Know Why [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I’m working with a software start-up company. Upon returning from travels I found our conversation has shifted into articulating mission and vision and purpose. None of us are keen about writing these kinds of statements but the exercise is useful and necessary. Why do we do what we do? What, exactly, do we do? In that order. Why. What.

Why? It seems as if this should be an easy answer. To support other people. To support other people in doing what they need to do.

I couldn’t help but think of our experience last week. We shared our story of breaking down in Hays, Kansas. It was late in the afternoon. It was the day before my dad’s funeral in Denver. We hobbled into the dealership. They were jammed with customers and couldn’t help us. There wasn’t a rental car to be found. It looked bleak. The dealer recommended a garage on the other side of town. Davis Automotive. We limped into their parking lot. We told our tale. They moved heaven and earth to help. Why?

It was nearing the end of their day. They, too, were jammed. Yet, they helped. They took the time. They made our problem theirs to solve. They took to heart my need to make it to my dad’s funeral. My need became their personal mission.

I returned to work with a new view on mission statements. They need not be lofty or abstract. In fact, they should be visceral. Tangible. Everyday. Support other people in doing what they need to do. Why? Because they need it. Just like I need it. Or you need it. These good mechanics fix cars. That is their “what.” Their “why”: help people get where they need to go. Help people do what they need to do.

Help people.

It’s how interconnection works. My mission is, in a real way, to make your path easier just as your mission is to make my path easier. I need mechanics because I do not have that mind or skill set. They need software designers because cars are computers and they can no longer diagnose problems without them. I am an artist, a teller-of-stories. Mechanics and software designers need my mind and skill set to remind them that, beyond their role, their mission, their job, they are human beings living a universal story. Nothing they do will matter, nothing I do will matter – ever – if it is not in service to the support of others’ growth, or need, or desire or fulfillment. I cannot be fulfilled if my work does not support you. And vice versa.

So, why are these good men and women, these software engineers and entrepreneurs creating their software? They see a real need. They see people struggling. And, like good mechanics who encounter a brokenhearted son en route to his dad’s funeral in a truck that will not run, they know exactly what to do. And, they know why.

read Kerri’s blog post about SERVICE

Unfold [on KS Friday]

September. The air was cool last night. We put on longer sleeves, sat on the deck and listened to the sounds of the summer night. Cicadas. The waves crashing into the shore. The bubbling of the fountain. Distant voices of others enjoying the evening. Dogga sighed and stretched, closing his eyes.

Stephen’s memorial, a gathering of friends and relations. At the same moment, across the country, a baby was born, a new little brother. On the same day, Kim completed another circle around the sun. I missed wishing her happy birthday. Celebrations of life wearing its many faces.

The chipmunks have discovered Kerri’s tomatoes. They are considerate thieves and take only one tomato at a time. Lately, a salmon-colored cardinal sits on the cage and pecks the leaves of the plants. The basil did well until the relentless heat and humidity, the torrential rains. It is ready to retire, old before its time. The crows swarm the hawk. The squirrels have shifted into overdrive, preparations for the coming season.

We stopped on our walk. Kerri approached the tree and snapped a photo of a bright crimson leaf, harbinger of fall. “So much has happened this summer,” she said. “I can’t believe it is already September.”

Textures. Colors. Sounds. Passages. Paying attention. It has us asking that age-old question, “What really matters?’

David sent a photograph. Dawson squeezed a whole tube of blue paint onto a canvas and, with a new cool art-tool, spread the rich thick paint, carving it into creation. An artist dad in play with his artist son.

That age-old question is so easy to answer, wearing longer sleeves, sitting on the deck on a cool summer evening. You can see it from “the plateau,” as George Leonard used to call it. Be in your moment, and you will see that the little things are really the big things. On the plateau, everything unfolds simply and with clarity. Friends gather. A baby is born. Blue paint squeezed onto a canvas.

UNFOLDING on kerri’s album AS IT IS

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

read Kerri’s blog post on TEXTURES

unfolding/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Consider It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.” ~ Marshall McLuhan

At the first theatre company I artistic directed, we cut silk screens and pulled ink to make our posters. They were crude but we didn’t know it at the time because that was the most advanced process available. At the time they looked cool and we were proud of them. They took some effort.

I remember the day a student came into my office and showed me how we could design our posters on the computer. His designs were gorgeous, easily adjusted, took almost no time, and came back from the printer quicker than I could cut a good screen. We felt like our status bumped up a notch. We looked professional, and, what we’d been so proud of only a year before, now looked primitive.

My first website cost an extraordinary amount of money. It took weeks of working with a designer. Changes were costly so were made rarely. Now, Kerri and I design, redesign and make changes to our site every week. A few years ago we set up a site for a theatre company, complete with ticket service, database and newsletter capacity all in one easy-to-use app. It cost them almost nothing and any fool could adjust and make changes to it.

People who only a few short years ago considered themselves voiceless can now say any old thing they want to an audience no less than world-wide. Patti once asked a conference attendee, “If you had a voice, what would you say?” If I could go back in time I’d beg her to retract that question.

We live in a time of high anxiety. There are few substantial anchors to moor our reality. I’m about to make the ultimate old guy statement: I remember when…a few limited news channels actually attempted to broadcast the news. They had a limited window of time to tell the news so they made their information count. We now have hundreds of information and misinformation sources that can rattle at us 24/7 and from multiple devices. The challenge is not editing-down-to what-matters, it is filling too much time with loads of spin that mostly has limited substance.

Information spreading – for me, too – has become easy-peasy. I can lob an opinion as easily and as readily as the next person. But, as Marshall McLuhan said – and I whole-heartily concur, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.” In other words, (don’t tell Kerri) I am sometime reactive. Sometimes, I think I know more than I do. Sometimes, I make mistakes. Slowing down seems to be the only cure. Thinking things through. Researching before spouting. Breathe and breathe again. Consider what matters. Really matters.

I’ve walked a complete circle in my life. Now, in all it’s shiny capacity, within the amazing miracles of technology, I find much of what people say and do and assert with this glorious ability – to be crude. Without thought. It’s too easy so it doesn’t much matter. The stream will quickly carry away even the most offensive opinions and endlessly wash in some more. I wonder how considerate people might become if their easy voices were less easily shared? If saying something actually took some time and effort – let’s say, as much time as it took to design, transfer and cut a silkscreen – what might they say? If it was less easy to “like” or “dislike.” If one slip would send the thought back to the arduous start? Maybe we’d be more considerate because we’d take the time to consider what we were expressing – to think about what we were saying and why we were saying it.

I suspect most of our “whys” would get our knuckles rapped by grandmothers who held decorum and polite communication as a high virtue. Saying stuff so-as-to-belong-or-pile-on…or to hear ourselves talk, certainly wouldn’t spare the rod.

That whole thought stream came from taking a walk, looking down, and finding a rock smiling back at me. Someone took some time. Chose a rock. They chose what to paint and had a grandma-approved-reason-why. And, they did a good job of it. “Ahhhhh,” Kerri said, smiling back at the rock. “How considerate,” I added to her awe.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROCKS THAT SMILE


Be The Rain [on KS Friday]

Simple elegance. Courteous goodwill. Thoughtfulness. Consideration. Do honor. Ennoble. Look up the word “grace” and these are the phrases and synonyms that you will find.

John Updike wrote that “Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.” California is on fire. So is Greece and Turkey. Siberia. Reservoirs are shrinking. So many are looking to the sky awaiting its descent to the earth. Awaiting simple grace.

When I lived in Seattle I delighted on a hot summer day of running through the International Fountain. I was not alone. Children and adults alike squealed as they played in the dancing jets of water. It was a joy to go to the fountain, sit in the spray and watch people play, rest, and rejuvenate with and in the water.

We are following couples as they through-hike the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. They plan their days according to their water sources. There are water-less stretches that are made do-able only because a trail-angel maintains a cache of water for the hikers.

Trail-angels, people who, for no other reason than having the satisfaction of helping ease the journey of others, give me hope. They bring respite, perhaps because someone in their past did it for them and it mattered. They make difficult passages do-able. Sometimes they provide a ride into town. They look for opportunities to help. They are the rain when rain is nowhere to be found.

Isn’t that grace? Rain meeting earth? Angel meeting a need, providing water so a thirsty traveler might drink and continue walking?

Grace on the album Right Now

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

read Kerri’s blog post about WATER

grace/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Answer The Call [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I have an old iPhone. Sometimes it doesn’t ring when people try to call. The sound of the message coming into my inbox is the first clue that someone is trying to reach me. Yesterday, when I heard the alert, I was unloading stone from the car so I didn’t check it right away. I wish I had. It was my dad.

His message was 12 seconds long and most of it was confusion and labored breathing. He is famous for removing his oxygen when no one is around and, in his advancing dementia, he will sometimes accidentally dial my number when he is lost in the story-in-his-mind. I treasure these brief touches, these calls, when I hear the phone and answer. We talk. He’ll stay on the phone and, even when he is panicked, he shares his story. My goal always is to convince him to go to the door and tell someone that he needs help with his oxygen. No one can help him with his story.

I tried twice to return his call but he did not pick up.

The theme of this season is life-cycle. We’ve enjoyed the peonies bud-to-blossom-to-fade. Each step of the process has been gorgeous. In the lingering season of pandemic we are, like many people in the nation, paying attention to our backyard. We’re making it our sanctuary and have already spent many an evening sitting on the deck, the mourning dove singing to us from the trees.

We had the opportunity to visit a local college. It is a new campus. It’s the old newspaper building, transformed. This quote is stenciled on the wall: Your life has purpose. Your story is important. Your dreams count. Your voice matters. You were born to make an impact. It’s a good message for anyone but particularly students trying to find their way into the world. People at the beginning of their story.

It’s also a good message for people at the end of their story, making their way out of the world, though it is not the same as a statement of reflection as one of aspiration. It has more punch.

Were I a teacher at this college, I would tell my students, new buds on the peony, not to worry so much about mattering. Assume it to be true.

I would teach them that they might spend their whole lives trying to make a mark and none of it will matter so much as answering the phone. Your voice will matter. You will have an impact.

No story that you tell will be more important than the story you concoct to get Columbus out of his chair, to shuffle to the door of his room, so he can say to someone, anyone, “Will you help me to breathe.”

read Kerri’s blog post about LIFE PURPOSE

Love Your Words [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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I have grown fond of words. No one is more surprised by this statement than me.

A decade ago I did not consider myself a writer. Nowhere in my limited identity structure did I harbor thoughts of writing. This is an admission of my utter unconsciousness since I was writing and performing stories at conferences, with symphonies, and during facilitation. Tell a good story and even the most disparate-and-divided group will inhabit a common metaphor. Tell a good story in cliffhanger segments and even the most resistant conference-goer will greedily return to the general assembly to gobble up the next bit of story.  Stories are powerful magic and I loved telling them. At the time, it never occurred to me that I first had to write them.

The Buddha said, “The mind is everything. What you think is what you become.” I’ve also found the quote modified to read, “What you think is what you are.”  We think in words. We think in stories. Mostly, we are unconscious to the stories we tell ourselves and, more to the point, we rarely recognize that the river of words running through our mind is not truth. It is not fact. It is interpretation. It is story. We are storytellers all and the stories we tell define the moments we live. The stories we tell determine what we see or do not see, how we see or do not see.

That recognition brought me to my love of words. I started paying attention to the stories that I tell myself. I have a Hall-of-Grievances. I have a Complete-Book-Of-Rules for how I ought to live. I have a Jukebox-Of-Greatest-Hits, a entire collection of  stories and conversations that I replay again and again and again. I’m fond of the debate records I play because I win every time! There’s even a special long play set of recordings of things I SHOULD have said and, guess what? In my mind I say the SHOULD-HAVE-SAID words every time! I especially enjoy being witty and quick (in my mind).  It is a wonder that I have any space for new thought given the story-grooves I play over and over ad infinitum.

Words matter. The words I choose matter. I learned in school that William Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of approximately 26,000 words. If we are average, you and I top out at around 1,800 words. William either made up or was the first to put on paper roughly 10,000 of his 26,000 word vocabulary. We tell shorter, less articulate stories. Less poetry and more “get-to-the-point!” He didn’t have commercial breaks shaping his attention span.

I story other people as much or more than I story myself. The annoying little secret about the-story-I-tell-myself-about-others is this: it is not a story about them at all. It’s my story about them which makes the story I tell not about them, but about myself. “Words, words, words,” Hamlet replies to Polonius.

My world can be beautiful. My world can be ugly. My world can be safe. My world can be violent. My world can be kawaii. My world can be fugly. My world can be fearful. My world can be love-full. My world can be. I can be my brother’s/sister’s keeper. I can be concerned only for myself. Yes. No. Just words. Not just words.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KAWAII

We are still in the Facebook annihilation zone. It is possible that Kerri’s posts may never reappear so, if you enjoy reading Kerri’s blog, consider subscribing to her blog. I know we publish waaay too much but, with the minor exception of us, no one reads everything that we write – except Horatio and for his dedicated perseverance, we are grateful.

 

chicken and perseverance website box copy*look at this website box on Kerri’s post. She added pupils to the eyes. Originally, I drew Chicken Marsala without pupils and that creeps Kerri out. She always adds pupils to Chicken!

 

 

 

Sow A Better Seed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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The last Monday in May, what was once called Decoration Day has, over time, become known as Memorial Day in these United States. On the first Decoration Day, several thousand people descended on Arlington National Cemetery and together decorated the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. Honoring the dead.

BENEATH THIS STONE REPOSE THE BONES OF TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN UNKNOWN SOLDIERS GATHERED AFTER THE WAR FROM THE FIELDS OF BULL RUN,… [Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns].

The bones of combatants together in repose. Dust to dust. It turns out they were made of the same stuff after all. I have, since I was a small human, wondered why we only get around to honoring the front line after they are gone. It seems a little late to make statements of mattering after we dig a big hole and fill it with bodies. Why not honor each other before we step on opposite sides of a whipped up divide?  Why not hold hands together prior to repose?

I know, I know. Silly idealism! There’d be no drama if we honored each other up front. Peace and collaboration do not make for scintillating news. Cooperation and common cause is bad for weapons sales. When all the deeper meanings of existence have been masked (consumerism is a lousy soul-filler), then the superficial fillers take over. Hatred of other, conspiracy theory and fear-mongering are great unifying forces when buying stuff no longer fills the metaphysical black hole.

Kerri has said it. So has 20. I’ve heard it from Jim, from the checker in the store, from people walking on the trail, the nurse interviewed for the news: “I’m tired.” General fatigue is understandable in the midst of the emotional pandemic roller coaster but I’m sensing a deeper root to the ubiquitous weariness: fields sowed with division and lies and  distraction and misinformation and malfeasance.

Throughout time, those idealist/realists that we most admire and strive to emulate, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandi, Mother Teresa, Rumi…[it’s an extensive list] including those that we profess to worship, would each and every one ask us why, with all we espouse and purport to believe, do we sow our fields with combatants who find togetherness only in repose?

Today we honor those who died in the many, many, many battles that fill our divisive history. Perhaps tomorrow we will find a way to turn to each other and sow the seeds of courtesy and generosity, and find a way to honor each other before we join together as dust.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TIRED.

 

prayerflagsinsnow website box copy

 

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held in grace: rest now

Approach It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Because we have lost reverence of approach, we should not be too surprised at the lack of quality and beauty in our experience.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

There was a common thread that ran through the lessons my mentors taught me: how I treat my space is a direct reflection of how I approach my artistry, my work.

Whether they said it directly or not, they understood artistry as sacred, artistic spaces as sacred spaces. Places of communion.

Paul Barnes used to tell his acting students, “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.” There is a responsibility when getting on the stage. There is a responsibility when designing for the stage. There is a responsibility for how tickets are sold. There is a responsibility for how the theatre is cleaned and maintained, the studio, the shop… Tom’s students were famous for sweeping the parking lot of the theatre because they believed the audience experience began with the approach to the building. The sweepers understood themselves as artists.

During our last days on island, Kerri and I began cleaning out the theatre. We began the process of introducing a new approach. We started our job mid-season and were asked to come to the island and watch and learn. All summer, as a watcher, I repeated this phrase: everyone wants to use the theatre but no one wants to be responsible for it. Responsible to it. Groups entered and dumped their stuff. When they left, they left their mess for Pete to clean and why not? (Pete gets it, he is meticulous, and loves the space. But he is a lone sweeper fighting the tide of a dedicated mindless approach.)

TPAC is understood as a place to be used. It is a space the community fights over. A territory to be claimed. It is not yet approached as a space where beauty is touched, where actions matter because they are capable of unifying, where artistry is understood, not as a personal domain, but the grace of collective creation.

Sitting on the empty stage, the season closed, Kerri and I sat and listened. “It’s time to make the space ours, ” she said. “I think I’ll clean out the fridge.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE END OF SEASON

 

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Make A Small Gesture [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We’ve built our towering life together on the small gesture. Coffee in bed. A note stashed in a suitcase to be found when far away from home. We hold hands everywhere we go. When getting ready for bed, the first one in the bathroom always puts toothpaste on both brushes. Little kindnesses. The smallest of signals and courtesies that say nothing more and nothing less than, “You matter most of all.”

Looking for the grand plan that will change the world or, better, trying to be the grand plan, often blinds us to the real necessity of the moment. We look for the mountain that needs to be moved and miss the hand that needs to be held.

My younger, revolutionary self screams, “WHAT?! WE NEED TO PUSH BACK! WE NEED TO FIGHT THE SYSTEM!! WE NEED TO CHANGE THE WORLD!!! THIS SMALL-MOMENT STUFF IS THE CRAP-THINKING OF AN OLD PERSON! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!!!!

I’ve been more changed by a smile from across the room than by all the agitation that I’ve engendered across the span of my life. I have initiated more change by holding my tongue than by wagging it. Listening, I’ve learned, is a most powerful small gesture.

If I am old (I don’t feel old), if I have learned anything, then I have learned that real love is not noisy or flashy or grand. It is quiet. It steps behind you when you are frightened, puts its hand on your back and whispers, “I’ve made you a toothbrush.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SMALL GESTURES

 

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Continue To Learn [on DR Thursday]

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Last week we helped our dear 20 pack his late father’s paintings. His dad, Duke Kruse, was an exceptional and prolific artist. As we wrapped the pieces, preparing them for storage, I couldn’t help but study them. Duke was free and bold. His color palette was precise. His technique was impeccable. And, a few years after his death, his work has nowhere to go. No gallery. No museum. After the estate sale, we will catalogue it. 20 will store it.

It was bittersweet. I got to spend time with the work of an extraordinary painter. It was inspiring and thrilling. I learned. I also got a glimpse of what will most likely happen to my work after I am gone. It will be catalogued. It will be stored.

My work is similar to Duke’s: I have fine technique and my subject matter is not widely accessible. Like Duke, I have individual buyers. My paintings are in collections across the nation. But, also like Duke, no collectors seek my work. At this late stage, like Duke, I have no greater gallery representation. No one, besides me, is actively promoting my work. I paint. I take a photograph of the new piece, catalogue it, and then throw it onto the stack. It begs the question, ” Why do it?”

Horatio is a gifted artist. During his recent visit, we descended into my studio and we waded into the stacks. I was delighted to pull out and show him my paintings. I value his thoughts and opinions. He rarely shows his work. He doesn’t paint to show. He paints for himself. He paints, like Duke and like me, because he has to. He paints because the paintings work on him, too. They paint him. They challenge and change him.

This afternoon we will move the final load of Duke’s work. I doubt if Duke would care much that his paintings will disappear into storage. He did his work and the paintings served him well. They made him soul-rich and laughter-filled.

And, so, from Duke, – and Horatio – I learn. From my paintings I also continue to learn. It begs the question, “Why not?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE STACKS

 

 

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