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

 

? website box copy

 

Give It To The Fire [on Two Artists Tuesday]

tiki flame copy

I filled the torches with fuel on the first day that we arrived on island. The torches leaned unused against the deck all summer. We thought of lighting them a few times but there was too much wind so we decided against it.

Fire is transformational. It is used in many rituals. Our ritual was at first unintentional.  On our last night on island we planted the torches in the grass between the littlehouse and the water’s edge. We lit them as the sun went down. We wanted to burn off the fuel. There was little or no breeze so it was safe to let them burn. It was only after the sun was down, as we sat talking about our time on island, watching the line of flame, that we realized what we were doing. Letting go of the negative experiences. Celebrating the positives. Making space for the new. Releasing through fire.

The water lapped the shore. The breeze made the flames dance and the leaves rustle. We sat in the elements and re-storied our time on island. We made sense of things. In the final telling we appreciated all that had transpired.

The torches burned through the night. We awoke the next morning as the final tiny flames flickered and went out. The fuel was burned away. The fury was burned away, too. A new day, a route for new experiences, was open and waiting.

 

read Kerri’s post about THE FLAME

 

lastlittlehousefeet website box copy

 

photo: flame through the night ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

Say It Over And Over and Over…[on DR Thursday]

IMG_1824 copy

While Kerri plays the service, I often sit in the choir loft and scribble images on the back of old bulletins. On the left side of this sketch (not visible in the crop) is a running stream of words, ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease…

I’ve been playing with words as images a lot in the past few years. The words become pattern, the repetition renders the symbols meaningless-as-language but potent-as-design. I love pattern for this very reason. Too much repetition dulls the eyes and mind and in the dulling, something new emerges. It is how a good ritual works: dance fervently the pattern until you drop. Exhaustion opens the door to let in the spirit.

Pray hard enough and often enough and the words become meaningless. It is exactly at the point of meaninglessness, that perception shifts and something new rushes in. Saul-the-Tai-Chi-master would say it this way: wrestle with the obstacle long enough and you will eventually give up. In giving up, in your defeat, you just might glance beyond the obstacle and, at last, see the field of possibility.

 

InstrumentofPeace copy

read Kerri’s blog post about SCRIBBLES

 

drc website header copy

 

blackwalnut website box copy

 

the sketch is a sketch and not useful and may be pirated and spread widely all over the world so feel free to insert it into your recipes or instagram or populate the cover of your technology with it or send it to china without guilt.

 

instrument of peace ©️ 2015 david robinson

Burn [on Two Artists Tuesday]

first fire copy

The first fire. It came like a ceremony. We didn’t intend it to mark the passage, the end of the season. But, it did. The lake was angry. The air was cold and wet. Fall had arrived. We could smell it in the air. There was nothing to be done but gather kindling and bring in some wood.

We sat in front of the fire. It dried the wet air. We talked about the events of the summer. We lived a lot of life during our three months on island. We counted the contention, the fire in the organization, by the number of board presidents we’d served: 3 in less than 3 months. It must be a record! It was certainly a sign of the heat transforming the organization. So much ash.

The next night we closed the theatre, the final show was in the books. We locked the doors and stood under the stars and wondered what had happened. The fire burned us, too. We were transformed but will be the last to know how. We just knew that we were different now.

The next morning we began packing the truck for our move off island. We were quiet most of the day, moving. Carrying boxes loaded with the stuff of life. “Next time we will bring less,” Kerri said. “We will know what to expect.”

“Maybe,” I said. She smiled.

We lit another fire on our final night. We watched it burn. The ceremony was complete. This fire was for warmth. Comfort. We sipped wine. No more words necessary. No need to debrief or assign meaning to events. No need to ponder or make sense of things. Ash.

The lake was still angry. The air was still wet. With morning would come the next step, the first step.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the FIRST FIRE

 

bootsbythestage website box copy

 

 

Attend To The Ritual [on Two Artists Tuesday]

jelly jars & sunset copy

If you knew us, if you came to our house for some wine, chances are we’d serve it to you in a jelly jar. Drinking wine from a jelly jar is more than a simple quirk. For us, it is a ritual, a touch back to our beginnings. It does for us what rituals are supposed to do: it reminds us of what is important. It roots us into our deep story.

And so, it was important that on our first night on island, our first night in our little house, we poured special wine into two jelly jars, went to the water’s edge, and toasted this new chapter of our lives that, perfectly enough, began at the end of a day. And, as we sipped our wine and watched the sunset, we reminisced, we mused about the winding path that brought us to this house on this island at this moment in time to do this work.

With our jelly jars empty and the sun beneath the horizon, we walked back to the little house, deeply rooted into the story of ‘what has been’ and looking forward to a new day and the story of ‘what is yet to be.’

 

read Kerri’s blog post about JELLY JARS

 

sunrisewebsite copy

Create A Ritual [on Two Artists Tuesday]

flip flop parking copy

The deceased horseshoe crab was the perfect marker. It was the place we could leave behind our flip flops and venture onto the sand. And, like all actions that become repetitive, the horseshoe crab parking lot became one of our rituals.

It became assumed. Known. We leave our flip flops at the horseshoe crab. To the horseshoe crab we will return. There is comfort in knowing the leaping point. There is even more comfort in knowing the landing place. Home is just beyond.

Our ritual began like many rituals began – out of necessity.  From the house to the dunes and the beach beyond, it was necessary to cross the land of sand spurs. “You have to step with intention,” Kirsten instructed us. “Otherwise you get stabbed.” And, so, we put on our cheap flip flops and stepped with intention all the way to the dunes. The horseshoe crab marked the safe zone. To park our flip flops meant we were out of danger. It meant the armor required to cross back over to the house was waiting for us when we needed it. After several crossings and returns, the horseshoe crab became a location ritual. And then, the crab grew into a symbol.

Once, late at night, we stayed out too long and the houses in the distance blended into shapes without distinction. For a time we were lost. The only way we found our place, located our path, knew home was just over there, was finding the sentinel crab standing guard over our footwear.

It all sounds silly, doesn’t it? Consider how carefully we protect our holiday rituals, our morning rituals, our rituals of identity (what’s in your closet? Why do you wear your hair that way and not this way?). How vigorously we defend our rituals of location (‘This is where I belong!’). Our known paths. The repetitions that give us comfort. The expectations and the stories we tell. The beliefs we embrace despite all the evidence to the contrary. You are not broken. Nothing needs to be fixed. We, humans, create rituals. And then embrace them as story.

The horseshoe crab, for us, will forever mark the leaping place. It will, forever, be a symbol that home, that safety, is just beyond the dune.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FLIP FLOP PARKING LOT

 

HH waves feet website box copy