Stand In Their Shoes [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Belief in tomorrow. Appreciation of today. No small thoughts even in the best of times, though, in the best of times they sound like platitudes. In these times, in the span of a few months, platitudes are revealed as precious.

20 has severe asthma so has self quarantined these many weeks. We occasionally see his face electronically. We hear his voice each night when we call. We laugh. We recount and appreciate the day. We miss our weekly Thursday night and Sunday night dinners with 20. They were ritual. Now, we think of them like a garden. They will return. Belief in tomorrow.

There are those who think this virus is an inconvenience. To 20, and others that we love, it is a death sentence. Apparently, to those who will not be inconvenienced, pictures no longer speak a thousand words. Data slides off Fox-coated-minds like so much Teflon. To truly understand the severity of the pandemic requires fully stepping into the shoes of another and, so, the most individualistic nation in the world wrestles mightily with putting the needs of others over self.

For 20 and millions like him with chronic health concerns, for all the people in health care or care-of-others in any capacity (hint: that would be all of us), belief in tomorrow is intimately linked to our capacity to step into his shoes and recognize that we stay home, wear masks, honor social distance not only for our sake, but for his. For theirs. And, if you follow the logic, his sake, “their” sake, is intimately linked to our sake. Your sake.

Recognizing that, through the lens of a pandemic, there is no Us or Them. Putting the needs of others over self is the best way to protect yourself. Both/And.

This is how we prepare the soil. This is the way to appreciate the day. It is the only way to invite belief in tomorrow.

[note: here’s my argument for those too ugly voices claiming we must accept certain loss of life to reboot the economy. Please put the face of your brother, your child, your mother or father in the place of “acceptable loss.” The loss of life is much less acceptable when it is personal, when it is one of your loved ones. This is, by-the-way, the same argument for social distancing, staying home, etc. When the life that is lost is one of “yours” it will seem much more necessary to stand in the shoes of another and help them stay alive] 

 

read Kerri’s blog post on BELIEF IN TOMORROW

 

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Draw [on DR Thursday]

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Sue’s request was clear: write a story that is hopeful but does not pretend that everything will be easy or rosy in the end.

In 2005, while Sue Eskridge was teaching a course on children’s literature at The University of the Pacific, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of America. Sue had an idea. She refocused her class to help children who were displaced or had lost their parents in the storm. Her class approached several artists and children’s book authors and asked them to write and illustrate a story, to make single-copy-books. The books would be bundled with other supplies and through service organizations would go to children that needed them. “We want to give them hope but not false hope,” she said when she asked if I would “quick do a book.”

What do you do when the forest fire comes? The hurricane? The pandemic? Run. Hide. But then what? People pull together. People pull apart. The disaster invokes the best in us. The disaster invokes the worst in us. Ultimately, we realize that we are in it together and our togetherness can be defined through selflessness or through selfishness.

What defines us? I lived in Los Angeles during the riots and martial law. People turned on each other. I also saw the same community, just two years later during the Northridge earthquake, pull together. 9/11. AIDS. Our rhetoric does not define us. Our actions do.

I did as Sue asked. I quick did a book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost. I only had a few days and managed to write the story and smack out 16 illustrations. A story of personal gifts brought to communal need in the aftermath of a fire. When I bundled the original and sent it off to Sue I promised myself that I would someday go back into the story and draw all the pictures, fill in the 10 or so illustrations that I did not have time to realize.

This week, we retreated into our home, this pandemic hot and frightening and eerily invisible, except for the growing and incomprehensible numbers on the screen. The unreal reality. The hurricane that cannot yet be grasped.  I asked myself what might be a worthwhile project to do while isolating?  And then I remembered my promise to Peri Winkle Rabbit.

Draw. And perhaps a new story? One that deals with the hot fire now raging through our divided world? Two narratives. One pandemic. What are the odds that this crisis will burn off our national division and clear our eyes so that we are capable of stepping into a single story. I will ask Peri Winkle Rabbit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on PERI WINKLE RABBIT

 

 

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Choose Your Ladder [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Climbing the ladder to success has never been a useful metaphor for me. When ladder climbing, the trajectory is up. What is up there that is not already right here? Climbing up in this dog-eat-dog paradigm implies climbing over others. It certainly implies that there is a top rung with room enough for one. Limited pie. Get yours. After all, being your brother’s/sister’s keeper is a nice sentiment on Sunday but not really useful in the real world of ladder climbing.

Top rung. Ultimate achievement. Arrival. These are words of stasis. I’ve never understood why the elimination of dynamic movement would be appealing. Vitality is movement, not the absence of movement. Life is made rich by experience, surprise, curiosity, exploration, steps into the unknown. To climb the rungs to controlled living seems antithetical to the point, at least to me. A body in stasis is in poor health, indeed. A life in stasis is in poor spirit, without exception.

It is often the role of the artist to challenge the norm and the challenge is generally nothing new, rather, it is a simple perspective spin. For instance, a ladder is good for fixing things, for reaching. It is good ladder behavior to have someone spotting the climber. If someone is stuck at the top it is good practice to help them down. Fire departments use ladders to save people. Ladders to help. Ladders to serve. Ladders as a tool to reach. Ladders can be used to bridge a crevasse, to get folks to the other side.

A more useful (and realistic) ladder metaphor: reach, serve, help, bridge, save. I suppose, more to the point, success is all about the ladder you choose. As for me, standing atop a ladder on a rung built for one seems like a lousy definition of success. I’d rather be on the ground with the people who care enough to spot me. I’d rather use my ladder to help my friends and community reach the unreachable. That seems like a more worthy definition of success.

read Kerri’s blog post about LADDERS

 

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Give It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Janus is a Roman god with two faces. He looks to the future and peers into the past. He is the god of beginnings and endings, transitions, doorways, and passages. He is the god of gateways, the liminal spaces, the between.

Janus must certainly be the god that we dance with on this island, a community defined by divisions, married to its conflicts but also, at least rhetorically, desiring peace.

Kerri and I are the stewards of a performing arts center that is, as Julian Dawson said, punching above its weight. It is the symbol of division in the community, the epicenter of discord, the rope in a very ugly tug-of-war. All of the fault lines run through it. Yet, as Janus would remind us, it then must also hold the path to unity, the potential for common ground.

All in the community want the doors to be wide open; none want the responsibility that comes with access. They want the center, the art, to serve them. They do not yet comprehend that any alive and vital art space is, in fact, the opposite: a place of service to others. Arts spaces and the artists the enliven them are keepers of the commons, the stewards of the stories that unite.

In another life I ran an educational theatre company. It boomed into life the day that the artists, the students, grocked that art was in fact a gift given to others, something they brought to people, not something (like attention or fame or a spotlight) that they got from people.

This island, this center, will someday boom into life. They will discover that the rope in the tug of war goes slack when they walk toward each other. Pulling in opposition exhausts everyone. They will come alive when they cease asking, “What do we get?” and start asking, “What do we bring?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EDGES

 

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Constellate [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Just outside our favorite island gem, Fair Isle Books, is this poem by former Wisconsin poet Laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen. We have stopped at the shop more than once and reread the poem.

our lonely stars though bright
and strong will quickly fade

unless we string the stars
together   choose illumination
then in constellation hope is ours

bring on another day
sing light in common song
~constellation by bruce dethlefsen

It is a lovely poem and captures perfectly how we now see our work on this island. In our short tenure it has become abundantly clear that the people in our sphere most often work as “islands.” Islands on island. That is, although very well intended, few actually recognize the impact of their actions (or inaction) on others. It is part of the evolutionary dna of the place. Everyone works multiple jobs. Divisions and territory define the island arts organizations.

I have long held (and experienced again and again) that the arts cannot thrive in a community until the artists turn to a common center, recognize a shared purpose, and realize that one cannot thrive without the other. Thriving is a team sport. If one theatre creates a large audience then it creates audience for all. If one painter sells a painting, a market is created for all. Reaching into the common space, facilitating shared experience, is what art is meant to do.

If an arts community falls into the mistaken notion that its members compete for limited resources, they will inevitably define themselves by their limitation.  The center turns to a battle ground and the art is diminished. Dog-eat-dog has no place in the sacred space of art.

It is why we visit the poem. The necessary guide star is already here. “Our lonely stars though bright will quickly fade unless we string the stars together – choose illumination – then in constellation hope is ours.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CONSTELLATION

 

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UpLift [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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And, what is the opposite of cohesion? Incoherence. The lack of clarity or unity. Fracture.

For a period of time my work on this earth was essentially a meditation on power. Power with. Power over. After a while I understood that power-over was not really power at all; it was control. Control and power are two very different things. They are often confused.

Power is something created with others. Control is something done to others. The equation is simple: the more controlling a person is, the less powerful they actually are. A person who understands his/herself as powerful has no need to assert control over others.

A leader invested in control has only one sure route to controlling: to fracture. To divide. It is the way of the truly powerless. Incoherence and chaos are great tools if control is the aim. Destroy the unity. Play to the disgruntled. Feed the fire of those who are feeling powerless. Promise them control. Pushing others down to elevate the self can only end badly. Everyone drowns.

People secure in their power create cohesion. They unite. They uplift. Power is a force that grows between people. It cannot be owned by one. It is always the province of the community. A person secure in her/his power generates unity. What else? The power they feel within is an expression of the power they experience with.

Community is a word that implies cohesion. To commune. Common. And, what could be more common than a central focus, the intention to support and bring out the best in all.

What is the opposite of a powerful person?

 

read kerri’s blog post about COHESION

 

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Turn And Open [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Real education is understanding the significance of life, not just cramming to pass examinations. ~ Krishnamurti

Tom used to call it The Little Green Bottle theory. The illusion of learning at the expense of real learning. It is the worst fate for a curious mind to confuse active pursuit with passing the test.

The worst fate for an artist is to be revered. Artists who are revered regardless of what they do, stop growing – or worse – they twist. They confuse themselves with their art. And, because they are lauded for any and everything thing they do, they lose their muse. They no longer need to listen or seek or try.  They insulate and turn in on themselves. Knowing that their feedback loop – called an audience – will give them a perfect score no matter what they do, oddly makes their work not matter at all. They – and their work – and their audience – become an energy eddy, an empty bottle with no substance. The circle closes.

Long ago, I guest-directed a play at a college. There was a student, an extraordinarily talented young man, who was coddled by his professor. She heaped praise on him. He was cast as the lead in all productions. In fact, I was (hush-hush-nod-nod) required to cast him. He was protected from the rules and rigors his peers were required to follow. He simply needed to show up.  I crossed his path again a few years later and he was a very sad and empty young man. He left his small pond and didn’t have the skills or work ethic to swim in the ocean. He wondered why no casting director would work with him, why no masters program would admit him. He expected reverence. His talent collapsed on itself. Many of his peers, those who had to work, to grapple, to reach, to struggle, had solid and thriving careers. Rather than helping him grow, his professor, his college community, stunted his artistry. His circle closed.

The waters are so calm this morning. Hog Island seems to float in the air. Sitting on the dock, I feel perplexed. Lately, the world so often feels upside-down, in service to the opposite of what it professes. Islands feigning connection. Closed circles working hard to stay closed even awash in the knowing that they can only breathe when opened. They can only grow when challenged, when they open the gates. They can only thrive when they turn, open the circle, paddle toward the limitless horizon and face the unknown.

The muse is out there, waiting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DOCK

 

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photograph: on the dock of the bay ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go To The Grocery Store [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Last week we went to the grocery store and had a conversation in every aisle. Such is the virtue of a small community.

Gossip: unconstrained conversation about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as true.

This week went to the grocery store to buy bananas and no one would talk to us, including the cash register clerk. It was our first hint that something was up!

Rumor: a currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth.

Before an hour had passed, we heard rumor of our offense. It was egregious and downright offensive! It was an affront to the old school islanders. It was, above all, simply not true. Such is the vice of a small community.

Inflate: to fill with air.

As we stood in the middle of the swift moving undercurrent, players jockeying to be the most offended, we watched and listened as our abuse swelled. It took on epic proportions. Such is the nature of hearsay, regardless of the size of community.

We, of course, realized that our little island is a microcosm of an ailing nation. People believing what they want to believe. People eating gossip like sugar and growing fat on a diet with no substance. Gossip is toxic. It is, as an acquaintance used to say, like eating poison and expecting the other person to die.

We collected the names topping the list of the recently-rumored-offended and called them. Nothing interrupts gossip like facing it directly. We made some new friends.

This morning we went to the grocery store and had some nice conversations. Such is the fickle affection of a small community. Grace is good and the sands are ever-shifting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SNEEZING

 

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Sit In The Pocket Of Sanity [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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“Speed is a way to prevent ourselves from having to deal with something we do not want to face.” Malidoma Patrice Somé, Ritual: Power, Healing and Community

There is a special place just north of the tension line. It’s a place where people have no reason to lock their doors. They leave their keys in their cars. They sit in an auditorium filled with people and know the names of everyone there. They volunteer and try to do things that help.

It is reminiscent of what those of us below the tension line might have once called a community.

It is not idyllic. People have differing opinions. There are divisions, a tension on the fault line between conserving or progressing. They work it out. Or they try and leave it alone for a spell. They mostly respect each other’s position. Time keeps moving.

You might be gobsmacked to know that this place is somewhere in these deeply divided United States. A pocket of sanity.

After a few moments sitting in the the purple Adirondack chair, I was struck by the absence of noise. No sirens. No hum of the freeway. No weed whackers, blowers, slamming doors or shots in the distance. A haven of quiet.

I left there secure in the knowledge that I have so much to learn.

“One can say, ‘Teach me what you know,’ but the better request is, ‘Teach me about what teaches you.'” Malidoma Patrice Somé

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Purple Adirondack Chairs

 

 

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held in grace: rest now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Make Better Assumptions [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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As a kid, riding up the mountain to Central City (long before it morphed into a casino town) to visit my great aunt Dorothy and uncle Del, I’d always look for the hermit. With my face pressed to the window I’d scan for him.

Perched precariously high above the creek, his shack seemed in constant danger of sliding down the mountain. The only thing holding it in place was the cascade of rusting bean cans that he’d tossed over the edge after each meal. Decades of cans. And, every once in while, I’d catch a glimpse of him.

He was uniquely grey; his clothes, his long miner-forty-niner beard, his pallor. He was always standing still, looking over the canyon. I don’t think in all of my rare glimpses that I ever saw him move. I wondered if he’d just thrown a can over the edge. I wondered if in his moments of standing-stillness he pondered how he came to be the hermit in the canyon. If life forged him into a hermit or if he came into the world wanting to be alone. I wondered where he got his cans of beans. It was a great mystery that I spent long hours considering. Hermits are not known for shopping trips into town and it was long before the age of home delivery. Where did he get his money to buy all of those cans? Was he a wealthy miner, a Howard Hughes type who retreated into a paranoid seclusion? Who facilitated his solitude?

I am mostly an introvert so his retreat from society fascinated me. I’d try ‘hermit’ on like a costume. He wasn’t a monk though I wondered what he did all day; contemplation had to be on the list of things to do. I wondered if his shack was filled with paintings or wire sculpture, a reclusive Alexander Calder? A disenfranchised artist (now, there’s an oxymoron!) I wondered if his shack walls were lined with good books.

I wondered, if I climbed up the mountain to his shack, would he meet me with a shotgun and tell me to go away? Or would he welcome me and tell me that he’s waited a lifetime for someone to come for a visit? I liked the second scenario but the realist in me knew it would be the first. He was grey because he didn’t want to be bothered. He was alone because it was not safe to be in relationship. It’s always easier to close the door and growl than it is to open it and ask, “Can I help you?”

We see this sign often. It marks the door of a house on the road to one of our walking trails. In the absence of a canyon I suppose the only thing to do is paste your anger on your door. Every time I see this sign I wonder what would happen if love came knocking?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GO AWAY

 

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