Ask A Useful Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Answers are reassuring, but when you’re really on to something useful, it will probably take the form of a question.” ~ David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear

We read in the morning news about the exodus of teachers from the classroom. One paragraph in the story made me choke on my coffee. “In addition to having to deal with low pay, high student-to-teacher ratios, poor working conditions, post-pandemic learning loss, school shootings and social or emotional issues with students, teachers across the nation are also grappling with culture wars over what they can and cannot teach in the classroom.” (Rene Marsh, CNN, February 3)

If you’re like me, that short paragraph inspires a host of useful questions. To cite a “spurious”quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” One of my useful questions: why are we so fearful of an educated citizenry? The collapse of our public schools and teaching as a valued profession is not an accident. It takes a dedicated effort to undermine something so completely.

An educated citizenry asks good questions of its leaders. An educated citizenry would not be so easily duped by entertainment-posing-as-news. An educated citizenry would not fear its history or its future.

When we rounded the corner in the Milwaukee airport and saw the meditation room, it was like a magnet. It pulled me inside. An intentional place of peace! A quiet space for reflection. How rare in a place dedicated to hustle and bustle.

I was struck by the quote from the Talmud and carried it with me for days. To create peace, to experience peace, truth and justice must be not only be valued by the community, they must be lived by the community. Truth must be shared. Removing books from classrooms, gagging teachers from teaching the fullness of our history, does not change our history a whit. It does, however, soil our future, perpetuate the race to the bottom, and intentionally obfuscates truth. It creates discord by ignoring injustice.

As the Talmud quote instructs, in such a world, where truth is not valued, there can be no justice and, in the absence of justice, there is no capacity for peace.

Sustaining ourselves, surviving as a free people. Teachers are the stewards of our core values; theirs is a sacred obligation. And, the teachers are walking out of the schools. Here’s a useful question: Who could blame them?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE MEDITATION ROOM

Both/And [on KS Friday]

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Dwight sent a book to me: From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks. Several months ago at dinner we talked about how to make this next chapter of life the best chapter. As is my practice lately, I am reading it slowly, taking my time. I used to read like a hungry man eats; I gobbled information. Now I savor. I take one bite at a time and taste all of it. Someday soon we will talk about what I am discovering in the book. I’m only a few chapters in and already I’m rethinking my choices, considering different paths moving forward.

Pondering my next steps has also been an exercise of looking at where I’ve been. A lyric from Dan Fogelberg just ran through my mind [The Last Nail, by Dan Fogelberg]:

I left a trail of footprints deep in the snow
I swore one day, I would retrace them
But when I turned around, I found that the wind had erased them
Now I’ll never replace them

With distance it’s easy to see that some of the worst choices I’ve made in my life have also been the best choices I’ve made in my life. I can see that my desperation brought innovation. I can see the prison I made of my judgments and the hard truths necessary to unlock my cell door. I can see I needed a broken heart to arrive at an open heart.

With distance, I’m beginning to understand that no single experience lives in isolation. No day is either “good” or “bad.” No single period of my life defines the worth or wealth of my time on earth. No title, like “artist,” can wrap its fingers around the totality of my time. I am all of those things and none of those things.

On Monday, we interred Beaky’s ashes. She is with Pa in the national cemetery. We sang a song and then an attendant closed the niche. A journey’s end. Later that day I jumped off the back of a couch into a pile of pillows with a two year old, laughing, wiggling our toes. This wild-child is in full discovery mode, everything an adventure. A journey’s inception.

This life is achingly beautiful, each and every moment.

The entire album: Released From The Heart © 1995 Kerri Sherwood

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about HEART DIVOTS

Remember This Vivid Moment [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When we first met, we sat on the living room carpet staring into the fire, and talked the night away. The sound of the birds at dawn surprised us. I remember the coming light and sweet birdsong like it was yesterday.

A few days ago we sat on the living room carpet in the sun, and talked the afternoon away. Our quiet conversation reminded me of that very first night. Our topic in the winter sun: letting go of too-tightly-held-ideals. “Truth will out,” wrote Master Shakespeare in his Merchant of Venice. Our truth was out in quiet voices that brought affirmations of better days.

A story I once loved to tell was The Crescent Moon Bear. The heroine, a young wife, must go on a journey. She must leave all that she knows in pursuit of her purpose. Leaving all that you know is easier said than done. It doesn’t happen in a moment; it requires some sweet visitation of the past. “What was” as launching pad to “What will be.”

Before I left my studio in Seattle, I had to touch the walls, run my fingers along the sill. I knew I would never be back. Even in that moment, all I could remember was the goodness I experienced in that space. The refuge. The sanctuary. The creative fulfillment. The hard times I’d known there dissipated like mist.

What was. Krishnamurti wrote, “You can only be afraid of what you think you know.” I marvel that the hardships of my past soften into pastel remembrance, translated into useful lessons, while my future fears are as sharp as broken glass, monsters around the corner. Acute imagination.

I marvel that the generosities heaped upon my life are vivid and bring tears to my eyes just as they did the day that I first experienced them. Keen remembrances.

Sitting on the carpet, the low afternoon sun warming us, I realize that I will always remember this vivid moment. The day we opened our hands and let fly illusions. We both took a deep breath. New air rushed into the open space, Not knowing where we might now go or what we might now do, we sat in the waning light, surprised that the sun was setting so soon.

read Kerri’s blogpost about REMEMBERING

Ask A Better Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I just erased the post I’d written for today. We often write a few days ahead so we have time to reflect on or edit what we’ve written. We’ve learned that it’s a good practice to consider what you are about to spill into the world.

It’s a good practice because it affords us the opportunity to ask, “Is this what I mean to say? Is this what I really want to say?” The post that I’d initially written was bothering me. A lot. Sipping coffee, I confessed my discomfort to my chief editor and life-collaborator (Kerri) and we followed the trail until we found the source of my chagrin.

There is a question, a much more important question, behind and beyond clarifying what I really want to say. It is this: “Is this who I want to be?” My post was making me uncomfortable because it was the opposite of what I profess to be. It was the opposite of who I understand myself to be. Of who I want to be.

I’ve often written and taught about “the spaces between.” Relationship. Intuition. Heart. Facts and data require interpretation and live on the spectrum at the farthest point away from wisdom. Focus on the spaces between, the movement rather than the noun, and an entirely different life opens. Wisdom is more like water than stone.

Most cliches touch a truth-root and today that is the case for me: We teach what we most need to learn. Thank goodness my editor was around to gently slap open my eyes and help me ask myself a better question.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SPACES

Locate The Center [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The very center of your heart is where life begins. The most beautiful place on earth.” ~ Rumi

What, exactly, is the heart of the matter?

If you listen, what does your heart tell you?

What does it mean to “Follow your heart”?

Heart land? Heart song?

This weekend the question was asked, “Do you think there is an absolute truth?” I amused myself thinking of the oxymoron in the terms ‘absolute’ and ‘truth’. I am almost certain – but not absolute – that the question was really about the location of the center of heart. Is there a heart center? Where is the center of the universe? Here. And everywhere else.

Kerri pitched the small piece of chain onto the counter, saying, “This goes in the special box.” It landed in the shape of a heart.

“Hi, Pa!” I thought, and we laughed.

We wear pull chain as bracelets around our left wrists; the original pieces came from her father’s workbench. They are connective tissue to him and to each other. Heart chain. They periodically break so we are many generations from the original. The current chain is symbolic. This heart-piece was from my most recent chain break.

“What are the odds?” she asked.

Yes, indeed. What are the odds that a piece of pull-chain could so quickly bring us to the heart of the matter?

read Kerri’s blogpost about HEART

Take A Closer Look [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Knowledge is rarely completely divorced from power, and interpretation is too often an expression of convenience.” ~ Wade Davis, The Wayfinders

Discussing our project, Yaki and I agreed that we needed to step lightly. “We wouldn’t be allowed to perform this piece in Florida,” I quipped. Yet, sadly, it’s true. The piece is Beethoven. Nothing controversial there! I’ve written and will perform the narrative, an update of the piece from 2008. Yaki asked me to rewrite the narrative to speak to the issues of 2022.

It’s odd. Were we to perform the new script in the world of 2008, it would be benign. No one would deny or take issue with the fact that slavery is part of the history of the United States. It would have been laughable to challenge the era of Jim Crow or that the struggle for Civil Rights was and is a part of our story. Our division is not new. It’s institutional, systemic. Yet, in 2022, in red states, the dark side of colonialism is being scrubbed from curricula. They’re attempting to rewrite our nation’s history as a Hallmark movie.

Things are rarely what they appear. It’s one of the reasons why art is so powerful and necessary in a healthy society. When a community goes off the rails, claiming truth is fiction while aggressively promoting fiction as truth, the truth deniers always attempt to shut down and/or shout down all conversation. The theatre, the arts, during turbulent times, can reach into dark fiction, and resurrect the soul of truth.

Things are rarely what they appear. Staring out the kitchen window I was amazed that the bird perched on the wire fence was so still. It was so uncanny that I walked out back to get a closer look.

It’s the only way for people, for ideas, for communities, for nations, to grow. To question. To be curious enough to have a closer look. To laugh at themselves when the bird is discovered to be a leaf. To not be afraid to have their illusions popped, their history unpacked, or to welcome another point of view.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE BIRD

Discover It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

The mist from the falls danced with the sunlight. Waterfall aura. Waterfall halo. We stood in the bands of color and laughed. Full body color tickle.

And then, a hush of utter appreciation. We listened to the chamber music of rushing water over the edge of rock. It was so beautiful there was nothing to be done but to close our eyes. Drink it in. Mist on our faces.

And then, we continued upward. The trail was steep so our steps were slow.

Krishnamurti wrote that, “To find out what is truth there must be great love and a deep awareness of (hu)man’s relationship to all things – which means that one is not concerned for one’s progress and achievements.”

In his book, Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse wrote that for every truth there exists an opposite truth. We humans are largely resistant to grasping both sides of wholeness. We like to be right so we tend to “fix” our half-truth in white-knuckled abstractions. Lost in our minds and paging through our rulebook-for-living, we miss the fullness of our relationship to all that surrounds us.

Standing by the waterfall, slowly climbing the mountain, it was easy to love our relationship to all things. The trail brought quiet to our minds. Each step, moment to moment, a full vibrant discovery of truth.

read Kerri’s blogpost about WATERFALL HALO

Be Different [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Inadvertently, 20 did me a great favor. On the day Kerri and I married, he carried a concealed camera and captured conversations and special moments of our ceremony. In his footage is a short exchange he had with my dad. My dad said of me, “He’s his own man.”

To that point in my life I’d wondered what he thought of me, my winding career path, my free-form seeming-feral existence. “He’s his own man,” brought me peace.

Once, during a conference that we led, Alan told me I should dress differently. “People would have more respect for you,” he said. Once, trying to fit in, I wore a suit to a facilitation and Rich told me I should dump the suit and dress as myself. I’ve awarded him the blue ribbon for best advice.

In my consulting life I wore clogs. I hated shoes with strings. The first thing I did at every job was kick off my clogs. You’d be surprised how invested people in power suits are in their footwear. You’d be heartened how human they become when they unlace and kick off their shoes. It’s like removing a mask.

People hire me because I am different. Because I see differently. My difference is my gift, the epicenter of what I bring to the world – and that is true of all people.

In a culture that prides itself on its individualism, it’s always been amusing to me how invested we are to “fit in.” Shopping at the right store, wearing the right clothes, we gush about our wild nature while synching tight the corporate tie. To “dress for success” means to fit a prescription, to NOT stand out. Business casual. The real real. All houses must look the same. Revealing behavior betrays the swaggering rhetoric.

Our individualism is at best a thin veneer. In truth, we fear difference. I dare the court of Supremes to uphold a coach’s right to pray before the big game on the 50 yard line if he’s Sikh. Or Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Buddhist. My son is gay. He lives a constant, never-ending battle to defend his difference. Why?

“But the truth is, I am different,” I said to Kerri who was red-faced with anger at the email from the concrete sub-contractor. He turned down the job to replace our bit of sidewalk, broken out during the waterline repair. Among his reasons, “…and he seems a little different.” He was referring to me.

“I’ve dealt with that my whole life,” I said as she furiously typed a reply. “It’s not a big deal. I’m an artist.”

“It is a big deal,” she snarled, typing harder, faster.

Listening to her ferocious key-pounding, I had a sweet wave of appreciation for her. In a lifetime of “different”, it is a rare and precious moment that someone vigorously defends your difference. Rather than hammer you into creased dockers, lace-up shoes or the right haircut, a furious defender was unfamiliar. She, too, is different and knows the bruise of the shame-hammer. I suspect we’ve all experienced its sting.

In my head, I heard my dad say, “He’s his own man.” Peace. I am what I am and the people who love me wouldn’t have me any other way. That makes a difference. All the difference.

This I know: it’s nice – so nice – not to be alone in my difference.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DIFFERENCE

Find Your Motley [on KS Friday]

“Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.” ~ Horace

There is a famous photo of a gathering of the world’s religious leaders. Readying for the photographer, poised with their serious, “I’m-a-religious-leader” faces, the Dalai Lama turned trickster, and the group burst into laughter. Instead of a wall of stony import, the photographer caught the humanity, the real people hiding behind the official masks. The silly revealed the real.

We are not well represented by our walls of respect, our certificates and degrees and resumes. The letters after our names are often layers of obfuscation.

Although I am not a religious person, I went to a Catholic college. Some of my fondest memories are the moments sitting on the barracks steps with Father Lauren talking about life and personal belief. I knew the road to a rowdy conversation was to bring up the topic of reincarnation. Father Lauren, a Franciscan, always took my bait. He could only maintain his official-priest-role for a few moments and then the real guy, the man full of laughter and curiosity, came out to play. Inevitably, we’d talk into the evening of choices and dreams and plans and roads-not-taken.

Sometimes I think of fall color as a jester’s motley. The world explodes into vivid fuchsia and gold set against the green. Nature’s play, a silly dance meant to make us gape and coo and laugh. I’ve read that the only person in the court that dared speak truth to the king was the court jester. Truth is available if it arrives in foolish clothes. Thus, Stephen Colbert.

Quinn was full to the brim with laughter. He was a master of tossing the silly into the serious so the truth might be heard. Skip initially hired me to draw cartoons. A serious product that speaks to a serious problem. It’s very possible that the only way it will be heard is though a silly message, a quirky stick poking the bear. The overriding lesson I am learning at this stage of my life is to not-take-it (I am “it”) so seriously. And, so, each week, I lob silly bombs into serious camps – my own camp and others.

I’ve taken special delight this fall. Kerri’s photographic eye is on high alert. We walk and every third step she says, “I’m sorry,” and stops to take a picture. I’ve stopped asking, “What are you apologizing for?” Now, I simply watch and wait for the moment she looks at the screen, scrutinizing what she’s just captured, turns to me with silly glee, saying, “Lookit!”

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

read Kerri’s blog post about FUCHSIA

every breath/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

See The Dance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“You can only push the truth down for so long, and then it bubbles back up.” ~ Cassandra Clare

“Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul.” ~ D.H. Lawrence

Last night we made a fire in the fire pit. We decided to have a pop-up dinner by the fire so we set up our table, lit candles, poured some wine, and brought our dinner out under the stars on a chilly October night. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so we looked at the stars. We wondered if the brightest lights were planets.

There are many, many works of art from a genre in the Middle Ages known as the Dance Macabre. Dance with death. The scary images were meant to remind people of life’s fragility, its passing nature. They were also meant to point out the obvious: we are all united in our final destination. No one is better or worse than any other in the grand scheme of things, in the Dance Macabre. In the Middle Ages, the allegory was meant to suggest it was best to aim your focus at the afterlife. Do good works as an investment in your future or go to the fiery place below.

Were I to paint a series of Dance Macabre images today, my intent would be the exact opposite: aim your eyes at this moment. There is nothing more precious or wonder-full than this moment. If there is a heaven, it is now. And, it will go unnoticed if the dance is not acknowledged. There is no sadder phrase on earth than, “Same-old-same-old.”

According to some cultures, I am now in sacred space. I’m seeing all things relative to my dad’s recent passing. Sitting by the fire, our dinner complete, we talked about his death and my inability lately to invest too much emotional energy in anything. Things that would have upset me a few months ago barely register. I’m watching the usual list of anxieties and worries drop off. Why would I give an ounce of my wonder to something so…small? Perspective is the gift of the dance macabre. Clarity of sight and intention comes with this kind of perspective.

We clinked our glasses, the cold night and the heat from the fire colliding around us under the stars. DogDog slept on the deck, a few feet away. We realized our moment. Fully. Magic was alive, bubbling everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about BUBBLES