Reconnect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“We are healing our souls by reconnecting to our ancestors.” Nainoa Thompson (quote from The Wayfinders by Wade Davis)

There is a house I sometimes visit in dreams. It is a mountain house and, in the dream, it belongs to my Grandma Sue. I’m always comforted when I go there.

I have some of Casey’s tools and some of Bob’s. I think of them every time I use the wrench or the screwdriver. Both were good mechanics, handy, so I imagine their tools imbue me with some of their wisdom when I attempt to fix what’s broken around the house.

I gingerly page through the handmade book where DeMarcus made his notes about color. The pencil marks are fading but his enthusiasm reaches from the page and rejuvenates me. Inspires me.

A few days ago I happened upon my Lost Boy session recordings with Tom. His bass voice reached through my computer, telling me a story I now know so well. It warmed me.

In my studio, on top of DeMarcus’ wooden paint box, is a nutcracker that Grandpa Chan kept by his pool table. It’s the only thing I wanted when he passed. Something he touched. I hold it sometimes when I stare at works-in-progress. I feel him there.

I wear a chain around my left wrist. Kerri wears one, too. It is pull chain. The current version is a replacement of the original that we took from Pa’s workbench. I never met him but I feel connected to him. Kerri tells me stories of her dad. “How do you like them apples?” One of his phrases.

I imagine he and my dad are on the other side of the veil drinking scotch together. That drink warms me, too.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THEM APPLES

Connect The Dots [on Two Artists Tuesday]

A curious sentiment painted on the concrete support wall of a busy overpass in a burgeoning city. Crumbling cement sidewalks, hard asphalt, steel cable supports securing a post just outside of the picture frame. A message about bridges painted beneath a bridge.

People hustle by as if there was no time to spare. They drive fast over and around the curious sentiment. The painter-of-the-sentiment placed it adjacent to a stoplight. Perhaps, while revving their engine, awaiting the return of the green light, a motorist might turn and read the thought. Perhaps the motorist might breathe it in. Perhaps the motorist might consider the message as they passed beneath the bridge.

What gets you from here to there? From birth to death? Amidst the hard realities of the road, the steel cables, the thoughtless people whizzing passed, the persevering grasses pushing through the cracks in the cement, the litter at your feet? A thirteenth century Sufi poet thought it important enough to write about it. A twenty-first century painter thought it important enough to paint the poem on a wall.

People across time and cultures have thought it necessary to place significant messages on walls. Aspirations and appeals to our better nature. A compass pointing the way for what might be, what exists but goes largely unseen. The primary thing. Every parent knows this bridge beyond the abstraction of a message on the wall. Every time rings are exchanged, vows spoken, the unseen is understood.

The hawk landed on the fence. Kerri met its eyes and they stared at each other for what seemed a very long time. Divisions disappeared. Forms fell away. Life experienced life.

Just try and place a word on that experience! A Sufi-poet tried. A contemporary street artist thought it necessary to paint the sentiment on a hard wall. What bridge connects the poet and the painter?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE BRIDGE

Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When I think of Sam I am flooded with fond memories of a man dedicated to bringing people together around heaps of fine food. Thanksgiving with friends. Apple crush. A “bad art” party that was a thin veneer for assembling those he loved around a table of abundance. Sam envisioned himself as a connector of people, both to others and to deeper connections within. Two paths to the same destination.

Yesterday on the trail we talked about what was and what is. The pandemic years have proven to be a hot crucible for change. Life passages. There is a hard line: before and after. When I first moved to Wisconsin, Kerri and I hosted large gatherings almost every week. Ukulele band. Slow dance party. Cantata Frittata Regatta. Bringing people together. We held five progressively larger dinner parties on the week before our wedding. There was always boisterous conversation, plenty of food and wine. Now, we are delighted each week when 20 comes over to share a meal. We laugh. We spin tales. We enjoy quiet and simplicity. Intimate conversations.

As Sam knew, food and stories are both connection creators. Together, they are an unbeatable team, the pulsing heart of breaking bread. And, he knew as we do, that connection is not an achievement or arrival platform. It is like a good fire and must be tended, fed. Both between others and within the self.

When the sun sets on these cool fall evenings, we bring dinner outside and eat beside a fire. Dogga finds a comfortable place to rest. The pond gurgles. Each night I am overwhelmed with waves and waves of gratitude. We coo over the meal we’ve made. Our conversation is made quiet by the fire. Reflective. We savor the passing moment, no thought of stopping time. All in. Connected.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EAT

Speak In Softer Tones [on KS Friday]

On stormy days the sound of the lake greets us in the morning. If we didn’t know better, we’d think it was the Atlantic Ocean. And then there are the days when the lake is glassy smooth. The silence of the lake invokes silence in us; we speak in softer tones.

We are on the road this morning. The sounds that greet us are different. New. In this small town there’s a cricket symphony that accompanies the sunrise. I stood for a moment on the balcony and enjoyed the performance. Masterful. Pink and purple sky.

