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apples and numbers. [k.s. friday]

it’s approaching. you can feel it in the morning air. fall. its scent lingers in the fields of wildflowers, succumbing to cooler nights, a lower sun on the horizon. the bees are desperately, frantically, trying to hang on for dear life. the mosquitoes, thankfully, are writing their wills and the cicadas are singing as if the judges of ‘american idol’ or ‘the voice’ were gathered beneath the trees, an audience of appreciators.

it’s different though.

this fall is all about numbers. covid-19 pandemic numbers. lethal-force racial fatality numbers. protest numbers. healthcare numbers. unemployment numbers. eviction numbers. payroll tax numbers. rally numbers. poll numbers. we are surrounded by a plethora of numbers with an increasingly urgent need to be aware of all of them.

there will be no relaxing inside starbucks sipping pumpkin spice lattes. there will be no apple festivals or street fairs celebrating fall. there will be no hayrides, bale-bouncing with friends on a rickety wagon. there will be no chili cook-offs or slow dance parties on the patio. this was the stuff of pre-pandemic. the stuff of the olden days. the stuff of 2019. the stuff of 1996. the stuff of 1973.

there will be thoughtfully attended protests. there will be emotional vigils. there will be testing sites. there will be virtual funerals. there will be video-conferenced schools and meetings and religious gatherings. there will be jobs sought, financial devastation for too many, unreachable healthcare. there will be speeches to listen to, about which to have hope. there will be speeches to fact-check, about which to have righteous anger.

the numbers have risen to the surface and rightfully demand our attention.

but there’s this – written one year ago: every fall, my sweet momma and my poppo would load us up in the dodge with the old wicker picnic basket and a small cooler.  we would drive out east on long island or head north into upstate new york.  the baby of the family with siblings already out of the house, i always had a friend along.  susan went everywhere with us.  we would take mad libs and gum, snacks and cans of soda and we would talk and giggle our way to the apple farm. it wasn’t like we couldn’t find apples near us; the jaunt away to apple-picking was the point.  the walk in the orchard, the drive through leaves of indescribably stunning color.  we’d stop at roadside picnic tables and take back country roads.

and now, a long while later, i think of those places, those times.  the memories are sweet, macintosh-apple-sweet.  but the yearning is real.  every autumn makes me just as wistful.  i think of my children jumping in leaves and pumpkins carved with silly faces.  my parents and the old dodge.  pies with homemade crust, hot soup and cocoa, the smell of cinnamon and caramel candles.  fires in the fireplace or outside around the firepit.  jeans, sweaters, boots.  and apples.

and so now that the time for jeans and sweaters and boots is in the offing, i need remember. there are still quiet fires in the firepit to have. there are pies we can make and cocoa we can brew up. there are big stock pots of soup to steep. there are trails with crunchy leaves. there are pumpkins to carve, sunflowers to vase, and backroads to drive.

there are things that must be done. the numbers insist. it’s a profound time filled with information and a call to speak up, to question, to research, to, yes, wear a mask and yes-yes, to vote.

but my wistful-near-autumn heart also needs apples.

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MILLNECK FALL from BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood


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worried. [k.s. friday]

bridge box

i am worried.

in a tenuous time of fraying loyalties and the aggressive recruiting of followers, people are being indoctrinated into what they believe are the-cool-groups, welcomed with open arms, social-media “love-bombed” and, it would seem, encouraged to believe that which has not been proven to be true.

indoctrination (noun):  the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.

uncritically.  terrifying.  without critical thought.  without mining for facts.  acolytes of persons who gaslight, persons who claim absolute knowledge and power, persons who, like the scum on a glass of sour milk, rise from the acidification of true idealism, true tenets, the true basis of a society as a community.

i am worried.

the bridge between us as a country seems as crumbling as the infrastructure of old roads and bridges across this nation.  the fragile bridge sways now in the gentlest of breezes.  the bricks, mortar, concrete, steel are wearing thin, their veneers weathering storms of severed ties, storms of conspiracy over fact, storms of cronyism over love.  the bridge-slayers taunt, tempt with poison fruit, the oldest story of stories.  the ideologue-apostles forego conversation for testaments of belonging, baseless creeds.  the indoctrination devours relationships, forming unions useful only to itself, without heed to emotional ties or history.  crazed, yet measured, words of untruth and hatred blur clear vision to the other side.

the bridge ceases to exist.  it becomes but a shadow.

and i am worried.

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BRIDGE from AS IT IS ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood


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“the most grown-up thing you can do is fail at things you care about.” [merely-a-thought monday]

unicorn store 4

i still have it.  the index card is taped to the inside bottom of my old piano bench down in the basement.  these  words, “perfection is an eight letter word.  p r a c t i c e ” written in eight-year-old pencil-printing.  it’s been there – in that old spinet piano bench – since 1967, when i started taking lessons and needed a reminder how to keep the ups and downs in perspective.

i spent long hours on that bench and on the organ bench also in my growing-up living room.  what i could hear in my imagination wasn’t necessarily what was showing up on the keys.  my sweet poppo would encourage me, “remember, practice makes perfect,” he’d say.  i’d add, well, at least practice moves you in that direction.

there’s no guarantee for perfect.  there’s no route to it and any expectation that you will achieve it really is for naught.  the best you can do is the best you can do – moment by moment.   with practice, each best-you-can-do is better than the last.  and so on and so on.

it’s the caring that matters.

i have two amazing children who have shown me examples of the pursuit of how to do something, to a point of excellence, that you’ve never done before.  the keeping-at-it, toughlove-letting-go-of-judgment, the training, the practice, the trying-failing-rinse-repeat-ness of learning.  they approach new things like stoic explorers, adventurers prepared and open to experience.

it’s the very thing that inspired our snowboarding lesson earlier this year – the one where i broke both of my wrists.  every time i hear someone say, “eh, i’m too old; i can’t learn that,” i store my emotional response to that statement away in my memory bank, waiting for the day i’m about to say just that so i might pummel the words before they escape my lips.

even though my wrists broke and might never be the same and even though i cannot point to any great accomplishment or success on the slope, i would not take back the experience or the exhilaration and anticipation of learning something new, particularly, in this case, that very thing that would give me the slightest first-hand touch, not merely a window, into my daughter’s professional world.

in post-cast moments many people, aghast, said to me, “what were you thinking?  don’t you think there’s a point you are too old for that?  remember your age!”  i am more aghast at these words than all the months dealing with uncooperative wrists in a livelihood where they really matter.

knowing first-hand how difficult and humbling pure novice-ness is, i hope i can always release the suffocating self-evaluating that goes hand-in-hand with being new at something; i hope that i always care about learning.

at eight i had no idea what piano lessons would mean to my life.  i simply wanted – really, really wanted –  to learn.  i, at 8, didn’t beat myself up over getting it wrong or failing nor did i get self-conscious about my journey of mastery.  i just stepped into it.  and i cared with all of my eight-year-old heart.

we walk and talk about the day The Girl or The Boy suggest to getting-older-every-day-us that we purchase new technology or download a new app or try a new recipe or consider a new lifestyle or or or …. the day we will want to say, “eh, we’re too old; we can’t learn that.” i look down at my right wrist, which may never bend at a 90 degree angle ever again, and i remember to care.

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day lilies in the interlude. [k.s. friday]

untitled interlude

in the in-between times.  we are there.  not at the beginning, not at the end.  we hardly know what to call this interlude of time – so many differing points of view, so many differing approaches to life and the living of it.  untitled.

this pandemic entered our lives a few months ago.  we know little about when it will end.  in this nebulous state, we try to cope.  not-knowing, we wake each morning to a new day, unsure of which day it is, the fog of repeated sameness fading as the sun’s light opens our eyes.

surely in the middle of all of this there are the day lilies of the garden – the hardy survivors of too much rain, too little rain, too much attention, too little attention, too many weeds, too few nutrients, invasive plants trying to subvert this robust champion.  the tall perseverants of the green, they rise up, ever joyful.

surely in the middle of all of this there are the moments that are the day lilies.

for me, there was a video-chat with my grown children, separated by distance and by a healthy respect for safety.  these moments were the breath i so needed, a chance to see their faces, hear their voices.  for me, there was the hike along the river trail, a cooler-than-normal breeze on my face, the sounds of birds and swaying cattails.  for me, there was the social-distanced outdoor visit with treasured ones, laughter and stories punctuating our time together.  for me, there was a quick phone call with a forever pal, a series of blurry oh-my-look-at-this-bear-off-my-mountain-top-porch-ten-feet-from-me-right-now texts with a dear friend.  for me, there was talk of which thru-hike to take, which rv we would purchase, for, in any circumstance we find ourselves, dreaming is good.

in the middle of all of this, the interlude between before and after, it is incumbent upon us – for our peace of mind, in the fuzzy liminal space of enduring and persisting – to find the positive orange day lilies.

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UNTITLED INTERLUDE from RELEASED FROM THE HEART ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

 


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starry tufts. [k.s. friday]

part of the wind dandelion fluff

magical.  the starry tufts of white floating on the breeze.  seeds from wild flowers, they are on a course not of their own volition.  white filaments of dandelions, designed to fly and leave a wake behind their path, fluff past, on their way to parts unknown.  part of the wind.  dandelions’ wispy seeds can be aloft over a half mile before parachuting their way to the ground.  no gps, no triptik, no maps or intended destination.

much like how it feels right now.  a part of the wind.

in this time of global pandemic, of racial protest, of economic strife, of political chaos, it feels as though the wind has taken me.  battered to and fro, it feels as it there is no determined destination, no way to avoid the headwinds, no escaping the jet stream.  the wind just picks me up and takes me, each day, to a different place.  never physically far from the place of origin, it makes me feel just enough of a lack of control that i am ill at ease, never quite settled, never quite sure, always a bit tentative, always wary.

and instead of letting the breeze blow and riding it like a standup board in a serene lake, i resist.  i find the need to know – where am i going? – too pressing, too unnerving.  i paddle against the current, seeking ways to see, to move in a direction that makes sense.  but it’s ineffective.  i tire and give it up to the myriad of air currents swirling around me.

it is what it is.  we are, indeed, a part of the wind.  just starry tufts.

 

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PART OF THE WIND ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

 


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with abandon. [k.s. friday]

sing with frame

i warm up first.  the sound system is on and i wail through the building like a country artist on a flatbed.  the sound takes on air with the natural reverb of the room; it encourages me to sing more, sing louder, sing with abandon.

i’m recording nine pieces of music a week right now.  five of these are vocal songs.  i stand in the venue in front of the piano, boom mic in place and turn on the voice memo on our island-iphone-which-is-newer-than-our-other-iphones.  i play and sing from the beginning to the end, without stopping.  there is no tracking; there are no editing features, no going-back-and-fixing-this-or-that, no auto-tune, no equalizing, no other instrumentation, no balancing wavelengths, no mastering, no amazing engineer, no producer.  any ambient sound becomes a part of the recording. we listen afterwards and decide if i need to re-record, which simply means starting over from the beginning.  it’s more recording than i have done in-studio in a long time.  and it’s vastly different, this straight-up tape-it-with-the-phone recording.  in the last bit of time i have recorded over 90 pieces of music. that’s a serious amount of recording.  in album terms, it’s at least seven CDs worth.

it makes me want to stand -again- on a wooden stage in front of a piano and a boom and sing my heart out.  it makes me want to maybe get some of my own stuff – the stuff lingering in notebooks and folders of scrap paper – on tape.  it makes me think about rv’s and touring and the little voice in my brain reminds me that i’m 61.  “ONLY 61,” i retort.  it makes me wonder.

it’s a common story.  ask carole king or phil vassar.  they wrote songs.  lots of them.  and other people sang them.  until one day…and then they forever owned that boom mic over their pianos.

decades ago, i thought i’d just write songs.  i’d play all my instrumental pieces in concert – like george winston and david lanz – and i’d grant permission to ‘real’ singers to sing the songs i had written.  but then one day…and now you would have to wrestle that boom mic from me.  different stories, same principle.

we are singer-songwriters.  we are people who sing.

all warmed up, it’s easier to get from the beginning to the end without too much pitchy-ness.  it’s easier, warmed-up, to know what to expect from my still-healing-broken-wrists.  it’s easier to know what to expect from my voice.

and so i keep singing.  i wail through the building.  and the sound takes on air with the natural reverb of the room.  i sing more, i sing louder, i sing with abandon.

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with to without. [k.s. friday]

in a split second

it was but a mere second – nigh unto 4:30 in the morning – when my sweet poppo was on this planet and then wasn’t.

i said a wee-hours-goodnight to him, propped in a hospital bed at home in their house.  he whispered back to me.  i tried desperately to memorize his face, the love in his eyes.

and before the birds woke up in the morning, that morning eight years ago yesterday, i went from with to without.

three years later, we left my sweet momma sitting on the edge of her assisted-living-bed, grasping onto the blue-notebook-that-documented-their-moments-in-europe, her expression dancing with excitement, waving to us.  i tried desperately to memorize her face, the love in her eyes.

it wasn’t but a couple weeks later, on the road back again to florida, around the time the sun is highest in the sky, i went from with to without.

suddenly, i was orphaned.  suddenly i was without the two people who gave me life.  suddenly i was without the two people who could answer any question i had about my growing up.  suddenly – in a split second – nothing was the same.

100,000 families.  in the past few months, due to the global pandemic decimating our country, 100,000 families have desperately tried to memorize a loved one’s face.  they have held tightly to the memory of love shining in their beloved’s eyes.  they have moved from one split second into the next.  with to without.

and last night, on the solemn occasion of this number passing from 99,999 to over 100,000 – that one second – one person- one life – one with to without – i expected, foolishly, that something would change.  that there would be gut-wrenching acknowledgement.  that there would be communal nation-wide mourning led by the person in the highest seat in the land.  that there would be kind, generous, thoughtful words spoken, grief-filled heart-soaked empathy for all that the withs-to-withouts have gone through.

and nothing.

we need remember.  all of it.  these are our split seconds.

”…in a split second, our lives can turn around…”

they have.  they continue to.

this is real.

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IN A SPLIT SECOND from AS SURE AS THE SUN ©️ 2002 kerri sherwood


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we long. [k.s. friday]

longing

and in the mist of the new grey day, uncolored by the pattern of another’s fabric in our close grasp, we rise.

we sip from coffee mugs, just the two of us, conversation spilling, yet stale in two-dimensionality.

we plan the day, but stop short of planning, for the days now have measured repeat signs.

sudden unexpected changes in rhythm punctuate the andante pace in isolation,

projects to learn and complete, new rules to follow.

we long for lingering conversations with dear ones, in person, touching distance.

for wine glasses clinking together,

for groceries we do not wash,

for sidewalks we willingly share,

for overdue embraces.

we long for that which was, that which we see we took for granted.  we mourn.  we grieve.

anger hangs as low clouds; aerosols so fine as to break down walls of solidarity.

laughter is key; we find it hiding around corners, peeking out, entering the fray and retreating. we chase it, grasping its laughter-tail and pulling it back into our life-day like warm taffy.

we watch news of this place, this state, this country, this world and find joy in small stories of goodness, in videos of lions napping on roads.

we long to feel less like we are in a science fiction movie and more like we are in a flattening curve.

we wish we hadn’t watched the movie contagion.

we end the day on top of mount everest, breathing air so thin that every breath is deliberate. we linger on the top-of-the-world, just as other-worldly as our own hometown right now.

we long.

we sleep, forgetting for a few hours, waking and, for moments, not remembering.

we step outside, coffee in hand

and the sun warms our faces and we wish to share the patio with voices and slow-dancers.

 

 

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LONGING from AS IT IS ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood


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meander-er. [k.s. friday]

meander

“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”  (Robert Frost)

a product of sunday-drive-parents, i am a meanderer.  i’ll choose a backroad.  i’ll choose the woods.  i’ll avoid the six-lane interstate.  i’ll avoid the leader-led-coach-bus-travel tour group. i blame my sweet momma and poppo.

in an obvious life metaphor, choosing to be an artist of any medium -for the long haul- is choosing to be a meanderer.  it’s choosing to live life looking for and celebrating layer cakes – a layer cake of work.  it’s a continual wracking-of-the-brain for the next idea, the next project, next pitch, the next initiative, the next validation of your artistry.  it’s continual exploration and continual growth, surprises and intrinsic rewards of the heart.  and it’s continual worry: how will what you earn equal or be greater than that which you owe.

my parents encouraged my every musical moment.  neither of them was a musician, but their steadfast support reinforced the decisions i made that were more out-of-the-box.  their prideful applause inspired and fed me, lighting a fire even when the embers were falling to ash.  times i would rise and fall and rise again, i blame my sweet momma and poppo.

in somewhat recent days, when i was bemoaning the exponential cost of healthcare, someone asked me if i needed to see a financial counselor, someone who could ‘teach me’ how to budget.  i was stunned at the lack of sensitivity and actual empathy.  “no, thank you.” i responded, while trying to maintain the sound of calm in my voice, “i am actually quite good at budgeting and truly love math.  this is not rocket science.  it is simply a case of not having enough income, even from several jobs, coming in.”  a meanderer.  those sunday drives.

i’ve read plenty of ‘being the youngest child’ articles.  it seems that my profession, lean toward autonomy, artistry, careful rebellion are all because of my place in the sibling line-up.  so, once again, i blame my sweet momma and poppo.

the urge to be off-the-beaten-path, literally and figuratively, to quietly sit in the middle of the woods or i-wish-more-often the top of a mountain, to stand on a wooden stage with a piano, a boom mic, a few songs and a story to tell:  things that are part of my very soul.  the core.  i blame my sweet momma and poppo.

and i thank them from the bottom of my heart.

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MEANDER from AS IT IS ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood


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two broken wrists. two and a half months. i kept playing. [two artists tuesday]

tendonitis

out of necessity it was only a few days after i broke both of my wrists that i played.  it seemed that i had nine fingers that were attending this event, and i, relieved to have these nine, worked with what i had.

in the last couple months, my left hand progressed faster than my right.  i had two breaks in my right wrist and, yes, i am older now than i used to be, so the doctor warned me that i needed to be patient.  make that NEED to be patient; healing will take six to eight months, she said.  but all five LH fingers participated in this early-on merrymaking and only my immobilized thumb was excluded on my RH.  and both wrists. they were excluded too.

they changed the cast on my RH from over-the-elbow to one a tad bit shorter; this was happy for me as it gave me more mobility. i kept playing, despite the wad of cast that ended in the palm of my hand.  i am a mom.  i am used to working around things.

later, they changed it yet again to an exos cast, which is removable but much less designed specifically for your hand; it was actually quite uncomfortable and made my hand hurt in places it hadn’t hurt with the ‘regular’ cast on.  i kept playing.

at the point when the coronavirus ceased all my regular doctor appointments, and after only one occupational therapy appointment, i kept playing.

finally, with the phoned-in blessing of my OT, i ordered a splint for my RH – the same one i wear on my LH, releasing my thumb from its cast-prison.  i kept playing.

and then i noticed that my pinky wasn’t responding properly.  nor was my ring finger.  nerve pain was shooting from my fingers up my arm.  and nodules in the palm of my RH were burning, stinging.  no professional pianist i know wants his or her hands to hurt.  i could draw hundreds of analogies here with other body parts and ways-of-living, but i will refrain from doing so and just say that this was disheartening and incredibly worrisome for me.  and i kept playing.

i emailed the doctor and then sent pictures i labeled in photoshop so that my worry would be clear, since i was unable to be there in person; social distancing had put aurora on the don’t-call-us-if-this-isn’t-essential status.  when she called me she said i really needed to come in.  she said that they would take some x-rays and the hand specialist would look at my right hand, in particular.  frankly, i was beyond nervous to walk into a medical center.  they have their hands full (absolutely no pun intended) and i was reticent to be privy to whatever germs were hanging around or to take any focus from the more essential.  but, because i am playing and because playing is what i do, i went.

although there is a slight chance that there is something else going on here, it looks like the palm tendons of my RH fingers are inflamed.  this is likely because i have been playing with casts on.  what’s the expression? damned if i do, damned if i don’t.

when i asked the specialist for a range of time this might last, his answer was ‘probably up to a few months’.  he didn’t ask me a lot of questions to discern what was happening and i tried like heck to fill him in on every-single-last-thing about my hands, but, in as-quick-as-a-flash fashion, he was gone before i knew it.  a-few-more-exercises-and-some-regularly-scheduled-advil advice later, i left the hospital, took off my mask and climbed, sighing, into big red in the parking lot.

and now, out of necessity, i will keep playing.

and worrying.

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