Make A Mess [on Merely A Thought Monday]

One cannot know life’s ups without experience of life’s downs. The quality that defines order is chaos. And, vice-versa.

In the same vein, Horatio hit me with a thought that gave me the shivers: wisdom is the blossom of regret.

Regret is one of those special words that is both a verb and a noun. To lament. A feeling of sorrow. It comes from experience. When he was young, Roger told me that he wanted to live a life with no regrets and although we’ve lost touch, my great hope is that he was incapable of living the life he wanted to live. He is made of deeper stuff.

Hermann Hesse’ novel, Siddhartha, is a story of arriving at wisdom. So, too, is his novel Narcissus and Goldmund. Far beyond the lands of understanding and knowledge, the fields of wisdom are born of messy life. Mistakes made. Fears confronted. Loss and awe. Illusions pierced. A protected life may fill your cup and bank account with information but will leave you with a limited palette of life experience. A full closet of clothes for the ghost that wears them.

Coincidentally, last week, Horatio and I both spent some time on sterile medical beds looking up at the bright lights on the ceiling. Doctors looking down. Suddenly filled with gratitude for the regrets that we’ve racked up in this life.

Sitting by the river, watching the river flow by, we compared notes. We shared life stories. How on earth did I get to be so lucky?

read Kerri’s blogpost about CATERPILLAR ON A ROPE

Tally [on KS Friday]

“It’s a haiku day,” I said, feeling empty of anything useful to write. She’s already rapidly clicking away on her keyboard.

The sunflower grows/More beautiful over time/Green vine seeks wisdom.

Counting syllables/ on my fingers, I tally/the word “beautiful.”

Three or four? I ask/She’s deep in thought, can’t hear me/Syllables confound.

Beautiful is three!/”My haiku, my choice,” I quip/Who invents these rules?

Green vine seeks wisdom/Rust has seen many seasons/Green seeks. Rust stands still.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about SUNFLOWER

silent days/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

Add More Pulp [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Last night Jupiter and Mars converged without us. We had the best of intentions to rise at 3:30am and walk east to the water’s edge where we might see the event. Somehow, we slept through it. “Do you think they converged anyway?” I asked in a moment of grand ego inflation. I’m not the first human to delude myself into thinking the heavens spin around me. Kerri sipped her coffee and pretended she was alone.

Do you remember Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree? A story of the sacrifices made in relationship. The little boy in the story takes everything the tree has to offer. And the tree, in return, is happy. I was not aware – though I’m not surprised – that such a simple book for children could be so controversial. Banned and excoriated for sexist messages. Loved and embraced for altruism. Both/And. Symbols and metaphors are open to interpretation, planets of meaning circling the life-experience of the interpreter.

Jonathan once told us that “A tree must split its bark to grow.” Though he did not know it at the time, I was gaining weight and en route to splitting my bark. Now that the splitting is done and I am at least one size bigger, I’m wondering if my new expanse provided space for wisdom or if I’ve simply added another ring of wood. More pulp.

Don’t ask Kerri. She’s sipping her coffee, quietly pondering the inordinate sacrifices made in relationship. While she’s suffering her obvious conclusion, I’m think I’ll phone Jupiter and Mars and apologize for not showing up. Who knows, maybe when I didn’t show, they decided to reschedule! It wouldn’t be a proper convergence without me, right?

read Kerri’s blogpost about BARK

Ready The Wings [on KS Friday]

“Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow/Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow” ~ Cat Stevens, Moonshadow

An appreciation of life, no matter what comes. It is the meaning of this lyric, this song – or so I’ve read. It seems obvious. I’m having many, many conversations about loss these days. This has been an era of loss and, so the cliche’ goes, with loss new opportunity arrives. It’s true though one must move through the loss in order to arrive at the new. On the way, there is weeping and fear and anger and disorientation. Chrysalis. The trick, we are told, is about focus placement. One day we shift our eyes and see what we have instead of what we no longer possess. We move toward rather than look back.

Kerri has, for years, surrounded herself with symbols of peace. They are on our walls, on rings that she wears, on chains draped on the corner of our bathroom mirror. She draws them in the sand on the trail. A prayer for the world she desires to create. Inside and out. Since she fell, my solo-piano-playing wife has lost more than mobility in her wrists. Strange stuff is happening. Fingers that sometimes refuse to respond. Pain that shoots, seemingly from nowhere. After a photograph – a wish for the world, a peace sign in shadow – she said, “Come look at this. Look how much my finger is bending!” Strange stuff.

What is most remarkable about this shadow is, a year ago, it would have been cause for frustration. A reminder of loss. Full of fear. Today, it was a curiosity. She looks back, she looks forward. Each day she writes lyrics and poetry and wisdoms. She hums the music running through her mind and heart and, sometimes, she dances. Standing at the crossroads of what was and what is to become. Peace replaces pain. All in good time. Good time. Wings readying to unfurl.

[peace. this is one of my favorite pieces of Kerri’s]

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about PEACE

peace/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Trip And Trip Again [on KS Friday]

One of the advantages of having stepped in every pothole, tripped on every cobble, and made every mistake at least twice, is that I’ve learned about potholes, cobbles, mistakes, tripping and stepping where I ought not step. If I could boil down to the essence the single thing I’m beginning to grok it is this: life is not elsewhere.

I laughed aloud when I at last I realized the absurdity of “practicing mindfulness” as if it was something to achieve. Mindfulness arrives when the practice stops. Of course. Meditating for self-improvement, I’ve read, is a uniquely Western oddity. “Trying” to be present is ridiculous if you think about it. You are present. What else? Because your mind is running amok does not actually magically transport you to the past or the future. You are present with a mind that is running amok. Minds are like puppies: chase them and they run away. Stand still and they will eventually come to you.

Is any of this pothole wisdom helpful? Absolutely not. Like mindfulness, wisdom arrives when the obsession with knowledge-for-betterment ceases. I’ll let you know what that looks like when I stop trying to attain it. There’s no end to the tripping stones. I’ve learned that, too. Again and again. And again.

The best things in life are not achievements. They are relationships. Me to you. Me to me. Me to the world I am passing through, one moment at a time. With you. Stand still in the moment – you might as well since it is where you are – and you’re libel to experience all manner of beauty.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWFLAKES

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

kindred spirits…away/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Coalesce [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Rich used to tell me that, “People don’t change until the pain of the change is less than the pain of staying the same.” At the time, I thought his mantra was cynical; pain either way. Now, I think it is spot-on.

Discord is the essential ingredient for initiating any creative process. Explorers look at the horizon with a deep need to find-out what’s beyond. Their curiosity outstrips their comfort. Curiosity and comfort. Change and stay-the-same. There’s a tug-of-war in every decision that’s worth making.

Creative tension is a dynamic pull between two poles. Do I add a brushstroke or is the painting finished? This morning I came across a well-known quote by Leonardo da Vinci: Art is never finished, only abandoned. Pain either way. Finishing a work of art is akin to dropping the rope in the creative tug-of-war.

When I was wearing my corporate-consultant-hat, almost daily I repeated a lesson relative to Little Red Riding Hood: without the Wolf there is no story. Too often we try to eliminate our Wolf. We are inundated with messages trumpeting the notion that happiness (or good process) arrives in the absence of discord. It does not. Happiness avails itself when the necessity of the Wolf is understood as the fuel of the story.

People thrive when challenged. We create challenges when we don’t have them. Understanding the role of the Wolf transforms Rich’s mantra into something far less pain-full. The heart yearns. The brain fears. The yearning and the fear will coalesce into some action that may or may not be recognized as a choice. Which is the Wolf? The yearning? The fear? Either way, another day is lived. The story is created.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNCOMFORTABLE

Learn Where To Listen [on KS Friday]

“Her mother told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted to be so she grew up to be the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, the wolf leading wolves.” ~ Nikita Gill

A long time ago I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a young fox who had extraordinary abilities. Her talents made her an outlier in the pack, something strange, so they hammered her into compliance. She buried her gifts. The story is, of course, how she came to embrace her gifts despite the court of fox-public opinion.

Lao Tzu wrote, “Care about what other people think of you and you will always be their prisoner.” It is a lesson that every artist must learn. Do your work. YOUR work. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Some will walk by without a second glance. You can never determine what another person sees or thinks so waste no energy in that fruitless cause. Do your work.

It’s a tough lesson, a mammoth paradox, since we are, after all, a pack animal, a social being. An artist has no reason to work if there is no audience or community to receive the work. Traditionally, artists live on the edge of the community so they can both see in and express what they see but also serve as a channel to what lies beyond the spiritual perimeter. The tightrope walk is about belonging while marginalized enough to remain clear-sighted. The artist must step back from the painting in order to see it.

I’m enjoying a slow read through Kent Nerburn‘s book, Dancing With The Gods: Reflections On Life And Art. Master Miller recommended it and I’m finding the simple wisdom of an artist-elder a refreshing daily meditation. Were I to write a sequel to my long-ago-children’s-book, it would be about this: coming back to your gift is not a one-and-done affair. It is a cycle. We embrace it and run from it and embrace it and lose it and find it and smother it and resurrect it and step back and look at it. Again and again. To become the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, is not an achievement, an arrival platform, it is a relationship. Yes, with the community, but it is mostly a walk with your self and what lies beyond that spiritual perimeter. It is ongoing. Never static. Somedays you are the strongest of the strong. And, on other days, you are empty and weak. Full spectrum palette. The only way to know and reflect all of the colors of life is to experience them firsthand. And, so, it is imperative to learn where to listen, where to invest your tender care.

The gift grows as more colors enter the paint box.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HER MOTHER TOLD HER

Kerri’s albums are available in iTunes or streaming on Pandora

Live Life At The Pace Of A Letter [on KS Friday]

“…what we feel is always larger than our means to express it.” ~ Declan Donnellan

Ruby, like Columbus is winding down. The forwarded-email let me know that she enjoyed my letter but also that she was not getting out of bed. Over the weekend she did not want to eat or drink. Pete is in hospice care.

I’ve not heard from Mike in months. Like Ruby, she is in her 90’s and I often wonder how she is doing. She is made of sturdy stuff and has a curious mind but even those powerful forces are no match for the running sands.

Although we live in the age of email and text, fast communication, these dear ones are solidly old school. A letter. A stamp. A mailbox. News comes at a different pace.

Ruby wrote a letter. It was dated last October and was mailed sometime in April. She typed it because she feared that I would not be able to decipher her handwriting. I typed my reply because I knew for certain that she would not be able to read my scribbles. Although it was lost on my young ears, time is different when you age. Both more meaningful and less. I’m living my way into hearing the simple wisdom of elders.

Tom Mck and I used to sit on his porch and watch the sunset over the fields. One evening he told the story of a letter mailed to his great-grandfather Lak. The pony express took six years to deliver the letter. It had to come all the way across the country. It was from his siblings telling of his mother’s passing. Although six years in the past, the news was fresh to Lak. His grief, therefore, was timeless.

It is always a time of transition but, sometimes, it is simply more apparent than others. This is one of those times. There is a pandemic. There is civil unrest. Moral upheaval in the nation. I feel none of that as acutely or potently as I do Columbus taking a labored breath or Ruby no longer interested in eating. It is the reason we sit on the back deck each night, light the lamps, and, often in silence, we enjoy the evening as it wanes. Living life at the pace of a letter.

It’s not that there is nothing to be said, it’s that no words – no matter how quickly delivered or slow – can properly capture the enormity of this time, this inevitable rolling transition.

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

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FLAME

in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Ask A Coneflower [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I was surprised to learn that Echinacea is a coneflower. Actually, the opposite is more correct. The coneflower is Echinacea. Filled with antioxidants, immunity booster, inflammation reducer, it is a heavy lifting herb. It’s also beautiful.

“I want to use the coneflower on Monday,” Kerri said. “It would have been Momma’s 100th birthday.” I asked if Beaky liked coneflowers and she smiled and said, “No. It’s just beautiful. And falling away. It just reminded me of my mom.”

Beautiful and falling away. I only knew Beaky for 18 months but felt as if I knew her a lifetime. She was rare and special. A gifted teller of stories. She was like the coneflower, filled with antioxidants, an inflammation reducer. I watched her more than once boost someone’s spirit, cool an angry intention. She was a dedicated see-er of the positive, a believer in the goodness of people. These days, those qualities are not easy to come by and even harder to cultivate.

On the morning that she was going into surgery, we wheeled her down the hall of the rehabilitation center en route to the ambulance. The staff lined the walls to wish her well, to cheer for her. It was a Beaky parade. I think the Beatles had it right: the love you take is equal to the love you make. She made people want to be better. She made me want to be better.

When taking your leave from her, she would always say, “Be kind to one another.” It’s a proper wish for all of us, a baseline expectation in a time of deep division. Beaky’s wish at age 100, I imagine, is the same as it was when she was 93 or 82 or 56 or 30. Be kind. One to another. The path to a better world is not so complicated after all. Just ask a simple coneflower.

read Kerri’s blog post about CONEFLOWERS

Go Empty [on DR Thursday]

Readers…will welcome the enlightening description of ’emptiness as a beneficent state before creation.” ~ Anna Freud, forward to ON NOT BEING ABLE TO PAINT by Joanna Field

Kendy gave me the book, On Not Being Able To Paint in 1999. That was the year I burned almost all of my paintings. Let’s just say that I hit a wall. Another interpretation of my 1999 big fire is that I needed to create space. It’s a paradox I very much appreciate: as an artist, the overwhelming need to create space when feeling completely empty. ‘Being empty’ is not in-and-of-itself spacious.

Emptiness before creation is…biblical – it is pre-biblical, Chaos and Abyss are players in the Greek-god-canon. The universe abhors a vacuum but welcomes space.

This painting, lovingly dubbed THE RED MESS, has been on my easel for months. It predates the great basement flood. It’s what I was painting when I entered the void, when my tank went empty. I must have known I was low on creative fuel because I was trying something new. Red. The painting was, before I wiped it, an image of Kerri taking a photograph of a train through the trees on the Des Plaines river trail. She has a series of Trains-Through-Trees and I’ve delighted in watching her race to catch the shot.

Karola, perhaps the wisest AND happiest person I have ever known, encouraged me to allow myself to “go empty.” At the time, I was in my twenties, I feared emptiness. I thought my muse might leave and never come back. I fought her advice while trying to take her advice. One foot on the gas and the other foot on the brakes. “David,” she said in her German accent, “you have to let the glass go empty before it has the space to fill up! Let yourself go empty!” She laughed so hard at the look on my face that tears came to her eyes.

Now, I’ve sorted out my pedals. I descend into the studio every day and stand before this red mess. I don’t want to take it off the easel. It’s helping me embrace-the-space. It’s a loving postcard to myself, a reminder to respect the emptiness. To stand in the void and welcome the spaciousness.

Muses do not leave. People routinely turn their backs on the muse. Mine is right in front of me, sitting on my easel, draped in brilliant red, just like a stop sign. It is not a matter of hitting the gas or the brakes. Sometimes you just have to get out of the car and rest your eyes for a while.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE RED MESS