Ramble [on DR Thursday]

I’m like a two-year old: I want to know “Why?” For instance, the lichen growing on the birch tree is Hypogymnia physodes, but it’s also known as “Monk’s Hood.” Why?

There’s a wildflower also known as Monk’s Hood. I read that the flower gets its name because its petals resemble the cowls once worn by monks. However, the flower is also known as “Wolfsbane.” Why? What does the bane of a wolf have to do with the hood of a monk? I’m capable of inventing a slew of possible connections but they will be just that: inventions.

In an attempt to bore you beyond rescue, I’ve lately been fascinated by how much of our world is a blizzard of unhinged information in search of a context. For instance, conceptual art needs an explanation. Without a curator, it’s nothing more than a banana taped to a wall. Twine with a dirty sponge. Oddity seeking to be taken seriously.

In the 21st century, we measure relevance by the number of followers, not by the substance-of-the-matter-being-followed. It’s a popularity contest. Lots and lots of flowing information, most of it useless. Without use. Without substance. And, scarily for us: without being questioned.

What is empty content pushed through a fabricated context? “Breaking” news. MAGA. Q.

It occurs to me that society needs more two year olds! A healthy practice of asking “Why” would spare us from certain death-by-bloviation.

A cowl, by the way, is both a monk’s hood AND a loose neckline in contemporary women’s clothing. Wouldn’t the monks be surprised if they’d confused their cowls!

Now, get out there and find context for this bit of useless information.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LICHEN

pieta with paparazzi © 2010 david robinson

Call Awe [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” ~ The Beatles, The End

Last week was unusual in that I had a sneak-peek at my end-of-life-review. When a trusted doctor looks at you and says, “This is bad,” when tests that ordinarily might be scheduled a few weeks out are rushed into the next few hours, when the palette of available options are mostly shades of black and all include the word “dire,” the life-movie-reel begins to roll. Mine did.

I’ve known for years that among the few choices we really have is 1) where we choose to focus, and 2) where we choose to stand as we focus. Point-of-view, labels slapped onto experience, the story we tell is a story we project onto the world. Rolling through the CT-scan doughnut, I looked at the story I’ve called into the forest. I listened for the story it reflected back at me, as me.

“Take a deep breath,” the machine instructed, “and hold it.” Holding my breath, I saw a single story comprised of many, many chapters. There are the life-pages that I lived in confidence, and pages that I wrote confusion. The shattering, the story of the pieces of my life scattered in four directions. Kintsugi. The pages of the phoenix. Pages written running from my art and the matching pages of running toward it. The chapter of standing still. The pages of betrayal and the balance pages of being betrayed. “Release your breath,” the machine chirped. “Breathe naturally.”

The forest will show me fear. The forest will offer grace. The forest will reflect back to me peace if peace is what I bring to it. Someday, rather than project onto the forest, I will walk into it, become it. A reflector of projections.

Take a deep breath. I’ve never been so appreciative of breath. Hold it. What a gift. Breathe naturally. Call awe into the forest.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOREST

Beg A Good Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

She stopped, turned and went back to the truck. “What are you doing?” I asked. She pulled her camera from her purse and snapped a photo of the Sara Lee truck. She showed me the photo and slid her phone back into her purse.

“I thought this would make a good blog photo,” she said, adding, “If it wasn’t a marketing phrase it would beg a good question.”

How should goodness taste?

How should equality look?

How should community sound?

How should generosity smell?

How should love feel?

We experience the world through our senses. And then we make a story of what we sense. Senses first. Story second. It’s how the brain works. The language capacity, putting words to experience, is essentially a translation function. It does not lead, it follows. It’s why, for the most part, we choose the story we tell.

The word that strikes me the most on the bread truck photo is “should.” How should goodness taste?

How does goodness taste? To you?

How does equality look? To you?

For you, what’s the sound of thriving community?

To me, generosity smells like fresh baked bread and hot dark coffee. You?

And love? There are no words. But you know it when you feel it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GOODNESS

Love What You Bring [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Only mediocrity is sure of itself…” ~ Paulo Coelho, Aleph

Sometimes I wonder why I spent so much of my life believing I was a fraud. I was provided with great mentors, each relaying the same message: vibrant life is never found in what you know. The point of life is to step toward not-knowing. And, yet, for years, I abused myself with accusations of not-knowing. It was proof that I was a fraud. I was certain everyone else knew.

Quinn pointed to a tall building and told me the people occupying the big office at the top were just making it up, too.

Jim worked hard to help me understand that artistry happens in the release of preparation.

Tom McK tried to help me see that the real riches are found in the very moment that you simply don’t know what to do.

I am fortunate. After so many great mentors speaking a singular message to my titanic fear of not-knowing, the penny dropped. Standing alone in the vast open plain of not-knowing, a two-step mantra flooded my being.

Step #1: Have the experience first. Make meaning second.

A Post-it note pinned near my desk reads, “Competence isn’t in what you know, it’s in your capacity to figure it out.” I have great capacity.

Step #2: Suspend your judgments and learn.

Martha Graham’s “divine dissatisfaction” and “blessed unrest” permeate the vast open plain of not-knowing. “Keep the channel open,” she advised Agnes deMille. “No artist is pleased.”

“Your job is to put it out there,” Dick K., told a younger version of me. “What other people think is none of your business.”

It’s simple. Love what you bring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about YOUR WORK

Take The First Step [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“That is what marks out the warrior: the knowledge that willpower and courage are not the same thing. Courage can attract fear and adulation, but willpower requires patience and commitment.” ~ Paulo Coelho, Aleph

And so begins my tale of two quotes.

It’s true, I have not been very courageous in this lifetime. I’ve run from most of my demons until circumstance or readiness required me to turn and face them. Left to my own devices I’d be running still.

“I learned long ago that in order to heal my wounds I must have the courage to face up to them.” ~ Paulo Coehlo, Aleph

Luckily, life ran me into a dead-end. It was not courage but conditions that stopped the run and necessitated the turn. Demons are never as big as fear makes them out to be. In fact, turn and face them, and they will often shrink to nothingness. Their job is to make you run.

The real work happens after the demons shrink. Standing in your dead-end, the race from your life now complete, an obvious and disconcerting question arises: now what? Actually, there’s a deeper question implied: in the absence of running away, what will you choose to walk toward?

The deeper question is one of willpower. The deeper question cannot be answered by anyone else and can only be found in the space once occupied by the demon. Facing the demon was merely a prerequisite. Standing still in your dead-end, reaction transforms to intention.

Breathless and vulnerable, it is willpower (perhaps a kind of courage?) that is needed to take that first timid step toward…

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CANOPY

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

See The Glue [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It’s a new phrase to me but I liked it immediately. I liked it because I have known some amazing people, those rare birds who keep the runaway-egos focused on the project, who naturally and seemingly without effort coalesce disparate talents into a cohesive creative team. The ‘glue people’ is a perfect description.

Glue people intuitively understand power as something that is created between people, not something wielded over people. I suspect that is the epicenter of their glue-gift: they see beyond the parts to the sweeping possibility of the whole. They know that “every man/woman for themself” is a recipe for disaster.

Despite our dedicated cowboy mythos, innovation is never the province of a single person. There may be a single visionary but the vision is never accomplished in a vacuum. Inventions, like organizations or nations, come to fruition through the efforts and skills of the many-working-as-one. Glue people generate “the-working-as-one.”

Stage managers, production managers, executive assistants, contractors…those highly overlooked people at the center of the information, who quietly make sure the work of creation happens without collision while also making certain all the parts and pieces know how much they are valued.

Meaning makers. Making value explicit. Glue people. Just try to get an idea off the runway without them.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GLUE PEOPLE

See Down The Pike [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Age and stage,” 20 says, to explain the behavior of people. Age and stage.

I pulled up Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man soliloquy. Jaques from As You Like It. “All the world’s a stage…” We perform the role of ourselves in this drama of life. In a funny coincidence, I’m spending some time inside Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of An Author. David is updating the script and preparing for a production. I’m fortunate enough to play witness to his journey. ‘All the world’s a stage’ meets ‘who will tell our story?’

In the final lap of his career, Tom was an assistant superintendent at a school district. He’d shake is head and say, “Parents forget that they were once children and expect their kids to do things that they themselves could not do as children.” Each age grows blind to the previous stage. We forget the great learning-power of making a mistake.

My favorite of Tiago Forte’s 10 Principles of a Second Brain is to make it easier for your future self. It’s a great idea and I wish the bevy of my past selves had been kind enough to consider me at this age and stage. When I turn and look at the rough wake of my passage I know that, with some better choices, I might have scribed a more direct path. Or not. My past selves caution me to fully appreciate the messes and the mistakes that they made. My life is better today because of the rampant foolishness of those former-me’s.

The Balinese believe that we come back every seventh generation. They are an ancestor returned. As such, they are less likely to foul their nest believing they will themselves be the future inhabitants of the nest. Looking down the long-road, they see themselves dealing with the world they currently create. And so cooperation, sustainability, and peace are much higher on their priority list than guns and every-man-for-himself. To care for another is to care for their future self. They find a society like ours, that allows anyone in the community to be homeless, to be broken. Diseased. Or simply adolescent.

I can’t help but think they are mature while we are mewling toddlers. Considering the impact of your actions seven generations into the future is surely a sign of maturity. Thinking of others, understanding betterment as a shared responsibility, is an adult perspective. Currently, we allow our children to be slaughtered and protect the gun that killed them. Surely there’s some growing-up to be done.

I wish I had a penny for every recent conversation I’ve heard that began with the phrase, “I don’t understand what’s going on in this nation.” 20’s voice pops into my head, “Age and stage,” he says in my mind. “Age and stage.” Let us hope that there’s some maturity coming down the pike, that we survive this stick-your-finger-in-the-socket stage.

Perhaps we will someday look back and appreciate the mess, the rampant foolishness, the mishmash we are making.

read Kerri’s blogpost about AGE AND STAGE

Add More Pulp [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Last night Jupiter and Mars converged without us. We had the best of intentions to rise at 3:30am and walk east to the water’s edge where we might see the event. Somehow, we slept through it. “Do you think they converged anyway?” I asked in a moment of grand ego inflation. I’m not the first human to delude myself into thinking the heavens spin around me. Kerri sipped her coffee and pretended she was alone.

Do you remember Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree? A story of the sacrifices made in relationship. The little boy in the story takes everything the tree has to offer. And the tree, in return, is happy. I was not aware – though I’m not surprised – that such a simple book for children could be so controversial. Banned and excoriated for sexist messages. Loved and embraced for altruism. Both/And. Symbols and metaphors are open to interpretation, planets of meaning circling the life-experience of the interpreter.

Jonathan once told us that “A tree must split its bark to grow.” Though he did not know it at the time, I was gaining weight and en route to splitting my bark. Now that the splitting is done and I am at least one size bigger, I’m wondering if my new expanse provided space for wisdom or if I’ve simply added another ring of wood. More pulp.

Don’t ask Kerri. She’s sipping her coffee, quietly pondering the inordinate sacrifices made in relationship. While she’s suffering her obvious conclusion, I’m think I’ll phone Jupiter and Mars and apologize for not showing up. Who knows, maybe when I didn’t show, they decided to reschedule! It wouldn’t be a proper convergence without me, right?

read Kerri’s blogpost about BARK