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

Count What Is Right [on KS Friday]

As I came up through the garbage layer of sleep, that half-awake state where all the gunk of being human floats like detritus on the ocean awaiting consciousness’ return, I thought, “I want to have a full day in which I make no diagnosis. In other words, solve no problems, make no judgements, resolve no issues…A mindful day.

Mindfulness is only mindfulness when there is no judgment or discernment or necessity involved. Have the experience, make no meaning. Try it. It’s hard to do. Minds like to story things. I know that, later today, I will sit at the drafting table, script and draw the next batch of images for my latest project – try doing that without judgment or discernment!

Somewhere in my dark and sordid past I realized that I never had a problem or a stress that I didn’t create. The Greek tragedy, the absolute imperative, the all-too-important-agendas were not happening outside of me. I was making the agendas and lists, storying myself into rushing around or fighting back against ogres of my own making. Minds like to story things and conflict is the driver of story. Yearning meets obstacle. Desire meets impediment.

Why not make up a better story? Be careful! There’s an all-important caveat, a prerequisite in telling a better, stress free, story: it only becomes possible when the teller of the story relinquishes their oh-so-important-self-importance. Better stories are lived off the pedestal. Better stories, stress free, are available to tell when the teller realizes that their season on this earth is a passing thing and the notion of leaving a lasting mark just might be hubris.

I’ve been enjoying the reemergence of the hosta plants this spring. They are intrepid. They spread easily. Not so long ago their spiky heads jabbed up through the earth. They looked like little spearheads. DogDog had to dance between them. Overnight, the soldiers-beneath-the-soil transformed as their spears unfurled into tiny variegated leaves. A day later, or so it seemed, the tiny leaves swelled into thick dense clusters. Every year the hostas claim a bit more of the yard. People in these parts dig them up and give them away to their neighbors and friends when they realize that the hostas are taking over and will soon be spreading into the house.

I confessed to Kerri yesterday that I was, very intentionally, counting what is right in the world. It will come as no surprise to you that the list of what is right in the world greatly outstrips what is wrong. The hostas of my mind are the generosities and kindnesses. I want to be overrun by them. The little things. It will also not come as a surprise to you that, if you start counting what is right in your world, you’ll discover that the vast majority of what you find are the simple, the ordinary. The everyday. Kerri and I make dinner together. DogDog leads me to the gate when I’m taking out the trash. Feeling the breeze on my face as I open the door first thing in the morning. The first sip of coffee.

What is right in this world includes Kerri’s music. There is nothing I love so much as when she plays. She didn’t pick this composition for today’s melange. I wanted to hear it. That’s all. That’s enough. Right Now. It’s another name for mindfulness. It’s on the list, like hostas.

right now is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about HOSTAS

right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Exercise Choice [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I know what it is to be kind. I see acts of kindness everyday. Humans helping humans. Humans helping animals. Humans mindful of and taking care of their planet. Synonyms include friendly, generous, considerate. All of these are other-focused. To be kind is to consider the needs and lives of others. Beaky used to say in parting, “Be kind to each other.” Kindness was her wish for this world.

I’m not sure that I know with the same clarity what it is to be human. Philosophers have answers that generally trace back to our capacity to reason, to make meaning from our senses. To think consciously. To question. To be aware.

My quick pass through the news of the day betrays how non-human we humans can be. What is the sense of perpetuating a lie? What is gained by lobbing bombs at neighbors? Cyber attacks? We read that there were, from sea to shining sea, 9 mass shootings over the weekend. I’m having a hard time making meaning of it all. I can rationalize it, explain it away, assign blame…but, at the end of the day, I know my rationalizations are nonsensical. Non-sense. No sense. Which, according to the battalion of philosophers scribbling across the ages, attempting to define what it is to be human, we are, because of our non-sense, not human.

There are so many questions and thoughts bursting from this simple bumper sticker!

Arriving home at 10pm, after two consecutive days of 13 hour drives, 20 had a hot meal waiting for us. I called for help and my neighbor John came running. Jen prepared a travel bag of snacks for us and left it on our doorstep. The family that lived next door to my parents made sure, after every snowfall, that the walks and driveways of their elder neighbors were shoveled and safe. Kind.

Somewhere in Kansas it occurred to me that to be human was a choice. Kindness is a choice. Yes, we make meaning from our senses and experiences and the line that defines us as human is our capacity to choose the sense, the meaning that we make. We witness and then we choose. The choice makes all the difference.

The angry man weaving in and out of traffic in his truck, flying the confederate flag, was making a choice. The man who shoveled my parent’s driveway, never having met them, was making a choice. To focus on division is a choice. To reach across the aisle is a choice. To wear a mask to protect others is a choice. To point a gun is a choice. To lie is a choice. To stand firm in your conviction is a choice. To open a door for others is a choice.

To be human is not just to exercise choice but to choose actions that support others. And, among the greatest available choices, the choice that most advances humankind, as Beaky knew, is kindness. To think of others, choose, and act accordingly.

read Kerri’s blog post about HUMANKIND

Do It For Yourself [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I have been writing long enough to know that there are sedimentary layers to my themes. The top layer, the most superficial, is the political layer, current events. I am not above shouting into the storm. When I run to the keyboard and ring the alarm or presume that my point of view is relevant enough to roundly criticize others, I know that, above all, I’m breaking the first rule of happiness: I can never determine what another person thinks or does or feels. On my superficial days, in my ranting, I write for myself.

When I was at my saddest, I set about looking for goodness. I walked the streets of Seattle with the single intention of counting acts of kindness. As you might suspect there were more than I could count. In this world where we story ourselves as aggressive, unthinking and unkind, we are remarkably compassionate. Good will is simply more difficult to see. It is not the focus. The deeper layers of my writing-archaeology emerge when I direct my attention, when I exercise the artist in me and attempt to see beyond what I think. Since these are the layers where I desire to live and work, I suppose it is also true that on those days I also write for myself.

It is a looping life-lesson for me: I have the capacity to choose where I place my focus. I will see in the dark ocean where I decide to shine my light. I will author myself according to what/where I decide to give my focus. It is, among other things, why the film ABOUT TIME is among my favorite movies.

Lately, as one of our get-through-the-pandemic-winter-strategies, we’ve taken to assembling jigsaw puzzles. Entire evenings disappear into our intense pursuit of pieces. Our puzzle sessions require absolute focus – all of the other nonsense and monsters that vie to plague our brains are banished. Our focus is so thorough that we rarely speak. We do, however, listen to the soundtrack of ABOUT TIME. Again and again. When it finishes, one of us walks to the CD player (yes…we play CDs) and play it again. Sometimes we don’t make it past the first track, Ben Fold’s THE LUCKIEST. “Do you mind?” one of us asks. It’s a rhetorical question. It warms us so a repeat is always welcome.

Sitting at the dining room table, hunting for bits of colored cardboard, with the soundtrack playing, all things come into focus. While the surface-layer is on fire with a circus of instability, a pandemic, a climate that is changing, all jobs gone, a broken wrist that is not mending,…the deeper layer beckons: DogDog sits under the table, BabyCat is asleep on the chair, 20 just called and made us laugh, a postcard from Jen made us cry, my phone dinged with a text from a dear friend. I look across the table at my wife, pursing her lips as she plucks a piece of the puzzle from the table and attempts to make it fit, and I know to my bones that I am the luckiest.

To see it or not to see it; it’s my choice.

read Kerri’s blog post about REPEAT

Click-To-The-Loo [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Language is fluid and ever changing. For instance, twenty years ago the words “hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow,” had little or nothing to do with social interactions. You might snooze an alarm-clock but never another person. In 2020, in the alternate reality known as social media, people snooze, hide, unfriend, and unfollow people on a daily basis.

Language is powerful. We both define and reveal ourselves by the words we choose. It’s as easy as the click of a button to eliminate people from view. Click. Gone! Magic. The power to insulate. “Unfriend” and “unfollow” ensure that our engagements are only with like-minded people. Is it any wonder that we no longer need to find common ground? It’s a simple equation: you bug me/I snooze you. “Hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow” are the words of bubble creators. Fortress makers.

Closing the gates might lock others out but it also locks us in. Either way, click. Gone! A smaller world. Raise the gates for agreement.

Closing the gates is not a function of disagreement. I heard this said the other day, “People say things on Facebook that they’d never say in person.” True. It is corrosive and ugly. There is rarely space for civil disagreement. Ideas are attacked as a first action. Responses are salvos. In other words, no one is snoozed for being kind. Courtesy and consideration rarely result in unfollowing or the ultimate nuke: unfriending. There is no space for civil discourse. We snooze, hide, unfollow because we are assaulted or we assault. Social media is startlingly anti-social.

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to listen to Stephen Hawking give a lecture on the possibility of multiverses, a string of multiple universes. His theory involved bubbles that occasionally bumped together. The bumping opened small windows of communication between the bubbles. The great miracle of two universes brushing together is that they, even for a short time, can communicate. They can share experiences.

Our great miracle is the opposite. We construct bubbles against each other. When our universes bump together, windows are slammed closed. We believe ourselves all powerful when, with the click of a button, we can extract a voice from our “stream.” So powerful is our illusion of the button, we’ve happily become the buttons. No courtesy, no kindness, no listening, no consideration necessary or expected.

Click: assault. Click: be gone.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNFOLLOWING

Become More [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.” ~ Heraclitus

It’s funny how the smallest thing can set a mind off in a different direction entirely. For instance, it seems the entire nation is asking “What now?” Some are asking the question filled with hope. Some are asking it filled with fear. I had some thoughts to share about what now and before I began to write, I checked my email. There was a note from my mother.

She found him this morning standing on the patio weeping. He couldn’t see the water coming from the sprinkler. He wanted to help her take care of the yard but simply could not see. My father has the double challenge of going blind while also slipping into dementia. He’s pretty far along in both. She wrote that “she is amazed that he is not perpetually angry.” Instead of being angry, he is unbearably kind. He just wants to help. He cries, not because he cannot see, he cries because he cannot see the water. He can’t remember what to do. He cannot help and, somewhere in his increasing darkness, he knows my mother needs his help .

Kerri believes that people don’t change over time, they simply become more of who they’ve been all along. Age reveals our character. I can only hope, as I age, that the character revealed as my control drops away, is as beautiful as my father’s. He is kind. He is kind. He is kind. Each day he steps further into the darkness and he is kind.

What now?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHAT NOW?

 

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Listen To Beaky [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Today we turn our thoughts toward Beaky. A bright light. Five years ago, on this day, she passed away.

Not only does it seem impossible that she died five years ago but it seems more impossible that I only knew her for 18 months. If you were to ask me how long I knew Beaky I’d say, “Forever.” Some people are just like that. Kindred.

She and I were co-conspirators. We plotted strategies – all unsuccessful – to convince Kerri that her natural curls were gorgeous and did not need straightening. She gave me a lesson in applying lipstick and rouge, standing next to her walker, looking into the mirror, popping our lips. After being catheterized, she cautioned me to be careful what I wished for. “When I was young I wished I could pee standing up.” she said. “MOTHER!” Kerri blushed as Beaky winked at me.

Time and again, I was moved by her kindness, her generosity to others. After taking a fall, rushed to the emergency room, writhing in pain, she looked up at the attending nurse and said, ‘You have a beautiful smile.” The role of nurse fell off, the woman flushed pink and was transformed by the compliment. Beaky did that a lot, she hit people with a dedicated kindness when they least suspected it. Her kindness was not manufactured, it was matter-of-fact. It was sturdy,  genuine.

The night before we saw her for the last time, we scoured her house for a blue notebook, the journal she’d kept during a long ago trip through Europe with her husband. Beaky was a recorder of life’s events. Not merely notes, her journals and calendars were threads to a vital time, to living memory. She thought the notebook was lost. When Kerri gave her the journal, Beaky hugged it to her breast and rocked it like it was a long lost child come home.”Oh, you found it! You found it!” she cried.

As we left her that day, she said, as she always did when we departed, “Be kind to each other!” Much more than a salutation, it was an invocation. Be kind to each other.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE

 

 

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See The Series [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The closing moment of the film Love Actually is a wonderful montage of greetings at the arrival gate at Heathrow airport. The Beach Boys sing God Only Knows to images of children greeting grandparents, husbands rushing to their wives, friends opening their arms to friends. Hugh Grant’s voice over: “Love actually is, all around us.”

For reasons I’ve never quite understood, we human beings have an uncanny ability to focus on the negative stuff while completely missing the love all around us. We famously study ourselves and the data is overwhelming: we yammer on and on to all who will listen about the “bad” thing that happened in our day. We share the “good” stuff less and with far fewer listeners. There’s something about a fight that draws our eyes while a kiss will make us look away.

Stand on any street corner and  watch the world go by and one thing becomes immediately clear. There are far more acts of generosity than there are acts of violence. The kind hearts outstrip the mean spirits by far so why do believe the opposite?

Krishnamurti famously said that “Life is a relationship. Living is a relationship. We cannot live if you and I have built a wall around ourselves and just peep over that wall occasionally.”

Violence and division make for better ratings because it’s profitable [and easy] to focus the feed on all things negative. Low hanging fruit. It’s profitable to keep the eye off the thousand tiny miracles. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening all around us, every minute of every day.

What might it take to pull down the wall so we might more than periodically peep over it? So that we might see that love actually is all around us? To borrow a phrase from The Beach Boys, “god only knows.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A THOUSAND TINY MIRACLES

 

 

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