Be Stone And Fire [on KS Friday]

We lit this candle for Linda. Her service was last Friday and out of our reach so we honored her in our way, fire and stone. And, we told stories.

“Find the people who are exactly who they say they are.” Wise advice from a long ago friend. “They are rare and worth more than gold.” With Linda, what you saw was what you got. She was genuine and unmasked. If she told you that she liked your work, you knew it wasn’t merely a feel-good compliment. She meant it. They same rule followed if she didn’t like something. She meant it. No games. No power plays. No illusions. No wasted time. She never left you pondering what she might have intended or wanted to say. With Linda, no shovel was required to mine for her meaning. You knew.

That kind of unvarnished communication was polished by her optimism, her unshakable belief in the goodness of people. If she left you no doubt about what she meant, she also left no doubt that her intention was to help. She was a lifter of spirits, an elevator of souls.

She was the kind of leader that people write about but very rarely encounter. As Tom Mck would say, “She led from the back of the pack.” If there was work to be done or meals to be made, she was in the kitchen chopping or carrying boxes or bags or trash to the dumpster. She’d cook it. She’d clean it. She’d organize it. She’d make it happen.

The ship was so steady while in her charge that we mistakenly thought the ship was solidly built. It was not. It was steady because she was steering. No illusions, no games, no power plays. Calm seas or rough waters, a ship fares well when the guidance, the guider, is authentic and unencumbered.

Linda has passed. No wasted time. Lots of people fed, literally and metaphorically. An example to emulate. Stone and fire.

Long ago Linda asked Kerri to sing at her funeral. That was not possible. So, this is for Linda.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LINDA

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

hate to say goodbye/blueprint for my soul © 1996 kerri sherwood

Find The Treasure [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Every so often in the grocery store I am struck by how many people are involved in making sure I – we – have food to eat. Pick any item from the shelf and work backwards. It was carried, priced, stocked, delivered, warehoused, produced, picked, manufactured, marketed, accounted, inventoried, scheduled. Imagined. And, I wonder, how many of the hundreds of people involved realized that their labor makes my life – our lives – better?

Sitting in front of my computer yesterday I was swirling in a thought-eddy. Attempting to map a workflow, the mechanics of a process, I was befuddled. There were too many variables. As is my practice when perplexed, I stood up and walked away. Halfway down the stairs my mind jigged. I re-remembered that the only thing that mattered in my silly map was the desire to make someone’s life better, someone I would never meet. I realized (again) that I didn’t need to figure it out. I shouldn’t figure it out. There was and is no single answer. Too many variables simply means I cannot know – but I can intend. I will “know” how it all works after the fact. I know that, if I keep focused on my north star, making a life better, then, at this phase, that is all I need to know. It’s an unbeatable criteria for clarifying what to do.

“Do you think someone found our buttons?” she asked. “Do you think they liked them?” On our last hike in North Carolina, she left a small sack of Be-Kind buttons in the knot of a tree. “I wonder who found them,” she giggled.

A small treasure left in the knot of a tree. A sack of potatoes found in the grocery store. Kindness. We get snarky when we divorce our actions – even the smallest action – from the very thing that makes them matter. We get lost when we forget how deeply interrelated are our every action and thought. Cause and effect, as Alan Watts wrote, are not sequential but simultaneous. If you think your actions do not matter or have no purpose, think again. If you think it does not matter how you treat others or that bottom lines are more potent than people, think again. It’s the miracle of a circle or a cycle: where does it begin? Where does it end?

read Kerri’s blogpost about BUTTONS IN A TREE

Disagree [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Months later, she* is still angry with me. I asked her to “stop blowing me off.”

Some things need to be discussed and necessarily require entertaining differing points of view. Finding middle ground or considering alternate possibilities requires hearing what others have to say – and giving others the courtesy of hearing what you have to say. Her standard phrase of choice, when faced with an opinion or idea not her own, is this: “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

No. I don’t agree to disagree. Especially at the onset of a dialogue. I want to talk about it. I want to hear what you have to say and more importantly why you hold your point of view. I won’t agree to not hearing or being heard.

Opposing points of view, differing opinions, need not be conflicting. They can be highly generative. Mind opening. Thought provoking. “I’ve never thought of that,” is an expression that results when considering a different point of view. In ideal, our nation is based on the notion of two opposing points-of-view extending to each other the courtesy of listening and considering possibilities not yet seen. Yep. And, we are witness to what happens when one side (or the other) rejects the basic premise. Dismissiveness is the strategy of an empty suit.

Why assume conflict?

She followed “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree,” with the real statement, her actual aim: “You do what you want. I’m going to do what I’ve always done and follow my plan.” In other words, she had no intention of hearing anything that did not support her plan. Why, then, I wondered, did she invite conversation?

When the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. When the only door you have is a closed door, then every knock sounds like an intruder.

I laughed aloud when I read Bill Murphy’s article in Inc. Magazine about his pet-peeve phrase: “Look, I get it.” He writes, ‘”Look, I get it,'” is almost always inherently untrue…Even worse for our purposes, it’s woefully ineffective.”

It’s dismissive. Just as is “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.” The agreement she wanted was for me to agree to be dismissed. An agreement of silence. Why would I – or anyone – agree to that?

[* “She” is not Kerri. We hold each other in high esteem. It’s why the sign in our kitchen reads, “You are my favorite pain-in-the-ass.” We welcome our differing perspectives. Neither one of us dismisses the other nor tolerates being dismissed.]

read Kerri’s blog post about “LOOK, I GET IT.”

Light A Few Candles [on KS Friday]

“An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.” ~ George Santayana

It was like a visual Zen koan. The candles were placed close to the window and the reflection stretched back and back into infinity. What is real and what is reflection? We sat for several minutes, caught in the light trail that seemed to reach into the future/past.

We light candles for remembrance. We light candles for comfort. We light candles for the quiet they invoke. Inspiration. For hope. Buddhist prayer flags flutter and “release” their prayers to the wind. We light candles with the same intention: the remembrance is carried deep into the future/past. The comfort floats and fills our home.

It was our practice, prior to Covid, late at night on christmas eve, after Kerri was finished with work, to illuminate our street with luminaria. Little paper sacks weighted with sand and holding single candles ran up and down the sidewalk, the entire length of the street. We’d place fire pits in our driveway. Neighbors, friends and family would gather around the fire, drink wine and grog, eat snacks, sing a song or two, laugh. Somewhere, deep into the night, our fingers and toes would protest the cold, we’d say goodnight, douse the flames, and call it a night. Crawling into bed, it always felt as if the good humor of our gathering caught the breeze and carried a light-heart into the world.

Tonight, Kerri and I will light a few candles in sacks, weighted by sand. We will sit, sip wine, laugh and remember. Luminaria. Gatherings. Good wishes carried on the wind. The laughter and candlelight from the past will find us as we reminisce. We’ll send a wave of good intention into the future so that it might one day find us standing around a fire pit with neighbors, family and friends, shaking our heads and saying, “Do you remember when…”

you’re here (kerri sherwood rough cut)

hope/this season available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT INFINITY

hope/this season © 1998 kerri sherwood

you’re here © 2018 kerri sherwood

Roll With Every Punch [on DR Thursday]

And on the fourth night, just before retiring, I stepped onto the stoop and unplugged the colored lights. Forever. The ancient plug had had enough. It was weary and left behind one of its prongs. “No worries,” Kerri said, “I wouldn’t trust those wires to replace the plug. And, I loved them while they lasted.”

Yes. Just enough. A satisfying gesture. I believe that is our theme for the season. Just enough. Satisfying gesture.

Lately, I’ve made it a practice to ask friends and family, with all the water problems that Kerri and I have had this year, what’s the metaphor they see? What’s the universe trying to tell us? The responses have been great fun: build an ark. The slate is washed clean. Put on your waders. I’ve decided it is none of the above (or all of the above). I’m going with the Lao Tzu paradox:

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

Fluid, soft, and yielding. We are rolling with every punch. Soft is strong. Not much gets us riled up these days. There have been so many punches; rigid wasn’t working. Yielding seemed the better path. We are, as Kerri so aptly articulated, ” Leading with surprise.” Not that a waterline break is to be desired but, ours, although intensely disruptive, brought good stories and good people into our sphere. “I want to be like Kevin,” I said. He’s the engineer at the water utility. Kind, funny, easy in his life. His dedication was to make easier our path through disruption. He and Kerri are sharing holiday recipes.

We are, out of necessity or intention, either way, walking the middle path and being careful not to wander into oppositions. Just enough. Satisfying gestures. Love them while they last. Lighten up. Let go. Fluid, soft and yielding.

No worries.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHTS

nap with dogdog & babycat © 2020 david robinson

Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Last night we watched a documentary on the launch of the James Webb telescope, The Hunt for Planet B. One of the scientists said (I scrambled for a pencil but didn’t get the direct quote), “There’s something deeply human that needs to connect.” True. So true. So, we launch a miraculous telescope into space, far beyond the moon, and aim it at planets that might, just might have life forms capable of looking back at us. Not science fiction. Science. To connect.

There’s a prerequisite to connecting: an intentional step into the unknown. It is as true when shooting telescopes into space as it is when trying to grasp “Who am I?” “Lao Tzu wrote, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Our ancestors painted the walls of caves, not for decoration, but for connection to “something greater”. It is the same reason folks fill up synagogues and mosques and churches and temples. To connect.

Art, science, and religion all serve the same deeply human impulse. To connect. To reach across time, to reach across space, to plumb the depths of inner and outer space, in order to connect. Legacy and imagination. Identity, tradition, progress toward…connection to something bigger, something better. We reach to grasp and breathe life into our best ideas, both future and past.

The first step of the entrepreneur, the artist, the scientist, the explorer, the dreamer…the human, is a step into the unknown, to question the limits of the known. What else? Leeches were once believed to be good medicine until some bright inquiring mind observed and asked, ‘I wonder it that is really true?”

Einstein dreamed a dream and, so, he reached through the math to connect to the inconceivable: light is the only constant. Time and space are malleable. Picasso, initially, hid his first cubist painting, not yet ready risk ridicule. And then, needing to connect to “what might be”, he turned it around, stepped into new unknown territory, and invited the world to see.

read Kerri’s blog post on the UNKNOWN

Get Lost [on DR Thursday]

We delight in taking Sunday drives. Sometimes we have a destination but most of the time we have no idea where we are going. We head “out into the county,” the farm land, and with great intention, we get lost. “Left or right?” Kerri asks when we come to a crossroads. “Left.”

The goal is to “not know.” Drive down roads we’ve never experienced. There is a direct correlation between “not knowing” and “clear seeing.” When lost, we open our eyes. It’s something that every artist understands, “always-knowing-where-you’re-going” is a killer of the magic. It is the dividing line between art and craft.

I’m currently working with a team of analytical minds. “Lostness” is often interpreted as failure. It’s not welcome. But, to my great delight, even in the most analytic of creative processes, the engineers and entrepreneurs, shaking their fists at the sky when adrift, find their greatest magic arrives only after time spent wandering the wilderness.

After many twists and turns, rolling country roads and, “Which direction are we headed?”, we pop out of lostness and know exactly where we are. “Hey!” we laugh, “How did we get here?”

The art of getting lost. The art of exploration. The art of having an experience without a predetermined outcome. The art of having an outcome and letting it go, making space for something better. It is the art of cultivating surprise, allowing for the bigger idea to come through. “Left or right?”

It’s a practice. Learning-to-see and letting-go-of-needing “to know.” It’s the same thing. And, a great way to practice, is taking a nice Sunday drive.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ROAD

pax © 2015 david robinson

Reach Purely [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Art, as best practiced and understood over the centuries, is a spiritual as much as technical pursuit.” ~ Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

It was disconcerting. It still is. The illusion was so distinct that I had to show the book to Kerri and ask if she saw it, too. Each morning I read a few pages from Kent Nerburn’s book. This morning, in a chapter entitled The Divine Thread, I turned the page and a single paragraph, just a few sentences, was printed in a font twice the size as anything else on the page. I read it a few times since the author had given the section such obvious emphasis. After the I finished the chapter, I looked back to reread the oversized section – and it was printed in the same size font as everything else. It wasn’t emphasized at all. The shock of it made me dizzy.

“Art, however, does create this touch. It speaks in different voices, different rhythms, different languages. There is no place in the human heart it cannot reach.”

Paul taught his student-actors that they had an obligation to something greater. “When you choose to get on the stage, you have the power to impact other people’s lives. Do not take that responsibility lightly.” Your art, your creation, if purely intended, will reach the heart of another – purely. Even the loneliest painter knows the transcendence of the expansive energy that comes through in the moment of creation. Transcendence is all inclusive.

I have been humbled by the great artists I’ve known. Teachers, mentors, and others. I’ve been humbled by their humility. Tom, a brilliant director of plays and believer of possibility, influenced more artists than any person I know. He was tortured by the size and scope of his gift. At the end of his life, sitting before a fire in his cabin, he was, for a moment lost in thought. I watched his revelation come to the surface. He looked into his wine and said, “I think I did my best work when I was a just starting, when I was second grade teacher. It was pure imagination. I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that we could have fun telling stories and going on adventures where our imaginations led us. It was pure.”

I met a few teachers who’d been second grade students in that classroom of long ago. They told me that year changed their lives. They touched his heart and he touched theirs. Shrunken heads and planning expeditions to the Amazon. Maps and budgets and “What do we need to bring to survive?” They spent weeks preparing for “blind day,” an exploration of the world through the full scope of senses. “What could we learn if we didn’t rely on our sight? What would we need to prepare to help each other?” he asked. Pure.

For our wedding, Julia made for us a small box with a Klimt’sThe Kiss” decoupaged on the lid. Inside, she placed a few Euros. A metaphor. Great love as a container for great adventure. We placed the box in our sitting room in a spot where we see it everyday.

Kerri knelt on the dock to get this photograph of the water. “The color!” she gasped. Pull up an image of “The Kiss” – or any of Klimt’s paintings for a closer inspection and you’ll see this water pattern. Klimt might have painted it. He studied swirls in water, swimming color on the reflection of the surface. I’m certain of it.

Great love. Great adventure. Tom. Julia. Paul. Art that is pure. My head spins. There is no place in the human heart that art cannot reach.

read Kerri’s blog post about WATER

images of water © kerri sherwood 2021

Hold A Greater Space [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The sun was setting as we drove away from the memorial service. A celebration of life. We were quiet, lost in our thoughts. “I don’t know if I’ve ever before been to a celebration of life where I LEARNED something about life,” Kerri said. I was thinking the exact same thing. I’d just received a master class on how to live a good life. I just learned about the untenable nature of love.

It was Nancy’s service. Her husband of many years spoke. Her daughters spoke. Her stepchildren sang and read poetry. She was a longtime member of the church so the pastor told stories about her. The service was alive with laughter and with tears. Both. People applauded at the end of the slideshow, a photographic journey of a life that began in 1933.

We are inundated with notions that ‘the good life” should have no pain. It should be above hardship. Nancy’s life did not support that half-narrative. She experienced canyons of loss. As her daughter said, “She could have become hardened and bitter.” But, she didn’t. She didn’t ignore her pain or deny it, she allowed it. It was part of the color of her life. She did as the Buddhists recommend: joyfully participated in the sorrows of the world. She participated. She chose. She decided. She created.

She surrounded herself with flowers and loved her garden. She made her table a magnet for family and friends. She did not sit and complain, she had no time for woe-is-me. She found opportunities to give and engage. Story after story of a woman, even in the heat of cancer, while awaiting the results of the latest scans that would determine the number of days she would have on earth, turned trips to the doctor into opportunities to shop with her daughters. Lunches. Expeditions to a beloved bakery. Create the extraordinary in the simple moment, regardless of the circumstance. We heard again and again these companion phrases, “She chose love.” The pain and the love, “Both belong,” Heidi said.

In an intentional life, one does not negate the other. Tragedy and triumph. Devastation and joy. It’s a decision. Where we focus will determine our experience of life. Nancy stood in her pain and uncertainty; she had every opportunity to become bitter. Instead, she focused on love. She created it. Nurtured it. Grew it. Offered it. She didn’t deny her pain. She held space for it in a greater container.

It was apparent in the laughter evoked in the stories told, it was apparent in the generosity of the service we experienced. This was not a Hallmark movie. It was a celebration of a life of texture, of impossible mountains to climb and of enormous blessings. It was the lesson Nancy lived because it was woven through every story told about her. “It’s what she taught me,” Heidi said, “Both belong.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BOTH BELONG

Place It In The Hollow [on DR Thursday]

For some reason, people need to leave a trace of their passage. We paint on the walls of caves. We erect monuments to ourselves and our heroes. We build cairns to mark the way for those who come behind; we build cairns so others will add stones to the marker. We put plaques on benches and engraved bricks in walkways. We graffiti bridges and walls. Banksy has made a fortune tracing his masked passage.

Growing tired as we hiked up the trail, we sat on an old log. We looked over the valley, turned our faces to the sun. And, as we stood to continue up the trail, Kerri pulled a sharpie from her bag. We left two small dots on the log. “We were here.”

Our work in the world not only can be a marker, it is a marker. Every little action is a stone on the cairn: we contribute to the whole whether we like it or not. The person who delivers packages to my door makes my life better. Easier. The score of people who created this computer, invented this software, manufactured the chip that makes it all work, have made my life better. Someone coming behind us will see the cairn we’ve constructed and add to it. Improve upon it. The first computer I touched was a toy compared to this miracle sitting on my lap.

I’m an artist and sometimes wonder if my paintings will live beyond me or will they end up in the Goodwill as so much used canvas. I hear the advice, so often offered to me: “Yours is to paint them, not decide what happens to them.” Too true. Mine is to make the offer. I have no control over the acceptance.

Returning down the trail, Kerri peered into the hollow of a stump. It was filled with stones! Hikers, just like us, had left a note that also served as an ancient invitation: I was here. We picked up stones, the sharpie came out of the bag, scribbled a heart and a peace sign on our rocks before placing them in the hollow. “Do you think anyone will see our stones?” Kerri asked.

An ancient question. Deeply human. Heart and Peace.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE HOLLOW

three graces © 2012 david robinson