Use Your Fingers [on DR Thursday]

They call them life lessons because they cycle back again and again. Each successive cycle peels off another layer and reveals a new simplicity. Currently, I am having another layer peeled.

My layer is a renewed appreciation and deeper understanding of a famous Picasso quote: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” I think I may be shedding some dedicated self-importance and a thick-headed notion of what I ought to be. What I should have been.

I am surrounded by paintings of my own making. They are serious stuff! They are meant to move people and mountains. Some make me smile. Most make me knit my brow. They are generally absent of fun.

I’ve taken a vacation from my serious pursuit and thank goodness! In the meantime, I’m drawing cartoons. And, most importantly, I am painting rocks. We are painting rocks. No thought. No necessity. Just because we can. It is the most fun I’ve had in years.

It is the fun, the complete abandonment of taking-myself-too-seriously that may bring me back to art-as-play. Fun at my easel.

I have fingers so there may or may not be brushes involved.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FISH!

snowflake with possibilities/flawed cartoon © 2016 david robinson, kerri sherwood, john kruse

Be A Zebra [on KS Friday]

The Post-It note beside my desk reads “Zebra.” It is a reminder to be more like the zebra. After a near miss with a lion, the zebra does not return to the herd and perpetuate their stress by recounting the story over and over to any other zebra that will listen. The zebra shakes off the adrenaline rush and moves on. No extra stress necessary.

For many years I’ve known that most actions are relatively easy to perform, the stress we experience comes from the story we wrap around the action. There’s a full range of stress stories, from “I can’t do it” to “I have to be…” The it-has-to-be-done-now story is pervasive. At some point in my youth I got it into my human head that faster was better. It’s not a good story since it requires the lion to be on your heels all the time. Watch people sitting in a traffic jam: the story of stuckness has otherwise rational people red-faced and pounding on their steering wheels. The I-have-to-be-there-now story is a recipe for never being present. Running, running, running. Lion on your tail.

Zebra.

When I moved in Kerri cautioned me that the to-do list would never be done. We live in an old house and, like an old body, extra care and patience is required. It’s been quite a transition. This house has become my teacher. It’s in my nature to get-things-done. True confession: If I start a project, I become myopic until it’s finished. All my life, after starting a painting, I lay awake at night rolling the possibilities over and over in my mind until the final brush stroke hits the canvas.

This old house has taught me to let go of my story of need-to-finish. It’s softened the edges of my Puritan work ethic. I’ve grown to appreciate having to tighten the handle on the backdoor once a week. Some day we’ll get to putting knobs on the kitchen cabinets. I’ve come to appreciate jiggling the burner to make the stove work. Our monthly puddle-prevention-thaw of the freezer is part of the rhythm of our lives.

Zebra. No resistance. It’ll get done when it gets done.

Life is infinitely better without an imaginary lion on my heels. It makes me wonder why I spent so much of my life creating stress for myself. I’ll save my stress for the real lions and you can bet when one of those appear, I’ll tell you about it. Again and again. I’m a human after all. Half the fun of being human is telling the tale so I want to make certain my tale, if I’m going to perpetuate my stress, has bonafide lions snapping at my hooves.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE REFRIGERATOR

i didn’t know/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Stroll [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday, for some reason, I revisited days of early childhood. I played four-square in the driveway. I threw dirt clods at the site of new home construction. I raced my cars off the side of the abandoned building above Del and Dorothy’s house in the mountains; the cars tumbled and I ran to retrieve them so I might send them flying again and again. I ran home in a panic the day I learned that Nancy’s little sister had drowned in utility hole that was filled with water. It was on the route I walked to school and passing the hole filled me with trepidation, it was a dark portal, my first experience of death. I didn’t really understand it.

Late at night, Kerri and I sometimes talk about everything that has happened in the short time of our relationship. We’ve lost parents and lost careers, spiraled in a free fall of uncertainty, had surgeries and broken bones. We’ve also climbed mountains, watched sunrises and meteor showers, we hold hands when we walk, we write together every day. We dance in the kitchen. I am the sous chef to her cooking artistry.

I’m not sure if we practice paying attention to our moments or it’s something that has come naturally to us. She is rarely without her camera, noticing the smallest flower, capturing the angry sky. I hold the space and hope someday she stops apologizing for stopping again to take a photo; I love watching her discover the shapes and colors of this world. Besides, I get to see what she captures in her lens with an excited, ‘Lookit!”

Today the plumber comes. Yesterday we appealed to the company that destroyed our yard replacing the waterline to come back and strip off the top layer of soil, now filled with hardware and concrete and asphalt. Slowly, we are digging out, repairing and replacing all that was destroyed or delayed in our free fall. Our lessons seem to be about stress – or, rather – not stressing. We are having experiences, rich and varied. Some things we can control. Most, we cannot. The best we can do is hold hands and stand together in each experience. Appreciate them no matter whether they look like tragedy or comedy. We’ll make meaning of them later down the road.

The artist dances with death. The appreciation of the fragility of life. Each day I walk by that metaphoric utility hole, only now it does not fill me with trepidation. It makes me squeeze her hand and fills me with gratitude for this life, this moment, this shadow we cast together as we take our time strolling through the garden.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SHADOW

Do It Together [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Our house is beginning to breathe. As each bag or box leaves, as another load goes to Goodwill, space opens. Air moves. Stuck spaces relax. New possibilities circle our imagination. And, as the house takes a deep inhale and long slow exhale, so do we.

This is a task she must do on her own. In the past I tried to make it happen and only created more turmoil. I am a relative newcomer to this house so my memories do not run as deep. What looks like junk to me might carry a sacred family story.

That is the continual lesson of my life. My eyes can never see the full extent of your story. Your eyes can never see the complexity of my story. The creation of “our” story requires constant tending. It’s always best to ask a question. “Our” story becomes vital, rich, and inspiring the moment I cease trying to get you to see my way. There’s a space between – called “relationship”- that we can both see because, together, we create it. Together, we speak to it.

Those few simple lessons apply to all relationships, even the most casual.

And so, while I’m working upstairs, she is downstairs unpacking boxes and bins. Sometimes I hear her sigh. Sometimes there is laughter and I know a good story will come my way. Each day, before I climb the stairs, I ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Her reply is always the same. “I don’t know but, if there is, I’ll let you know.”

read Kerri’s blog post about CLEANING OUT

Stand Still [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The understanding of what you actually are is far more important than the pursuit of what you should be.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

I wrinkled my brow the first time I heard Kerri say it: “We don’t change. We just become more of who we already are.” I didn’t like it. I wanted to pop the notion with pithy ideas of transformation. Something made me hold my tongue. “Consider it,” I said to myself.

Now, a full decade into the latest phase of my life-long-onion-peel, I see the wisdom in her words. The layers of protection, the suits of armor, the wall of respect, the race from shame, the measuring sticks and self-inflicted-social-expectations stripping away. Trying-to-be falls to the floor like a robe. The story-husks and fear-shells and false skins, false faces, false labels and roles and masks falling to the forest floor.

And, there you are. Just as you are. Naked and vulnerable and oh, so passingly human. Standing still. No ghosts to chase. No monsters chasing you.

And, there you are.

No distance between you and what you desire to create or experience. Finger painting. A child with a crayon and an empty wall for scribbles.

Kerri looks for hearts. She finds rocks shaped like hearts and leaves, heart-impressions in walls and heart-shaped clouds. Each one is a first-and-only and evokes delight. Last week on the trail, it occurred to me that she finds them everywhere, not because she looks for them, but because she expects to see them.

Seeing old friends. There you are.

read Kerri’s blog post about the HEART LEAF

Know Secret Things [on DR Thursday]

I wanted to begin this post with a quote from Rainier Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. As I always do, I opened his book this morning and fell into it. I couldn’t decide which quote to use – there are so many! Finally, I put it down because I concluded that I’d have to place the entire book into this post. So, I begin this day both quote-full and quote-free. Nothing to share and everything to share.

Showing me her photo, Kerri asked, “What do you think of this still life?” I don’t think I’ve ever heard her use the phrase, “still life.” It’s a painter’s phrase, much like the word “garment” belongs to costumers. “I love this,” I said, knowing why she used the painter-phrase. “It looks like a painting.”

My very first art teacher was a jolly older woman named Jackie Fry. She offered oil painting classes at the recreation center. I carried my paint box and canvas boards to Saturday morning classes. I was the odd ball in the class because I didn’t want to paint trees. I wanted to paint people. Not portraits. People. I felt badly about being the odd ball and she gave me the tidbit of advice that has informed my choices for decades: “Tree painters are a dime a dozen,” she said. “Follow your star and not theirs.”

Great advice. She made me paint still life set-ups. “You have to learn to see basic shape and color,” she said when she saw my frown. “People are shapes.”

People are shapes. Learn to see. Follow your star and not theirs. Advice worthy of Rilke, which brings a quote to mind:

“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.”

Phew. Now you don’t have to read the entirety of his very wise book just because I couldn’t decide which beautiful phrase to use.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE GOURD

john’s secret (pray now) © 2010 david robinson

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

Enjoy The Loss [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We laughed heartily when we read this phrase in an advertisement. I had two immediate responses: 1) Immortality is not really a thing. No one wins the race against aging. Even vampires have unfortunate sunny days or meetings with silver bullets and so ends their quest to win the race. 2) The best way to win the race against aging is a) to get out of your chair and move, b) laugh a lot. You’ll lose the race either way but mobility and a joyful heart make for a more enjoyable lap around the track.

This life is a temporary, passing thing. I lost the race against infancy and couldn’t wait to blow through those teenage years. I took my twenties and thirties for granted in a festival of unconsciousness. I puffed myself with importance and thought I knew things all the way through my forties and into my fifties. Now that I can spot the finish line I admit to undertaking several measures to slow things down a bit. I’m specifically not entering races and I’m especially not going to try and be something that I am not. Like, for instance, young.

I actually delight in the experiences that life has provided. The lessons learned. I’m especially fond of the needle that life used to pop my inflated notions. I’ll never be a hero. I live in some people’s story as their villain and some people play the role of villain in mine. I’m finding that more time on earth brings greater capacity for compassion and forgiveness. I never meant to be a villain and I suspect the same is true for those I’ve cast in my hall of monsters.

Beaky used to say that aging is not for wimps. We regularly compare our latest wrinkling skin discovery or make up excuses why our clothes no longer fit. It is sometimes a shock to wonder where the time went or to discover that I’ve lost my gazelle-like movement when running across the street. Taking a realistic look at your self and slowing down seem to me to be gifts that come with age and should not be hidden beneath any cream or stretched away by a surgeon. I have learned – and continue to learn – that it is infinitely better to be who you are than to pretend that you are something that you are not. Happiness does not easily nest in illusions.

External motivators might bring the illusion of youth but I guarantee that there’s no way to regain your gazelle. My vote: recognize that the race is made up, like Valentines Day, to sell chocolate and greeting cards. It’s better to love every day of this miracle life rather than pack your love into on a single day called ‘youth.’ There’s nothing like an achy joint to make you appreciate how great it is to be able to move. There’s nothing like seeing the finish line to make you appreciate the first sip of coffee in the morning or kissing your wife on the forehead just-because.

My advice: enjoy every moment of the loss.

read Kerri’s blog post on THE RACE AGAINST AGING

Evolve And Laugh Heartily [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I find the notion of evolution to be hopeful. Evolution of species. Evolution of consciousness. I assume in my wild idealism that the evolution is toward betterment. Reading Ken Wilber’s thoughts on our chaotic and troubled post-truth times, we are, he suggests, in the throes of an evolutionary step. Evolution is not a smooth stepping dance. It’s more a stumbling forward drunkard.

Last week I posted about the lake in my studio and how the clean up facilitated a life-work review. I was surprised by how many notes I received from life-long friends asking me not to burn my paintings this time. I’d forgotten that, after my move to Seattle, I took most of my paintings and drawings to a fire pit on a beach and burned them. I had so much work that it took three days to complete the purge. That life-work-review ended in fire. This latest life-work-review began with water. I actually loved, post flood, going through my paintings. The paintings that went to the fire felt like a burden, a weight. From heavy burden to love; not a bad progression in my personal stutter-stepping evolution.

We drove to Colorado last October to see my parents. In his dementia, my dad cast me in the role of his college roommate and took me on a tour of the basement. We stopped in front of a large photograph taken at his parents 50th wedding anniversary celebration, a photo of the whole clan. He pointed to my twenty year old face in the photograph and said, “Now, I don’t believe you ever met this one.” It was true. As I listened to his description, I had the overwhelming feeling that he was right. Later, I returned to the photograph and visited that version of myself. I thought, “I think dad’s right. I don’t believe I ever met this one.”

The months that followed set the stage for my flood-inspired-work-review. I’ve discovered that I am more apt to be kind, more given to the positives, than I was a decade ago. Evolution has softened me. Or, opened me.

I’m not alone in reaching back, in sifting through the evolutionary drunken stumble to the present. This pandemic era serves as a marker-in-time as well as a great disrupter of pattern and path. It has inspired many a life review among those in my circle. Together, we ask the questions that have no answers, Quinn’s big three: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do?

There are no answers but from time-to-time it’s necessary to ask.

There’s a fourth question that kept Quinn in stitches every time I asked it. What’s it all about? He’d howl and snicker and snort whenever the question came up. I am now the age he was when that younger version of me sat in his study and wrinkled my brow, disconcerted at his hearty laugh. Now, I know without doubt what’s so funny. I find myself laughing to tears when I hear the un-answerable-fourth-question. It’s about what you make of it as your illusion drops away in the course of your own personal evolution.

What else?

read Kerri’s blog post about EVER EVOLVING

Understand That Little Is More Than Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I think that maybe\ I will be surer\ of being a little nearer.\ That’s all. Eternity\ is in the understanding\ that that little is more than enough.” ~ R.S. Thomas [via Anam Cara by John O’Donohue]

And so our dear H is gone. I have written about him before, about how I learned from him how to age well. To “have a wonderful urgency to live life to the full” [John O’Donohue]. H was a study in wonderful urgency. He did not grow cranky as he grew old. He did not darken his sight with what he could no longer do. He gently pushed the edges of what he could do. He was a master of focus-placement.

I have known many people who proclaim a spiritual life. They are quick to advertise their illumination. They live to stand on the mountain top and call attention to their heights. H was not one of those. He simply lived his faith as he lived his life – without need for acknowledgment or recognition. No trumpet necessary. I suspect that his why I was drawn to him. He was simon-pure. Genuine.

“We’re afraid you’re going to take her from us,” H said to me, more warning than salutation, when I sat next to him in choir. It was my first rehearsal in my first choir and, as an avowed non-singer, I was intimidated. Kerri was the director. She’d recently asked H, at 87 years old, to rap Via Dolorosa. He’d jumped at the challenge and, as I heard the story, performed brilliantly, complete with costume and bling. He and Kerri were thick as thieves.

He guided me through that first rehearsal, laughed when I honked a bad note – which was often, and, by sweet example over time, steered me through my confusion until I found more joy than fear in singing. At the end, as he was moving into his 94th year, just before the pandemic made rehearsals impossible, it was my joy to help him find his place in the music. A perfect circle.

This morning, just before we received the news of his passing, I spent some time in the final pages of Anam Cara. The last words are a Blessing for Death and this phrase struck me: May you live compassionately and creatively and transfigure\ everything that is negative within you and about you. When the news came of his passing, I was certain it was H who’d tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Pay attention to this phrase.” It describes him perfectly. It encapsulates what I believe, H, without words, was trying to teach me. Through compassion and creativity, transfigure everything that is negative within you and about you. That is how to live well and age with wonderful urgency. No trumpet necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about H