they aren’t even my favorite. shoestrings are my favorite. but it didn’t matter. we pulled into the culvers drive-thru, rolled down the window and ordered “the biggest french fry order you have”. sometimes you feel like a nut. so…crinkles.
in really-more-news-than-you-need-to-know, we ate them all. the entire contents of the family-size-fries-in-the-heavy-plastic-hinged-take-out-container. all of it. well, except for like ten fries. we left those to be all virtuous.
i could instantly feel a zit forming on my chin, somehow lurking there since early teenagehood, waiting for me to indulge in toomanyfries. i vowed not to go out anywhere until it was gone. all-the-way-gone. errgggh. you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. we neeeeeded those fries. but they were not without peril.
you might think that was a bit of an extravagance for two artists onastricterbudgetagain. but receipt 186 for “kari” reveals it was merely $5.55 and we ultimately figured that “1 fry fam” was a lower level vice than other things might be. we think about these things way more than you might think.
the fries helped, actually. well, like vices, at least for the moment. we devoured them, along with dogdog, who was in littlebabyscion with us.
and then we went to the rv dealer for continued escapism. astounded by the interior of both you-drive-them-rvs and you-pull-them-campers, we moseyed for a few hours, in the gigantic domed building, out onto the multiple parking lots full of options and back inside.
the fact that one of the lowest-priced campers had a kitchen nicer than our own was disconcerting. i mean, it had an island and a dreamy butler pantry with a wine fridge. and an oven. it had an oven.
good thing. something in which to make those ore-ida shoestrings.
i’m guessing we’ll need them. and you can’t find a culvers everywhere.
each time the trail curves, i can imagine it. next.
but as weeks go, this one has been harder. we tried our best to be positive, to believe that the new bend in our road is not so fraught. but, the fact of the matter is that it is. fraught.
we are pretty tough. kind of scrappy. definitely frugal. well, most of the time. we have both been presented with lean times in our lives. even our life together has had its lean times. we always eat leftovers. we always repurpose things. we always turn the shampoo bottle upside down. we always keep the heat low. we haven’t bought a vehicle in sixteen years. in some unknown intuitive move for which we are now grateful, we put off the big chimney-fireplace project, necessary but ridiculously expensive. we haven’t flown in three years. we find sanctuary in a forest we know well. we know where the trail curves.
and each time the trail curves, i can imagine it.
as the sun glimmers on what-looks-like the other end, i think – this is just one day, one week, one time in our lives. tomorrow will dawn and it might be a completely different day, starting a completely different week, a completely different time in our lives. and we just don’t know. again.
we are now in a woods we do not recognize, on a path we can not anticipate. off the trail we know. anxiety hikes with us, as do worry, sadness and disappointment. we worked hard on our plan, but the best laid plans are laid down. and this week, as weeks go, this one has been harder.
the sun quivers through the trees in front of us, setting. we keep walking.
day is done,
gone the sun,
from the lake,
from the hills,
from the sky;
all is well,
god is nigh.
dims the sight,
and a star
gems the sky,
falls the night.
(taps - d. butterfield/unknown)
a merger between old navy and, say, dupont could bring play to the whole wide world. stands of thongophones could be simply everywhere. i can see it…people gathering, favorite flipflops in hand, making music.
it was hard to resist the pull of this two-octaved structure. flipflops – the paddles provided – were chained to the wooden stand, laying on the ground, waiting. it was just a delicious invitation – “try me, try me,” it called. and then, channeling the group chicago, “thongophone, in the park…”.
pretty crazy, it had good pitch for polyvinyl chloride, not necessarily known for its musical talent. and the flipflops? well, everyone knows how i feel about flipflops. they are the symphony of summer, so definitely a good choice.
i, generally, don’t walk up to faux musical structures like this. i usually stand back and watch others discover and play, reveling in their adventuring and exploring sound.
but this time was different.
i played first on the lower octave side. for some reason, the first piece i played was the first piece on my first album, galena. the first day i played galena was also in one of those situations i don’t usually take part in…instead, sitting back and watching others and supporting their fun.
that time was different too.
that time – encouraged (read: pushed) by three girlfriends, playing at the piano in the restaurant in galena, illinois – set me on a road i didn’t know was coming. less than a year and a half later, i released my first album. now, fifteen albums and a variety of singles and blahblah later, i look back.
and i look forward. i’m not sure what’s there. but this past week i stood at my piano and played and sang three songs for d and one of his dear friends. it’s been a long time. i apologized for the dust in the studio. i apologized that it was a little messy in there. d said rob cried. despite the dust and remnants of previous work piled around.
by sheer coincidence, today is the anniversary of that first album – 27 years ago. lots of flipflops ago.
today is a good day for a dustcloth, some garbage bags and a storage bin or two.
it’s not a thongophone in the park. it’s my piano.
she was a coloratura soprano. her leaps, her trills, her range were atmospheric. bell-like and of angel quality, rayna sang effortlessly.
i have no idea if she is singing now. the last i heard – after i graduated with a degree in composition – she left and was in med school, seeking a degree outside of the arts. she must have had a wise mentor along the way. someone who told her she could always sing “on the side”. like rice pilaf.
“on the side.”
it’s the ever-present albatross of artists. even those who stand out in a crowd are thrust – by a society that doesn’t place as much value on the arts – into the yin-yang of opposing forces: stay. go. full-time. on the side.
every now and then there is a whitetop sedge spikelet in the field that is strikingly more successful than the rest… the mariah carey, the ariana grande, the beverly sills, the joan sutherland. delivering exquisite bel canto, they do not render the other spikelets any less important, nor should they be. each voice is unique in the meadow and this spikelet is just a little taller.
before i finished my bachelor’s degree i was accepted into the business school at usf. “accounting,” i thought. “i love math, therefore accounting.” the “normal-job” world was taunting me. but i declined the placement and continued on my merry way, writing music. i did not have rayna’s mentor and i believed there was a way to stand out, somehow.
it took some time just to get around to writing. life and its put-the-art-making-on-the-side-and-get-a-real-job-and-make-a-living had me directing and teaching. but not writing. i dabbled a bit relatively early on, did some recording and visited nashville – but didn’t move there. i don’t think i recognized the garden there when i saw it.
it wasn’t until a decade later that the muse caught back up to me. and when it did, it was with some gusto.
and now i’ve seen “the fault in our stars”. and i’ve witnessed mortality. i have loved and lost and changed and learned and made giant messes and have ridden the tide in and out, in and out.
and i’ve written some of my best and some of my worst. and it all counts – whether i – or you – are a tall spikelet or not.
i wonder now if rayna is practicing medicine. i wonder if she is singing.
if i were to get a tattoo (not to mention the “sisu” tattoo i would love to share with my daughter) i think it might be a simple tattoo depicting the japanese practice of kintsugi: the golden repair and honoring of flaws, beauty in human brokenness. there’s no telling if i will do that. there’s also no telling if i won’t. i’m not averse to ink. i know that ink is an expression of where you are in your life, of what you believe in, of what you seek.
“age and stage,” 20 often says when we talk about the stuff of life. tight bud to full bloom to blossoms falling, petal by petal, to the dirt. all the iterations in the middle.
everything is like that, i suppose.
the first time my boots hit the wood as i crossed from backstage to the apron was memorable. i won’t forget it. each time i’ve walked to the piano, adjusted the boom mic, took a breath and started…memorable. i won’t forget. i remember being in the middle of one of my concerts, in the middle of one of the pieces…i forgot where the piece went…i was lost. i made it up. it was a solo piece; no one else had to share in my lapse of memory. i followed the theme and noodled my way through to an end no one would ever hear again. my producer hugged me and laughed later, “nice coverup.”
the pace of my walk is slower now than it used to be…steadier. now i know that no matter what, no matter the mistakes, no matter the braindrops, no matter the missed lyrics, the thinking notes…the story will get told, the bud will open and, like any artist, i will give of myself, despite of whatever i get or don’t get in return. age teaches you that it is not the return that matters. age teaches you it is in the giving.
we talked in the kitchen this morning about the work we have done in our lives. david’s paintings, hung and not hung, my music, recorded and not recorded. we talked about our youthful desire to have everything seen, everything heard…and not in a little way. we talked about how age has brought us to this place – a place where seen and heard doesn’t really matter. painted and played matters. drawn and written matters. expressed matters. received en masse doesn’t.
it really is “age and stage”. it’s not just the moments of our children, tiny beings not sleeping through the night, toddlers in terrible-two-tantrums – people reassuring us “age and stage”. it’s not just the trials of parents letting go of those adored humans who are now adults in the world, a little less access, a lot less time – people encouraging us “age and stage”. it’s not just our aging moms and dads, significant changes in ability, in perspective, in health – people comforting us “age and stage”.
it’s us. it’s our age and our stage, we are reminded. we try to fix what is broken, try to start something new, try to perfect the blossom. and we realize that it was a bloom all along. it was beautiful. it counted.
were we to be able to see – from the beginning – all the stages – the tight bud, the slightly opened petals – the bloom – the blossom falling to the ground – we might take it all more lightly, we might not cling to ideals of success and how we receive it. we might know there would be mistakes and dropped notes, lyrics mixed up and words not spoken. we might know there would be vulnerabilities and painful angsting, gorgeous improvised melodies, pictures without everything we desired, without everything coming to fruition, vamped decisions, regrets and, yes, bows. we might know that we would join with the rest of the human race on broken roads.
and we might know that the stages of our ages were all wrapped in gold.
and maybe ink.
“and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (anais nin)
we have a ridiculously high level of dedication to this. despite the fact that no one is requiring it, no one is requesting it, no one is paying for it. every weekday, for one week shy of four years, we have written a post. i guess it’s part of the autograph we leave on the world, whether or not anyone reads it.
they poured the last bit of temporary sidewalk this week. it’s there till spring when it will be replaced by something permanent. i stood at the front door and chatted with the guys, who told me we should sign our names in it…after all, it is temporary cement. i did have this fleeting thought that, even if it were permanent cement, it is still temporary, but i didn’t think they wanted to have an existential conversation so i said nothing.
i went upstairs to get d from work. “we have to sign our names in the sidewalk. the guys told me to,” i pulled him away from his desk. he grabbed a yellow craftsman screwdriver from the kitchen drawer – where we keep one to tighten the door handle and that thingy on the door jamb that the lock slides into…what is that thingy called…oh yeah, strike plate….that.
it wasn’t too cold out – which is why they poured – so we went outside, stared at the open, undisturbed, perfectly raked canvas of wet cement and … drew a blank. the possibilities were endless. a peace sign? a heart? flowers? a mountain sunrise? paralyzed with uncertainty and too many choices, we decided on our names, which presented its own set of problems.
for we never really call each other our names. of course we will reFER to each other as kerri and david to others, but saying the name david TO david feels funny coming out of my mouth. and hearing david say kerri to me is just weird.
because a long time ago now we found out that we had the same middle name. in the very early stages of our relationship – when all we did was write emails and then texts – before we had met in person and before we had much voice-to-voice conversation, we discovered that, in the oddest of odds, our middle names are – for all intents and purposes – the same.
mine is the feminine version (that’s what my sweet momma would try to have you believe. having been named after my dad erling, she tried to convince me that e-r-l-e was soft and girlie. mm-hmm.) david’s was “the sound that bears make” – according to him; he was named after his grandpa.
regardless of the obvious chatter this will create as you try to discern if it is indeed soft and girlie or more of a gutteral utterance of a grizzly bear, it was decidedly a unique moment to find out we had somewhat rare names as our middle name.
and so, i started to call him david earl. (and similarly kerri erle.) soon, the formality dropped to d.earl – which is pronounced d-dot-earl. and this was shortened to d.dot – which is pronounced d-dot and does not include the obvious redundancy (d-dot-dot), because, heaven knows, we would not want to be redundant.
most of the time now, i just call him “d”.
so…standing there…in front of cement just pining to be written in…we had a decision to make. what.to.write.
and there you have it. the absolutely unnecessary story that you can’t believe you just read to the end. k.dot and d.dot in the cement sidewalk. temporarily.
the next morning – the morning after the installation – i stepped out to look at our handiwork. the sidewalk had cracked in the bitter overnight cold.
but they’ll be back, like they said. in the warmer spring or early summer days. and they’ll pour the next.
there’s a good chance we will write in that permanent sidewalk as well. our autographs.
if you are wondering which type of heater is warmer – the standing-propane or the pyramid-propane – we would have to answer specific to one experience where we were surrounded by both. though i don’t believe the standing-propane was functioning 100%, the pyramid-propane on our end of the table seemed much warmer. nevertheless, we would likely purchase the more highly-rated standing propane. i guess. visually, this pyramid is kind of like watching a fireplace, so there is that to consider as well.
the windchill dropped to about 17 degrees in the courtyard, yet, there we sat, with big blankets and glasses of wine, between the two heaters. we weren’t the only al fresco table in the outdoor space of this restaurant just north of chicago. another table of patrons was also doing the safe-thing and had gathered outside to dine together post-holiday.
we were there with our son and that in itself kept me warm. it was time to celebrate and we had bags of gifts for him to open. i cannot tell you – though i suspect i needn’t try as this is a universal feeling – what it felt like to hug him when he walked through the back door to join us. it had been kind of a long while and i was kind of giddy. wine and soup and good food, even dessert, and hours later we parted. glenn – the maître d’ – held his hand over his heart on our way out; i did the same. these times. “strange times call for strange measures,” i texted a friend. we three laughed together at the-table-in-the-snow-shoveled-courtyard about how indeed strange. and i was inordinately grateful.
these strange times continue and continue, it seems. here we are – rapidly approaching two years of this pandemic affecting our behaviors, our actions, our plans, our health, our travel, our work, our safety and security, our relationships, our out-and-aboutness-in-the-world. we have been vaccinated and vaccinated and boosted. we have worn masks – better and better and better ones – everywhere, even when barely anyone else has. we have distanced and isolated and avoided crowds. we have gone through a lot of hand sanitizer.
as the new variant explodes around the world, we watch various stories play out. the tennis player – a gigantic role model – who refuses to get vaccinated, expects to play in the international arena, receives an exemption from a locale but not from the country of australia – has a hissy fit. i suppose i wonder why he, a breather-of-breath-in-and-out-the-same-way-you-or-i-breathe, feels he is above doing what-is-best-for-the-world. for that matter, i wonder why anyone feels that way. truly. a moot point at this juncture. it is two years – years – now.
in the meanwhile, we do the best we can. we are missing a lot. we know that. there is a precious great-nephew i have not yet met. there are indoor/in-the-car/in-restaurants/at-our-home/at-their-homes/up-close-and-personal moments we are not sharing with others we love, with others who make our personal world what it is. most of our spare time has been outside or alone. we wonder how and when this will change.
i write “better” on our flying wish paper, crumple it up, uncrumple the crumpled, shape it into a cylinder and light it. the wish for “better” flies off to come true, tiny bits of ash floating.
i was going to write about the gig economy. about how living a life – mostly – in that world has given me a perspective about work that is maybe a little less rigid than the perspective of one who has worked outside the gig economy. always piecing it together, always scrappy, always thinking of the next new thing to create – these are second nature. not having as much, worrying, repurposing, having thinner margins – these are also second nature. in the middle of the middle of what-next thinking, outside the box of indeed and monster and ziprecruiter and simplyhired and random sites that seriously suggest i apply for positions as a neuroscience researcher. “now what?” people will ask – mostly who don’t really know me or who are drawing comparisons with their own lives. i was going to write about all that.
but then i thought about beauty. i thought about how artists dive below the surface, try to find the depth of meaning, try to hear and see what which others might pass by, not noticing. i thought about stages and boom mics and connection and standing in front of a diebenkorn – or a robinson – deep inside, marveling. i thought about arvo pärt and his absolute tug on my heart. i thought about john denver and simplicity. i thought about recording studios and soaring string sections, cello lines that make clouds rearrange to allow in light. the weaving of intricate relationship between people and nature, between people and art in any form.
there have been moments – and i can actually remember them – when i have been driving and listening to a song and i weep or hiking and seeing something so stunning i stop and cannot move. these moments when i know, without a doubt, that it was right to turn down the business-school-accounting-program acceptance. these moments when i know, without a doubt, that i will not have the same security as the person-i-would-have-been following that route. moments when i feel a sense of pride to be a tiny part of the tapestry of what people turn to in time of rejuvenation, of rest, of crisis, of pure bliss. these moments when i know, without a doubt, that somewhere along the way what i have done with my time has touched someone, has opened them, has taken them diving with me. below the surface of this great big world – to beauty.
it’s been forty years now…over forty, actually. four decades of other people asking THAT question: “what’s your REAL job?”. for a society that values entertainment in all arenas of medium, it would seem a ridiculous query – for this work as an artist – this work providing a piece of heart connection, of balance, this work expressing ideas with the hope of creating beauty, this work exploring perceptions and nudging perspectives, this work generating emotions – this IS my real job. as an artist. a funambulist.
and as a lifelong artist, some things about my life are just different than the norm. it is hard for people to know what to say – or for that matter, what to think – when you mention you are a musician or that you write or paint or dance or sculpt or act. it’s kind of a conversation-stopper. or a chance for the people at the table to push, “but what’s your REAL job?”.
the success of our lives is not measured in rising stocks or 401k’s or retirement portfolios or even bulging savings accounts, for that matter. real jobs are defined by levels of security and solvency that artists, sadly, rarely experience. it’s just hard for others to wrap their heads around such oddity, such tenuousness, such a complex relationship with the imperative to create.
so we point out: the bow, literal or figurative, of any artist is humble gratitude. the joy of any artist is the rippling concentric circle of their work. success is connection, resonance. even with one tiny person-star in the galaxy.
the definition of our lives is complicated to explain, though i expect so is yours. if one artist is awkward, two artists is a weird-fest. sooo not-normal. we will laugh WITH you as you struggle to understand us. weird or not, it is who we are.
as you walk in the front door of the gallery, it is straight ahead of you. “unfettered” seizes your attention and the light streaming in the windows spilling onto a warm wood floor and white woodwork seems to embrace it in a cloud. i know how this feels. showcasing a piece is allowing it to come to full bloom, to let it breathe in the world, to share it. but showcasing a piece is not for the meek at heart.
in the way you would likely feel standing in your underwear in a town square, introducing the world to some new piece of your heart is raw. on old wooden stages with a piano and a mic, centered on a wall with a tiny price tag placed nearby, during poetry-reading night in the corner of the general store, sharing with the novel-writing club every first thursday, skating the first performance on ice, tapping “publish” on a blog each day … pieces of your heart float shakily about as you try to hold onto sisu and stay grounded. it matters not how many times you have done this. your heart has been unbridled and you are allowing others in. each and every time.
“unfettered” is gorgeous. it’s – coincidentally – exactly how i feel on wooden stages. it is how i feel on the top of mountain trails. it is how i feel dancing in the front yard. it is how i feel those moments i have been cantering on the back of an exquisite horse. it is how love feels. it is how the sun on your face feels.
“unfettered” is the epitome of its own hanging-on-the-gallery-wall boldness. the uninhibited freedom of expression – artistry come to fruition in the moment of utter sharing. terrifying and liberating. raw and real. the underwear moments.