Flush The Principle [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Yesterday I wrote a long note to Senate Majority Leader McConnell de-crying just a few of the amoral specifics regarding his crass, disrespectful and gleeful jig dance around RBG’s deathbed…and more generally about his and his party’s roles in bringing to its knees what had been a reasonably good land peopled by reasonably good people…” ~ MM

With the passing of RBG I have heard this phrase repeated over and over again by politicians and pundits alike as an explanation or perhaps an excuse for the the behavior of our elected officials: It’s power over principle.

Power over principle. Penny wise and pound foolish. What is gained is minimal when compared with what is lost.

On one end of the political spectrum is my mother who screamed into the phone, “I want my country back!” On the other end is my dear MM, who lamented, “I’m coming to realize that the country I thought I inhabited never really existed.” It’s a lose/lose proposition all the way around. Loss of belief is what is gained.

Catch a few of the key words in the definition of principle: a fundamental truth that serves as the foundation for a system. Fundamental truth. Foundation of a system.

In essence, as the politicians and pundits make clear, our elected leaders are willing to ignore our fundamental truths and erode our foundation for a wee bit of short term control. Is there any among us who does not know what happens to a house when the foundation crumbles?

Dare I state the obvious? Power is what happens when people come together. Control is what happens when people are divided. The politicians and pundits have it all wrong. It’s Control over Principle. The penny gained is not worth the stable republic that is lost. Instability is central to the definition of a banana republic. And so we will take the path all empires walk when their principles take back seat to their control lust.

Children in our public schools are taught a pledge of allegiance to the flag. It ends with these words: …indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It seems we are locked in a constant battle to define this word: ALL. Are LGBTQ citizens included in ALL? What about Muslim Americans? Women? Are they included in the word ALL? What about black Americans? Is justice for ALL equally applied or is it only available for the select few?

Our pledge is either a statement of principle or it is a lie. We will become indivisible when liberty and justice are assumed and applied equally to ALL. Principles lead to power; that is the point of a principle and why they must be lived, honored. Control is all that remains to a leadership empty of principle. Division is the only tool in a principle-less toolbox.

Principles matter until they don’t. RBG knew there was a line that must be held. She spent her life fighting for principle over control. It is why, in her passing, we celebrate that she represented the best of us.

It is also why, in her passing, we shake our heads in disgust and disbelief as our senate and president represent the very worst of us. They will, of course, slobber and achieve their small amount of control. The cost, of course, is nothing more or less than our nation’s principles.

read Kerri’s blog post about RBG

Become An Experiment [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Because we walk the streets of our neighborhood almost everyday we’ve inadvertently made a study of holiday decoration practices. “It’s too soon for Halloween!” we declare. “Look at that wreath! The colors are all wrong!” We are snotty decoration critics.

Among Kerri’s greatest holiday-decoration-pet-peeves is over-extended-Christmas decorations. “Don’t they know that Christmas is over!” she raves at the colored lights adorning the eaves. “Why do they still have a tree! It’s February! Santa is gone!” she howls to (almost) no one listening. We laugh at our mock-decoration-disdain. “We’re regular killjoys!”

This year we’ve had to check our derision. We’ve somehow joined the ranks of the eternally decorated. “Look at those people,” Kerri says of our house as we pull into the driveway, “don’t they know that they should take down their lights!”

It’s hard to know exactly how it started. A fall. Two broken wrists. The year began with disruption. One day we realized that the happy lights festooning the garland on the front rail had been burning for months. In an effort to evade our obvious hypocrisy, we agreed it was no longer a decoration but had become an experiment. How long will the happy lights last if we keep them plugged in 24/7? We took bets as hard proof just in case our neighbors looked at us with decoration-scorn.

“They’re still going,” we said throughout the spring, looking up and down the street to see if anyone was listening. “Who would have thought our experiment would last this long!” I’d loudly declare. Amazement set in sometime in July. “I’m going to write a letter to the company,” Kerri said. “They should know that their lights are really good!”

In the eighth month of our experiment, coming home after dark, we saw that half the strand was burned out. The next night the strand was completely dark. We stood on our front stoop and applauded the hardy happy lights before ceremonially taking them down.

“I suspect that the snotty couple that judges everyone’s decorations will be relieved,” I said. “The holiday is finally over.”

“I think they’ll miss them,” Kerri opined. “They made our house happy and, especially this year, who doesn’t need a happy house in their neighborhood.”

read Kerri’s blog post about HAPPY LIGHTS

Ask The Real Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Through a lack of love everything hardens. There is nothing as lonely in the world as that which has hardened or grown cold. Bitterness and coldness are the ultimate defeat.” ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

We just watched a news segment about Taiwan’s successful response to COVID-19. At the heart of their response, the reporter said, is a sense of social solidarity. Social solidarity; we are all in this together.

American’s celebrate their independent spirit which leads them to the delusion that they can go-it-alone. Watching documentaries and television shows of people living remotely in the great Alaskan frontier, I’m always aware of the manufactured rifles and bullets, the chain saws, clothes and coats from the store, boots and knives and rope and gas…participation in an economy. There is an entire web of support, hundreds of human beings making possible even the most dedicated illusion of the cowboy spirit.

It’s where we get it wrong. We are blind to our reliance on each other. An economy is more than the production and consumption of goods and services. It is a living, breathing web of interconnection.

Income gaps are descriptors of belief. Terms like “consumer behavior” are scrubbed, antiseptic descriptions of relationship, ethics, communal participation. The story is told in the economics. How the money flows defines the legislation: who starves, who prospers, how we support each other or not. Who has access to power and who does not.

Every-man-for-himself is not only a cold and bitter road, it is also a fantasy. The isolation of every hermit is made possible by the production of others. The existence of a leisure class is not possible without a successful working class. Prosperity is a team sport, especially in a capitalist economy.

No one walks this life alone so the real question is how we want to walk it?

These once-united-states have grown cold. We are hardened. We are divided. Fewer and fewer feel the wealth. There are no rules that apply, no ethic to the game of governance. Fearful and angry people are easily led into wild tales of deep states. Neighbors become enemies. Economies teeter and fall when balance is ignored. No one thrives for long in a bitter divide.

The ultimate defeat is ours. No garden grows in hard soil. We will have required no enemy invasion, no conqueror breaking down the gate or overrunning the ramparts. All that was required was to turn our backs on each other. To think we are two distinct teams, and need to win over the other at all cost, no-holds-barred and no rules apply, go it alone, protect the freedom of the individual with nary an understanding that no individual survives in a vacuum.

It is a lonely supper, indeed, at a table for one.

read Kerri’s blog post about CARING

Open The Box [on KS Friday]

“Old beliefs die hard even when demonstrably false.” E.O. Wilson, Consilience, The Unity Of Knowledge

On the field where the city holds its Tuesday night summer jazz concert series, boxes are painted on the grass. A visual statement. A nod to the necessity of social distance in a time of pandemic. Stay within the box. The series started despite the CDC warning against large gatherings. The series stopped when the protests began.

Boxes within boxes within boxes. We are a nation that has gladly and enthusiastically confused itself. Mitigating the spread of the pandemic is easily achieved – as demonstrated by much of the world – through mask wearing and social distancing measures. We’ve somehow managed to force ourselves into a too-tight-box by defining the simple pandemic-mitigation-measures as assaults on freedom.

Our freedom must be very fragile indeed if a thin piece of fabric, a mask worn to benefit others in our community, is all that it takes to constitute a threat. Our freedom. 200,000 dead in six months. We wage war on each other, no external threat is necessary.

We’ve managed to make simple science the Cassandra of our time. Screaming in the streets, she delivers to us simple truth and we ignore her dire warnings. We tug the Trojan Horse through once-secure gates into our cities and homes. “We are free to do whatever we want!” we gloat unmasked in reply to Cassandra science. “We are free!”

Boxes within boxes within boxes. Yes, we are free to shoot each other. It is our right. We are free to spread the virus while we assemble unmasked to demonstrate our freedom. In a time of confronting our history of racial injustice, we are free to equate a temporary pandemic lock down to slavery. There is, after all, more than one way to shoot at each other.

We are free, we are free, we are free. Boxes within boxes.

THE BOX on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOX

the box/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Leave The Studio [on DR Thursday]

Kerri calls this snippet REACH

One day at the farmer’s market we saw a little girl chasing an enormous soap bubble. She was gleeful, squealing with delight. Looking at the faces of the adults watching the little girl, it was clear that they wished they were also racing across the grass, gleefully chasing bubbles. It was clear that they yearned to feel that carefree. In some distant place, they remembered.

These days I occasionally sit in my studio but I do not touch my brushes. There is a canvas on the easel. It’s good and worn and chunky just as I like them. It is waiting. I am waiting.

I believe, as Tom McK. taught me, that “a writer writes and a painter paints.” There is no magic to it. Well, that’s a lie. There’s plenty of magic when the painting begins, when the artist disappears. But first, the paint has to hit the canvas. Before disappearing the artist has to show up.

