reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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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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off the trail we know. [k.s. friday]

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, 
safely rest, 
god is nigh.  

fading light 
dims the sight, 
and a star 
gems the sky, 
gleaming bright. 
from afar, 
drawing nigh, 
falls the night.

(taps - d. butterfield/unknown)

*****

IN TRANSITION ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

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thongophone. in the park. [k.s. friday]

flipflops and pvc. a marriage!

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.

*****

GALENA ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

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it’s in our vote. [k.s. friday]

the midterms are rapidly approaching. the rhetoric is amping up. the tv ads, the phone calls, the billboards, the texts, the email messages, the political mail in the mailbox – all dedicated to sway our vote.

i realize that this is the way to raise money, that this is the way to get one party ahead of the other. many voters will elect to vote a straight party ballot. some will vote without asking any questions. some will vote without any information at all. some will vote for vapid minds, choosing the rough edges of spewed anger, covert scheming. they are voting on a bandwagon – with truth obscured – and haven’t looked past the exterior of the candidates.

i was chatting quite some time ago with a college professor. he was teaching a class three days a week and was talking about his experiences. “anybody can be brilliant for an hour and a half,” he quipped. i laughed, thinking how true that is.

but it’s the long haul that counts. it’s what’s at the crux that counts. i wonder what is in the center of what motivates the candidates we are considering. what is past the exterior, what are the things they affirm, believe in, wish to move forward?

anyone can look pious, even righteous, in brevity, for short spurts of time. but these same pedestalized people can bring to the table masked and unmasked agenda that is riddled with inequality, marginalization, discrimination, divisiveness, violence, a thwarting of social, racial, gender, financial equity all under the auspices of brilliance. it is our responsibility to peel back the layers, to poke through the season-of-midterm blahblah, to examine the intentions, the integrity, of the people we choose – truly, in every arena – to represent us.

how these people manifest in their communication, their compassion, their fairness, their steadfast evenhandedness, their actual brilliance – not the hourandahalf variety – should tell us something important. if a person does not represent the values we uphold ourselves, the ones we would lay out to each and every one of those we love, why would we elect that person to represent us, to reflect us? if our vote was revealed to our loved ones, our children, our family, friends, community, colleagues, would we take comfort, would we have pride, in what was revealed?

for it is in our vote that we truly show what is beyond the exterior. it is in our vote that we truly show what is in our heart.

*****

FIGURE IT OUT ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

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just three. [k.s. friday]

we stood in the grocery store in brevard, right by the display. the food lion price for the charming smushy-flat white pumpkin was $8.99. it called to me, “you need me! bring me home!” but i got hung up on the price tag and we didn’t buy it.

we’ve had a pumpkin or two most years, often a pie pumpkin that we place on this funny wrought iron stand with arms, making it look like a pumpkinperson. we’ve gotten gourds – interesting shapes that tickle us. but not yet a white pumpkin, even though i really love how they look.

budgets are sometimes fun-oppressors. but any artist can tell you they are necessary. and any artist can tell you that there’s been at least one time that an $8.99 pumpkin – even one that might do the dishes and sorts socks – has not made the cut.

there is a sweet apple orchard out in the county. there is wine-tasting and a distillery at aeppeltreow, so there are spirits and spirited fun. there are a zillion apples and there are pumpkins and gourds and apple cider donuts. two years ago we picked out our tiny patch o’ pumpkins from their flatbeds and gardens of choices. coming home with a pear-shaped gourd and a couple smaller that were wart-laden we felt rich.

we bought pumpkins in aspen that same year and carved jack-o-lanterns at our airbnb with our daughter, leaving our artwork and extra candles behind for the next guests.

last year we featured our aging pear-shaped gourd in our sunroom, put out some orange happy lights and indulged in apple cider donuts at the orchard. despite the gluten they were worth it.

i think this year we will get a white pumpkin. and maybe two orange ones. three in all. just three.

but it will truly be magical.

*****

MILLNECK FALL ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

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alive. [k.s. friday]

marty was the first man i knew who was a breast cancer survivor. we also learned he was deathly allergic to shrimp – while we were all at joe’s crab shack devouring seafood. yiiikes. it feels like a zillion years ago, but it was a great community of folks – all who were dedicated to their craft and showing at large wholesale shows, lining up accounts with small and large shops across the country. it was before streaming was really The Thing and i was moving boxes and boxes and boxes – thousands – of cds with displays, all to be sold by real people in real places. the days were long – yamaha delivered in a piano and it was hours upon hours of playing, talking, writing purchase orders, selling cash and carry. in the evening we would all sometimes gather together somewhere, to share stories, to unwind. that one night, joe’s crab shack made us a little bit nervous. we traded seats around so marty wasn’t near any shrimp and wondered why we didn’t go to a steakhouse.

community makes a difference. in this latest lean time of community that is now particularly pronounced.

i watched as my dear big sister shared her breast cancer story on facebook. she is now, thankfully, on the other side, mostly healed from surgery and radiation, slogging slowly through a period of difficulty adjusting to a long-term hormone blocker. i know, without a doubt, that the people who sent her their love – even online – helped her. a community that rallies around is the village we all need, especially in desperate times.

heidi and i spent so very much time together. our mutual work was in the oncological field – performing at large and small cancer survivor and breast cancer awareness events. there are many posts in this blog about places we have been and i consider them to be moments i was honored to be a part of the supportive oncology community and a part of the story.

my grandmother-who-i-never-knew, my dad’s mom, died of metastatic breast cancer. my sweet momma had a double mastectomy at 93. my dad was a lung cancer survivor and my brother died because of lung cancer. this year my sister’s breast cancer diagnosis scared us.

in the middle of the night, when things are raw, i decided that a “sisu” bracelet was in order so i found an artist who designed and crafted it out of silver so that my sister could wear it and know i was with her, a part of her community, holding her close. i ordered one for me as well. because the middle of the night can be a scary time when you are thinking too much.

marty didn’t mention the whole shrimp-thing until we were already at joe’s. i guess he had decided to just go-with-it, to just live. he had already been through so much.

though i really wouldn’t change it – as i love my “sisu” bracelet – i wonder if it should just say “alive”.

*****

click here for a few other words about “i am alive”

I AM ALIVE ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

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