Settle In and Listen [on KS Friday]

Columbus would sit by the stereo for hours and listen to his records. His collection of styles was all over the map: classical, jazz, country, pop…The vinyl itself was wide-ranging: 45’s and 33 1/3 rpm’s, thick records weighing 180 grams or more. One of my favorite memories is of a dark night, sitting with him for hours, as he played selections for me. “I wonder what this one is,” he’d say, pulling a record from its sleeve. Or, “Oh, you’ll appreciate this one. It’s really odd!”

His enjoyment of music was as much an exploration into the unknown as a return to old favorites; he listened to discover. He’d study, laugh at the quirky and savor to sublime.

Growing up I did not know of his love for music. I suppose with four kids there wasn’t space in his life for his passions since he was an avid supporter of our dreams. I knew he thrived in the mountains and liked nothing better than throwing a fishing line into a lake. His deep appreciation for music came as a surprise.

We brought his records home with us to Wisconsin. They aren’t worth much monetarily. Occasionally I thumb through the albums, pull one, and play it on our little suitcase record player. Over the holidays, Kerri brought out her parent’s LP’s and I pulled the Christmas music from Columbus’ collection. We listened and told stories of Christmas past.

Recently we wandered through an antique store and came upon the boxes and boxes of old vinyl records. Kerri quipped that her CD’s would someday show up in the antique store with my paintings stacked against a wall. I looked a the boxes and wondered what I should do with my dad’s albums. They will, inevitably, end up stacked next to my paintings and Kerri’s CD’s in some moldy old antique mall. So, perhaps I need do nothing with them yet.

Really, I am waiting for an opportunity, a night that I will settle in with the record player and pull Columbus’ vinyl from their sleeves and ask, “I wonder what this one is?”

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about VINYL

it’s a long story/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Remember This Vivid Moment [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When we first met, we sat on the living room carpet staring into the fire, and talked the night away. The sound of the birds at dawn surprised us. I remember the coming light and sweet birdsong like it was yesterday.

A few days ago we sat on the living room carpet in the sun, and talked the afternoon away. Our quiet conversation reminded me of that very first night. Our topic in the winter sun: letting go of too-tightly-held-ideals. “Truth will out,” wrote Master Shakespeare in his Merchant of Venice. Our truth was out in quiet voices that brought affirmations of better days.

A story I once loved to tell was The Crescent Moon Bear. The heroine, a young wife, must go on a journey. She must leave all that she knows in pursuit of her purpose. Leaving all that you know is easier said than done. It doesn’t happen in a moment; it requires some sweet visitation of the past. “What was” as launching pad to “What will be.”

Before I left my studio in Seattle, I had to touch the walls, run my fingers along the sill. I knew I would never be back. Even in that moment, all I could remember was the goodness I experienced in that space. The refuge. The sanctuary. The creative fulfillment. The hard times I’d known there dissipated like mist.

What was. Krishnamurti wrote, “You can only be afraid of what you think you know.” I marvel that the hardships of my past soften into pastel remembrance, translated into useful lessons, while my future fears are as sharp as broken glass, monsters around the corner. Acute imagination.

I marvel that the generosities heaped upon my life are vivid and bring tears to my eyes just as they did the day that I first experienced them. Keen remembrances.

Sitting on the carpet, the low afternoon sun warming us, I realize that I will always remember this vivid moment. The day we opened our hands and let fly illusions. We both took a deep breath. New air rushed into the open space, Not knowing where we might now go or what we might now do, we sat in the waning light, surprised that the sun was setting so soon.

read Kerri’s blogpost about REMEMBERING

Eat! [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Sitting at the dining room table late at night on xmas eve, in a lively post-dinner discussion, I suddenly remembered Ms. Brunell. I hadn’t thought of her in years.

She was in her eighties and lived alone in an apartment nearby. Ms. Brunell loved to cook. I was seventeen years old and would visit from time to time, to help her with odd jobs, cleaning her apartment or simply to sit at the table and chat. And eat. Chatting required food. Lots of food.

Thanksgiving day, after eating an enormous meal with my family, I was slipping into a food coma when the phone rang. It was Ms. Brunell wondering where I was. She’d made a Thanksgiving meal for me. She forgot to invite me.

I was desperate. I knew the meal she prepared would come in many courses. She was Italian, and rich, thick lasagna was most certainly on the menu. She was old-school so each bite would be replenished by another scoop of food. “Eat!” she’d chirp and smile, reloading your plate. Food was her love language.

As I drove to her apartment I pondered my-death-by-overindulgence. I was caught in the-good-boy-trap and wrestled mightily with my dilemma. Do I confess that I’d already eaten and disappoint her? Do I lie and tell her that I was starving and find some way to put down yet one more spoonful of food? Neither option seemed tenable. How do I reconcile my moral code of honesty-at-all-times with my third-child-need-to-please?

Ms. Brunell was excitedly waiting for me at her front door. Her shining face resolved my dilemma. I have little memory of that meal. I ate. And ate. And ate. I must have blacked-out somewhere after the second course. Death-by-over-indulgence seemed the only option. My honesty-code didn’t stand a chance when faced with the-need-to-please.

Listening to the laughter at our late-night table this xmas eve, a discussion of impossible dilemmas, I sat back in my chair awash in gratitude both for Ms. B., for surviving her generosity, and for the Thanksgiving meal that taught me that shining faces are sometimes more important that made-up-moral-codes. Real life is never as simple as it seems in the code reduction.

The best thing to do when faced with a genuine quandary; eat! And eat again.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FOOD

See Through The Trees [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I was about to paint a new composition over an old canvas. Kerri flung herself in front of the old painting claiming that she loved it and had recently admired it. I wrinkled my brow at the impossibility of her claim. The old painting was an experiment I labeled “hotel art.” Also, it was sideways in the stacks. IF she admired it at all she was admiring it sideways. Standing between me and my canvas she said in all seriousness, “Do what you want, it’s your painting.”

Now, I will never paint over that painting. First, because I can never forget the face she made when she sprang into painting-savior mode. It melted my boorish heart. Next, because her “Do-what-you-want” manipulation was so unmasked and shameless that I’d suffer deep guilt for the rest of my days on earth if I did what I wanted and dared touch my dreaded hotel art. It’s no longer my painting. It’s become a moment that I adore, a memory that I cherish.

The new painting, had it made it into the world, would’ve been called, “Trains Through Trees.” I’ve been making sketches for a few years but, until recently, never arrived at something I liked. It’s a narrative. Our favorite yellow trail circles near railroad tracks and often on our walks a train rumbles through. For weeks Kerri made a series of videos, trying to catch the movement of the colorful graffitied train cars through the trees. Train performance art. I loved her excitement at the approaching train as she raced to a good spot to take her video. Those moments inspired an idea for a painting. The dreaded hotel art was the ideal canvas shape.

Two passing moments collide. The trains through trees. The painting-savior. They speak volumes about our life. Tiny moments like a hot cup of tea on a cold misty afternoon. They warm me. And, aren’t all of our days rich-rich-rich with the best moments of our lives, if we only took the time to notice them?

read Kerri’s blogpost about TINY MOMENTS

Two Sons and Two Fathers [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The original contractor arrived with heavy machinery and an army of men. It was November. Our waterline broke and water was bubbling up in our front lawn. He was the only contractor available and willing to do the job so late in the year. By the time he was finished, he’d busted out portions of the city sidewalk, trenched a 5-foot-deep moat from the street to our foundation, broke out a piece of our front walk, and drilled a sizable hole in our foundation. It was the equivalent of performing open heart surgery for a toothache. Look up “overkill” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of this man.

The wreckage that he left behind was prodigious, though he was obligated to return in the spring to fix or replace what he’d broken.

To say we had to fight is an understatement. The city forced him to replace the sidewalk. The burial mound that was our front yard, after weeks of wrangling, was finally leveled and the grass reseeded. He promised to return to complete the final bit of repair work, the last of the pieces: a single square of our front walkway. We knew we’d never see him again.

This story has an extraordinary ending. A series of companies were contacted. None wanted to do the job. It was too small. It was too complicated: the original walkway was scribed with lines and no one knew how to match it.

And then, one day, I looked out the window and saw Frank, hands on his hips, standing on our driveway, staring at our sidewalk. “I remember this job,” he said when I came out to greet him. “I was a kid. I was with my dad when he poured this.” He scrutinized the house. “I’m certain of it.” He smiled, adding, “I think I still have the tool he used to make those lines.”

We talked for several minutes. My dad worked in concrete so we swapped dad stories. He was excited to restore the walk that his father installed. Scribing the lines would not only be easy, but a way to connect his work with his father’s. His connection to his father provided a mainline connection to my father. I was suddenly extremely grateful for the disappearance of the original contractor. Into the void he created walked a heart-legacy, a special opportunity.

Now, the final steps you take approaching our house, will be the place two sons met with their lost fathers, a stone of remembrance and pride. What could possibly be a better welcome to our home.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CEMENT

Retrace Your Steps [on KS Friday]

We completed the first loop and, rather than continue in the same direction as we usually do, we turned and walked the other way, retracing our steps. It was remarkable. Walking in the opposite direction seemed like a different trail altogether.

It is the way of memory. Take a walk backward in life through places you’ve already been. It is a different trail. Often unrecognizable. In fact, with each backward stroll, the path is surprisingly different depending on the reason for retracing your steps.

This is the season for retracing steps. Remembering people and places, tastes and smells. Kerri asked how we celebrated Thanksgiving when I was a boy. We spent the next several hours roaming through our forgotten lands. Some were delicious. Some painful. Some made us laugh.

I’ve been talking with Horatio and emailing with Rob about next steps. Where to go from here. This seems like a well-worn path: sudden job loss. Their advice is clear: do not walk the same path. Do not do the same old thing in the same old way. “My advice is mundane,” said Horatio.

As we set our eyes on a new trail, we also walk old paths in our minds. In order to avoid doing the same old thing -again – we must first see the loop that we’re on. Turning around and walking in the opposite direction seems prudent.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about STEPS

figure it out/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Peel Open [on DR Thursday]

The pods peel open at just the right moment. The fine fluff catches the wind and carries the seed. Nature’s dispersal system. Hope on a sail. The destination is determined by the direction and strength of the wind, not the intention of the seed.

In the United States of America, today is a day of thanks giving. Families gather. Traditional recipes prepared. A pause in the fast moving river for a moment of gratitude. Stories shared; recipes, smells and tastes like seeds are planted in the next generation.

Sitting at a card table with cousins, the adults packed around the kitchen table. Cranberry in a dish, shaped like a can. Blue blue Colorado sky. The crisp air dancing with the sun’s warmth. Coffee. Pumpkin pie. My memories rise from my senses.

Last Thanksgiving, Covid kept us isolated. Our families are far away. Despite our best plans, we will, once again, give our thanks together yet alone. We will walk a trail. We will love on the Dogga. We will make a special meal and tell stories of gratitude. Rob came through for a visit. Dwight called. Mark remains a rock. We heard from Kate. There is no lack of love or laughter in our house.

This pod will peel open at just the right moment. We are burgeoning with hope. In the meantime, we prepare our fine fluff, knowing full well that, despite our best intention, our destination will be determined by the direction and strength of the wind.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SEED

Tango With Me, 39x52IN, mixed media

tango with me © 2018 david robinson

Reconnect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“We are healing our souls by reconnecting to our ancestors.” Nainoa Thompson (quote from The Wayfinders by Wade Davis)

There is a house I sometimes visit in dreams. It is a mountain house and, in the dream, it belongs to my Grandma Sue. I’m always comforted when I go there.

I have some of Casey’s tools and some of Bob’s. I think of them every time I use the wrench or the screwdriver. Both were good mechanics, handy, so I imagine their tools imbue me with some of their wisdom when I attempt to fix what’s broken around the house.

I gingerly page through the handmade book where DeMarcus made his notes about color. The pencil marks are fading but his enthusiasm reaches from the page and rejuvenates me. Inspires me.

A few days ago I happened upon my Lost Boy session recordings with Tom. His bass voice reached through my computer, telling me a story I now know so well. It warmed me.

In my studio, on top of DeMarcus’ wooden paint box, is a nutcracker that Grandpa Chan kept by his pool table. It’s the only thing I wanted when he passed. Something he touched. I hold it sometimes when I stare at works-in-progress. I feel him there.

I wear a chain around my left wrist. Kerri wears one, too. It is pull chain. The current version is a replacement of the original that we took from Pa’s workbench. I never met him but I feel connected to him. Kerri tells me stories of her dad. “How do you like them apples?” One of his phrases.

I imagine he and my dad are on the other side of the veil drinking scotch together. That drink warms me, too.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THEM APPLES

Reach Through The Trees [on DR Thursday]

When my time on the planet could be counted in single digits, I drew the same picture over and over and over again. A cabin in the forest. A tree in the foreground. Among my first oil paintings was the cabin-in-my-mind.

For years, my cabin hung on my grandfather’s wall. When we traveled to Iowa for a visit, I was pleased to see it nested in a modest frame in his home office. It may be my first painting to make an appearance beyond the walls of my boyhood home. When he passed, my parents claimed the painting and it circled back to their house, where I painted it.

Last year, with my dad in assisted living, while moving my mom into her new apartment, I brought the painting back with me to Wisconsin. Full circle. We put it in a new frame. It rests in my office, sitting on the floor against the file cabinet because we can’t decide where we want to hang it. Each day, standing at my desk, I am, for a moment, pulled back in time to the boy who had to draw this cabin again and again.

Why? I certainly didn’t feel as if I was inventing it as a drawing exercise. From this vantage point I remember it as a recall, the invocation of a memory. My child-brain never questioned it. My cabin, as if I lived in a world before photographs and was trying to record what once was, trying to reach through the trees to what could no longer be touched. I had to draw it so I might remember it.

Now, with hundreds of paintings between me and my cabin in the woods, I wonder if every painting I’ve ever painted comes from the same impulse, reaching through the trees to what cannot be touched. Canvas on the easel has always pulled me into it, like a good story pulls a reader into a book.

It’s also a great definition of art and artistry. Just try and wrap your fingers around King Lear or grasp the deep well of Martha Graham. Kerri’s piano bounces when she plays it; she is little and her piano is grand. The force that comes through is beyond comprehension.

I laughed when my doctor told me that we rationalize things because we want to control them and, sometimes there is no rational explanation. No way to control it. Art regularly blows through the question “Why?”.

read Kerri’s blogpost about REACHING THROUGH THE TREES

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