Take The First Step [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“That is what marks out the warrior: the knowledge that willpower and courage are not the same thing. Courage can attract fear and adulation, but willpower requires patience and commitment.” ~ Paulo Coelho, Aleph

And so begins my tale of two quotes.

It’s true, I have not been very courageous in this lifetime. I’ve run from most of my demons until circumstance or readiness required me to turn and face them. Left to my own devices I’d be running still.

“I learned long ago that in order to heal my wounds I must have the courage to face up to them.” ~ Paulo Coehlo, Aleph

Luckily, life ran me into a dead-end. It was not courage but conditions that stopped the run and necessitated the turn. Demons are never as big as fear makes them out to be. In fact, turn and face them, and they will often shrink to nothingness. Their job is to make you run.

The real work happens after the demons shrink. Standing in your dead-end, the race from your life now complete, an obvious and disconcerting question arises: now what? Actually, there’s a deeper question implied: in the absence of running away, what will you choose to walk toward?

The deeper question is one of willpower. The deeper question cannot be answered by anyone else and can only be found in the space once occupied by the demon. Facing the demon was merely a prerequisite. Standing still in your dead-end, reaction transforms to intention.

Breathless and vulnerable, it is willpower (perhaps a kind of courage?) that is needed to take that first timid step toward…

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CANOPY

Lean On Poppo’s Cane [on KS Friday]

Next to the closet where we keep our shoes and old sweatshirts is a bucket. In the bucket are a few walking sticks we’ve plucked from the trail, used and brought home. We rarely walk with sticks so the few that made the trip home are in the bucket to remind us of special walks, the times we needed some stick-aid. And thank-goodness there was a stick available when we needed it.

In the bucket, alongside the walking sticks, is Poppo’s cane.

Poppo’s cane came in handy this week when Kerri broke her foot. She is a circle-walker and our house has square rooms so she regularly arcs too close to the doorjambs. She’s adept at breaking her pinky toe.

This time she broke more than one bone. When the yellow-green swelling hit her ankle we took her to the doctor and then she went for a spin in the x-ray machine. For a few days, I was her mobility prop and then Poppo’s cane took my place and became her trusty stick-aid.

She looked at me this morning and, with knitted-brow, asked the obvious question, “What’s going on?” I had no answer. In the span of a couple of years, she’s broken her wrists, torn ligaments, had fingers that simple refused to bend, lost mobility in her left shoulder, tendonosis, a tendon injury in her left foot, a digestive system that refused to digest,… She’s had a heaping plate of “what’s going on with my body? What’s going on with my life?”

Both are great questions to ask.

What do you do when your questions have no definitive answers? Lean on Poppo’s cane and take another step. What else? Appreciate the stick-aid. Perhaps one day, with a little perspective, while looking at the bucket of useful sticks, the story will make some sense. The questions will find understanding.

In the meantime, I’m considering moving Kerri into a furniture-less yurt. My theory is that circle walkers are safer racing around in obstacle-free circular homes.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about POPPO’S CANE

in these times/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Call It Realism [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This garlic could have been painted by Jan Vermeer. To my eye it looks like the work of a Dutch master, an artist more concerned with realism than the ideal.

Art that reveals the beauty in the ordinary. For a few weeks in my surly youth I studied with a realist painter. I was wowed by his technique but could not yet grasp his dedication to capturing the everyday. Only later did I come to understand that his art was not about the technique but about bringing attention to the experience of the everyday. He rejected the aloof and desired to pull art down from the pedestal so it might reflect the lives of the “common people.” He believed that people needed to literally see themselves in the paintings to have access to the painting. They needed to see their hardship and toil as well as the objects that surrounded them.

Bertolt Brecht believed the opposite. In order for people to have access to the deeper messages of a play, they needed to be removed from their circumstance. So, in his way of thinking, people are more capable of seeing themselves in a piece of science fiction than in a reality-mirror.

David is working on a re-imagining of Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of an Author. One of the questions of the play is, “Who is telling your story?” And, how are they telling it. I reread the play and was struck by how relevant it is to our times.

The beauty in the ordinary. The turmoils and struggles of the everyday. Ours is a time of tumultuous story tug-of-war. I wonder, in a hundred years, what historians will write about our time. I wonder what aspect of artistry – if any – will be considered “realism.” As defined by Vermeer and Pirandello, it’s to reach across a social line, from the privileged to the working class. For Brecht it is spatial: step out to look in.

One thing is constant, while reaching across time and artificial boundary, it is always the role of the artist to help their community ask the questions: Who is telling my story? Whose story am I telling? What is the story that we are telling?

I imagine those someday-historians will write tomes on our messy struggle to sort out what is “real” and what is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GARLIC

Gaze At The Seam (on KS Friday)

Some things are hard to grasp. When that’s the case, it’s a good time to look at the sky. You’ll not find many explanations up there but gazing at the seam between us and the infinite-universe can, in moments of clenched fists, bring some perspective. As Kerri says, “It just keeps rolling.” No problem can remain large when measured against the seam, that fragile ozone layer that makes breathing and every current dilemma possible.

Sometimes when I look at the sky I wonder how many people across the ages have engaged in seam-gazing.

I imagine, one day in Kansas, 1932, as his fields turned to dust, a farmer looked to the sky. All his appeals for rain exhausted.

I can’t imagine how many women looked to the sky over the 100 years of protests and parades before being afforded the right to vote.

Can you imagine how many African-Americans looked to the sky as slaves in a nation that boasted to the world about its freedom and equality?

I look to the sky every time another state in the union passes legislation prohibiting discussions about our history, so fearful are we of critical race theory and the equality that we profess.

I find nothing in the seam that explains anything, but the clouds remind me that it just keeps rolling and, since I believe we tend toward wholeness, I catch a whiff of hope in all the blue and moving puffy white.

Someday, somewhere down the historic road, someone will look to the sky, in a post-nonsense era, and will, perhaps, imagine me staring back. To them, from their perspective, my unanswerable questions will have found resolve. They will have questions of their own, no doubt, but won’t it be nice to have a new set of questions to thrust at the seam?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SKY

Little By Little (©2022 Kerri Sherwood featuring Dogga)

Peek Behind The Scenes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I’ve tried to keep notes on my computer. I know that typing my notes into the digital world will make them searchable. Easier to find. It just doesn’t work for me. If I write with a pen on paper, I remember. Marking an important page with a Post-it note makes finding my notes faster than a search engine. It’s not that I am old school. I’m kinesthetic.

I’ve always kept notebooks. At this moment there are two within my reach. The Melange notes. On the desk in my office a is a notebook and three yellow pads. The yellow pads are a task-capture strategy. The notebook is idea capture. Quote capture. Thoughts-in-progress. The notebooks are like my sketchbooks, a place to work out my thought-compositions. They are the history, the breadcrumb trail of a project. For me, the riches are never in the outcome. The real treasures are alive in the notebook process paths.

I’d rather look at an artist’s sketchbook than the finished painting. I have a book of Picasso’s sketches that I treasure. Spend a few moments in Leonardo’s sketches or Michelangelo’s scribbles and you’ll forever toss away the notion of a mistake. Look behind the scenes at the process. A dancer will spend hours in repetition to incorporate a move into their body. The playwright will write hundreds of pages to arrive at a few, yet, those hundreds of pages are nothing less than reduction to essence. Refinement on the path of saying more with less.

Look behind to see the structure. Turn it over to see the pattern. I am, to this day, in awe of the Wayan Kulit master. I looked behind the shadow puppet screen to see the artist at work and, what appears in simple two-dimensions in front of the curtain, is a symphony of structure and improvisation. The man wore an oil lamp on his head to cast the light for the puppets, held a rock between his toes to tap, keeping time for the musicians seated behind him, all the while manipulating and voicing multiple characters, telling with simple clarity an epic tale. A lifetime of trial and error, complexity made simple, like a dancer, the story was deeply choreographed in his body. I wished I could have seen this elder storyteller-priest when he was young and developing his mastery. I’d love to see his notebooks.

I’ve recently had cause to return to my old notebooks. I marvel at the thought cycles coming back around. I’m taken again and again by the questions that still linger, and by those that seem antiquated. “How could I have not seen it!” I smile, knowing in just a few more drafts, a notebook or two down the road, the clarity would arrive.

A peek behind the scenes. It is for me, where the real beauty shines.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FLIP SIDE

Sing It Into Existence [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Lately I am awake for the sunrise. I know it is coming because, very slowly, the birds begin to sing. At first there is one voice, then a few more and then more. By the time the light through the window glows soft purple and gray, the full bird chorus is in session. They sing the sun into rising.

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, these lawn-art-birds would come to represent to me threshold guardians. Harbingers of the test that my move to Wisconsin would bring. In story terms, threshold guardians are not friendly; they serve as the test of readiness: are you willing and able to greet the challenges that come with change. Or will you run away? Sometimes they are monsters. Sometimes they require the answer to a riddle or solving a puzzle. The new world will open after the obstacle is met. In facing and overcoming the challenge, the guardians often become allies. In truth, they are allies all along. They help you find your self by testing every idea that you have of your self.

Driving the Budget truck on my move from Seattle, filled with the artifacts of my life, Kerri and I stopped in a little village, Stockholm, just as we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. We wandered down the street and into a gallery. We were drawn to these simple bird-sculptures. They are the first thing we bought together. They represented our step into relationship. Us. They would stand together in our yard.

My first few years in Kenosha were akin to being lost in the woods. My livelihood disappeared. My networks disappeared. Art opportunities vanished. Many of my friendships faded. Every project I tried to pitch or create stalled, every path I attempted to plow broke the plow. I felt stripped. Of little or no value. Even in arenas where I was once appreciated, I was invisible. I’ve done extraordinary consulting work in organizations but learned in my new life that my experience and observations were not welcome. So, silent as well as invisible.

More than once I went out back and sat with the sculptures. They remained silent when I asked of them my questions. Who am I now that I have no useful purpose? What do I do now? In the absence of an answer, the sculptures and I listened to the birdsong.

Often the test brought by the threshold guardians is one of letting go. You cannot become a butterfly if you insist on remaining a caterpillar. The armor must fall. The known shape must go to mush. The what-the-hell-is-happening-to-me necessarily falls unanswered into the void. What’s happening is not complex: you are changing. The old stuff isn’t working because it is too small for the new shape. Let go.

It is not complex but it is uncomfortable. Dark night is cold when you’ve shed your skin. The sun will rise. The birds will sing it into existence. Warmth will return in the moments beyond the soft purples and greys.

We recently moved the bird sculptures from their spot by the pond to a new home by the fence. I hadn’t realized how invisible they were when standing over the pond. By they fence, they are glorious! They are also a metaphor, standing tall, made more vibrant and dynamic by their incorporated shadows. They are transformed. They are present, standing together in the yard. They are signaling the path to the new world, singing into existence the new day.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BIRDS

Choose Your Way [on DR Thursday]

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankel

I always feel a bit disappointed in myself after writing a post like the post I wrote yesterday. It was a near-rant, an ugly system becoming more ugly as it fights to protect its ugliness.

It’s been a battle all of my life, wrestling with what to do or say when my desire to focus on the life-giving runs headlong into the harsh realities of the life-denying. To shine a light on the life-denying is sometimes the most life affirming thing to do, it just doesn’t feel very good. “Look at the ugly. No, really look.” Last night, I listened to a conversation – in all seriousness – about the collapse of our democracy. It’s been a minor fascination of mine to witness how self-destructive people and organizations – and nations – will become before they admit that they need to change. Before they turn and say, “I’ve been lying to myself and to you.” Sometimes they destroy themselves rather than turn and face their truth. That was the crux of the conversation. It seems more and more likely that we’ll set ourselves on fire before we embrace the truth of our dysfunction.

One of Kerri and my greatest losses during the time of pandemic was our weekly ritual dinners with 20. Thursday night we’d cook at his condo. Sunday night we’d cook at our house. We’d cook for each other. Sometimes we’d cook with each other. Always we’d drink wine, laugh, and reaffirm what is most important about life. Each other.

Post-vaccination, after a long year of isolation, we recently, gratefully, returned to our ritual. We cook. We talk about our days. We laugh. 20 and I tease Kerri. She feigns indignance and loves every moment. We talk about art. We share the curiosities that have crossed our paths and screens. Sometimes we talk about the nation’s self-immolation but only briefly as we very quickly realize that it pulls us from what is really important. Each other.

Tonight is dinner with 20. We can’t wait and are making our menu, designing our day around what will be the most important thing to happen all day. Time with each other.

As a nation, “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, in a letter discussing slavery.

How a question is framed determines the answers/paths-forward one sees or does not see. It could be said of our national trauma that we’ve framed our dilemma with justice pitted squarely against self-preservation, or, to be clear, self-preservation will be at the cost of justice-for-all. It’s too bad. As the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-preservation will always negate a reach toward justice. You’d think that we’d someday recognize that the wolf we have by the ears is of our own creation and that justice-for-all is the only path to self-preservation, national self-actualization. You’d think that it might occur to us, rather than do the same old thing in the same old way, to ask a different question.

If I had a magic wand I’d ding the noggin of this nation with the one strength we share, the one thing that 20 and Kerri and I know without doubt, the only real path to laughter and support and all the other good things we can offer: time with each other. A good meal made with heaps of love. A ritual born of a simple desire to each week make the world a bit better for each other.

read kerri’s blog post about DINNER WITH 20

Check Your Attribution [on KS Friday]

I have just had a front row seat to a full-blown, hyper-antagonistic, years-long, classic case of attribution-bias-escalation. It was [and is] ugly. The ripples are rocking boats, eroding foundations, ending friendships. The damage is thorough and, as is always true, infinitely avoidable.

Attribution bias. Making the assumption that you KNOW why someone did or said something. Assigning your reason to their behavior.

Years ago, a red faced executive called me, the consultant, in and fumed, “She said THAT to demean me!” I paused and asked, “Do you really know why she said it? Have you asked her what was going on from her point of view?” His blank stare told me all I needed to know. He would rather demonize her, be offended by her, than communicate with her. We sat down, drank a cup of coffee and decided that, rather than fume and escalate, rather than simmer in a victim-stew, he had at his disposal a better path. Communicate rather than assume, ask questions rather than blame, poison the well, and indulge in being offended.

It always amazes me how unconscious and/or resistant folks are to challenging their attributions. How eager they are to spin hard narratives and create vicious persecutors. How invested they become at being offended or otherwise insulted en route to being ‘right.’ It is monster-creation. It provides nothing more than a reason to draw a sword.

We do it so fast. Assume we know. And, once the attribution is made, we hold onto it as if it were gospel. It is easier to believe we know-all-things than it is to step out of the yummy-victim-archetype and ask a few simple questions, confess a few honest vulnerabilities. It is easier, more tasty, to take offense than it is to give consideration. Blame provides a great reason to never ask a question. Being ‘right’ is a hard stop to all inquiry.

In the canon of unconscious bias, attribution is one of the most-oft-used routes to really effective miscommunication. It makes mountains out of molehills. It makes muck from otherwise good working relationships. It savages careers. It makes vice presidents run to the phone and call consultants. It makes councils meet in secret and vote without investigation. It makes revenge a serious pursuit of otherwise grown-up adults. It makes weak leaders run for the basement and hide. It makes new-contract-creation and other tit-for-tat flexing a less-than-fun game of control. No one wins. No questions asked. It makes a hammer the only tool in the tool kit.

A few breaths to simmer down, the suspension of a snap-assumption, an honest “can I talk to you” conversation that comes with no blame and a wee-bit of vulnerability…could make a minor miscommunication remain minor. It could save all manner of hurt feelings, ill intention, relationship destruction, HR costs, separation agreements, litigation…all unnecessary wreckage that might have been avoided with an assumption-made-conscious, an attribution challenged. A simple word or phrase can usually be explained, “You took a bullet meant for someone else, I’m sorry.” Mountains return to molehills when we are willing to turn from our hyper-active-attribution-bias (“I’m right and I know it!”) and ask, “I’m not sure what just happened here. Will you help me understand?”

read Kerri’s blog post about ESCALATION

Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

explicitly divisive copy

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]

in transition copy

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