Love Your Words [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

kawaii raccoons copy

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]

tired copy

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

 

RestNow Framed copy

held in grace: rest now

Approach It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

TPAC empty seats copy

“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

 

tpacwebsitebox copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Empty The Dishwasher Slowly [on Merely A Thought Monday]

empty the dishwasher slowly box copy

In the dark ages, when I did my driver’s ed course, I remember reading an experiment in which two cars drove the same long distance route; the first car followed all of the speed limits. The second car drove as fast as possible. The second car, the speeder, arrived only a few minutes, 120 seconds, ahead of the rule follower. The illusion of speed is, well, an illusion.

We just drove a few thousand miles and along the way were passed by more than a few hurry-up-cowboys. In each case, their gain would be minimal. Often we’d catch them (and pass them) within a few minutes. It’s a game I can’t help playing: does the addiction to speed, the anxiety of I’m-late-I’m-late-I’m-late, or the anger of I-have-to-get-there-first actually produce significant gains?

An angel gave us a beach house to use for a week. My normal morning routine is predicated on the fantasy of efficiency. I can cook breakfast, clean and put away dishes while also sorting out and making lists of all the things I think I need to accomplish each day. At the beach I was always the first one awake. I’d start the coffee, wander around and open the blinds, and, after staring at the surf, I’d begin to empty the dishwasher. The waves lulled me into sanity. There was not an ounce of rush-and-get-it-done in my body. Efficiency was nothing more than a distant memory. I enjoyed my morning. Fully. I began wondering if I was just like those speedy drivers? Deluding myself with an idea that, in reality, gained nothing but a wee bit more stress.

What if the idea was more than to get the job done fast? What if the idea was to do the job well and well included the absence of manufactured, self-imposed stress? These are things I already know but have to remind myself to live. And, since all of life appears to me as an analogy, my latest reminder to live what I already know is now a simple dishwasher. Empty it slowly. It need not be at a beach house because, in fact, the beach house has very little to do with dropping delusions/illusions of achievement.

Will it matter if I empty the dishwasher 16 seconds sooner? So I can get through it to the next task that I will rush through so I can get to my next task? Is my efficiency real or in service to anything useful? Probably not. Actually, certainly, not.

Will it matter that I am present in my actions and mindful in my day? Will it matter that, instead of pushing myself to concocted efficiencies, that I arrive at an empty dishwasher 16 seconds later?  Will it matter if I carry that way of being throughout my day? So, that, instead of pressing myself to get it done faster, I allow myself to live my life well (and, yes, I use that word intentionally with a double meaning). To be in it rather than get through it.

Imagine what I might gain.

 

read kerri’s blog post about EMPTY THE DISHWASHER SLOWLY

 

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Put It On A Post [on Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

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Paul often told the young actors he taught: never underestimate your power to influence or impact another person’s life. Stepping onto a stage comes with a responsibility. I loved his advice and thought it was much more universal and should be heeded everyday. What you do matters and it matters in ways you probably will never understand. We are always and in all ways participants in the butterfly effect.

In a short walk around our neighborhood you’ll discover several Little Free Libraries, an idea that came from Todd Bol as a tribute to his mother. She was a lover of books and his idea to honor her caught on like wildfire. In 2009 he built a little schoolhouse shaped box, put books in it, and stuck it on a post outside his house. He invited his neighbors to borrow them. He had no intention of creating a worldwide movement yet in the 9 years that have elapsed since he built his box, Little Free Libraries have popped up in over 80 countries. It became a movement. An entity with a mission. People borrow books. People share books and ideas. Neighbors stop and check out what might be new. The boxes themselves are often little pieces of art that Joseph Cornell might have assembled. Little Free Libraries are community connective tissue.

Todd Bol died last week. It seems only right on this Not-So-Flawed Wednesday to stop and take note of the very big ripple one small box on a post set into motion.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Todd Bol

 

 

buffalo adirondack chair website box copy

KS Friday

jacketymadjpegMany years ago, when I was riding around the country slaying dragons, thinking I might help save a troubled world, I wrote a post entitled You Make A Difference. A few days later, in my inbox, was an email with a link to a song from a musician I did not know. “I read your post,” she wrote, “and thought you might appreciate hearing my song with the same title.” I listened more than a few times. She was right! I loved her song. I jotted her a note thanking her. That was the first time Kerri and I communicated. It would be a few more years before our paths crossed again. Another post, another response, a surprising and casual email chain would lead me to this woman who would someday become my wife.

Over and over the lesson is the same: it’s the small stuff that matters. My life turned on an email. I never told her (until today because we are sitting together writing posts) that, on the day she sent her song to me, I was sitting in Seattle wondering if anything I did or had ever done in the world mattered. It was one of those days. And then I opened her email. She made a huge difference to me on that bleak day.

I have lived long enough to know that none of us truly understands the full impact our actions have on others. The smallest thing, opening a door, sharing song, ripples and ripples on.

Kerri was commissioned to write this song, originally for folks on the front line of the battle against cancer, though, like all great artists, she composed it from her very personal wellspring of experience; her brother died from cancer. Songs of inspiration can also be rallying cries and that is true of You Make A Difference. Kerri understands the profound difference between resisting the thing you don’t want (sickness) and moving toward what you desire (a cure). On this KS Friday, take in this blast of inspiration from the melange. You never know how one click might change the course of your day and life.

YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE a single track available on itunes

read Kerri’s thoughts about YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE

kerrianddavid.com

you make a difference ©️ 2003 kerri sherwood

Start Walking

photoTell Me. How can I be a learner?

My mind went absolutely blank, and I heard myself saying, Its simple. To be a learner youve got to be willing to be a fool. ~George Leonard, Mastery

I used to do a lot of work in education. My career in the theatre took a sharp left-hand turn when I started consulting with schools. The puzzles that plagued educators seemed to me easy to address. To be human is to be curious. Tickle the curiosity, begin the story and get out of the way.

Tom once told me that teaching is about relationship (not control). He also told me that the best teaching/learning needed to be directly applicable; it had to be immediate. It had to be real. It had to matter – to both the teacher and the learner. The trick is to extend the mattering into greater and deeper levels of abstraction.

An emphasis on testing is an emphasis on knowing. Great learning places the emphasis on not-knowing. It reinforces the pursuit and dispels the notion that knowledge is something achievable. Worthy questions always open more worthy questions. To be human is to be curious. To be alive is to wonder what is on the other side of the hill and then take a step toward it.

The fool George Leonard references isn’t “ the unthinking person,” it is “the carefree fool in the tarot deck who bears the awesome number zero, signifying the fertile void from which all creation springs, the state of emptiness that allows new things to come into being.”

Emptiness. Not knowing. Relationship. Mattering.

Step Into Unknown with SigThe question, “How do we/I do it?” is a great step-stopper. It is the leading edge of every personal and organizational stagnation excuse. We don’t know how. I’ve come to believe that it isn’t a natural question but is learned behavior. It is an emergency brake installed by a system that values right answers over great questions.

My wife and I have a short-hand phrase, Beaky’s Wheelchair, to remind us when we stall, that “how?” is something that can only be known after the fact. No one knows “How?” at the beginning. Beaky needed an electric wheelchair to be mobile and the world of insurance/medicare was standing still. After months of waiting, with no clue which direction to begin, we started making calls. We met every “no” with a “why not?.” We asked a multitude of foolish questions. We learned. And learned some more. Within a matter of weeks, Beaky had her wheelchair.

How do you play the guitar? Paint a picture? Bridge a conflict? Transcend a limit? Know one knows. Tickle the curiosity, let go of any notion that you need to know how, and start walking.

text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

the text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

 

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Feel The Thunder

An untitled  watercolor I did years ago

an untitled watercolor from the archives

I am sitting alone in the back room of a coffeehouse. The room is dark because the day is dark with rain. It is hot and very humid. The building shakes with thunder and the voices in the front room drop to a whisper. I imagine the voice of the thunder inspires awe or at least a library-esque respect. After the rumble subsides, the volume is restored. People laugh again and talk in a tumble over each other until the next rumble quiets them.

I came to work. Good coffeehouses have always been productive places for me though today I’m distracted by the thunder. Like the other patrons, the angry sky has me on alert. It is nearly impossible to focus on my thoughts when the sky has so much to say. The truth is, I want to listen to it. I want it to stop all motion, to interrupt all the little things I deem important. I want to pay attention to what it has to say.

I remember listening to a recorded lecture of Joseph Campbell. He said that the voice of the thunder was probably humanity’s first experience of the godhead. In other words, when the sky talked, people listened. Long before the weather channel replaced the oracle, connectivity between human action and the elements was assumed. Our actions mattered. The gods communicated their pleasure or displeasure with us via sunshine or tsunami. Calm seas and good sailing were signs of approval. It is a marvel in the age of humanity blowing a hole in the ozone, pouring tons of carbon into the atmosphere, having created a Texas size floating trash site in the ocean, exhausting aquifers, etc., that we can in all seriousness debate whether or not we are having an impact. I wonder if in the age of the weather channel as oracle we have so disconnected from “our nature” (our connectivity) that the debate is less about impact and really about whether or not we matter at all. If we do not recognize that our actions have impact, that the smallest action ripples through the lives of others, how can we possibly expect our existence to matter? Mattering requires the understanding and experience of connectivity.

When was the last time that you felt connected to the bigger whole? In the end of the day, mattering (spirituality by another name) is a very practical thing. It is to feel connected. When was the last time you stopped and listened to the thunder? When was the last time you felt its rumble in your chest, or noticed how quiet you became when it spoke?