than the salmon. It is breathtaking, this swim upstream. Confusing. Sacred.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRYSTALS

Call It Realism [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This garlic could have been painted by Jan Vermeer. To my eye it looks like the work of a Dutch master, an artist more concerned with realism than the ideal.

Art that reveals the beauty in the ordinary. For a few weeks in my surly youth I studied with a realist painter. I was wowed by his technique but could not yet grasp his dedication to capturing the everyday. Only later did I come to understand that his art was not about the technique but about bringing attention to the experience of the everyday. He rejected the aloof and desired to pull art down from the pedestal so it might reflect the lives of the “common people.” He believed that people needed to literally see themselves in the paintings to have access to the painting. They needed to see their hardship and toil as well as the objects that surrounded them.

Bertolt Brecht believed the opposite. In order for people to have access to the deeper messages of a play, they needed to be removed from their circumstance. So, in his way of thinking, people are more capable of seeing themselves in a piece of science fiction than in a reality-mirror.

David is working on a re-imagining of Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of an Author. One of the questions of the play is, “Who is telling your story?” And, how are they telling it. I reread the play and was struck by how relevant it is to our times.

The beauty in the ordinary. The turmoils and struggles of the everyday. Ours is a time of tumultuous story tug-of-war. I wonder, in a hundred years, what historians will write about our time. I wonder what aspect of artistry – if any – will be considered “realism.” As defined by Vermeer and Pirandello, it’s to reach across a social line, from the privileged to the working class. For Brecht it is spatial: step out to look in.

One thing is constant, while reaching across time and artificial boundary, it is always the role of the artist to help their community ask the questions: Who is telling my story? Whose story am I telling? What is the story that we are telling?

I imagine those someday-historians will write tomes on our messy struggle to sort out what is “real” and what is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GARLIC

Try To Disappear [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

“There will be days that you know you simply cannot win. The best thing to do when you find that you are standing in a no-win situation, is to vigorously wave your white flag and surrender to your fate as gracefully as possible.” ~ Quinn (not an exact quote)

“To keep your mouth closed and say nothing is trouble for sure. To say anything in this moment – anything at all – is the road to tribulation. There is only one thing to do. Feign a slipped disk. Crumple to the ground in desperate pain. Seek theatrical escape!” ~ the only advice my inner Confucius offered in my moment of need.

“This world is crazy. It makes no sense.” ~ Sterling Brown, This Is Us.

read Kerri’s blogpost on this Saturday Morning Smack-Dab.

smack-dab. © 2021-2 kerrianddavid.com

Make It Beautiful [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The media center was in the basement of the library. I left behind the bright New Mexico sun each day as I descended the stairs to my work-study assignment. In the days of cut-and-paste layout, 5 years before I touched a computer, part of my duties included readying the weekly campus newsletter. X-acto knives, glue sticks, blue non-photo pencils, liner tape were the tools of my day. I loved my work-study, not because of the work, it required hyper-attention to detail and ask anyone, I am not a detail-guy, but I knew my life was being changed under the careful tutoring of my boss, Brother Bill. His instruction had little to do with media and everything to do with orienting to life.

Each day at 3:00, Brother Bill would push a cart into the workroom laden with fresh strawberries or cookies and a pot of tea. “Tea time!” he’d announce and we’d stop work. We’d enjoy a cup of tea together.

It wasn’t the tea or the break in the day or even the laughter and enjoyment of each other’s company. Brother Bill was teaching us to make an event of the ordinary moments of our lives. To attend to the quiet beauty available in the details. Presentation mattered. The plates we used for our snack mattered. How we oriented ourselves to each other mattered. It wasn’t the grand gestures but the attention to the daily routines that transformed a life.

Occasionally he took his work-study students to dinner. Always to a fine restaurant so we might have the experience of – an experience of dining. Linens and wine pairing. Food to savor instead of snarf down. Lingering over coffee with laughter and conversation. Being no where else. Taste the moment. It was his single lesson, offered without instruction but by simple demonstration. Feel the sun. Take the time to fully fill out the experience. Fully attend to your moments and your attention will fully fulfill you.

Kerri and I end our work day with happy hour. A glass of wine and crackers and cheese, maybe a pear. Tapenade. One evening we realized that we had a cupboard full of beautiful plates and trays. “Why aren’t we using these for happy hour?” we asked. “What are we saving them for?”

I heard the voice of Brother Bill, “Make it beautiful,” he said. “It matters.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BEAUTIFUL PLATES

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