reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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the nails popping. [k.s. friday]

barney’s nails are popping, its layers are peeling back even more, rust is gathering on surfaces subjected to air and moisture. this is not a surprise. barney has been outside in the sun and the rain and the snow and ice and wind and humidity and drought for almost ten years now. a decade has a way of peeling things back. i wonder what barney might look like in another decade or maybe two. its soul will be intact; its boxy exterior will be falling away, opening strings, hammers, soundboard to the world. and always, its soul, present, true.

barney is no less beautiful now than the day it arrived in our yard. in fact, as it changes, its transformation is a metamorphosis into an aged piece of art sans any expectations. it stands as a stalwart symbol of constancy in our backyard. it reminds me that soul is resilient, fluid. no matter the weathering, the chippies and bunnies nesting, the birds stopping off to rest, the squirrels sitting and taunting the dog. no matter only eleven white endpieces of keys are left. no matter the line of popped nails in a row along its upright top. its soul – exposed – carries on, aged and stronger than before.

“this is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing i know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” (mary oliver)

if barney needed to express itself, tell stories of its past, the narrative of a life of a hundred years, it would merely stand and speak – firmly planted. time and nails have loosened its jointed wood and the container of a million tales, and have – figuratively – unlidded the top of the shoebox under the bed or on the top shelf of the closet. every story counts and, as we sit in the backyard, we pay attention. we listen to barney, giving credence to its voice, glad that even in its aged appearance – and its agedness – it is not silent.

in ways i can’t explain, i can feel the nails popping.

*****

THE BOX ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

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squeaking. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

“squeaking with joy, ” cousin kate wrote – all in caps – “the turtles are back!”.

at the exact time she sent that, we were on our trail, on the bridge over the river, gazing down at the turtles. we had seen a couple earlier in the spring, but then it got cold and they disappeared. now, they are back – seemingly for good – and we, too, are squeaking with joy.

earlier in the winter, i had written:

i think about the turtles. they are there in the warmer months, sunning on logs and rocks that jut out of the river. but, when it dips below fifty degrees or so – and stays there – they disappear. apparently, they dive down to the muddy bottom, their metabolism slows down, they require less oxygen. their mucky homes keep them safe as they bide time, these wise, long-lived creatures of the water and the land.

we know they are there – somewhere – in hidden spots, places they feel sheltered and secure. i think about what they might be doing. they are silent and the fallow is long. i trust they are sorting what is next, kind of like us.

time keeps moving, though, and i keep hope that when it warms up and the turtles have a more secure sense of themselves in the world they will reappear, out of the suspension of presence. i’m hoping for an early spring.

and waiting. and the river freezes. and then it thaws.

and then i had this idea walking down the hall the other day. it was a the-turtles-are-back idea.

in my mind i named it “out of fallow” or “out of the mud” or even “the relevant challenge” or “on the fly” but the name is fluid. the idea floated around and landed tiny feet on my brain, so i eventually told david about it.

it’s relatively simple. we choose ten destinations – in wisconsin, in the midwest, on the northeast coast, in the high mountains, on quiet southern beaches, in the canyonlands, in the grand national parks – all different projects. taking a yamaha portable battery-operated keyboard (with recording/disc drive capability), ten canvases and paint, both laptops, and a couple spiral notebooks – we go to each destination for a pre-determined amount of time (say, three hours). while there, i compose on the fly – what that place feels like – and he paints on the fly – what that place feels like. on the fly – spontaneous creation – is not for the meek at heart. it requires focus, has a terminal product necessary at the end – a short time after beginning – and necessitates a degree of letting go. it pushes us back into the active-art-place and pushes us past edges. it gets us out of the muddy bottom. it produces the raw pieces of an album to be orchestrated and a collection of paintings to be framed. it needs some support to get off the ground. it has me pondering, swimming to the surface with the turtles.

our snouts will pop out of the river and we’ll look around some, trying to figure it out. we would definitely need some encouragement, some warm sun, some help.

and, if we move forward, out of the suspension, we – turtles, too – will definitely be squeaking.

*****

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

turtles love coffee.


