Consider The Brushes [on KS Friday]

As an artist, I have fondness for brushes. I’ve been known to disappear into an art store and lose significant amounts of time in the brush aisle. I rarely buy them – I am notoriously hard on my brushes and wait until they fall apart to replace them – but when I replace them I feel as if I just hit the lotto or found a buried treasure in the art store.

I cut my hair to make my first brush. It was mostly useless and left strands of my hair in the painting. It was the essential need for a brush that clued me in to my life path. I didn’t want it; I needed it.

Lately I found myself wandering through a strange and alien world: the Ulta store, followed by an eye-opening trip into Sephora. Despite the ubiquitous advertising, the fact that I live in this society, how is it possible that I had no idea of the nuance layers of soaps and cremes and removers and buffers and…brushes. Beautiful brushes. As Stephanie once famously exclaimed of me, “You are a man after all!”

Clueless.

I was, of course, fascinated by the brushes. Not just the brushes, but the need to have the right brush. Buffers and liners, fans and foundation and shadow brushes! I am a painter of people, I paint the image of faces, and was fascinated watching the painters of actual faces consider and choose their tools. The right brush. Blush, smooth, hard line.

I cannot count the number of times people have told me that they are not creative, that they do not have a creative bone in their bodies. Standing in the alien land, watching the painters carefully choose their brushes, I wondered how so much creative energy, so much enthusiasm for the right color, the right medium, the best brush, goes unrecognized.

This alien land was pulsing with imagination, desire for the right tool, and the drive to share and help and create. There was a generosity of spirit rarely found on the other side of the doors. Women helping women. Laughter and advice. I liked being in this strange land of strange brushes and kindness – even as an outsider. A stranger. I found a breath of fresh air (perfumed as it was) while following my guides through the brush aisle.

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

read Kerri’s blog post about BRUSHES

grateful/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Point The Way [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“You can accomplish with kindness what you cannot by force.” ~ Publilius Syrus

It’s one of the most interesting Wikipedia pages I’ve come across. Publilius Syrus. A life described in two sentences that conclude with this: “…but by his wit and talent he won the favor of his master, who freed and educated him. The rest of the page are maxims attributed to him. A Syrian. A Roman slave. An observer of human-kind.

We live in a world of ubiquitous maxims. They are posted everywhere, in stores, billboards, and elementary school signboards. Appeals to our better nature. Choose kindness. There are, of course, plenty of appeals to our worse nature, too. It’s as if our maxims are in a tug-of-war. I imagine that Publilius Syrus experienced in his short life both ends of the rope, the cruel and the kind, which is why he wrote so many maxims.

This quote came across my screen so I wrote it on a lilac colored post-it note and stuck it to my monitor. It may or may not be from Christina Wodtke: “When you make complex things, words eventually fail.” Life is a complex thing that words will always fail to describe or contain. The best a word can do is point to something, or the way to something. A maxim, an ideal, is, after all, a signpost, a direction. A choice of path. A point-of-view is created during those moments of choosing.

Kindness is not a thing. It’s not a word – not the word. The word simply points the way to something so complex, so boundless, that the word will always fail. But, we know it when we see it. We know it when we offer it. We know it when we receive it. We know with certainty when we choose it and when we do not.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHOOSE KINDNESS

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

Grow The Grove [on DR Thursday]

To most people, this silver ornament nestled in branches of green needles, signals the holiday season. For us, not so much. We have silver ornaments suspended in all kinds of branches 365 days a year. They are generally – though not always – accompanied by white twinkly lights. Kerri calls them “happy lights.”

It’s true that most of the branches and most of the silver ornaments originated as our version of a christmas tree. A few years ago, we sprayed white paint on interesting branches found on a walk, stood them in cool pots, wrapped them in happy lights and, yes, placed silver bulbs throughout. We liked them so much that, to this day, they glimmer in our living room. Several years ago we found a sturdy, very straight stick for our holiday tree, adorned it with lights and silver balls, and suspended a star over it. The stick, sans star, now lives in the corner of our bedroom. It is versatile and moves through the house according to our fancy. Our current tree, the single star, will probably be with us for some time.

I know it sounds as if our house is slowly becoming a forest of branches, bulbs and happy lights. We are certainly eccentric enough to make that vision come true but, for now, the grove is (mostly) confined to the living room. We are given to ending the day, sitting in the dark, illuminated by happy lights and silver ornament reflections.

I cherish ending our day in quiet appreciation and also our dedication to spilling holiday goodness throughout the other eleven months of the year. The forest makes us feel good. It keeps us grounded. It reminds us – no kidding – that human kindness and generosity need not be confined to a season. It reinforces that how we treat other people matters – in all situations, at all times of the year. And, it helps us remember that happy lights are everywhere – and they have names- and lives – and move through our story as friends and family and neighbors and strangers we meet along the way. Our living room forest, you see, is a metaphor. Perhaps I lied: I think we do intend for the forest grove to fill all of our spaces.

read Kerri’s blog post about SILVER ORNAMENTS

angels at the well © god-knows-when-but-certainly-another-century david robinson

Ask A Better Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

This may be the height of cynicism but I don’t think so. Suddenly, as if dinged by a magic wand, we’ve entered that time of year when people remember to be kind. “After you,” the woman said, when I gestured for her to go first. The check out line was long so I had ample opportunity to witness the instantaneous return of the “After you!” It was ubiquitous. People were thinking of the needs of other people!

Later, we came to a four-way stop and everyone at the intersection waved for the other drivers to go first “Wow!” I exclaimed, “Just like the old days.” In my one-day anecdotal sample set, we’d just experienced more public generosity in an afternoon than we’d experienced in a very long time – twelve months to be exact.

It is possible, for the people in a nation newly-priding-itself on the depths of its divisions, to be considerate, one-to-the-other. If we are capable of a ritual-compassion-practice every year when Santa is looking, I have to believe that we can muster up some kindness and generosity of spirit in the eleven month gap between holiday seasons.

It was the day after Thanksgiving so it’s possible that the crowds were high on tryptophan, that the good mood and kindness I witnessed was turkey-induced. But, I don’t think so. I suspect the turkey consumption simply demarcates the time when we turn from our aggression-fantasy and consider our better nature. It simply feels better to lend a hand, to help another than it does to drive on top of someone’s bumper.

I appreciated the turn-of-question Kerri found in an article in Inc. magazine: instead of asking yourself, “What am I thankful for,?” a better question is, “What will I do to make others thankful?” The first question is a me-me-me question. The second turns the eye out, it first considers the needs of other people. It requires action, doing. What we experienced in the store, what we experienced at the four-way-stop, was steeped in asking the better question.

Sometimes the change we seek need not be legislated or debated or strategized; sometimes it is no more or less difficult than asking – and then practicing – a better question.

[Even though we’d hidden the store on our website, we’ve lately had a small run on Be Kind buttons. That, too, gives me hope that others out there feel as I do: a better world is not so far away. It’s as close as an act of kindness]

read Kerri’s blog post about A BETTER QUESTION

Walk As WaWo [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It was past 3am when Kerri asked me if I wanted to “watch a trail.” We were wide awake. The air was hot and still. We’d recently stumbled upon The Wander Women: Kristy, Annette, and Lynn, woman our age, walking the PCT. They’re doing a flip flop, having started their hike in the middle of the 2600 mile trail and walking to Canada, then, they’ll return to the center point and walk the distance to Mexico. We watched the installment, posted this week, as they reached the Canadian border.

Still wide awake, we went to their channel and listened as they answered questions about their hike of the Appalachian Trail. They are sirens of the possible, guides of give-it-a-try. They are not hikers who pound out miles to reach a goal. As Kristy said, “We want to enjoy every single moment.” Their yoga is a matter-of-fact-presence. They plan and improvise; both/and.

We’ve listened to more than one Q&A with the Wander Women. In an answer to their follower’s questions about living full time in an RV and life on the trail, Annette responded, “Home is where we put up our tent. You carry home inside yourself.” It was the answer of someone who’d transcended their stuff. It was the response of someone who’d internalized her security.

We couldn’t plug our windows with air conditioners this summer. We had too much of isolation last year. We needed to hear the birdsong and feel the summer air. We knew that would bring uncomfortable days, humid and hot nights. We have always walked our neighborhood and the local trails, but our decision to feel-the-summer pulled us more out-of-doors than usual. We extended the sanctuary of our sunroom out onto the deck. We placed torches along the patio and fixed the lights around the pond.

