Root And Fly [on KS Friday]

“Inspiration does exist but it must find you working.” ~ Pablo Picasso

At some point I realized that all of the good guidance I have received, all of the masters that I have admired, made statements about Roots & Wings.

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” ~ Tom McKenzie

“You must write 10 bad pages to arrive at one good page.” ~ John Guare

“Live on the plateau (in the present moment).” ~ George Leonard

“Cultivate your serendipity.” ~ Tom Quinn

I remember Jim E. teaching actors not to push their voices to be heard but, first and foremost, to root down into the earth.

After years of practice I am approaching the lesson that Saul taught his tai chi students: stay on the root and the energy will move you. He also taught me, on a brilliant Saturday morning when I was trying to bend the world to my will, to look beyond my opponent into the field of opportunity. It is two ways of saying the same thing. Root. And the wings will appear. Root, and possibility will find you.

Work at the easel, and inspiration will arise.

all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s gorgeous blog post on ROOTS AND WINGS

give me roots, give them wings/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Climb The Ladder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Very few images are as potent as Tom Mck’s story of finding his 90 year old aunt Bunty on the roof of the farmhouse. There had been a storm. She’d hooked her cane on a rung and climbed the rickety ladder to make sure the shingles were intact, “Papa put a fine roof on this house,” she said, staring down at her alarmed nephew. Bunty was a farm woman. She saw no reason why she should not be on the roof. As the elder of the family, she was the keeper of the legacy. The house and ranch were the tangible creations of her ancestors and she was the steward.

Years later, when Bunty was gone and Tom was the ancestral steward, his task was untenable. The city was spreading like a fire, gobbling up farm land. He knew it was only a matter of time before the ranch was consumed. A Walmart was being built and he could almost see it from the porch. “What am I going to do?” he asked, knowing that he was the end of the line. His question was rhetorical. Sometimes the steward’s job is to close the door on an era. He knew what he had to do.

After Tom passed and the ranch was sold, I imagined him, like Bunty, standing on the roof of the farmhouse. He made sure that, as the land was lost, the legacy remained intact. He was strong, like Bunty. His ladder was rickety but he climbed it none-the-less. He made sure the shingles were intact. He met his task without self-pity.

I learned from him that life can forge you into strong metal or, if you choose, if you feel sorry for yourself, it can break you into tiny pieces. Jonathan told me that a tree must split its bark to grow and I understood that as a metaphor for aging. The bark splits because the spirit outgrows the body’s capacity to contain it. Beaky was like that. And, Dorothy. Mike. Grandma Sue. H. I admire them. Bodies break down. Aging hurts. Spirits, on the other hand, need not wither.

I’m told that, in her elderhood, Margaret stopped what she was doing each day to go out back and watch the sun set over the desert. She was made hardy by a hard life. She was made kind by how she chose to live within her hard life. Drying her hands, stepping out on the back porch, the sky electric with peach and pink, she met each sunset with gratitude. Intentional thankfulness for the day.

Gratitude is not a soft thing. It is an attribute of the strong. Hard won from a long life of choices. Bitterness is easy, a lazy thing. Climbing the ladder, standing on the roof, feeling the aches and the loses, facing the running sands with a smile and admiring the day’s end, celebrating the shingles that held fast through the storm and those who placed them, that takes grit. Courage. And, an understanding of the connected power and responsibility of standing in the long line of ancestry.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRONG WINGS

Root Into The Worth [on KS Friday]

As Tom Mck used to say, “There are only three people in the United States qualified to review plays and none of them live in Stockton, CA.” His point: it’s best not to read your reviews but, if you must, don’t invest in what you find there. Good or bad, the review has little to say about the work of the artist and everything to say about the mind of the reviewer.

To be an artist is to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is an especially complex skill to master when the work of an artist is an open invitation for commentary.

The worst play I’ve ever seen got a standing ovation the night I saw it. Some of the best work I’ve ever done drew little or no audience. I directed a play that regularly had half the audience storm out of the theatre in anger while the other half was on its feet cheering; which half should I believe?

Many years ago I directed a play. One of my leading ladies had a family friend who was the theatre reviewer for the local paper. After opening night, my actress’ fine performance started to twist and sour. It was a mystery to me how her good work could go so bad. Later I learned that she was taking notes from the family friend. She lost herself in the cloudy opinion of an other and her performance suffered for it. She suffered for it.

Artists – not unlike everyone else – like to be liked. Most wait tables or teach lessons so they can pursue the thing they love. I use the word “love” purposefully. Most are regularly asked to give away their love/work for free on the empty promise of “exposure.” As Kerri says, “It’s hard to pay your rent with exposure.” It’s very, very easy for an artist to feel undervalued in a world where money defines value – while constantly being asked to perform for free. It makes being-liked an especially dangerous value-default.

Some of the greatest artists I’ve known lived marginal financial lives; financial success evaded them – but they knew without doubt the single secret that kept their work vital all of their lives: they alone were the judge of whether or not their work was good. They alone knew the pure driver of their pursuit. They knew the real danger of an artist’s life is to lose the purity of their artistic driver in the swamps of “being liked” or getting good reviews. They worked hard to stay centered and avoid becoming dancing bears at the circus.

It was Tom’s greater point: only you – the artist -will know if your work is good or not, if you’ve truly found and pushed your edge or discovered new territory. You will know when your work is shallow. No accolade can change that. You will also know when your work is exceptional. No criticism can change that. Its best to root into the worth of your pursuit, to grow and learn, rather than gorge on the ever-abundant-opinions of others. Good or bad. Moose or pig.

read Kerri’s blog post on MOOSE IN HEAT

all of kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & on Pandora

Find Another Door [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Roger and I used to discuss life and career. He would say, “There is a time of becoming and then, one day, you realize that you have become it.” He was right. I wanted to be an artist. For years I chased it. For years I practiced it. And then, one day, I realized I was it. Not because I’d arrived at a place called Artist, but because art was my practice. Art was my pursuit. Art called me.

It’s a paradox. You become the thing that you pursue on the day that you realize it is not an achievement. Becoming is a choice of practice, a dedication of your limited time on earth to an exploration. Follow the Siren long enough and she will claim you.

Long after his retirement, Tom continued to toss his hat into the ring for regional directing assignments. During his career, he was a force in the theatre. He was a master-teacher-director who opened the door to many of my peers, theatre artists, the people I most admire. I heard about Tom long before I met him. And, although he continued his passionate pursuit after his retirement, the world of opportunity could not see beyond his grey hair. Even his former students, those people I most admire, stopped considering his resume or returning his calls.

It was in the midst of recognizing that he had more to give but the old routes were now closed that he pulled me aside and said, “I need help telling a story.” And then he asked, “Will you help me?”

Our project, The Lost Boy, opened ten years later,  several months after Tom’s death.  The opening night audience was a packed house of Tom’s family and relatives, people who brought photographs of the lost boy, Johnny, to the theatre. They clutched them as they watched the play. After the performance, they stayed in the theatre sharing their stories until the management asked them to leave.

A dream. Tom’s practice: uniting people through telling and sharing a common story. Art in its purest form.

His final lesson for me: storytellers (artists) age but the force of their dreams does not grow old. They will inevitably hit walls and freshly closed doors and rather than sit down and throw up their hands, they simply turn, ask a few questions, and look for another way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEVER TOO OLD

 

Johnny crop copy

 

 

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The Chili Boys in rehearsal for The Lost Boy. They wrote gorgeous music for the play. I will always be grateful to them.

 

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carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

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50 minutes before stepping onto the stage. Kerri and I performed together for the first time.

 

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Listen Well [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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When I wore my life/business coaching hat, many of my clients secretly wanted to be painters or writers. After wading around in the depths of their dissatisfaction, they’d finally say something like, “What I really want to do is write a book.” And then, they’d divert their eyes and say, “I just don’t know how to get there.”

The path was always simple to say but difficult to execute. Write. Write everyday. There is no magic path. As Tom would say, “A writer writes. A painter paints.” The action is rarely difficult to do; the story wrapped around it is…well, another story altogether.

The difficulty comes in the form of a many headed monster called vulnerability. “If I write (paint, dance, act…) people will judge what I write (paint, dance, act…).” It’s a heavy cloak to wrap around the creative heart. Yes. They will judge. Some will diminish you and some will praise you to the sky. However, that has little or nothing to do with being a writer or painter, with becoming a better writer or painter. Neither the praise nor the derision is truth or accurate or meaningful.

Both accolades and critiques can pull an artist off-center. To listen to either is to ignore  the quiet prompting of the muse. The essential will be lost in the chatter.

My mind is a tumble of truism. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” etc. There is no other way to be a writer than to sit down and write. There is no way to become a better painter than to stand at the easel and paint. And, while writing and painting and acting, there is a necessary skill for an artist to develop: learn to let the opinions and judgments of others pass through. They have nothing to do with creating and everything to do with what others are seeing. The artist’s job is not to determine what others see. The job is to write and paint, to create what the muse whispers in your ear.

There is no other way. Artistry is not an achievement. It is an action, a relationship.

Act well your part. Paint well your painting. Write well your novel. Listen well to your muse.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ACT WELL YOUR PART…

 

roadtrip reading website box copy