reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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a coupling with no conscience. [two artists tuesday]

gasket (noun): a shaped piece or ring of rubber or other material sealing the junction between two surfaces in an engine or other device.

what the dictionary doesn’t tell you: gasket (noun): havoc-wreaker.

this small piece of black rubber wields some mighty power. its failure has made us dance for the last three days (and i’m not talking about good-dancing.)

we woke to the sound of water. a pleasant sound, we were suddenly aware that we, indeed, were not camping by a lovely mountain stream. instead, we were inside our home where the sound of unsolicited running water is reason enough for stomach flips and jumping out of bed. we are good at running around looking for the problem. we are not so good at what to do next.

we stared at it. the water on the carpet in the basement was an obvious problem. we quickly traced the dripping, er, flowing stream, to the cold water feed to the shower. and, because the very wise craftsmen who built this old house had the foresight to leave a tiny door in the closet on the main floor behind this feed, we found the culprit. the coupling! one coupling, without a conscience, failing us miserably.

we were wise enough to turn the water feed off – don’t overestimate the reaction of two artists in a plumbing emergency – and the water stopped. and then the fun began.

it takes a village to play plumber. we took pictures and sent panicky texts to innumerable friends who instantly wrote back advice and words of encouragement, channeling my sweet momma’s “you can do this.” we got to work, reading and re-reading the wisdom on our phones.

inside the coupling was this tiny gasket. it was no longer completely round and smooth. its edges were a little torn and battered. here was the problem. this havoc-wreaker had done its havoc-wreaking job and we were faced with the fallout.

the shopvacs whirring, we went after the water. over and over again, until it was possible to actually move the carpet. donning masks and rubber gloves after reading up on google what we artists should do in such a plumbing emergency, we released the carpet from its metal stripping and pulled it back (wet carpet is ridiculously heavy). though we were actually helping the carpet, the padding below was sopped.

using boxcutters like pros, we, garbage-bags-later, had the padding out and were accumulating all the plastic things we could find to lay out the carpet and dry it with fans – any and all fans we had.

we read that baking soda would help so we bought boxes and boxes of baking soda and sprinkled it generously like my mom would sprinkle confectionery sugar on her homemade crumbcakes. and then it was time to wait it out.

meanwhile, we went to see tom at the hardware store. he directed us to a gasket for 99 cents that we brought home and placed in-between the pipes. it’s not quite right – the gasket we had (heaven only knows how old it is) had some shape to it – like an o-ring attached to the gasket, filling in a round moat in the pipe (note the professional terms). this gasket was flat, so we are now looking for one that has this so-called built-in o-ring to fill in the moat. without that (or some other fix we are trying to figure out) there will always be a place for a tiny bit of water to go, squeezing microdrop by microdrop under the gasket and then worming its way out the coupling and then, terrifyingly, down the pipe where – if i even see one drop on the carpet i will freak out – it could land downstairs. anyway, after days of intense and concentrated effort, the crisis has been diverted, knock wood. (there’s been a lot of wood-knocking going on…)

now, the quest for the proper gasket. plumbing supply stores watch out!

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY


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“i know you can do it.” [merely-a-thought monday]

inside a what-is-now-considered-vintage liz claiborne barrel purse was a treasure. not unzipped in years, i unpacked it the other day. i found a rattle, two small children’s board books, photographs in one of those plastic wallet picture thingies, a couple expired credit cards, a slew of emery boards, faded receipts i could no longer read, old chapstick, a collection of assorted pens and pencils, a few lists, some coins and two tiny mystery keys, a few notes from my girl, cars on scraps of paper drawn by my boy, and a card in the envelope it was mailed in. every now and then you stumble upon a treasure you forgot you had.

my sweet momma was famous for her handwritten letters; most of our family would easily recognize her handwriting, even in a crowded handwriting sampling, even years after last seeing it. this little card in my old purse was clearly something i carried around for some time. it was a note of reassurance, a note with great empathy, a note of encouragement. she mailed it early in january 1989, just a few months after i moved to wisconsin. still in the middle of homesickness and adjustment, though – as i realize now – she must have been feeling loneliness as well, she wrote to me. and she penned six words that i remember her repeating throughout my life:

