Take The Time [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

To see takes time.

Desi has been teaching us to see. She sits on the table in a clay pot. We join her at the table every evening to sip a glass of wine, watch the light wane, the robins and cardinals dart across the yard, debrief the day. We’ve been watching Desi all winter, spending time with her. Watching.

Truth be told, I did not expect Desi to live long in her pot. She’s seemingly so fragile, her “trunk” no wider than a sewing needle. And yet, throughout the winter, her robust green needles never yellowed. She thrived, verdant in her unlikely home.

Kerri talks to Desi more than I do. I’m the silent male but I regularly send her my good thoughts. She regularly reciprocates. Kerri and Desi can carry on for quite awhile about nothing in particular. Soil. Water. Warm days. Pine-tree-talk. Hope.

Hope. A few weeks ago, Desi stood taller. New tender sprouts pressed from nowhere , tiny arms reaching for the sun. We celebrated Desi’s new heights. We encourage her to keep going – and she does! Now, each evening, first thing when we sit at the table, we spend time ‘seeing’ Desi.

In a hard pandemic time she lightens our spirits. She cares nothing for the news cycle or the ridiculous foibles of bipeds and we find that refreshing. Most of all, if, for a moment, we forget that we are surrounded by hope – it’s everywhere – we take a moment or two and have a sit-down-visit with Desi. We take the time to see what is always right in front of our eyes.

read Kerri’s blog post about DESI

Wiggle And Be Warm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!” ~ Thomas Nashe, Spring, Sweet Spring

“It’s not possible,” we said in unison. For weeks, the temperatures were bitter cold. The mound of snow at the end of our driveway was as tall as I am. The sun finally emerged. We pulled on our snow pants, our heavy boots, and walked into the snow-shocked world. Rounding the corner by the dentist’s office, at the base of the south facing wall, through a patch of cold wet earth surrounded by mounds of ice and snow, tender shoots of green were breaking through, reaching for the warmth. Daffodils. Spring.

We stood staring as if slapped. It was as if we had rounded the corner and come face-to-face with alien hope, something we thought existed only in some distant future, a Hallmark promise of light in the darkest of winters. Yet, there it was, tenacious and tender, a harbinger of Persephone’s return to the sweet surface of the earth. “I have to take a picture,” Kerri whispered, as I broke into a spontaneous sun dance. Passing motorists stared at the lady climbing into the bushes and the wiggling crazy man.

I felt as if I suddenly held a precious secret. I did a slow 360 degree turn and saw only winter, winter, winter. Cold, frozen, frigid, freezing, ice damming, black ice, snow plow, sand and salt world with people puffed out and covered in too many layers to please-god-stay-warm. And, in the middle of it all, a tiny patch of promise. A force greater than despair or depression or pandemic fatigue. Life.

We stayed just long enough to make sure it wasn’t a mirage, linked arms and set course for home. Cold fingers but warm in our core.

As we trudged home, breaking trail in snow, I thought of a small piece by Ellsworth Kelly. He pasted a chunk of warm yellow on a postcard image, a Japanese print. He called it “Spring (Yellow curve).” A shock of yellow completely out of place yet transforming the entire world. I imagine, one day, he took a walk in the bitter cold and saw a shock of yellow blowing through the soil. So out of character yet so welcome. Spring. Yellow curve. “Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!”

read Kerri’s blog post about SPRING?

Welcome A New Day [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

An old dream. A new day. Enough said.

Pursue The Quiet [on KS Friday]

If I were going to write an autobiography I’d call it IN PURSUIT OF QUIET. Drawing has always quieted my mind. The simple act of descending the stairs into my studio has the same effect. I’ve learned that it is not the picture on the page or the image on the canvas that I’m chasing, it is the quiet mind I enjoy.

When I was a teenager, Mahlon and I drove into the mountains, hiked through the snow and set up camp. It was so quiet, the cold wind whispering through the treetops, the only meaningful voice in the conversation.

During the first winter that Kerri and I spent together, the snow was a siren call. We had to go into it. More than once, late at night, we’d bundle up and walk and walk and walk. The sound of our feet crunching newly fallen snow, the wind off the lake – no words necessary.

I reread what I wrote on this day last year, the first day of the new year. I vilified the previous year. I spouted hope for a better year to come. I know better now. It’s best to be quiet. It’s best to reserve judgment, to stay far away from “should-be” or “might-have-been.” It’s best to stand on the back deck, face to the sky, feel the flakes hit my face, and appreciate…all of it. Every last bit of it.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOW WHISPERS

find Kerri’s albums on iTunes

Chase Out The Spirit [on DR Thursday]

Let’s just call it intentional superstition. With apologies to DogDog and BabyCat, at midnight tonight, we will fling open the back door and bang big pots and chase all of those bad 2020 spirits away. And then, we will rush to front door and open it to let in the new good spirits of 2021. It makes no difference whether the good spirits or bad spirits actually exist, whether the ritual is ridiculous or not. It makes no difference. We want 2020 out of the house. We want to invite some positive change into our lives. We’ll do whatever it takes.

2020 made me feel like Lieutenant Dan strapped to the mast of the shrimping boat shouting at the storm. Bring it on. It’s you and me! 2020 was a violent storm. It was a reckoning. It is a reckoning.

We know there will be a new day. Calm waters. Peace. This storm will pass. Perhaps with banging our pots and flinging open our doors we can speed it up a bit.

Years ago I had a student who was about to boil over. I bought a box of ceramic plates for him at the thrift store. We took them out back and he hurled them at the brick wall. At first he was timid. And then the storm took him and he smashed plates and screamed at the universe and wept. And then he laughed and laughed and laughed.

We are at the laughing stage of things. Thus, intentional superstition. Imagined causation. 2020 has been utterly irrational so why can’t we meet it on its own ground? Play by its rules? Fear the big pot, 2020!

We just changed our menu. Kerri read a list of Irish folk wisdom for the new year. It recommends pork. Pork it is. Black-eyed peas. Great! Also, if you have red hair, we will not let you over the threshold until someone with dark hair enters. Sorry about that. Our Celtic magic must be honored. There’s a good-and-ancient-story in there somewhere but we don’t really care what it is.

Goodbye 2020. See ya’. So long.

read Kerri’s blog post about 2020-BE-GONE

Ponder Before Turning [on DR Thursday]

Today is Thanksgiving Day in these sometimes-united-states. As a master of understatement and friend of Captain Obvious, I would like to suggest that this Thanksgiving is like no other.

Many of us are in quarantine so we cannot gather. In fact, with COVID-19 raging, the most loving and responsible thing we can do is NOT gather. Family relationships are strained as we peer at each other across the red/blue reality divide. Many of us have lost our jobs – all of them – so the traditional horn-of-plenty is a slightly frightening empty bucket. Thousands of us are queuing at the food banks. Homes are lost, evictions abound. Many are grieving the over quarter-million lives (so far) lost to the pandemic.

And yet…

If I understand my history, this 2020 Thanksgiving is more like the original 1621 version than our usual remembrance. Theirs was a celebration of survival. More than half of the people who arrived the previous year to establish a colony had perished. A hard winter and a raging epidemic took a heavy toll. That very first day of thanks encompassed the grief of loss as well as the gratitude for living to see another day. A successful harvest meant they had a slightly better chance of making it through the coming winter. Can you imagine their exhaustion?

Hope, no matter how dim, provides the necessary fuel of dogged perseverance.

Hope. Belief in the promise of a better day. Imagination sets sail on the seas of the unknown, following the guide star of renewal. Making it through, surviving to see a time of abundant harvest.

So, today, we take a moment, a day. Colonists awash in apprehension. We take a breath. We look back, we know that there is no going back. We grieve what is lost. We ponder how we got here. We take another breath, a day of rest and gratitude before turning to face the realities of rampant uncertainty. We wonder how we can do better. We fill our tanks with hope, knowing that tomorrow we will arise, look forward, and take a single-first-next step.

Sometimes a single-first-next step is as far as we can see.

read Kerri’s blog post on PONDERING LIFE

chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Walk In Circles [on Two Artists Tuesday]

The breeze like a puppeteer had the trees waving their limbs so the leaves whirled down all around us. It was a moment of trail magic, the kind that stops all inner-thought-rambling and pulls you to the surface, into full presence and delight.

Life lived in circle-time is much more gentle than the hard-time line we are accustomed to embracing. That is why we walk. We leave the line and step into the circle. Precisely because the circle goes nowhere and can only arrive at here. It pops like a soap bubble the illusion that life might be found elsewhere. The leaves rain down. Life is here. It is autumn again. It is familiar and mysterious, both.

It is very possible to think that life passes, a mile marker on a road. It is equally as possible to experience life as a single moment, the center of a cycle. Both/And. I will pass but the cycle will remain.

When I am on the line I cease seeing the full spectrum of color because my mind is blending the miracle into an elsewhere. When I am in the circle, the spectrum of color explodes, greens in yellow, warm purples and cool blue.

The line pulls life out of me. The circle fills me up. It is why we walk the trails, to refill.

The Ditch Trail in Colorado. The aspens radiant in orange and yellow. Snow was clinging to the shadows. Vibrant green grasses. “Concurrent seasons,” Kerri said, as she stooped to snap the photograph. There was water rushing in the distance, wind quaking the tree tops. The sun warmed my bones. “This is what hope feels like,” I whispered to no one, eyes closed, face to the sun.

“I don’t want to leave this place,” Kerri said, completely captured by the sense of her senses. Refreshed.

“Me, either.” Color popping and hopping all around me.

read Kerri’s blog post about CONCURRENT SEASONS

Give Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Viktor Frankel

We walked downtown a few days after the fires. We decided it was time to go see for ourselves what had happened in our town only a few blocks from our home. In truth, the sound of speeches ringing through the neighborhood drew us. We were already walking when we first heard them. We couldn’t understand what they were saying or where exactly they were coming from so we followed the sound. The amplified voices and cheering bounced off the buildings and sometimes seemed to be coming from all directions.

We followed the echo to the street that runs by the civic center. From a distance we could see the crowd. ACLU observers wearing blue vests roamed the area. There was a first aid center. Tables were manned to distribute water to the crowd. When we saw the burned out car lot Kerri took out her camera and began taking pictures. “Why did they burn this?” she asked. Yes. Why?

It is uniquely human to ask why. To need an explanation. We attempt to record and document. To gather evidence. All in the pursuit of sense-making. To find meaning. And, if no meaning is easily found, no readily graspable answer to “Why?” is available, it is among our greatest human powers to make it.

To make meaning. To find meaning.

Viktor Frankel, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, asked “Why did some people survive and some not? He looked for an attribute that favored survival in such extreme, random and deadly conditions. He concluded that, after sheer luck, survival in the camps favored people who made meaning from their circumstance. The people who sought meaning from their circumstance soon lost hope. He wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

On the hood of one of the burned out cars someone had stenciled this appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans. What might it take for us to be better humans?

When I was in elementary school great pains were taken to teach me how to be a good human and function in a civilized society. Wait for my turn. Open the door for someone with their hands full. Help where you can. Listen to others. Raise my hand before speaking. All of these simple lessons shared one thing in common, a specific organizing principle: consider others. Be considerate to others. Good humans are mindful and cooperative.

All of these simple lessons ran contrary to the rules I was taught about succeeding in the world: it’s dog-eat-dog. It’s a fierce competition. Do whatever it takes. In other words, it’s every man and woman for themselves. It’s just business.

So, like all of us, I’ve wrestled with the national schizophrenia: I can either be a good human and consider others or I can succeed. Not both. Said another way: in order to succeed I have to abandon my goodness.

As is the case with most either/or framing, it is a false choice. Money need not be absent of morality. Success can be the blossom of compassion.

It is important as we stand at this national crossroad, this opportunity for reckoning with our past, that we look at this polarity, that we step into the gaps between all of the false choices, black and white. Our troubles will not go away until we attempt to live our rhetoric, until we unpin white success from black subjugation. Equality of opportunity, equal justice, equal (fill in the blank) has not been afforded all members of our community. To be better humans we need to challenge our either/or false choices and instead walk toward a center that includes a full spectrum of color, choices and opportunities for all.

If we can find our center, if we can challenge our rhetoric, we just might find our path to being better humans living in healthy inclusive society. In the end, we may even come to the same conclusion as did Viktor Frankel: “I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BE BETTER HUMANS

Care Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

hope copy

This is my broken record moment: a system will do what it was designed to do. Sitting as I am in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the latest national flashpoint, I feel I have a front row seat to the system activating in response to a challenge.

Our system was designed to prevent “the unity of the commoner” in order to keep the focus off of the ruling aristocracy. This morning I read this sentence in the news: The president is fanning the flames of violence and dividing the country for political gain. The implication of Trump’s attacks is that there is a binary choice between law and order, and offering understanding and a path to justice for Black Americans.

A binary choice. A false choice. The commoners can EITHER have law and order OR they can stand for equal justice for all Americans. With equality comes the possibility of unity and unity is a threat to the system. In other news, just as you might suspect, vigilantism is on the rise. The system is responding exactly as designed.

Here’s the conundrum: we believe that protest and civil unrest are the path to real systems change and yet protest and civil unrest always split the community (prevent the unity of commoners). The path to social change in the USA cannot come from division. It might start there but it has to transcend the designed divide.

While the pandemic rages and the commoners are fighting each other on the streets, the stock market has soared. The United States has the highest level of income inequality among the countries in the G-7 and the gap is growing. It is not an accident that Fox News has its Henny Penny followers running around screaming “Socialism!” at the very time that America boldly steps toward an oligarchy.

My dad used to tell me that I’d educated myself into stupidity and I’d shake my head. Why would anyone choose to be uninformed? An ignorant populace is easily swung by the nose. An ignorant populace might have guns but they are unarmed where the real danger lurks.  It seems a good many of us are happily manipulated, hungrily eating anger and hate rather than asking a question or bothering to scratching the paint to discover if what we’re being sold is true or a con. It’s easy to check a fact or a source but you first must want to do it. That is where we fall down. We simply do not care. We opt for tribal division and easy blame over communal health – again, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Caring enough to question. That, too is an option. Caring enough to question is a possible path forward but requires us to look beyond the spoon-fed-rhetoric, the misinformation campaigns, and the intentionally stoked fires of division. It requires us in our questioning to shift our focus from the fight to the workings of “the ruling aristocracy.”

There’s also this: the businesses in downtown Kenosha and beyond are boarded up. The people of the community came out to paint them with messages of hope and support. Stamped on the hood of a burned out car is an appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans.

The impulse for change and a better world is there. A river of hope is there. The voices from the angry fringe will always shout loudest but I have to believe the vast majority, the quiet people who come out to paint, are looking for a common ground. There is hope, lots of hope, if we can take a look in our national mirror and see that we are doing exactly what the system is determining that we do. If we see it, we might be able to care enough to question, to deny the divide. We might be able to come together. We might be able to find a way to do better, to be better humans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

let'sbebetterhumans website box copy

 

 

Stack It High [on KS Friday]

a shred of hope copy

It’s day 4 of the salmonella blues. We think the offender was the green onion in the tabouli. We made a big batch on Sunday and it was delicious. And then it wasn’t. If it was possible for our world to get even smaller, more constrained, we found the way.

If we wanted to, we would stack the tales of woe one upon the other: pandemic, broken wrists, lost jobs, and today, the top of the woe-stack would be bad onions. We simply do not want to focus on that particular stack. So, instead, we stack our tales of gratitude: we are safe in our home, we have ridiculous amounts of love for our crazy dog and oversized cat, we are healthy (mostly), we have each other, we have incredible family and friends. We live our art. In fact, during the moments we feel sorry for ourselves, all we need do is slide the stacks together for side-by-side comparison. The gratitude stack is a mighty mountain next to the wimpy stack of woe.

This morning, when we felt that we could sit upright, we went into Kerri’s studio. She brought a word to mind and began playing, improvising. My job, as always, was to hit the record-button and stand still. What she played lifted me. I couldn’t help but look out the window, the sun sparkled in the leaves of the tree out front. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that everything was going to be alright. No matter what.

I told her about my feeling and she said, “Oh, that’s good! The word I chose to play was ‘hope.'”

What’s atop the gratitude-stack today? A little shred of hope.

 

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A SHRED OF HOPE

Kerri lingers in Facebook limbo. Everyday I ask with increasing mock-suspicion, “What exactly did you do?” Her indignation resurrects her almost-lost Long Island accent, “Idintdoanything!” she huffs. So, if you desire that I might live another day, consider subscribing to her blog. It will keep me out of trouble and for that I will chuck you on top of the stack of gratitude. The view is excellent up there so give it some thought.

 

 

close-up Arches with website box copy

 

 

a shred of hope ©️ 2020 kerri sherwood

a day at the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson