Make Belief [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” ~ Saul Bellow

In addition to meaning uneducated, it occurred to me that the word ‘ignorant’ also means to ignore. It’s an adjective, a descriptor. Someone who ignores is ignorant, is an ignorant. I looked up the root of the word to be sure. To disregard.

Early in the pandemic, we placed a table in our sunroom. We call it our pandemic table. In our isolation it helped us to end the day, looking out at the back yard, and watching the light wane. Through the spring, summer, and into the fall, we’d sit at the table and talk about the news of the day. We’d ramble on and on about our disbelief in the angry wave of intentional misinformation rolling over the country, the big things and small things people have to ignore in order to make belief. To support an angry illusion.

One evening, we shook our heads in utter incredulity as a member of our community re-posted a QAnon assertion that the CDC was exaggerating the numbers of COVID deaths just to make the then-president look bad. As proof, the post included a morbidity chart extracted from the official CDC website. We pulled up the website – it took less than 15 seconds – to see the extracted chart nestled on a page with multiple charts detailing comorbidity data; the many many ways that COVID kills. We felt compelled to write a note. It was too easy to debunk the assertion. We asked him to take a moment and go to the site, to look at all of the data. He was being fed a chart cherry-picked from a veritable mountain of information. Nothing was being hidden. No evil plot was in play. His reply was angry, defensive. He unfriended us. We’d done the unthinkable and revealed what he was ignoring.

We learned a lesson about the power of invested ignorance.

Over the year our pandemic table has changed. It’s been populated with sparkling lights and plants. A bonsai gardenia, a birthday present from Kirsten to Kerri sits next to the ponytail palm, both surrounded by succulents. It’s become a sanctuary. We’ve changed, too. We rarely give our time to shaking our heads in disbelief or pushing back against the non-sense things people-in-our-world believe. I’ve stopped exclaiming, “Check Your Sources!”

We occasionally comment about the big things and small things – the mountains – being ignored in order to sustain the modern bubbles of make-belief. The big lie. We are no longer shocked by the dreck that people swallow without question or thought. We’ve moved beyond our own naive illusion and admitted that many people simply do not want to know anything that might challenge their make-believe.

We sit at our pandemic table. We listen to the mourning doves. We eat our lunches looking out at the vibrant green returning to the backyard. We laugh at Dogga running circles in delight. We talk about replacing the very-worn rug beneath our feet. We appreciate the bonsai gardenia, checking the moisture of the soil. We celebrate when our friends and family are vaccinated. We know more than ever it is important to hold dear the baseline, to not disregard our responsibility to check our sources, to carry a healthy doubt about what we are hearing on the news, the story we are being told.

read Kerri’s blog post about BONSAI GARDENIA

Turn To See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Joseph Campbell said, “None of us lives the life that he/she imagined.” We have an idea, perhaps a plan, a good map, and then, well, life happens. As anyone who’s ever done home repair knows, things rarely go according to the plan. A good life, a life well lived, allows for both the well-laid-plan and the home-repair-rule. Things happen. Plans change. Visions grow. Pipes burst. Pieces don’t fit. Good angels arrive.

Dreams are fluid things. Despite expectations, very few life paths are straight lines.

One of the tenets we taught in The Circle Project was to plan for surprise. Expect the unexpected. There is nothing worse than an inflexible plan. There’s nothing better than a happy accident that alters the course of an idea, the direction of a life.

That we have penicillin in our world is the result of a famous happy accident. Intention met mishap met serendipity. A surprise discovery in a Petri dish in 1928 took years, many more Petri dishes, publications and happy discovery by other scientists who held a similar intention, followed by additional happy accidents to at last become a useful antibiotic available to the public in 1942.

Though I rarely include it in my list of gratitude, I would not be alive today were it not for that accidental mold in the dish and the subsequent scientists who included in their plan time to read journals and follow up on the research they found there. I’ve never come across a life plan that included a bout with life-threatening infection but I’ve heard countless tales of relief when the antibiotic – no longer a surprise – arrived. Surprise meets plan. Plan meets surprise. They are dance partners, not adversaries.

A team can practice, practice, practice, but they cannot know or predict the outcome of the game. It must first be played. And, as any athlete will tell you, the game is only worth playing – or watching – because the outcome is unknown.

Plan for the unknown. Welcome the surprise.

The long view is what we desire before life is lived. Pick a point on the horizon and walk that way.

The long view is something we can only truly see after the fact, when we arrive at a point, and turn to see the surprising path we have traveled.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LONG VIEW

Complete The Ritual [on KS Friday]

One of the strangest rituals in directing plays comes in the closing hours of tech rehearsal. It is the final button, the cherry on the sundae; the last detail before the addition of the audience: choreographing the bow. The mechanics of gratitude. The curtain falls. The audience claps. The actors return to the stage to accept the appreciation. It’s important, in that moment, to know what to do and where to go. It’s important to know when to bow and when to vacate the stage.

It’s a mechanical moment made generous – made real – when the audience arrives. After having been led through a story or gifted with a performance, the curtain falls, the audience claps in appreciation. The actors, relieved and filled with gratitude, return to the stage and bow in thanks. Appreciation meets appreciation. The strange ritual of the previous day becomes the point of the whole exercise. Without the other, audience and performer, the storytelling is empty. We complete each other. We acknowledge in appreciation this absolute truth. My story is nothing without your witness. Your story is incomplete without my story. You applaud for me. I bow to you.

A major purpose of the artist is to remind the community of this truth. We are nothing without each other. We are capable of walking into impossible questions, when, together, we gather to share and complete a story.

Artistry is a service industry. It is humbling. It is meant to be humbling.

I sit staring at the screen. I am rewriting a script, a piece I performed with a symphony in 2008. I was terrified until the conductor lifted his baton. I remember very little after the first note was played. I came back into my body the moment the music concluded, my story told. The applause. I’ve never felt so small. I’ve never felt so full. Both.

The conductor wants to perform the piece again in 2022, only he asked that I revise the story, something that will speak directly to the issues of our times. The mechanics of writing. A strange ritual, this staring at the screen. I know the story I want to write. I wonder if I am up to this task. And then, I remind myself that this question, “Am I up for it?,” is the wrong question. It leads me to believe that I am alone in this creation. Of course I am not up for it! But, together, with the musicians, the conductor, the audience… Someday, after the mechanics, the rehearsal, the revision, the final button of preparation, we will gather and together, we will walk into impossible places, ask questions too big to be answered. Together, we will join hands and share the experience of a story. The curtain will fall. The audience will clap. The performers will bow. We will remind ourselves, as this strange ritual completes itself, that we are nothing without each other.

[I love this sculpture. Kerri keeps it close by her piano. The Bow by Duke Kruse.]

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

Finish The Race [on DR Thursday]

We are nearing the anniversary of SHAYNE. As heart projects go, high atop the list of projects that mattered, sits SHAYNE.

One night, Kerri’s mom, Beaky, called in tears. Nearing the end of her life, she wondered what she’d achieved. A brilliant woman born in the early part of the 20th century, many roads open to a man were utterly inaccessible to her. She wondered, as Kerri said, “What comes after the comma behind her name.”

Decades earlier, Beaky had written manuscripts for three children’s books based on the family’s dog, Shayne. She’d submitted them without success to a publisher. Kerri searched the earth and found the manuscripts. In a matter of days, we illustrated and published the first in the series. We constructed a website, set up and publicized an author’s reading. Over 70 people came, complete with the press and photographers, to hear Beatrice Arnson read and sign her new children’s book. Her first sale was in The Netherlands so I teased her that she was an international author.

Beaky passed away 18 days after the event. The word, “author” followed the comma after her name. She saw the cover art for the second and third books in the series but never saw them published. In fact, we published the second book posthumously but have yet to publish the third. It’s been too hard.

And, each year, on the anniversary of the book signing, we revisit publishing the third book. We simply need to a take a week, lay it out (the illustrations are complete), and publish it. The anniversary we approach is not only about the publication of the first book. It is the closure, the lingering necessity, of publishing the final book and complete the race that we started more than 6 years ago.

Resolution. Conclusion. Completion. More than just words. A symbolic mountain that is very difficult to climb.

The books are more than just books. The illustrations are more than just drawings and paint. They are a dream come true. A gift from daughter-to-mother and mother-to-daughter; the best kind of love-loop. They are a word that follows the comma after a name.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHAYNE

Walk With Joey [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We owe Joey Coconato a debt of gratitude. He has unwittingly made our journey through the pandemic-year-of-isolation, not only bearable, but expansive. We’ve hiked with him through the canyons of Utah, the back country of Yellowstone, off trail in Glacier National Park. We’ve crossed glaciers with him, forded multiple rivers, traversed gorgeous rock benches, dodged thunderstorms, quivered at some serious exposure, shivered and sweated. We’ve cracked a beer with him in celebration of standing on a high pass. We’ve enjoyed some box wine and dubious meals while staring into a crackling fire.

His YouTube channel, My Own Frontier, is the chronicle of a man who is more John Muir than Steve Jobs. He’s pretty much left the mania of this society for the majesty of the outdoors. His early backpacking films betray a man on the cusp of jumping into the life he wants to live; his look more urban than rustic, a man preparing to find his voice. Within a year, he robustly unzips his tent and in a spirit free and playful announces in a voice undivided, “Well good morning! We’ve made it to day #2!” His enthusiasm for the new day makes us smile. The jump is complete, his hair is long, his equipment is in full disarray from overuse.

Joey walks the earth. He is living the kind of life that most people desire but fear. He’s tossed away his safety net. He stands face to face with the great unknown. He makes a plan but adjusts according to the forces of nature. He places himself squarely within those powerful forces with no shield or 401K. Rather, he invests in a deep respect for the lightning and proper relationship with the bears. Finding a beautiful meadow, enjoying the color of the aspen trees or the rock formations in a canyon, is his gold. He establishes his camp so that he might enjoy the views and spend time with the stars.

He’s quick to tell us that he is not a guide. He enjoys making his films and hopes that we enjoy them, too, but we are not to plan our back country trips according to his story or route. It is the very thing that we find compelling about him. He is clear. He is not invested in any way in what others do or think. He is creating his way. Your way is entirely up to you.

But he is wrong about one thing: he is, without trying, a guide. He is a master of simple appreciation. He’s stripped away the Walmart stampede and cuts through the luxury car illusion. With the wind gently blowing through his mic, standing on the shore of a mountain lake, and lets slip his quiet awe: “Sometimes I’m struck that this has been here every single day of my life. It was here before I was born. It will be here long after I’m gone.” He is a guide of perspective, a teacher of value, one of those rare beings that doesn’t get lost in the glitter and the noise.

read Kerri’s blog post about JOEY

See The Invisible [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Oh my gosh!” She whispered. “These remind me of my mother!” She quickly pulled her camera from her purse and, to the amazement and amused curiosity of our fellow grocery shoppers, we had a straw-plate-holder photo shoot at the end cap of aisle 9.

It is, of course, among my favorite aspects of going through life with an artist wife. Everything is a story-thread. Everything is a possible composition, an opportunity for beauty. Everything is immediate. It is utterly unpredictable when the muse will strike. And, the immediacy of capturing the moment usually draws a crowd and she is blissfully unaware of the ruckus her immediate-story-composition creates. She is a rolling storm of performance art. I am the lucky one who gets to watch both the artist and the audience.

Augusto Boal, one of the developers of the Invisible Theatre, would be most proud of the unintentional performances Kerri creates. In an everyday setting, everyday life, a performance snaps an audience into awareness, shocks them out of their dulled sensibility, an audience that has no idea that it is functioning as an audience. Many stop to watch the crazed lady snap photos of straw-plate-holders as she tells sweet stories of her mother. Many scurry for the safety of anonymity. Either way, either response, a pure theatrical event takes place.

The performer scrutinizes her many photos, completely unaware of her performance. As she places her camera back in her purse, the audience immediately disperses, hopeful not to catch the attention of the performer and somehow be called into the play. They fold themselves back into the normalcy of their day.

But, something has changed. They have a story to tell, an unusual event happened in their day. The performer has touched back to her deep story and through her photographs, plucked her heart-threads.

And I have been the happy witness to art and artistry. All are fed by these lovely, oh so common, straw plate holders displayed at the end cap of aisle 9.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRAW PLATE HOLDERS

Walk In Sync [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My Seattle studio was on the 4th floor. It was a corner space so I had windows on two sides. On one side, across the railroad tracks, were the stadiums. Out of the other set of windows I could see the streets that bordered the International district. People scurrying to and fro.

Many afternoons, working on a painting, I’d hear the roar of the crowds, touchdowns or home runs. The light rail pulling into the station. The Amtrak train pulling out of the station heading north. Sirens, car horns honking. I loved my studio because, although I was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of city life, I felt somehow removed from it, a witness.

Sometimes, when I was too much in my head or I could no longer ‘see’ my painting, I’d walk the streets. I’d wander to clear my mind or refresh my vision. I’d walk slowly, people rushing, rushing by. People trying to get somewhere. Trying-to-get-out-of-a-too-active-mind requires a much different pace than trying-to-get-somewhere. They are opposite actions. In my slow walk I’d feel the wind of impatience as people dodged around me. I was an irritant. I was a slow moving rock in a rushing river of humanity.

The wind of impatience.

I’ve always understood the artist’s role to be a witness, to live on the edges looking in. Master Marsh recently sent Wendell Castle’s “My 10 Adopted Rules of Thumb.” Rule # 2 is “It’s difficult to see the whole picture when you are inside the frame.” An artist’s job is to sit on the frame, to see and share what those inside the frame cannot see. Pattern. Movement. Illusion.

One of the first things I noted the day I met Kerri is that we had exactly the same stride. We were walking and our steps were weirdly identical. We strolled in sync. It made us laugh.

There is a special place in Aspen, Colorado. The John Denver Sanctuary. We make a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary when we travel to visit Kirsten. It is a place designed to make people slow down. Babbling brooks. Aspen leaves. Monolithic stones carved with the lyrics of John Denver’s songs, stones that carry the words of writers and artists and thinkers who appeal to the heart. It asks the visitor to sit for a spell. To listen. To breathe and see. To be, as nature teaches, no where other than here. It offers the gift of the artist: to fill-up with quiet before jumping back into the life-of-hurry-up-and-get-it-done. To remember what is natural and walk with exactly the same stride as nature.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATIENCE

Open [on KS Friday]

“…nothing really worthwhile can be owned. There is life. There is love. There is grace. But we can neither create nor possess a state of any of these. These visitors breathe through us, with us and in us the more we keep ourselves open.” ~ Declan Donnellan

Barney, the piano, was set to go to the junkyard. His soundboard was broken after years of being stored in a basement in a boiler room. We convinced the junkyard man to bring Barney to our house. We set up a stone foundation so he wouldn’t sink into the garden. In a move worthy of the Three Stooges, we rolled him across the grass until he came to rest in his new home, our backyard.

Over the years we’ve watched Barney age into gorgeousness. His veneer blistered and rolled. Pieces fell off. The superficial white covering on his keys mostly flaked away. His truth exposed by the sun and the rain and the snow, is more lovely than the facade he once maintained. His wood bleaches and cracks, the grain swirls like a rip tide. His nails and screws rust, the color pops in elegant contrast to his otherwise grey and green-moss tones.

Over time, the flowers and grasses have grown around and through his pedals. Each summer the green tendrils reach for his keys. He has become home and haven to chipmunks and squirrels. The birds sit on his lid and rest or sing. Dogga investigates the community living in and around Barney at least once every day. He is, in his slow march toward dust, a welcome sanctuary to all living things.

Unlike many of the human examples in my life, Barney has opened with age. He is akin to our dear H, who died not so long ago, a man who opened and opened and opened the older he became. Like Barney, a gorgeous spirit grown more gorgeous with age. Curious about life and engaged with its mystery to the very end. H was a study of opening to his experiences rather than resisting the changes.

This year I have wrestled with staying open. My veneer wrinkles, my truth is revealed by the circles I have made around the sun. I have, many days, felt like my soundboard was cracked, the purpose that I was built for ruined by life next to the boiler. And then I listen to the absurdity of my words. The purpose. Singular. Ridiculous. I am reminded of what H knew and Barney trumpets to me each and every day: in an open heart, purpose is never fixed. It is a fluid thing. It is a moving target, not a possession or plaque to be hung on my wall of respect. It is a home to chipmunks, a resting spot for birds. It is how I address myself to the world of mysteries, how I avail myself to the experiences that wash through me and over me each and every day. It is how I make breakfast for Kerri. It is how I sit with DogDog when he searches the house for his missing BabyCat. It is in my choice to say Yes or No to the wonders of this world.

read Kerri’s blog post about BARNEY

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

Try [on DR Thursday]

The operative word in this Chicken Nugget is “try.”

To try is a verb, an action. It’s also a noun but the synonyms used in either variation are mostly the same: attempt, endeavor, make an effort.

Try. It’s such a small word but its impact is unfathomable. It is the defining line between intolerance and empathy. Empathy begins with trying to see what others see. Intolerance begins with refusing to try to see what others see.

Try. It is the epicenter of advise that every parent offers to their children. Take a crack at it. Why not put it out there. Give it your best shot. You can’t win if you don’t run the race. You’ll never know unless you try.

A verb. An action. Try. A noun. A way of being.

Try is the foundation stone of curiosity. Wanting to know, wanting to experience what is “just over there.” To see not only what others see, but why they see it.

I sometimes try to see the unbridled enthusiasm that Dogga sees in each and every moment. I try to see the world of unlimited possibilities that Dawson sees every time he touches a crayon or paint brush. I do not delude myself. My eyes are not so pure. But I try.

Imagine what we might do in this world if we only gave it a try.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRY

Look To 3 [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My long-ago-business-partner used to tell groups that every human being wears an umbrella hat called “normal.” That is, we try to maintain and make sense of the world according to our personal (and cultural) criteria. We carry the criteria around with us – it does not exist beyond us. We are comfortable when wearing our umbrella hats. We get really uncomfortable when something comes along that knocks our hats off of our heads.

When we lose our hats, we’ll do anything to regain our comfortable “normal.” The fear of losing our hats is what makes change – personal and cultural – so difficult. Despite what they say, no one wants to lose their hat. Organizations have a nifty phrase, change-management, to shield against the reality that change – real change- requires discomfort. How to prevent discomfort? Manage it! No worries! Everything is under control!

The other strategy – also not very effective in the long run – is to pretend that the hat is still on your head. No worries! It’s all made-up! Everything is normal!

The pandemic blew our collective hats off of our heads. We’ve had a front row seat to the realities and responses of a disrupted normal. The recent photos from Miami Beach, the aggressive non-mask-wearers, the absurd and deadly politicization of a pandemic…all in the name of hat retention and recovery.

In our circle of life, we’ve had the ubiquitous conversation about the return of normal. “When can we get together again?” Prior to the pandemic, our week was patterned on, our lives were grounded in, our Sunday and Thursday night dinners with 20. In a fluid artistic life, dinner with 20 was the shape-giver to our otherwise formless weeks. One day last March, we tossed our hats to the wind. It wasn’t safe to gather.

Over the year we left groceries at his door. He dropped goodies at our door. We waved from the car. We had regular phone calls. A few times, when the weather was nice, we sat in the back yard at great distance and discussed how weird life had become.

We looked for our new-normal-hats but they were nowhere to be found. It’s what happens when change cannot be denied: the management of discomfort is the best that you can do. Keep stepping. Chop wood/carry water. One day at a time. A new normal will surface sometime. A new pattern will be established. Pattern making is what we homo sapiens do.

In the past few months we three were vaccinated. We waited for a few weeks. We diligently read our CDC guidelines. And then, as if a year had not passed in the interim, we gathered to share a meal and drink a bottle of wine. Nothing had changed and everything had changed.

2 at the table is once again 3. We are slowly reestablishing what we once knew as normal. Our laughter is easy as it has always been. But the nation we inhabit, the community we see and experience, is transformed. There are stores we will never again support. There are relationships that will always be superficial. There is a bald ugliness exposed as never before in the nation. Ruthlessness. So many dead amidst such fatuous games of denial. The hot wind that blew our normal-hats away exposed the geography – the actual geography – beneath our nation that espouses equality but has deep division and favoritism woven into its DNA. Control by division. It is a mechanism: black gain is seen as white loss. White gain is built upon black loss. It is a seesaw, an angel/devil game. It’s a system doing – brutally – what it was designed to do.

Disruption is an opportunity for change. With so many lost hats, with so much ugliness exposed, a good look in the national mirror is possible. As we struggle to find our new normal hats, it occurs to me that angel/devil games, deep divisions, are never “solved” in twos. Movement is created by two points. Insight is a three-legged stool. Complexity is addressed through triangles, through a focus on relationship. Opposition-in-twos will keep us forever on the systemic seesaw.

Laughter is restored, possibility uncovered, through the lens of three.

read Kerri’s blog post about 3