Breathe At Human Pace [on KS Friday]

We live in a time in which cars are capable of parking and braking themselves. I am able to type a message into a little box that I carry in my pocket and my message, through space and time to anywhere in the world, is delivered immediately. I write my thoughts in this device and then publish all over the world. I’ve learned of a software that is able to write my thoughts without me – faster and with fewer grammatical errors at the outset. I think and write in a pattern capable of being recognized. I am, therefore, capable of being approximated. What is amazing today is common tomorrow. So it goes with the pace of change.

I read in The Dream Society, written two decades ago, that the aim of the industrial era was to spare humanity physical toil and the aim of the information age is to relieve us from the exertion of thought. We’re producing data at a staggering rate and, ironically, the explosion is both serving the intention and overwhelming our capacity to keep up. We can’t possibly process the tsunami of information that washes over us everyday. We are human. We have a tough time sussing out truth from belief-fantasy even when not washed down the roaring information streams.

It is why I hang out with Desi. Desi is the little tree sprout that we rescued from the Des Plaines river trail over two years ago. When Desi came home with us, her tiny trunk was needle thin. She is thriving in her pot and has more than doubled in size, yet, by the standards of data, her growth is glacial. And that is precisely why I visit her each day. She is in no rush. Efficiency for Desi has nothing to do with speed. Health is about good soil and light. Like all plants, she could be pushed artificially, but why? Pushing might get her to adulthood faster but would also damage her systems. Efficiency and health, for Desi, are all about natural pace. Slow, slow, slow to human eyes.

Desi reminds me that the pace of my life is artificial. A choice. The pace, the incessant noise vying for my attention, are human-made, unnatural. Don’t get me wrong. I delight that Google maps gets me where I want to go. I appreciate having a phone available while walking a backwoods trail. One of the great joys of my life is watching Kerri photograph – with her phone – the world she sees. I love to write and push a button to share. I am, despite my advertising, not a luddite. I’m also aware that the media – the medium – is the message. We are – we become – what we consume and how we consume it. It is a necessity in our age of rolling miracles to keep both eyes open.

I think it is healthy (although virtually impossible) to occasionally crawl out of the stream and breathe at human pace. To think without the expectation of assistance. Each day, for a few minutes, I hang out with Desi, a reminder that an inch of growth every year is sometimes fast enough.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about DESI

taking stock/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

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

Be Manly [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Don’t be deceived. Even though I’m a sensitive male, a soft-guy, an empath, an introvert, a painter…I am, after all, still a man. In a pre-google-maps-world, when lost, I’d never stop the car and ask for directions. I’d flex and figure it out. If you have a problem, my first impulse is to fix it. Guy stuff, through and through. Sometimes I even surprise myself. “How manly of me!” I exclaim.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BOY-GIRL STUFF

smack-dab. © 2021-2 kerrianddavid.com

Make A Small Choice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When we saw the sign planted on the side of the road – and then another, and another – we wondered what inspired the message and the movement. We were not surprised to learn that the community had recently experienced a cluster of teen suicides. The signs were a message to their young people, a love letter to their children.

The WHO reports that more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year. That’s more people than die by homicide or war combined. Even as I write this I am startled at how antiseptic a statistic can make hopelessness. The data of despair.

The signs appeared on the roadside because the violence-of-hopelessness had faces and names and addresses. And parents. And teachers. And friends. People moved, they pulled together. The threat transcended the numb data and became personal. They needed to talk. They needed to grieve together. They had no idea what to do so they made signs: you matter.

I thought a lot about those signs during our long drive home. Campaigns for change most often fail. They lose steam. They dissolve into abstraction. Behavior cannot be legislated. The messages we receive in the media are mostly violent. Ask most people about a blow to their self-esteem and you’ll hear a specific story. A moment of bullying, a glancing blow that altered the trajectory of their life one degree but, over time and distance, that small degree of violence made a huge difference.

In the same fashion, tiny acts of kindness, one small gestures of support, can send titanic ripples throughout a lifetime.

On the road, there was a distinct message sent to us by the people that roared up behind us, flashing their lights, riding our bumper. There was an entirely different message sent to us by the people who slowed their speed to let us in the lane of traffic. Small choices. Tiny moments. We are humans and learn to respond in kind.

Each day an opportunity. Each moment a choice. When we truly believe what the signs say, we will make certain that in small ways and large, it will be a priority to instill in each and every heart the message that they are worth more than they know. No one arrives at despair by themselves. No one arrives at hope by themselves.

