reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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pastrami mountain. [d.r. thursday]

“there are always flowers for those who want to see them.” (henri matisse)

through a rainy windshield we peered out. the windows were fogging up from the vast temperature change that the weather system had brought with it. the lake was grey, light glistening and playing upon it – the sun coming out from behind the clouds. the sky – left to sunset in salmon with lines of dark clouds dissipating – seemed to highlight the snow on the mountaintops in the distance. puddles had formed on the land lakeside, the point that jutted out near us. a photograph after the storm. after our pause, we traveled on.

sometimes things are not what they appear. the same object translates differently to each of us. the same place reads positive/negative; our interpretation determined by the lens through which we view, the way we approach life. we learn to discern what is real, what we imagine. we learn to assess what we see using mature tools of sagacity.

sometimes things are not what they appear. everything is a matter of perspective, where you are seeing from, where you are in life. we arrive at destinations, full of expectations specific to our own hearts. we see what is there through our eyes. it is important work to be sure to be aware of how others perceive the place, the circumstance. we learn differences. we learn compassion. we learn empathy.

sometimes things are not what they appear. some places are not as they seem. we learn to listen to our intuition, to be wary, to ask questions of what we see and of what we are told, to do research, to wonder. we don’t follow as lemmings and we don’t remain silent. we learn to speak up, to give voice to the disparity between what a place says it is and what it shows itself to be. we learn boundaries and we hold our lines in the sand.

sometimes things are not what they appear. some wizards are merely people behind a curtain. their bluster is bluster, their words intended to suggest power, control, whereas their voice becomes synonymous with hurting others and self-aggrandizement. we learn sympathy, even pity. we learn distrust and not to be blind to agenda.

sometimes things are not what they appear. some people are not as they seem. though their roles imply otherwise, we learn to cautiously be with these folks. we realize that others can manipulate our perception of things, others can run over our viewpoint. and we realize those tsunamis are without truth-seeking. there is little communication – it is silent and colorless. there is little transparency – it is opaque. we learn discretion. we learn that there are those who will throw you under the bus, who will subvert you, to raise themselves up or to accomplish their objective. we learn to expose this kind of betrayal for what it is, to push back on this brand of sabotage, weeds attempting to strangle.

but there are always flowers for those who want to see them. we find places and things and people who are indeed flowers in our garden. places and things and people from which and from whom we learn grace and wisdom and adaptability and kindness. blossoms.

and i suppose the converse-henri is also true. if you don’t want to see flowers, you won’t. your perspective will grant you that, an empty garden. if you decide ahead of an experience that you will dislike it, you will likely see only in black and white, your experience void of the colors of sunflowers and peonies, aster and purple mountain sage.

so, yes, henri, there are always flowers. there is always the single ray of sunlight in the clouds. there is always the glass half-full. there is always the beautiful in the ordinary.

and there are always mountains. for those who want to see them, they are even in the trader joe’s shrink-wrapped pack of nitrate-nitrite-free pastrami.

sometimes things are not what they appear.

*****

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she-birds. [merely-a-thought monday]

“old birds have stronger wings.” (aarp magazine)

“but grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.” (anne lamott)

resilience. strength. sisu.

we have flown through many storms, we have weathered many droughts and much deluge. we have built nests from scratch and we have re-built them again. we have given birth through birth canals and through love choices. we have sought security and food for our young when security and food were scarce. we have attached wings to ideas and rube-goldberg solutions; we have made do. we have made piss-poor decisions and grandiose ones that have changed everything. we have broken treasures and fixed stuff; we have learned reverse threading. we have been emotional and we have necessarily let go. we have withstood fires of damaging words and we have recuperated from physical blows to our body, our sexuality, our hearts. we have tried to understand, we have been seekers of closure in times of strife. yet, even without understanding or closure, we have kept on keeping on. we are soon old birds and we have stronger wings.

because life, as life, presents gain and loss, winning and losing, achievement and failure, rich and poor, rising and falling, young and old, crepey and supple elasticity, as juxtapositions, as two sides of a pendulum ever-swinging, we have been measured in these competing narratives.

but we are aging birds with wings who have felt the sun of more than twenty-thousand mornings, the moon’s gravitational pull of decades, the grace of time and gardens through fallow and fruit. we are aging birds who have both soared and plummeted. we are aging birds who do not need the measure of others for our definition, for defining ourselves, continuing to learn, takes enough time and is complex enough.

we imagine unicorns in clouds, names in the stars of the galaxy. we catch the scent of sunshine on a wafting breeze and listen to the calls of mourning doves, wondering. we have come a long way. the path we have taken has not been straight. we have been courageous and we have been tenacious. we have flapped our way to here. we proudly wing our way forward, ever-forward. we are ever-stronger.

*****

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tiny fountain. [two artists tuesday]

in 1969, when i was ten, i stood on the viewing deck and stared at a motionless niagara falls. they had turned the falls off, so to speak, building temporary cofferdams to divert the water from the american falls to the horseshoe falls on the canadian side. my parents had pitched the trip to me as something very few people would see – in comparison to those who have seen the falls with water. but as i stood there, gazing at a waterfall sans water, i had deep disappointment to not see the majesty of that landscape as it usually existed. the next time i went to niagara falls i was sixteen and there was water, glorious water, and the static electricity made my hair literally stand on end. it’s powerful watching waterfalls…powerful and meditative and inspiring. simply water. falling.

for years it sat motionless on a living room window seat. i suppose it, like the american falls, was waiting. “un-dam the coffers” (or just add water and plug it in), this little fountain was thinking. i would dust around it and wonder why i was holding onto it, my tiny 1969-niagara.

and then one day, a few weeks ago, i picked it up and took it outside to the deck to clean it up. i added water and plugged it in and watched it come back to life. instantly, its flow, a gentle trickle, spoke to me, reminiscent of standing in a cool woods next to a stream flowing just a bit downhill. i moved it inside to the sunroom, put it on the old table we have in the eastern window that catches rays of the sunrise, and plugged it in.

this little fountain’s presence, the sweet sound of water moving, is inescapably soothing. a simplicity, the element of emotion and wisdom, moving freely, continuously, a reminder of the fluidity of these days – the coming and going of change, gentle adaptability. all good as we sit near this tiny fountain full of big lessons.

*****

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the glimmer and the glint. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

the glint in his eyes was there. columbus told us about the business he was running from his memory care apartment, as steadfast as i suspect he has always been about hard work and dedication. though he was imagining that the bathroom was a library and that the lack of customers was due to the inclement weather, he remained dutifully on duty, waiting for the end of his work day with good humor. talking about his “shop” and his customers and challenges he, always humble, admitted, “i can make as good a mistake as anybody.” i took photographs of his sweet face as he talked and gestured, hands lined with age and the evidence of toil. i caught my breath more than once as he spoke and as i looked around, taking in this phase of columbus’ life. though he seemed content, dementia is a cruel robber.

my sweet poppo’s favorite saying was the quote, “be not concerned, be not surprised, if what you do is criticized. mistakes are made, we don’t deny, but they’re only made by those who try.” (unknown) with a glimmer in his eye, he was also famous for repeating (and repeating) “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” a believer in the re-do, the fix, the oh-well, the humanness, my dad never lingered in the mistake. he was also aware that he could make as good a mistake as anybody and i would bet that, given the chance, he and columbus would have been pals. these two gentlemen were raised in a certain era and times of challenge; even fifteen years or so difference would not have mattered. their humility and simple straightforward approaches run parallel, both smart and extraordinarily capable in unique ways. their commitment to family and a strong work ethic would have united them.

up in the mountains we sat at dinner and listened to my amazing daughter talk about physical therapy for a concussion she got while coaching snowboarding. she spoke of climbing and ropes and uncomfortable shoes you stuff your feet into to elicit a better grip. she and her sweet boyfriend talked about the challenges of living spaces in high elevation and adventure and camping. the one thing missing from the conversation was anything about fear. there is no fear of making a mistake, of a choice-gone-wrong. there is only fluid adjusting, correction, a different direction, a new tack. it is acknowledging, without words, that we all can make as good mistakes as the next. it is living without concern of criticism for those mistakes. it is being those who try.

were they to have been at the table with us all, in our first restaurant experience in well over a year, i imagine that columbus and my poppo would nod their heads in proud appreciation. “yes,” they would say in chorus, “that’s the way to live.”

and the glimmer and the glint would smile.

*****

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the color of new growth. [two artists tuesday]

desi is growing up. suddenly, seemingly overnight, there is lime-green new growth rising toward the sky in the way pine trees reach up, up, up. this seedling we adopted has beaten some odds and its tiny shoots show promise.

we’re not sure what kind of evergreen it is. maybe a white pine? though we are curious and want to be sure to tend to desi properly, it doesn’t really matter. we share our table at the window with her every day, watching for changes, carefully rotating her pot. she is present with us in all our lunches and dinners, with glasses of wine and snacks, surrounded by happy lights and joined in potted life next to various succulents, a fluffy ponytail palm and KC, my new adorable birthday gardenia bonsai from my girl and her sweetie.

a little research on firs reveals a plethora of trees i did not realize even existed. fantastic specimens of hardiness, each kind of tree reveals new growth in a different color, in a slightly different way. desi’s lime-green is a stunning color and we wonder what these new shoots will look like as time goes on.

before we rescued her from being mowed over, desi lived in a place of much diversity. pines and oaks and maples and hickories, all living in harmony, co-existing. tall trees reaching for the sun, hardy and stoic through thick and thin, symbiosis at its best. downed trees, decaying leaves, rich soil ingredients for strength, a diet for underbrush and trees alike, no boundaries drawn.

sunday we drove big red to chicago. we like to take the back way, through smaller towns and past homes built on the edges of ravines and lake michigan. it slows us down and keeps us off the anxious interstate. we were on our way to my boy’s new place where he and his boyfriend waited to serve us an amazing four-course dinner for my birthday. my girl and her boyfriend had sent lovely bottles of wine for the occasion, to be there though they could not be there.

on the way down, as we got into the city, a few police cars with lit light strips caught our attention. and then, hundreds, maybe thousands, of people marching, “stop asian hate” signs leading the way. horns blowing and demonstrations of support rang out as they marched in protest and we were proud of their efforts to raise awareness, to alleviate – stop – this prevailing and abhorrent hostility, violence and discrimination committed against AAPI people. the quiet suffering is no longer quiet. what will it take for us, for this community, this country, this world, to achieve healthy symbiosis?

i wonder what color my new growth is. i wonder if it’s visible. i wonder what the shoots will reveal. like desi, i hope, in my tiny spot in this universe, i will turn toward the sun, ever-stoic, ever-inclusive, ever-present, surrounded by happy lights and full of promise.

*****

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chipping away, i suppose. [merely-a-thought monday]

long island has nicer springs than wisconsin. considerably warmer temperatures, more consistent sunshine, earlier flowers, i remember my birthday in late march as sweater-weather, with many birthday pictures taken in front of the yellow forsythia at the front corner of our yard where the grass met the curb of the street. not so much in wisconsin. it’s still cold, still windy, still cloudy, still rainy, even still snowy. as my birthday rolls around i am always hopeful that it will suddenly change and there will be 60 degree days and we will hike with no coats and no 180 earmuffs. invariably disappointed, we layer up and hike anyway. saturday was no exception. no in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb for this state.

birthdays always seem to be a time of reflection. the generosity of wishes texted, emailed, called, zoomed, facetimed, mailed, shipped and wrapped on the doorstep are a heaping portion of goodness and they enveloped me in warmth all day. the lion of march did not reign the day. instead, the only roar i heard was laughter on the trail, on facetime with my niece, on zoom with best friends, reading the glittery-unicorn-poop card from my other niece, the lingering echoes of my girl and her boyfriend singing to me, my son’s voice on the other end of the phone, a dinner invite from him and his boyfriend, singing memojis, exploding confetti on a text from crunch, music and spattered painting in an ecard from my mother-in-law, words in messages penned or typed, thoughtfully chosen. i lit my new candle, named my adorable new gardenia bonsai, and pulled my concentric circles ever tighter to me, hugging them back. there are days i think that every day should absolutely be lived like a birthday.

there was a common denominator in messages. my husband cleverly made a birthday book about life and love from a pa-pad, pads of scrap paper cut and glued by my sweet poppo in his effort to save trees and the environment. a dear friend from elementary school wrote that she hoped all my wishes come true. my oldest friend ever, a cherished friendship that has sustained through the years, wrote that she hoped i was celebrating. in one card that wished me “all things beautiful” i read, “may you always see the beauty in this world and be encouraged to keep pressing on, regardless of the stumbling blocks or hurdles that stand in the way.” in another was simply the word “forever”. another made me laugh aloud, poking fun at growing older. another wished me a better year. and one reminded me that “we are all works in progress.” in that card, my wise friend added “to ever evolving you” to the message “to another good year of chipping away…”

ever evolving.

the spring rains gather on the deck. they clean off the last of the snow and dirt that have been left there through the winter. like periods on sentences, they mark a new time of growth, an end to fallow, warmth on its way. there have been so many periods on sentences this year. too many. it is a time of wondering. clarity is elusive. it is a time of giving over to not-knowing.

i suppose it is possible that this is the lesson after all. not-knowing. ever. i suppose that spring – even in wisconsin – could surprise me. i suppose no time is really a time of stasis. i suppose that is why riverstones are so smooth. i suppose that, no matter what, the promise is to be ever evolving.

*****

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“the most grown-up thing you can do is fail at things you care about.” [merely-a-thought monday]

unicorn store 4

i still have it.  the index card is taped to the inside bottom of my old piano bench down in the basement.  these  words, “perfection is an eight letter word.  p r a c t i c e ” written in eight-year-old pencil-printing.  it’s been there – in that old spinet piano bench – since 1967, when i started taking lessons and needed a reminder how to keep the ups and downs in perspective.

i spent long hours on that bench and on the organ bench also in my growing-up living room.  what i could hear in my imagination wasn’t necessarily what was showing up on the keys.  my sweet poppo would encourage me, “remember, practice makes perfect,” he’d say.  i’d add, well, at least practice moves you in that direction.

there’s no guarantee for perfect.  there’s no route to it and any expectation that you will achieve it really is for naught.  the best you can do is the best you can do – moment by moment.   with practice, each best-you-can-do is better than the last.  and so on and so on.

it’s the caring that matters.

i have two amazing children who have shown me examples of the pursuit of how to do something, to a point of excellence, that you’ve never done before.  the keeping-at-it, toughlove-letting-go-of-judgment, the training, the practice, the trying-failing-rinse-repeat-ness of learning.  they approach new things like stoic explorers, adventurers prepared and open to experience.

it’s the very thing that inspired our snowboarding lesson earlier this year – the one where i broke both of my wrists.  every time i hear someone say, “eh, i’m too old; i can’t learn that,” i store my emotional response to that statement away in my memory bank, waiting for the day i’m about to say just that so i might pummel the words before they escape my lips.

even though my wrists broke and might never be the same and even though i cannot point to any great accomplishment or success on the slope, i would not take back the experience or the exhilaration and anticipation of learning something new, particularly, in this case, that very thing that would give me the slightest first-hand touch, not merely a window, into my daughter’s professional world.

in post-cast moments many people, aghast, said to me, “what were you thinking?  don’t you think there’s a point you are too old for that?  remember your age!”  i am more aghast at these words than all the months dealing with uncooperative wrists in a livelihood where they really matter.

knowing first-hand how difficult and humbling pure novice-ness is, i hope i can always release the suffocating self-evaluating that goes hand-in-hand with being new at something; i hope that i always care about learning.

at eight i had no idea what piano lessons would mean to my life.  i simply wanted – really, really wanted –  to learn.  i, at 8, didn’t beat myself up over getting it wrong or failing nor did i get self-conscious about my journey of mastery.  i just stepped into it.  and i cared with all of my eight-year-old heart.

we walk and talk about the day The Girl or The Boy suggest to getting-older-every-day-us that we purchase new technology or download a new app or try a new recipe or consider a new lifestyle or or or …. the day we will want to say, “eh, we’re too old; we can’t learn that.” i look down at my right wrist, which may never bend at a 90 degree angle ever again, and i remember to care.

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

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everything to lose. pay attention. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

everything to lose.jpg

“one million plastic beverage bottles are bought every minute around the world. yet recycling rates remain low.”

(article:  our addiction to plastic, national geographic magazine, 12.2019)

close to midnight and the texts started arriving fast and furiously.  a warning from My Girl that she was “fighting with people on instagram”.  her passionate responses to objectors on #pattiegonia’s instagram were well-spoken, well-placed, adamant about the wellness of this good earth, vehemently supportive.  i paid attention.

pattie gonia is an environmental advocate drag queen.  a voice.  a loud, sincere, fervent, educated, inspired, contemporary, courageous voice.  pattie/wyn is out there making a difference.  it is easy to be proud of them, to stand with them.  with the partnership of rei, they have created video to draw attention to the things we, as earth-dwellers, have failed to prioritize.  if you watch their dramatic and profound videos, you will weep.  guaranteed.

we must pay attention.  what plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic netting, garbage, waste….are doing to our mother earth is deplorable.  we would not live in such a house.  why then do we live on such an earth?

i was driven to nausea the other day when we were helping someone clear out a house.  it was our job to load things up in big red and go to the mini-dump not far from us.  we pulled up and backed up to one of many large dumpsters, all connected to a compactor, to throw in what we had in the back of the truck.   it took my breath away watching all the people throwing in all the stuff….just in this tiny corner of the world.  the great pacific garbage patch looms in my mind’s eye.  THIS is the reason we still have our 40-plus-year-old stove.  because i can’t imagine where it will go if we just throw it out to get a shiny new model before it’s necessary, just to make our kitchen look chic (which, incidentally, is impossible anyway.)

we have been conscious, using refillable water bottles, repurposing, recycling everything we could recycle, a practice of being consumers-of-less, less buying, less keeping-up-with-the-joneses, more picking up trash and, scarily, pulling up next to people who throw things out their car windows to tell them they ‘dropped something back there’.  but we have been learning. and we can do more.  we all can do more.  we have to.  pay attention.

“…right now, there are more plastic pieces in the ocean than stars in the milky way…” (everything to lose by pattie gonia)

it’s bracing.  and it’s tragic. and it needs our true attention.  as pattie gonia says, clothed in a dress made of plastic bags, fully standing in garbage, a ticking clock her companion,  “we have everything to lose.”

 

a short documentary to learn more about pattie gonia:

 

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

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improving. a little every day. [two artists tuesday]

wine

but the real question is – do WE improve with age?

yes, lush red wine, dark chocolate, bold roast black coffee – all have risen on my list of chosens.  i remember the days of sugar and cream in coffee.  i remember the creamy milk chocolate days.  and i remember the 1980s and 1990s days of ‘white zin’, the go-to wine of that age and time, a staple of the culture.  but those days are past and we have moved on to rich red blends or old vine zins, 85% dark chocolate with no milkfats, and the boldest of the bold coffees with no sweetener or added dairy/non-dairy product.  all improved (in my opinion) with my age.

me…on the other hand…i’m not so sure.

i read a brief article which proposed that your thoughts are less important than your feelings.  it reminded the reader that, in light of everyone’s hard-to-speak-of mortality,  there is no time more important, nothing more important than feeling the present moment.

how often do we get caught up in the swirling mind games of reviewing all the past?  thoughts.  how often do we find ourselves double-clutching on the future because of something that has happened ‘before’?  thoughts.  how often do we hesitate as we ponder-ponder-ponder until it’s too late?  thoughts.  how often are those thoughts – skewed – which have accumulated all through these supposed improving-with-age years – ruling our moments, nonetheless ruining our moments, the ones right-now?  stick to the topic/don’t go backwards in time and drudge up old stuff/stay in the “i-feel” not the “you-did”…any counseling master’s program notes referencing ‘conversation’ (read:  heated conversation) with a significant other.  feelings.  do we actually improve with age?  do we learn?

i’m guessing the wine cork has it right.  the moments you are sipping wine are quieter moments sitting by the fire.  or moments of laughter with friends.  or moments with a good meal.  the older we get, it seems the more value we place on those things.  we drink-in the heart of these most important times, with or without wine.  feeling.

we gain perspective.  maybe like that glass of wine in the evening.  a little every day.

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a flame through the night. [two artists tuesday]

tiki flame

we lit the torches about 5pm.  it was cold but not breezy and the lake was calm after several days of bigger surf.  it was the last night.

we sat on the back porch steps and watched the flame flicker.  we moved inside and watched it dance from the living room, a fire burning in the woodstove.  we checked the wind and the weather forecast and said goodnight to the torches late that night, flames glowing outside with boxes packed around us inside.  very early in the morning i could see the slightest of flame glimmering in the torches, the light of golden rising sun behind them.  all through the night.  they burned all through the night.

there was something profound about that for us – the flame that kept burning through the night.  i’m not sure i can speak to it.  i can just say that the welcome flame of the torches in the morning was calming, steadying, grounding.  indeed, the sun will set, night will descend, the sun will rise.  the flame continues.  light continues.

it was the last night on island, for now.  the first dawn of next.  and, as these things do – every sunrise and sunset – it has forever changed us.

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