Listen [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Sage advice someone, somewhere, offered to Kerri: sometimes there’s only one way to get through it and that’s to go through it. No resistance. Turn around and see it, feel it, experience it. All of it.

Once, long ago, I emailed my friend Rob and wrote that I felt like I was lost in the forest. He wrote back that sometimes, when you feel lost, it’s best to sit down, smell the pine, and enjoy the birdsong. That, too was sage advice. Be where you are, not where you think you should be.

Identity crisis is a misnomer. Growth and change only feels like a crisis, mostly because it requires letting go of “the knowns” and stepping into “the unknowns.”

My sage advice to myself, learned from too many experiences of opening my mouth when I had nothing of value to offer: if you’re lucky enough to attend to someone who’s stepping off the edge of their known world: listen. Quiet presence is better than loud comfort.

read Kerri’s blogpost about IDENTITY CRISIS

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Look Closer [on KS Friday]

As the cowboy rode passed us he asked if we’d noticed the Mayapples. We laughed. This same cowboy, a few years ago, taught us about the Mayapples. He’d forgotten but seemed pleased when we reminded him. “That cowboy loves his Mayapples,” I said as he rode on down the trail.

We see each other through soda straws. A few brief encounters, a man on a horse dressed as if he just rode in from Wyoming, a lover of Mayapples. I really know nothing of his story or the realities of his life. I thought about him as we continued our walk. He might be a surgeon or a professor of botany. He might be an apparition. I doubt that “cowboy, lover of Mayapples” is the totality of his identity. I have many story-possibilities rolling for the cowboy, yet, my bet is that I’d be surprised if I had more than a straw’s view into his life.

Most of our judgments about others is a result of the straw’s view. We are master storytellers and only require the slightest prompt to spin a full tale. We see a 30 second news spot and believe we have the complete story of someone’s life. I suspect most of what we fear about other people is mostly soda-straw concoction. Laura Blumenfeld’s book, Revenge, is a great reminder of what is possible when the soda-straw view, the assigned role, expands into a full human portrait. A closer look always reveals a richer human story.

Later down the trail I howled with laughter. We’ve been fans of the Mayapple since our first encounter with the cowboy yet never knew there was a blossom hidden beneath the canopy of leaves. “Oh, my god!” Kerri exclaimed, lifting the broad leaf, exposing the white bloom. We lifted a few more leaves, each hiding a surprise flower. “I had no idea!” we chirped in unison.

“Have you noticed the Mayapples?” asked the cowboy. Apparently not.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about MAYAPPLES

nurture me/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

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

Dissolve And Do [on DR Thursday]

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” Wise words from Tom. It was a mantra and his patent response when asked how one becomes an artist. I imagine Tom learned this wisdom from DeMarcus. DeMarcus certainly learned it from his mentor. Artistic ancestor to descendent, the quality that makes an artist is the practice. Nothing more. Ask me what makes an artist and you will hear what I learned from Tom.

There’s a special, hidden layer in this mantra. Someday, if you are a lucky artist, you stop thinking of yourself as an artist. The role dissolves in the doing. It no longer matters how others see you or the label you apply to yourself. It’s nice to separate yourself from the herd yet service to the herd is the point. That, I am coming to understand, is the moment that artistry fulfills itself. A deep trust ensues. No blue ribbon or large sale or shiny prize will change the essential. No outside eye or opinion or judgment or praise alters the fact in the least. A writer writes. A painter paints.

How do you pursue an artistic life? We take walks and pay attention. French blue sky and early tree blossom. And then, each day, as is our practice, we write or draw or compose.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREE BLOSSOM

Newborn, 48x32IN, mixed media

newborn © 2019 david robinson

Look Back [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Our 3am conversation was about the horrible clothes we once wore. We both lived through the 70’s and 80’s so there was plenty of fodder for shudders and laughter. I couldn’t be more delighted that cameras in that era used film that was expensive to process, and were not ubiquitous, so there’s limited visual proof of the alarming garments of my past.

Looking back. My favorite aspect of our horrible-clothes-conversation is how much we loved the offending items when we wore them. I had a Huckapoo shirt that was only worn on special occasions. I’d scream and run from that shirt if I opened my closet and found it there today. Kerri described a favorite periwinkle blue dress with black polka dots that had me crying with laughter. The woman I know would faint in fright if she awoke wearing that dress. “Get it off! Get it off,” she’d scream, as if it was a spider.

For two people who spend most of their lives wearing black thermal shirts and blue jeans, it was delicious to trace our past lives through the costumes we’ve worn. The people we were. The investments we made. The colors we donned.

What was sacred is now profoundly silly. What was serious is now grin-worthy. What seemed so important turned out to be so-much-powder.

“Time just rolls. It just keeps rolling,” she said. The hard times and the good times. Hang on long enough and what-is will become what-was and a new-thing will have replaced the previous thing. “It just rolls on through.” At 3am, what matters in life could not be more clear. It’s the conversation. The laughter at our foibles, the sweet, “Shall we try and get some sleep?” It’s what we will see of this age when time rolls on and, late one sleepless night, we look back.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LOOKING BACK

Love The Trade [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

There’s nothing more jolting than getting a new passport photo. It’s a forced opportunity to compare photos of yourself separated by a decade. The old passport photo is what you think you look like. And the new one? Well, let’s just say that denial can only go so far. “Someone photoshopped my face!” I declared. Kerri rolled her eyes. I also disparaged the camera and the photographer but neither of those ruses gained traction. “Wow,” I said in full acceptance, “I’d better start smiling more so the grooves in my face will be appealing.”

I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on Zoom these days so I have ample opportunity to watch myself watching others. The harsh morning light poured in the window yesterday amplifying my age. “I need a better videographer,” I said, but no one got the joke. The light made my grey beard glow so I soothed my startled soul with daydreams of someday becoming a wizard.

20 says that young people look at him like he’s furniture. “It’s like I don’t exist,” he said.

“Yes,” I agreed and added, “but I’d rather be happy in my new role as furniture than go back in time and be lost in the nonsense of my youth.”

I like the guy in my new passport photo. I don’t recognize his face but he laughs more and cares less. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a good trade. And, no one ever promised that progress was pretty.

read Kerri’s blog post about AGING

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Sing It Into Existence [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Lately I am awake for the sunrise. I know it is coming because, very slowly, the birds begin to sing. At first there is one voice, then a few more and then more. By the time the light through the window glows soft purple and gray, the full bird chorus is in session. They sing the sun into rising.

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, these lawn-art-birds would come to represent to me threshold guardians. Harbingers of the test that my move to Wisconsin would bring. In story terms, threshold guardians are not friendly; they serve as the test of readiness: are you willing and able to greet the challenges that come with change. Or will you run away? Sometimes they are monsters. Sometimes they require the answer to a riddle or solving a puzzle. The new world will open after the obstacle is met. In facing and overcoming the challenge, the guardians often become allies. In truth, they are allies all along. They help you find your self by testing every idea that you have of your self.

Driving the Budget truck on my move from Seattle, filled with the artifacts of my life, Kerri and I stopped in a little village, Stockholm, just as we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. We wandered down the street and into a gallery. We were drawn to these simple bird-sculptures. They are the first thing we bought together. They represented our step into relationship. Us. They would stand together in our yard.

My first few years in Kenosha were akin to being lost in the woods. My livelihood disappeared. My networks disappeared. Art opportunities vanished. Many of my friendships faded. Every project I tried to pitch or create stalled, every path I attempted to plow broke the plow. I felt stripped. Of little or no value. Even in arenas where I was once appreciated, I was invisible. I’ve done extraordinary consulting work in organizations but learned in my new life that my experience and observations were not welcome. So, silent as well as invisible.

More than once I went out back and sat with the sculptures. They remained silent when I asked of them my questions. Who am I now that I have no useful purpose? What do I do now? In the absence of an answer, the sculptures and I listened to the birdsong.

Often the test brought by the threshold guardians is one of letting go. You cannot become a butterfly if you insist on remaining a caterpillar. The armor must fall. The known shape must go to mush. The what-the-hell-is-happening-to-me necessarily falls unanswered into the void. What’s happening is not complex: you are changing. The old stuff isn’t working because it is too small for the new shape. Let go.

It is not complex but it is uncomfortable. Dark night is cold when you’ve shed your skin. The sun will rise. The birds will sing it into existence. Warmth will return in the moments beyond the soft purples and greys.

We recently moved the bird sculptures from their spot by the pond to a new home by the fence. I hadn’t realized how invisible they were when standing over the pond. By they fence, they are glorious! They are also a metaphor, standing tall, made more vibrant and dynamic by their incorporated shadows. They are transformed. They are present, standing together in the yard. They are signaling the path to the new world, singing into existence the new day.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BIRDS

Pay Attention [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I read this morning in my brainpickings, “We have to try and cure our faults by attention and not by will.” Simone Weil.

Kerri and I walk almost everyday. We head for our known, usual trails, and only occasionally go in search of something new. Even though we walk a well-known path, it never fails to seem entirely new. Kerri attends to the details, taking photographs of unusual pine cones, a downy feather on a limb, the sun streaming through the trees. She pays attention. My awareness is more global, the movement of forest, the orchestra and dance of trees and wind. I pay attention.

Our walks bring us perspective when all else seems dark and disorderly. Our walks refill our well of hope when our circumstance seems bleak. Mostly, our walks “cure our faults,” they bring us into a present moment where all of life’s judgments and fears fall away as the illusions that they are. Our walks, if only for a few hours, wipe clean our canvas and return us to a childlike curiosity.

Sometimes, after a snowfall, we arrive at our trail and it is untouched. It never fails that we stand at the trailhead and marvel at the unblemished snow. Sometimes we hold hands and jump in with both feet and laugh. Sometimes we step carefully, quietly. Reverently. Either way, it seems a special gift. First steps are to be noted. Last steps are to be noted.

This morning I read an article about How Aging Shapes Narrative Identity. How the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves changes as we age. Our investments change. We become less interested in pursuits and achievements, in willful purpose. We become more interested in appreciation of our precious, limited moments. And, so, we begin to tell a different story. New snow on an old path.

The article was timely. Kerri and I lay awake most of the night. Among other things we pondered my dad’s dementia, the stories that he weaves and realities he inhabits. He is obsessed with going home.

Deep in the night, we talked about the stories that we currently weave together as we grow older. It seems that this time in our lives is a blank canvas, a path of new and untouched snow. Standing at the trailhead of our next chapter, no steps to follow or map, neither of us has any desire to reinvent or become different than what we are. Certainly, the circumstances of our lives are changing, but more and more we merely want to pay attention. To hold hands and jump into the unbroken snow. To laugh. To note the downy feather in the tree. The wind song, the deer that surprise us, leaping through tall grasses. “Did you see them?” I whisper. Kerri nods and smiles. Reverence. Nothing in the world, at that moment, is more important.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNBROKEN SNOW

Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK

Become A Heart Symbol [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Almost anything can become a symbol. Almost anything can be made a symbol.

Symbols are very powerful, probably more powerful than we realize or are willing to admit. People die defending them. People die attacking them. They can serve as a moral compass. They can be a siren call and entice entire communities to crash on the rocks of devastation. Symbols can unite. They can divide. They can clarify. They can obscure. In almost every case, symbols serve as the defining line between Us and Them. They identify.

As a servant to identity, a single symbol can facilitate diametrically opposing points of view: hope and threat. It can be the taut rope in a social tug-of-war. Crazy things happen when, within a community, a symbol runs in opposite directions. We are witness to that today through the symbol of the “mask.” Some see a mask as communal responsibility. Some see it as a threat to individual freedom.

The challenge with any potent symbol is that it burns either through the heart or the guts. Only then does it run to the brain.

For instance, mask-wearers begin their symbolic journey in the heart. The symbol of “mask” is proactive. It signifies service to others and community protection. It unites in a common cause. It runs in the direction of hope. Giving. Inclusion. For them, a mask is a positive symbol. It confirms and accepts science, data, fact. It adapts to new information. It grows.

Mask resisters begin their symbolic journey in the guts. For them, the mask represents a fear of personal loss. It is a divider. It runs in the direction of threat. The symbol is reactive and signifies service to self. Exclusion. A mask, for them is a negative symbol. No amount of data or fact can assault a negative belief. A gut inception inflames the brain. It entrenches.

We’ve heard that, where mask wearing is concerned, there is a declining vigilance of the public. I wonder if that is true. I suspect the perception of declining vigilance is actually a matter of noise. Those who operate from their guts, their fear, will do anything, are capable of any and every form of cage-rattling. Theirs is a symbol of distress and is loud and enraged as is the case with most “me” focused symbols.

Those who operate from their hearts are generally quieter. They know the restraint that compassion brings. They are focused on the betterment of the entire community, including the fearful, so, as is true of most “us” focused symbols, calming the panic is an essential aspect of the action.

I doubt that vigilance is in decline. The fearful gut is screaming louder, garnering attention, daring to be made to wear a mask, cranking up the volume, loudly crying “hoax” – all the while knowingly spreading the disease.

In the meantime the quiet heart, the larger part of us, moves masked through each day. Hope need not make noise or news or announce itself. It is satisfied simply by doing the work of community, the real work of public vigilance.

read Kerri’s blog post about DECLINING VIGILANCE