Know The Poem [on KS Friday]

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ~Rainier Maria Rilke

“First robin!” she said.

“What?”

“First robin. That means spring is here!” she looked at me with “duh” eyes. I was new to Wisconsin so the rituals were not yet known to me. I did not yet understand that in this strange land a water cooler is called a “bubbler” and that cheese curds are sacred food. Before the week was out, I’d heard it three times from strangers. “First robin!”

Years ago, during my first winter in Seattle, after months of gray, the sun came out for an hour and all the people working downtown poured out of the tall buildings and stood facing the sun. They moaned with satisfaction. “What’s this!” I exclaimed. Weird behavior. The next year, after months of dreary gray, the moment the sun peeked from behind the drab curtain, I ran out of my apartment to revel in the return. Leaning against a brick wall, eyes closed, feeling the warmth on my face and the heat reaching my bones, I knew this was my passage to becoming a “local”. I moaned with satisfaction.

Poetry is visceral. It has it roots in the moans of sun drinkers and robin-seers. The green pushing up from dark soil. The smell of spring or the first hint of warmth on the winter wind. Words cannot capture feelings but isn’t it glorious that we try?

We were walking the neighborhood on a cold afternoon. She squeezed my hand and pointed. “First robin,” I said and she smiled. “Spring.”

Now, doesn’t “First robin. Spring!” sound like a grand start to a poem of renewal? Ahhhhhh, yes. A hint of warmth on the wind, harbinger of green shoots reaching. Someday soon, sun will call me out of hiding and color my pale face.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FIRST ROBIN

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

baby steps/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Ready The Wings [on KS Friday]

“Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow/Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow” ~ Cat Stevens, Moonshadow

An appreciation of life, no matter what comes. It is the meaning of this lyric, this song – or so I’ve read. It seems obvious. I’m having many, many conversations about loss these days. This has been an era of loss and, so the cliche’ goes, with loss new opportunity arrives. It’s true though one must move through the loss in order to arrive at the new. On the way, there is weeping and fear and anger and disorientation. Chrysalis. The trick, we are told, is about focus placement. One day we shift our eyes and see what we have instead of what we no longer possess. We move toward rather than look back.

Kerri has, for years, surrounded herself with symbols of peace. They are on our walls, on rings that she wears, on chains draped on the corner of our bathroom mirror. She draws them in the sand on the trail. A prayer for the world she desires to create. Inside and out. Since she fell, my solo-piano-playing wife has lost more than mobility in her wrists. Strange stuff is happening. Fingers that sometimes refuse to respond. Pain that shoots, seemingly from nowhere. After a photograph – a wish for the world, a peace sign in shadow – she said, “Come look at this. Look how much my finger is bending!” Strange stuff.

What is most remarkable about this shadow is, a year ago, it would have been cause for frustration. A reminder of loss. Full of fear. Today, it was a curiosity. She looks back, she looks forward. Each day she writes lyrics and poetry and wisdoms. She hums the music running through her mind and heart and, sometimes, she dances. Standing at the crossroads of what was and what is to become. Peace replaces pain. All in good time. Good time. Wings readying to unfurl.

[peace. this is one of my favorite pieces of Kerri’s]

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about PEACE

peace/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Feed It [on KS Friday]

“The devaluation of music and what it’s now deemed to be worth is laughable to me. My single costs 99 cents. That’s what a single cost in 1960. On my phone, I can get an app for 99 cents that makes fart noises – the same price as the thing I create and speak to the world with. Some would say that the fart app is more important. It’s an awkward time. Creative brains are being sorely mistreated.” ~ Vince Gill

I am the first in line to tell you that everyone has a creative mind. Everyone. That river of ridiculousness running between your ears is nothing other than creativity-run-amok. What else? Telling yourself that you are not creative is, in itself, a creative act. Seeds planted early in life grow into mighty obstructions. Creative wastelands are created. If you want to hear a terrific appeal to educators to nurture rather than stifle the creative mind, listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted Talk. It’s appropriately titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

I’ve listened to numerous school boards tell me how much they truly value the arts – until it’s time to pay for it. Sadly, it’s not a question of whether or not they value the arts; it’s that the arts, the creative minds, do not fit any of the standards of valuation against which all things are measured. They do not know how to value the creative minds that they steward. Arts organizations and artists, mostly, are not money makers. Creative minds, creative acts, do not fit in the boxes and are not measurable on standardized tests. Thinking outside of boxes is, after all, the point of a creative mind. Metrics and goals stop a creative mind and heart in its tracks. The cruelest thing you can ask any artist to do is write a grant.

And yet, an artist has to make a living. Yaki asked me if I had to choose between making a living and making my art, which would I choose? I answered, “Art, of course,” but that it was really a question of Maslow’s hierarchy: it’s hard to make art when you are not surviving. What I didn’t say is that his question perfectly captured the reason schools kill creativity and creative brains are sorely mistreated: it is assumed one must choose between. Making a living and thriving creativity are understood as oppositional.

How many parents have tried to dissuade their children from following their passion for the arts? How many times have I heard Kerri say of the stacks of music on her piano waiting to be recorded, “What’s the use?” How many times have I sat in my basement studio looking at my stacks and rolls of paintings and wondered, “Why bother?” We do it to ourselves, too.

And then, the phony metric falls and we breathe, pick up our brushes and sit at our keyboards. There is a river of riches that runs deeper than money. It is, after all, a creative act to kill a passion. It’s also a creative act to feed and nurture an artistic soul. Both. It’s what the school board doesn’t understand: the choice is not between making a living or living as an artist, the choice is between feeding inspiration, expanding a creative mind, or smothering it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CREATIVE MINDS

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

watershed/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Note The Beautiful [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

There is a genius in simplicity.

Lately, one of the conversations swirling around me, a conversation I very much appreciate, is about beauty. What is a beautiful building? What makes a software beautiful? Certainly, beauty is subjective though I suspect a sunrise over the ocean is beautiful to all. A baby’s smile. A first kiss.

We are surrounded by noisy advertisements telling us what is (and what is not) beautiful. By this standard, most of us fall into the not-beautiful category. Though, deep down, we know, that the real test of beauty is not in what is concealed but in what is revealed. A warm heart is more potent than skin creme or make-up.

My niece had a birthday yesterday. She is on this earth to help people. She is creating a beautiful life. She probably doesn’t know it – and, that’s a mark of true beauty – it doesn’t need to call attention to itself.

Every collaboration I’ve had with MM was beautiful. We had fun. We explored ideas. We have nothing but respect for each other. We’ve made each other better people, better artists. When I revisit any one of the many projects we created together, I smile and feel rivers of gratitude and pride. A memory that inspires a smile is the very definition of beauty. It brings the goodness of the past into the present moment. Light travels.

20 is a master of the beautiful because he knows the power of simplicity. A heart shape torn from a piece of paper – acknowledging grief that goes beyond words. A construction paper bow. He’s not forgotten the lessons he learned in kindergarten. Laughter, he knows, is the most beautiful gift of all and we receive it from him weekly.

What makes a design beautiful? Aspen leaves shimmering in fall. I’ve stood in front of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, John Singer Sargent…and cried. They were so beautiful. I’ve held Kerri’s hand, walking on a trail, and wanted the moment to never end. Simple.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOW

Catch The Glimmer [on KS Friday]

Barney, the piano that lives in our backyard, nearly had a chandelier suspended above his lid. We thought it would be funny to look out back at night and see Barney all-gussied-up.

We’re not really chandelier people but you’d be amazed at how many pieces of chandelier, separate crystal ornaments, live around our house. It’s as if a chandelier came to visit, had an unfortunate explosion, and the falling pieces conveniently landed near windows or light sources so they might catch and reflect the light. We like the glimmer yet are more subtle than a chandelier.

We finally decided on this year’s christmas tree. In our time together we’ve only had one traditional-looking-tree. Craig forced it on us. He was driving the day we went to the farm to cut a tree and threatened to leave us in the snow if we brought home our first choice. It was…unique. He had his heart set on a scotch pine so we brought it home and named it Satan. That tree had seriously sharp needles and a very bad attitude. On the 26th of December we lassoed Satan, drug him out of the house and down the street, through the snow, to the tree drop-off spot. For months afterward, his needles would jump out of hiding and stick our toes.

This year, our tree is large branch whacked from the aging maple tree by the heavy machinery that dug the moat in our front yard. Kerri saved it from the mulcher. I’m not sure how we got it in the house but we did. DogDog hid in the bedroom during the transition. His courage failed him, as it does when we vacuum or drop a cooking pot, when he saw the monster-branch entering through the front door.

We love our tree. It is, like us, simple and proud in its history. It carries stories. Long ago our children sat on this branch. It shaded Kerri and me the weekend we met and laughed tossing a frisbee in the street. It waved the evening we danced in the front yard. Now, it stands in the house, near the window, wearing a strand of white lights and holding a single ornament. A tin star.

We think it looks happy to be here. We’re certainly happy that it’s here. A different kind of tree. A glimmer, reflecting the many, many years of memories, the symbol of our year of water, and destruction transformed into beauty. What, for us, in this year and this season, could be more appropriate?

read Kerri’s blog post about GLIMMER

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

the lights/the lights: a christmas album © 1996 kerri sherwood

Dump The Mystic [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Years ago a woman broke up with me because, “Dating a mystic was too hard.” What she really meant but-was-too-polite-to-say was that I was broke and artistic and the stuff that came out of my mouth was not normal. I’m just not good at cocktail parties where office politics and investments drive the dialogue. I spend my time wondering why I – and now we – were invited. That, and I can’t help but ask questions that go beneath the blather-layer. I am an artist with a weak-inner-editor. I want to know what makes people tick. You’d be amazed – or not – at how frightened people become when asked what passions lurk behind their portfolio. It’s a conversation stopper every time.

It was a great relief in my life the day I met Kerri. We were at O’Hare airport. I locked fingers with this woman I’d never met and, together, we skipped out of the airport. Our hearts were singing so skipping seemed natural and appropriate. Apparently adults are not supposed to skip through airports. People took cover. They scowled and stared. She didn’t care either. We laughed. We skipped.

It’s probably among the reasons we don’t have a portfolio (well, not the financial type). But, at the end of my days, when weighing my choices, I’ll be most grateful that I skipped. We skipped. And laughed. And asked real questions at polite parties. And climbed through the window onto the roof to have a glass of wine – because, for us, that is normal. I will also be grateful for learning – after a lifetime of introspection – to simply give voice to the real stuff BECAUSE it always comes to my mind.

read Kerri’s blog post about NOT NORMAL

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Become Simple Enough [on KS Friday]

I took a photo of Kerri taking this photo. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than watching an artist at work. Her focus was singular. Pure. I saw her “see” this possibility. She turned, left the reality that the rest of us occupied, and approached the window as if it was an animal in the wild. Carefully, quietly. Reverently.

Her photo immediately brought to mind Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, his temple of light. The vibrant squares of color. Someday we will make a pilgrimage to the Blanton Museum to stand in Austin and, in that moment, I will remember Kerri’s window.

In a world of just-get-to-the-point, time-is-money, and bottom-lines, and the centuries-old-delusion that we are rational beings and the analytical is supreme, an artistic heart and mind is an outlier. We use too many words. We are not reserved in our gesticulation. We express what words cannot reach because we see what lives beyond words. And, developing eyes-that-see takes time. Ellsworth Kelly designed his Austin in his last years. It takes years and years to become simple enough to see the sacred.

Recently we were told, not for the first time, “So many people want what you have but they don’t want to pay for it.” Kerri and I looked at each other. Her great pet-peeve, the pinnacle of all pet-peeves, is how often she’s been asked to play, not for money, but for exposure. She’s considered by Yamaha, the maker of fine pianos, to be one of their select artists, a modern master. Yet, all of her life, with frightening regularity, she’s heard, “It will be good for you!” the face smiles, “It might lead to something.” Yes. It does lead to something: more people wanting what you have but not willing to pay for it. Point in any direction to anyone who’s achieved the pinnacle of their career, and imagine asking them to perform surgery or keep the books or go to trial or build the house for exposure. Can you imagine? She – we – have heard it throughout our lives.

And, when she turned and saw the window, her sudden awareness shocked the people in the gallery into silence. Everyone turned, made space, and watched. She had no idea that she was on stage. Pure. And, without exception, everyone in that room wished they could see what she was seeing. They wished they could see how she was seeing. Sacred. It takes a lifetime. Austin. The window. Priceless.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WINDOW

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

Relax And Prime [on KS Friday]

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon yesterday drawing cartoons. I had to get away from the computer screen. I’ve learned – relearned – that staring into the screen too long makes me myopic and unimaginative. I’m not certain if this is true for everyone but I am kinesthetic. There’s a necessary balance. Sitting still and staring at a screen without the opposite focus are creative-killers for me. I do my best thinking when I move around, when I stop trying to solve or deconstruct. I’m fortunate that drawing with a #2 pencil at an old-fashioned light table is part of my job.

Greg lives his life in front of a screen – multiple screens – and, to get away, he dives. His underwater photography is gorgeous. In a meeting a few days ago, he said that diving clears his mind. His greatest insights come when he’s underwater or sitting on the beach after a dive. There’s good science behind his insight. Relaxation triggers dopamine: the more dopamine, the more creative. Comfort and relaxation prime the creative pump. Stress and tension unplug the pump.

The best thing to do when trying to squeeze out a revelation is to walk away. Take a drive. Take a shower. Stop thinking so hard. Daydreaming is very productive. I’ve learned that anger and frustration rarely – if ever – lead to creative insight and generally produce the opposite of what’s desired. Anger (like too much time in front of a computer screen to me) is myopic. It narrows. It squeezes off the dopamine. It blinds the mind and heart to possibility.

Kent Nerburn wrote that, “For those of us in the arts, enthusiasm is never outlived. The sun is always rising before us, and our wonder at the world, the true source for all meaningful art, only grows stronger as life slows from passage to moments…” There’s always a next painting to paint. Another song to write. A photograph to take. It’s one of the reasons I love taking walks with Kerri: we rarely get very far before she gasps, and stops to take a photograph of some small miracle. And, while she’s collecting images of small miracles, I look to the sky and let my mind wander, a walking meditation, a creative pump primer.

And, almost always, somewhere on the trail, the dot that refused to connect while I was too-long staring at the screen, takes me by the hand and says, “It’s so simple. Do you see?”

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERGREEN

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

Say ‘Hello’ To Humble [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Suffering indignity is one of the surprises of aging. For every forty-something out there who feels on top of the world, for every thirty-something who feels invincible, for every twenty-something who feels immortal, I recommend that you enjoy it while it lasts. It does not last. Some day in your too-soon-to-come-future, you, too, will plan your travels according to the availability of bathrooms. Even a trip to the store will necessitate careful consideration. Monitoring fluid intake relative to the plan for the day will become a high priority – so much so that you will normalize it. “Is that all the coffee you’re having?” Kerri asks.

“We’re going to Chicago later,” I reply.

“Oh, right,” she says, putting down her cup.

You’ll arrive at your new-normal because, along the way, you’ll have surprise panic moments. There’s nothing more humbling than wetting yourself in public. There are few greater stress inducers than, “I gotta go now!” with no place to go.

And, the greatest indignity of all: at the time of your life that you need to run the fastest, your joints will creak and your muscles hesitate. Your sprint into the woods will look to others like…

Humble, humble, humble.

read Kerri’s blog post about KNOCKING ON THE NEIGHBORS DOOR

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Learn Where To Listen [on KS Friday]

“Her mother told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted to be so she grew up to be the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, the wolf leading wolves.” ~ Nikita Gill

A long time ago I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a young fox who had extraordinary abilities. Her talents made her an outlier in the pack, something strange, so they hammered her into compliance. She buried her gifts. The story is, of course, how she came to embrace her gifts despite the court of fox-public opinion.

Lao Tzu wrote, “Care about what other people think of you and you will always be their prisoner.” It is a lesson that every artist must learn. Do your work. YOUR work. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Some will walk by without a second glance. You can never determine what another person sees or thinks so waste no energy in that fruitless cause. Do your work.

It’s a tough lesson, a mammoth paradox, since we are, after all, a pack animal, a social being. An artist has no reason to work if there is no audience or community to receive the work. Traditionally, artists live on the edge of the community so they can both see in and express what they see but also serve as a channel to what lies beyond the spiritual perimeter. The tightrope walk is about belonging while marginalized enough to remain clear-sighted. The artist must step back from the painting in order to see it.

I’m enjoying a slow read through Kent Nerburn‘s book, Dancing With The Gods: Reflections On Life And Art. Master Miller recommended it and I’m finding the simple wisdom of an artist-elder a refreshing daily meditation. Were I to write a sequel to my long-ago-children’s-book, it would be about this: coming back to your gift is not a one-and-done affair. It is a cycle. We embrace it and run from it and embrace it and lose it and find it and smother it and resurrect it and step back and look at it. Again and again. To become the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, is not an achievement, an arrival platform, it is a relationship. Yes, with the community, but it is mostly a walk with your self and what lies beyond that spiritual perimeter. It is ongoing. Never static. Somedays you are the strongest of the strong. And, on other days, you are empty and weak. Full spectrum palette. The only way to know and reflect all of the colors of life is to experience them firsthand. And, so, it is imperative to learn where to listen, where to invest your tender care.

The gift grows as more colors enter the paint box.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HER MOTHER TOLD HER

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