Taste The Sound [on KS Friday]

Toadshade trillium. Say it out loud and taste the sounds. Toadshade trillium. Yummy words worthy of e.e. cummings.

I am working in a tech space and keep a document on my desktop: Terms in this Unknown Land. Tech folk speak in acronyms, PAI and SMB, SERP and TAM. Although my colleagues are mostly left-brainers, they are remarkably poetic in their language, peppering their acronym-speak with tasty terms like “cluster calculations” and “stemmings.” I admit to losing the sense of the conversation in the sound. They are, despite the stereotype, passionate and creative and unconsciously poetic. “Plots a curve of probability.”

Toadshade trillium. Plots a curve of probability. Forget the meaning and taste the sound! What might Mary Oliver have done with those syllables!

My lesson this week: I cannot stand and work at my computer all day. I can do the standing (I have a stand-up desk) but staring at a screen eventually shuts down my brain. Across from my stand-up desk is my drafting table. I think better with big pieces of paper and a pencil and then translate back to the computer. I need to move to think but that’s only part of the lesson. When at the drafting table I’m more likely to take things less seriously. I free myself. I get snarky and funny and scribble and draw big arrows and make fun of myself and the logjam in my thinking. I play.

And, while I play, I talk aloud, and hear the sounds of the shapes that I draw. Poetry and motion. Taste the movement. One and the same. Free the thinking. It’s enough to scare the dog but it’s liberating to my kinesthetic necessity. I scribble notes in every direction and dance back and forth between word and image. Consequently, I produce better work.

Thank goodness I finally tasted a few word-sounds that sent me tumbling into a productive scribble dance.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TOADSHADE TRILLIUM

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

pulling weeds/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Breathe At Human Pace [on KS Friday]

We live in a time in which cars are capable of parking and braking themselves. I am able to type a message into a little box that I carry in my pocket and my message, through space and time to anywhere in the world, is delivered immediately. I write my thoughts in this device and then publish all over the world. I’ve learned of a software that is able to write my thoughts without me – faster and with fewer grammatical errors at the outset. I think and write in a pattern capable of being recognized. I am, therefore, capable of being approximated. What is amazing today is common tomorrow. So it goes with the pace of change.

I read in The Dream Society, written two decades ago, that the aim of the industrial era was to spare humanity physical toil and the aim of the information age is to relieve us from the exertion of thought. We’re producing data at a staggering rate and, ironically, the explosion is both serving the intention and overwhelming our capacity to keep up. We can’t possibly process the tsunami of information that washes over us everyday. We are human. We have a tough time sussing out truth from belief-fantasy even when not washed down the roaring information streams.

It is why I hang out with Desi. Desi is the little tree sprout that we rescued from the Des Plaines river trail over two years ago. When Desi came home with us, her tiny trunk was needle thin. She is thriving in her pot and has more than doubled in size, yet, by the standards of data, her growth is glacial. And that is precisely why I visit her each day. She is in no rush. Efficiency for Desi has nothing to do with speed. Health is about good soil and light. Like all plants, she could be pushed artificially, but why? Pushing might get her to adulthood faster but would also damage her systems. Efficiency and health, for Desi, are all about natural pace. Slow, slow, slow to human eyes.

Desi reminds me that the pace of my life is artificial. A choice. The pace, the incessant noise vying for my attention, are human-made, unnatural. Don’t get me wrong. I delight that Google maps gets me where I want to go. I appreciate having a phone available while walking a backwoods trail. One of the great joys of my life is watching Kerri photograph – with her phone – the world she sees. I love to write and push a button to share. I am, despite my advertising, not a luddite. I’m also aware that the media – the medium – is the message. We are – we become – what we consume and how we consume it. It is a necessity in our age of rolling miracles to keep both eyes open.

I think it is healthy (although virtually impossible) to occasionally crawl out of the stream and breathe at human pace. To think without the expectation of assistance. Each day, for a few minutes, I hang out with Desi, a reminder that an inch of growth every year is sometimes fast enough.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about DESI

taking stock/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Call It An Art Piece [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When the ancient television antenna tower fell in the windstorm, it snagged on the neighbor’s fence and tilted precariously above their garage. We did not know what to do – so we did what we always do in similar circumstances: we texted our tribe with a rousing, “HELP!!! And then we asked, “What do we do?”

No one had a clue. This was a first. The insurance company was certainly clueless. Their advice was to (I’m paraphrasing and scrubbing for courtesy) let it fall. The fire department didn’t know. We called a contractor friend who recommended finding a crane. We called tow trucks. We called antenna companies who told us that this problem was out of their league.

A single, sensible, and fantastic piece of advice came as it always does, from Master Marsh. “Just leave it and tell the neighbors it’s an art piece: The Death of Broadcast Television.” Had it not been dangerous, I’d have taken his sage advice. I’d have gone so far as to make a plaque for the base. I’d have sent out a press release. Our art piece might have one day been moved to the permanent collection at The Chicago Art Institute or been featured at Biennale Arte 2022. It would be necessary to compensate the neighbors for a piece of their fence – since it is a crucial element of the statement – but that is a minor detail and certainly worth sorting out for such a prestigious end to our dilemma.

It did make me wonder how many of my life’s tribulations would have been better solved with a bit of rebranding? Call it an art piece and make it all better with plaques emblazoned with clever titles. I laughed when I imagined moving through my life’s calamities as a gallery show. Children asking their grandparents, “What is broadcast?” The raging waterfall through the ceiling would be fantastic!

In the end, rather than art, we opted for a tree service. These amazing guys came, sawed up and carted away our precarious antenna in less than 30 minutes. An entire era of technology disappeared in less than half an hour.

As they say, in our times, the only constant is change and, if you keep asking the right question, “What do we do?” a proper answer is certain to find you. And, if not, there’s always the art route.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BROADCAST TELEVISION

Consider It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.” ~ Marshall McLuhan

At the first theatre company I artistic directed, we cut silk screens and pulled ink to make our posters. They were crude but we didn’t know it at the time because that was the most advanced process available. At the time they looked cool and we were proud of them. They took some effort.

I remember the day a student came into my office and showed me how we could design our posters on the computer. His designs were gorgeous, easily adjusted, took almost no time, and came back from the printer quicker than I could cut a good screen. We felt like our status bumped up a notch. We looked professional, and, what we’d been so proud of only a year before, now looked primitive.

My first website cost an extraordinary amount of money. It took weeks of working with a designer. Changes were costly so were made rarely. Now, Kerri and I design, redesign and make changes to our site every week. A few years ago we set up a site for a theatre company, complete with ticket service, database and newsletter capacity all in one easy-to-use app. It cost them almost nothing and any fool could adjust and make changes to it.

People who only a few short years ago considered themselves voiceless can now say any old thing they want to an audience no less than world-wide. Patti once asked a conference attendee, “If you had a voice, what would you say?” If I could go back in time I’d beg her to retract that question.

We live in a time of high anxiety. There are few substantial anchors to moor our reality. I’m about to make the ultimate old guy statement: I remember when…a few limited news channels actually attempted to broadcast the news. They had a limited window of time to tell the news so they made their information count. We now have hundreds of information and misinformation sources that can rattle at us 24/7 and from multiple devices. The challenge is not editing-down-to what-matters, it is filling too much time with loads of spin that mostly has limited substance.

Information spreading – for me, too – has become easy-peasy. I can lob an opinion as easily and as readily as the next person. But, as Marshall McLuhan said – and I whole-heartily concur, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.” In other words, (don’t tell Kerri) I am sometime reactive. Sometimes, I think I know more than I do. Sometimes, I make mistakes. Slowing down seems to be the only cure. Thinking things through. Researching before spouting. Breathe and breathe again. Consider what matters. Really matters.

I’ve walked a complete circle in my life. Now, in all it’s shiny capacity, within the amazing miracles of technology, I find much of what people say and do and assert with this glorious ability – to be crude. Without thought. It’s too easy so it doesn’t much matter. The stream will quickly carry away even the most offensive opinions and endlessly wash in some more. I wonder how considerate people might become if their easy voices were less easily shared? If saying something actually took some time and effort – let’s say, as much time as it took to design, transfer and cut a silkscreen – what might they say? If it was less easy to “like” or “dislike.” If one slip would send the thought back to the arduous start? Maybe we’d be more considerate because we’d take the time to consider what we were expressing – to think about what we were saying and why we were saying it.

I suspect most of our “whys” would get our knuckles rapped by grandmothers who held decorum and polite communication as a high virtue. Saying stuff so-as-to-belong-or-pile-on…or to hear ourselves talk, certainly wouldn’t spare the rod.

That whole thought stream came from taking a walk, looking down, and finding a rock smiling back at me. Someone took some time. Chose a rock. They chose what to paint and had a grandma-approved-reason-why. And, they did a good job of it. “Ahhhhh,” Kerri said, smiling back at the rock. “How considerate,” I added to her awe.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROCKS THAT SMILE


Look With Honest Eyes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We were sharing pandemic survival stories, the worlds that we explored in our isolation that we otherwise might never have entered. We told Keith of Joey Coconato and how his back country backpacking trips were a nightly fascination. I’m particularly drawn to his hikes through the canyon lands. Keith became animated, saying, “You have to check out the Millennial Farmer!”

I know nothing about farming. Once, sitting on the back porch of a farmhouse Air-B-N-B in Iowa with my dad, I listened intently to his stories from childhood working on the various farms in the community. Had he been able to script his life differently, I think he might have written a farmer’s story. He loved the outdoors. He loved growing things. He always kept a garden and tended flowers. He knew what he was doing! Somehow, I gleaned nothing from his green-thumb-knowledge. I am a plant killer.

In the first short installment of The Millennial Farmer, Zach Johnson tells his audience that he’s making his videos because people know so little about farming and what farmers actually do. He’s a fifth generation farmer in Minnesota. I was, as he predicted, completely gobsmacked watching The First Day Of Planting 2016. I pushed play expecting dirt clods and the rumpled pages of the Farmer’s Almanac and, instead, entered the space age. His tractor was akin to the deck of the Starship Enterprise. His nuanced explanation of the monitors in his cab was enlightening. He’s driving a computer (actually, it mostly drives itself).

My stereotype was completely shattered. I had no idea. And, isn’t that the point of taking a peek into the lives of others? Recognizing that we have no idea about the realities of others lives? Isn’t that the opportunity?

This morning I pondered aloud about how we’ve changed in the months since COVID began. “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t changed.” One of the most profoundly sad awakenings for me during this time of division and dedicated ignorance is how resistant we are – and I believe always have been – of taking a peek into the lives of others in our nation. We simply don’t want to know, so great is the fear of what we will find there.

John Lewis famously said, “We are one people, we are one family, we are one house. And we must keep this house together.” By “keep” he meant to tend. We might become one family when we are willing and able to look with honest eyes into the lives of those who share this house. Our stereotypes, our almanac ideas, keep us fragmented.

Joey and Zach. Both live lives immersed in nature but from diametrically opposed intentions. Both have popped open my eyes to new experiences and bodies of wisdom that I might otherwise never have encountered. Both are following their personal star and sharing what they find on their paths.

As part of our summer planting and backyard oasis, we bought two tomato plants and some basil. Our Boomer farm is not extensive but it is well loved. “Do you think, if we tagged The Millennial Farmer, our tomatoes would stand a better chance?” I asked.

Kerri considered it for a moment, her hands busily potting the basil plants. “It couldn’t hurt.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BOOMER FARMERS

Check The Acorn [on VERY Flawed Wednesday]

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Apparently Sigmund Freud has a dangerous and ill-intended descendant named Voter. Splashed all over the conservative Henny Penny is a frenzied warning: watch out for Voter Freud! He is running rampant! Threatening the nation! Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and the entire cast of hysterics-with-microphones are gathering other like-minded fowl to amplify the message of a would-be king. Voter Freud is on the loose and if not stopped, he will corrupt your Drakey Lakey!

This is why I adore stories. Even the simplest folk tale has the ominous capacity to reveal us to ourselves. And, if we are wise, we listen to what they might teach us. Variations of the Chicken Little story have been around for centuries.

Times have changed but human nature is surprisingly consistent. Henny Penny was hit on the head by an acorn and thought the sky was falling. Hysterical, she decides to sound the alarm of imminent disaster and clucks away to tell the king before it is too late. Along the way she whips other unquestioning fowl into a panic and they join in her frantic chorus. Depending upon the ending – there are many – but mostly, she and her gaggle are eaten – each and everyone – by the fox [I take pause here for a moment of reflection so the uncanny closeness of the story to our times might sink in].

The multiple screeching voices currently re-enacting the Henny Penny story did not intend to invent Sigmund’s evil descendant. It is only through the magic of spelling errors that voter fraud donned the villainous persona of Voter Freud. And, I confess, I love the character!

All good stories have a moral and that is true for the tale of Henny Penny: traditionally, the moral is to not be a “chicken” but to have courage. Hysterical chickens get eaten by Foxes. The current moral-of-the-story might go something like this: be wary of acorns dropped on your noggin. It is not a falling sky. It is a set up. A modicum of research will spare the entire hen house of yet another hysterical outburst.  In the United States of America, voter fraud is very rare. The current fox guarding the hen house would like all the fowl to cluck with fear of Voter Freud. The purpose, of course, is to make it harder for many citizens to vote. Or, stated another way: keeping the chickens hysterical serves the fox; voters exercising their right to vote does not.

Voter Freud is made up. So is voter fraud.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on Voter Freud

 

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Consider Madness [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Our scene opens in a global pandemic. A camera collage reveals people, young and old, furiously tapping away at keyboards; through the miracle and misery of technology, people are working from home.

The shot settles on a couple – definitely NOT technology natives – working hard not only to do their work but simultaneously learning the technology necessary to do their work. They are recording audio files, making slideshows, movies, translating files from one format to another format, posting and pulling down the work they just completed because this platform does not accept the same type of file as THAT platform. They nuance, tweak, twist, crash, rinse and repeat. Their learning curve requires ropes, crampons, and pitons (it is a steep climb).

They are also creating language combinations that will certainly make this film unsuitable for small children.

Their technology is old by modern standards. Ancient, really. They are children of depression era parents so they make things last rather than regularly trade up or buy new. The proof is in their kitchen: their stove is almost as old as they are – three of the four burners are still working – so they see no reason to buy something new. Imagine this mindset meeting the computer age! The combined age of their laptops is greater than the age of a graduating college senior. That is to say, although they do not yet know it, they are becoming masters of making old programs work with new software. Electronic-duct-tape-solutions.

Occasionally a madness overtakes them. Their test projects border on the insane, the utterly silly. They cackle. They pop the cork a few minutes earlier than might be advisable. They consider posting their mad-mad test project instead of the sober iteration that they’d intended. They leap from the sanity ledge and plummet into the ridiculous, pulling the rip cord at the last possible moment, slowing their fall. They post the sober work and heave a sigh of relief. Bullet dodged! The absurd remains a secret.

What would the world think if they actually saw the rough draft? The test project? We slowly fade to black as the couple closes their laptops, clinks their wine glasses, refusing to acknowledge the madness that nearly overtook them. They casually walk to their ancient and simplistic stove, asking, “So what shall we make for dinner?”

[music swells. roll credits]

read Kerri’s blog post about RANDOM LEARNING

 

 

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Look Beyond [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” ~ Alan Kay

On the one hand, this could be a display of old technology. Shelf after shelf of what was once understood as a camera. Not so long ago a camera was a device that employed a once-revolutionary-invention, a light sensitive plastic strip called “film,” to capture images. These film devices, the miracles that populated my youth, are now antiques.

On the other hand, this could be an art piece, a commentary on the contemporary world. Many, many, many cameras, all with their lenses pointed back at us. There are cameras in phones, each a trafficker of the relatively new obsession known as the “selfie.” There are cameras at almost every major intersection of my town. Traffic selfies that come with tickets. In stores I am told to smile because I am on camera. There are cameras in doorbells. Many medical procedures employ teeny tiny cameras capable of fantastic voyages, inner selfies. The cameras shot into outer space transmit back to us images of a tiny speck in this vast universe, a dot called Earth.  Our art piece reveals to us that we are the central object of our study.

Standing in front of the shelf, looking at the myriad lenses looking back at me, I understood with some sadness that the cameras on the shelf used to be understood as arbiters of truth. There is a now an antiquated term, you may have heard it: photographic proof. Proof. It is not so much that the camera – film – is antiquated – but it’s purpose is most certainly passe’. Truth is out of date. Proof has no reliable root. We have replaced ‘photographic proof’ with a new concept, a ‘post-fact’ world.

Buckminster Fuller once said that, “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.” Were this beautiful unintentional-art-piece-found-in-an-antique-mall one of my creations, you can bet that I’d scribble Fuller’s quote someplace on the shelf, though, you’d have to look beyond the cameras to find it.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CAMERAS

 

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Breathe The Same Air [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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For years I had a debate with my business partner. She was a first adopter, always jumping into the latest technology. Her position in the debate: real relationships were possible through technology. My position: you need to be in the same room with someone if you want a real relationship. Technology can provide connective tissue but can never approach the visceral, tangible, sensual realities necessary in a relationship.

Over time I’ve flip-flopped my position and then flipped back again. Connectivity is not relationship. I am connected with people all over the world – and I deeply appreciate the network connection – but I am only in relationship with the people I spend time with. It is simple. Relationship takes time. Relationship needs time. It is not an achievement; it is an ongoing investment in the heart of another.

John O’Donohue writes about the “digital instant,” the expectation of arrival compressed into a nanosecond. The absence of journey. If the website doesn’t come up in a second or two, we leave in frustration. We click our angry departure for another instant arrival. If I don’t answer an email within a compressed amount of time, the originator of the email wonders why I’m ignoring them. Connectivity comes with expectations that often prohibit relationship. Or, rather, connectivity is the low-bar expectation of what now qualifies for real relationship.

Yesterday 20 and I continued a conversation that we started four years ago. We will pick it up again because our conversation has no end. It is a lifetime conversation. There is no expectation of arrival, of conclusion. The focus is entirely on the journey, the friendship, the continuance. The laughter, the deep sharing of fear and frustration, the vulnerability, the sharing-of-time-to-listen-and-give-presence. What we share is not a network connection (that phrase feels scrubbed, antiseptic, even in the writing of it). It is something with breadth and depth and texture that can only come when two people breathe the same air, sit in the same room, read body language, and feel what is beneath the words.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about NETWORK CONNECTIONS

 

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Approach It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Because we have lost reverence of approach, we should not be too surprised at the lack of quality and beauty in our experience.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

There was a common thread that ran through the lessons my mentors taught me: how I treat my space is a direct reflection of how I approach my artistry, my work.

Whether they said it directly or not, they understood artistry as sacred, artistic spaces as sacred spaces. Places of communion.

Paul Barnes used to tell his acting students, “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.” There is a responsibility when getting on the stage. There is a responsibility when designing for the stage. There is a responsibility for how tickets are sold. There is a responsibility for how the theatre is cleaned and maintained, the studio, the shop… Tom’s students were famous for sweeping the parking lot of the theatre because they believed the audience experience began with the approach to the building. The sweepers understood themselves as artists.

During our last days on island, Kerri and I began cleaning out the theatre. We began the process of introducing a new approach. We started our job mid-season and were asked to come to the island and watch and learn. All summer, as a watcher, I repeated this phrase: everyone wants to use the theatre but no one wants to be responsible for it. Responsible to it. Groups entered and dumped their stuff. When they left, they left their mess for Pete to clean and why not? (Pete gets it, he is meticulous, and loves the space. But he is a lone sweeper fighting the tide of a dedicated mindless approach.)

TPAC is understood as a place to be used. It is a space the community fights over. A territory to be claimed. It is not yet approached as a space where beauty is touched, where actions matter because they are capable of unifying, where artistry is understood, not as a personal domain, but the grace of collective creation.

Sitting on the empty stage, the season closed, Kerri and I sat and listened. “It’s time to make the space ours, ” she said. “I think I’ll clean out the fridge.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE END OF SEASON

 

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