“i know you can do it.”

those words – just six – can make all the difference.

momma was a glass-half-full type. her fervent cheering-on was a solid part of her nurturing. she fostered support with easy acceptance of failure, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” she didn’t list to the negative, nor did she wallow in it. in all her life, from early in marriage my dad MIA and then a POW in world war II, to losing her first baby within a day of her birth while my dad was imprisoned and she knew nothing of his whereabouts, to losing her grown son to lung cancer, to standing by my dad in his own lung cancer, a myriad of rough patches, to being left alone with my dad gone to face a double mastectomy at 93. no matter the challenge, she faced it down. she knew she could do it. and, despite any enormity, she left you with no doubt. even though her heart was thready and vulnerable, her positive spirit was contagious, her strength a force in the world.

these times – the pandemic and all it has wreaked, personal physical injuries or illnesses, job trials, isolation and loss of too much and too many to list – have cued up a range of mountains for each of us to scale. my mom’s “good morning merry sunshine” couples with her “live life, my sweet potato.” lines of counterpoint for melodies in life that are askew, her words brace against the storm. my sweet momma did not give up and she did not expect you to either. “you got this,” would be her brene brown shortcut message. she stuck with it all and rode each complicated wave, each complexity, each twist. she lives on in my daughter tearing down a run on a snowboard. she lives on in my son setting up a beautiful new place with his boyfriend. she lives on in the love her granddaughters and grandson bestow upon their children. she lives on in me.

in these times, with all its obstacles daring us to succumb, i can hear her. “i know you can do it,” her voice whispers to my heart.

*****

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

live life my sweet potato stuff


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through it. [k.s. friday]

it comes in stages. there is no easy route to the other side. just through.

the unexpected snow – after most had melted – though, indeed, a beautiful blanket of quiet – was also a stark and cold reminder that winter was not done. somehow it was a reminder of people gone, of the lack of interaction with others, a reminder of the invisible fence between us all, somewhat devoid of color and warmth. the pandemic we are living through has provided us with historic missing. so much lostness. someone asked me yesterday if i had had a vaccine. when i replied yes, she asked me why, then, was i wearing a mask. i stared at her above the piece of cloth i, like many of you, have diligently worn everywhere for about a year and replied that having a vaccine doesn’t abdicate me from responsibility. it is my job as a decent human being to continue to do my part – not just until i am vaccinated, but until the country is on track and there is little chance of others becoming ill because i, or anyone, was negligent. not wearing a mask herself though not vaccinated, she replied angrily that it wasn’t fair, that i shouldn’t have to wear a mask. i withheld the retort that quickly sprang to my lips and instead just said that this is hard. we are all lost together and foundness will be somewhere on the other side of all we have missed, somewhere in the spring of healing, in whatever season that falls.

when the tradesmen installed the patio, they carefully and artfully chose pieces to fit together. they slowly and tediously laid out a spot in our backyard where we could sit and sip wine in adirondack chairs, where we could hang our hammock, where we could build a bonfire late at night and dream dreams in the fireflies of sparks it sent out. the snow crystallizing on the rock accentuated the spaces between the pieces. though clearly defined as edges, it reminded me that all these pieces do fit together, perhaps nothing is really missing. every emotion – lostness and foundness and all inbetween, a jigsaw puzzle of sorts, the title of which, were there to be a box that would contain all the cardboard pieces, might read ‘life is like this’.

up against a pile of pillows, i sat in bed with coffee a few days after we lost babycat. with sadness and unwilling to greet the new day, i hadn’t yet opened the miniblinds. yet in the window to the east, the sun was insistent. it found its way through the tiny cracks between the blinds, the tiny holes that hold the string, as if urging me to open-open-open up. it didn’t change my missing when i opened them. i still missed babycat. i still missed all sense of normal. i still missed my children-all-grown-up, my parents-in-another-dimension, my family-far-apart, my friends-separated-by-covid-responsibility. i missed security and good work well done. i missed laughing and all things carefree.

but, in opening the blinds, i did not have to miss the sun and i stood in its warmth streaming in, looking at the spot on the bed where babycat would have laid in the soft rays from the window. and i realized that in yearning for all that on the other side i would have no choice but to go through it all, all the stages, snow, crystal flakes, sun and all.

*****

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MISSING from RELEASED FROM THE HEART ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood


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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this D.R. THURSDAY

AT THE DOOR ©️ 2017 david robinson & kerri sherwood


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babycat. [two artists tuesday]

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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old house symphony. [k.s. friday]

thwwwwwwwwwwunk. a distinctive sound. shhhhhhhhhhhhunk. another distinctive sound. the timbre of laundry in the laundry chute.

our old house has a two-story laundry chute: from the bathroom on the second floor through the bathroom on the first floor to the basement wooden trap door. for over three decades i have listened to laundry as it sings its way down the chute. it is likely i can identify – to a pretty close degree – what is traveling down to the land of the washer-dryer. i can tell if it is jeans. i can tell if it is socks. i can tell if it is a wet washcloth or a wet towel. i can tell it in the dark. i can tell it as a lark. oops…got carried away. but that is the truth – i can tell by the sound of the item as it brushes against the metal chute-frame and lands on the little wooden door. having had this highly-technical cutting-edge advantage for the better part of my adult life, i’m not sure what i would do without a laundry chute.

the radiator, in the middle of the night, often makes a thunking sound. it emanates from the sitting room, right off the bedroom and, were you to be easily freaked out by unfamiliar noises, you would sit up in bed, frozen and silent, wondering what critter was in the next room thunking. having heard this sound for thirty-something years, coming from radiators a third again old than i am, i am comforted by it, the single metallic-sounding drum-thump a piece of my audio history.

in the early days of owning this house, the wood-floor-guy asked if i wanted the spaces between the planks filled in or if i wanted him to place screws or shims into the wood from below so as not to hear the floor creaking. i was horrified at both ideas. the patina of the old floor, its stories, its life, and the sound of the old floor are all part of what i love about this house. i can’t imagine not hearing the wood floors creak. i never even wished that even in the middle of the night, what feels like a million years ago, just after my baby girl or my baby boy fell fast asleep, just after i laid her or him back in the crib, as i tiptoed out of the nursery hoping to not wake them, trying to avoid the floorboards that made the most noise. i just memorized the boards that were the greatest offenders and long-jumped them. they are the house speaking, the stories it holds dear.

d says i hear better than he does. the gutter’s funny dripping sound, the click of the ceiling fan, the sound the swinging door in the dining room makes, a little water in the pipes, the back screen door squeak, the vinyl siding expanding in the sunlight, the front door lock latching, the pantry closet closing, the boiler kicking on, the old oven opening, the chain on the basement door, the glass knob from the french door falling off.

i just say that i am listening to the symphony of this old house and i’m just a little more tuned in.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY

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a bit damaged and blooming. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

spring? is that you??

the snow was piled high on our walk around the ‘hood. stepping carefully around icy patches and those unsightly mountains of dirty snow next to the road, we strolled for a couple of hours. it was still freezing-cold out and the wind on our faces was biting. but the sun was out and, with icicles hanging off houses and treacherous sidewalks, we were stunned when we came upon this sight – early bulbs rising out of frozen ground, in a sheltered and sunny spot on the south side of the street. a signal that there is a new season to come, we practically danced on the sidewalk.

i texted her a photo and asked linda what these bulbs were. a lover-of-all-flowers, she immediately wrote back, “daffodils, i think. they look a bit damaged. like they came up and then got snowed on.” i replied, “aren’t we all? a bit damaged?”

it’s been a long hard winter. a long fall before that. a long summer before that. and, well, you know about last spring. today, scrolling through facebook, i saw a post that read, “a year ago this was our last normal week and nobody knew it.” wow. we can’t help but be a bit damaged.

but now, we look to the sun each day and note the rising temperatures, little bit by little bit. we think about coffee on the deck and a glass of wine on the patio. we look forward to the muddy trails in our favorite parks. we know that, though some things haven’t changed and the bit-of-damage is still present, there is a horizon and we are headed that way.

the bulbs will bloom, no matter how much they get snowed on. and so will we.

*****

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the snowman with mom-arms. [two artists tuesday]

in kindergarten, i watercolor-painted an image of my mom. there was no mistaking her, of course. to my eyes, it looked exactly like her and i was proud as could be when she later turned my masterful painting into a tile to hang on the wall of the kitchen next to the tiled artistic expressions of my big sister and my big brother. now i wonder as i look at the photograph of this artist-sans-maestro image. why did i paint my sweet momma with two distinctly different length arms? was i proportion-inept? was i image-to-paper incapable? was i running out of room on the page in-between all the birds? maybe, oh maybe, i was just not a gifted five-year-old-watercolorist. despite all its shortcomings, my sweet momma carried that tile-painting from one house to the next to the next to the next to the next to the last. as i glance at the art of my children around me – the hand-drawn childhood notes framed on my bedside table, the painted fish-rock on the kitchen windowsill, the handmade signs in my studio – i understand her fierce everlasting dedication.

this snowman seems the snow-replication – at least arm-wise – of my ‘beautiful’ mom-painting. i don’t think i ever painted my mom in a solo piece again after kindergarten. i’m sure i painted my family, my house, my pets, flowers and sky and horses. but i didn’t paint any more portraits. no, it didn’t seem like i was gifted in any way in a depiction of a real person on canvas or paper. but i would hasten to add that i easily have portraited my mom in a million other ways.

she is in music i have written, in photographs i have taken. she is in the branches i have dragged out of the woods and the rocks that have been collected in backpacks. she is in the memories that swirl in antique shoppes and in table coffee-sitting. she is in words i speak and expressions on my face. she is in my mind’s eye, my thready heart and in that little voice in my head. she is in the letters i write and the upside-down shampoo bottles and the homemade chicken soup in my stockpot. she is in the way i push back against inequality, the way i rail against wrongdoing. she is in the merry morning sunshine and the stars that glitter at night, begging attention.

and she is in this tiny snowman we built on a bench in southport park on a snowy day in february, proportionately-inappropriate arms and all.

*****

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“orbisculate.” [merely-a-thought monday]

i read her text more than once, “imagine, over 500,000 americans who will no longer contribute to the whole.” it is unfathomable to wrap your mind around this and, yet, the devastation continues. some of this country’s governors, whipping off their masks, merrily open their state-doors to this insidious disease and more americans will lose their lives, their parents, their spouses, their sons, their daughters. for what end? so that people might visit disney on spring vacation? so that people might step out of their covid-isolated lives and ignore all that has been scientifically proven as critical aids to move the country forward? so that people might selfishly tote variants back in their carry-ons from warm hot-spots, from tourist attractions, from margaritaville, from breaks that could break us all?

i wear a small chain on my left wrist. it is literally ceiling fan chain. we found the pack of chain on my dad’s workbench in florida years ago, sometime during the period of years that both of my parents were moving to a different plane of existence. both d and i chose to wrap this chain around our wrists to mark my poppo and each time i see it, i think of him. we speak of him. we speak of my sweet momma. i keep them around – purposefully, intentionally. i want their mark on the world to be present.

a family in boston lost their father, neil, only 78 years old, to covid last april. a man who embraced life with wide open arms, his family wants to memorialize him and find a way to keep his engaged and engaging spirit in the world. their plan? to get a word he made up for a college assignment years ago – orbisculate – into the dictionary. ‘when citrus fruit squirts on you’ is the ready definition. the complete and official definition is: 1) to accidentally squirt juice and/or pulp into one’s eye, as from a grapefruit when using a spoon to scoop out a section for eating. 2) to accidentally squirt the inner content from fruits, vegetables and other foods onto one’s face, body or clothing, or onto that of a person nearby. the website has a variety of links for blogposts and goals and faq’s, ways to contribute to the important charity this lovely family has chosen to support and a petition you can sign to help move this effort forward, keep their dad around.

after her text, i spent some time thinking about the 500,000 plus beautiful souls no longer on this earth – simply because of covid, a pandemic with some preventable losses. how might we memorialize each of these people? how might we keep them present – in their own concentric circles, in their community, in the whole wide world? how might we intentionally remember?

to what end are we willing to go to not lose any more people to this virus? to what end are we each willing to sacrifice the smaller picture for the bigger picture? to what end are we willing to agree to unite in a continued compassionate endeavor to mitigate this?

and, with a nod to the brilliant idea category of this bostonian family, how will the dictionary accommodate over 500,000 new words – all of which would be worthy were each of these mortals to have their own special thingamajig-word and definition. and i hope they do.

poppochain: (noun): 1) bracelet made of inexpensive ceiling fan chain, typically worn wrapped around wrist 2) a physical reminder of enormous love 3) memorial of my sweet poppo, 1920-2012.

i touch the poppochain on my left wrist and, suddenly, i want to go peel a grapefruit.

*****

we orbisculate over to you for your haiku-turn. let them know!

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


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miracle mittens and the best i can. [k.s. friday]

these ‘miracle mittens’ have changed everything. for the first time, i am hiking with warm hands, i am walking the ‘hood with warm hands, i am outdoors – in the freezing cold – with warm hands. this is the first time i have found mittens that literally make my hands happy. they are down-filled and water-and-wind-resistant; they are an amazing entry in a wrist-saga-journey year. they are the best mittens i have ever found.

the best.

and the wrist-saga-journey continues.

the hand specialist looked at me and said, “you have a complete tear in the SL ligament.” he explained that it followed that my range of motion was pretty much nil and he added, “it would have been in your best interest had this been addressed within four weeks of your fall and resulting injury, but, now that it’s months later, we’ll address it here the best we can.”

the best we can.

the specialist in my own town looked at the mri report and, despite the words “compatible with a high-grade partial or complete (ligament) tear”, told me he saw no evidence of an injury other than something similar to a contusion, that i was fine and, with some occupational therapy, i would have ‘some’ range of motion in a year or two years.

i left that office – in my own town these months ago – and sat in the car and sobbed. the last thing i needed right then was yet another flippant bullying type. i decided then and there not to go back and started a search for a new specialist out-of-town. froedtert and the medical college of wisconsin delivered and i am now in the care of a hand specialist there and an OT i actually look forward to working with each session. there’s a long way to go and the possibility of other interventions, but i know that they will do the best they can.

the best they can.

it has been a journey, i have to say. as a human with opposable thumbs, these hands have been necessary, just in normal life-stuff. but the professional musician in me needs range-of-motion, needs extension, needs rapid movement, needs painless playing. so it has felt really important to me to look at the whole picture, to have a long-term solution, to not underestimate the impact of injuries that are part of who i am. now, with the help of empathetic experts, i can reach for the best i can.

the best i can.

the wrist-saga-journey has been – interesting – to deal with, on every level. two distinct injuries. one snowboard that wiped out both wrists and one unmarked wet floor, months later, that wiped out one of the wrists whose fractures had healed. i had two weeks off, after originally breaking both wrists, from the job-i-had-at-the-time-of-both-injuries. for the better part of the year, i just continued to keep on keeping on, playing, directing, doing the absolute best i could, despite pain, despite awkward adapting with and without casts, with and without braces, despite whatever physical repercussions might arise from using two broken and healing wrists. months later, it was merely weeks after i fell there, right at the beginning of my ninth year of tenure and – suddenly – my hands didn’t have a job. suddenly, the wrists i had forced to keep working all year were without music, were tacet. suddenly, the organ pipes and the piano boom mics and the ukulele chords and the music all over my studio were irrelevant. suddenly.

i told the specialist that wasn’t the end of the story. it’s not a short story. it’s my *hands* and they have been – and will be – part of a much longer story, part of the arc of me, part of different songs to sing, different music to play, different stages to stand on. maybe the-best-i-can is yet to come.

the best.

in the words of jewel, “my hands are small, i know/but they’re not yours they are my own/but they’re not yours they are my own/and i am never broken.”

i can.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY

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