See Your Choices [on Merely A Thought Monday]

He began with silence. He looked them all over, one fox at a time, and his eyes looked deep into theirs. Lucy wanted to hide when his eyes came to her but instead she fell into his gaze. He seemed to be listening. Then, he made up his mind, and in a voice that was both powerful and quiet, he said, “Words are strong magic, misused they are tragic, but handled with care they bring insight and good cheer. So listen, dear friends, listen with care.” ~ Lucy & The Waterfox

“Choice” is a very powerful word. Perhaps one of the most powerful.

Lucy was a story I told many years ago at a conference of healthcare workers. Actually, it wasn’t the primary story; it was an addition. The organizers asked if I had a second story in my bag o’ tricks and I’d just written Lucy.

After the conference I illustrated and self-published it. It was the early days of self-publishing so the layout is wonky. I’ve never really liked how the book looks. I’d turn Kerri loose on it if we were bored and didn’t have other things to do. We’re not bored.

Lucy makes two choices in the story. The first is to hide her special talent. To conform. The second is to own her special talent. To take flight.

She achieves both choices through the intervention of others. The first choice was made with the help of social pressure; who doesn’t want to belong, to fit in! To conform. This choice nearly kills her. The second is made with the help of a storyteller, a role model. Who doesn’t want to fulfill their passion! Follow their bliss? This choice fills her with life.

I’d write a sequel but it’s already imbedded in the first book. What happens to Lucy when she chooses the left hand path? She becomes, as all artists do, the carrier of the story, the mythologist and mythology of the pack.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a choice. To hide your fire. Bend to pressure. To burn brightly. Follow an inner imperative. Yet they are choices, both.

“Lucy was a red fox who lived as other red foxes do, playing in the fields and forests. But Lucy had a secret. She could fly. Not a run-and-jump-to-this-rock kind of fly. No! She could fly like a bird…”

read Kerri’s blogpost about CHOICE

Lucy & The Waterfox © 2004 david robinson

Tell The Story [on KS Friday]

The last time I saw Emily she was showing her simple watercolors in a coffee shop in West Seattle. She sat at a table, her head wrapped in a scarf. Emily was not shy. She was wildly alive and would have had no problem revealing her bald head, a result of the treatment. She wore the scarf because she loved it.

At the time, I was telling stories. At conferences. At facilitations. With symphonies. Pulling people together through a story into a shared metaphor. I did a full stop in front of Emily’s piece, The Storyteller. I knew it was coming home with me. Artists love it when one of their creations speak-out-loud to you. I told Emily about my full stop and she confessed that she loved The Storyteller, too.

After I paid for the small painting, we talked about her treatment. We talked of her hope for remission. Recovery. She was upbeat. Laughter-full. As always. In recounting this memory, I remember that she had no health insurance. It was years before the ACA. We talked about her path through experimental treatments, the only route open to her. She was selling her paintings, everything she had, to try and defer the bill collectors.

I left the coffeehouse art gallery with a new treasure and filled with Emily’s bright spirit. How could she be so vibrant against such a monumental wave of adversity? You already know the next chapter of this tale. Emily died less than a month later.

The Storyteller has lived in my studio. It reminds me of many, many things but mostly of Emily’s lesson: I am not my circumstance. Life is vibrant. This little watercolor is among my greatest treasures.

Dan recently gave me this do-rag: Snap-on, Socket-to-Breast-Cancer. It came at the perfect time as my sister-in-law was entering treatment. I wore it for her on the day of her first treatment but I also wore it for Emily. I wore it for Beaky. I wore it for Beth. I wore it as a wish for a someday cure, for anyone who has or will have to sit at a table and hear a doctor say, ‘You have breast cancer.”

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Be a Storyteller and help pull people together.

This is a piece Kerri wrote and sang when she was working with oncologists raising awareness for Breast Cancer Research

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about BREAST CANCER AWARENESS

i am alive © 2005 kerri sherwood

Heed The Call [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“There must be more to life than having everything.” ~ Maurice Sendak

They are sent to bed without supper and sail to islands with monsters. On the island, they conquer their fear and return home to a hot supper.

They push through the wardrobe to discover magical worlds. Before returning home, they save the world.

They journey to where the sidewalk ends. They enter the 100 Aker Woods to find kindness and Pooh.

They are us. Telling our children tales of magical lands, adventure, and hope triumphant. They are us giving full reign to the imagination.

Peter lost his shadow and Wendy wakes. She helps Pan reattach it. Her gift of story garners an invitation to adventures in Never-Never-Land.

The call comes from the shadows. The pull of imagination lives in the image-shapes cast upon the wall.

I’ve heard countless people insist that they are not creative. I ask them if they’ve ever told their baby-child a story? I ask them, as a child, did they alert their parents to the scary monster scratching around the closet or hiding beneath the bed?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE WEST WALL

Beg A Good Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

She stopped, turned and went back to the truck. “What are you doing?” I asked. She pulled her camera from her purse and snapped a photo of the Sara Lee truck. She showed me the photo and slid her phone back into her purse.

“I thought this would make a good blog photo,” she said, adding, “If it wasn’t a marketing phrase it would beg a good question.”

How should goodness taste?

How should equality look?

How should community sound?

How should generosity smell?

How should love feel?

We experience the world through our senses. And then we make a story of what we sense. Senses first. Story second. It’s how the brain works. The language capacity, putting words to experience, is essentially a translation function. It does not lead, it follows. It’s why, for the most part, we choose the story we tell.

The word that strikes me the most on the bread truck photo is “should.” How should goodness taste?

How does goodness taste? To you?

How does equality look? To you?

For you, what’s the sound of thriving community?

To me, generosity smells like fresh baked bread and hot dark coffee. You?

And love? There are no words. But you know it when you feel it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GOODNESS

Protect The Heartwood [on DR Thursday]

Conk!

No, that is not cartoon-speak for being hit on the noggin. It’s a formal name, the body-shape of the shelf-fungi that grows on local trees. Not having grown up here, the first time I saw them, I thought they were aliens. Trees with tongues. A Little Shop of Horrors; Audrey II. Get too close and tree-Audrey would feed on me. Conk! Chomp! (burp).

Polypores. Now, there’s a word that rolls trippingly off the tongue – and is made more fun because polypores actually look like a tongue. Shelf-fungi (a polypore) is not a good thing if you are a tree. In fact, it has no interest in feeding on me but consumes the heartwood of its host.

Heartwood.

I’m not kidding when I admit that, in passing this shelf-fungi, I imagined the conks to be visible stories. Each conk represented a story of insecurity or fear. The stories that feed on our heartwood. What would we look like if our conk-stories where visible on our trunks?

If the rot-story was visible, what might we do to tell a self-tale intended to protect our heartwood and eliminate the conks? How might we help our children tell life stories of self-love, knowing they’d wear their conk-stories? How might we address our neighbors? What would we do to protect the heartwood of the forest from wearing rot-stories?

I think I’ll stop there. Conk!

read Kerri’s blogpost about SHELF FUNGI

shared fatherhood © 2018 david robinson

Go Roman [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Today we begin the Whole 30. The first time, we did it because Kerri’s system had run amok. The only way to find the culprit of her system’s craziness was to eliminate all the suspects, rebalance her system, and then slowly reintroduce foods. That’s the idea behind the Whole 30. It worked like magic.

This time, Kerri and her nieces are doing it together. They’ve made a pact. I am going along for the ride.

There’s a distinct difference between the days before our first experience and our run up to beginning today. Last time we were desperate. We needed to find something that would help her system. This time, we went full-Roman. We ate everything, even things we normally would not have thought to eat. We’ve made a full-on-food-assault on both our systems. “Since we can’t have wine for a month, I think we should have another glass,” I said…every day last week.

It’s human, isn’t it? To pretend that what you are about to do is nigh-on-impossible, so, the strategy to make it possible is to front-load the rewards. It’s the thought behind Lent. It’s the reason diets fail. It’s the story of “We deserve this…”

We created our own personal Mardi Gras.

I knew we’d given up all pretense the night Kerri looked at me and said, “When was the last time we had a Hostess cupcake?”

“We’ve never had a Hostess cupcake,” I said. “I used to eat them when I was a kid but you and I have never had one.”

“What!” I saw the wild cupcake intention in her eyes. It was late in the evening. “We have to have one!” she exclaimed jumping up. “Hurry! Ann’s is about to close!” Ann owns the local corner market. She carries cupcakes. And wine. And ice. And has a terrific deli. Kerri grabbed my arm. We ran-walked to Ann’s. Roman, Roman, Roman.

None of this would have happened without the looming Whole 30.

It’s not yet 8:00 in the morning, day one, and Kerri’s already asked me, “Do you remember the cupcake?”

Truth: I do. And my second thought? Cupcakes are better with red wine.

Human, human, human.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CUPCAKES

Open The Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Put on your swimmies for a dive into the esoteric.

It was hot last night so I lay awake thinking and that’s never a good thing for the people – like you – who pay attention to the random things I write or say. This is what I thought in the heat of the night: Saul always instructed me to look beyond my opponent and place my focus in the field of possibilities. “Look a hundred feet beyond your opponent,” he said.

It’s universally true that a mind needs something on which to focus. And, left untended, most minds will focus on complaints or problems. During my tilt-at-windmills-consulting phase I’d tease my clients with the notion that, rather than eliminate challenges, people create them. We need them. We call them hobbies. Or play. Or problems. After all, stories are driven by conflict and we are, at the base, storytelling animals. It’s worth noting that a great collaboration is not the absence of conflicting opinions but the capacity to use the heat of creative tension to find/discover a third way.

What does this have to do with Saul and the field of possibilities? A focus, to be useful, needs to be specific. What exactly does the field of possibilities look like?

The reason our untended minds sort to the negative is that the negative is usually concrete, an easy fixation. Fear is a clear picture – even when imaginary. Obstacles are easy to spot. Possibilities are rolling and amorphous. Changeable. It is the nature of a good possibility to shape-shift.

The masters of meditation mostly tell us to soften our focus. Or to let the thoughts roll through the brainpan like clouds; do not attach to what we think. Do not take ourselves so seriously. Practice flow instead of the hard fixing of thought.

And, therein is the source of my late night esoteria: the mind needs something to focus on. Or does it?

If I soften my gaze, if I look beyond the problem-of-the-moment to a vast field of floating possibility, am I tossing myself into a feedback loop? I lay awake wondering what the field of possibility might look like if it was graspable. Some people make vision boards for just this reason. Quinn used to hum and fill his mind with lyrics.

Tjakorda Rai laughed at me and told me I needed to “open my story.” At the time I thought he meant to take responsibility for my story. Now, I know exactly what he meant: let it flow. Get out of the way. The demons and monsters and fears and problems and challenges are…passing things. Story fodder, nothing more. So look beyond them. Flow. Focus on the flow. Open the story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOUNTAIN

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

See The Signs [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Religions around the world and across time have personified this moment. The return of the green. From one day to the next buds appear on trees. The signs of life’s vibrant enthusiasm returning (again) from long winter, barren earth, metaphoric death. Persephone’s homecoming from the underworld and Demeter, her mother, goddess of the earth, allows the return of life.

It’s a very, very old story told in many, many different ways. Human beings, storytellers all, making sense of death and life, generalized across the real experience of cycles and seasons, all pressed through the lens of this-causes-that. Reduce us to an essential oil and we are makers of metaphor and seers of pattern.

I told Kerri that I got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. An idiom. Imagine the power in brains that utilize idioms! The meaning cannot possibly be carried by a literal interpretation of the individual words. We pull the meaning out of or inject it into the collection of words. We know what it means because the meaning has a long history. The Romans, I’ve read, believed there was a correct side of the bed. Arising on the correct side of the bed would ensure good luck. The right side of the bed was positive, the left side was dubious. Jump out of bed on the left side and the day was ruined!

Superstition: making sense of the happenings of a day or a life, pressed through the lens of this-causes-that.

Mostly, I am restless. It snowed all day yesterday. I yearn for the moment when I can, for the first time of the returning (pattern) spring, lean against the wall and feel the warm sun on my face. I will, like I did last spring, enjoy the moment to the point of non-thinking. I will drink it in with no need to wrap a story around it or make sense of what I am feeling. I will appreciate it to my bones and revel in the return of warmth, new growth, and light.

read Kerri’s blog post on GREEN

Choose How [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My friend’s children are having children. The top-of-the-list advice my friends offer their children, now parents themselves, is this: it goes so fast. Appreciate every single moment. Love every phase. You will blink your eye and they will be grown and gone.

I lost my dad in September. I have, like most people who’ve lost a loved one, spent much of the time since his passing remembering and reflecting. It’s a mixed bag of treasuring moments and wondering why I didn’t fully appreciate others. It is true, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

What is so hard about appreciating – fully appreciating – the limited moments of your life?

I used to facilitate an exercise. It had four phases. Working in small groups, the first phase was to have a group member identify a problem in their life and then tell a blame-story about the problem. The rest of the group helped by supporting the person in their story of blame. The groups howled with laughter. Blame is fun. It’s addictive, like sugar.

In the second phase, the groups tried to “fix” the problem. The serious, concerned faces puzzled possible fixes but inevitably dissolved into more laughter: there’s nothing like trying fix a problem to create more problems and loop back into a juicy blame story.

Phase three was simple: I asked the original problem-story-teller to retell their story as a story of choice, not blame. I asked the other members of the group to support the teller in their story of choice. Silence ensued. And then, quiet presence as the new narrative – the story of choice – slowly inhabited the room.

Blame stories are like too much candy. They are easy to eat and yet have no real sustenance.
Stories of choice are much harder to tell but they are rich in awareness and appreciation of the moment.

We never arrived at the fourth phase: stories of opportunity. Activating choice. The notion of taking responsibility for choices always stopped the exploration. Our conversations about choice-avoidance usually filled the time.

What we gain in blame, we lose in appreciation of our moments. In order to taste the moment, one must first choose to be in it – and then choose how to be in it.

Grief is a phase to be loved, not avoided. As is the celebration of a first birthday. A new life. A lost love. A full spectrum. Taste every moment.

read Kerri’s blog post about MOMENTS