Each evening, after our work is done, we sit outside in our ever-expanding sanctuary. We listen to the cicadas. The cardinals and the chipmunks vie for a place at the bird feeder. Sitting at our table I had a mini-revelation about why I was so enjoying The Wander Women and following the few couples also out on the trail and posting weekly updates. They talk about the community of support that they find in the trail. It is often unexpected and yet ubiquitous. Both/and. They offer a staunch counter narrative to the horror we hear in the news, the contention and division. There are people dedicated to helping them and they, in turn, are dedicated to helping others. “You can do this!” they say to anyone listening. “We’ll help you do this,” their followers echo back to them. They broadcast friendship, kindness and support.

It is a breath of fresh air, a sparkling optimism for the best in humanity. It rises on the trail. Generosity that cultivates generosity. Hope that is grounded in the experience of the unprotected, the heat and cold and bugs and rain and challenge of being-what-they-are-doing. Shared experience. Sanctuary. Here. Everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about SANCTUARY

Expect Surprise [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Walking through the Lake District in a driving rain, cold and soaked to the skin. Roger had a high fever and was near delirious. The hostel closed. We had to leave. It was miles to the next village. This day was not going according to plan. The trip was not going according to plan. It was the darkest moment in a series of dark moments. “What else could go wrong?” I asked. There was nothing to do but shiver and take another step. And then, unheard of at the time, an RV rounded the bend. The door popped open and a cheery voice asked, “Do you need a ride?”

I often think of that ride. That unlikely RV. Suddenly there were towels to dry ourselves. Aspirin for Roger. The mother of the clan took over and attended to my sick friend. Mugs of hot tea. We were delivered safely to the next village. They did not leave until they knew we had a warm place to stay until the rains passed. Something went right. It was breathtaking.

It was a life lesson for the younger version of me. My very own Aesop’s Fable. What looks like tragedy is often an opportunity, and vice versa. When it appears that things cannot get worse, they often do get worse en route to something better. The real lesson was to be in it, rain or shine. Joyful participation. I didn’t get the lesson right away. It took a few laps before it stuck.

That trip was decades ago and, to me, seemed ill-fated from the outset. But, when I think back on it, I remember the kind family in the RV, the man standing in line behind me who secured a ticket for me when I didn’t have enough money. The kindnesses too many to count. The utter shock of serendipity. What we needed always appeared somehow, in unexpected ways.

Quinn used to say, “Cultivate your serendipity.” Open yourself to chance, to the unexpected. Expect surprise.

read Kerri’s blog post about THINGS GOING RIGHT

Give So Much [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Sometimes on the trail we find a painted rock. A penguin perched on a tree limb. A sweet sign of peace atop a sign post. Someone took the time to send a ripple of good-feels.

It is a paradox. It really doesn’t take much to bring a positive gesture into the world. Paint a rock. Open a door. A spirit lift. Intend well. But, good intention takes far more energy than reactive anger. Driving on someone’s bumper is easy. Blocking the vote takes infinitely less energy than protecting it. Belittling a child consumes far less energy than nurturing a child. It was out of my mouth before I could stop it, “Any idiot can pull a trigger – taking a life seems so easy,” I said to the boys-in-the-gang. “Bringing life, protecting life, saving life takes some thought, some heart, and effort.”

Tearing down is fast and easy. Building up takes some skill, knowledge, heart. Investment. Said another way: destruction, division…takes very little skill and almost no thought. Obstruction is a mindless, selfish game. Creation, on the other hand, requires a master’s path. Bringing ideas to the table and then into manifest begins with a desire to make things better. For everyone.

After the last 4 years, the world seems to have grown more aggressive. There’s no lack of angry rhetoric. The divisions couldn’t be more pronounced. Every day we are witness to exceptional hostility; a truck roaring through a turn lane, cutting around the line of traffic, bursting through a red light, cars braking to avoid a collision. It was too much to wait. Impossible to participate. All “me” and no “us.” Derogatory social media posts from the privileged, demonizing the less fortunate, fearful, I suppose, of losing their privilege. Making monsters, playing victim.

We were walking our route through the neighborhood, talking about the rising levels of aggression, the latest hostility we’d seen. We were stopped in our tracks by a series of messages chalked on the walk. “I just wanted to say you look awesome.” A few steps later, “You are still looking good!” And more. We laughed. Stopped in our tracks.

