reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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the imperative. [merely-a-thought monday]

i loved it all. the halls of john glenn high school, the walls of the classrooms i sat in, most of the extraordinary teachers i had the pleasure of studying with, most of the classes i took. i loved math, i loved science, i loved english and creative writing. i even loved my jewelry class, though i was not particularly skilled at it. i took no music classes in high school. none.

the guidance counselor didn’t know what to do. what direction do i go? what path do i take? what major do i pursue? the emphasis was on the decision. make one, i was told. it is quite possible this is one of the reasons why, years later, i completed a guidance and counseling masters – to scrap the emphasis on the decision and shift it to the process. at a time in the late 70s when college was ever-important and i was top-of-my-class i was underserved. it does not matter where you are in your class if your spectrum of curiousness is dowsed by someone pressing you into a mold, narrowed into a this-or-that.

in my first years of community college i still loved it all. philosophy classes were a stand-out. economics were not-so-much. business law was a low point. environmental science classes fascinated me. because i played the piano, taught piano lessons, wrote songs, and directed a youth choir, i signed up for a couple music theory classes and met paul simon, the godson of my music theory professor sy shaffer. listening to paul talk about songwriting was a huge highlight. i mean, it was paul simon. but i really still didn’t know what direction to take.

a life-changing event, as life-changing events do, changed that.

i moved when i should have stayed. i left when i should have dug in. i dropped the rest of the curiosity to focus on the familiar, the known. albert einstein would have taken me by my ear. “stay curious,” he would have admonished. “what you seek is seeking you,” rumi would have whispered to me. “wait.”

it’s funny to me now – as i look back – that i did not focus on the inordinate number of hours i spent writing in a tree. it’s funny to me now – as i look back – that i wrote songs and music and arrangements – fifteen albums worth – and never really thought of all the heavy composing or theory classes i took in my second half at university. never once have i gone back and compo-analyzed the structure-texture-tonal-system-consonance-dissonance of a piece of music i have written. it’s funny to me now – as i play with design and photoshop and cartooning and blogging – that it didn’t occur to me, as an editor at john glenn’s art and literary magazine “gemini”, how much i loved what i was doing in those after-school hours-and-hours sessions with one of the world’s best and most expansive english teachers, andrea vrusho. it’s funny. we see and we don’t see. twists and turns, paths taken, paths not taken. our stories all different. stages and flatbeds, classrooms, church chancels, the state side of the courtroom, piano benches, recording studios, choir rooms, department-store-holiday-wrapping in lean times. all part of the curio cabinet, never full, never finished. we take paths and, if we are scrappy and confident and lucky enough to be supported and even mentored, we make the best of them. anyway. there is a richness to each story and each path.

no special talents. passionately curious.

we all have something. something that sets us apart from each and every other person. something that the world we are in cannot do without. for every spoke in the wheel counts and every gift, every talent, every nurturing soul, every fixer-upper, every engineer-brain, every teacher, every scientist, every laborer, every inventor, every chef creating magic in a soup kitchen or michelin-star-bistro, every artist, every athlete, every skilled-trade expert are necessary in this place, at this time.

it is exactly that – that is brilliant. it is exactly that which is genius. it is the appreciation of that – so much to learn – which is the gift of being human. it is the imperative of humanity.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

and a little mood music for you – the orchestra of my professor sy shaffer


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we have red! [not-so-flawed wednesday]

we have been witnesses to a transformation worthy of notice. in an uncovered ziplock plastic container on our kitchen counter, no less.

we placed the cherry tomatoes in the container on october 30. just the tomatoes. not knowing what to expect, wondering if we needed to aid them along at all. we had read about ethylene and apples and bananas and paper bags. but, we thought, for a few days we would leave them alone and see what happened.

on november 6, only a week later, a few tiny orbs had turned orange and were suddenly red. “we have tomatoes!” i wanted to gloat…the second time in this season of boomer-container-farmer living. it was astounding. we had read that they should not touch each other and yet, these tomatoes were thriving in community with each other.

we watched the progress and photographed every few days.

on december 6, these deliciously sweet red cherry tomatoes, along with zucchini and baby bella mushrooms and onion and garlic and red peppers, were tossed with olive oil over penne and became dinner. and to think what we might have missed had we just left them on the vine when we put the plants in the informal compost pile behind the garage.

at a time when ministers of music all over are stressing about advent, i am reminded of building cantatas…much like van gogh’s words, “great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” to try and rehearse an entire cantata start-to-finish with a choir is to overwhelm them. to introduce songs, one by one, allowing singers to bond with the music, to sink into it, to want to really sing it, invest in it, is to give music the space it needs to grow. integrating all the pieces together works when each individual piece is honored within the context of the whole. a common goal. the green turns to red. the ethylene of each choir member – so to speak – transforms each other. it’s all about the spirit brought together.

the quiet of the season this year – the second year sans adventpush – is punctuated by small measures of rest, time pondering unanswered questions, moments of noticing tiny miracles. i walked to the piano the other day and played the opening strains of “what child is this” and listened as the sound faded.

i’ve gone from cantatas to cherry tomatoes, it seems. it is not without learning.

at the end of growing season, just before advent, the lessons: one tomato gone bad in the container will have a drastic effect on the others. the farmers’ almanac offers guidance: tomatoes that have spoiled or molded should be removed. the offending tomato will cast a toxic shadow over the rest and one must be cautious to discern where the toxic is actually coming from. keeping ripe tomatoes in a plastic bag will make them go bad quickly, so one must be cautious not to suffocate one’s tomatoes. not all green tomatoes off the plant will ripen well; the tomatoes at a mature green stage will. some tomatoes are just not ready to be red. and…it is much easier to ripen tomatoes together.

as the season passes and we move into the new year, i think about this transformation we have watched. we were perhaps overly giddy, a tad bit too enthusiastic, slightly too fostering of potential, a little too encouraging of our little tomato-team. but – red! we have red!

and no bananas or paper bags were harmed in this transformation.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY


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the banana in cherrytomatoland. [two artists tuesday]

keeping the late late summer cherry tomatoes together will stimulate their ripening, i read. the ethylene emitted by them will urge them from green to pale yellow to orange to red. putting them in a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple would speed things along. right now, they are on the counter in a plastic, hopefully bpa-free, container, lidless, soaking up the sun. somehow, these tiny little tomatoes, regardless of size or shape or green innocence or red wokeness know all about impact on each other and a banana or an apple entering their tomato-only-zone would only help them.

that’s the kind of community we should all live in, work in, play in. because as barry manilow, yes, the guy who writes the songs, said, “everything you say and do is having an impact on others.”

it’s not like we are not aware of that. simple kindnesses as we go about our day make a huge difference – the concentric circles ever-widening, cherry-tomato-land goodness spreading, stimulating ripening, encouraging more goodness. it’s not as pollyannaish as it sounds. in every interaction we have a choice. the expression “there are a hundred ways you could have answered that/handled that” is worthy of our attention.

i’m from new york. growing up on long island is different than growing up in the midwest or the south or even the west coast. there is a rat-a-tat kind of rhythm to conversation there. lots of questions, lots of words. it seems aggressive, but it’s really not. it is, however, easy to interpret it that way. if you want to know about something, you ask. it’s a kind of pummeling with questions; you don’t ask one gentle question and patiently wait.

take the cherry tomatoes, for example. you could ask, what kind of cherry tomatoes are those? (and then wait.) or you could ask: what kind of cherry tomatoes are those?where did you get them?were they from seeds or tiny plants?how did you plant them?did you have to use topsoil?how much water did you give them?how often?do you have to fertilize them?what about sun?do they need to be in the sun?how long did it take before they bore fruit?do they only produce one set of tomatoes or do they keep producing?are they sweet?did you pick them before they were ripened?what about when it got cold?when did you pick the green tomatoes?how did you know what to do with them?can you still eat them?will they ripen?

i’ve had to tone down the newyork in me, slow down the question-pummeling (this is not as easy as it sounds), soften the edges of speech a little. the accent has mostly disappeared, but the rhythm is ever at-the-ready, prepared to garner answers or information or directions, not willing to miss the details. and those details…ever-important. my big brother could tell a story with more words than you can imagine; his details were picture-painting and precise and i loved every minute of his newyork style of storytelling.

we were on long island with my dear friend crunch when he was ordering a pizza. he said: “do you want gahhlic knots with the pizza?whatdyathink, gahhlic knots too?yes or no?are you hungry for gahhlic knots?they make great gahhlic knots at luigis. do you want some?tell me, i gotta awwduh. hello?” and then, in the car on the way to get the pizza and the garlic knots: “ya gotta turn up here.yeah, turn left.yeah after the driveway, turn left.here.left.ok.in about two blahhcks you’ll turn right.right.yeah, about a block now.right.uh-huh.right.yeah.hee-uhh.right.turn.ya gotta turn!”

david was losing it in the backseat. i had jumped right in. suddenly the impressionable pattern returned and i was also speaking, stepping all over crunch narrating where i was to turn. allowing no time for him to keep talking or answer anything i was saying – and vice-versa – we both just kept tawwwking and tawwwking, over each other. david’s laughter was contagious.

there had been (and have been, who am i kidding?) times – admittedly – when, in the middle of a more shall-we-say “heated” discussion d has looked at me and said, “let me finish.” hanging out on long island in the middle of pummeling vocal patterns has helped him realize i mean no harm. and i have adopted his “there are a hundred ways you could have answered that”. because it has an impact – the way we answer, the way we handle stuff.

we both try to be aware, in this still-covid time of much-togetherness and less-time-with-others, of our interactions, knowing that even the slightest acidity can affect things and will ripple outward in our day. instead of leeching negativity into each other, in the most intimate and the most community of interactions, i would rather encourage ripening, blossoming, flourishing.

i want to be like the banana in cherrytomatoland.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY


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nurturing required. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

the tomato plants are coming to an end. the temperatures are dipping at night and, three times now, we have covered them in plastic to keep them warm, encouraging them a few more days, a few more days.

i’ve read up on what to do with all those green cherry tomatoes. i know the time is near. i’ll put them all in a brown bag with a banana, hoping that the ethylene gas released by the banana will aid in the ripening of those tiny green orbs. i’m not anxious to pull the plants out of the pots and clear the potting stand. it all feels like it went by fast. but there is no doubt that fall is here. the sun isn’t bathing the barnwood stand in light anymore and there are not happy red tomatoes beckoning picking each day.

regardless, our tiniest of farms was a grand success and we are looking forward to having a repeat season next summer, maybe with a few additions besides the tomatoes and basil and a little more wisdom.

the thing we guess for sure that helped was the nurturing. every morning we greeted those sweet plants, watering gently and snipping off stems of browned leaves. we watched carefully as they grew, adding support for the branches, checking for disease, trying to provide the most positive environment for their growth. since we are not tomato or basil plants ourselves, clearly, we intrinsically knew that most of the work would be done by these tiny living things, most of the wisdom would come from them and we would follow their lead, researching to aid them and not deter them, to encourage them and not quash them, to provide all the essentials for them and not undermine them with anything toxic, to extol goodness on them and not to be aloof or reckless.

it occurs to me that these are likely ingredients for any successful growth. in a garden, in a family, in a community, in an organization or business. it’s too often nurturing goes by the wayside. i think of all the fine meals nurturing these little tomatoes and basils provided. i think of all the bursting-with-possibility families provide each other. i think of the fantastic synergy of a community based on wholeheartedly and without prejudice nurturing each other. and i think of all the collaborative, congenial camaraderie, the good work done by an organization actually based on truth, transparency, nurture and goodness.

growing cherry tomatoes should be required.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY


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‘shrooms and fairies. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

the amazon truck pulled up and the driver got out, ran a package to our door and ran back to the truck. but he didn’t pull away. he pulled up a bit and stepped out again with his phone, aiming it up at the big old tree at the end of our driveway. in the notch of branches was a giant mushroom, super-sized by humidity. he poked at it and a chunk fell off for him to investigate. from inside i couldn’t tell what he was doing, but once i walked down the driveway i could see the giant ‘shroom. perhaps a northern tooth fungus, it was beautiful and mysterious. it’s no wonder the amazon guy stopped to stare and photograph it.

there are years that we have had mushroom rings in our yard. you’re thinking, wow, they mustn’t have great grass. no, we don’t have great grass. but a fairy ring of mushrooms is common and apparently take about a year to form, all underground. superstition says that if you enter a fairy ring, you will dance with nature’s creatures and you will be unable to stop. since we like snacks and sleep, we have chosen not to enter the ring, avoiding the off-chance that this inexorable dancing take over. but the presence of fairies and elves seems magical and since these rings are associated with luck, i choose good luck over bad and we haven’t done anything to prevent them from being there.

one evening as we sat having a late dinner at our covid table in the sunroom, happy lights on and a couple candles flickering, i looked more closely at snakeinthegrass. i was surprised to find the presence of tiny mushrooms, sprouting up and living in community with this sansevieria plant. perfect little fungi, they stood tall and steadfast for a few days and i imagined tiny invisible-to-the-human-eye fairies waltzing under their domes. we laughed at the ballroom on our table.

as fascinating as mushrooms are, i would never be one to go out into the woods to arbitrarily pick them; there are too many doppelgangers out there and we are not informed. but in the way of learning new factoids, it’s amazing to note that mushrooms actually breathe oxygen – just like humans – and emit carbon dioxide, the opposite of plants. and the genetic makeup, the actual dna, of mushrooms is more similar to humans than plants.

as i look at the coming and going of these tiny mushrooms in our potted plants and high in our maple tree and ringing in the yard, i think about the necessity of their existence in our ecosystem. fungus, they give back and make it possible for plants to survive. they are synergetic without exception. perhaps their dna is even more advanced than humans.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY


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cairn of my heart. [d.r. thursday]

stacking stones – from david’s children’s book Play To Play

like a 1960s romper room book, if you turn my notebook upside down and open it from the back you will find a list. it is a list of projects, stacking up. this list is unlike my other lists, unlike the cleaning-the-basement and attic and closets list, unlike the practical bill-paying list, unlike the job-application list. this is a list of creative projects, things either already started or on the plate of my heart, waiting to be addressed, waiting to begin. it is not unlike a beautiful stack of stones, a cairn of my heart.

and so every now and then i turn over this old yellow college-ruled spiral with craig sharpie-printed on the front, a leftover from some school year. i flip it to its cardboard back and open it like those backward books and add something to my growing stack. unique rocks, with no detailed explanations…they make me dream. they are the play to play.

yesterday at OT i mentioned our smack-dab cartoon. my OT was surprised. apparently, drawing and publishing a cartoon in any format is unusual. when i told her it was one of a few cartoons we have done together, j asked me to describe it. i told her that it was about being smack in the middle of middle age and, since she is, i showed her last saturday’s smack-dab. she laughed aloud – a lot – and said, “so you don’t just go to the grocery store together?” that made me laugh aloud since it seems the cairn of our life together is the stacked stones of these projects we do, holding hands and jumping, in creation, on trails, and, yes, in the grocery store too.

it is with some certainty that i know i will awake with new ideas, that blowing my hair dry – for some reason a time of great creative juju – will bring new stones to stack, fresh energy to explore.

it was in one of those moments i came up with starting a ukulele band where i was employed. i had, on a whim, purchased a tiny black soprano ukulele while visiting with dearest friends in nashville, indiana. i started messing around with it and, one morning while standing in the bathroom in front of the long mirror blowing my hair dry with thoughts swirling in my mind, realized that everyone should (and could) play the ukulele and that there could not be a more perfect addition to the music program i was directing. when i offered ukulele packages for sale through pacetti’s, the local music shop, and announced a rehearsal starting date, i suspected that maybe 3 or 4, or maybe even 6 would sell. all told, we sold over 60. our band gathered each week and in the summer met first in the local lakefront park and later, for years, on our back patio, more sheltered from the wind that would blow our music here and there. it was joy – total joy – watching people who had never played any instrument pick up their brightly colored ukuleles, learn chords and songs and play and sing in community. amazing stuff.

a couple days ago facebook brought up one of those memory photos that show up as you first open the site – this one from three years ago. it was a photo from ukes on the summer patio that someone had taken and posted of me. in the middle of the patio, perched on a stool in front of a music stand loaded with music and clipped with clothespins, ukulele in hand, i was in full laughter. for this was a cairn. and, judging by the laughter that always surrounded us in those rehearsals and others, it was a cairn for others as well. i re-posted it and felt wistful. grief is like that.

just as backpacking seems to bring ardor to our trail-pal-on-video-who-we-have-never-met joey coconato, these projects-following-the-cairns bring us a sense of who we are, what we are. there are times that the flame of a project wanes, the idea conks, just the thought of it makes us laugh till we are snorting. but those other times – the times we can see the cairn clearly, we head to it, it keeps us on track – those are the times that we are playing to play, that we are being true to who we are.

*****

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PLAY TO PLAY ©️ 2005 david robinson


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always. with us. [k.s. friday]

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my emotional well was full when i woke up today.  thinking of us, our children, our families, our dear friends, our community, this world.  i desperately want to gather our beloveds in, hold them close, protect them.

i have no words for all of this; i have too many words for all of this.  i fear that none of them are helpful, none of them are wise.  it’s just me.  and, like you, carrying the weight of the world one step at a time, one quiet minute at a time, staring out the window and wondering.

always with us

we are alone

 

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ALWAYS WITH US from AS IT IS ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood