Flip It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Standing on the trail, the cold breeze stinging my face, I stared at the trees in silhouette. I was overcome with the illusion that I was observing the trees upside-down. I was seeing their tangled root system, reaching. My illusion made me dizzy. What’s top is bottom. What’s bottom is top.

I’ve been pondering things like “leadership” and “power”. My belief of these concepts is the reverse of most peoples. I think leadership is a team sport and that power is created with others, not wielded over them. Roots to the sky.

Before the software start-up went away I pondered things like the abundance of content with no relevant context. Information without a home. Information sans application. Information run amok. It requires people to make-up context for the rootless material crossing their screens. In contemporary discourse, we call this made-up context “bubbles.” It’s an apt term since popping is the destiny of every bubble. No substance. The Villages.

Thank goodness for the cold wind. It snapped me out of my flip-flop illusion. The silhouette was righted. I remembered the shadow puppets in Bali. What we see is projection on a screen. Silhouettes. The real stuff, ripe with dimension and color, the massive system of roots and vibrant moving energy, stars and flow, creating forms and taking them down, happens whether we see it fully or not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SILHOUETTES

Reconnect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“We are healing our souls by reconnecting to our ancestors.” Nainoa Thompson (quote from The Wayfinders by Wade Davis)

There is a house I sometimes visit in dreams. It is a mountain house and, in the dream, it belongs to my Grandma Sue. I’m always comforted when I go there.

I have some of Casey’s tools and some of Bob’s. I think of them every time I use the wrench or the screwdriver. Both were good mechanics, handy, so I imagine their tools imbue me with some of their wisdom when I attempt to fix what’s broken around the house.

I gingerly page through the handmade book where DeMarcus made his notes about color. The pencil marks are fading but his enthusiasm reaches from the page and rejuvenates me. Inspires me.

A few days ago I happened upon my Lost Boy session recordings with Tom. His bass voice reached through my computer, telling me a story I now know so well. It warmed me.

In my studio, on top of DeMarcus’ wooden paint box, is a nutcracker that Grandpa Chan kept by his pool table. It’s the only thing I wanted when he passed. Something he touched. I hold it sometimes when I stare at works-in-progress. I feel him there.

I wear a chain around my left wrist. Kerri wears one, too. It is pull chain. The current version is a replacement of the original that we took from Pa’s workbench. I never met him but I feel connected to him. Kerri tells me stories of her dad. “How do you like them apples?” One of his phrases.

I imagine he and my dad are on the other side of the veil drinking scotch together. That drink warms me, too.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THEM APPLES

Live It [on DR Thursday]

Paths cross. Spirits fed. Who knows when we will sit again at the same table, laugh and tell stories of our youthful foibles?

There is no better person on earth than Dwight. Every day he practices his belief and has, therefore, made his belief a practice – rather than an achievement or a trophy or a trumpet or a platform. Help others as you, yourself, have been helped. Be present for others as others have been present for you. Simple. Life as a meditation. How rare! He lives what he espouses.

We drove into Chicago to meet him for dinner. He was passing through. A conference. An opportunity to share a little bit of time. Our last face-to-face conversation was in 2018. As he said, “We easily picked up right where we left off.” We always have. We always will. That makes me a fortunate man.

Both our paths through life have known hot fire. Dwight is not a saint or an untouchable. Like me, he knows the chaos and the pain of a broken road. The loss of illusion. The long walk back to center. The discovery of self, not where you thought you’d find it. He is solid because he’s been forged. He’s sound because he has roots from experience. He’s present and available because he no longer requires armor.

Our conversation, among other things, was how to live well this chapter of life. We have less years in front of us than behind. How do we live them well and with intention? I had no clear answer but I did have a north star example: the man sitting across the table with laughter in his eyes.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DINNER

canopy © 2007 david robinson

Walk With Shadows [on Two Artists Tuesday]

These are not the pine forests of Colorado. The trails in North Carolina are a crazy cross-hatch of roots and shadows. Rhododendron explosion and cedar. Kudzu. “This is a Hansel and Gretel forest,” Kerri whispers.

“Luckily for us,” I reply, “we are too old to taste good. No witch would have us.” She punches my arm. I laugh, but not too loud.

This forest is different than our ideal. That is why we come here. It opens us. It challenges our “should-be.” New experiences and unknown places dissolve expectations and elevate awareness of “what is.” It shakes the stone fortress of imagined security. Each step is alive and unexpected.

Renewal. It’s a special branch of the slow-moving-river called curiosity.

After many miles we arrive back at the car. We emerge from the Grimm Brother’s forest and step onto the comfort of paved parking lot. Exhausted, we are thrilled with our hike. The forest sprites retreat back into the dark recesses of our minds while the new shapes and smells and colors and sounds energize our spirits.

“We did it!” She is elated. Then, “Do you think that crashing sound was a bear?” she asks.

“Could be,” I lie, certain that we were followed – and rejected – by a hungry Ogre. Too boney. There are, after all, certain benefits to aging.

read Kerri’s blogpost about ROOTS AND SHADOWS

Go Spelunking [on KS Friday]

Arnie is among my team of wise-eyes. In response to a recent post, he wrote that he was relieved that I was stepping back into the light. “Darkness,” he wrote, “has never been the place from which I observed you to start.”

I am also relieved to be stepping back into the light. And, I am most grateful for my foray into darkness. It was necessary. It was useful. “The anger burned off a resistant layer of the onion.” I wrote in reply. “It burned away many of the resentments I was carrying, opened a channel to the voice I was withholding. Nature is not balanced in a world that makes room for light alone.” I was out of balance and needed to walk into that dark cave. Again. There is great power to be found at the dark center of the earth. After defeating the monster Grendel, Beowulf had to go into the dark forest and dive into the dark bottomless swamp to confront a more dark and terrifying monster, Grendel’s mother. He emerged victorious and forever changed.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

As the night the day. The day the night. Darkness is necessary to perceive the light. It is not possible to thy self be true without a good grasp of the whole truth, including the bits we ignore and deny. I’m only now understanding that this dance in the dark has been central to my lessons and my non-stop-pondering these many months. It is neigh-on-impossible to be true to yourself, to be whole, without embracing the full spectrum of your self. Without both sides of the moon. Self love, it seems, requires a love of ALL parts of your self. Dark and light. There’s plenty of room at the table.

Nature, your nature, is not corrupt or bad. It is nature. There is no judgment in nature, just interrelationship. Cycles and dances. Seasons of growth and rejuvenation. Birth and death. Rather than applying a scalpel it is more useful to go spelunking.

There is no denying we are living through a very dark time. It is the understatement of this young century to suggest that we are finding – again – a host of monsters in our very dark cave. We can, as we have in the past, run from the truth that we find, or, we can at long last pull up a chair, sit with our monsters, and have a chat. Monsters tend to transform when given some time and attention. When light is brought into darkness and darkness is led into light.

It is symbolically perfect and appropriate – deeply human – that the darkest night of the year is the time when many traditions celebrate the return of the light. It is natural, this progression into darkness. It is natural, this journey into light. Roots gather energy during the cold dark months. We rest, knowing that, with the return of the light, there will be much work to do. New crops to plant. New thoughts to harvest and share.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE SETTING THE STAGE

find all three of Kerri’s HOLIDAY ALBUMS on iTunes.

Fill In The Blanks [on KS Friday]

Richard Stone from The StoryWork Institute often begins his workshops with this prompt: I come from a people who_______________, and from them I learned_________________. It’s a fast-track statement, a mainline revelation to the place you come from.

I thought a lot about this prompt during our recent trip to Colorado and visit with my parents. I come from people who persevere.

I was moved to tears over and over again watching the deep well of calm, the kind patience my mother taps as she travels with my father through his dementia. She is more solid than she knows, more steady in her root than she has ever realized.

Her father had his leg kicked off by a horse. He fashioned his own prosthetic leg – it looked more hoof than foot. He fashioned new gas and brake pedals for his car, a matching pedal for his bike. He did not slow down. He did not invest in self-pity or the notion of a disability. His missing limb became a new ability, a reason to invent.

My mother’s mother was a study in joy-within-difficult-circumstances. She grew up in a gold mining camp. She was a tiny person with a titanic spirit and bottomless capacity to laugh. She once took a neighbor’s horse and hid it in her kitchen because she caught wind that it was due to be shipped off to the glue factory.

I come from a people who keep walking and laughing in the face of hardship. And from them I learned [and continue to learn] perseverance. I will, with a little more resolve, I hope, develop the patience and discover the kindness that both my parents, my rich lineage, reveals.

It’s where I’m from.

WHERE I’M FROM from the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post on WHERE I’M FROM

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Carry The Message [on Merely A Thought Monday]

*everyone is a messenger copy

Rick Stone, founder of the StoryWork Institute, began his workshops with this fill-in-the-blank prompt: I come from a people who___________, and from them I learned____________. Try it. You will be surprised by the characteristics that jump up, the things you don’t really think about that you hold dear or that you resist. The connectivity that, for better or worse, defines you. The seedling of the answer to “Who am I?”

Jean HoustonJean Houston called it the burning point: you are the living flame, the burning point, of an ancestral line. You carry those who came before you. You will live through those in your line who come after you. It is the greater story, “Where do I come from?” It is the greater story, “Where am I going?”

One day, I caught myself standing with my elbow bent, just as my father stands when he is thinking. It is the posture his mother took when she was deep in thought. I imagine it was how her father or grandmother stood. An entire line of elbow tension reaching back into dark history. My elbows connect me. Kerri said, “This DNA thing is real!”

With all the time, money, ego, and energy we spend in life trying to distinguish ourselves as individuals, as distinct, as separate, it is actually the opposite, it is our connective tissue that gives us definition. It is in and through our relationships – our stories – that we generate meaning. It is through our roots – our stories – that we understand who we are.

I come from a people who___________, and from them I learned_________. We are messengers, all.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MESSENGERS

 

boardwalk shadow feet website copy

Light The Promise [on Two Artists Tuesday]

luminaria box2 copy

 

I came into Kerri’s life in the same era that her children, all grown up, moved away to pursue their careers. Our third Christmas together was the first time that neither Kirsten or Craig would be home for the holiday. It was the first without her mother. It was an empty nest Christmas, a broken heart holiday, and unbearable for Kerri. Not knowing what to do with the infinite void, she told me that she wanted to start a new tradition. And, like all good new traditions, she reached deep into the recesses of her childhood and pulled one of her parent’s traditions into the present. We initiated a neighborhood Christmas Eve luminaria party.

After she plays the late service on Christmas Eve, we rush home, change clothes, and with aid of John and Michele, pull the fire pits and a few tables onto the driveway. We load the tables with snacks and wine, start a fire, and line the street with luminaria. Our neighbors and friends gather around the fire, drink grog, tell stories, laugh a lot, and sing a song or two. Last year was bitterly cold and still we stamped our feet and stoked up the fire until the wee hours.

This year will be our 4th annual luminaria party. It is my favorite part of the holiday because it reaches to the very root, to the ancient reason for the season’s celebration. A gathering under the stars, amidst the wood smoke and wine, together we bring an infusion of hope to bridge the infinite void, the aching hearts, with the promise of light’s return.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LUMINARIA PARTY

 

TangoMorsel copy

this one is sold but there are others available and on sale through December 20

 

chicago at christmas website box copy

 

Touch The Arc

A painting I did twenty years ago of my dad.

Years ago I started a portrait of my dad (we call him Columbus) emerging from – or returning to – a cornfield. At the time it seemed an odd painting, something more elemental than intellectual. Something I had to paint though I didn’t really know why. I thought I’d left portrait painting far behind. Columbus is from a very small town in Iowa so the necessity of the cornfield made some small sense. He yearned to live in the town of his birth and although life took him other places he maintained a deep heart-root to Monticello. For Columbus, Monticello, Iowa was and always will be home.

After laying it out, after applying the under painting, the portrait felt complete – or I felt complete. So, I stopped. I have carried it with me all of these years.

These days, dementia has its slippery tentacles around Columbus. He is a mighty combatant in this tug of war, a war that he cannot win, and feeling his strength waning, his single wish was to one last time visit Monticello. So, this past week, Kerri, my mother, and I – as Kerri likes to say – followed Columbus’ heart around Monticello.

His heart took him three places. The first was to the cemetery. It is the place he will finally rest with his brother, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends. He wanted to wander. We followed him as he touched stones and told stories – stories he told to us but for himself: a friend who died too young in a car crash, a kind scoutmaster and mentor, an old girlfriend, a high school pal who flew an airplane and their adventures landing in cornfields. We followed, listening, renewed to the deeper truth that the stories we tell of others, the stories of shared time and experiences, both comic and tragic, when combined, scribe the arc of our own lives. Columbus needed to go to the end place to scribe his arc, to touch the depth and arc of his experiences.

The second place was the house that his grandpa Charlie built. It was the place of his childhood, the place of his greatest freedom, the place where all his stories begin and, now I know, where they return. This house is the cornfield. It is, for Columbus, the font of family and the source of his ideals. It is the symbol of his pride. This small house, with no electricity or running water, no indoor plumbing, this house that was pieced together with found material, smacked together with a handsaw and a hammer, an evolution, this house is Columbus’ holy ground. It still stands, just barely. And although now a storage shed for someone, it holds riches beyond words or measure. Columbus needed to stand in the source of his belief.

Finally, we followed his heart to visit his aunt JoAnne. She is only two years his senior but his aunt never-the-less. She is the last living person to know him through the entire passage of his life. She is his connective tissue, the one capable of affirming that it all happened, that the house and the people in it were exactly as he remembers, that this life, although only a minute long, is bottomless in the love that they share. They are the burning point of family, the front line. When we left her, Columbus and JoAnne hugged and cried, saying to each other but not for a moment believing it, “I’ll see you again.”

Stories told at the end place. Stories told from the beginning place. Stories told that connect the places. Columbus counts himself a lucky man. He knows with absolute certainty the trinity of places that hold his life/story. Sitting on the porch he (once again) taught me that stories – lives – are like a river and the flow transcends a single life. He just taught me that the story, a good life, like the painting, is never really complete.