Breathe and Make Choices [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James

A note from the Rejuvenation Fairy: the relief we seek may depend upon the phrase we choose. For instance, consider this phrase: coping mechanisms. What ease might become available if we viewed ourselves as something other than machines? Turn this dial. Adjust this screw. Add a little oil. Check the battery. Do this, then that will happen. Turn down the pressure gauge. Talk to others. Take a break. Cause and effect.

Breathe. Sentient beings are much more complex and subtle than apparatus made from iron and steel.

We story ourselves. For reasons no one will ever fully comprehend, we sort to the tragic. We imagine the worst. Ask any good storyteller and they will confirm that conflict is the driver. Yearnings meet obstacles and stories ensue. Everyone, without exception, is telling themselves a story. Everyone, without exception, is starring in their own movie, complete with impossible mountains to climb, monsters to face, dreams that remain just out of reach. Robert Sapolsky has it right: zebras don’t hold onto their tale of stress while human beings are reticent to let it go. We like to tell it again and again and again.

If we cast ourselves as victims in our movie, our stories will be filled with ogres to blame. If we reduce ourselves to the mechanical, our stories will be endless attempts at fixing what’s broken, looking for the right hose to replace. How to recharge the battery. The fortunate few recognize that their movie might be a story of choice. Choices made within given circumstances. The storm, like time, passes. How do we stand in it?

There’s little doubt that we are living in stressful times. There’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to turn up those mechanical pressure gauges. Add another notch or two of pressure with extreme national ideological division, cowards at the switches of government, mix in some economic stress…there are plenty of choices on the angst-menu. All are visceral. All are circumstances to the story we choose to tell, the story I choose to tell.

I came across a few universal coping strategies. Eat healthy. Exercise. Give yourself a break. Get plenty of sleep. Talk to others. Recognize when you need help and ask for it. I wondered why these good choices are reserved for times of stress. Why not give yourself a break as an everyday expectation. Talk to others. Eat healthy. Weave a calm center it into the fibers of daily life. Make choices. Especially in the story you tell yourself about yourself. The thought upon which you choose to fixate, to play over and over again in your movie-mind.

When Kerri and I fall off the pony and run around like our hair is on fire, we make chicken soup. I am the sous chef. She is the master mind. The recipe comes from her mother so the making of the soup is more than food prep, it’s a love-touch to her anchor. We touch love. And, of course, defying the advice of experts to avoid alcohol, we enjoy a glass of red wine. We choose the glasses: Jamie’s? Or Skip’s? Or Joan’s? For our wedding, we were gifted with many special wine glasses from many special people. Recently, Jay and Carol and Rob sent us wine. When we clink our glasses, we touch the depth of our support and reach of our friendships. We call 20 and laugh. As the soup simmers and the wine disappears, we realize that our hair is not on fire, that, although we are not zebras, we are infinitely capable of releasing our tale of woe. We need not cope or distract. We can grasp hold of the full tale of the enormity of our lives. We need only refocus our eyes, see the depth and expanse of our story and choices, enjoy the warming soup. Appreciate the story of the wine.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHICKEN SOUP & WINE

Give Yourself Time Together [on KS Friday]

In the pre-COVID world we had dinner with 20 twice a week. We’d cook on Sunday night. He’d cook on Thursday night. It was the rhythm of our week, how we’d locate ourselves in time. Nothing special, nothing fancy, just good food and laughter…and time together.

In the pre-COVID world, one of our favorite treats was potluck with Brad and Jen. We are a foursome with severe dietary restrictions so we found it was easier to have potluck rather than try and cook for each other. Our potlucks were time warps; we’d start talking and, in a moment, 5 hours would have passed. Our ritual question in the car driving home: “Where did the time go?” Time together with Brad and Jen has the lovely quality of never being enough time.

In October we drove to Colorado. My dad is slipping deeper and deeper into the land of dementia. In a pre-COVID world it would have been an easy decision but we delayed our trip for months. Fearing I may not see him if we did not go, we planned the safest trip possible and hit the road. He did not know me during the few days that we sat with him but there is no more precious gift I have ever given myself than those few days of time together.

If I have learned anything during this pandemic, it is that there is nothing better in this life than time together. A platitude. Maybe. But, if I could do anything right now, if I knew my time on this earth was short, I would hang out with Horatio, or MM, or Master Miller, all of the Chases…[you all know who you are]. Dinner with 20. Potluck with Brad and Jen. Every-single-moment precious. The chatter. The laughter. The quiet sitting. It is why, even in the severity of our circumstance, I consider myself, I consider Kerri and me, rich beyond measure.

This is no small revelation/admission for a dedicated introvert.

On the other side of this pandemic, it is how we will treat ourselves. Something commonplace and simple. Time together.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about TIME TOGETHER

The cool tag in our image is from in the land of elsewhere. Find and support them on etsy and instagram

time together/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

Follow The Lights [on KS Friday]

Before moving to Wisconsin I had no holiday tradition. Being “not religious,” my celebrations were more spontaneous and improvisational than rooted in any specific custom or expectation. Dinners with friends. One year I baked bread with strangers. One year I took a boat to an island because there was a hot springs by the beach. One year, because I was alone and life was crumbling all around me, I scheduled for myself 30 coaching calls; that was the most memorable and profound holiday season of my life. I helped people. I met Kerri.

Since moving to Wisconsin my holiday tradition has been to help Kerri create choir performances for services. When I suggest that I helped, I mean I carried stuff, set up chairs, pushed pianos, moved bells into the choir loft, set up microphones, hauled big bowls of sand for candles. I am part Sherpa. It has been the busiest and zaniest time of the year. After playing the late night Christmas Eve service – the last of many running through the week, we come home, and with our neighbors, light luminaria up and down the street, pull two fire pits onto the driveway and stoke them for warmth. We open bottles of wine and place on a table bowls of snacks. People come and, huddled around the fire, we talk and laugh until the cold wee-hours of the morning.

This year, with the loss of jobs and collapse of community, with the pandemic spiking, our traditions are erased. For me, this feels like familiar territory. For Kerri, it is a profound loss and is disorienting. She had a full-on-old-fashioned-melt-down a few nights ago after cutting her finger on a broken wine glass. “It’s too much…” she sobbed. I couldn’t help but feel as she wept that I/We have walked a full-circle. Eight years later, life is again crumbling all around me/us. This could be the most memorable and profound holiday season of our lives. I didn’t offer my thoughts. I have learned in moments of crisis that silence is often more helpful than platitudes of encouragement. I am slow but sometimes I get there.

Leo had a Christmas tradition that I admired. He gave everyone in his circle an orange and a few walnuts. He grew up very poor and, as a child, those were the gifts he received. It was the most and best gifts that his parents could give. Throughout his long and successful life, he gave them to remind himself – and those he loved – that the holiday was not about the stuff. It was about the people who stand in the circle with you, the people who stand in the fire with you. The people who you love, who give all that they have: their hearts. An orange. A few walnuts. Big, big love.

This year, those people will stand virtually with us and we with them. The hot fire of this year has burned away the superficial. The recognizable patterns have all but disappeared. Yet, the essentials remain. The essential few remain. Deeply rooted. Deeply felt.

The cycle of life, the cycle of The Lights in Kerri’s song, reminds us of all that really matters. New life, linking back. Ancient hearts beating in our breasts. Full of light. Full of big, big love.

Kerri’s albums – including the lights – are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LIGHTS

the lights ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Get Close And Look [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Get close and look. Really look. Raindrops on the screen. Distortions. Light bends. The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid. “What do you see?” she asked.

Last night, somewhere in the vicinity of 2am, we were wide awake. We ate rice Chex and reviewed the stressors of the year. It read like a biblical plague. We laughed when we realized that there were/are so many stressors that we’d actually forgotten the local riots, the curfew, chaos. and murder that happened a few blocks from our home. “In any normal year,” she said, “that would have been the top of the list. This year it didn’t even make the cut.”

Get close and look. What do you see? Future PhD’s will apply their magnifying glass to our time and find the tail wagging the dog, the greater falling to the lesser. A political party cowering and conspiring with delusion. They would rather see the system fall than risk their power seats. A populace jousting over wearing masks in a pandemic. Many would rather their neighbor die than have their imagined rights restricted. Propaganda networks, posing as news, peddling fantasy as fact. They would rather worship at the altar of the advertising dollar and feed the division (division sells!) rather than hold fast to the mast of journalistic integrity. It’s all entertainment when the necessary is swallowed in a mouthful of superficial. Gossip and conspiracy are so much tasty sugar!

Rome fell when the chief-toga-team guarded their luxuries rather than attended to the essentials. Millions of people line up for food. The market soars.

Really, get close and look. Little miracles are everywhere. “You were plucked out of the snake-pit,” he wrote. “Get the water boiling and get out the corkscrew. It’s time to celebrate.”

We found wine by the front door. Twice.

“I will sit with you in the dark,” she wrote.

“Do you need anything?” they asked.

Slushy came with smiles. “We thought you might need this!”

“Stand above your circumstance,” he suggested.

A special delivery of vitamin c and zinc brought tears to my eyes. True friends emerge from the pack.

The boys join us on the raft every morning for breakfast. Dogga comes running every time tears fill her eyes.

The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid, raindrops on the screen. Hard lines, soft shapes. “We’re very lucky” she said, stooping to take a picture of a pine cone, a fallen branch with wispy needles. The day was cold but the sun was warm.

“What do you see?” she asked, turning the camera so I could see her photograph. “Really look.”

read Kerri’s blog post about RAIN ON THE SCREEN

Gather [on Flawed Wednesday]

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Sometimes you are running ahead of the ball and then the ball rolls over you. Generally, those are momentous days. Today was on of those.

I love the phrase, “The day got away from you.”  Personification of the day. It ran away. A wild thing. It was not controllable and got away. Generally, those are momentous days. Today, yes, today was one of those.

A baby was born. A friend peered into the darkness. Someone was strong-armed into compliance. Trusty relationships went sour. And all of it happened at the same time. The same day. Momentous.

Sometimes change slips in unannounced. Sometimes you see it coming and look away.

Knowing that the universe is out of joint, Jim, at the end of the day, texted a Dylan lyric. Gather ’round people wherever you roam. Yes. It’s the people in our story, those we gather around us, those we join when the landscape is barren and lonely, that make days like today seem better. Momentous.

These times, they are a changin.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEOPLE

 

 

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Love Your List [on KS Friday]

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I lost track of Dwight. For years. He  was dear to me and his loss was profound.

And then, after moving to a new city, on a very foggy Easter morning, just after sunrise,  driving a bread truck to work my way through school, I almost hit a man who appeared out of the mist. He was running across the road. I slammed on the brakes, bread flew everywhere. Standing directly in front of my bumper was Dwight. I got out of the truck. In the middle of the road our friendship was restored.

After more than a decade I lost him again. 5 years passed. And then, one day, the phone rang. He was coming to Chicago. The circle returned as I hoped it would. Our friendship is renewed. His presence in my life is a deep generous river.

I am of the opinion that I am rich beyond measure. In my world there is Master Marsh and Horatio, Brad and Jen, Master Miller and Dwight, Arnie, 20 and the up north gang, Judy, Skip, Linda and Jim, John and Michele… Old friends (and new). They stir my thinking, they challenge me to be a better person, they feed my body and my soul. They show up for me when I call. And, I am always grateful when they call on me – that’s how I know we are friends. We want to participate in each other’s lives.

I am now long-lived enough to know that this life is not about the things I do, the achievements, it is about the people I do it with.

 

OLD FRIENDS on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about OLD FRIENDS

 

wineglassesthreehands61 website box copy

 

old friends/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Be Nothing [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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It might be my age. I am more and more conscious of the fleeting moment, a special-yet-inconsequential experience, walking with friends, and am overwhelmed with gratitude, struck by the profound in the ordinary.

“Be nothing,” Krishnamurti advised. In that way, we become capable of seeing the extraordinary relationships of everyday moments, seeing the intense beauty in ‘what is’ without the greying filter of ‘what should be.’

Kerri was walking ahead with Jay and Gay. They were laughing and gesturing wildly. Charlie, Dan and I were several paces behind. Dan is a great storyteller and he was making us laugh with a tale from his neighborhood. We strolled down the center of the road; on island there is little to no traffic. The sun peaked through the clouds for the first time all day, just in time for sunset. We heard deer snapping tree limbs as they leapt through the forest but could not see them.

I looked at my wife and friends and the rush of utter appreciation stopped me in my tracks. I knew that I was fully alive, nothing stood between me and this very extraordinary ordinary passing moment. Nothing.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ROAD SHADOWS

 

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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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See Your Wealth [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Not only does 20 take care of DogDog and Babycat while we are away, he always has a hot meal waiting for us when we arrive home. He is our anchor, our safety net. Our brother.

Once, a week before our wedding when we were harried and exhausted, we sent Linda a text. “Can we come to your house for dinner?” She fed us a feast. She and Jim made us laugh. We drank wine. They feast us to this day.

John and Michele watch out for us. They are the source of a thousand kindnesses. They tell stories that make us cry with laughter. They live with intention and inspire us.

When I was sick Russ showed up at our door with food. MaryKay plied us with brownies.

I call Horatio, Skip, or Arnie to stir my thinking, to seek perspective, or just because. They are always available. Always.

Dan helps us fix things, protect things, make things better. He is always on the lookout for ways to make our lives easier.

The Up-North-Gang comes to find us when we’ve been out in the canoe too long. “It’s time for snacks!” Jay says. We laugh with them and go on adventures. We drink special recipe Long Island Iced Teas and then have to sit down.

We call Jen and Brad for advice. We call them when we want to bounce ideas off sensible minds. We call them when we want to hear loving voices. They rejuvenate us. They lift our spirits. We look forward to every ounce of time spent with them.

Fact: it is the people in our lives that make our days some kind of awesome. Ask me if I am rich and I will smile and say, “Yes. Oh, yes. More than you can possibly know.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AWESOME

 

wineglassesthreehands61 website box copy

Love To Laugh

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my bride on our wedding day.

Today marks our one month anniversary. Kerri and I were married one month ago at 11:11am. There are two things that probably best define our wedding: 1) the very first thing we bought for use in our reception was a wiffle ball set and a kickball. It’s taken me a long time to learn that ‘sacred’ and ‘fun’ are essential to each other. Love without laughter is empty, indeed, and I cannot now imagine anything more sacred than love. We wanted to laugh and we wanted our guests to laugh with us.

There is, I’ve learned, a very good reason that the Hopi include tricksters in their important rites. They know that laughter lets the god in. It is a paradox. If you take the god too seriously you will inhibit your relationship with it. You will abstract yourself from it. You will abstract yourself from what is most essential. Laughter is a great facilitator of relationship. Friends laugh together. Kerri often talks about the Amish quiltmakers building a flaw into their quilts. The flaw allows the grace to come in. The laughter, the fun, plunks relationship squarely in the center of the sacred. It makes it real. It makes it relevant. It makes it personal (the three most oft used words to describe our wedding: personal, real, relevant).

To that end, 2) of the wedding week, Jim said it best, “You do know how to throw a great litter of parties.” Truer words were never spoken. We threw 5 consecutive parties in 5 consecutive days, each growing in size and scope. We wanted the people we love to have ample opportunity to meet, talk, and grow to love each other. It took a litter of parties, multiple touches, multiple opportunities, to sow our new garden. More than once Kerri and I watched as the circles of our lives crossed and recrossed, a new tapestry of friendships and stories emerging. Linda taught folks Irish dances on our back patio. Jim and Jim met and played a spontaneous mini-concert. It was gorgeous and spontaneous and rich, rich, rich in laughter (see #1).

This morning Kerri sat with coffee in bed and talked about our wedding (“Can you believe it’s been a month?”). We told stories and compared notes. We laughed. “My one regret,” Kerri said, “was that we never played kickball! I wanted to play kickball!” It’s true. The wiffle ball set and kickball never made it to the beach. There was dancing, so much dancing. The hula hoops even found their way to the dance floor (the bride had four going at one point). So, the kickball remains unrequited. However, the plan for our first anniversary is now set: October 10, 2016, a game of kickball on the beach. An after party of wiffle ball will follow with any and all comers. It will be casual, like the wedding. No need to bring anything. Simply come prepared to laugh.