reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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the black bin in the middle. [d.r. thursday]

personally, i like the black bin in the middle of the room. right now, it gives me a sense of peace, or, more accurately, less of a sense of panic. in our seemingly neverending plumbing story, we are still seeking the proper gasket for our dysfunctional coupling. we were behind a local plumbing truck on the way to lowes. this business has operated in our town for four decades servicing all these old houses with their variety-pack of fittings and pipes and unions and o-rings and such. as i told a friend, it was a universe-is-laughing-at-us moment as we drove behind this truck that i just knew had shelving with old disheveled water-stained cardboard boxes full of the exact gasket we needed. i wanted to jump out of littlebabyscion at a stoplight and run up to his driver’s window and knock-knock-knock on it and beg him to check the ratty cardboard boxes for this gasket, which of course, he probably had in his pocket, upon which i would offer him 10 or 20 dollars for this simple vintage rubber 79 cent piece. it didn’t happen, of course. i’m quite sure that he would have done anything to avoid my panicked face in his window. and so, we are still on the quest. and learning a lot about gaskets and o-rings and sheet-and-ring gaskets and fun stuff. someone said to me yesterday, “oh, like that’s something you really want to know about!” but i disagreed. though i wish the tiny leak would stop, i am finding the puzzling-out of it a great learning process. a creative process, let’s just say. so. the black bin in the middle of the room.

soon we will piece back together david’s studio down in that space. he’s bringing paintings back into the light and we gaze at them as he recalls much of this pandemic year, time spent without painting. i know this feeling as i enter my own studio upstairs. a crate of cantatas i composed, some resource books i have used for decades, a few decorations from the choir room i used to occupy – they sit along the side wall of my studio, the remainder of what i need to file away, put away, throw away. i, too, have not spent time in my studio creating. it’s the wrists, it’s the job-loss, it’s the pandemic … it’s a long time of fallow, i suppose. it is the juxtaposition of art that makes a living and art that is living. it’s a sort of betrayal by art. it’s feeling that which you have dedicated yourself to letting you down. it’s change. it’s a time of discernment. it’s a time of confusion. it’s a time of loss. it’s a time of not-found-yet. it’s a time of grief. it’s complex. it’s a mixed bag.

we laid awake in the middle of the night. we had a banana, our traditional middle-of-the-night snack. we talked. we grappled with the year-of-years we have all had. once again, for the millionth time, we tried to sort it out.

we talked about my snowboarding-broken wrists and a community of leadership that never reached out to me. we wondered aloud. we talked about the pandemic breaking out, virtual-work, exponential curves of connecting to others online. people, including us, losing positions we loved to a virus that shut everything down. we talked about financial hardship, too common a denominator. we wondered aloud. we talked about the terrifying covid numbers we watched on the news – climbing, climbing, climbing. we wondered aloud. we talked about political division, a time of chaos and the amping-up of bigotry, complicity and vitriolic rhetoric. we wondered aloud. we talked about isolation, people missing people. we wondered aloud. we talked about the civil unrest in our town, deaths-by-automatic-weapon a few blocks over, curfews, fires, boarded-up businesses. we wondered aloud. we talked about my fall in the fall, a whopping new wrist ligament tear and, again, a community of leadership that did not reach out. we talked about losing my long-term job. we talked about the silence of others. we wondered aloud. we talked about david’s dad and his move to memory care, his mom and her spinning grief and loss-paralysis. we wondered aloud. we talked about our sweet babycat and his sudden dying, the heartwrenching hole. we wondered aloud. we talked about the lack of security, rampant. we talked about extreme gun violence and people’s hatred of anything-they-aren’t. we wondered aloud. we talked about exhaustion, pervasive and overwhelming all of us. and we wondered aloud.

not much sleep.

we’ll find a gasket that works soon. or we’ll call a real plumber in. and maybe, little bit by little bit, our artistry will call to us – to trust it, trust ourselves. it will remind us that it is not responsible for making a living. it will ask us to look around at that which is of solace to others in these times, regardless of lacking financial reward: it is music, it is visual art, it is the written word. it is art and it is living.

and, for some time to come, the black bin will sit in the middle of the studio. to remind us of the process.

*****

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at the door. his angel-cat. [d.r. thursday]

dogdog does not live his life expecting grandeur. he does not look for the secrets of the universe nor does he try to reach the pinnacle of success, whatever that is. his riches are right around him – his shredded toys, his bone, his food and water bowls, his treats, his people and his beloved cat. he lives each day, seemingly, without the emotional chaos we get embedded in; the view from his amber eyes is simple and they reflect back a love of living, of those things he cherishes. he does not try to be anything; he just is. “when you seek to be special, only a few things in life will measure up,” writes sue bender. he does not seek to be special, yet he is magnificently special.

it was very very quiet in the house last week. i played no music. i watched no tv. i barely read the news. together, dogdog and i were almost silent. my dear and wise friend wrote, “sometimes silence allows us to conserve our energy to go on.” together, dogdog and i stepped in our days, the padding footfalls of babycat’s sorely missing from our mix. yet we continued on and the earth spun through the galaxy and the sun and the moon did that which they do, nevertheless.

“i learned to love the journey, not the destination. i learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get,” pens anna quindlen. dogdog’s journey sans destination – for without the same human parameters that make us measure our lives, his is simply a journey without a destination – included babycat. and now, in his quest to find his cat, we can only hope that babycat sits by his side and reassures him, in his gravelly babycat voice, that he’s right there with him. our journeys include the angels all around us; they are right there, quiet and steady.

“get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger,” recommends anna.

i’d add, get a life in which you take moments to be very quiet – silent, even – and in which you can see the dim outline of your angel-cat sitting next to your dog at the front door.

*****

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AT THE DOOR ©️ 2017 david robinson & kerri sherwood


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dog and cat. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

his best friend. he waits at the door for his best friend to return. his sorrow is quiet, subdued. his grief is confusion, dedication to a belief that babycat will come home. he has never been in this house without him – not even a day – and this last week has been heartwrenching to watch his reaction. his sadness is palpable, his loss profound.

the first few days after his babycat disappeared he was almost silent. dogdog is never a silent dog, so this was noticeable. without a sound, he looked everywhere for his cat. with lydia’s wise recommendation i tried to visualize for him all that had happened once his babycat had left the house, to give him some context, to let him know he did not have to wait, to tell him that his babycat was now in our hearts. he looked deeply into my eyes and then looked away, as if to dismiss my explanation, to hold close his own perspective, his own interpretation.

‘the boys’ spent the days together – every day since we brought dogdog home as a puppy. they’ve navigated through changes and ups and downs with us. they’ve kept us amused and entertained. they’ve nuzzled us in our times of angst. the rare times they were apart were very few times that we were on a trip. they moved to the littlehouse on island with us and adapted, finding mutual spots at the place where the kitchen met the living room and the sun streamed in. the noise of the ferry on the crossing scaring babycat, dogdog stayed close to him, signaling all was well. they channeled reassurance to each other, touchstones of steady, ever-present. they shared their water bowl and cheered each other on when it was time for treats. where one would go, ultimately the other would follow. and at the end of the day, butt-to-butt, they lay on the raft, waiting for us to sleep. babycat ruled. they were best friends.

last tuesday morning as i sipped coffee on the bed and babycat lay curled up down by my feet, dogga jumped up and laid down. gently, with all absence of play and what seemed in all seriousness, he moved his face over to babycat’s face. they laid nose to nose, heads on the soft old quilt, their hushed stillness, in retrospect, a clear display of their great love for each other. after a bit of time, babycat’s symptoms surfaced suddenly. and everything in the world changed for our sweet dedicated-to-his-cat aussie.

i understand dogdog’s quiet. though our presence and snugs and words to him might help, solace will only come in time. “woundedness is one of the places where normal words and descriptions break down.” grief is not limited to human hearts.

*****

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babycat. [two artists tuesday]

his long white whisker was on the black rug in the sunroom. i bent down and picked it up, my heart aching for this sweet adored cat no longer here. i taped it to a piece of colored paper, trying to hold on to babycat physically just a little longer.

b-cat was twelve. according to the almanac that’s about 64. it hadn’t occurred to me or us that he was a senior cat; he was simply our babycat and his presence was more than one-fourth of our home. his absence has made a profound impact; it is very very quiet. it’s not that he was that noisy, although he was a vocal cat. it’s just that he was that present. for each of us.

i was alone last week when it happened. in an unusual turn d was away and i was home. monday was a day of sorting and cleaning and rearranging. babycat spent the day in the same room as me and split his time between snoozing and pets. nothing out of the ordinary, just extraordinarily normal. tuesday morning was unexpected and will break my heart for some time to come. suddenly symptomatic and ultimately laying down behind a chair i never remember him exploring, i knew things were dreadfully wrong. racing babycat in his blanketed dog-crate (since he was too big for cat carriers) to an urgent veterinarian appointment, i spoke to him the entire way while he loudly meowed and i could feel hope leaving my body. there are moments that feel surreal and, like other losses in my life, this was one. over a covid-enforced veterinary facetime app, a very kind and compassionate doctor explained the xray she had immediately taken and the dire implications of all that she could see suddenly impacting our beloved cat. babycat gave us no time to make longer term treatment decisions. he died on that tuesday morning in march, almost twelve years since my life had been graced by him as a kitten. and, in the way that death changes everything, i won’t be the same without him.

i’ve seen bumper stickers with pawprints that read “who rescued who?” each time i nod my head, understanding. babycat came to me at a time of great need. my girl and my boy and i drove to florida to pick up this kitten who had come to stay at my niece’s doorstep, with no evidence of a missing owner. a first-time-cat-family, we drove “cat”, who we were having trouble naming, all the way home, trying to figure out how to feed and water and potty-break a cat on the way, when all our experience was dog-based. somewhere along the way babycat was named “wilson” but he chose to never answer to that and picked “babycat” as his given name. we taught him to sit, to beg, to come when called. he meowed when we said “speak” and was a lot more dog than cat in many ways.

babycat – in the wisdom of the animal kingdom – followed me around in moments of loneliness, insisted on regimented times for meals, showed me that the sun on the rug in the living room was something to soak up, sat with me on the floor. baby-the-c’s constant companionship was my solace in empty-nest-initiation and his lack of stealth was a bit of noise i desperately needed around me. so much to say about that little creature. yes, who rescued who?

his absence now is, if possible, even bigger than his presence. babycat love – ours and his – surrounds me.

*****

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the good old days. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

carly simon is – obviously – singing in my brain as i design this. “…anticipation, anticipay-ay-tion, is making me late….keeping me way-ay-ay-i-ting… …cause these are the good old days…”

for dogdog and babycat, these are the good old days. there is nothing more pressing than the treat in our hands, the invitation to go “on errands”, the lure of catnip, the tiny bite of potato from our breakfast plates. they are filled with anticipation.

this morning i heard of the passing of a young woman who was in a youth group i directed decades ago now. i easily remember her. back then we called her missi and she was full of smiles and adventure. though i haven’t seen her in the decades that have passed, it is stunning and sad, as it always is in loss, to think of her not on this earth. those days of youth group were most definitely good old days, surrounded by eager teenagers of promise.

“we can never know about the days to come/but we think about them anyway/and i wonder if i’m really with you now/or just chasing after some finer day…”

i wonder, as we look back, what we will also see as the good old days. are they the days of great accomplishment, of awards or the moments precious few like lottery hits? or are they the days of car rides on back roads with no important destination? are they the hikes in the woods with no concern about speed or distance? are they the days of anticipatory youth or the days of contented age? are they days with the lack of pretense, the lack of measure, the lack of self-criticism?

the dog and the cat do not partake in de-constructive evaluation. if dogdog utters a quiet grumble at babycat for getting too close to his bone, he watches us remove his bone from the spot and clearly is – momentarily – remorseful as we issue a stern “no!” he does not linger there, however. he simply moves on to the next moment, the look on his face is gleeful expectation of whatever is next. he nudges his babycat adoringly, respectfully. he is living each good old day as they come, seemingly regretting none. there is no checklist for him; it just is.

“so i’ll try to see into your eyes right now/and stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.”

i will try to remember this: despite any angst that lingers in the air or in our hearts, it would serve me well to anticipate the sun of a new day, each new day, ready to slurp it up like dogdog and babycat, because it is – undoubtedly – one of the good old days.

*****

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favoritethings and bliss. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

dogdog never paid attention to the green and yellow toy. until babycat decided – suddenly and temporarily – that it was his favorite thing in the whole wide world. b-cat lay, with his face in the streaming sunlight, and held his new favoritething. he rubbed his face on it and you could see his smile. and his favoritething was happy being loved on having been ignored for long periods of time. since that day, he has gone back to ignoring it. but that day? it was the one simple route to his bliss.

dogdog now carries this toy around from time to time. you can tell he is trying to discern what it is that babycat found magical about it; he furrows his brow and lugs it from room to room, shaking it to and fro from time to time as if to wake it up, make the magic happen. he is wondering, “how do i make the bliss start?”

a million years ago i bought a little black book that was published by eddie bauer called ‘balance – a guide to life’s forgotten pleasures’. inside it stated, “this book won’t change your life. it won’t solve any of your deep-rooted psychological problems. it won’t make you rich. and it definitely won’t make you sexy. it may, however, remind you that we, as humans, are basically okay. and that it isn’t very difficult to get a little balance in our lives. so, have fun. slow down. take a deep breath. things are gonna be fine.”

this tiny brilliant book has 45 ‘how-to’ instructions like: how to turn your hand into a plane. how to unplug the phone. how to make noise with a blade of grass. how to catch a snowflake on your tongue. how to watch clouds. how to sleep in. how to make a shadow puppet. how to hug. how to go barefoot. how to take a nap. how to do a somersault. how to have a picnic. how to follow a bug around.

i called the company and bought all the copies they had left and sent them out with my third album this part of the journey to radio stations, listening walls, retail and wholesale outlets. it seemed the right pairing to me – a peaceful and original instrumental album to listen to while you read a book with 45 sets of instructions on how to find bliss.

maybe it’s not so hard. finding bliss. maybe we all are basically ok. maybe things are gonna be fine. maybe it’s simply lowering the expectation of what ‘bliss’ means.

maybe it’s not a measure of wealth or status. maybe it’s not calculable power or control. maybe it’s not your stock portfolio or your hedge fund. maybe it’s not your house or your car or your wardrobe. maybe it’s not your collection of iconic christian louboutin pumps. maybe it’s not your degree or your certification or your designation. maybe it’s not fancy food or exquisite bubbly from the vineyards of champagne.

maybe it’s your face in the sun, following a bug, catching a snowflake, giving a hug, loving on your favorite toy.

maybe we should just ask the cat.

*****

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snowcake and lemonade. [d.r. thursday]

david, wearing his birthday tiara, waiting to have birthday cake

he said that he stood at the back door and thought, “i’m going to like this time of life best.” out the door, surfing through piles and piles of snow, dogdog ran the yard, bowing to the snow and snacking on it, his chin and face covered. a snowglobe day, david stood and watched our dog in his glee while the coffee brewed. moments later, he brought a steaming mug of strong black coffee to me, lounging in my flannel pjs in bed, sleepy eyes and a warm cat by my side. we clinked mugs and sipped while we talked of birthdays and time.

our day was simple. we ate, we wrote, we ate again. dogdog and babycat were by our sides, not eager to be anywhere else on this frigid day. negative temperatures in the minus-twenties weren’t at all encouraging for hikes outside, or even walks, and i made a mental note to start asking around about a treadmill. we unwrapped a winter-scene jigsaw that had been in the hall closet for years, called people, answered texts, opened a surprise gift that arrived on our frozen doorstep and puzzled at the dining room table. a late dinner and a couple of glasses of red and dogdog was begging to go sleepynightnight. he led the way to the end of the day, a valentine’s-day-birthday, a day of marveling at how dear people are, how fast time goes, how vested we are in adjectives like ‘peaceful’ and ‘promising’ and ‘content’ to describe our next. ‘euphoric’ and ‘carefree’ would be lovely too; so many adjectives, so little time.

on the deck right out the sunroom window, the wrought iron table and chairs were laden with the accumulation of days of snow. i could not help but see the round snowpile on the table as a giant birthday cake; i could not help but see the snow-shape in the chair as a little alien snowman, waiting patiently for a piece of cake. it was just too tempting and david was out front shoveling. with a couple silver christmas balls, a tiara found upstairs in my girl’s room, a tall white taper and some vintage pink-plastic-cake-numbers-that-hold-tiny-birthday-candles, i made myself laugh. sinking well over my knees in snow as i inadvertently stepped off the side of the deck into a drift, i collapsed into the snow, cracking up, just too excited for david to come around the corner of the house, shovel in hand. lemonade, i thought. this is lemonade.

and that, i believe, is what he meant by, “i’m going to like this time best.” a time when you know that lemonade – and the making of it with or without lemons – is most rewarding.

*****

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wheeeee! [d.r. thursday]

some things are just obvious. that babycat is jaded and a tad sarcastic is obvious. he lives with dogdog who is profoundly gleeful, well, except for the times that he’s morose. he is a full-spectrum dog and rides the roller coaster of what is going on around him, empathic to the nth degree. babycat, on the other hand, would be merely mildly concerned despite all hell raining down on him, except when he is downright naggingly ankle-biting angsting at mealtime. they are different-different-different and they adore each other. it does not, however, stop them from barbs or from being snippy.

some things are just obvious. that i am more jaded and a tad bit more sarcastic is obvious. i live with d who is artsy and in his head, pondering, well, except for the times he’s ranting. he is a full-spectrum chap and rides the roller coaster of what is going on around him, empathic to the nth degree. i, on the other hand, well, actually, i ride along on that damn empathic roller-coaster-that-seats-two. but my attention to details and building from the ground up sometimes butts up with force against his thirty-thousand-foot view, his top-down construct. i’m the one to write-a-lettuh, to return the boneless-nuggets-with-the-bone-in-them. he’s more likely to shrug it off, let it go. i’m the one on hold with the insurance company, researching every last piece of minutiae. he’s more likely to scan through and jump. i’m the one with analysis-paralysis, reading the fine print. he’s more likely to snap-decide and move on. we are different and we adore each other. it does not, however, stop us from barbs or from being snippy.

the combo platter of dogdog and babycat is perfect for us. they each have their own uniqueness, their own personalities, their own quirks. we can’t imagine life without them. they know us and anticipate our every move. dogdog watches for the moment it looks like we are heading to the living room to satisfy our cnn-junky-addiction so he can relax on the rug and chew on his bone, surrounded by dismembered dog toys. babycat watches for the moment it looks like we are heading to the bedroom so that he might be carried up a few steps to the nightcap of schnibbles waiting in his bowl, a preface to a sound sleep, an evening of unmatched cat-snores. so much anticipation of the known.

i wonder about the combo platter of us for dogdog and babycat. are we perfect for them? are our uniquenesses, our personalities, our quirks appreciated by them? can they imagine life without us? have they trained us to know and anticipate their every move? do they listen to our sweet whisperings and watch our gentle hugs and cheer? do they listen to our snips and barbs; do they take sides? do they lay on the bed together when we are out and about in the world and bemoan their placement in life? or do they jump on the roller-coaster-that-seats-two’s sidecars and ride along, bouncing and jostled, paws in the air yelling, “wheeeeeee!”?

*****

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agnes, mom, dad and dogdog. [d.r. thursday]

“whenever i feel afraid i hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect i’m afraid.” the tune from the king and i has gone through my head more than once in my life. the feel-good song you carry with you can make a difference (this is directed to our jaded babycat).

we have watched national geographic’s life below zero for a few years now. it’s not hard to develop “relationship” with the people on the show, especially now, in times of pandemic when you see few others. the hailstone family is based in noorvik, alaska. it’s brutally cold, removed and not an easy place to live. agnes hailstone, the 40-something matriarch, has a can-do attitude. the striking thing about this family is their positivity. what they are like off-screen is of question, but on-screen they are encouraging, supportive of each other, never undercut what the other is doing, and always have a more positive zeal than i ever could muster out on the negative-temperatured tundra in dim light and a freezing-wind stormy day on a snowmobile going 40mph for miles and miles across a frozen lake in search of a fish or maybe two from a tiny augured ice hole. “you can do things happy or sad or mad,” agnes said on a recent show, “but it’s best to just do things happy.” she adapts to new challenges, weird-stuff-that-happens, and seasonally-repeating obstacles as they arise and has passed her can-do-ness on to her children, her grandchildren, her spouse. she doesn’t give up. she is pretty heroic in my book. she must have bobby mcferrin humming in her head, “don’t worry. be happy.”

it’s impossible to not dance when you hear black eyed peas’ “i gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night”. it’s not likely you can resist with james brown’s “i feel good” or john denver’s “sunshine on my shoulders makes me happeeee.” it’s without question that “here comes the sun, dootin doo doo” easily elicits you singing along the famous line “and i say, it’s all right!”

but what about in the quiet? what about when all is silent, when all lyrics have slipped from your ready grasp, when you can’t think of a song to save your life, as the expression goes? then what? what do you draw from?

i suppose that’s the reason my sweet momma started the day by saying “good morning, merry sunshine.” or why my sweet dad would look at things that were challenging and simply say, “well, how do you like them apples?” after living lives full of challenge and the roller coaster of emotional heave-hoes, they chose to greet the world in each of their experiences with positivity. hearing my dad’s whistling told me everything i needed to know – they were ok in the world, no matter what. they chose it.

agnes hailstone and my mom and dad would like each other. and dogdog. dogdog too.

*****

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#ewbok. [d.r. thursday]

sarcasm is babycat’s modus operandi. his viewpoint is much more cynical than dogdog’s, who is a tumbling optimist. dogdog listens to the rise and fall of our voices and reacts accordingly. babycat merely takes a look at things and lists his sweet hulking body to the sardonic.

we read it on a wall in chicago: “everything will be ok.” i really want to believe that. there’s so much.

we are not 65. nor are we essential. workers, that is. so it will take some time before we are eligible for vaccines. the mutation of the virus sounds like it will give the vaccine a run for its money and, still, we drive past full restaurant parking lots, bustling bars.

yesterday was the year mark on my broken wrists. my right wrist refuses to cooperate, having been stunned into re-injury in september. i wonder how it will be in the future. there’s a lot i want to do with that wrist.

we are sharing the crossroads of before and after with the millions of unemployed people in this country. we search for ways to use all we have learned, all we have done, all we have experienced, to make a difference in the world today.

we wonder about people who used to be an integral part of our lives. we try to understand things that have no real explanation. i try to shove the grief into a corner and the anger into another corner and take off the boxing gloves. we hike on the snowy trail and those gloves are nowhere to be seen. but reality returns back in the car somewhere on the way home and then we try to move beyond the big disagree, this thing that lurks, the poison that was pointed my way.

we watch from afar, our hearts hurting, as d’s sweet dad is moved into care, out of his home, away from his wife and all that he used to recognize. we tether ourselves to our phones to field any calls from his momma as she tries desperately to deal with all the details, the loneliness and worry and fear that brings her. she made sure he has his record player and records to listen to and she yearns to be around people at a time that is most dangerous.

and we scroll through the news. our sigh of relief with this new administration is consumed by lies perpetuated by complicit voices of violence, of extremism, of overthrow. it takes our breath away to read of legislative branches, in states and in the federal government, making excuses for the dreadful and inexcusable mayhem, the inciting of riot, in our nation’s capitol. racism, gender-discrimination, ignorant social injustices are rampant. the chasm is ever-widening and the bridge is ever-crumbling.

the wall in chicago reassures, “everything will be ok.” #ewbok

and i remember hearing the saying, “it will all be ok in the end. if it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”

yep.

it musn’t be the end.

*****

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AT THE DOOR ©️ 2017 david robinson, kerri sherwood