Write Together [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Dogga is sleeping at the foot of the bed. As he ages, he’s starting to snore and it makes me chuckle. His paws wiggle. He’s running circles in his dreams.

While he runs, we sit on the bed, feet under the blankets, doing what we do together each morning. We are writing blogposts. It’s among our favorite things to do. We structure our days around our time to write.

Twelve years ago, staring at the keyboard and flickering white screen, I pondered the utter madness of writing my first blogpost. I did not identify as a writer. I was convinced that I had nothing to say. Why, then, was I staring at this blank screen, my fingers hovering just above the keys?

The romantic in me tells the story that I knew, someday in my distant future, I’d begin every-single-day sitting next to my wife, writing. Staring at that long-ago blank screen, somewhere deep down, I knew that I needed to learn to write, I needed to learn to give voice, not because I had anything worthwhile to say, but because I had something sacred I needed to learn to do. Our writing time is, after all, sacred time.

I’ve only recently come to realize that the great body of work I will leave on this earth is not, as I once hoped, my paintings. It will be these posts. What started as my musings has become our musings. We’ve calculated that, all together, to date, we’ve written the equivalent of ten decent sized books.

On the wall to my right is a small frame within a large frame. Within the small frame is a StoryPeople print. A couple embraces and the message reads: Someday, the light will shine like the sun through my skin & they will say, “What have you done with your life?” And though there are many moments I think I will remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.”

That’s it. The proof in my stars. None of the plays or paintings, none of the certificates on my inner wall of respect, matter a whit. Each day, in this life, I was given the gift – or gave myself the gift -of a blank screen, fingers that hover, and a step into uncertainty so that, one day, my future self might say, I am proud to be one of us.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EVERY MORNING

Drop The Veneer [on KS Friday]

It was common during coaching calls, for clients, especially at the beginning, to self-diagnose. Essentially saying, “This is what is wrong with me.” It was an odd start to a process that is about fulfillment of intention or creation of desire. A coaching relationship isn’t therapy and a good coach – one that knows what they are doing – is careful not to let the relationship become about fixing-what-is-wrong. Moving through a creative block or clarifying a fuzzy vision in not an indication of a character flaw. The post-it note on my desk read, “Nothing is broken. Nothing needs to be fixed.”

The self-diagnosis was a veneer. A protective layer, like armor. People have innumerable strategies for hiding their fire, for blunting their passions. Succeeding or creating often implies exposure. Being seen. Stepping into the light can be scary business.

Rather than deal with the diagnosis, a useful and often surprising question to ask is, “What’s beneath that?” What’s beneath the protective layer?

It was also common, after taking the time to take off the armor, after dropping the I’m-broken-veneer, to hear a voice whisper, “You know what I really want? I want to be a writer.” Or a painter. Or a dancer. Stepping into the light is scary business and hearing your voice say what you really want, even in a whisper – especially in a whisper – is powerful stuff!

I loved those moments. Their world spins. The eddy of “fixing” slips into the current and there’s no turning back. Their path forward may be gnarly and steep but that tiny whisper clarifies the picture, releases the desire.

Careful not to be too effusive, I’d say, “Good. Now, what’s the next step?”

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

read Kerri’s blogpost on VENEER

holding on/letting go on the album right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Melt And Hammer [on Merely A Thought Monday]

We are easily entertained. Once, we nearly crashed the car laughing-so-hard at the names we gave to our alter-egos. Who drives around naming their alternative selves? We do. Sit us in a corner and we’re pretty good at finding something to do.

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” ~ Thomas Merton

Igneous is volcanic. Fiery. A few weeks ago we painted rocks to put on the trail. Since we’re both cycling through an artistic-growth-crisis, we painted and fantasized about our new career intentions. When Kerri suggested we call ourselves “igneous artists” I howled. The layers of meaning are too vast to count. Plus, I thought it sounded suspiciously close to “ignorant artists” and I liked that, too. “We should hang out a shingle,” she said, “For Hire!”

Igneous artists.

Art is standing with one hand extended into the universe and one hand extended into the world, and letting ourselves be a conduit for passing energy.” ~ Albert Einstein

Because we tend to riff on everything, while painting rocks, we rolled around our new art-moniker until we had an appropriate clever (to us) sub-phrase. “It sounds like a lyric,” I announced, mostly as enticement for my lyricist wife to spin out a theme song. She did not take the bait.

Igneous artists with sedimentary souls.

‘Layers of soul’ is a yummy image. Especially if the layers are born of elements like fire. Like all artists, we’ve been forged, melted in a hot furnace and hammered into shape. The smith hammers out the impurities. “People don’t change,” Kerri often quips, “They become more of who they already are.”

I could stand to lose a few impurities. I look forward to becoming what I am already.

“To draw you must close your eyes and sing.” ~ Pablo Picasso

read Kerri’s blogpost about IGNEOUS ARTISTS

Laugh [on KS Friday]

I should not be surprised that a plant named Creeping Bellflower is considered a weed. An invasive plant. The horticulture websites warn that it is a “too vigorous herbaceous perennial.” In other words, left to its own devices, it will take over. I am planning on incorporating that phrase into my vocabulary. I can’t wait for the Cyrano-de-Berjerac-day I pull from my bag of witty rejoinders, “You, sir, are an invasive plant! A too vigorous herbaceous perennial!”

I confess, at the end of this latest fantasy, I thought “Creeping Bellflower must be a republican. Invasive. Not what it seems. Unchecked it will take over.” Shame on me. I laughed at my own horticulture-joke.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about CREEPING BELLFLOWER

pulling weeds/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Ask A Peony Question [on KS Friday]

The peony in our yard is sandwiched between tall grasses. We’re careful to cut back the grasses so the peony has space and air to breathe. Kerri watches it. She checks on it daily. She calls me to “Comesee!” when the buds appear. She pulls my arm, “It’s happening!” on the day the buds open into full bloom. In our house peony-bloom is cause for celebration.

The blossoms do not last long, a week, perhaps a few days more if we’re lucky. And then they are gone.

The blooms are passing but the plant is sturdy. Sometimes I feel that the peony is a good artist. It works all year drinking in sun and water and life so it might produce a few moments of lovely. Every single day, through the dog days of August, the harsh cold of winter, the wet and muddy spring, is necessary for the peony to bring its fragile and passing burst of pink beauty – its expression – into plain sight.

Late at night, the tornado sirens sent us to the basement. We sat in rocking chairs and listened to the roar of the storm, the flash and house-rattling thunder. I looked at my easel. Currently, my studio is filled with boxes. Kerri eyes her studio; it’s next up for a good cleaning-out. Revamp and refresh.

In the basement, sirens blaring and storms howling, we talked about whether or not she would ever play again. Whether or not I would ever again pick up a brush. It’s an open question. It’s a deep-in-the-night question.

It’s a peony question. I wonder if, in the dead of winter, roots reaching deeper than the frozen ground, if the peony knows that it will, with certainty, bloom?

In A Split Second from As Sure As The Sun

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE PEONY

in a split second/as sure as the sun © 2002 kerri sherwood

Sit In The Quiet [on DR Thursday]

Years ago I directed a production of Into The Woods and I wanted a set design alive with David Hockney colors. The production was gorgeous. The set the designer created was a vibrant fantasyland with the dark undertones wrought by dinosaur-size-too-big foliage. Tiny people in an oversized children’s pop-up book.

If I were going to direct the musical again today, I’d approach it through a different lens. I wouldn’t place it in the vivid palette of fantasyland; this world we journey through is fantastic just as it is. When Kerri and I walk, I am sometimes stunned to silence by the shapes and patterns and pops of color. Ominous and serene. Alive.

For reasons that have nothing to do with reason, I started using imagined leaf shapes, plant-symbols in my paintings. I know when I someday return to my easel, the plant shapes will be present – perhaps even dominant. There is no end to the eye-popping variations. Our walks in nature have me “seeing” again.

A few years ago, Brad and I talked about the deep backstory of why an artist creates. Of course, there’s not a single driving reason – it changes over time as we change over time. I know many artists who’ve set down their brushes, singers who stopped singing. They satisfied their backstory. They channel their creative juices into other forms. Based on the evidence, these days I am a writer. Lately, I spend more time drawing cartoons than painting paintings. And yet, I still think of myself as a painter.

In the past, a step away from the easel was acknowledging a fallow season, letting my batteries recharge. This time, the step away is different. My reasons are spinning, changing. The younger me-artist was finding a place to transform pain into presence. The middle-age-artist-me entered the studio because it was the only place on earth that made sense. It was a sanctuary. A quiet place.

Each day I walk down the stairs and stand for a few moments with the canvas on my easel. It’s a stranger. I hear my easel whisper, “Not yet. Soon.” I am content with soon. I feel as if I am in an extended meditation, borrowing a tradition from Japanese masters, sitting in the quiet until there is no space between me and the brush, no space between me and the motion. No space between me and the shape, the pop of color, the infinite variance of pattern. No space between me and the surprise-of-what-will-happen. No space between me and the story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TRILLIUM

joy © 2014 david robinson

Make Dandelion Delicacies [on KS Friday]

Because our yard is a festival of dandelions and our trail is alive with the vibrant yellow flowers, just for kicks, I Googled “dandelion recipes.” Coffees and teas, salads and pizza, quesadilla, syrup, jelly and cookies; eat the root, chomp the greens, it seems dandelions are nature’s one-stop-yummy-snack-shop. Brats! And, of course, let us not forget about dandelion wine!

How is it that this pervasive-misunderstood-as-an-invader-plant is so edible and rich in possibilities? I’ve never eaten a dandelion. If I can find an insecticide-free-zone I’m going to pick a bucket full and try a few recipes. My bet is that Master Marsh has washed down a dandelion or two en route to picking a tune on his guitar. He can make anything – and does – so my future dandelion meal will follow MM around the kitchen and learn his favorite dandy-lion recipe and then enjoy the concert after the plates are licked clean. I’ll do the dishes after the show. It’s the least I can do.

One of my favorite rituals of the spring season is to watch Kerri discover and photograph the first dandelion. It’s like the return of an old friend. “Look-It!” she points and cheers. The camera comes out and a sweet photoshoot commences. She has a fond spot in her heart for dandelions. I wish I had the series of First Dandelion Sightings of the Season. Her eye has changed. The more photographs she takes, the better her composition-eye is becoming. Art works like that. Do it again and again and it gets better, more sophisticated. Easier. Her eye was great to begin with but now I do double-takes. “Whoa!” I say, “Let me see that again.”

Tom used to tell me that the alternative schools were filled with artists. Young people who do not fit in and cannot thrive in the restriction of the lawn. Pervasive-misunderstood-invader-plants. Pulled and placed where they cannot disrupt the blanket of green. Yet, so rich in possibilities. So versatile in form, capable of feeding the soul. Medicinal people. Seers. And, when they age (ahem), they make dandelion delicacies, play music for their friends, and celebrate the small pop of yellow on the side of the path.

It’s good not to be a lawn.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about DANDELIONS

fistful of dandelions © 1999 kerri sherwood

Fill The Pot [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s food week at the Melange. Well, truth be told, it’s always food week here. When we’re not in our studios we meet in the kitchen and either eat food or talk about eating food. Sometimes – okay – everyday, when I am up in my office working, Kerri sends me a midmorning text: “Are you staaaaarving?” My reply never waivers: “Yes. Yes I am.” Snacks appear and happiness ripples throughout the house.

It’s winter and it’s covid so our circle of experience has shrunk mightily. Kerri injured her foot so our daily winter walks through the frozen tundra are on hiatus. As our recent photographs have betrayed, we are explorers in our own house. Photos of Dogga. Photos of the moon. Clever shots of candles and glasses of wine. And food, food, food.

Because it is winter, the big pot has re-emerged. Soups or spaghetti sauce are often simmering on the stove. During the warm months, the big pot goes on vacation but faithfully returns when the temperatures drop. There are weeks when the big pot never makes it back to the cabinet. It’s a workhorse.

I appreciate the reappearance of the big pot because, in addition to being essential for soups, it evokes stories. It never fails. The pot comes out. The chopping commences. And the stories start to roll. Our big pot has been around for a very long time so it is alive with story. Big pots bring memories of parents and grandparents, holiday meals, Dorothy cooking on the cast iron stove. It evokes remembrance from childhood, steam rising from the pot and fogging the kitchen window. Once, as a boy, I couldn’t breathe and leaned over the big pot. The steam helped.

This week we are excited: we have a new soup to try. Last week we made a simple vegetable soup, a recipe we lifted from 20. The big pot also helps us to dream. We remember a pre-covid world when we had gatherings and dinner parties, when we squeezed people into chairs at the table, elbows negotiating heaping plates of pasta, crusty bread, and wine. Laughter. “It’s the first thing we’re going to do,” Kerri says, “when this is all behind us.” The pot will come out. A vat of sauce will bubble on the stove. Friends will pack into the kitchen, asking, “When do we eat?”

read Kerri’s blogpost about BIG POTS

Feed It [on KS Friday]

“The devaluation of music and what it’s now deemed to be worth is laughable to me. My single costs 99 cents. That’s what a single cost in 1960. On my phone, I can get an app for 99 cents that makes fart noises – the same price as the thing I create and speak to the world with. Some would say that the fart app is more important. It’s an awkward time. Creative brains are being sorely mistreated.” ~ Vince Gill

I am the first in line to tell you that everyone has a creative mind. Everyone. That river of ridiculousness running between your ears is nothing other than creativity-run-amok. What else? Telling yourself that you are not creative is, in itself, a creative act. Seeds planted early in life grow into mighty obstructions. Creative wastelands are created. If you want to hear a terrific appeal to educators to nurture rather than stifle the creative mind, listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted Talk. It’s appropriately titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

I’ve listened to numerous school boards tell me how much they truly value the arts – until it’s time to pay for it. Sadly, it’s not a question of whether or not they value the arts; it’s that the arts, the creative minds, do not fit any of the standards of valuation against which all things are measured. They do not know how to value the creative minds that they steward. Arts organizations and artists, mostly, are not money makers. Creative minds, creative acts, do not fit in the boxes and are not measurable on standardized tests. Thinking outside of boxes is, after all, the point of a creative mind. Metrics and goals stop a creative mind and heart in its tracks. The cruelest thing you can ask any artist to do is write a grant.

And yet, an artist has to make a living. Yaki asked me if I had to choose between making a living and making my art, which would I choose? I answered, “Art, of course,” but that it was really a question of Maslow’s hierarchy: it’s hard to make art when you are not surviving. What I didn’t say is that his question perfectly captured the reason schools kill creativity and creative brains are sorely mistreated: it is assumed one must choose between. Making a living and thriving creativity are understood as oppositional.

How many parents have tried to dissuade their children from following their passion for the arts? How many times have I heard Kerri say of the stacks of music on her piano waiting to be recorded, “What’s the use?” How many times have I sat in my basement studio looking at my stacks and rolls of paintings and wondered, “Why bother?” We do it to ourselves, too.

And then, the phony metric falls and we breathe, pick up our brushes and sit at our keyboards. There is a river of riches that runs deeper than money. It is, after all, a creative act to kill a passion. It’s also a creative act to feed and nurture an artistic soul. Both. It’s what the school board doesn’t understand: the choice is not between making a living or living as an artist, the choice is between feeding inspiration, expanding a creative mind, or smothering it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CREATIVE MINDS

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

watershed/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Grow The Grove [on DR Thursday]

To most people, this silver ornament nestled in branches of green needles, signals the holiday season. For us, not so much. We have silver ornaments suspended in all kinds of branches 365 days a year. They are generally – though not always – accompanied by white twinkly lights. Kerri calls them “happy lights.”

It’s true that most of the branches and most of the silver ornaments originated as our version of a christmas tree. A few years ago, we sprayed white paint on interesting branches found on a walk, stood them in cool pots, wrapped them in happy lights and, yes, placed silver bulbs throughout. We liked them so much that, to this day, they glimmer in our living room. Several years ago we found a sturdy, very straight stick for our holiday tree, adorned it with lights and silver balls, and suspended a star over it. The stick, sans star, now lives in the corner of our bedroom. It is versatile and moves through the house according to our fancy. Our current tree, the single star, will probably be with us for some time.

I know it sounds as if our house is slowly becoming a forest of branches, bulbs and happy lights. We are certainly eccentric enough to make that vision come true but, for now, the grove is (mostly) confined to the living room. We are given to ending the day, sitting in the dark, illuminated by happy lights and silver ornament reflections.

I cherish ending our day in quiet appreciation and also our dedication to spilling holiday goodness throughout the other eleven months of the year. The forest makes us feel good. It keeps us grounded. It reminds us – no kidding – that human kindness and generosity need not be confined to a season. It reinforces that how we treat other people matters – in all situations, at all times of the year. And, it helps us remember that happy lights are everywhere – and they have names- and lives – and move through our story as friends and family and neighbors and strangers we meet along the way. Our living room forest, you see, is a metaphor. Perhaps I lied: I think we do intend for the forest grove to fill all of our spaces.

read Kerri’s blog post about SILVER ORNAMENTS

angels at the well © god-knows-when-but-certainly-another-century david robinson