Stop And Rest [on KS Friday]

At the height of the pandemic she recorded music on her phone and posted it for the community. It was a warm blanket, a comfort sent to people separated by the virus. Yesterday, she stumbled upon the recordings. There are hundreds. She played one for me. Pressing pause, she looked surprised and said, “These were good.”

I appreciated her honesty. I smiled at her surprise. Having been taught that it’s not nice to brag, she rarely acknowledges the scope and depth of her gift. Her pat response when I genuinely gush about her latest composition: “It’s okay.” It is good medicine for a gifted artist to say to herself, “My work is good.”

Also yesterday, she had a “talk” with me. She advised that I be less hard on myself. “Hold yourself softly,” she said. She was spot on. She can see it in me because she can see it in herself. She was telling me that, like her, my work is good. I swallowed my immediate response, “It’s okay.”

“Okay” is a hard word. It comes from a long road of vulnerability and a dedication to getting better and better. Minimizing is both armor and a practice. The path of artistic passion runs through, “Love what you do.” Yes, love it, but don’t get lost in it.

A life of mastery is built upon a mountain-range of mistakes and a dedication to never arriving. Keep walking. Keep growing and opening. Keep discovering ways to say more with less. Every once in awhile, it’s nourishing for the artistic soul to stop for a rest and crawl under the warm generous blanket of, “My work is good.”

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about QUILTS

and goodnight/and goodnight…a lullaby album © 2005 kerri sherwood

Stand Still [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The understanding of what you actually are is far more important than the pursuit of what you should be.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

I wrinkled my brow the first time I heard Kerri say it: “We don’t change. We just become more of who we already are.” I didn’t like it. I wanted to pop the notion with pithy ideas of transformation. Something made me hold my tongue. “Consider it,” I said to myself.

Now, a full decade into the latest phase of my life-long-onion-peel, I see the wisdom in her words. The layers of protection, the suits of armor, the wall of respect, the race from shame, the measuring sticks and self-inflicted-social-expectations stripping away. Trying-to-be falls to the floor like a robe. The story-husks and fear-shells and false skins, false faces, false labels and roles and masks falling to the forest floor.

And, there you are. Just as you are. Naked and vulnerable and oh, so passingly human. Standing still. No ghosts to chase. No monsters chasing you.

And, there you are.

No distance between you and what you desire to create or experience. Finger painting. A child with a crayon and an empty wall for scribbles.

Kerri looks for hearts. She finds rocks shaped like hearts and leaves, heart-impressions in walls and heart-shaped clouds. Each one is a first-and-only and evokes delight. Last week on the trail, it occurred to me that she finds them everywhere, not because she looks for them, but because she expects to see them.

Seeing old friends. There you are.

read Kerri’s blog post about the HEART LEAF

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

Take A Second Chance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

This is a story about second chances. Both of us had first go-rounds and neither went according to the dream. The gap between life and dream is sometimes daunting, vast. But, the good news with all-things-daunting is that, if you are lucky – and we are, you emerge on the other side, not only with a better sense of humor, but an understanding of the hard work it takes to make dreams a reality. Or, said another way, you live into a better sense of yourself. Kerri and I could be the poster children for people who’ve crossed the gap and come out laughing.

Early in our relationship we danced in the living room to Rascal Flatt’s song, The Broken Road. After our dance, we spent a long evening talking about our broken roads. There’s something powerful (and telling) about two people who willingly pull out their broken pieces and spread them across the table for the other to see, not for a pity-party but to say without shame, “This is me. This is what I’ve done and where I’ve been. I don’t want to hide any of it from you because I want you to see me, barnacles and all.” It is the mark of the tribe of second chances. Vulnerability as a strength.

In a second chance you have the opportunity to discover yourself anew. That might sound thrilling – and it is in retrospect – but it requires a good deal of hot fire to burn away the former shell. It’s as if the rules of life that have always applied, the rules that have always provided orientation to the game-of-life suddenly no longer apply. Trying to hold onto the old version is like trying to hide the fact that you are aging. It’s impossible. We started collecting our beautiful moments of denial and rude-awakening because, well, they were and are funny. For instance, I looked in the mirror one day and saw my grandfather staring back. It happened overnight and I was horrified! I spent the rest of the day looking for soft light so I might delay Kerri seeing my new grandfatherly face.

Second chances come to all of us. We have friends and family in our circle that are recent empty-nesters. The kids are gone. The house is quiet. They are asking two questions: 1) Who is this stranger sitting across the table? And 2) Who am I, the person looking back at the stranger across the table? Like us, they are walking through the rule changes, the body changes, the purpose changes, the identity changes. We hope that they, like us, recognize their barnacles as a shared map forward, a reason to bond and learn each other, and themselves, anew.

That’s the reason and the story behind our comic strip SMACK-DAB. Like us, it is a second run at a good idea only this time, less armored. For now, we’ll publish a new strip every Saturday. Our chronicle of second chances. Smack-dab in the middle of middle age. The laughter and good love that comes from splaying all the broken pieces across the table and saying, “This is me and I want you to know and share every last shard. For the rest of my life.”

Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
~ Bless The Broken Road, Rascal Flatts

read Kerri’s blog post about SMACK-DAB.