Mark The Passage [on KS Friday]

Just after we met, we dug a small pond in the backyard. It was a party that Kerri called The Big Dig. People came with shovels. We drank mudslides. I met many of her friends and neighbors. We laughed. It took less than ten minutes with so many people to dig the hole. The liner went in and rocks placed around the edges. The pump was placed and the water rushed in. It was a marker in time. It was meant to be a marker, a ritual of passage into the new and the unknown.

She’d planned The Big Dig before we met. Originally, it had nothing to do with me. It was serendipity that I could be present for The Dig. Serendipity or design. Who knows.

The morning after the party, sipping coffee, we sat in lawn chairs on the muddy ground surrounding the now bubbling pond. Kerri used the “M” word, married, “When we are married…” She realized what she’d just said. She blushed and apologized and backpedaled. I was, at the very moment she used the “M” word, doing something I’d never done before: imagining myself married. To her. I was seeing it and, laughing at her anguished retreat, I confessed what I was seeing. We sat by the pond and stared at each other. A ritual passage into the new and unknown.

The pond has always been mine to care for. This marks its eighth year. We just replaced the liner. We had to put flagstone around the pond because DogDog was cutting a deep velodrome path around it, racing in excitement every time John and Michele let their Dachshunds out. Each day we walk to the pond to try and catch a glimpse of the frog-in-residence. This year we named the frog Magic.

Just a few days after The Big Dig, Kerri took me to the marina where the 4th of July celebrations are staged. Bands played. There was a carnival. Too much food. The dog jump is a big attraction (dogs running and leaping into a pool of water in a distance-leap competition). After dark we sat on a blanket and watched the fireworks. Sitting on that blanket, vibrant color exploding in the night sky, I imagined myself living in this town, so far from the west coast that had been my home most of my adult life. “Can I live here?” I asked myself. The answer was immediate: you can’t live anywhere else.

DogDog was born on the 4th of July, probably while we were watching the dog jump. We will celebrate his eighth birthday on Sunday with a rowdy race around the pond. His favorite thing. And then snacks. Also his favorite thing. And then a visit with Unka-John. His really, really favorite thing.

A step into the new and unknown. Ritual passages. You have no idea where they will take you or what the reality of the step over the threshold will bring. You cannot know. You can only step.

“This looks like fireworks,” she said, showing me the up-close-photo of the plant. “I love it,” she smiled.

“Me, too.”

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

read Kerri’s blog post about the FIREWORK PLANT

i didn’t know/this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Find A Horizon [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be only afraid of standing still.” ~ Chinese Proverb

Each morning, Kerri wanders outside to check her tomatoes. It is one of my favorite new rituals. I watch from the window as she steps out beyond the deck to the potting table, hands on hips, and scrutinizes the plants for newcomers. After a careful count she hurries back into the house to tell me the results of her count. Each day yields a new arrival. “There are ten!” she proclaimed this morning. Then, she took out her phone to show me the photos she’d taken. A family portrait of tomatoes. Miracles in the making.

Seasoned gardeners might not experience the same level of enthusiasm, but we newbies are wide-eyed at the little green orbs that show up overnight, at the basil plants spilling out of their pots.

It has already inspired new recipes. I blubbered on Sunday evening when I tasted the basil-and-tomato-saute over pasta. Food-that-makes-you-close-your-eyes-and-slow-down-so-that-you-can-savor-every-last-bit-of-it is high on my list of pleasures-to-be-cultivated.

We are learning. We are trying new things. We are setting up new spaces, rearranging furniture. At the same time, we are cleaning out, pulling bins from the basement. Sorting. Making space. The energy is moving.

In the past few years, our growth and learning has looked and felt like loss. Job losses, dear ones passing, broken wrists. Armor falling to the ground. Layers peeled. There’s nothing like time spent in the wilderness to put a fire beneath curiosity. When the questions are basic, “What do we do now?,” the available options are at the same time infinite and absent. There’s only one thing to be done and that is to keep moving. Find a horizon and walk toward it.

The tomatoes are harbingers. The season of losing layers may, at last, be done. There is now plenty of space for curiosity, for growing things. “What do we do now?” is still a question floating in the air. But, from our point of view, with the wasteland just behind us, we see the yellow buds and tiny green orbs as signaling a harvest to come. Hope. The energy is moving. A daily visit to the potting bench, rubbing basil leaves to enjoy the scent, seems like just the right amount of forward movement.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Enjoy The Return [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s back. Pop Goes The Weasel, in an incessant cycle, playing as background accompaniment to the birdsong. The truck circles the neighborhood, the sonic equivalent of water torture on wheels. I’ve spent too many hours pondering how the driver, the seller of ice cream, sitting in the epicenter of the looping Pop refrain, retains their sanity. I couldn’t do it. It’s low on my list of aspirations. I’m certain my assignment in hell will be the ice cream truck driver.

Of course, the musical assault is accompanied by – no, much more, it inspires – the delighted squeals of children, excited-to-a-frenzy when hearing the tune, begging coins from their parents, and running to the truck to get their treat before it disappears around the corner. The happy squeals bring instant forgiveness to my hardened heart for the Weasel drumming of my brain.

It’s the solstice. The ice cream truck, like the position of the sun in the sky, is a sure sign of summer’s return. On a walk by the lakefront a few days ago, the truck bellowed passed us, looking a bit worn and tired. It stopped. The neighborhood kids scrambled, parents’ pockets were emptied, purses turned upside down, skinny legs and clenched fists raced toward the paint-peeling truck.

Forgive my brain but I was suddenly overwhelmed and duly impressed at the chain of innovation that, although it now appears old and ordinary, went into making this dilapidated truck and the joy it invokes possible. Refrigeration. Pasteurization. The waffle cone. Ice cream on a stick. Recorded sound. Speakers. Not to mention the internal combustion engine.

As the kids swarmed the Weasel, I looked around at all the older faces, those folks with newly emptied pockets, watching their kids and grandkids enjoy the ritual that they once enjoyed when they were the young enthusiastic pick pockets. Every face was smiling. Even mine. Add that to the chain of innovation. It might be the most important of all the innovations in the chain. Bringer of joy. Inciter of happy memory. It certainly should be the point, the aim of all invention. Better life. No one needs to read a business book when an ice cream truck is circling the neighborhood. It’s all right there.

Bird song. Children’s squeals of delight. Pop Goes The Weasel. Hot days. Melting ice cream. Summer.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD HUMOR

Read A Tiny Note [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I was still in shock. It was late, beyond midnight. The roosters were watching for the sunrise. The ritual I’d witnessed that night blew the metaphoric wheels off my car. Wave after wave of knife-wielding priests ran at the Rangda, a priest chosen for the evening to wear the mask, to enter the trance and become the demon. The priests stabbed the Rangda but to no avail. The blades bent. They were repelled. Eventually, all entered the trance and turned the knives on themselves, taking the energy, the protection of the Rangda, into their bodies. Into the community. No one was injured. Peace was made with the Rangda. Balance was affirmed.

I held one of the knives after the ritual was complete. It was not a stage prop. I could not have bent the blade on my chest without doing injury to myself.

Budi explained it all to me. I had so many questions. In his culture, the dark forces are not to be resisted or banished. There is no hell separate from heaven. Evil and good are not compartmentalized. There are energies, some dark and some light. There is no need to make peace with the light. The necessity is to face and make peace with the dark. Balance is created, an intentional relationship with a dynamic whole. It’s a dance of responsibility, a balance of dark and light. The middle way.

Balance.

I loved this photo when Kerri showed it to me. Clover. You can’t tell but it is tiny. It is bursting from beneath the stone that serves as the step onto our deck. It made we wonder if the fairy people were close at hand. They serve, in the western tradition, a similar role to the Rangda in Bali. Nature spirits. It was most important to keep in the good graces with the Fairies. Honor their places. Respect and maintain the balance. According to tradition, they went into hiding, they left because we assaulted their spaces; we came to value the path of resources, mining, deforestation, fracking, damming…over the path of balance.

This tiny breath of clover. I sat on the stone last night. The air was cool after a humid and hot day. DogDog was doing his rounds. I had not thought of the Rangda in years. A tiny community on a tiny island. The “mayor” of the town introduced the ritual to us as their art. “We have so little to offer you,” he said in his broken English, “but we bring you our most prized offering, our art.”

Art. A prized offering. The dance of energies, an intentional relationship with the dynamic whole. An ongoing ritual of balance. It was the first time I witnessed a community that had yet to exorcise its art from the sacred. It bent knives. It restored balance. It belonged and gave deep meaning to every member of the community.

Tiny. Like the Fairies or the community on the island. A simple respect for what is good for the whole. Balance is expressed in the tiny things, the choices of where to walk, what to say. What helps in the long run. What does not. What gives meaning and cohesion to a community. What does not.

Budi would caution us with COVID and guns and a globe that is weirding and warming, “Rangda is ignored,” he’d say.

“Yes,” I’d reply, “the fairies have gone into hiding.”

But, all is not lost. They left a tiny note at our back door. Balance, it reads, is a relationship, an intentional act. It is an ongoing ritual, a tiny sacred thing.

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

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

Complete The Ritual [on KS Friday]

One of the strangest rituals in directing plays comes in the closing hours of tech rehearsal. It is the final button, the cherry on the sundae; the last detail before the addition of the audience: choreographing the bow. The mechanics of gratitude. The curtain falls. The audience claps. The actors return to the stage to accept the appreciation. It’s important, in that moment, to know what to do and where to go. It’s important to know when to bow and when to vacate the stage.

It’s a mechanical moment made generous – made real – when the audience arrives. After having been led through a story or gifted with a performance, the curtain falls, the audience claps in appreciation. The actors, relieved and filled with gratitude, return to the stage and bow in thanks. Appreciation meets appreciation. The strange ritual of the previous day becomes the point of the whole exercise. Without the other, audience and performer, the storytelling is empty. We complete each other. We acknowledge in appreciation this absolute truth. My story is nothing without your witness. Your story is incomplete without my story. You applaud for me. I bow to you.

A major purpose of the artist is to remind the community of this truth. We are nothing without each other. We are capable of walking into impossible questions, when, together, we gather to share and complete a story.

Artistry is a service industry. It is humbling. It is meant to be humbling.

I sit staring at the screen. I am rewriting a script, a piece I performed with a symphony in 2008. I was terrified until the conductor lifted his baton. I remember very little after the first note was played. I came back into my body the moment the music concluded, my story told. The applause. I’ve never felt so small. I’ve never felt so full. Both.

The conductor wants to perform the piece again in 2022, only he asked that I revise the story, something that will speak directly to the issues of our times. The mechanics of writing. A strange ritual, this staring at the screen. I know the story I want to write. I wonder if I am up to this task. And then, I remind myself that this question, “Am I up for it?,” is the wrong question. It leads me to believe that I am alone in this creation. Of course I am not up for it! But, together, with the musicians, the conductor, the audience… Someday, after the mechanics, the rehearsal, the revision, the final button of preparation, we will gather and together, we will walk into impossible places, ask questions too big to be answered. Together, we will join hands and share the experience of a story. The curtain will fall. The audience will clap. The performers will bow. We will remind ourselves, as this strange ritual completes itself, that we are nothing without each other.

[I love this sculpture. Kerri keeps it close by her piano. The Bow by Duke Kruse.]

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

Witness The Generosity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

You know the ritual is over when the sacrifice is made. Sometimes the sacrifice is literal, an offering of thanks to the greater powers. A life given for life received. It’s the elemental story cycle with gratitude as the final act.

Sometimes the sacrifice is unconscious and, therefore…unconscious. Unseen. Not felt.

In the weeks before the holiday, the delivery trucks were ubiquitous, zipping this way and that. The deliverers-of-packages worked overtime to ensure all good things arrived on time. We tracked the good people hauling our packages to remote destinations, a luxury of the modern world. As I stroll down my street this week I see, post-holiday, the garbage collectors are working overtime, mechanical arms groaning and methodical, clearing the mountain of debris, boxes, empty bottles (I contributed my share), wrapping paper and remnants of our ritual. Our offering of thanks to the greater powers leaves a mighty litter trail.

The day after Christmas, at the mouth of the lot where we park to hike our trail, the discarded trees were already stacking up. Kerri speculated that the people who enjoyed the trees must certainly be going on travels. Why else would they discard their trees so fast? “Or,” she speculated, “maybe they’ve had them up since the first of November. Maybe they are ready to move on.”

The sacrifice is too easy. It’s piled on the curb. It’s hauled away.

Despite how this reads, it is more meditation than criticism. This holiday season was one of my favorite precisely because we could take nothing for granted. 2020 was brutal for us as it was for many. With our patterns blown to bits, with our security nowhere to be found, our community fragmenting, with no easy choices, we were – and are – conscious of every single step. We are grateful for every moment of heat in the house, for every kindness that has come our way, for every small kindness we’ve been able to offer. We imbue our meals with a deep thankfulness that we did not a scant one year ago.

Why is it that gratitude is so easy when everything else is hard – and why is gratitude merely lip-service when everything is easy? It is, I suspect, why our congress can’t move to help a struggling populace; they have it too easy to identify with the people they represent. We are too easily taken to the curb, to readily swept away.

It has been my role in this lifetime to walk the margins and look inward at the mechanics of my community. To see. It’s the role of the artist to see the patterns, the shapes and colors of their culture and reflect them back, to make conscious what is too easily ignored. To bring the heart, the eye and the mind to the ugly as well as the beautiful.

By the backdoor of our house are bags we’re filling with crackers and peanut butter, socks and sweatshirts. The bags are for the army of people appearing on our streets with signs that read “Homeless” or “Hungry.” It’s not that I am a fan of hard times, I am not, but I’m grateful for what these times are evoking in me – in us. It’s waking us up, helping us reach to others rather than push them away. It’s moving us to see and wildly appreciate our simple abundance.

In the early days of this new year, with the glitter all but swept up, the champagne bottles hauled away, I am moved to tears at the acts of generosity I’m experiencing and also seeing pop up all around me. The holiday is over, the sacrifices made, but the generosity-of-spirit continues. It’s rising in hard times. It’s there. It’s everywhere, if you care to see it.

read Kerri’s blog post about DISCARDS

Create A Comfort Ritual [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Our rituals of comfort in the time of COVID are many and sweet. Coffee in bed as the boys, DogDog and BabyCat, snug tightly on either side of Kerri’s legs. At the other end of the day we sip wine at our “pandemic table” – purposefully placed in the sun room so we can watch the sunset, covered in candles, special rocks-from-our-travels, happy lights, and tiny pine saplings growing strong in small pots.

In between the coffee-in-bed-comfort-ritual and the wine-at-the-pandemic-table-ritual, we enjoy other comfort rituals meant to keep our spirits light. We write and read to each other. We visit our respective studios and sit in the silence. We let the dog in-and-out-and-in-and-out. We lace up our boots and walk a trail. We make meals together. At the end of every day, late at night, all tucked in, we watch documentaries of people through-hiking trails or climbing mountains.

Yesterday, a very difficult day, I appreciated how rooted we’ve become in our rituals of comfort. The intentional creation of ease and center amidst a whirling world of gunk.

The violence of the storm has washed us overboard more than once but we’ve been wise to create so many safety rings. Even submerged with my mouth full of water, I know I need not struggle or panic. I need only relax. I need only reach and comfort and safety will be there. We’ve made it so.

There is, in every moment, a hand reaching, a place calling, a walk impending, a dog wagging, a cat purring, that will restore me to center, refocus my eyes and quiet my mind.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNUGGED

Add A Stone [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

southport cairn copy

I am fond of a labyrinth tucked into the woods at The Whidbey Institute. I’ve spent many a sunrise and sunset walking the meditation path to its center and back again. After each trip into the labyrinth, I’d add a small stone to the cairn that stood adjacent to the entry point. A ritual to mark my passage. A location stone.

I hadn’t thought of the labyrinth for years.

Last week, on a stormy day, we took a long walk through our neighborhood and emerged on to the beach at Southport.  We were stopped in our tracks by what we found there. A field of cairns. Someone – or many someones – had created dozens of stacked stones. Each unique. Some playful. Some sorrowful giants. Markers of the way home? Funeral stones? Sculpture merely? The intention didn’t really matter. They brought us peace.

We approached silently just as I used to approach the labyrinth at Whidbey. We entered the field with a reverence that surprised me. We wandered through them, spent time with them. Some were massive, towering over us. Some very small, a few stones stacked at our feet.

Pebble and red brick trails ran like crazy lines connecting the cairns, a mixed up maze that begged us to follow, to make sense of the impossible. This labyrinth had no center. This meditation maze led nowhere specific, looping back, a dead end here, a path to the water, and over there, a line that stopped at a heart made of rock, a spiral. A wish. A message. An inspiration.

I could imagine no better monument to this pandemic. A shattered labyrinth. Burial monuments. A field of markers standing ready for the day when we might find our way out. A quiet reverent place where we are called to add a stone, a simple gesture to remember our passage through.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CAIRNS

 

 

cairns website box copy

 

 

Observe The Rituals [on Flawed Wednesday]

washed fruit copy

Like you, we are practicing new rituals that two months ago would have seemed like so much science fiction. We wash and disinfect all the food we buy. Dry goods stay in food-quarantine for 48 hours before they are allowed in the house. The mail is disinfected and banished to in a safe spot for two days before we open it.  Rituals of safeguarding. Rituals of necessity.

All are rituals of distance.

Rituals of cooperation. We walk everyday. We have always walked everyday but in these days we cross to the other side of the street if someone is coming our way. Or they cross to the other side. At first, this who-will-cross-first ritual was negotiated, awkward. Uncomfortable. In just a few short weeks it has become conventional, intuitive. In the time before the pandemic, it would have been a statement of rejection to avoid contact. Now, it is a statement of participation. We cannot safely visit our neighbors yet we daily street waltz with strangers. The world is upside-down.

Rituals of obfuscation. I read this quote this morning: The whole concern of an intelligent person is to see the facts and understand the problem – which is not to think in terms of succeeding or failing [Krishnamurti, Think On These Things]. In these days of pandemic, the President holds a jaw-dropping daily ritual to whip-up a counter-narrative to the facts of his inept leadership, to shut down his experts, to shout down or otherwise maul questions that do not support his pathological lie.  It makes for great TV ratings but lousy governance. And, a substantial number of people are so distracted by the clown that they do not grasp the reality of the fire raging outside of the circus tent.

Rituals of revelation. Marie Antoinette famously said of her starving citizens, “Let them eat cake!” I told Kerri that each week of this pandemic has brought me an understanding beyond the abstract of a specific episode in history. Today, the courts in our state, the Supreme Court of the nation and the Republican party of Wisconsin are essentially blocking the citizens’ capacity to safely vote. They are either gobsmackingly ignorant or astonishingly cruel. The choice: gather and vote in the midst of pandemic or vote not at all.  So few of those trusted with representing the will of the people of this nation are actually concerned with the will or the safety of the people.  It’s a win/lose game played by the privileged few in which the people are disposable. Let them eat cake. I now understand in my gut the moral outrage of the starving citizens of 18th century France.

We wash our fruit. We cross the road when others approach. We try and get out everyday, seeking places that  others have not yet found. We watch the numbers of deaths climb exponentially everyday. We shake our heads in disbelief at our bloviating leader. We call our friends. We now routinely say, “Webex” and “Facetime” and “Google hangout” when we used to say  “get together.” New rituals born of distance. New rituals born of separation in an era of gaping divides. Surely, one day, the pendulum will swing back the other way, the circus will pack up and the clown will go down the road. We will come out of our houses, greet our neighbors and remember what it was like to bridge divides and begin embracing the rituals shared on common ground.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WASHING FRUIT

 

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