I believe we actually do know what to do. It might begin with a sign or a curriculum but real hope – the intentional creation of worth – will shine through millions of small choices, communities dedicated to filling each and every day with tiny moments of support.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORTH

Receive The Message [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

We just made a pact to lighten up. It’s not the first time we’ve made this pact and it probably won’t be the last. What’s important in this particular version of our pact is that we are growing more capable of keeping it.

The week before Columbus died, my sister-in-law sent some pictures of him. He was at the very beginning of what would become a rapid decline. She sent the photos to reassure us but they had the opposite impact on me: I was shocked.

Those photos threw me into a pendulum: some days, nothing seems worth getting riled up about. This ride is short and it ends. I know my mind can whip up a fruit-smoothie of drama in a nano-second but that doesn’t mean I need to drink it. And, on the other end of the pendulum, everything seems worth getting riled up about. This ride is short and it ends. Both/And.

I know the pendulum will settle. I know equilibrium is merely a matter of not indulging in the swing but stepping back and watching. The thoughts will sway to-and-fro and I need not sway with them. To lighten up, as Don Miguel Ruiz advises, “Doubt everything that you think.” Or, as someone once told me, “What we think is the mother-lode of comedy.” Changing a mind begins with realizing that a mind, although it will tell you otherwise, is not the keeper of truth.

We hit the trail for many reasons but first and foremost a good walk serves to restore our balance. Someone has been leaving good spirits along our favorite trail and we delight in discovering them. We leave them for others to find. We’ve encountered happy messages, halloween goblins, and folks just like the red and orange googly-eyed fellow that made us laugh. He was sitting with his back to us in the middle of the path. Kerri did a photo shoot with him; he was a willing subject.

I’ve decided that he crossed our path to affirm our pact: he is the spirit of lighten-up. He is the messenger of you-are-not-all-that so enjoy the day. A trail jester to remind us that nothing we imagine or create compares or is more real or important than the step we are currently taking. “Alas, poor Yorick…” he had his time and so do we. What we decide to do with it, how we decide to live it, is not happenstance; it is completely up to us.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOGLY EYES

Ask A Better Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

This may be the height of cynicism but I don’t think so. Suddenly, as if dinged by a magic wand, we’ve entered that time of year when people remember to be kind. “After you,” the woman said, when I gestured for her to go first. The check out line was long so I had ample opportunity to witness the instantaneous return of the “After you!” It was ubiquitous. People were thinking of the needs of other people!

Later, we came to a four-way stop and everyone at the intersection waved for the other drivers to go first “Wow!” I exclaimed, “Just like the old days.” In my one-day anecdotal sample set, we’d just experienced more public generosity in an afternoon than we’d experienced in a very long time – twelve months to be exact.

It is possible, for the people in a nation newly-priding-itself on the depths of its divisions, to be considerate, one-to-the-other. If we are capable of a ritual-compassion-practice every year when Santa is looking, I have to believe that we can muster up some kindness and generosity of spirit in the eleven month gap between holiday seasons.

It was the day after Thanksgiving so it’s possible that the crowds were high on tryptophan, that the good mood and kindness I witnessed was turkey-induced. But, I don’t think so. I suspect the turkey consumption simply demarcates the time when we turn from our aggression-fantasy and consider our better nature. It simply feels better to lend a hand, to help another than it does to drive on top of someone’s bumper.

I appreciated the turn-of-question Kerri found in an article in Inc. magazine: instead of asking yourself, “What am I thankful for,?” a better question is, “What will I do to make others thankful?” The first question is a me-me-me question. The second turns the eye out, it first considers the needs of other people. It requires action, doing. What we experienced in the store, what we experienced at the four-way-stop, was steeped in asking the better question.

Sometimes the change we seek need not be legislated or debated or strategized; sometimes it is no more or less difficult than asking – and then practicing – a better question.

[Even though we’d hidden the store on our website, we’ve lately had a small run on Be Kind buttons. That, too, gives me hope that others out there feel as I do: a better world is not so far away. It’s as close as an act of kindness]

read Kerri’s blog post about A BETTER QUESTION

Surface The Pattern [on DR Thursday]

Steve read my book and said he didn’t really understand the thing about pattern. His comment at first surprised me but then I realized he was actually reinforcing the point: we are unconscious to our patterning. We think in patterns. We see in patterns. Culture is pattern. Pattern is invisible and making it visible is a necessary first step in change processes.

The people who surface pattern are often seen by the mainstream as deviant or rebellious. Women demanding equal pay are attempting to make a pattern visible. The BLM movement is attempting to make a cultural pattern visible. Shining a light on longstanding oppression is never welcome in the halls of power.

The people who work to repress the visibility of cultural pattern, conserve the norms, generally claim a righteous superiority. They are keepers of the culture and feel threatened, even victimized, by the sudden visibility of cultural pattern. Exposure is always a threat to the existing pattern and no one relinquishes power or privilege without a fight. The current raft of voter suppression laws – made possible by the fantasy of a stolen election – is a great example. The Big Lie is a textbook example of how far people in power will go to hide a privilege-norm. It is, for us in these un-united states, not a new phenomenon; it is a longstanding well-guarded pattern.

Change happens when the patterns are surfaced. There will always be a tide that rises to extinguish the light of exposure. In the long run, those hardy voices that were, at first, branded as deviant or dangerous, we come to honor and respect. They refused to be silenced. We claim them as our heroes. MLK. Gandhi. Rosa Parks. Cesar Chavez. Susan B. Anthony. There are so many. It is no easy task to surface the patterns. The path of a light-shiner is dangerous and difficult.

John Lewis gave great advice for those dedicated to surfacing unconscious patterns: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” He also said that, “…transformation will not happen right away. Change takes time.”

Opening eyes to unconscious pattern, to what is obvious yet unseen, is an artist’s path. Seeing beyond what you think you see…seeing beyond your field-of-dedicated-belief, being curious enough to question what you are being told – can you imagine anything more necessary – more vital – in our age of rabid-misinformation and desperate-pattern-suppression?

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2018 david robinson

Sing It Into Existence [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Lately I am awake for the sunrise. I know it is coming because, very slowly, the birds begin to sing. At first there is one voice, then a few more and then more. By the time the light through the window glows soft purple and gray, the full bird chorus is in session. They sing the sun into rising.

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, these lawn-art-birds would come to represent to me threshold guardians. Harbingers of the test that my move to Wisconsin would bring. In story terms, threshold guardians are not friendly; they serve as the test of readiness: are you willing and able to greet the challenges that come with change. Or will you run away? Sometimes they are monsters. Sometimes they require the answer to a riddle or solving a puzzle. The new world will open after the obstacle is met. In facing and overcoming the challenge, the guardians often become allies. In truth, they are allies all along. They help you find your self by testing every idea that you have of your self.

Driving the Budget truck on my move from Seattle, filled with the artifacts of my life, Kerri and I stopped in a little village, Stockholm, just as we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. We wandered down the street and into a gallery. We were drawn to these simple bird-sculptures. They are the first thing we bought together. They represented our step into relationship. Us. They would stand together in our yard.

My first few years in Kenosha were akin to being lost in the woods. My livelihood disappeared. My networks disappeared. Art opportunities vanished. Many of my friendships faded. Every project I tried to pitch or create stalled, every path I attempted to plow broke the plow. I felt stripped. Of little or no value. Even in arenas where I was once appreciated, I was invisible. I’ve done extraordinary consulting work in organizations but learned in my new life that my experience and observations were not welcome. So, silent as well as invisible.

More than once I went out back and sat with the sculptures. They remained silent when I asked of them my questions. Who am I now that I have no useful purpose? What do I do now? In the absence of an answer, the sculptures and I listened to the birdsong.

Often the test brought by the threshold guardians is one of letting go. You cannot become a butterfly if you insist on remaining a caterpillar. The armor must fall. The known shape must go to mush. The what-the-hell-is-happening-to-me necessarily falls unanswered into the void. What’s happening is not complex: you are changing. The old stuff isn’t working because it is too small for the new shape. Let go.

It is not complex but it is uncomfortable. Dark night is cold when you’ve shed your skin. The sun will rise. The birds will sing it into existence. Warmth will return in the moments beyond the soft purples and greys.

We recently moved the bird sculptures from their spot by the pond to a new home by the fence. I hadn’t realized how invisible they were when standing over the pond. By they fence, they are glorious! They are also a metaphor, standing tall, made more vibrant and dynamic by their incorporated shadows. They are transformed. They are present, standing together in the yard. They are signaling the path to the new world, singing into existence the new day.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BIRDS

Take A Second Chance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

This is a story about second chances. Both of us had first go-rounds and neither went according to the dream. The gap between life and dream is sometimes daunting, vast. But, the good news with all-things-daunting is that, if you are lucky – and we are, you emerge on the other side, not only with a better sense of humor, but an understanding of the hard work it takes to make dreams a reality. Or, said another way, you live into a better sense of yourself. Kerri and I could be the poster children for people who’ve crossed the gap and come out laughing.

Early in our relationship we danced in the living room to Rascal Flatt’s song, The Broken Road. After our dance, we spent a long evening talking about our broken roads. There’s something powerful (and telling) about two people who willingly pull out their broken pieces and spread them across the table for the other to see, not for a pity-party but to say without shame, “This is me. This is what I’ve done and where I’ve been. I don’t want to hide any of it from you because I want you to see me, barnacles and all.” It is the mark of the tribe of second chances. Vulnerability as a strength.

In a second chance you have the opportunity to discover yourself anew. That might sound thrilling – and it is in retrospect – but it requires a good deal of hot fire to burn away the former shell. It’s as if the rules of life that have always applied, the rules that have always provided orientation to the game-of-life suddenly no longer apply. Trying to hold onto the old version is like trying to hide the fact that you are aging. It’s impossible. We started collecting our beautiful moments of denial and rude-awakening because, well, they were and are funny. For instance, I looked in the mirror one day and saw my grandfather staring back. It happened overnight and I was horrified! I spent the rest of the day looking for soft light so I might delay Kerri seeing my new grandfatherly face.

Second chances come to all of us. We have friends and family in our circle that are recent empty-nesters. The kids are gone. The house is quiet. They are asking two questions: 1) Who is this stranger sitting across the table? And 2) Who am I, the person looking back at the stranger across the table? Like us, they are walking through the rule changes, the body changes, the purpose changes, the identity changes. We hope that they, like us, recognize their barnacles as a shared map forward, a reason to bond and learn each other, and themselves, anew.

That’s the reason and the story behind our comic strip SMACK-DAB. Like us, it is a second run at a good idea only this time, less armored. For now, we’ll publish a new strip every Saturday. Our chronicle of second chances. Smack-dab in the middle of middle age. The laughter and good love that comes from splaying all the broken pieces across the table and saying, “This is me and I want you to know and share every last shard. For the rest of my life.”

Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
~ Bless The Broken Road, Rascal Flatts

read Kerri’s blog post about SMACK-DAB.

See The Moon [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

From Japan comes the story of the Crescent Moon Bear. It is a story of rage and patience. A young wife must pluck a single hair from the crescent moon shape at the throat of the ferocious bear. The single hair is a necessary ingredient for a medicine that will cure her husband. I told the story at a facilitation. After the telling, the vice president of the company said to the gathering, as an apology and a revelation, “I am the bear.”

Sometimes bears are necessary. Just like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, without the bear or the wolf there would not be a story. The purpose of a fear is to face it. It is a catalyst. The lesson is almost always concealed in the obstacle.

I once had a terrifying dream. I was being chased by monsters. I ran but could not get away. Finally, desperate, I saw a warehouse and ran for the door. I was certain there would be plenty of places to hide. Bursting through the door I was horrified to find the vast space empty. Swept clean. With no other exit available, I had to turn and face the monsters rushing toward me.

Do a little research on the symbol of the crescent moon and you’ll read that she represents cycles and instinct, mystery and immortality. Change. Fecundity. Many years ago I took a class on art and transformation. One of the projects, guided by an elder, was to make medicine shields. The face of the shield was decidedly male, sun. Bull. The back of the shield was feminine, moon. Lizard. Two aspects of power that dance. One is incomplete, superficial and out of balance, without the other.

In the Crescent Moon Bear story, after an arduous journey through the forest of her fear, the bear allows the young wife to pluck the hair. The magic ingredient is not taken, it is given. The obstacle, the monster, the locked door, opens and offers its potion. Insight ensues.

Insight, literally, the sight from within.

All of this, whispers from the psyche, bubbles of deeper wisdom, regeneration, emergence from the dark wood forever changed; could there be a better symbol for our times, a better symbol of promise as we stand with no place to hide, facing our raging pandemic, our ferocious bear of racial injustice, our masculine disequilibrium, than the promise of the crescent moon.

read Kerri’s blog post about the CRESCENT MOON