Sip It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There are deep, meaningful layers to this story-image. The first is an answer to the all-important-question, “How do we entertain ourselves at a bar?” We make fun contemporary art, of course! Or, we make fun of contemporary art. I’m not sure since the line of distinction is blurred in real life so it is more blurred at the bar, where life isn’t really real and escapism is to be expected.

Have I confused you? It’s simple really. Limit your palette to two bar napkins, two sipping straws, and the fruit remnants from a brandy old-fashioned. Arrange a composition. Snap a photo for posterity. Ask yourself and others, “What does it mean?” And, when you find yourself concocting answers to the great amusement of your friends, you might recognize that the actual art-of-the-moment is the performance of the improvisational play entitled What Does It Mean?

You’ll conclude – if you are honest – that it – your art work – has no inherent meaning – and all supposéd meaning is projected onto the image. It can mean many things or nothing at all. Just like life outside of the bar [that sneaky escapism always loops back to the real stuff!] The composition might simply be appreciated for its clever arrangement and varied texture. It might conjure up fond memories of old-fashioned’s past.

Here’s what it means to me: I could not be considered a local Wisconsinite until I had a palette of experiences, like eating cheese curds or attending a fish boil. On the tippy top of the list was to enjoy a brandy old-fashioned. More, to know whether I preferred my drink sweet or sour. This composition, the scattered remains of the drink-of-the-state, reminded me of the day I ascended to the top of the list and sipped my first ritual old-fashioned. I would anoint this piece with the worthy title BELONGING AT LAST.

read Kerri’s blogpost about POST OLD-FASHIONED

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Grasp The Natural Truth [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

I often tell Kerri that she’s beautiful and her built-in-response is to deflect or deny it. I believe her response is learned – I’ve yet to meet a child who is overly concerned with how they look. Kerri is not unlike most of the women (and men) I’ve met in my life: they’ve learned to not like their bodies. In fact, I just spent a few moments searching my vast memory banks for the women I’ve known who loved their bodies and I can recall a whopping two.

The message-assault on a woman’s psyche is intense and begins young. Change it, mold it, shape it, cut it, starve it, lift it…The industry demands that a woman continually strive for the unattainable shape, size, color…They can never-ever look into the mirror and think, “I’m beautiful. No changes necessary.”

If I had a magic wand, I’d ding Kerri and all women on the noggin and make it possible to grasp the natural truth of these words: you are unbelievably beautiful.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BURLAP

smack-dab. © 2023

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Tip The Cup [on KS Friday]

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” ~ Ray Bradbury

My grandmother famously hid a horse in her kitchen when the truck from the glue factory showed up to take it away. What makes that story remarkable to me is that my grandmother was 4’7″ tall when she stood on her tiptoes. Although her physical size was diminutive, her spirit was grande.

Another detail of the story that confounds me: from the backdoor, there were stairs up into her kitchen. And then a hard left turn. It was no small feat getting a horse into the kitchen. Sometimes I ponder what it must have looked like, watching this teeny-tiny woman hurriedly coaxing a big-big horse through the backdoor, up the stairs and into the kitchen. I wonder if she shushed it as she peeked out the kitchen window, waiting for the truck to drive away. I can’t help but laugh heartily every time I imagine the scene.

Once, she and my mom drove me to college in Santa Fe. On the way we stopped to have lunch. I was grateful for their efforts, driving me several hours to school, so I reached to pick up the check and my grandma pinned my hand to the table with her fork. We burst out laughing. She was fast and left no room for debate.

The sun streaming into the farmhouse brought grandma to mind. Standing in the kitchen, looking at all the food we’d prepared, the mountain of snacks and beverages Kate and Jerry hauled from Minnesota, the bins of cookies and sweets, I thought, “This place is just like grandma’s purse.” Her purse looked like a punching bag and she could produce anything you needed at anytime from that bag. Screwdriver? Yep. Saltines? Yep. Duct tape. Of course! Water? How much do you need? It was the clown car of purses. Were I to be lost in the desert and had one precious wish to be granted, I’d wish for my grandma’s purse.

Tiny woman. Endless supply of love and support. She knew how to fill our cups. She knew how to tip herself over so all the beautiful stuff could rush out.

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

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read Kerri’s blogpost about SUN IN THE FARMHOUSE

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Keep The Connection [on DR Thursday]

A Haiku: Sun bathes the hilltop/Green grass, stones etched, dates with names/Here, we meet again.

Carvings in stone. I’ve read that among the first evidence of human-made-art is associated with funerary rituals. Send the soul on their journey with the proper talismans. There are petroglyphs, too. Scratches in stone. A message? A journal? A reach to the “beyond”? A handprint on the wall of a cave.

The earliest Greek theatre was a religious ceremony. A portal for the gods to come through and speak. Can you imagine the role and responsibility of the playwright?

I watched a Rangda ritual in Bali that shook my world. Priests with knives ran at the Rangda, stabbing and stabbing. The knives bent, the Rangda taunted. One of the priests fell into a trance and began channeling a voice from beyond. The entire community leapt to surround the priest and hear the ancestor’s message. As introduction to the ritual, the only English speaker in the village told us something akin to: “What we have of value to share is our art.”

Can you imagine? An entire community that held their art and artists as sacred. Valuable. As the means to connect to their ancestors. It was so profoundly moving that I couldn’t sleep that night. What I had known and experienced personally was, in this place, alive in the public heart. I mourned the art-poverty of my nation and community. We tape bananas to the wall and lose ourselves in a made-up-maze of the conceptual.

I was taken aback in the pioneer cemetery. Most of the headstones were homemade, a red-brown sandy-cement with shells or rocks pressed in; a name scratched in the surface with a stick. Families doing their best not to lose their kin. Moving forward in time, we found a few stones made of marble and decorated by a stone carver. More substantial, perhaps, but the purpose remained the same. Keeping connected to what has come and gone. Attending to the ancestors. The story of us etched in stone.

shaman. 36x48IN. Oil on canvas. nfs.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CARVING

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Look At Them Now [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Kerri hit the nail on the head. “Most people wouldn’t do this,” she said. “They’d think it was the same. They’d be bored” True. Too true.

She made her observation while we were walking our usual trail. We don’t walk it everyday but often enough to call it “ours” or “the usual.” Although we walk the same trail, to us it is never the same. Never. For instance, a few days ago the Mayapples bloomed. A single white flower hides beneath the leafy canopy. Last week we checked but the flowers hadn’t yet appeared. They’ll be gone by Father’s Day, the flower and the plant, just as the mystery cowboy told us. Walk the same path long enough and you’re likely to converse with a mystery cowboy.

It’s an exercise in seeing. Or, perhaps, it’s an exercise in not taking the surrounding world for granted. It is constantly moving. Dynamic. A crane flew right over our heads! The turtles are barely visible buried in the mud of the river. Tender green shoots broke through the devastated landscape and now, only a few weeks later, a blanket of vibrant viridian covers the forest floor. Tiny purple and blue flowers soon followed. The honeysuckle have now made an appearance. The thunderous frog song has all but disappeared.

And then there is the light. Dear god, the light. The colors shape-shift as the sun moves across the sky. The cloudy days evoke entirely different tones. There’ a reason filmmakers call the impending sunset “golden hour.” The winter palette is a world away from the summer hues.

We hold hands. We walk slow enough to see, slow enough to immerse. Slow enough to give our attention to the unique-within-the-same. Each day uncommon. Seeing it is a practice of challenging the assumption of “sameness.”

The practice of the trail has become the practice of our lives – or vice versa. Move slow enough to see. Pay attention. Give attention.

Across the yard from the farmhouse porch stand two guardian trees. “Look!” she exclaimed, running to show me the latest photo. “They’re so amazing,” she said, showing me the growing series. “They’re entirely different in the morning than they are in this light…” she said, turning her focus and camera back to the trees. “Geez! Look at them now!”

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE TREES

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Choose A Better Story [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Watching an early episode of the Millennial Farmer I was astounded to learn how computerized farming has become. Driving the tractor was far more digital-than-donkey. Even the word “driving” is mostly misplaced, just as the word “telephone” is loosely applied to the magic box in our pockets that searches the internet, takes photographs, measures our step, our heart rate, acts as a calendar, a compass, a flashlight, a newspaper…

Farmers can do more, faster, with greater precision. The seeds are planted to exact depths and meticulously spaced. The temperature of the earth and the minerals in the soil are collected and measured as data points. The farmer monitors the technology and engages the steering only when making a turn. Keeping the machinery in good running order requires an entirely different set of skills than it did twenty – even ten years ago. I wonder what farming will mean to the grandchildren of the people I watched mowing their fields. Like a modern car mechanic, in addition to wrenches and oil, farming demands computer diagnostic skills and a continuous upgrade of software. While the process is different, the basics remain the same. Plant. Nurture. Grow. Harvest. Feed.

To feed. Hands in the soil. Eyes to the horizon gauging the weather. Eyes on the advanced weather forecast technology. Praying for rain. But not too much.

There’s an old black-and-white photograph on the wall of the farmhouse we rented for our family gathering. People assembled on the porch, wearing high collars and long prairie dresses. Horses and wagons populate the foreground. I marveled, standing on the same porch in the old photograph, how close-in-time I am to the people in that picture. Two headstones away. Tom once told a story, when he was a boy, of sitting in the lap of an elderly woman who, as a small child, sat in the lap of Abraham Lincoln. That makes me a mere three headstones from the 16th President. “He smelled of saddle soap and lavender,” she reported.

I hear abundant chatter about rural America being all red and urban America mostly blue. Both colors have to eat. Both are made better by technology. The food is grown in the red while the computers are imagined and made manifest in the blue. A single step back from the chatter reveals how truly interdependent we really are. I am grateful for the easy availability of food at my local grocery store. I imagine the farmer is grateful for the advanced technology that takes some of the guesswork and toil from their lives.

We are, all of us, a single headstone away from passing on a better or lesser world. Both are possible. The choice is ours. Where do we desire to place our focus? What world do we desire to create?

Farmer’s take great pride in feeding the world. Entrepreneurs and software engineers take great pride in making tasks easier for others. Generally, gratitude is not only a much better story than division, it’s also more productive. It’s also more honest. I find that people are highly motivated when helping others. The question is, “Why can’t we see how we are helping and being helped?” Our interdependence is right in front of our faces.

The noisy trappings of our time may seem complicated but the basics remain the same: Plant. Nurture. Grow. Harvest. Feed. We eat what we sow. We choose the thought-seed that we plant. Technology can help us be more effective and efficient. It cannot help us gain wisdom or sort what we lose in our dedicated color-crayon-divide. It cannot help us choose or pass on a better story. Only we can do that.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HAY RAKES IN THE SKY

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Comprehend The Incomplete [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Three evenly spaced periods. An ellipsis, “used to indicate the omission of words or an incomplete thought.” This series of ellipses punctuated the horizon, marking the line between the dark night sky and the farm fields.

The omission of words. As I watched the horizon-ellipses twinkle, I wondered how many times I’ve omitted the words, “I love you.” Too vulnerable. Not safe. Revealing.

An incomplete thought. Not surprisingly, this brings to mind a thought about thoughts: namely, thoughts are never complete. Every thought is a running ellipsis, a water drop in a raging river. A complete thought is an oxymoron. Because we are given to writing our thoughts – trying to capture them – we are deluded into believing that the stream of babble that runs though our brains is containable or fits neatly into discrete compartments that travel in a single direction, like the boxcars of a train. This thought is connected to that thought just as this letter is connected to that letter so a chain of meaning might be assigned. Someone, somewhere, wrote that our thoughts are the mother-lode of comedy. Random. Surprising. Multi-directional. Rolling, roiling rivers. Shapeshifters.

My word of the week is “argle bargle.” It means nonsense. Motherlode of comedy. Argle-bargle-avalanche.

In the dark of night I look at the ellipses on the horizon; no one can convince me that love, like thought, is ever complete. I look higher into the night sky at the glittering light-dots that have completely ignored the rules of even-spacing and scattered themselves across infinity. Maybe that is why I sometimes omit the words, “I love you.” it’s too big to comprehend. It’s sometimes too much to contain in my one tiny heart…

read Kerri’s blogpost about ELLIPSES

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Bring It On! [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

My favorite Smack-Dab cartoons are drawn directly from our conversations. This one happened verbatim. We howled when Siri replaced our “wilty” with “wealthy”. I’m shallow enough to admit that I hope to someday experience the challenge of being un-hire-aable because I am too wealthy. “We’d hire you Mr. Robinson but you’re too stinking rich”.

I’m already familiar with the wilty part.

This is, perhaps, the only time I will suggest that you keep your comments to yourself. Unless, of course, you have suggestions about making me too wealthy to hire. In that case, bring it on!

read Kerri’s blogpost about WILTY

smack-dab. © 2023

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Let Go And Breathe [on KS Friday]

We have been slow to reenter life at home. We were only gone for a few days but it feels like months. There is life before the farmhouse and life after. The time away serves as a hard line of distinction. And, because there is now a before, we are finding our reentry a bit disorienting. Nothing is the same yet everything is the same. Unrecognizable because it is familiar.

We are moving slow. We are noise averse. We are reticent to go to the store or drive on a busy road. Too much stimulus fries our wires. It’s as if we are walking through the life we know – we knew – as witnesses. There is a silent accounting: what stays, what we will let go.

Transformation is like that. Snakes shed old skin. Trees drop their leaves. People clean their closets. Letting go creates necessary space for a new rhythm and new rhythms emerge slowly over time.

Sitting on the back deck this morning, the air was still and warm. The birds were singing, the chippies foraged beneath the feeder for discarded seed, Kerri said, “This is the level of sound that I can tolerate right now.” I nodded.

Long ago, when I facilitated retreats, on the last day someone would usually ask, “How do we take what we’ve learned back into our normal lives?” They were changed by their experiences at the retreat but the circumstance of their daily lives remained unaltered. The real question was “How do I bring this feeling of openness and expansion from the protection of the retreat center to the squeeze and turmoil of the realities of life?” There isn’t a single answer to the question. In fact, there isn’t an answer. There’s a practice. There are decisions. What might fall off the list of to-dos? Spaciousness is not magic. Openness is often the result of generosity-to-self. One must slow down to see and hear and taste. Touch takes time. Positive thought takes intention and letting go of grudges. Forgiveness is a choice made again and again and again.

The first day back we walked our trail. We talked of the changes we want to make. The clearing of old baggage. Making space. Kerri stopped to photograph the honeysuckle. I took a deep breath of the sweet fragrance. Nothing more. Nothing less.

old friends revisited © 1995 kerri sherwood

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read Kerri’s blogpost about HONEYSUCKLE

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Watch Your Fingers [on DR Thursday]

After several weeks with its face to the wall, I turned the painting around to see it with fresh eyes. “OMG!” I thought. “This needs some serious work!” It’s too tight in some places, not finished in others, and it’s missing an all important element. The florals are rock hard and the dog – part of the original composition – is nowhere to be found. What was I thinking!

I’m a bit too famous for painting over paintings. It’s a habit that evokes finger-wagging from friends. Kerri has been known to fling herself between me and a painting that I put on the easel-chopping-block. “I hate it!” I cry.

“Touch it and I’ll break your fingers,” she quietly threatens. I like my fingers so I relent.

Actually, she’s provided me with the perfect response to gallery-goers when they ask the ubiquitous question, “How do you know when a painting is done?”

In the past I’d say something amorphous like, “It’s not something you know; it’s something you feel.” Intuition. Gut feeling. Artistic argle-bargle.

Now, my perfect reply is definitive and goes like this: “Oh, it’s easy! I know it’s complete when my wife threatens to break my fingers.” She might look like a delicate columbine-flower but watch out.

It’s a conversation stopper but the real fun comes when I add, “She’ll break the fingers of anyone who doesn’t appreciate my work.”

I turn and walk away as they debate asking the obvious next question: Is she here?

read Kerri’s blogpost about COLUMBINE FLOWERS

The offending painting. It needs work and Kerri has yet to threaten my fingers.

My site-placeholder.

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train through trees – in this state of development © 2023 david robinson