In a few hours we’ll be back on the road. Unlike yesterday, we’ll drive the backroads. Lately, we are resistant to the frenetic freeway, the angry trucks, the anxious sedans. Sometimes the freeway is unavoidable. Knowing there will be quieter sounds today – and a slower pace – makes us breathe easier. Sound and pace are cousins.

Today is a “we’ll-get-there-when-we-get-there” day. I learned years ago that pace and frenetic energy are a team sport. People feed the frantic in each other. People are also capable of creating quiet in each other. Sometime, for an experiment, try and slow walk down a busy-business-walker street. To remain slow you have to ride your inner brakes.

The same is true with sound. We seek the thumping clubs and concerts when we want to amp up. We seek the slow-walk meadows when we want to gear down.

Today is a gear down day. The crickets must have known. They set a perfect starting tone for a backroads intention. We’ll speak in softer timbre, just like the lake.

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

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

adrift/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

Make [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The origami crane has become a symbol of peace.”

Fold 1,000 cranes and your heart’s desire will come true. Legend will have it so. In Japan, the crane is a symbol of good luck and long life.

Making something into something else. Folding paper into cranes. It is, perhaps, the quality that defines us, makes us human. We turn the flow of water into the force driving the mill. We study patterns in stars and translate it into navigation. We smelt ore and hammer the elements again at the forge to make iron. We use the iron to make trains.

We make.

We look at flowers and see cranes. We look at clouds and see wild horses. We look at blank canvas and see possibility.

We make stories.

Our storymaking cuts both ways. We look at others and see friends; we look at others and see enemies. Either way, our looking is not passive. We make stories. We make connections. We make divisions.

We make wishes. Fold 1,000 cranes and your heart’s desire will come true.

Reach your hand to help. Slap a hand away. Either way, it depends on what story you see. What you want to make.

The story we create.

Folded paper. A symbol of peace.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRANES

Say “Good Morning” [on DR Thursday]

My dad always kept a garden. He grew up in a farm community. I watched as he attended to his fruits and vegetables and it seemed innate, second nature. Without thought, he knew what to do. His garden knowledge did not find its way to me so I am grateful that Kerri’s thumb is green. Her potting bench is alive with tomatoes and basil.

This is the first summer of my life without my dad and I am finding in the tomatoes a deep sense of reassurance. Connectivity to my dad that transcends time. He loved his garden as Kerri loves hers. In her garden, he stands.

Kerri’s mom and dad watched birds and cardinals were special to them. In the past few years, cardinals have taken up residence in our neighborhood. Brilliant red, salmon, antique pink…Gorgeous. When one stops to visit, I say, “Beaky’s saying ‘hello.'”

I suspect connectivity is what we experience when we slow down. It’s hard not to realize how deeply interconnected we are when stopping all motion to watch the sunset. It’s impossible not to realize how small and passing we are when taking the time to gaze through a telescope at the night sky.

I am taken by surprise by the tomatoes, though I should have seen it coming. I love that each day, I take a break and go to Kerri’s bench. I stop all motion, feel the sun, look for the new growth, and whisper, “Good morning, Columbus.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEW GROWTH

Re-Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The latest addition to my “Terms in this Unknown Land” document is TL;DR. Too-Long-Didn’t-Read. I laughed aloud when I heard this new acronym in a meeting. If there is a sign of our times, an identifying marker of our era, it is this: TL;DR.

We communicate through text and emoji. Chat. Twitter is a thing because it mandates brevity. Scrolling the news app is a study in cramming the full story into a brief headline. Marketers have mastered the 5 second ad. Businesses are liberal in their use of “narrative” and “story” but have no time to actually hear one. A short synopsis will have to do. Get to the point.

As a member of my culture I find that I scan more than I read. If I can find it on Youtube, I’d rather watch it than read about it. When I began writing blogposts ten years ago, the “rule” was 800 words or less. The rule has adjusted with our attention spans and now the target is between 400 and 600 words. Often, when I receive links to articles, they come complete with an estimate of how many minutes are required to read them. Yesterday, I read advice from a marketing guru that suggested we restrict paragraphs to two sentences or less; more than two sentences is a red flag: too much information. Less than two sentences is…a sentence.

So much information is coming at us all the time, we have no time or thought-space to take it all in. I wonder if we can discern relevance from dreck. A quick look at our leaders leaves me with a resounding “No!” Relevance is lost in the dreck and, since they represent us, they are us, our information inundation has rendered our attention spans tiny and blunted our acuity. We are awash in information while wisdom has gone missing.

Each week I attend meetings; the central concern is explicitly or implicitly about helping people connect. It reminds me of the conversations I heard in graduate school: while living in a city of a million people, the concern was about how to create community. So many people. So little community.

I ponder these things every day. With our ubiquitous technology, we couldn’t be more connected. Through social media, I know what people had for dinner or what cute thing the kids said. I receive advertising that confirms my devices are listening to me. Yesterday, for-the-hell-of-it, I said, “Machu Picchu.” Today I am awash in travel ads for Peru.

We are connected. Connection to everything is connection to nothing. Relevance is hard to discern in a tsunami of information masking as connectivity.

Relationships – real relationships – take time. Values cannot be communicated in a text. They must be demonstrated and deeply rooted in lived narrative. Stories that carry relevance cannot be well-told in synopsis. Opinions are so easy to tweet. Dreck is easy to fling. It is not the capacity to share that we lose in the crush. It is not connection. It’s the capacity to be present. With presence comes the capacity to listen. Presence is not in a hurry to be some other place.

Rich connectivity requires more than quick consumption of information. Sharing, real sharing, the kind beyond pressing a “send” button, is a two-way street between people who have the time to invest in each other. Once, it was called relationship.

TM;CL. Too much. Can’t listen.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TL;DR

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

With Fresh Eyes, See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In retrospect, many of the experiences I used to facilitate were meant to pop people – even for a moment – out of the fog of their life story. It’s a curious intention for a guy whose career was/is centered around the telling of stories.

I loved working with masks, especially with people in corporate settings or lofty educational towers. They feared the exposure that a mask might bring so they approached it with eye rolling and whatever-ego resistance. Yet, in every case, they put the mask on with reverence. There is a sequence, after donning the mask, that the wearer “wakes up” and looks at the world for the first time through fresh eyes. Everything is new. Everything. Their hands. The movement of their arms. The color and feel of the carpet. Jaded people, blunted with puffy assumption, through the eyes of the mask, are astonished by the miracle of their fingers. And then, imagine the moment that they discover each other. Their discussion during the debrief would make you weep. It was quiet. Respectful to the point of sacred. In every case the people, newly out of the mask, had to tell of their astonishment and discovery. Their eyes wide with the utter beauty of the world in and around them. And, their new eyes never carried further than the next day. The old mask, the one worn daily, the one full of fear and inflated self-importance, is powerful, too. As they say, masks reveal and masks conceal.

Masks reveal and masks conceal. The phrase refers to the wearer but it also applies to the world seen or not seen through the mask. New eyes are astonished with the ubiquitous beauty of the world newly revealed. Eyes fogged through been-there-done-that stories are dulled to the point of inattention. The magical world is concealed from their sight.

I am working on a script for a piece that I’ll perform in the fall. I realized in my latest draft that it is really about masks. The astonishment of seeing – and seeing is nothing more than or less than the revelation of connectivity. Paying attention is a step toward the eyes that see crackling vibrant color, ears that hear the birdsong. When the dull eyes open, even for a moment, the next impulse is to reach, to “call attention” to the connectivity. “Do you see that?” “Listen, isn’t it gorgeous!”

read Kerri’s blog post about PAYING ATTENTION

Connect The Poles [on KS Friday]

Though it is not, this could be a close-up of an x-ray. Arteries carrying blood away from the heart, veins carrying blood back to the heart, and the capillaries that connect the them. Outgoing. Incoming. And the connection between the two. And, as is always true of language, in the naming and the action-describing, the whole system is obscured. This part does this. That part does that. Mechanical mind applied to a miracle of pulsating life.

In North Carolina I overheard an old guy grousing about climate change. He is a sceptic. “There’s record snow in California!” he decried, “And, we’re having record heat here! You can’t have it both ways!” His reluctant listener bobbed her head. “It’s either warming or it’s not!” he railed. “Explain that to me!” Mechanical mind. Parts-thinkers cannot see the whole system. The capillary-word that tumbled from his mouth but bypassed his mind was “record.” The poles are, after all, connected.

I am fascinated by my current work. I am witness to and a participant in the creation of software. The language is familiar though the meanings are new: epic and story. Bug. My mind, lately, has been awhirl. The developers necessarily talk of information as content-objects. Items. The language of “fixed” things. Yet, the problems in the world that they design and solve for are “fluid.” Information, in our day-and-age, never stops. It grows exponentially everyday. It is movement, constant motion. More/faster. Sometimes I get a glimpse behind the curtain and see the developer’s work of content-items-in-motion. You’ve never seen a faster moving current of symbols. Is it a particle or a wave? It depends.

The tree in our front yard reaches toward the house. Kerri tells me that our children climbed through the branches when they were young. When the crew had to clear some branches to trench the yard, Kerri winced each time a branch snapped and fell to the ground. “I can’t look,” she said, not taking her eyes off the tree. Holding vigil. Holding her heart.

It’s easy to forget that, in all cases, no matter the eyes though which we see, the movement is always back to center. To the heart-of-the-matter. The pieces are never isolated. This tree is not separate or distinct from the sky or Kerri’s heart. The poles are always connected, whether we recognize it, see it, acknowledge it, or not. Breathe in. Breathe out. Two actions or one?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE TREE AND SKY

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