Face The Sun [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Brilliant yellow leaves are raining down in our backyard. The pond is disappearing beneath the blanket and although the little fountain has been knocked off center, it refuses to relinquish its duty. November. The temperatures are dropping like a stone.

We were awake deep into the night. We’d given up on sleep. We’d already indulged in a snack and were about to watch a PCT hiking video when we heard the owl. Our neighbor, John, told us it was back but we hadn’t yet heard it. At first, we thought we imagined the quiet who-whoo. Kerri opened the window. Cold air and clear hoots poured in. An old friend returned. We wanted to jump up and dance and clap but refrained. Sometimes quiet revelry is best.

We came around the bend in the trail we’ve come to know so well. The shady parts were cold and the sunny bits felt divine. Warmth to the bone, the kind you drink in through your face and the palms of your hands. Emerging from a shady bend we turned toward the sun when the dandelion caught us off guard. Seasonal confusion? Or, perhaps, dandy-outlier? How on earth was this splash of summer-yellow shining in the late autumn chill?

Kerri knelt to capture the intrepid weed. I thought about her Fistful of Dandelions, a song to warm a mother’s heart. This rebellious single flower was, like me, turning its full face to the sun. A kindred spirit. A weed to warm my hiker’s heart. A spirit-lift in a time of too much darkness.

I’m given to metaphor so decided this hopeful weed with deep, deep roots, was, like the owl, sending me a message. An old friend returned. Offering encouragement. Chin up. Face to the sun. Anything is possible. Optimism need not flee with the onset of cold.

read Kerri’s blogpost about the DANDELION

Be Stone And Fire [on KS Friday]

We lit this candle for Linda. Her service was last Friday and out of our reach so we honored her in our way, fire and stone. And, we told stories.

“Find the people who are exactly who they say they are.” Wise advice from a long ago friend. “They are rare and worth more than gold.” With Linda, what you saw was what you got. She was genuine and unmasked. If she told you that she liked your work, you knew it wasn’t merely a feel-good compliment. She meant it. They same rule followed if she didn’t like something. She meant it. No games. No power plays. No illusions. No wasted time. She never left you pondering what she might have intended or wanted to say. With Linda, no shovel was required to mine for her meaning. You knew.

That kind of unvarnished communication was polished by her optimism, her unshakable belief in the goodness of people. If she left you no doubt about what she meant, she also left no doubt that her intention was to help. She was a lifter of spirits, an elevator of souls.

She was the kind of leader that people write about but very rarely encounter. As Tom Mck would say, “She led from the back of the pack.” If there was work to be done or meals to be made, she was in the kitchen chopping or carrying boxes or bags or trash to the dumpster. She’d cook it. She’d clean it. She’d organize it. She’d make it happen.

The ship was so steady while in her charge that we mistakenly thought the ship was solidly built. It was not. It was steady because she was steering. No illusions, no games, no power plays. Calm seas or rough waters, a ship fares well when the guidance, the guider, is authentic and unencumbered.

Linda has passed. No wasted time. Lots of people fed, literally and metaphorically. An example to emulate. Stone and fire.

Long ago Linda asked Kerri to sing at her funeral. That was not possible. So, this is for Linda.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LINDA

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

hate to say goodbye/blueprint for my soul © 1996 kerri sherwood

Walk As WaWo [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It was past 3am when Kerri asked me if I wanted to “watch a trail.” We were wide awake. The air was hot and still. We’d recently stumbled upon The Wander Women: Kristy, Annette, and Lynn, woman our age, walking the PCT. They’re doing a flip flop, having started their hike in the middle of the 2600 mile trail and walking to Canada, then, they’ll return to the center point and walk the distance to Mexico. We watched the installment, posted this week, as they reached the Canadian border.

Still wide awake, we went to their channel and listened as they answered questions about their hike of the Appalachian Trail. They are sirens of the possible, guides of give-it-a-try. They are not hikers who pound out miles to reach a goal. As Kristy said, “We want to enjoy every single moment.” Their yoga is a matter-of-fact-presence. They plan and improvise; both/and.

We’ve listened to more than one Q&A with the Wander Women. In an answer to their follower’s questions about living full time in an RV and life on the trail, Annette responded, “Home is where we put up our tent. You carry home inside yourself.” It was the answer of someone who’d transcended their stuff. It was the response of someone who’d internalized her security.

We couldn’t plug our windows with air conditioners this summer. We had too much of isolation last year. We needed to hear the birdsong and feel the summer air. We knew that would bring uncomfortable days, humid and hot nights. We have always walked our neighborhood and the local trails, but our decision to feel-the-summer pulled us more out-of-doors than usual. We extended the sanctuary of our sunroom out onto the deck. We placed torches along the patio and fixed the lights around the pond.

Each evening, after our work is done, we sit outside in our ever-expanding sanctuary. We listen to the cicadas. The cardinals and the chipmunks vie for a place at the bird feeder. Sitting at our table I had a mini-revelation about why I was so enjoying The Wander Women and following the few couples also out on the trail and posting weekly updates. They talk about the community of support that they find in the trail. It is often unexpected and yet ubiquitous. Both/and. They offer a staunch counter narrative to the horror we hear in the news, the contention and division. There are people dedicated to helping them and they, in turn, are dedicated to helping others. “You can do this!” they say to anyone listening. “We’ll help you do this,” their followers echo back to them. They broadcast friendship, kindness and support.

It is a breath of fresh air, a sparkling optimism for the best in humanity. It rises on the trail. Generosity that cultivates generosity. Hope that is grounded in the experience of the unprotected, the heat and cold and bugs and rain and challenge of being-what-they-are-doing. Shared experience. Sanctuary. Here. Everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about SANCTUARY

Run Through Norway [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

DogDog is a very vocal pooch. He sings his body electric, he gives full voice to his soul. There are times that I, with great delight, watch him run fence to fence, barking for the simple pleasure of making sound. He is a vocal hedonist.

Sometimes he barks and listens. He wants some dog out there to bark back, a pooch call-and-response. There is no better gift for DogDog than when one of his neighborhood pals barks in response. Pure pleasure, he runs circles around the yard. When his call does not evoke a response, he waits a few minutes and tries again. He is an eternal optimist.

DogDog knows when he’s NOT supposed to bark. Inside the house is a no-bark-zone. When Tim, the neighbor gets in and out of his car. When Lucky, the dog that recently showed up in the yard behind ours, comes to the fence. When we are in the car, going on errands, and he sees another dog; his body quakes with full-bark-desire but he knows better. Kerri taught DogDog a bit of Norwegian. “Hold Kjeft,” she says, when we he winds up for a good bark-in-the-car. DogDog hears Hold Kjeft and he moans and whines and complains. He performs a melodramatic Medea until something else captures his attention.

Initially, she didn’t use the phrase in any other situation. Norwegian was reserved for the car. Hold kjeft, in translation, means shut-up but for us it has become a preemptive command, “no bark.” Norwegian was so successful in the car that it has now spilled out into all other situations. She never has to raise her voice. She simply opens the back door, says, “Hold Kjeft,” and all barking turns to enthusiastic circle-running. It’s magic. It’s Norwegian.

It doesn’t work when I use it. For some reason that I can’t explain, my “Hold Kjeft” elicits howls of laughter from DogDog. He looks at me and, as if to make a point, “Your Norwegian is no good!” he barks in reply. And then, to sear in his criticism, he barks again. I revert to my Frankenstein English “No Bark!” DogDog immediately complies. “That’s more like it,” he wags and runs for the back door.

Language is a mysterious and magic beast. Lately, I’ve noticed, that when I am whining and complaining and feeling like performing my version of melodramatic Medea, a tiny voice in the back of my mind whispers, “Hold Kjeft!” So taken aback by the sudden whoosh of Norwegian, my performance is short-circuited. My mind shuts up.

I look to Kerri to suss out whether that tiny voice is hers or coming from some other mysterious source. She always appears to be innocent and asks, “What?” to my inquisitive stare. “Nothing,” I reply and look to DogDog, who wags and rolls for a belly-belly.

I suspect that, rather than DogDog, it is I who am being trained. Belly-belly. Hold Kjeft. I am suddenly suspicious about my overwhelming desire to wash the dishes. What is going on here?

There is only one thing of which I am certain: my path to inner quiet runs through Norway. Hold Kjeft! On me, Norwegian works.

read Kerri’s blog post about HOLD KJEFT!

Risk The Adventure [on DR Thursday]

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On Monday, I pulled out the Chicken-Marsala-rough-draft folio. I was searching for a rough concept sketch. It was an early-Chicken idea, a joke mostly, but I thought it would be a good choice, an encapsulation of the melange, for our anniversary week. In it, Chicken Marsala is a nascent angel en route to his very first assignment. He is in full resistance. His mentor angel is pushing him forward. She’s trying to convince him to that this first mission is ideal, a cake-walk, but he knows better. It’s a mess. He’s being assigned to an aging couple. Newlyweds. Two artists. Chicken screams, “But they’re BOTH artists!” The mentor-angel responds, “Get in there, tiger! They’re lucky to have you!”

How many times in life, in your moment of resistance, have you heard, “It’ll be good for you.” Translation: what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. The problem with this bit-of-wisdom is that being killed is one of the options. In the face of hungry tiger, who doesn’t need a push!

I found the sketch of angel-Chicken but got lost looking through the hundreds of drafts and idea sketches in the folio. If you are looking for something to lift your spirits on a cold and bleak winter day, flipping through the Chicken folio is guaranteed to bring some sun and a smile. He became a festival of optimism. He jumps for the joy of jumping.

The  joy of jumping. That is a much better and more accurate encapsulation of the melange. It is not a story of survival or resistance. In fact, at this one year mark, by measures of survival, it makes no sense at all. Our original intention, making a living, has long ago given way to something more essential. We are doing it because we love doing it. We write for the joy of writing. By measures of joy, of vibrant living, nothing else makes sense.

We regularly slip off of rocks and find ourselves sitting in the water. It is the necessary risk for doing what we love. Life rule #1: Have the experience first; make meaning of the experience second. “Risk,” as Chicken has taught us, is just another word for “Play.” Jump. Welcome the adventure. And, see what happens.

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read Kerri’s blog post on RISK & ADVENTURE

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Look For It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We live our lives diving for pen and paper or whipping out our phones to text notes to ourselves. We dive or whip because someone just said something interesting. We are trying capture something we just heard before it slips away. It is the reason we created Merely-A-Thought-Monday.

Watching an old episode of Life Below Zero, Sue Aikens, living on the frozen tundra, tossed off this yummy phrase and we both leapt. Kerri was faster on the uptake, “I got it!” she said, texting at lightning speed. I was still looking for a pen.

It is a statement of optimism made all the more meaningful because of the extreme challenges Sue Aikens faces everyday. Her bears are real. She can’t afford pessimism.

When you are a collector of phrases, a watcher of behaviors, a student of story, a few things become immediately clear. People generally focus on the negative. Take a trip to the office water cooler or go to the local coffeehouse and eavesdrop. You’ll listen to tales of dissatisfaction and conflict.  Stories of blame. There’s tons of interesting customer experience data about how readily and disproportionately we tell our tales of woe versus how rarely we tell our tales of wow.

Conflict makes for good storytelling. Tales of wow and tales of woe are both conflict driven, both rife with challenges. I dove for pen and paper because this simple phrase, Sue’s mantra, captures perfectly the distinction, the line that defines a tale as wow or woe.

It depends upon where you place the conflict. In most water cooler tales of woe, the conflict is an endpoint. “Can you believe that happened to me.” The main character, the storyteller, is the victim in the story. Tales woe are told and forgotten. They are replaced by the next yummy woe.

In tales of wow, the conflict is a driver, a propeller toward an end that is not yet visible. The main character is a seeker. The challenge is fuel. “I will find it. I will make it happen.” Tales of wow are unique in that they are usually told by others.

It is human isn’t it? A messy walk between woe and wow. Who hasn’t screamed to the sky, “Why is this happening to me?!” Who hasn’t stopped the presses, found a quiet spot, and thought, “I’m going to figure this out.” Not a problem.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SUE’S QUOTE

 

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