Yesterday, Skip sent me this lovely reminder. It’s from a tweet:

“I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, your enemies, the art world, and above all, you own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one-by-one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.'”

That little girl chasing bubbles, her glee, is what happens when “even you leave.” All of the ideas of who you are or what you need to do or achieve, the expectations, the burdens and worries, the pandemic, the politics, the notions of success and failure, all leave the room. That’s when the bubble chasing begins. That’s when there is ample space for glee and delight.

Kerri chose this morsel for today and I’m so glad she did. “I want to do another version of this painting,” I said. That little girl, so long ago chasing an enormous soap bubble at a farmer’s market, is calling me back to my easel, she’s pointing to the studio door and asking me to leave.

Chasing Bubbles, mixed media, 33.25 x 48IN

read Kerri’s blog post about REACH

reach/chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

See Mike [on Flawed Wednesday]

Sometimes I think I am way ahead of the game only to realize that I am so late to the party that the party is actually over. When we chose this phrase for the melange about the current president’s re-election strategy, I knew exactly what I was going to write about: Mike the chimpanzee! Mike’s story is from Jane Goodall’s book, My Life With The Chimpanzees.

Mike was not an alpha male but for a few short days assumed the dominant role when he learned that kicking kerosene cans and making noise frightened his rivals. No substance, all noise. I thought I was so clever, my analogy spot on! And then, I found this from an October 2016 article in the Atlantic about the debates with Hillary Clinton:

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks…”

In the 2016 article, Jane Goodall mentioned Mike. I’m so late to the party. So late. My clever analogy is nothing more than yesterday’s news. If the world still believed in print media my pages would already be yellowed.

There are two definitions of audacity. The first is “willing to take bold risks.” The second is “rude or disrespectful behavior.”

Creating confusion and noise as a campaign strategy fits both definitions. Loud sound without substance is a bold choice if you assume a big enough slice of the populace is grossly ignorant and will be wowed by stamping and slapping the ground. Rude and disrespectful behavior is no more or less than what we’ve come to expect from this kicker of kerosene cans. It’s a daily event and it must be since, without an over abundance of disrespect and piles of rudeness, he might be met with expectations of policy or perhaps a few ideas on governance.

Perhaps I am not as late to the party as I imagined. It occurs to me that Mike-the-chimp kicks cans and makes noise to frighten his rivals. Good analogies are familiar. They express an abstract idea in terms of a familiar one. The current prez kicks cans and makes noise to get a rise from his base. Like his allies in the senate, they, too, like loud sound but eschew substance. They cheer deconstruction because it is a fun thing to do but I suspect will disappear when the time of reconstruction comes. Building takes ideas, a blueprint, a commitment to a bigger vision.

Vision is the sticking point. Mike, like the current prez, lacks vision. Mike wanted to feel like he was alpha and achieved his dream and temporary rule through frightening his community with strange and thunderous noises. The community soon caught on when no vision, idea, or leadership materialized. Communities of chimps and communities of people are susceptible to noise for a time but soon catch on.

I learned many good and useful life lessons during acting training – of all places (actors deeply study people and history). Most useful in governance is this: a real leader, a good leader, need not make noise. They need not raise their voice. Their power is assumed, never imposed. Authority, real authority, is a blossom of respect and a respected leader is never fearful of challenge. A great leader need not kick cans or scream or rage or name call or lie. Those are the sure signs of a pretender.

read Kerri’s blog post about CAMPAIGNING BY AUDACITY

Touch Nature [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ― John Muir

Since we’ve exhausted every mountain climbing documentary ever made, we now end our days walking an epic trail. We’ve done some serious time on the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Continental Divide Trail and, lately, our imaginary feet have, through the magic of hiker movies, walked every inch of the John Muir Trail.

In addition to our actual walks everyday, our end of evening film walks serve as our escape. It’s how we cope. Because my pals routinely tell me that they, like us, are exhausted or anxious or chronically unfocused, I’ve started the practice of asking them how they mentally get away amid the age of pandemic, social unrest, natural disaster, and pathological lie. My question is always met with a look (or sound) of surprise. Some read. Some play music. Some exercise. Some unplug from news and technology. All seek some time out-of-doors.

Mental get-a-way.

Hands in the dirt, feet on the path. The changing sky, getting caught in the rain or facing the sun, the smell of falling leaves or pine, those damn mosquitoes, cicada chorus, a hawk visitation…perspective givers, all.

Much of the madness chasing us through our days is nothing more than the horror story we unleash in our minds. Human beings are wildly creative and for proof look no further than the fear tales daily yammering through your thought. Amidst the presence of an actual pandemic, the imagination can let loose a full gallery of monsters.

We have legitimate monsters running rampant in our world. We also have imaginary monsters running roughshod in our brains. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Fortunately, there is a test that helps differentiate between them: the legitimate monsters, as a people (as human beings) we will always turn toward and face. The pandemic. Climate change. Injustice. The imaginary monsters we either run from or work hard to magnify. Ignore or amplify. Why is it that human beings argue so ardently for their fears?

The folks that deny the legitimate monsters have confused the legitimate monsters with the illusory. They believe the yuck that runs around in their minds is real. In order to validate the inner yuck requires an all out suppression of the actual threats like viruses, a warming globe, systemic racism. Conversely, dealing with the real challenges leaves no space for fantasy monsters like deep states and wild-hairy-democrats-drinking blood in under ground tunnels. That’s my theory.

A walk in the woods famously clears the mind of made-up-monsters. All of our devices and politics and power games seem silly when standing among the redwoods or on a beach with infinity breaking like waves and rushing the sand to meet your toes. There’s nothing like The Milky Way to make all those inner monsters seem trivial.

There’s nothing like cresting a mountain to affirm that we are – if nothing else – united in our smallness and passing lifetimes. It is only in our minds that we are possibly bigger than the mountain or more important than the seas.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE TRAIL

Ask, “What’s Really Happening?” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of Occam’s Razor, you know, that simple but useful little principle that, in the presence of two explanations that account for facts, the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. In our current national spin, the corrosive and stupidly-complex justifications are overrunning the simple explanation every time. For instance, is it more likely that the “Democrat” leaders are conspiring to inflate the pandemic numbers in a worldwide conspiracy (yes, 195 countries that rarely agree on anything are united in collusion with the American Democratic party!) to bring down the president – or – did the man botch the job and that’s why our numbers are so high? I’m going with botched job since I still have sight of Occam with plenty of data sharpening that simple razor.

Sometimes when I am sifting my too-many-thoughts-for-a-post I’ll jump into the Google pool in the hope that I’ll hit my head on a Google rock and clarity or at least some sense will come. Today I typed in a question: what conspiracy theories helped bring down the Roman Empire? There’s plenty to read if the fall of Rome is on your mind. I went down the rabbit hole and bumbled upon this fun phrase embedded in the List Of Conspiracy Theories page on Wikipedia [sidebar: there are more inane conspiracy theories than you might imagine and most find their place on the “What were we thinking” shelf-of-shame after a year or two passes. We can only hope that the good folks at Q or the pandemic deniers take their place high on the shelf before too long and too many people are hurt or killed from their delusion. Occam would cut them to ribbons if he weren’t laughing/crying so hard].

I digress. Here’s the phrase: Psychologists attribute finding a conspiracy theory where there is none to a mental illness called illusory pattern perception. Illusory Pattern Perception. It’s a “phenomenon in which observers see patterns that do not exist.” The epicenter of the illness that drives folks to see what is not there: lack of control. It’s existential, this American decline.

We are rapidly becoming the poster child for “a nation divided cannot stand.” As a lover of pattern, perception, and metaphor I find it profoundly sad that our latest chapter of lack of control has led us to division and mental illness. Seeing patterns where none exist. Making up horror stories about each other rather than letting Occam’s razor slice away the absurd and elucidate some simple truth.

Lack of control, as we know from the stories we just shared about 9/11, can also unite us. Lack of control can clarify us. It can inspire us to run into burning buildings, link arms with fellow passengers to rush a cockpit – knowing full well your action will bring a plane down and your life to an end – and do it anyway because your action will save the lives of people you’ll never meet or know. The lack of control can inspire us to stand in the hot fires of injustice (injustice is a control mechanism) and declare it wrong.

Unity, goodness, self-sacrifice – all of these virtues are exposed – or can be – in moments when control abandons us. Our path need not be ugly, vicious, divisive, or inhumane. The mental illness that blinds us is not natural to this nation – or to humanity. It’s what happens when frightened people, feeling out of control, meet a salesman of snake-oil solutions, a weaver of dark places in the public mind, rather than link arms and ask, “What’s really happening?”

read Kerri’s blog post about AMERICAN DECLINE

Dare To Read The Label [on Bonus Saturday]

I was awake much of the night staring at the ceiling fan and I had a mini revelation.

Earlier in the evening I had a conversation with my mother about medication and the need to check labels. The doctor had prescribed something for my father that would have been harmful for him to take. We discussed the need not only to be vigilant but your own advocate when dealing with healthcare.

And then our conversation wandered into the swamp of politics and current events. Tumbling out of her came a river of Fox News scare topics – “SOCIALISM” she cried! “MEXICANS WILL POUR ACROSS THE BORDER” she howled, “AND MY MONEY WILL HAVE TO PAY FOR THEIR HEALTH CARE!” “I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK!” she bayed. “WE GOTTA OPEN THIS COUNTRY BACK UP!” she yelped. “THEY’RE PAYING PEOPLE TO RIOT!” And, my personal favorite, “THERE’S EVIL POURING ACROSS THIS GREAT NATION!”

You’ll not be surprised to learn that I pushed back. Mexicans pouring over the border was her response to my question, “What do you mean by socialism?” Someday I will learn that it is impossible to reason with the absurd.

And so, I found myself staring at the ceiling fan, asking myself the same question over and over: why would someone be vigilant about checking the labels on their medication and not apply the same vigilance to the stories they consume? Why would they check the efficacy of what they put into their body but not check the truthfulness of what they infuse into their thought?

That is perhaps the single most important question we as a nation should ask. Why are so many of us so willing to swallow poison?

As I’ve previously written, Fox News will kill someone I love, so egregious is their dedication to misinformation. In a pandemic, it’s only a matter of time. Go here to read the label on their bottle. Here’s a snippet: strongly biased toward conservative causes through story selection and/or political affiliation. They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage conservative causes. Some sources in this category may be untrustworthy.

Misleading reports. Influence by appeal to emotion or stereotypes (in other words, scare tactics). Untrustworthy. It’s propaganda, brainwashing, hype, and (my personal favorite synonym) the big lie.

Why would anyone swallow the big lie when the warning on the label is written in big bold red letters? Or, more to the point, why work so hard to ignore the label?

My revelation watching the ceiling fan go round and round: I can’t possibly fathom why. Nor do I need to. I’ve pushed back again and again and whirl to nowhere just like the ceiling fan. I can let it go now. No one is forcing the angry fearmongering down their throats or coloring their sight with so much hate. It’s a choice, their choice, her choice to ignore the warnings so clearly printed on the label.

read Kerri’s Bonus Saturday Donkey Wowza-Paluzza

Recognize The Divine [on KS Friday]

“To say that life is destabilized by weakened institutions is merely to say that information loses its use and therefore becomes a source of confusion rather than coherence.” ~ Neil Postman, Technopoly.

“Regularly throughout conversation in Gaelic, ” John O’Donohue writes, “there is explicit recognition that the divine is present in others.” Social fabric is tightly woven and made strong by the recognition of value, divine or otherwise, in all members of a community. During my travels in Bali I was moved again and again by the interconnectivity, the deep assumption of coherence that wove together daily life and community. “If two cars crash, “Budi told me, “the driver’s first thought is not that the other is to blame, it is that they are supposed to meet.”

And when the devaluation of others becomes a national pastime as it has in these once united states, pushing down the head of an other in an attempt to elevate the self – the preferred action of all drowning people – saves no one. It only delays the drowning of all involved. That sound we hear is the rending of our social fabric, the breaking apart of the ship. Those shouts of triumph and scorn coming from the top deck will be short lived. Confusion is a lousy organizing principle and guarantees a watery grave for all on board.

We are awash in information and so we are also awash in an assault on information. Misinformation is our Achilles Heel. So weakened by gaslighting are our public institutions that the single most damning confession of our lifetime, a president admitting for all to hear that he knew and lied about the deadly virus, is shrugged off. “Yeah, well what about Nancy Pelosi’s hair!” I shuddered when I read the inane defense. We flatten. Our values fade as fast as our perspective. Thousands died who did not have to – heads were knowingly pushed under. Thousands will die who do not have to; an estimated 410,000 by the new year. Disposable people.

Neil Postman wrote, “What makes science possible is not our ability to recognize ‘truth’ but our ability to recognize falsehood.” Replace the word “science” with the word “community’ and the statement rings just as true. A community that cannot recognize falsehood is in trouble. A community that will not deal with truth is destined to drown in its own willful confusion.

We will not find our way through this paralysis until we can step out of this car crash and, instead of pointing our fingers and blaming, we step toward each other with wonder at what brought us together, until we are willing to ask, “Why did we meet?”

CONNECTED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED