Intend Renewal [on DR Thursday]

Context is everything. When we chose this picture for our Melange, I thought I’d probably write about renewal. Out of devastation, a phoenix rises. Or, perhaps the kind of renewal that doesn’t just happen but requires a bit of scraping, new soil, scattered seed, and hay-net to prevent the birds from feasting on the seed. Intentional renewal.

Context. Between the day we chose this photo and this cool quiet morning that I’m attempting to write about it, the mass shooting at Highland Park happened. I’m finding it nearly impossible to write about renewal.

Highland Park is not far away. We attend the annual art fair on their small-town Main Street. We’ve driven through 4 times in the last two weeks.

We were about to go out the door and walk to our local 4th of July festival when the news arrived. We looked at each other, no words necessary. We kicked off our shoes. We decided to stay home. Going to a place where people congregate – like grocery stores or elementary schools or places of worship or movie theatres or parades meant to celebrate our “independence” – seemed unsafe.

Context.

HIghland Park was one of three locations in the USA that experienced mass shootings on the 4th of July. No, check that. Four locations. Even as I type, Kerri brought news of the mass shooting that happened here – not so many blocks away – on the 4th. Staying home was a good choice. Oops. Check that. More news. There were eight. Oops (again). Check that. Eleven.

I cannot write about renewal but, for the third time this week, I am tapping out thoughts about interconnectivity.

It is a trick of language to say, “I broke my toe” and believe that only the isolated body-part called “toe” is injured while everything else is fine. Except it’s not fine. An injury anywhere to the body is an injury to the whole body. Everything is impacted. Everything adjusts. The pain-impulse you feel in your toe has already completed a round trip to your brain. Your posture adjusts so expect your hip or back to be sore tomorrow. Your spatial awareness goes on high alert: it’s best to avoid toe contact with any immovable object. If you desire to understand interconnectivity, consider how your whole body might respond if you happen to stub your seeming-isolated-and-already-broken-toe. Whole body response. Imagine it.

There have been over 300 mass shootings in the United States this year. So, the single most puzzling comment to come out of HIghland Park? “How could it happen here?” As if “here” is somehow isolated from Uvalde or Buffalo or Boulder or…it’s a long list and growing.

The whole nation-body is injured. It’s the illusion of isolation that underpins the mad-thought that more guns, unrestricted, are a solution to gun violence. Build a fortress? Isolate? Better doors? Arm yourself? It’s only the toe.

Where exactly is the boundary of “here?” And why would it be okay for “it” to happen “there”?

We’re all here. There is no “there” that is “safe.” Context is everything.

Perhaps I am writing about renewal. The intentional kind that requires some leadership scraping, new soil, seed, and a whole-body community united and relentless in their demand for proper protections from the insanity of guns.

read Kerri’s blogpost bout NEW GRASS

may you © 2015 david robinson

Take The First Step [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“That is what marks out the warrior: the knowledge that willpower and courage are not the same thing. Courage can attract fear and adulation, but willpower requires patience and commitment.” ~ Paulo Coelho, Aleph

And so begins my tale of two quotes.

It’s true, I have not been very courageous in this lifetime. I’ve run from most of my demons until circumstance or readiness required me to turn and face them. Left to my own devices I’d be running still.

“I learned long ago that in order to heal my wounds I must have the courage to face up to them.” ~ Paulo Coehlo, Aleph

Luckily, life ran me into a dead-end. It was not courage but conditions that stopped the run and necessitated the turn. Demons are never as big as fear makes them out to be. In fact, turn and face them, and they will often shrink to nothingness. Their job is to make you run.

The real work happens after the demons shrink. Standing in your dead-end, the race from your life now complete, an obvious and disconcerting question arises: now what? Actually, there’s a deeper question implied: in the absence of running away, what will you choose to walk toward?

The deeper question is one of willpower. The deeper question cannot be answered by anyone else and can only be found in the space once occupied by the demon. Facing the demon was merely a prerequisite. Standing still in your dead-end, reaction transforms to intention.

Breathless and vulnerable, it is willpower (perhaps a kind of courage?) that is needed to take that first timid step toward…

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CANOPY

Embody The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

Everything in the Japanese Garden is symbolic, intentional. Pine trees represent longevity. Rocks, I’ve learned, represent the bones of the earth. They are as necessary in the design as are the “ephemeral blooms of the iris, rhododendron, and plum.” The symbol is not complete without both.

“The ephemeral existence of human life and the timelessness of nature.” Balance.

Entering the small yard of the Shoin House at the Chicago Botanical Garden is instantly calming for me. The small house is designed to “merge the outdoors with the indoors.” It is closed to the public but always beckons. I want to sit in the alcoves and write. Or do nothing at all. In the garden, I am instantly “connected.”

“Connectivity” is a word that has moved to the center of the work that I am currently doing. Amidst our ubiquitous capacity to share (Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok…email, chat, tweet, slack, text…) we are less and less connected. As Neil Postman wrote, we have made the irrelevant relevant and the relevant irrelevant. We share but do not connect. Shared information is not – and never will be – shared meaning.

Symbols empty of meaning when a community ceases to understand, honor, tend or acknowledge the significance of the symbol. And, symbols are the glue of a community. They are the physical, tangible location of an ideal. Disconnect from the symbol and the house falls apart.

I think that is why I am drawn to the Japanese Garden. There, beauty is intentional. The symbols are so well tended, so intentional, that one need not know the specific meanings to enter the symbol.

And, that’s the point. Connectivity happens when people, together, embody their symbols. They enter them. They become embodiments of their symbol(s).

It is the artist’s job to bring people into a shared moment. To give them access to a unified experience. To help them transcend the splinter symbols that divide – and see them for what they are. To help people step back and take a good look at what they, together, are creating. A garden? A desert? Balance? Imbalance?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ROCKWAY

prayer of opposites © 2006 david robinson

Find Your Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I will never forget the day I followed the stream, watching the life-ending struggle of the salmon as they fought the current the final mile to return to their place of origin, their spawning ground. To the local people, the people who tended the hatchery, the salmon were gods. Gods or not, watching their struggle to return was sacred. The utter necessity to continue life through the next generation – as the final act of life. Cathedral building.

We brought home a Selenite crystal. It is raw, translucent, gorgeous. A Google search of its properties reveals that it promotes calm and provides clarity. I’ve never actually been invested in the debate about whether or not a crystal has powers. I’ve made the association so, when I look at it or hold it, I have in my mind that we brought this beautiful crystal home to elevate our spirits. And, so it does.

I live in the golden age of marketing. I’m told that a new truck will make me sexy, the latest medication will make my life a snap, that a pizza delivery will bring my family together like never before. Status and power are available through the purchase of machines and clothes. One year, no interest. We buy these messages, filling our closets with passing satisfaction. Is the fulfillment of a new pair of shoes imagined, less-than-genuine? We are consumers so doesn’t it make sense that contentment lasts no more than a spin through the washing cycle? Momentarily satisfied. What’s next?

I suppose the question is whether or not the crystal brings peace to me or do I bring more calm to my day because I’ve surrounded myself with messages – and, therefore, intentions – of serenity?

I know without doubt that a new truck will not imbue me with sex appeal. Yet, I have a pair of jeans that I save for the days that I want “to look good.”

Skip drove two days to find the sun so that he might stand in it and rejuvenate. I go to the basement and stand amidst the boxes that currently fill my studio and stare at a large blank canvas. Like the sun, it rejuvenates me. Yesterday, the nurse at the community health clinic said she loved her job because she felt that she was really helping the people who need her the most, “There are better rewards than money,” she said. Imagine the necessity – the hope – she brings to her life and work. Rejuvenation.

I do not know whether we are gods or not, but our struggle to find our way home is no less beautiful or fraught than the salmon. It is breathtaking, this swim upstream. Confusing. Sacred.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRYSTALS

Fail At The Box [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Among Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements is this gem: do the best that you can.

Through the lens of the Occident, those folks on earth oriented to the idea that their nature is bad and needs taming, the Agreement is a statement of self-forgiveness. Do the best that you can. It’s a good bit of advice when everything on earth seems to come with a measuring stick.

Don Miguel is Toltec so his Four Agreements are rooted in an entirely different understanding of nature. To do the best that you can has little to do with performance or achievement. There’s no judge sitting on the high bench scrutinizing goodness or badness. There’s no book with black marks next to your name. This Agreement is about setting an intention. The other Agreements are about speaking with impeccability, making no assumptions, taking nothing personally. In other words, it’s never about you; you can’t possibly know the reasons why; your words matter. So, do the best that you can.

Circumstances are uncontrollable. Sometimes people are mean. Sometimes the tornado comes through and blows your house away. It’s not personal. You probably can’t do anything to change the tornado and even less to change other people. So, change yourself. Or, better, be yourself. Attend to your story and free yourself from the illusion of living under grand judgment or any of a number of other control fantasies. Do the best that you can.

Lately, I’m pondering the too-tight-image-boxes we squeeze into and try, but can never quite, fulfill. The impossible image; a too tight expectation. The Pleaser. The One Who Knows What Is Right. The Peacekeeper. The Strong One. A step away from the box-expectation, the-role-I-think-I-must-fulfill, is a giant leap into happiness. Inside the box it is virtually impossible to do the best that you can. Boxes are alive with assumptions (what I must do, who I must be); buzzing hives of judgment, and, when in a box, speaking truth is frowned upon, so editing and/or silence rules the day. Just try doing your best when living in a too tight box!

Fear and anger fill boxes. That is, after all, the purpose of the box, the fruit of the impossible mission.

Here’s my advice to myself: fail at the box. Cut it up and put it into the recycle bin. Then, free of the too-tight judgments, it’s possible to set mistake-free intentions. Life as finger painting: do the best that you can.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SOME DAYS

Stack Your Nickels & Pennies [on Flawed Wednesday]

From the school of if-you-are-sitting-on-the-mountain-you-can’t-see-it comes the hot mess we call healthcare in these un-united-united-states. Insanity never looks at itself and says, “I’m insane.” Our system of healthcare – and I use the term “system” loosely, is insane. In my sordid past as an organizational consultant I facilitated an experience called reverse design: ask people to design the worst system possible. The worst product imaginable. Hilarity ensued. None of those mad-mad sessions could have concocted what we call healthcare in the richest nation on earth. It seems the money has both blinded us and made us batty.

I just asked Kerri how much a postage stamp costs. “58 cents,” she grumbled, “And we got three mailings.” We finally achieved our get-out-of-jail-free card: a job with benefits. We canceled our ACA prison policy but, apparently, there was a one-day crossover in the billing cycle. I know a computer sent us the three-times-nasty-gram and spent $1.74 in postage to collect $.27. No human was involved though, having spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone with people paid to try and make sense of the nonsense, we’ve learned how numb the human mind can become when sense-making in a swamp of gobbledygook. We paid our debt online.

No human involved. De-human-izing. The Turing test is…a test of intelligence in a computer. Is the machine’s behavior indistinguishable from that of a human being? Hubris is a human quality that imagines the computer will become more like us while not recognizing that, in the process, we are becoming less like us. I doubt the computer will ever evolve to that point of pomposity. I suspect that the computer will someday recognize the folly of attempting to model itself after something so flawed as human intelligence. What intelligent machine would model itself on beings that seem incapable of creating a competent system for the care of its own health? No advanced intelligence would submerge its prime directive for the secondary intention of stacking nickels and pennies.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HEALTHCARE

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