reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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thriving. [k.s. friday]

there was a jaguar suv parked in one of the bays when we went to pick up littlebabyscion at the shop. it was shiny black and had an aura of extravagance. i joked as we walked in that it was “practically identical” to our little xb. our beloved – and stellar – mechanic laughed and said, “nah! it’s just ridiculously expensive! fancy doesn’t make it better.” because this society assigns value to things that cost more, i probed a little further, comparing our very-basic vehicle to this one, and he answered, “the reason people buy these – and many other vehicles like it – is for other people to see them driving it. it says ‘i am successful’ to the world.” i laughed and rolled my eyes, joking about the level of success us driving our scion speaks to and he replied, “nope. doesn’t matter.”

“…only about 0.000002% of musicians become ‘successful’.” (one of many statistics found when googling the rate of success for musicians.)

now that is a bracing statistic. it would suggest that there are a heck of a lot of musicians out there – including me – driving un-fancy vehicles with odometers pushing 300,000 miles. it would suggest, too, that there are a lot of musicians out there whose egos are not benefitting from the sideshow and stroke of other people’s ‘that-person-is-successful’ thinking.

but we still keep on keeping on anyway.

successful (synonyms): prosperous. profitable. booming. fruitful. thriving.

the prosperous is evasive. the profitable is of-the-past now that streaming is the preferred mode of listening over purchasing cds or even paying for downloads. the booming has slumped. the fruitful is fallow, often barren, depending on levels of frustration over thinking you should have been a financial analyst, software engineer or investment broker. and the thriving? well, that’s another story.

thriving is growth and growth rays out from the center in an artist. up against a challenge, we seek a different route, a different way. it is not our nature to give up, though an independent artist’s odds of success are clearly stacked. we simply “cannot imagine leaving”. (todd skinner)

instead, we channel the creative energy that keeps stoking up, that keeps us going. we funnel it out into threads of let’s-try-this or let’s-learn-that. when we can’t perform, we play. when we can’t play, we compose. when we can’t compose, we write. we find rivers we can enter and we wade in. we take risks.

in recent days i have come to realize that i still have much to learn…much growing to embrace. there are always more questions than answers. creativity whispers, “do not limit your future by basing it on the past, projecting what you can do based on what you have done. your goal is to be not just better than you were, but as good as you can ultimately become.” (todd skinner)

true in every arena of life…artistry, physicality, emotional health, motherhood, in community. much to learn. always. thriving.

it’s a mystery how it all will turn out. how, in the end, we will be seen. whether we will be prosperous or have a profitable life. if we will have boomed or been fruitful. whether we will have driven a fancy-car, a workhorse old truck or a steadfast littlebabyscion and what that all means to the world watching.

what will really matter – to us artists, adapting in ever-changing light and in each season – is if we thrived.

*****

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autographs. [d.r. thursday]

“this is my autograph, here in the songs that I sing. here in my cry and my laugh, here in the love that i bring. to be always with you and you always with me.” (autograph – john denver)

on my 30th birthday – a sunny and auspicious day more than thirty years ago – at the zoo, in a freshly poured cement sidewalk, i wrote my name with a stick. i was not alone; i had witnesses to this moment in time. my mom and dad and niece and husband cheered me on as i left my tiny mark. years later, upon return to that zoo, it was still there. there was something encouraging and reassuring about that. i had not disappeared.

we were way up on the mountain, at the highest point of the trail we were hiking. the meadow stretched out of the woods and we sat for a time on a log, watching the breeze move the wildflowers as they bent to autumn. with a sharpie we left two tiny dots on that log. we had been there. we would remain there.

right off the side of the meadow as we re-entered the woods, there was this stump. like an opening flower blossom, it begged a look inside. i was surprised to find rocks of all sizes in there. a container of autographs, evidence for those who had passed by. we added ours to the assembly, rocks specifically chosen by hikers who placed their i-was-here into the hollow cavern of the stump. there is something about leaving a token behind, yes, encouraging and reassuring that upon our return someday – should we return to that very spot – it could be there and we would be reminded that we had passed that way.

the music, the art, the words – all linger temporarily. a little noisy. we have passed this way, that way, these very spots. music, the art, the words – they are expressions that give a bit of definition to the amorphous life we live. they say who we are and stamp our love into the world. and then they evaporate into the atmosphere.

and we know that, even if we never pass that way again, even if we never come across the hollow stump again, we have still left a silent autograph.

*****

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undefined texture. rising. [k.s. friday]

and so, september has arrived. and the texture of day for many is changed. fall is around the corner; the cooler mornings whisper that to us, ushering in – with little fanfare – the color transformation of leaves, the waning of the garden, the ultimate fallow of winter.

autumn is my favorite. and as i look to it, i see transition rising out of the horizon. undefined, but transition nonetheless. unfolding.

i got a letter a few days ago from the insurance company handling my wrist injury from falling. they have decided to stop my treatment. as of right now.

back in july they hired a physician to do an IME – which is the acronym for, ironically, “independent medical exam”. don’t be fooled by the word “independent” for when an insurance company chooses and hires and pays a physician time and again to do medical exam reports for the insurance company that wishes to stop paying for treatment, that physician is questionably “independent”. in an unsurprising result, the physician, who has not been the treating physician all along, gave them the verbiage they were looking for and BAM! they instantly wrote-a-lettuh to me discontinuing my medical treatment.

to say that i was disappointed would be to grossly underexaggerate the complex and intense emotions that came with opening that envelope. my own froedtert hand specialist and stellar OT, who both recommend continued treatment, have helped me make much amazing progress – as a professional musician who kind of uses my hands in lifelong work – and i am now able to bend my wrist to 60 degrees from the initial 20 when i started with them. it’s not the 85 – 90 degree forward range of motion of a normal wrist, but i guess the insurance company et al have decided it’s plenty. wow. and wow.

so the texture of my days will change as well. i’ll try to translate exercises and stretching my OT has done to home, without the benefit of specialized therapy center equipment or knowledge or her hands aiding my movements. and undefined transition will rise out of the horizon.

and we’ll see. things will unfold as they unfold. and summer will turn to fall. and fall will become winter. and we’ll see.

*****

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UNFOLDING from AS IT IS ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood


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wonderful world. [k.s. friday]

“easy living” it advertises on the cover of the wayfair summer catalog. inside, you can purchase everything you need for easy living. for a price, you can create easy living spaces on your deck, your front porch, in your kitchen, in your bath, by your pool, in your backyard. most items are really beautiful, beckoning you to believe in the power they have to help you live easy. this summer, we actually added a few small things to our own deck, though our deck is a mostly-target-added-to-repurposed-stuff deck. i have to say, a few cushions and outdoor pillows make an inviting difference.

we have changed our schedule a bit these days. we used to stay up really late and watch late night news and comedy talk shows, but through the pandemic and the political-rah-rah times it has tended to get us riled up. so instead, after the sun has fallen from the sky and mosquitoes having joined us on the deck, we watch minimal tv and go to bed early to read aloud or watch trails on a laptop. we wake up early, with rising sun and birdcalls streaming in through the wide-open windows in our bedroom.

this morning, just as the sun rose, i plugged in the coffee, fed dogdog, opened the windows in the sunroom and went outside. i greeted the tiniest farm on our potting stand, tested the soil for dampness, looked for ripe cherry tomatoes, pinched back the sweet basil. i checked on the lavender. i added bird seed to the feeder. i looked for magic in the pond and pulled a couple weeds. i watched dogga sniff around his yard and drank in the salmon sky lightening in the east. i came back inside and wandered from plant to plant, saying good morning to succulents and KC and snakeinthegrass. the coffee pot beeping drew me out of where i was standing by the window, looking out, and i pulled out cabin coffee company mugs. every day is different and every mug brings with it a different set of visceral memories. it was a breckenridge mug kind of day.

it was quiet; all was still. i thought: this. this is easy living. a little bit of ritual, a little peace at the beginning of the day, a little peace at the end of the day – these are ingredients you cannot purchase from a catalog. these simple gestures we make to being present-here-now are contagious. they spread the intention of simplicity to the rest of our day. and though we don’t always stay there, in peace, we know we can find our way back there.

because at the beginning of the next day we can try again. we can find the wonderful in this wonderful world.

PULLING WEEDS from RIGHT NOW (kerri sherwood)

and – click here – just because everyone should listen to louis armstrong every day

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PULLING WEEDS ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood


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pointers. [d.r. thursday]

“i believe art is utterly important. it is one of the things that could save us.” (mary oliver)

in those moments – so many of them – when all else fails to reassure – beauty reminds us. it keeps us present, in the moment, working to get to the next moment, breathing in deep breaths, slowly, slowly.

the work of an artist, in any medium, is as a pointer, just like the wooden ones with the rubber tip that your fourth grade teacher used as she pulled down the world map on the roll above the blackboard to show your class the track of an expedition or the location of a country. artists pull down the map and point to it, making it accessible to anyone, making it alive, bringing an infinity of beauty, pulling your attention away from the narrative inside, whatever it might be. it is a tool of healing, a balm, a salve. it is freeing. it is free.

we immerse in music, in the ecstasy of dance, in the flow of poetry, in the spectrum of paint on a canvas, the feel of clay pots in our hands. we sometimes forget and are driven into the angst of life’s dimensionality, missing the limitlessness of the simplest. these are the moments we turn to art.

for in the end it is not the accumulation of things or wealth or titles or power. it is simply and utterly the sheer beauty of being here, the absolutely stunning realization that we get to be here in this moment in a continuum of moments we share – albeit tiny within the vast – with the universe. inside the art.

“you can’t take it with you,” my sweet poppo would say as he would refer to money or stuff. in those pondering moments he had, he somehow knew watching the cormorants on the lake out the window, listening to music on their stereo, puttering and creating in his garage workshop, quietly coffee-sitting with my momma – these were the things of value. the day he threw caution to the wind and purchased a large painting at the splurgy karl’s mariners inn restaurant perched on northport harbor; he was answering the call of art – the pointer that drew him in and wrapped him, in this case, in the fjords of norway and endless dreaming. it moved home to home with them and always was a source of calm, a reminder of beauty and peace.

each day i walk downstairs and see this canvas on the easel. each day it reminds me of the trail we often walk, for it is the paused and erased beginning of a painting of the woods of that trail. i pay attention to it because it affords me tiny spaces of river trail within my day. it reminds me, as i scurry about attempting to get things done, to remember. it slows me down and i can hear the rustling of leaves, the birdcalls, the crunch of our feet on dirt, the chatter of squirrels. i can feel the sun atop my head, the breeze in my face, my arm looped through david’s. i can see the color of wildflowers, lush green underbrush, rough grey-brown bark, cloud-dotted blue sky. i can sense a bit of time on my hands, but just a bit. and i am right there, stepped out of the up-close worries, stepped into beauty. i am paying attention. art has done its good work.

to pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. (mary oliver)

*****

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the sustain pedal. [k.s. friday]

the file drawers are bursting. there are three bank boxes in the closet, next to and on top of the file cabinets. there is still music to be filed away, but it’s almost done. the ukuleles and the strum stick are hung on hooks. the cello sits silently in the corner. the black metal music stands are cleared of sheets and books. everything needs to be dusted or waxed. the wood floor needs to be swept more thoroughly – to chase away the dust bunnies. a few pencils wait. the storm is gathering. the sustain pedal begs for attention.

i’ve played maybe twice since last november. i stacked music and calendars and binders of slated songs and folders of research in there. i dragged in a box or two of supplies and cantatas that i brought home. i laid the ukuleles on the rocking chair, the poster behind the door. but i didn’t play. except for a day or two after our babycat died and maybe one or two other times. the piano is tacet. and the sustain pedal waits.

because i played and sang constantly for work before the end of november, and i was surrounded in my studio by all the tools and resources i used for that work, it has been, in the these last few days, important to me to finally move all that which i had been playing, all that which is no longer relevant to my life. this studio needs to be clean. it needs space. it needs room for new. it needs to no longer represent life doing that work, that dedication, that place. my studio needs a refacing. the sustain pedal holds its breath.

i got an email from a lovely woman somewhere in new mexico. she wants to order a baker’s dozen cds and wrote that she includes owning them up in her wish list of “large sacks of $100 bills and 25 hugs and smiles received daily for life”. i’m grateful to her and her dedication to analog music. it will be fun to pack it all up and ship it to her, though i will have to direct her to amazon for a few titles i no longer have in stock. her order is a reminder. and even in these days when i have been actively submitting titles to pandora for streaming (there are now nine titles available on pandora.com and everything on digital platforms everywhere) it is refreshing to go to the stock of cds and pull out shrink-wrapped copies of music to ship off. the sustain pedal giggles.

i’m getting anxious to finish the studio cleanse. to walk in and see possibility. to sit and listen to the quiet. to see the new project, the new song, the new composition through fog, fallow and passing time. to one day again depress the sustain pedal and place my hands on dusted keys under a full stick. i don’t know when that will be.

the sustain pedal whispers, “whoosh”.

*****

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THAT MORNING SOMEDAY from BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood


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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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cut out. [d.r. thursday]

i hadn’t looked at the original since he extracted what he felt was a better painting. the 9×12 canvas he just mounted is, oh goodness, a close-up of my face, though fortunately painted as more of a profile than a full face straight-on. in its previous iteration it was part of a painting of me directing a ukulele band rehearsal in our home, on a humid summer evening when all gathered here to play and practice and talk and share lives. now it’s a lovely small painting and, though it is of me, i can see what he likes about it.

i hadn’t looked at the original until just now when he came upstairs with this photograph to use in today’s blogpost. with enthusiasm and laughing, he said, “let’s use this today!” i reached over to look at the photograph on the iphone in his hand and my heart dropped.

this is the way i feel about my previous job. cut out. my face was cut out, leaving behind the legacy and fun and music of the ukulele and, for that matter, all the other music that was created and offered with love and celebrated and made a community joyful. simply cut out. boxcutter-straight-edge-cut-out. erased.

as i keep glancing at this photograph to write about the image, it doesn’t change. as a matter of fact, my reaction is becoming more intense instead of lessening. it takes my breath away. it’s bracing.

i have tried to explain to others what this felt like – to articulate this cutting-out. i know that many people experience downsizing and rightsizing and personnel changes in their positions. mostly these are jobs in corporate america with possibly six-figure incomes and benefits, healthcare and 401k’s, though this is not always the case. there is often not a heavy emotional tie, though this is not always the case. there is often not a family community, though this is not always the case. there is often not a deep sense of loyalty and long-term commitment to growth of the organization, though this is not always the case.

but in my case, in this position that had no benefits whatsoever and a salary that wouldn’t touch six figures even if it had whopping ten percent increases for the next decade, in this position heavy on emotional ties and family community and loyalty and commitment and heart, this trimmed painting depicts how it feels. still.

stunningly, without melodrama, just a straight-up two-dimensional portrait of an emotion in a three-dimensional world, i have now found the way to articulate it – in a simple image.

my face, with no explanation, was cut out.

and i don’t know what else to say.

david named this painting ‘beautiful k.dot’

*****

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BEAUTIFUL K.DOT ©️ 2021 david robinson


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“the pace of nature.” [merely-a-thought monday]

“…adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.” (ralph waldo emerson)

no matter how hard we try, there is not one thing we can do to make the sun appear or the day warmer or the moon to rise or the snow to fall. we accept that time will come, time will pass, time will form and time will destroy. we give over to nature, anticipating that which we know, expecting the unexpected. we baby-step through this very time in the universe, our footprints barely visible on the timeline that is forever. we learn that no matter our stride, we are simply tiny beings. eventually, we learn, after giving over to patience, that that is enough.

the john denver sanctuary in aspen is a treasure trove. we have been there three times now. a garden of trails and large river boulders etched with lyrics and quotes, perennial daisies and aspen trees, it is a gentle sinking into peaceful. the city sounds of aspen fall away and the river and streams are lulling.

we wandered for hours, reading, sitting, pondering, the sun on our faces, the sound of quaking leaves slowing us down. i stood on a giant rock, like a stage under my feet, and bowed deeply to no one and to the brilliance of a man who knew how to tenderly shape melody and weave lyric into a fabric like a soft blanket.

we were immersed in poetry, in words, delicious to read aloud. we were quietly taking it all in, i in all my john-denver-glory, reliving the cassettes i wore out, rewinding, rewinding, listening again and again. this exquisite place, tempting all-day-hooky-playing, wielding a magic defined by thought, encouraging reflection, softly begging you to tumble in your own thoughts. this place slowing you down, reminding you that it is not stuff that defines you, it is not the stuff-of-you that will remain with others.

we wrestle with timing, with suspense, with expectation and disappointment. we measure against ladders of success and hold ourselves to higher higher higher standards of accomplishment.

nature quietly treks on, luminescent and glorious, patiently acknowledging every babystep moment of its impact, surrendering judgement and secretly, from the heart of the universe, signing its autograph on all of us, whispering to us to slow our pace.

*****

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