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in our favor. [k.s. friday]

and the snow fell gently in the woods, rendering it muted, like the tones of ansel adams’ pine forest, snow.

it was breathtakingly beautiful.

snowflakes slid from the sky, landing on our faces, our eyelashes, our hats and scarves and coats.

everything slowed – a 78rpm record playing at 33.

stretched out into slow motion, we stood and gazed up into the trillions of perfect flakes.

and, in the way of water – a balm, worries washed away and all that was left was peace. achingly gorgeous, we stayed in it, in the serene, a cloud, unwilling to leave the soft-focus-world moments, the snow sanctuary.

“know that the universe is always conspiring in our favor.” (paulo coelho)

*****

PEACE ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

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i’ll play for you. [k.s. friday]

green sounds different than red which sounds different than blue. green looks different than red which looks different than blue. green feels different than red which feels different than blue. so a color field of all three would seem to emit, depict, emote a wide spectrum.

i’m pretty sure that mark rothko and i would have been friends. his goal: “to capture the essence of basic human emotions on the canvas and then evoke those emotions from his viewers.” (masterclass.com) my goal: to capture the essence of basic human emotions on the piano and then evoke those emotions from my listeners. instruments – the canvas, the piano – that tap in. yes. friends.

in my mind’s eye, i can see a tour. all over the country to different art museums that house a mark rothko or two. a big yamaha concert grand on the wooden floor, placed in front of the giant color field painting, paused in silence, waiting. abstract expressionism on the canvas. and then, the translation – abstract expressionism on the piano. action. color field. repeat.

i’m pondering this painting green, red, blue. in thinking and feeling green, i ponder what i’ve already composed that sounds, feels, looks green. in thinking red, i ponder what i’ve already composed that sounds, feels, looks red. in thinking blue – specifically blue-around-the-edges in this case – i ponder what i’ve already composed that sounds, feels, looks blue.

in a push of creative courage, i can see this tour. in a room void of people or full of people, i imagine me and the painting and a piano. high ceilings, the swoosh of the sustain pedal brushes against the walls and swirls around. no other sound. yet. and then.

i’ll play for you
i’ll play for you
i’ll play for you

(seals & crofts)

and you will hear green and red and blue as you will see green and red and blue. and maybe, if you are open to it, you will feel green and red and blue. and mark and i will have done our job.

it’s the work of all artists – really, everywhere: play for you.

*****

EVERY BREATH ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

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every sound wave. [merely-a-thought monday]

i touch a single key on the piano. depressing it, i reach for the next and then the next. i build a melody, i build the cello line for arvo, i build a blueprint upon which to put lyrics. i touch a single key on the piano. slowly depressing it, i make no sound. instead, it is silent – to our ears. yet i wonder if some tiny bit of frequency escapes and travels away, bouncing off particles in the air, absorbed into light. “the vibrations of the strings are transmitted to the soundboard through the bridges, and a sound resonates as a result of the soundboard vibrating the air. (yamaha)

“a sound wave is the pattern of disturbance caused by the movement of energy traveling through a medium (such as air, water or any other liquid or solid matter) as it propagates away from the source of the sound.”

it would seem apparent that we are all patterns of disturbance. every molecule, every atom within, constantly moving, disturbing all other matter.

in the way of the feathering of sound as it travels away, away, from the source, our impact upon another tends the same – energy as it gets further away and there is more surface area. a decrescendo of sorts, our notes turn pianissimo, our voices to whispers. though a quieter din, the nearly silent cacophony is out there, traveling in air. more than we realize. until it is not.

our notes and words and colors and textures dance around the others in our lives, sometimes landing, sometimes repelled by mysterious opposite magnetic forces. they are absorbed, turn into heat and may warm those upon whom they land.

the world will adjust, yes, to our patterns of disturbance. we are all pianos, concurrent notes, synchronous string vibrations, noise ever-traveling.

the universe glances down at us – from its ever-silent timelessness. space, sans air, doesn’t entertain sound. there are no pianos, no notes, no cellos, no voices that can be heard.

so, we must be who we are here – now – doing the best we can to avoid absolute discordance and strident disharmony, timbres of aggression, anger, division. instead, i would hope we would recognize the responsibility of every sound wave we make.

*****

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


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church. [k.s. friday]

he wrote, “that building is not God.”* (john pavlovitz)

the light lit up the sky, a golden glow in a fog toward the heavens. it is one of the chicago botanic garden’s iconic displays, this tunnel of light, begging you to look up, be wrapped in its light, acknowledge the goose bumps. the luminous winter cathedral drawing people toward it. they stood, marveling, they strolled slowly, they posed for photographs, the millions of starry twinkling lights enveloping all.

i’m not much for cathedrals, really. i never have been; it’s nothing new. while i can appreciate their stunning beauty and the incredible feat it often took to build or install, they have never brought me closer to faith than any other place…outside, in the presence of others, at the piano, alone in wonder.

in my life – and in three and a half decades of my work life – i have found churches to not only house beauty. i have found churches to also house ugly. and so, i was relieved to read the words of john pavlovitz. it is important to distinguish the difference – the building is not God. and, sometimes, the best place to find the supreme deity you are seeking – no matter the name, no matter the denomination or affiliation, no matter the book of written word – is not in a place, not in a building.

the people – so many gathered there – under the arch of the winter cathedral seemed softer. the glow of light on their faces, they moved slower, offered to photograph others, gazed up. just as a community of people in a church often do, they seemed to come together, one of the benefits of “the building”. but, as i have found time and again – and, if we are to speak truth – those benefits sometimes run out. and people within become consumed by that which would never be considered a basic tenet of faith – the hypocrisies of power and control and discrimination and subjugation and competition, toxic things that “[don’t] feel like Love anymore”*.

as i walked under the night sky i knew that the cathedral would be close to the last installation on the guided path. i steeled myself for its overtones, even with its undeniable beauty.

we stood back and watched people enter it. in awe. it is truly glorious.

we approached and there was this tiny voice inside my head naysaying “church” to the other tiny voice exclaiming “wow”. both.

yet ethereal was there and it shone down on us as we walked through to the other side. and then we were once again under a night sky, full of stars we could see and stars we couldn’t see. just like faith.

“you are fully freed to run into the wide open spaces of this world, and to experience life and faith and beauty in ways you never thought possible…”*

*****

ALWAYS WITH US – solo piano ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

ALWAYS WITH US – piano with orchestration ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

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the turtles. [k.s. friday]

i think about the turtles. they are there in the warmer months, sunning on logs and rocks that jut out of the river. but, when it dips below fifty degrees or so – and stays there – they disappear. apparently, they dive down to the muddy bottom, their metabolism slows down, they require less oxygen. their mucky homes keep them safe as they bide time, these wise, long-lived creatures of the water and the land.

from time to time on the trail we look for them. we know where they hang out and have watched for telltale signs of small snouts poking out of the water. but then it got cold and we just missed them.

the river is alive with other wildlife. geese and a few hardy ducks, squirrels, deer – we see them as we hike.

but we always talk about the turtles anyway. just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean we forget about them. we know they are there – somewhere – in hidden spots, places they feel sheltered and secure. i think about what they might be doing. they are silent and the fallow is long. i trust they are sorting what is next, kind of like us.

he can tell you i worry about them, despite the fact that i know they are completely capable, totally self-sufficient, quite brilliant actually. nevertheless, i am more comforted by seeing the turtles every now and then – at least – than by wondering how they are faring. time keeps moving, though, and i keep hope that when it warms up and the turtles have a more secure sense of themselves in the world they will reappear, out of the suspension of presence. i’m hoping for an early spring.

i know that the turtles are aware i am watching for them and waiting. and the river freezes. and then it thaws.

*****

LAST I SAW YOU ©️ 1997, 2000 kerri sherwood

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in the questions. [k.s. friday]

i cleaned my studio.

finally.

took everything off every surface. dusted everything. put some things away. moved things around. got rid of excess. hung a favorite print. and – with great care – gently vacuumed the inside of my really beautiful piano, for full-stick is an invitation to dust.

i stood back, stood in the doorway, looking in.

the room was breathing. deep breaths.

i was breathing. immersed.

there is still more to go through. there is more to file away. there is former work-trauma to discard and there are calendars of choir music and ukulele band books and handbell arrangements and contemporary solos to box up. the first pass didn’t get all those and now, two years later, i am still a little paralyzed by all of it. that’s why it all needs to go. this process is taking longer than i would have anticipated. “mind, body, spirit,” she said. “it’s not likely others will understand all the layers. they will expect you to just move on, to get over it. they will not grok the wounds; it is all fraught.”

but there were staff lines in the sky. and the universe prompt is haunting me a little.

it’s always had a purpose – my studio – a direct line from standing or sitting in there to actual work. i’ve not just noodled or played because i was just playing. i’ve stood in there to write – to flesh out an album, to practice, to plan – the arc of music for a concert or for a church calendar, to teach – so many students through the years. it hasn’t been a place i go to without purpose, without an end-product, without a result i could see. as an adult, my studio has represented the potential for income; it has been a professional place. now there are questions. many of them. like living in a blank staff, i live – lost – in the questions.

i played my piano. a few carols.

there is one more day this year. and then 2023.

and i won’t carry carols into the new year. it will be time for something else, something less dusty.

there’s some way to go. it’s not as simple as it sounds.

the staff lines in the sky hold no clues, have no notes.

maybe – instead of reading that as tacet – silent – i might – and “might” is the operative word here – read that as a composition without designated key, without predetermined time signature, without definitive expression markings, sans any direction or boundary.

vacuumed and breathing.

an empty notebook on the stand. pencils.

full-stick.

we’ll see.

*****

lost. in the questions. – kerri sherwood

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in wonder. [k.s. friday]

right now it is a mystery.

accuweather predicts a blizzard. and we wonder if it is truly imminent. on days of heavy holiday travel, there may be fierce winds, whirling snow, no visibility, bitterly cold temperatures well below zero. such extremes, circumstances that might dictate the comings and goings of loved ones trying to be together to celebrate.

we’ll keep watching the weather and the warnings. we’re hoping it’s wrong, that it’s exaggerated, that it’s cautionary but not totally necessary. that we will get to this day without the extremes.

it is days before the day before the eve of the day. and though i respect that app on my phone i continue to plan as if it will be days of celebration and joy and not snowplows and shovels and heet and de-icer.

there is still much to do. there are packages to ship, a few to wrap, a couple to deliver. there are trips to the grocery store and maybe a tiny bit of shopping. there is de-dogga-furring by vacuum and a little dusting and much tidying up.

and all the while sitting in the wonder of the season. people celebrating love and generosity, time spent gathered, kindnesses and the reminder of ancient stories carried into this time, open hearts, hope and light.

*****

I WONDER AS I WANDER

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stuff happens. [k.s. friday]

“step confidently,” the stio catalog reads. there is an ad for boots – winter boots – and gorgeous pictures of snowfall and mountains and terrain where confidence could be challenged. we were just talking with 20 about those yaktrax you strap on your shoes to instill a bit of chutzpah as you walk on icy trails. anything to keep us outside. cause stuff happens.

yes. stuff happens.

and it happens fast. without warning.

a couple days ago i was walking from the kitchen to the sunroom – sans yaktrax – to let the dog inside. holiday music was playing and i was busy thinking about my next task as i approached the step down to the tile floor by the back door. i did a little math. i’ve successfully navigated this step – only one – at the very least – one-hundred-twenty-two-thousand times. but, somehow, and i have no idea how, i missed the step and fell flat – kerplunk-kind-of-flat-like-in-cartoons – on my knee. the one time i didn’t reach out my hands to stop myself – i guess those two other falls taught me something – but my knee took the entire brunt of the trip-fall.

i’m not sure the first thing out of my mouth was pretty or anything i’d be proud to mention here. my reaction – as i laid on the cold floor – was incredulous, thinking i was running out of appendages, wondering what vortex in the universe we had fallen into or if mercury was in retrograde or just what was happening here.

the xray technician told me that’s why it’s called an accident – because there is no real reason, but i was about as amused by that as other people to whom i have said those words. no real reason. she said, “stuff just happens!” uh-huh.

the nurse practitioner at the urgent care told me she concurred with the radiologist and – thank goodness – there was no fracture. geesh. she said a few days and we’ll see how it goes.

patience is now in order. time to spend with my knee horizontal doesn’t fall under “my favorite things” column. i’ll be hobbling around and sitting and trying to get things done, in a slew of time i can only label as “fraught”.

and i’ll be trying to figure it all out.

*****

FIGURE IT OUT ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

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