Look Out [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Perhaps the most useful and profound lesson I’ve learned happened under the water. I was doing my first night dive. I was scared. I was not yet a confident diver. As we descended the world became inky black. All I could see was where I pointed my light.

It was that simple. I can see where I point my light. That’s it. And, more to the point, I choose where I point my light. I have the capacity to choose what I see. I can…and have…chosen to focus on hardship and lack. I can…and have…chosen to focus on what I love. On any given day my focus bounces full spectrum between complaint and appreciation. And then I remember: it’s my light, where do I want to aim it?

There’s a second aspect of the lesson. My focus is a beam. My light is not all encompassing. Each of us looks at life through a soda straw. None of us has the big picture. That’s why the commons is so important. In order to know what to do, we need to bring our many perspectives together to approximate something close to a full picture. Rather than fight about disparate points of view – who is right – it’s more useful to try and assemble all of those differing views, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, into a bigger picture. No one wins when the pieces refuse to interlink.

With two broken wrists the cello became impossible to play. It has sat in her studio, the case unopened, since her fall over two years ago. I remember the day we bought it. We were early in our relationship, not yet married. I knew she was having cello dreams. We went to the music store for some other purpose, I can’t remember. The cello was sitting in the corner. She sat. She began to play. It was a perfect fit. And, although we could not afford it, we also could not leave it behind. It was a perfect fit.

Our lives these past two years have been a descent into dark water. We’ve worked hard to shine our light at our good fortune in a dark and inky landscape. As we make our way back to the surface, we are cleaning out. Taking stock. “The cello needs to be played,” she said, deciding to sell it. “I’ll never be able to play it, now.” She took photographs of her cello. Sent out a message through the network.

At the end of the day she showed me the photo. Edges. The view from inside the empty cello case, looking out. A slice of the world visible outside the case.

What’s “out there” is rarely clear. We see a small slice. It tickles our curiosity. The cello dream moves on making space for…? Who knows? We can’t see that far. In the meantime, we keep our eyes and hearts uplifted as we slowly kick our way back to the surface.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EDGES

Reseed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

We pulled everything off the walls of the office. The photographs and posters of plays I’ve directed, Kerri’s first album, framed, a gift. Our poster announcing Beaky’s Books. “I don’t think the office should be about the past,” she said. “It’s time to make this space about our current work and the future.”

She chose a painting, Nap On The Beach, one of many created from our experiences together. She’s making a poster of Smack-Dab, our cartoon. Turning our eyes from what we’ve done, where we’ve been, who we were. We’ve changed. We want different things now. We work in different ways now.

She’s slowly cleaning out the house. I can’t help. This is something she must do by herself. Purging closets, the laundry room, the storage and work rooms. The year of water upended our house. Several times. It continues in the front yard, all the way to the street. When the ground settles, we’ll reseed the lawn. How’s that for a metaphor? When the ground settles, we will reseed.

It takes time for the ground to settle. It can’t be rushed. It should not be rushed. The same is true for cleaning out. We have new piles forming: what goes, what stays. I climb the stairs to the office each morning. When I come down again, she shows me the new space that she’s created from the day’s purge. It’s true on many levels. She’s creating space. Old baggage and burdens are going out with the old clothes and broken appliances. I can see it in her eyes. Space. Light. Like the house, she is beginning to breathe again.

She told me about the dream, her father was setting up microphones. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Working for tomorrow,” he said.

I had to work hard not to weep. She’s had a rough few years. “Your daddy’s talking to you,” I said. “Sage advice.”

She nodded. Her eyes turning from the pain and constraints of the injuries. Letting go of the past. “Work for tomorrow,” she smiled.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORK FOR TOMORROW

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

Await The Return [on KS Friday]

This time of year I do a lot of staring into the night sky, pondering vastness. Reflecting on the year. It’s what we’re hard-wired to do as we approach the darkest night of the year. And, along with the darkest night of the year, comes the turning point. The return of light. This fact of earth’s orbit has spawned ritual, religious metaphor, and all manner of contemplation, letting go, setting new intentions, since humans first started, as I did last night, looking into the sky. We feel our smallness looking into the face of starry infinity.

This year there’s a delightful serendipity associated with the solstice. We cross the line from darkest night to return of the light on December 21. On December 22nd, as we creep our way back into light, the James Webb telescope will be launched into space and, when it unfurls and points its lens into other star systems, it will be looking for life on other planets. It will be looking for other beings staring into the night sky who might also be pondering their relationship with the universe. I look at you, you look at me.

We are candle people. We light them all the time for various reasons, marking auspicious occasions or simply to lift our spirits. We bought a menorah this fall. Kerri’s clan is religiously complex and we wanted to celebrate Hanukkah with her cousins. I read a bit since I am fond of finding the roots of rituals. I learned that the menorahs with seven branches, among other things, represent the five visible planets plus the sun and the moon. The rounded shape of the branches represents their trajectories across the sky. We lit the candles each night, singing poorly but with love and conviction the prayers. Connecting with her cousins, connecting with the light and pondering our place in a spinning universe.

Sitting at my desk, upstairs, too long staring at a computer screen, I heard her at the piano. I crept halfway down the stairs not wanting to break the spell. She played a carol, quietly. It’s rare these days that she plays. Broken wrists. Resistant fingers. Bruised heart. Yet, the piano calls. The lighting of the candles, the quiet pondering of “what’s it all about”, has made a crack in the darkness. There is a vast inner universe, too. We shoot telescopes into our selves. I look at you, you look at me. Smiling on the steps, I realized that I am anxiously awaiting the return of the light.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT

Welcome The Next Normal [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There was a time when my marker of the holiday season was the return of Pirate Christmas Ale; a rich and happy stout. It tickled me that the return of the holiday season was signaled with a Pirate and not jolly Ole Saint Nick. I drank one-a-night, from the day I saw the Pirate’s return to the store, through the end of the year. Pirates-in-holiday drink in moderation.

It’s been many years since I walked with the Pirate through the threshold of light’s return. With my move to Wisconsin came the establishment of a new normal. And then came COVID. I think we’ve both come to the realization, after a few years of deep disruption, that there will not be a return to normal. Just as with my move from the west coast to the upper-midwest, there will be the creation of a new normal. Just what that will be remains to be seen.

We know the new normal means leaving the house. We work at home and have mostly isolated these past few winter seasons. Cabin fever is getting to us. So, we’re taking calculated adventures. A visit to the Botanical Gardens. A walk around the small town of Cedarburg. A drive into Chicago. We continue to hike our trails but we’re both feeling the call of exploration, the desire to sail our ship toward the horizon. We really wanted to go to a concert but chose not to – COVID considerations remain central to our weird calculus.

Yesterday, while walking the streets of Cedarburg, we saw a tent behind the Stilthouse. Tables and heaters. We grabbed a spot under a heater, ordered lunch and lingered over a glass of wine. It sounds so normal yet, what was once commonplace, what was once something done without much thought – was a rare and delicious treat. We savored every moment.

Lately, we’re getting this reminder again and again. When the water line into the house broke – and we were without water for a day, the return of the water through the faucet brought cheers and happy dancing. There’s so much we take for granted. There’s so much to be savored in the commonplace, in the everyday, especially when we understand it might not be available forever.

Mostly, there is this: during the darkest days of every year, people come together in many ways to light candles, to exchange gifts, to make meals, to offer hope, to help each other through the dark time. Whether they realize it our not. The light returns. The earth spins. There’s water in the pipes. A heater and a table. Merlot in the bottle. Good friends. Good cheer. New work. The beginning of the next normal.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD CHEER

[this post marks the 200th consecutive week of the melange. Corks are-a-poppin’]

Turn The Shield [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

The rains have come. The light retreats. This is the time of year when we say, “I’m tired. Are you tired?” It’s the lack of light. The coming change of time. “It feels later than it is,” we rub our eyes and sigh.

I’ve always thought of this time as an in-between. Not-this-and-not-that. The leaves have dropped but the snow has not yet arrived. The sun and the wet clouds jockey for position and neither gains the advantage. Were we bears, nature’s indecision would signal that the time had come to look for a proper cave, a comfy spot to sleep through the winter. We are people and the signal is similar: it’s time to pull in, reflect, attend to the inner places, nestle into our bear-dreams.

Many years ago I took a class from an elder who taught us how to paint medicine shields. The exercise was not about the painting or the technique of stretching the skin over the willow, the exercise was about identifying the symbols. One side of the shield was the outer life, the sun. This face of the shield was seen by all. The other side, the inner face, was personal. The symbols were private. The moon. This is the season when the attention to the outer face shifts to the inner. The bear considerations turn to the owl, the lizard.

Just as each season is both a leaving and a return, both sides of the shield are beginnings and ends. Barney taught me that, in the winter, the energy of the plant retreats from the branch and, instead, goes to the root. Rejuvenation happens beneath the soil. I feel that shift in this time of increasing cold and rain, the shield flips. My eyes turn inward.

We huddle in the early dark and tell stories of the year past. We attend to our rest, move more slowly in our expeditions. We decide more often to stay in. We open the bin with gloves and scarves, prepare for a different rhythm of walking. We recount the past seasons, not yet ready to dream of the time to come.

read Kerri’s blog post about RAIN

See Through It [on Flawed or Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

Light passes through. Transparent. Trans; across or beyond. A prefix of movement.

Last night we had snacks with some pals. Our conversation turned to politics and how resistant we are as a nation to tell our full story. Opaque. The opposite of transparent. Impenetrability of light. “It’s just history,” someone said. “History is history.”

Narrative. With a point of view. The winners of wars tell one story. The opposite side has another tale to tell. History is never just history. A country as deeply divided as ours is warring over its history. What happens if we actually tell our full story? Who are we if we acknowledge our shadow? Shine the light or snuff it?

Boiling our times down to the essence, we’d arrive at these two words. Transparent. Opaque. Isn’t it always the way that people who have something to hide proclaim transparency? Isn’t it always the case that people who lie claim to be holders of the truth? Opacity is a tricky business.

I recently watched again Simon Sinek’s first TED talk. He said, “There are leaders and there are those who actually lead.” We could call it a simple truth: we know those who actually lead because they boldly shine-the-light. They are not afraid of being seen or seen through. They are, however, a threat to those who call themselves “leaders,” those that fear the revelations of light. Reveal-ations. Those leaders will fight to-the-death to maintain their opacity. They will sacrifice the greater for the lesser if necessary to remain opaque.

We are watching – and participating in – history being written. Our question – as has been true from the beginning: will we shine the light without fear of transparency or hide behind the wall of opacity? It’s just history.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRANSPARENCY

See The Good [on KS Friday]

“…the measure on ones mental health is the ability to see the good in everything. Perception is the key.” ~ Kristine Klussman, Connection

If I kept a gratitude journal, my entry yesterday would be that Bruce was happy. I could hear it in his voice. Although it had been seven years since we last spoke, we talked like we were picking up a conversation from yesterday. Life has changed dramatically for both of us.

It seems we have both reached the revelation of simple appreciation. No longer focused on the big stuff, we talked of the sweet moments, the moments that feed our souls. He asked me to describe my days and I was happily taken aback to tell the tale of walks on trails, beginning each day writing posts with Kerri, ending each day with a glass of wine. Drawing cartoons. A dog that runs enthusiastic circles. Good friends.

I am reminded again and again that goodness is not found in the world. It is brought to the world. We don’t perceive what is already “there,” we wrap what is “there” in a story-blanket. We give it meaning. And then we feel the impact of the meaning we give it. Viktor Frankel famously wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. Despair ensues, too. Anger, too, if that is what is brought.

Earlier this year a friend asked how Kerri and I were doing amidst the job losses and broken wrists. I responded that our circumstance was dire. It was. It just didn’t feel that way, so full was our sense of appreciation. In the midst of a dire circumstance, we started our days writing. Good friends called. DogDog ran enthusiastic circles and made us laugh. We sipped a glass of wine at the end of each day and enjoyed our simple meals. Today, things are less dire and, although we are still standing on shaky ground, we start each day writing together. We hold hands and take walks. We breathe deeply the smell of coffee in the morning. Our gratitude for our days has not changed a bit. Good moments are everywhere.

And today, Bruce is back in touch. He is happy and his happiness, like all happiness, comes from a hard decision that took tremendous courage: he decided to see the good. To bring light. To be light. He is doing the work of savoring the good moments that he now sees all around himself.

good moments/this part of the journey is available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MOMENTS

good moments/this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Story Your Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A difficulty is a light; an insurmountable difficulty is the sun.” ~ Paul Valery

A newsflash from Captain Obvious: this has been a very difficult year. We’ve revoked permission to ask, “What else could happen?” because, in this year, something else always happens; something else climbs on the pile of the already insurmountable mountain of difficulties.

Robert Olen Butler wrote that a story is what happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. We humans love a good story of difficulties surmounted. There is great satisfaction when Luke Skywalker finally trusts the force, when Frodo returns the ring to the lava, when the underdog wins the race. We cheer when the skinny girl punches the bully, when the peasants rise and vanquish the brutal king.

The difficulty, the obstacle, evokes character. The difficulty also reveals character. This year of difficulty has revealed much about the character – and the lack of character – of our nation. Both/And. Healthcare workers run into the fiery jaws of this dragon-virus every day. With hospitals overrun, with numbers of infections skyrocketing, many of us ignore the pleas of healthcare workers to stay put, to avoid gathering, and fly off to play at Disneyland. Both/And.

In the arc of every great story there must be a loss. The difficulty has to win-for-a-moment in order to evoke the light. The obstacle serves as the catalyst for discovery. The discovery serves as the introduction to the next obstacle. Let’s face it, a life without difficulty is flat and void of tales. It’s a cycle of life.

It is tempting, when sitting in the belly of the whale, to think that the belly is the end of the story. It never is. It is the moment to weep. Yes. It is the moment to sit still and wonder what to do. Yes. It is the moment to run around in a last ditch effort to create enough belly-havoc that the whale burps you to the surface and spits you out to face the next obstacle, the next difficulty, that will someday become the story of ‘I didn’t know I had it in me.” The moment of greatest creativity. The Hail-Mary pass.

The story of your light – of our light – and how it came into the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHTS

Go Spelunking [on KS Friday]

Arnie is among my team of wise-eyes. In response to a recent post, he wrote that he was relieved that I was stepping back into the light. “Darkness,” he wrote, “has never been the place from which I observed you to start.”

I am also relieved to be stepping back into the light. And, I am most grateful for my foray into darkness. It was necessary. It was useful. “The anger burned off a resistant layer of the onion.” I wrote in reply. “It burned away many of the resentments I was carrying, opened a channel to the voice I was withholding. Nature is not balanced in a world that makes room for light alone.” I was out of balance and needed to walk into that dark cave. Again. There is great power to be found at the dark center of the earth. After defeating the monster Grendel, Beowulf had to go into the dark forest and dive into the dark bottomless swamp to confront a more dark and terrifying monster, Grendel’s mother. He emerged victorious and forever changed.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

As the night the day. The day the night. Darkness is necessary to perceive the light. It is not possible to thy self be true without a good grasp of the whole truth, including the bits we ignore and deny. I’m only now understanding that this dance in the dark has been central to my lessons and my non-stop-pondering these many months. It is neigh-on-impossible to be true to yourself, to be whole, without embracing the full spectrum of your self. Without both sides of the moon. Self love, it seems, requires a love of ALL parts of your self. Dark and light. There’s plenty of room at the table.

Nature, your nature, is not corrupt or bad. It is nature. There is no judgment in nature, just interrelationship. Cycles and dances. Seasons of growth and rejuvenation. Birth and death. Rather than applying a scalpel it is more useful to go spelunking.

There is no denying we are living through a very dark time. It is the understatement of this young century to suggest that we are finding – again – a host of monsters in our very dark cave. We can, as we have in the past, run from the truth that we find, or, we can at long last pull up a chair, sit with our monsters, and have a chat. Monsters tend to transform when given some time and attention. When light is brought into darkness and darkness is led into light.

It is symbolically perfect and appropriate – deeply human – that the darkest night of the year is the time when many traditions celebrate the return of the light. It is natural, this progression into darkness. It is natural, this journey into light. Roots gather energy during the cold dark months. We rest, knowing that, with the return of the light, there will be much work to do. New crops to plant. New thoughts to harvest and share.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE SETTING THE STAGE

find all three of Kerri’s HOLIDAY ALBUMS on iTunes.