Break The Rules [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

When the tornado sirens sound, we have to carry Dogga to the basement. He doesn’t do stairs. It confuses him since he is hard-wired to take care of us. That we snatch him up and hurry into the basement leaves him discombobulated. In the basement, the essential borders to protect become unclear. He paces. The behavior of his humans signals a wolf is approaching but where’s the necessary line of defense? The rules are different in the basement.

Brad and Jen have a new puppy. They are diligent in their training. We confessed that during the pandemic, we’ve “ruined” Dogga. We never allowed him to beg or fed him scraps from the table. During the long dark days of isolation, we tossed all the rules. We breached every training boundary. He’s a smart boy so he knows the difference between snack time and dinner. Dinner remains off limits (mostly) but snack time is open season for begging. And, who am I kidding, he doesn’t need to beg. He sits between us at the table and waits for a steady stream of cracker bits to find his open muzzle. The metaphoric tornado came, we retreated to our safe place. Different rules.

This pandemic tornado is in no hurry to leave. And, haven’t we all been changed by it? Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are in the basement now. New rules apply. New realities are in play. The essential boundaries are unclear.

Just as was true before the tornado arrived, Dogga gives world-class eye contact. He reads our eyes to suss-out where we are going or how we are feeling. Sometimes I think he knows how I am feeling before I do. And, although we are in a hunkered-down world of new rules, the most important relationships remain the same. If he wants out, he establishes eye contact; the intensity of his stare and his nod-hint-to-the-door educates his too-slow-humans that the squirrels have breached the boundary. Action is required! I am captivated by those amber eyes and comply with his wishes every time. In-out-in-out. Kerri is made of stronger metal and responds with authority to his intense stare, “You can wait,” she says. The intensity drains from his face and he retreats to the comfort of his bone. I count to twenty and ask, “Do you want to go out?” Kerri shakes her head. Some old stories transcend the new basement reality and are, and have always been, about the complete absence of boundaries. A boy and his dog.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DOGGA EYES

See The Signs [on KS Friday]

Although it is not quite here, I know spring is coming. How do I know? The blinds are open on one side of the room. They are closed on the other side.

During the winter, the blinds are closed on both sides of the room. During the winter, we turn in. We close out the world. All of the energy goes to the root, beneath the soil, to recharge our lives. Hibernation. And then, one day, though it is still cold, the birds return, we wake to their song, the sun plays hide-and-seek. In the morning, well rested, we open the blinds to the east.

We’re watching the squirrels. They gather the fallen leaves in their mouths and adeptly climb the maples and oaks to high notches, deposit their load, and return to the ground to gather more. Up and down. Over and over. Preparing their nests. The birds are courting. It looks like a hearty game of chase but we know the females are dodging the insistent pesky males.

Life is returning from the deep. Preparation for Persephone’s homecoming. Restless buds appear on branches. It’s close, but not quite yet.

Not quite yet. The third covid springtime. We are not yet past it and are fidgety.

We sat in the car staring at the door to the store. “I’m so goddamn tired of putting on this mask, ” I said as I put it on. We know we’ll be among the few wearing masks as we shop. No matter. It’s not over yet, this long winter of pandemic. As much as we want it to be spring, as much as we can see the signs, it’s not here yet. Not yet. Blinds open on one side of the room. Blinds closed on the other side.

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read Kerri’s blog post about BLINDS

that morning someday/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

Turn Toward It [on KS Friday]

This is what he wrote. “The irony I feel is that the world is lost on the artistic temperament of these students.  They don’t seem awake to all that’s going on.” He’s directing teenage students in a play. He was my student thirty five years ago and reached out to me. We compared notes of the production I directed when he was a teenager, and the production he’s directing now. The world has changed mightily. His production will be viewed through a wholly different lens.

I flipped his phrase over in my mind. Artistry is to be awake to all that’s going on. And, awake is not a steady state. It’s not an arrival platform. It’s a relationship between the inner and the outer. What I know about that relationship is that sometimes you need to look away. His students have drilled for active shooters in the hall since they were in kindergarten. Mine couldn’t have imagined it. His students are navigating a pandemic, they’ve never known a world pre 9/11, they live in a country that is eating itself alive. My actors had easier access to what was going on. What was going on was closer in, more immediate and less abstract. They were not looking at a world-wide horror story or lost in the morass of social media. Cell phones were science fiction to my cast. My actors looked at each other and not at their screens.

Stories are about something. We just watched Erin Burnett’s interview with a Ukrainian husband who lost his wife and children to a Russian mortar attack. A month ago, violent death was nowhere on their radar. They were making dinner, going to school, doing homework, late for work. Erin Burnett began to cry and thank goodness. Humanity breaks through and we awake to what’s going on – really going on. We should all be weeping with Erin Burnett and this man.

Sometimes I feel as if I am looking for the small beautiful moments. I am trying to root my day in the explosion of color, the pastel sky, Dogga in the sun. Holding hands. Cooking dinner together. I am trying to be awake to what is going on, the anger and division and warmongering and carelessness as we soil our nest – without it frying my insides. Holding hands is just as real. Reaching toward our neighbors is also what’s going on.

Stories have to be about something and most often stories are about transcendence. Waking up to what is going on is less about waking up – we already know – and more about fully acknowledging it, facing the full picture and turning toward it rather than running away. But, before that final act, that moment of deciding enough-is-enough, before we are willing to blink open our eyes, we pretend the problem is non-existent or small. We ignore the obvious. 500 year storms every year. A family killed by a mortar shell. We bury our faces in our phones, we ban critical race theory, and toss our attention in a Twitter reality or a Tik-Tok diversion.

I wanted to write back and suggest that the world is not lost on the artistic temperament of his students, it’s simply too hard to look at the world so they are choosing to look away. That’s what their play will ultimately be about.

read Kerri’s blogpost about COLOR!!

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

the way home/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Make A Savory Day [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I only believe in pleasures.” ~ Ira Glass

Among other things, covid has been a great disruptor of our patterns. Our life today barely resembles the life we knew two looooong years ago. Yesterday, while driving through the farmlands en route to buy a loaf of bread at Simple Bakery in Lake Geneva, Kerri said, “It’s all so weird.”

Among our new patterns is more appreciation of our time. We are less willing to stuff our day with things to do, rather, we’ve established a slower rhythm and points during the day to stop, sit together, and savor the events of the day. It began at the onset of the pandemic with our covid-table in the sunroom. A place to sit and watch the sunset at days end. Soon, there were snacks. And then a glass of wine. It became a ritual. Now, there is nothing more important in our day than to meet at our table. Talk. We call friends and family from the table. Dogga leads the way. He meets us there, positioned just behind our chairs with his bone or a few mauled toys. Sometimes we sit for hours – far beyond sunset. We eat our meals there.

We’ve also established patterns of anticipation within our patterns. My favorite, the silliest but most effective, is french fries for snack. There’s nothing more satisfying on a cold winter evening, than hot salty french fries. We make sure that it’s not a common, every night affair. We save it for the tough days or as a surprise. “Is it french fry night?” Kerri hops and claps in anticipation when she notices that the oven is preheating. Yes. Oh, yes.

The new pattern, of course, is not the table or the fries. It’s the decision to make moments special. We decided amidst the pandemic, the broken wrists, the job losses, the civil unrest, the loss of family and friends, to make lemonade from this time of abundant lemons. We decided to accent the pleasures. To walk slower. To meet our days, not with a list of things-to-do, but with the intention of making a most savory day from the ingredients found in our pantry.

Pattern disruption. Within the hard breakdown of the known, the loss of the comfortable, we are fortunate. Many times, sitting in our sunroom, the happy-lights reflecting in the windows, Dogga quietly behind us chewing his bone, Kerri says, “I love this space.” I nod my head. Me, too. The literal and the metaphoric.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FRENCH FRIES!!!!

See The Point [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~ Viktor Frankel

There is a new mantra cycling through my circle of friends. Once, highly frustrated with people refusing to participate as a community in the relatively benign measures necessary to end the pandemic, they’ve now forged their frustration into a different shape: there’s no point in trying to change “them.”

The circle is closed. Or, perhaps, it has been closed all along. Us. Them.

We spent the weekend in a special cabin with The Up North Gang. Walks in the woods. Pontoon boat rides seeking a sunny spot to anchor. Friends that heal what hurts. Laughter and wine. Occasionally, our conversation wandered into politics and pandemics, usually spurred by a local man posting cryptic and apocalyptic messages from deep within his conspiracy well. He is one of “them.”

“How can he believe this stuff?”

“Imagine everything he has to ignore to believe this stuff!”

“He’s always been a bit kookie.”

“There’s no point in reasoning with him.”

“There’s no point in writing a response, he’d just deny the facts, the court cases, the data, the science, the…”

There’s no point. That’s the mantra. There’s no point.

Us and Them. Together in the same boat. One half trying to rock the boat. The other half trying to keep it from flipping.

Exhaustion? Surrender?

“It’s like they’re drowning in bad information,” she said,

He replied, “And, there’s no sense throwing them a rope, they’d refuse to take it.”

“We have thrown them a rope,” she added. “It’s called the vaccine.”

We laugh a sad laugh, shaking our heads. What’s the point?

read Kerri’s blog post about Safe Together

Look At The Display [on Flawed Wednesday]

Del and Dorothy’s house sat on the side of a mountain. It was small. The kitchen table accommodated two and was placed close – very close – to the front door. Dorothy cooked on a wood burning stove. The house listed to the downhill side. It had a small yard that seemed carved out of the mountain. Del’s WW II jeep sat close to the edge. Dorothy populated the yard with blue glass and hummingbird feeders. It was a quiet home. A peaceful place.

Artifacts of a time gone by. Del fought in the second world war. He kept a corner display cabinet with things he’d brought home from the war. A Luger. Nazi insignia. A flag. Patches and medals. Booty from the enemy. It seemed out of place, especially in a home dedicated to simplicity and peace. The display was a curiosity for me. Why enshrine in your home objects from an enemy-of-the-past? I wanted to ask Del about it but he was not a talker. In fact, while, 50 years later, I would recognize Dorothy’s voice if I heard it today, I have no recall of the sound of Del’s voice. I can’t remember him uttering a word. I never broached the subject of the artifacts.

Each day we receive an alert on our phone. Exposure Notification Available. Recently, when Kerri officiated a wedding, we both took two Covid tests to make certain, while also vaccinated, that we were negative. Dangling from a clip on the side of our refrigerator are masks. Many, many masks. We put in our special box the flag they gave us on the day we were vaccinated. Wave the flag if you have a question or need help. The artifacts in a time of pandemic, now so normal that we barely see them.

This weekend, with all of the observances of 9/11, I watched a tour of the 9/11 museum. A crushed firetruck. A shoe. Xerox pages with faces and the word, “Missing.” Del whispered into my ear, “Pay attention. This is why I kept my display.” The tour guide said, “So we never forget.” The Luger. The Nazi flag and insignia. The medals and ribbons. The reason Del and Dorothy retreated to the mountainside, the reason they simplified and built a life of quiet and peace, the reason he kept his glass-cabinet-display. So they wouldn’t forget. The horrors that people enact upon each other in the name of…righteousness, control. Superiority. The madness people embrace when they are angry or scared. The lies so easily told and so hungrily gobbled.

People are capable of great things. We know because those things are meant to draw us together. They unite us. Great art.

People are capable of appalling acts. We know because those actions are born of and meant to divide. They rend us apart.

Del lived through the full savagery of what people are capable of doing, one to another. He came home and with Dorothy lived an intentional life of quiet, on the mountain, out of the main. I’ve noted of late that Kerri and I talk often, dream, of a mountain retreat. We are witness of what people are capable of doing, one to another. We are also witness of and generators of the beauty meant to draw people together. Her music. My paintings. The things people are capable of doing, one for another. We are surrounded by artists and art. Both/and.

History repeats itself. The story is told – again and again – through the art and artifacts we display, the symbols we keep. The memories we carry forward. Guernica. Empty shoes. A simple mask.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTIFACTS

Read The Walk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Between the morning rehearsal and the evening wedding, we had several hours without commitments so we did the thing we most like to do. We walked. It was a gorgeous September day. We were in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, a miracle of reclaimed and converted warehouses, shops and condos that line the waterway. We followed the Riverwalk, Kerri snapping photographs, ambling our way to Lake Michigan.

It’s odd in this age of pandemic, to be in a city on a beautiful weekend day. The rules of engagement are different. The rules of enjoyment are different. Be out in the day but avoid the crowds. There was an art fair, a crush of people, so, as artists, normally pulled toward art gatherings, we walked the other way. In years past we would have waded in to the fray, talked to the artists, enjoyed people enjoying art.

Instead, we found a bounty of art on our walk. The shadows playing on the walls. The flowers. The finials. The sculpture. Everywhere we looked we found riches of intentional design. People dedicated to creating beautiful spaces had a field day re-imagining what had once been an industrial wasteland on the water.

Chiseled into the the boards upon which we walked was a narrative history of the city. We stepped on top of important dates of the Civil War. We walked across innovations, breweries arising in a city of beer, World Wars and the changes they wrought. Sports victories. We walked across the story of a previous pandemic, a hundred years ago. A few thin boards, markers of a tragic toll.

For a moment I stood and watched the kayaks paddling, the pontoon boats cruising the channel, the diners seated beneath umbrellas, the strollers, like us enjoying the day with no destination calling. Full moments in lifetimes that someday might be told in a few thin boards of narrative highlights.

I wondered how many people, how much dedicated action, it took to make this moment beautiful and possible. The architects. The artists. The artisans. The craftsmen and women. The laborers. The florists, The gardeners. The shopkeepers. The waiters. The chefs. The suppliers. The mail carriers,…Dreamers all, stretching back through time. Interconnected and interdependent in ways that only few recognize.

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Were I to chisel the story of our pandemic in a boardwalk, or create a sculpture meant to capture our moment in narrative time, my theme would be interconnection and interdependence unnoticed. Unmasked. A myopic madness, a messy delusion of every-man-for-himself, a sure-fire way to perpetuate a pandemic or warm a globe.

There is, of course, no evidence for life thriving in a vacuum. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence, apparent on a stroll in a city on a beautiful sunny September day, killing some time before a wedding, that it takes all of us, every last life, to thrive. An artist needs an audience. A developer needs a supplier. A doctor needs a patient who wants to be healthy. Who wants to do more than survive. Thriving is, after all, a group sport. A careful reading of the boards tells a very specific tale: no one does this walk alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about OUR WALK

Discern [on Flawed Wednesday]

“For in the end, he [Aldous Huxley] was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in ‘Brave New World’ was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business

Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death in 1985. Cassandra, sounding the alarm to a community too distracted to listen. Were he alive today, he’d think – but would not say – “I told you so.” All the quotes in this post are his.

I read in my daily-news-horror-trawl a quote from a Wyoming man who believes he’s protected from the pandemic because of the color of his hair. It might sound wacky until you consider that his staunch belief in the virus’ preference for hair color is just one of the many misinformation narratives currently being fed to the angry and easily led. He is, without question or thought, breathing the gas of a political party that wants to keep him distracted, fearful and high.

If you are not choking on the fumes of excessive gaslighting, then you are among those whose eyes are burning from the corrosive air it produces. Are you as tired as I am of reading accounts of deathbed appeals for the vaccine? It is too late, in your final moments of life, to realize you’ve been duped. It’s a tragedy. Are you as disgusted as I am, having been witness to the undeniable violence of the insurrection, of listening to the blatant denials? Despite what your eyes saw, it was just another day of tourists wandering through the Capitol. Gaslight tears.

During the first year of the pandemic an acquaintance latched onto a comorbidity table lifted from the CDC website and circulated as “proof” that COVID was less dangerous than the common cold. It was, of course, taken out of context. A quick visit to the CDC website (seriously, less than 30 seconds), viewed in context and with an understanding of the meaning of the word “comorbidity,” easily debunked the claim. Our acquaintance, enraged, doubled down on his claim of “proof” – though he could not be bothered to spend 30 seconds to check the poison gas that he was gulping.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”

The legal defense has been successfully used to defend both Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow: the courts ruled that reasonable viewers should know the difference between news and opinion. This is news. This is not.

Do we have the ability to differentiate between public business and a vaudeville act? The evidence is not hopeful.

The court’s ruling, then, is likely based on a faulty premise: that people are able to differentiate. That the audience is reason-able or values reason. Able-To-Reason. Reason is the power to think, understand and form judgments through a process of logic. In order to be reasonable one must value reason. One must want it.

Logic and reason, both assume the inclination and capacity to question. Curiosity, real curiosity, does not seek agreement or group think. It seeks to step into the gap between what is espoused and what is lived. It seeks solid ground to build upon so must recognize sand when it sees it.

And, what if “reason” long ago fled the coop? Or, what if “reason,” has never been a dominant trait in the coop in the first place? What if discernment dies in the presence of so much gas?

“Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

read Kerri’s blog post about IT DOESN’T KNOW

Let The Outside In [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Civilization excels at manufacturing anesthetics.” ~Declan Donnellan

“What are you waiting for? Snow?” 20 was sweating. It was July, hot and humid, and he wondered why we had yet to put the air conditioner units in the windows. Our house was built in 1928 and central air is something we can only imagine. In truth, we’d been asking ourselves the same question all summer. Why are we suffering the heat and, yet, so resistant to putting the ac units in the windows?

Finally, the penny dropped. We realized why we had no desire to plug up the windows, shut the door, and manufacture cold air. Last summer, as the pandemic numbers soared, as our city burned with civil unrest, we shut the world out. We isolated. We turned on the cold air and made certain we felt as little of the heat as possible. This summer, even though we are still keeping our circle small, we want to feel the summer. We want to breathe the real air, not the manufactured stuff.

The real air is hot. Humid. Uncomfortable.

I made breakfast after reading the news. Poor Kerri had to listen to my epiphany-rant: While cracking eggs I realized that the horror story of the GOP wouldn’t be able to perpetuate their pandemic-denial-march if the people listening to them wanted to hear truth. “If I was born in 1700,” I said, “I’d have an excuse for being ignorant. I’d be illiterate and have very limited access to information. I’d be easily led because I wouldn’t have the capacity to check the story that I was being fed. That’s not true today.” We have, unlike any time in human history, immediate access to information. I rarely participate in a conversation that doesn’t involve someone pulling up information on their phone, checking a fact or the veracity of a story being shared. How then, in the middle of the national pandemic hot spot, can the governor of Florida block every science-based mitigation measure and whip up a fruit smoothie of fear – how can he manufacture so much empty air – without his constituents crying foul? The answer is easy: they would rather not feel or know what’s really going on outside their comfort-bubble. They are choosing fluff over fact, anger over curiosity.

In our day and age, ignorance is a choice. Denial is a choice. Plugging the windows is a choice. Insular is a choice. The device carried in every pocket could, in a heartbeat, puncture the gasbag-foolishness.

Reading this post, MM will be compelled to once again send me this quote, so I will preemptively include it: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.” E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology.

I know. I know.

Belief, like sugar, is easy to consume. Knowledge takes some effort and self-reflection. Anger and fear and division are easy, too, especially when the target audience of the fearmongers has no desire to challenge the narrative. It is the great paradox of our times that those waving their flags and screaming the loudest about their freedoms are so ready and willing to abdicate their freedom of thought. They parrot the fox. They inhale the anesthetic, the manufactured air.

Last night we watched a great short documentary, Lessons From The Water: Diving With A Purpose. Black divers searching for the shipwrecks of slave ships. One of the founders of the projected said,“Here in the US, our (African American) history has been ignored,” he adds. “They don’t really teach anything about slavery in schools. And I think if you don’t teach your history, you’re bound to repeat it.”

They dive to find the artifacts, to tell a fuller story. They dive. They look for artifacts. Facts. A complete narrative.

It made me think about the enormous resistance to critical race theory, the intense counter-narrative to climate change, the ferocious dedication to perpetuating The Big Lie, the ubiquitous conspiracy theories and global rise of authoritarian voices…all of it an appeal to an insular story. Close your eyes. Trust without question what you are told.

The real story is uncomfortable. It is hot. It needs telling. Fingers out of ears, eyes wide open. Forward movement, growth, health, is never the result of suppression, distraction or numbness. Health, equilibrium, always follows the revelation and acceptance of the full story. It’s open windows. It’s letting the outside in.

read Kerri’s blog post about LET THE OUTSIDE IN

Choose [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“It’s a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” ~ Mary Oliver

Were I to have been born in an earlier century I would not be alive today. Twice on my life-path doctors have declared that, “You are now a miracle of modern medicine.” Leeches and blood-letting would not have cured what ailed me.

This thing called ‘science’ is what gave me more days of life. It is the same science that developed vaccines for a pandemic but also made possible the technology that makes mass-media-misinformation possible. Here is the medicine. Here is the disease. It is exactly as Sophocles wrote: Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.

One morning, deeply tired, I arose to go do a job that I did not like. It was a means to an end and I dreaded the day ahead of me. Stepping out the door, the cold morning air stopped me in my tracks. It slapped me awake. The air was crisp and clean, the neighborhood was quiet. The light in the sky was brilliant. I drank it in. I vowed never again to dread a day of my life. In truth, I had no idea what the day held for me. Why then, would I story my day with a frame of dread? Why tell myself a tale of just-getting-through-it? Why not open to the possibilities of surprise and miracle? Why not embrace the already-stated-obvious-thing: I had no idea what the day held. That simple fact would be true every single day of my life. Dread was a choice, not an inevitability.

To be alive on this fresh morning. It is a serious thing. In this world, broken by the little story of us-and-them, the tiny tale of power-over. Choices. The miracle of the new day is present whether it is seen or not. We can cloak it in dread or gratitude, in support or division. It doesn’t care either way. The miracle of the new day, the gift of being alive on this fresh morning in a world that is broken or healed, whole or fragmented – it all depends upon the story-frame we wrap around it. The story we tell is a choice, not an inevitability.

read Kerri’s blog post about JUST TO BE ALIVE