“What were we talking about?” Kerri asked, walking toward the next chalk- message.

“I can’t remember.” I looked around to see if the message-chalker was spying on our delight. I hoped so. They’d just changed the arc of our day. I hoped our delight was making their day.

It takes so little. It gives so much.

It creates an entirely different conversation.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHALK MESSAGES

Ask A Coneflower [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I was surprised to learn that Echinacea is a coneflower. Actually, the opposite is more correct. The coneflower is Echinacea. Filled with antioxidants, immunity booster, inflammation reducer, it is a heavy lifting herb. It’s also beautiful.

“I want to use the coneflower on Monday,” Kerri said. “It would have been Momma’s 100th birthday.” I asked if Beaky liked coneflowers and she smiled and said, “No. It’s just beautiful. And falling away. It just reminded me of my mom.”

Beautiful and falling away. I only knew Beaky for 18 months but felt as if I knew her a lifetime. She was rare and special. A gifted teller of stories. She was like the coneflower, filled with antioxidants, an inflammation reducer. I watched her more than once boost someone’s spirit, cool an angry intention. She was a dedicated see-er of the positive, a believer in the goodness of people. These days, those qualities are not easy to come by and even harder to cultivate.

On the morning that she was going into surgery, we wheeled her down the hall of the rehabilitation center en route to the ambulance. The staff lined the walls to wish her well, to cheer for her. It was a Beaky parade. I think the Beatles had it right: the love you take is equal to the love you make. She made people want to be better. She made me want to be better.

When taking your leave from her, she would always say, “Be kind to one another.” It’s a proper wish for all of us, a baseline expectation in a time of deep division. Beaky’s wish at age 100, I imagine, is the same as it was when she was 93 or 82 or 56 or 30. Be kind. One to another. The path to a better world is not so complicated after all. Just ask a simple coneflower.

read Kerri’s blog post about CONEFLOWERS

Celebrate The Metal [on KS Friday]

Quinn used to say that Dodo, his mother-in-law, was a warrior. This slight gentle woman was a quiet post of stability. Her daughter, Ann, inherited her mother’s metal. Both women held their worlds together even when it seemed irreparably fractured. Gentle, graceful, kind. Both avoided the limelight and required no accolades. They were strong and made stronger in hot water.

Marcia was the sturdy foundation that Tom McK and Demarcus built their artistic careers upon. Neither would have succeeded were she not stabilizing and elevating their work. Her life has been a study of adversity and she’s met every new tsunami with deep-river-courage-and-clarity.

My first impression of Melissa was of a quiet mouse. What I didn’t know, what I was grateful to witness, was the utter audacity that roared to the surface in her struggle to bring real learning opportunities into her classroom when the system was hell-bent on strangling education. She was a lion-of-possibility and, to this day, inspires me.

My grandmother was a tiny joyful woman. She might have weighed 90 pounds soaking wet with bricks in her pockets. And, she was a force to be reckoned with. Our metaphor for her mischief, our defining story of her, was the day the neighbor sold his horse to the glue factory. She knew the truck was coming for the horse. She ran to it, led it from its pasture (i.e., she stole the horse). She hid the horse in her kitchen. Once, I attempted to grab the check for lunch and she pinned my hand to the table with her fork. And then she laughed.

Laughter. Joy. It’s what binds all of these stories, these remarkably strong women, who reveal the depth of their strength only when circumstance demands it of them. The hotter the water, the more potent their response. The hotter the water, the greater their laughter. Compliment them on their brass and they’ll wave it off, deny they are doing anything special. Honestly humble and humbly honest.

In the past two years, the water that Kerri and I have found ourselves in has been steaming hot. Kerri is, like Dodo and Ann, Marcia and Melissa, my grandma Sue, a warrior. She inherited her mother’s metal. The hotter our water, the greater her capacity to stand still, to find light, to laugh at our (my) spinning foibles. She melts down, to be sure, but push her to her boundary and you’ll find that your horse has gone missing. And, while you stand perplexed in your pasture, you’ll hear a certain hearty laughter coming from the kitchen in the house next door.

Boundaries on the album Right Now – and all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post on WOMEN LIKE TEA BAGS

boundaries/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood