Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

Unify The Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It is a continued irony. The fuel driving the angry wearers of red hats, those who fervently seek a bygone world with concrete truths, a simpler time awash in black-and-white thinking, have wrapped themselves in a fox-cloak that shields them from fact or data – the very thing that might deliver them to their holy land. Science, the lodestone of reason, the giver of hard truth, is the first thing they deny. Their wizard, magnified through a foxy megaphone, has magically transformed facts into threats, assaults on ham-headed belief.

And, so, we continue the dance of two competing narratives.

Science tells us the climate is changing and human activity is driving the change. Carbon emissions sits atop the list of greenhouse gases. It is a fact. Think of it this way: narrative number one: the west coast burns with record-breaking forest fires, the gulf coast is pounded by record-breaking storms because, as science tells us, the globe is warming. Narrative number two: the west coast is on fire because, as the denier expounds, the good people of California haven’t adequately raked their forests.

Repeat a lie long enough and often enough and it will become a mantra.

Hoax. Hoax. Hoax. Fake. Fake. Fake.

It is the national equivalent of an anorexic looking into a mirror and seeing someone who needs to stop eating. No amount of evidence will penetrate the disorder. It is deadly to be so deluded.

And so, we arrive at the election. A continued tale of two narratives. In the complete absence of evidence, forest-rakers, climate-change-deniers, scream across a canyon of missing evidence, “FRAUD!”

Narrative number one: all legitimate votes were counted with every possible safeguard in place making sure it was a fair election and Biden accrued the most votes (sidebar: seriously, in these times with a raging pathological liar in the president’s seat, can you imagine any state not doubling and tripling their vote checking? That is, in fact, what happened. There has never been an election with so many safeguards).

Narrative number two: “HOAX! FRAUD. FAKE. CHEAT.” The red hat team screamed their mantra even before the votes had been cast and carry on their chant even though less votes were cast for their candidate (sidebar #2: their guy also screamed “hoax, fraud, cheat” throughout the 2016 campaign until he won the electoral college and then, magically, everything was legitimate. Keep in mind that he also empaneled a commission to prove that there was FRAUD when he lost the popular vote. His panel found no evidence of voter fraud. None. Zero.)

The evidence of voter fraud in these-never-sometimes-united-un-united-states is statistically zero. That has always been true. It is true – especially true – today.

It’s a pattern and it’s more than exhausting. No amount of forest-raking will change the reality of climate change. No amount of bullying or cries that the sky is falling will change the vote count.

Ignorance is not always about a lack of education. Sometimes it is an absolute dedication to a story that has no merit. It is to build a house-of-belief on shifting sand and claim-in-the-face-of-hard-proof that it is built on solid stone.

Kerri’s been humming this song all week. Time for a cool change. Yes. It is way past time. Her humming is like a rain dance, an invocation of life-giving relief from a truth-drought.

The rain has come; the election is over. Perhaps, the earth will cool, the narratives will unify. A boy can dream.

read Kerri’s blog post about COOL CHANGE

Pop A Cork And Ponder [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It is, at long last, election day in these-once-united-states. If I had a wine cellar it would be stocked to the top with election night libation and reality-numbing assistance.

Through Kerri, I received a loving and gentle push back against my use of the phrase these-once-united-states. Our reader reminded me that these-states-were-never-united. Not really. Of course, there is the very real possibility that division IS what identifies us. In a stroke of planned obsolescence or perhaps a nod to the absurd, our forefathers wrote that all men are created equal while participating in and promoting slavery as the driver of the economic engine. They certainly knew what they were doing. It might be that division is what unites us.

Who would we be if we actually practiced equality and made sure that our institutions were not only the guardians but promoters of our central ideal?

Mostly, those wacky forefathers kicked the can down the road. They understood that the nation would one day have to reconcile its split-intention. We’ve made a run at it more than a few times and, like every good fractal, rather than deal with our shadow pattern, we manage to repeat it. Slavery becomes Jim Crow…and here we are. BLM meets The Proud Boys.

We are so far away from dealing with the can kicked-down-the-road to us that the mostly-men-on-the-red-team deny the very existence of systemic racism. That, too, is part of the fractal. Take note of how much energy has been spent making it hard for black Americans to vote. Right here in the year 2020. Some things never change. Some things need to change.

So, today we line up to cast our ballots. In this seemingly endless and ugly election season, we’ve been witness to an undermining of the postal service, the removal of ballot boxes, the stuffing of the supreme court, a president casting doubt on the very system he was sworn to support.

So much energy spent to ensure the continuation of the divide! Another squirt of glue? An organizing principle of negative and positive charges? Opposite charges attracting?

We need a new organizing principle. Division is a threadbare story and, as we know, can only run in a vicious circle. I hold little hope for it but wonder what might come about if we attended to a simple basic, just like the sign says. “Be Nice. Say Hi!”

In the absence of general kindness and courtesy, something every mother teaches and every grandmother upholds, I will pop a cork and ponder what we might have been if the system had been set up and penned by our foremothers. I suspect we’d all know how to play nice by now.

read Kerri’s blog post on BE NICE. SAY HI!

Ask, “What’s Really Happening?” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of Occam’s Razor, you know, that simple but useful little principle that, in the presence of two explanations that account for facts, the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. In our current national spin, the corrosive and stupidly-complex justifications are overrunning the simple explanation every time. For instance, is it more likely that the “Democrat” leaders are conspiring to inflate the pandemic numbers in a worldwide conspiracy (yes, 195 countries that rarely agree on anything are united in collusion with the American Democratic party!) to bring down the president – or – did the man botch the job and that’s why our numbers are so high? I’m going with botched job since I still have sight of Occam with plenty of data sharpening that simple razor.

Sometimes when I am sifting my too-many-thoughts-for-a-post I’ll jump into the Google pool in the hope that I’ll hit my head on a Google rock and clarity or at least some sense will come. Today I typed in a question: what conspiracy theories helped bring down the Roman Empire? There’s plenty to read if the fall of Rome is on your mind. I went down the rabbit hole and bumbled upon this fun phrase embedded in the List Of Conspiracy Theories page on Wikipedia [sidebar: there are more inane conspiracy theories than you might imagine and most find their place on the “What were we thinking” shelf-of-shame after a year or two passes. We can only hope that the good folks at Q or the pandemic deniers take their place high on the shelf before too long and too many people are hurt or killed from their delusion. Occam would cut them to ribbons if he weren’t laughing/crying so hard].

I digress. Here’s the phrase: Psychologists attribute finding a conspiracy theory where there is none to a mental illness called illusory pattern perception. Illusory Pattern Perception. It’s a “phenomenon in which observers see patterns that do not exist.” The epicenter of the illness that drives folks to see what is not there: lack of control. It’s existential, this American decline.

We are rapidly becoming the poster child for “a nation divided cannot stand.” As a lover of pattern, perception, and metaphor I find it profoundly sad that our latest chapter of lack of control has led us to division and mental illness. Seeing patterns where none exist. Making up horror stories about each other rather than letting Occam’s razor slice away the absurd and elucidate some simple truth.

Lack of control, as we know from the stories we just shared about 9/11, can also unite us. Lack of control can clarify us. It can inspire us to run into burning buildings, link arms with fellow passengers to rush a cockpit – knowing full well your action will bring a plane down and your life to an end – and do it anyway because your action will save the lives of people you’ll never meet or know. The lack of control can inspire us to stand in the hot fires of injustice (injustice is a control mechanism) and declare it wrong.

Unity, goodness, self-sacrifice – all of these virtues are exposed – or can be – in moments when control abandons us. Our path need not be ugly, vicious, divisive, or inhumane. The mental illness that blinds us is not natural to this nation – or to humanity. It’s what happens when frightened people, feeling out of control, meet a salesman of snake-oil solutions, a weaver of dark places in the public mind, rather than link arms and ask, “What’s really happening?”

read Kerri’s blog post about AMERICAN DECLINE

Come Together [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My theme of life-as-a-circle is still with me. Today, this Labor Day, 2020, bubbles with portent. Unlike any Labor Day in my lifetime, this day seems to dip its toe into the cold origins of this national holiday celebrating laborers but also serves as an omen. An augury.

This holiday, so benign as we now practice it, was borne of fire and conflict. It seems our nation is only capable of learning through the violence that it inflicts upon itself. Waves of riots, years of bloodshed as laborers as young as 5, worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, and barely eked out a living. The income gap in 2020 mirrors that of the 1890’s, America’s Gilded Age. As historian Nell Irvin Painter explains, “‘Gilded’ is not golden. ‘Gilded’ has the sense of a patina covering something else. It’s the shiny exterior and the rot underneath.” The violence in the streets, the frustration and anger, riots and protests by the common working people forced the government to act. Among other things, Labor Day came into existence. A day off.

“We’re in these cycles in which we learn and forget and learn and forget,” Painter says.

We are in the ‘forgetting’ part of the cycle. It’s Keynsian economics: a capitalist economy can only thrive with the existence of a healthy middle class. Consumption requires capable-and-able consumers. Investment crumbles when consumption stalls. We’ve been here before. We don’t need a crystal ball to see where our unsupported gig economy is taking us. On this Labor Day it is fair game to ask, “What exactly are we celebrating?”

We cycle into remembering when we need to pull together. When we start considering the interests of the whole over the few. When, as the sign says, we remember to take care of one another. During this Labor Day there is a true tell of our capacity to consider one another: a pandemic rages. The estimates top 400,000 deaths by the new year. The only force that can reduce that number is our capacity to consider one another.

Life in the forgetting sweep of the cycle: the streets are alive with riot and protest. People by the millions are losing their homes and their jobs. Desperation and division reign; panicked people rarely think straight.

Life in the remembering sweep of the cycle: people pull their energy and resources together remembering that no one can thrive in a vacuum. A united workforce is capable of reminding “the system” that it was meant to serve them and support them in a shared prosperity. Not to use their labor to benefit the few. Coming together for the betterment of all: it is the original impulse and meaning of Labor Day.

read Kerri’s blog post about LABOR DAY

See The Pattern [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“The United States, virtually a demilitarized nation on the eve of the Second World War, never stood down in the wake of victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.”’ ~ Wade Davis, The Unraveling of America

The most remarkable thing about these toy soldiers on a dish, is that a child did not place them in the garden. The adults did. People regularly place statues in their gardens, a Buddha or the Virgin Mary or gnomes or fairies. They are statements of value. They are statements of identity. Little guardians with powers no bigger than their guns.

In the words of Captain Obvious, the United States is rife with contradictions. In our sacred founding documents we wrote that “All men are created equal,” while simultaneously legislating that black men (and women) were less than human. It’s the crevasse we fall into again and again, our metaphoric original sin. The people currently protesting on the streets across this land simply want the rhetoric of the nation to align with the actions of the nation. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Today in Kenosha we await the unwelcome arrival of the commander-in-chief, a leader whose has only one note to pluck: division. The white nationalists are taking to the streets, waving their flags and chanting, “Four more years.”  For a nation comprised of immigrants from all over the planet, the world’s greatest crossroads, it seems more-than-absurd that anyone in this nation could or would revel in xenophobia. It’s astounding that the leader of a nation so rich in diversity would throw gasoline on the fires of racism. Contradiction upon contradiction. It’s farcical.

Or, perhaps it’s not contradiction at all. As Shakespeare wrote, “The truth will out.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that “the most warlike nation in the history of the world” is habitually at war with itself. The battle lines are as clear as the vast difference in the photographs comparing the Republican and Democrat members of the 116th Congress Members-Elect [scroll the article to see the photographs]. Ours is a war of identity and the dividing line runs along the color line. More Captain Obvious, I know [my apologies].

We do not have a problem, we have a pattern. And, to change our pattern of division and internal war, we need only take an honest look at the story we tell ourselves. The story we continue to tell ourselves about ourselves. We need to take a good honest look at who fits into the definition of “ourselves.” Right now we have two working definitions. And, that is our pattern. A pattern of conflicting definitions (inclusion vs. exclusion) works for some but is misery for most. Division by design.

Taking an honest look at ourselves is easily said. Even Captain Obvious is rolling his eyes!

The truth will out. It’s in our gardens. It’s in our statues. It’s in our streets. It’s on the images of brutality we capture on our iPhones. It’s in our tax codes and how we fund our schools and the children killed by guns while at school. It’s in our COVID-19 morbidity data and the populations of our prisons. The truth will out again and again and again until we decide to look at it with honesty, until we learn that our words matter, until we resolve to tell a different story, a story that lines up with our professed ideals. Until we decide that perpetual war is not a pattern that leads to social harmony and peace.

And, it’s a choice. Nothing more, Nothing less. Obviously.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TOYS IN THE GARDEN

 

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Read The River [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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The great gift of writing this blog is that I now have ten years of recorded ramblings and ruminations. I have an almanac of my thought patterns, a rolling document of what really matters most to me. I  periodically revisit what I wrote five or ten years ago. My visits to the past never fail to surprise me.

I’m chewing on the same stuff. I’m rolling around the same ideas. You’d be shocked – as I am – at how many times I’ve had the same revelation, thinking it was the first time. Yet, since my writing serves as a map to my revelation cycle, I can also see how the man having the old-revelation-anew is not the same man. I have the old revelation through new eyes. Perhaps that is why I have these revelations again and again. Discovery as rediscovery. New perspective makes the old revelation vital again.

As I’ve written before, I feel as if I am living the Parcival story. When I was young I failed in The Grail Castle.  I didn’t speak my truth. Rather, I did as I was taught, practiced my good social training, and withheld my voice as a proper knight should. Should. I started writing my blog when I was wearing armor, riding around the kingdom attempting to slay dragons and fight ogres to make up for the wasteland I’d created. I won my battles but lost my war – just as the story prescribed.

Now, I read about my battles sitting in the forest, having dropped my armor. Having mourned my defeat. Having lost my way. Having passed through the frustration and fear and anger that comes with lost-ness. Having relaxed into chopping wood and carrying water. Having the same old revelation again and again.

The story, this life story that we live, is a story of letting go, of paring down. Dropping the “shoulds.” Simplifying to the point that recognizing who we are is of much greater import than who we should be. Inhabiting the present moment is most often the abolition of “should.”

One of the greatest lessons I taught but failed to grock is, “suspend your judgments and learn.” ‘Should’ is a judgment by another name. A self-judgment. Armor. Mechanisms that separate. What story do I tell that separates me from this moment? What story do I tell that separates me from delighting in my self just as I am – and not as what I think I should be? What limits do I impose on my story and why?

Life, I’m learning, is one long lesson about the illusion of separation. We spend the first half of our days creating distance and the second half closing the gap-of-our-own-creation.

So, this morning I sit with my blog. I read the chronicle, this old river, and laugh at what I’ve apparently always known but refused to learn. The old story comes with a consistent bit of wise and useful advice: let go. No one but you tells the old story. No one but you misses seeing the Grail Castle that, as the hermit-in-the-woods giggles when it appears a second time to Parcival, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AN OLD RIVER

 

 

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Look For It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“Consider yourself blessed. These stones that break your bones will build the altar of your love.” ~ Lynn Park

20 has a collection of images. Faces found in objects. A light socket that seems to be eyes and a nose and a mouth. A teapot face. A widget-face at the hardware store. He sees them everywhere because he looks for them.

Looking for it. It’s the key to a positive attitude: you see what you look for. Look for generosity and kindness and you’ll see it everywhere. It’s also true of a darker view on life: there’s plenty of horror story to be found if you spend your days looking for it.

As a rule, both kindness and cruelty are available in abundance. Both are on display at any given moment of the day.

People seem to be more attracted to cruelty – especially for pleasure. We build coliseums so we can watch gladiators do combat. We thrill when the car crashes on the track. The bloodier the video game the better the sales. We love to yammer on and on about our bad experiences but will tell far fewer people about the good moments. We’ve managed to turn something as benign as Facebook into yet another bloody coliseum for e-battle. People negating people. Dedicated division. “Shouting into the canyon,” as Rob called it.

And, as a rule, we will either go through life seeking meaning for our experiences or we will go through life giving meaning to our experiences. We focus on what we have or we focus on what we lack. Opportunity or obstacle. Us or Them. Either way, it’s a story and we are the storytellers.

People are patterned so they generally see what they expect to see. It’s the lesson that’s all the rage these days in the USA. Lesson #2: once patterned, people are resistant to seeing anything other than what they believe. We have the unique capacity, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to argue to the death to maintain our point of view. The anti-mask crowd are providing generations of psychologists with a heyday of research: people literally arguing to death to maintain their point of view despite a veritable mountain of evidence that contradicts their belief.

It seems impossible, yet there it is. There we are.

Like 20, I have decided to train my eyes to see. Only, instead of faces found in inanimate objects, I’ve decided to look for the little miracles. Intrepid life. The magnificent force that expresses in small affirmations. An unlikely plant growing from a crack in the wood. A snake stretched out on the path to catch the sun. The single-day proliferation of crabgrass taking over our yard! A meteor flying by.  People more invested in the sunset than the Facebook. The fox at midnight. The turkey on the roof. The friends who love each other enough to keep their distance.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about INTREPID LIFE

 

 

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Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

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I’m a broken record: words matter. They are rarely accidental. For instance, the division between “black” and “white” was created. Our racial legacy is not happenstance. It is by design.

Power does not like to be challenged or threatened and strategies of division are great mechanisms of control. Taking pride-in-ignorance is another – it is a terrific support strategy if discord is the goal. An ignorant people are easily misled.

We enact and reenact Bacon’s rebellion again and again. It is a vicious cycle, a whirlpool that is hard to escape without a clear view of the full story. History, like language, is never passive, it comes with a dedicated point of view – and so we are witness once again to the great narrative tug-of-war.  We could drop the rope if we decided to look at our history, ask a few questions, and perhaps see the narrative slop that the fox and friends are force feeding to white fear as just the latest iteration of an old, old scare tactic.

Misinformation is nothing new. Propaganda is as old as human history. It is the downfall of a critter unique in its need for an identifying narrative to believe almost anything if it provides a sense of belonging. People who refuse to take a step back and ask, “Is this true?” will buy almost any line. Fear is a narrative with an agenda so what-on-earth prevents otherwise thinking people from considering that the daily dose of fear they are being fed might be cooked up intentionally? Trading brains for belonging never works out well in the end.

Black and white. Red and blue. We have a pattern, not a problem.

A people united are an unstoppable force and the worst nightmare of identity politicians.  People unite when their ideals – things like freedom and truth and justice and equality – transcend their small identity bubbles.  Ideals are unattainable – that is what gives them their special uniting capacity. We strive. It’s an active verb with an inclusive pronoun.

Hate and fear – all things divisive – are easily attained. That’s what makes them so useful to despots and control-mongers. Keep the thinking small and encapsulated within the tiny bubble. It will keep the people warring among themselves with no questions asked.

How do we move beyond this pattern and rise above the incessant division that plagues us? Well, we must first desire to see the pattern. We must choose to see. Then, we might be capable of revisiting the words we placed as central to our national ideal and choose to live them. Our words matter. That might require a few challenging questions.

It will definitely require a good deal of soul searching and that’s not such a bad thing. Nations, like people, grow and become better when they grow weary of their dysfunction and go looking for their soul.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Explicitly Divisive

 

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surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Ask The Essential Question [on KS Friday]

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Quinn told me that there are really only three questions: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do? All other questions can be boiled down to one of these essences. All stories can be reduced to one of these questions. And, the real kicker? There is never a single answer to these three essential questions. Life is always moving so, the moment you think you have an answer-by-the-tail, you’ve moved to a different place. You’ve changed. You will change again. And again. The story evolves. The long body of a life is rich in transition. Life is transition.

Change the pronoun. Who are we? Where are we going? What is ours to do? These are the questions beating at the heart of the American experiment. Our rhetoric is out of alignment with our reality. It turns out that our hero tale has a matching anti-hero story. We know it but do not deal with it. The shining city on the hill was built on the backs of slaves and sustains itself on a rolling subjugation of the latest arrivals. We revel in inequality while proudly pronouncing that all are created equal.

As master Shakespeare reminds us, “…but at length truth will out.” Our truth is out. We are a festival of inequity. There is a yawning maw between the haves and the have-nots. It is by design and not by accident. It is not our problem as much as it is our pattern. And so, we  ask one of the essential questions: Who are we? And, in asking it, we must first look at how we define the pronoun ‘we.’ WE. The people. Who are WE? White male land owners? The one percent? Or, many diverse and rich origin stories come together in a promise of one nation, a nation of equal opportunity for all devoid of exploitation? It is the ideal. Is it the intention? Who do we want to be?

WE, as I understand it, is all inclusive. Multi-cultural as one. Both/And.

I take heart. Every caterpillar has a melt down phase en route to becoming a butterfly. The mush phase is necessary to fulfilling the mature promise, the expression of the ideal. In transition.

 

IN TRANSITION is on Kerri’s album RELEASED FROM THE HEART

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IN TRANSITION

 

 

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in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

waiting and knowing ©️ 2015 david robinson