Make Belief [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” ~ Saul Bellow

In addition to meaning uneducated, it occurred to me that the word ‘ignorant’ also means to ignore. It’s an adjective, a descriptor. Someone who ignores is ignorant, is an ignorant. I looked up the root of the word to be sure. To disregard.

Early in the pandemic, we placed a table in our sunroom. We call it our pandemic table. In our isolation it helped us to end the day, looking out at the back yard, and watching the light wane. Through the spring, summer, and into the fall, we’d sit at the table and talk about the news of the day. We’d ramble on and on about our disbelief in the angry wave of intentional misinformation rolling over the country, the big things and small things people have to ignore in order to make belief. To support an angry illusion.

One evening, we shook our heads in utter incredulity as a member of our community re-posted a QAnon assertion that the CDC was exaggerating the numbers of COVID deaths just to make the then-president look bad. As proof, the post included a morbidity chart extracted from the official CDC website. We pulled up the website – it took less than 15 seconds – to see the extracted chart nestled on a page with multiple charts detailing comorbidity data; the many many ways that COVID kills. We felt compelled to write a note. It was too easy to debunk the assertion. We asked him to take a moment and go to the site, to look at all of the data. He was being fed a chart cherry-picked from a veritable mountain of information. Nothing was being hidden. No evil plot was in play. His reply was angry, defensive. He unfriended us. We’d done the unthinkable and revealed what he was ignoring.

We learned a lesson about the power of invested ignorance.

Over the year our pandemic table has changed. It’s been populated with sparkling lights and plants. A bonsai gardenia, a birthday present from Kirsten to Kerri sits next to the ponytail palm, both surrounded by succulents. It’s become a sanctuary. We’ve changed, too. We rarely give our time to shaking our heads in disbelief or pushing back against the non-sense things people-in-our-world believe. I’ve stopped exclaiming, “Check Your Sources!”

We occasionally comment about the big things and small things – the mountains – being ignored in order to sustain the modern bubbles of make-belief. The big lie. We are no longer shocked by the dreck that people swallow without question or thought. We’ve moved beyond our own naive illusion and admitted that many people simply do not want to know anything that might challenge their make-believe.

We sit at our pandemic table. We listen to the mourning doves. We eat our lunches looking out at the vibrant green returning to the backyard. We laugh at Dogga running circles in delight. We talk about replacing the very-worn rug beneath our feet. We appreciate the bonsai gardenia, checking the moisture of the soil. We celebrate when our friends and family are vaccinated. We know more than ever it is important to hold dear the baseline, to not disregard our responsibility to check our sources, to carry a healthy doubt about what we are hearing on the news, the story we are being told.

read Kerri’s blog post about BONSAI GARDENIA

Look To 3 [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My long-ago-business-partner used to tell groups that every human being wears an umbrella hat called “normal.” That is, we try to maintain and make sense of the world according to our personal (and cultural) criteria. We carry the criteria around with us – it does not exist beyond us. We are comfortable when wearing our umbrella hats. We get really uncomfortable when something comes along that knocks our hats off of our heads.

When we lose our hats, we’ll do anything to regain our comfortable “normal.” The fear of losing our hats is what makes change – personal and cultural – so difficult. Despite what they say, no one wants to lose their hat. Organizations have a nifty phrase, change-management, to shield against the reality that change – real change- requires discomfort. How to prevent discomfort? Manage it! No worries! Everything is under control!

The other strategy – also not very effective in the long run – is to pretend that the hat is still on your head. No worries! It’s all made-up! Everything is normal!

The pandemic blew our collective hats off of our heads. We’ve had a front row seat to the realities and responses of a disrupted normal. The recent photos from Miami Beach, the aggressive non-mask-wearers, the absurd and deadly politicization of a pandemic…all in the name of hat retention and recovery.

In our circle of life, we’ve had the ubiquitous conversation about the return of normal. “When can we get together again?” Prior to the pandemic, our week was patterned on, our lives were grounded in, our Sunday and Thursday night dinners with 20. In a fluid artistic life, dinner with 20 was the shape-giver to our otherwise formless weeks. One day last March, we tossed our hats to the wind. It wasn’t safe to gather.

Over the year we left groceries at his door. He dropped goodies at our door. We waved from the car. We had regular phone calls. A few times, when the weather was nice, we sat in the back yard at great distance and discussed how weird life had become.

We looked for our new-normal-hats but they were nowhere to be found. It’s what happens when change cannot be denied: the management of discomfort is the best that you can do. Keep stepping. Chop wood/carry water. One day at a time. A new normal will surface sometime. A new pattern will be established. Pattern making is what we homo sapiens do.

In the past few months we three were vaccinated. We waited for a few weeks. We diligently read our CDC guidelines. And then, as if a year had not passed in the interim, we gathered to share a meal and drink a bottle of wine. Nothing had changed and everything had changed.

2 at the table is once again 3. We are slowly reestablishing what we once knew as normal. Our laughter is easy as it has always been. But the nation we inhabit, the community we see and experience, is transformed. There are stores we will never again support. There are relationships that will always be superficial. There is a bald ugliness exposed as never before in the nation. Ruthlessness. So many dead amidst such fatuous games of denial. The hot wind that blew our normal-hats away exposed the geography – the actual geography – beneath our nation that espouses equality but has deep division and favoritism woven into its DNA. Control by division. It is a mechanism: black gain is seen as white loss. White gain is built upon black loss. It is a seesaw, an angel/devil game. It’s a system doing – brutally – what it was designed to do.

Disruption is an opportunity for change. With so many lost hats, with so much ugliness exposed, a good look in the national mirror is possible. As we struggle to find our new normal hats, it occurs to me that angel/devil games, deep divisions, are never “solved” in twos. Movement is created by two points. Insight is a three-legged stool. Complexity is addressed through triangles, through a focus on relationship. Opposition-in-twos will keep us forever on the systemic seesaw.

Laughter is restored, possibility uncovered, through the lens of three.

read Kerri’s blog post about 3

Prepare For The Jump [on DR Thursday]

On the upside, an in-studio-waterfall, after the shop-vac-a-go-go, the sodden-carpet-padding-removal, the baking-soda-ballet, amidst the-we-are-still-hunting-for-the-proper-gasket-to-stop-all-leaks-quest, an opportunity arises. It’s been awhile since I sat with my life’s work. It’s been awhile since I made time to stare at my paintings, each and every single one.

I confess that this year has been rife with artistic mourning. I have barely picked up a brush. I have sat in my studio like a visitor at a wake. I feel the emptiness as a loss and have asked myself the fear-question again and again, “Where did it go?”

One of my favorite books is Art & Fear. Recently, I flipped it open and read, “Your reach as a viewer is vastly greater than your reach as a maker. The art you experience may have originated a thousand miles away or a thousand years ago, but the art you can make is irrevocably bound to the times and places of your life. Limited by the very ground on which you stand.”

A second flip brought me to this passage about change: “Yet it’s demonstrably true that all of us do (from time to time) experience such conceptual jumps, and while ours may not affect the orbits of the planets, they markedly affect the way we engage with the world around us.”

The times of our life. The world, for us, stopped when Kerri broke her wrists. She was in casts when the pandemic washed over all of us. Our jobs disappeared. Our community fragmented. Our city burned with civil unrest, a young militia-boy murdered two people a few blocks from our home. My father took rapid steps toward the abyss. Kerri took a second fall, tore ligaments in an already injured wrist. Our BabyCat left us. We talk about 2019 as if it was decades ago. “Doesn’t it seem like years since we…”

I know this death I feel will find its springtime. There was a “me” before this time. There will be another “me” after. Sitting on the stairs, looking at my paintings, I know for the first time in a-year-that-feels-like-a-century, that a conceptual jump is bubbling. I remember the man who painted these paintings. I look forward to meeting the man who will one day pick up his brushes and dance with the muse again.

In the meantime, I sit with my paintings. I stand in the ground of my times. I will find the right gasket so water no longer rains into my studio. I will prepare for my jump by putting all of my pieces back together again.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATER STUDIO REVIEW

Be The Miracle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The infinity in the microscope is as dazzling as that of the cosmos.” ~ John O’Donohue

After my surgery, the doctor said, “You my friend are now a modern medical miracle.” It’s true. Had I been born in another century I would not have survived. In fact, had I been born in another century, I would have met the average life expectancy of 30-40 years. Each and every one of us, walking the streets with an expectation to live beyond our thirties, are modern medical miracles and indebted to the brave explorers of the microscopic cosmos.

Early in this pandemic, before it hit the shores of these divided-united-states, we watched the movie Contagion. So much of the world painted in the film was spot on. Pandemic deniers decrying the virus as a made-up assault on their freedom. Charlatans selling miracle cures and misinformation. Conspiracy theories run amok. The initial panic emptied shelves at the grocery store. Quarantine. An economy in tatters. A weary and anxious populace awaiting a vaccine that would stop the micro-assault. A microscopic threat vanquished by a microscopic man-made-miracle.

When we pulled into the abandoned-drive-through-bank to receive our vaccines, I felt that I was in the movie. We’d placed our names on a list to receive vaccines that would otherwise need to be discarded. The call came on a Friday afternoon, “Come now!” We jumped into the truck as the sun was setting on a frigid snowy day and raced to the given address: an abandoned bank turned into public health center. We were directed to stop at cone number 1. Nurses in snow pants, knit caps and mufflers came out to the truck. It was so cold that we had to open the door to communicate, the windows were frozen and would not roll down. A bit of paperwork, coats shed and arms exposed, and the vaccines were administered. Coats and gloves and hats were quickly donned again. We were asked to wait at cone number 1 for 15 minutes. They gave us a flag to wave if we needed help.

As we waited, engine running to beat back the bitter cold, we admired those amazing women who gave us our shots. They were absolutely delightful, upbeat, and incredibly kind. Pandemic. A blisteringly frigid day. They’d been giving vaccines since early in the morning, repeatedly taking off their gloves in frostbite conditions. We were the last two of the day. And there wasn’t a hint of exhaustion or suffering or complaining from the cold. “People can be amazing,” Kerri said. “It’s good to remember that sometimes.”

It was good to remember. Dedicated people selflessly serving others in the face of a deadly virus, enduring extreme cold, extreme misinformation, tip-toeing across ice and politics to bring big-heart-comfort and a bit of modern miracle to the dazzling cosmos called my body and yours. My health is your health. Intimately linked as we pass in the grocery store or on the street or trail, across the nation and the world. The microscopic world does not know us as individuals and cares not about our investments or beliefs or freedoms, imagined or not. All that I know is that I am, once again, a modern medical miracle, and owe a deep debt of gratitude to the men and women at the microscope and those that stand for hours in the cold.

read Kerri’s blog post about VACCINES

Listen To The Lake [on KS Friday]

The sun poured in the window this morning. We sat in it. No, we basked in it, ate breakfast, sipped coffee. Simple pleasures. Endless appreciation. We reminisced about our childhood homes. Kerri recalled the layout of the den. I described the kitchen in my growing-up house. We remembered cooking smells and Formica table tops.

Our story zones expanded to include the many chapters of our lives. Multiple eras. Times that seemed as if they would never end. Times that passed too quickly. We imagined a day when we would reminisce about these times, pandemic times, both the hardships and the appreciations. For instance, in our isolation, we’ve created an end-of-the-work-day-ritual called ‘snack time.’ A glass of wine, french fries hot from the oven or a pear and cheese. Olives. We sit at the table we placed by the window, watch the day wane, and savor. I suspect snack time, borne of the pandemic, will be with us for the rest of our lives.

When in my old age I tell the story of the pandemic times, when the hardships fade in importance (as they always do), I will tell the tale of life slowed down. I will remember how limits made movement less frenetic and much more mindful. Rather than doing more, we pared down. We did less and experienced more. We placed increased importance on the simple things. In fact, we placed importance on the important things. Connecting with friends and family, not out of obligation or unconscious pattern, but out of necessity and intention.

I will talk about our walks, already central to our daily happiness, how they took on a wholly new significance. Getting out and walking became an exercise in paying attention, in absolute appreciation of the simple miracles. Affirmations of life. The magic appearance of the robins on a frigid day. The sunset bringing fire to the ice in the harbor.

I will tell the story of the day we were stopped in our tracks by the song of the ice on the lake. It sounded like whale song. I will tell the story of standing still in blistering cold, listening in utter amazement until ours eyes watered and our fingertips burned, until we looked at each other and in unison said, “Snack time!”

read Kerri’s blog post about LAKE SONG

Breathe and Make Choices [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James

A note from the Rejuvenation Fairy: the relief we seek may depend upon the phrase we choose. For instance, consider this phrase: coping mechanisms. What ease might become available if we viewed ourselves as something other than machines? Turn this dial. Adjust this screw. Add a little oil. Check the battery. Do this, then that will happen. Turn down the pressure gauge. Talk to others. Take a break. Cause and effect.

Breathe. Sentient beings are much more complex and subtle than apparatus made from iron and steel.

We story ourselves. For reasons no one will ever fully comprehend, we sort to the tragic. We imagine the worst. Ask any good storyteller and they will confirm that conflict is the driver. Yearnings meet obstacles and stories ensue. Everyone, without exception, is telling themselves a story. Everyone, without exception, is starring in their own movie, complete with impossible mountains to climb, monsters to face, dreams that remain just out of reach. Robert Sapolsky has it right: zebras don’t hold onto their tale of stress while human beings are reticent to let it go. We like to tell it again and again and again.

If we cast ourselves as victims in our movie, our stories will be filled with ogres to blame. If we reduce ourselves to the mechanical, our stories will be endless attempts at fixing what’s broken, looking for the right hose to replace. How to recharge the battery. The fortunate few recognize that their movie might be a story of choice. Choices made within given circumstances. The storm, like time, passes. How do we stand in it?

There’s little doubt that we are living in stressful times. There’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to turn up those mechanical pressure gauges. Add another notch or two of pressure with extreme national ideological division, cowards at the switches of government, mix in some economic stress…there are plenty of choices on the angst-menu. All are visceral. All are circumstances to the story we choose to tell, the story I choose to tell.

I came across a few universal coping strategies. Eat healthy. Exercise. Give yourself a break. Get plenty of sleep. Talk to others. Recognize when you need help and ask for it. I wondered why these good choices are reserved for times of stress. Why not give yourself a break as an everyday expectation. Talk to others. Eat healthy. Weave a calm center it into the fibers of daily life. Make choices. Especially in the story you tell yourself about yourself. The thought upon which you choose to fixate, to play over and over again in your movie-mind.

When Kerri and I fall off the pony and run around like our hair is on fire, we make chicken soup. I am the sous chef. She is the master mind. The recipe comes from her mother so the making of the soup is more than food prep, it’s a love-touch to her anchor. We touch love. And, of course, defying the advice of experts to avoid alcohol, we enjoy a glass of red wine. We choose the glasses: Jamie’s? Or Skip’s? Or Joan’s? For our wedding, we were gifted with many special wine glasses from many special people. Recently, Jay and Carol and Rob sent us wine. When we clink our glasses, we touch the depth of our support and reach of our friendships. We call 20 and laugh. As the soup simmers and the wine disappears, we realize that our hair is not on fire, that, although we are not zebras, we are infinitely capable of releasing our tale of woe. We need not cope or distract. We can grasp hold of the full tale of the enormity of our lives. We need only refocus our eyes, see the depth and expanse of our story and choices, enjoy the warming soup. Appreciate the story of the wine.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHICKEN SOUP & WINE

Say, “If Only.” [on KS Friday]

“God is silent. Now if only man would shut up.” ~ Woody Allen

If only.

We knew this was going to be a chaotic week. A run off election in Georgia that would decide the control of the senate. The counting of the electoral college vote as a president openly mounted a coup against his own government. The District Attorney in our town revealing his decision not to prosecute a police officer that shot a black man 7 times in the back [we knew the decision prior to the announcement. Our little courthouse was better protected than the nation’s capitol]. And, let us not forget the out-of-control pandemic cracking our already-fragmented system of healthcare. Record numbers. Record deaths. Record denials of reality.

The election in Georgia is decided. The rats are jumping off the national ship after the violent coup they incited blew back on them. The local D.A. offered a litany of sad justifications that boiled down to the usual sleight-of-hand: the man was black so he was, therefore, dangerous. No charges. Case closed.

The spin whirling through social media would be hysterically funny were it not so readily embraced by so many. The info-bubbles remain intact. The blame game is run amok. Personal responsibility for words spoken – and unspoken – is too much to ask. Systems usual.

It’s too soon to tell whether or not we really survived this week. It is too soon to know whether we learned anything from our national shame, our jousting realities. We do know this: we are yet incapable or unwilling to address the problems that plague us.

Unlike any other time in the history of humanity, we have so many avenues in which to blather, so many media into which we can scream. We delight in our echo chambers – who doesn’t want to hear, over and over again, their beliefs parroted back at them? The sound is deafening. So many words wielded with nothing really to say. It seems the only tool in the box is to shout down the other side. Competing filibusters. We hold ourselves hostage.

Words matter until they don’t. Words, words, words.

If only.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORDS & SILENCE

Learn The Trick [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s a problem when your dog is smarter than you. If I lapse into thinking that I am the master of my ship or that my opposable thumbs give me an advantage over paws, I find that I am somehow using my opposable thumbs to do the dog’s bidding. “Wait a minute,” I question, “didn’t I just give you a cookie?” The rapid tail wag overrides my doubting frontal lobe and the cookie finds the open muzzle.

We can teach DogDog almost anything and in fairly short order. We can rest a tasty treat on his paw and he won’t touch it until we give him the signal. Last week, Kerri taught him to balance a paper plate on his head. She’s taught him to sneeze for a treat. We used to spell the word E-R-R-A-N-D because he goes berserk if we say it – he likes to go on errands – he REALLY likes to go on errands – but since he’s learned to spell, we are forced to use an advanced eyebrow code, a series of knit-and-raised brows, like dots and dashes. I could warn the allied army of enemy secrets with my eyebrows. It’s insane though Kerri and I can now openly gossip at a party and no one would know we’re talking about them – though they might be curious about the sudden rise and fall of our strange facial twitches.

All of this is to note that Kerri taught DogDog to wear a mask. And, even though his dogga-ears are not made for masking, it took her less than a minute. With her eyebrow-Morse-code she sent me a secret message: “Damn!” she arched and bobbed her brow, “It’s been 9 months and human-beings-in-a-pandemic haven’t been able to learn this trick. Dogga got it in seconds!”

“Dogga is a smart boy,” I reply with twitches.

“Maybe if we gave people treats?” Kerri mused. Dogga wagged his tail.

My eyebrows fell silent.

“You’re right.” she eyebrow-coded. “Even tasty treats wouldn’t change the selfishness of people.” She ruffled his head, saying, “Dogga is a very smart boy.”

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGGA MASKS

Follow The Lights [on KS Friday]

Before moving to Wisconsin I had no holiday tradition. Being “not religious,” my celebrations were more spontaneous and improvisational than rooted in any specific custom or expectation. Dinners with friends. One year I baked bread with strangers. One year I took a boat to an island because there was a hot springs by the beach. One year, because I was alone and life was crumbling all around me, I scheduled for myself 30 coaching calls; that was the most memorable and profound holiday season of my life. I helped people. I met Kerri.

Since moving to Wisconsin my holiday tradition has been to help Kerri create choir performances for services. When I suggest that I helped, I mean I carried stuff, set up chairs, pushed pianos, moved bells into the choir loft, set up microphones, hauled big bowls of sand for candles. I am part Sherpa. It has been the busiest and zaniest time of the year. After playing the late night Christmas Eve service – the last of many running through the week, we come home, and with our neighbors, light luminaria up and down the street, pull two fire pits onto the driveway and stoke them for warmth. We open bottles of wine and place on a table bowls of snacks. People come and, huddled around the fire, we talk and laugh until the cold wee-hours of the morning.

This year, with the loss of jobs and collapse of community, with the pandemic spiking, our traditions are erased. For me, this feels like familiar territory. For Kerri, it is a profound loss and is disorienting. She had a full-on-old-fashioned-melt-down a few nights ago after cutting her finger on a broken wine glass. “It’s too much…” she sobbed. I couldn’t help but feel as she wept that I/We have walked a full-circle. Eight years later, life is again crumbling all around me/us. This could be the most memorable and profound holiday season of our lives. I didn’t offer my thoughts. I have learned in moments of crisis that silence is often more helpful than platitudes of encouragement. I am slow but sometimes I get there.

Leo had a Christmas tradition that I admired. He gave everyone in his circle an orange and a few walnuts. He grew up very poor and, as a child, those were the gifts he received. It was the most and best gifts that his parents could give. Throughout his long and successful life, he gave them to remind himself – and those he loved – that the holiday was not about the stuff. It was about the people who stand in the circle with you, the people who stand in the fire with you. The people who you love, who give all that they have: their hearts. An orange. A few walnuts. Big, big love.

This year, those people will stand virtually with us and we with them. The hot fire of this year has burned away the superficial. The recognizable patterns have all but disappeared. Yet, the essentials remain. The essential few remain. Deeply rooted. Deeply felt.

The cycle of life, the cycle of The Lights in Kerri’s song, reminds us of all that really matters. New life, linking back. Ancient hearts beating in our breasts. Full of light. Full of big, big love.

Kerri’s albums – including the lights – are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LIGHTS

the lights ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Savor The Simple [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

If there is a single reoccurring lesson rippling through these days of pandemic, it is this: appreciate the small things. Savor the simple pleasures.

With our plate heaped with job losses, backs stabbed, broken-and-not-healing- wrists, parent-worries and COVID restrictions, there is ample fodder over which to fret. We do our share of midnight staring at the ceiling. These are the circumstances, the storm that whirls around us.

In the center of our storm we attend to the moment. We step on the back porch and breathe the cold air. We check the pond for sightings of Epic and Tiny, our frogs-in-residence. We watch the crows chase the hawk from the neighborhood. We laugh at the lengths DogDog will go to get a treat. With care, each night before retiring, we make-up Uncle Mortie’s Hotel, a blanket on the couch where BabyCat loves to sleep (our ample cat snores like a champ so it is no small pleasure that he chooses to check-in to the Hotel over crashing at the foot of our bed).

The smell of coffee. A close-up photo on the trail of pine cones and needles. A special rock. The color of the sky. Deer leaping through a field of sunset grasses. A 45 minute drive to Simple Bakery (a big adventure!) just to get a few pieces of flourless chocolate cake. And a macaroon to share on the drive home. Friends who go out of their way to send encouragement, to touch base, to say, “We are here.”

Life reduced is, in fact, a discovery of riches. Expansion in another direction. A practice of appreciation of “what is.” Sharing a single piece of flourless chocolate cake, the bounty of our adventure, just so we will have anticipation in the morrow, another piece waiting, a double- savor to share.

read Kerri’s blog post about FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE