Don’t Go Home [on DR Thursday]

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House on Fire. 2004-ish. Watercolor. And, yes, I was all over copying Guernica.

“The continual retreat from the discomfort of authentic racial engagement in a culture infused with racial disparity limits the ability to form authentic connections across racial lines, and results in a perpetual cycle that works to hold racism in place.” ~ Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

I confess to rewriting this post. What I wrote initially was pedantic and preachy. So, this is a second go-round.

We’ve been hearing this question much in these past days: why don’t things ever change? Here’s an answer I learned in school: a society is a living system and, like all living things, it will fight to the death when threatened with change. Why we can’t seem to “solve” our problem with racial disparity and the dehumanization of black people? It’s built into our system. The system, a complex and living thing, will fight to the death to keep the injustice securely in place.

That’s a heady answer and somewhat hopeless. Its abstraction makes it a safe and somewhat antiseptic response.

I lived in Los Angeles in 1992. My apartment was in the hills so I had a good vantage point to watch the rioting and the city burn. When it felt too unsafe, I fled the city. I had a safe place to go.

A few years later, working with a school district, the head of the Black Student Union asked me to come in and work with her students. MLK day was fast approaching and the students, preparing presentations for the day, were in rebellion. They were mad. They didn’t want to read speeches about peace and justice when those ideals were nowhere on their horizon. I thought it was my job to help them give voice to what they wanted to say. It was my first conscious lesson in my white-blindness. The frightened parents of the students descended. I’ll never forget the mother and father that pulled me aside, saying to me, “You don’t understand. If they say what they want to say they’ll be killed.” Their terror was real. They had to teach their children a lesson that was the opposite of what my parents taught me.

To call it a problem is to reduce it to the level of mechanics. It is to pretend (or hope) that a few changes in the law or better policing will do the trick.  To treat it like a problem guarantees that we’ll recreate it. This is not a problem, this is a pattern. It is a cycle. It is a relationship.

The pattern is currently in our faces. The pattern is not only the death of another black person. The pattern is also what white America chooses to do – or not do-  with the knowledge of it. What is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves that makes it possible to stand in the fire with people of color during the protests but walk-on once the fire subsides? It is simply this: I get to go home. I get to drive out of LA when things feel too unsafe. I have someplace to go. I get to go home when the officer is prosecuted or a law is changed or a commission empaneled, dust off my hands, and say that I did my part.

Why don’t things ever change?

I was stunned when those parents pulled me aside. At first, I couldn’t believe that they were going to silence their children when their children had something so important to say. It made my head spin. And then I went home. And then I realized that they couldn’t go home. There was no place in this “living system” where they were safe. That was what they were trying to tell me. It was what Martin Luther King was trying to tell us. It is what the protesters in the streets today are trying to get us to see/admit/realize. We are watching a living system built on racial division and inequality fight to the death because change is knocking.

What if we realized that we cannot simply go home and forget about it?

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOUSE ON FIRE

 

 

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Check The Acorn [on VERY Flawed Wednesday]

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Apparently Sigmund Freud has a dangerous and ill-intended descendant named Voter. Splashed all over the conservative Henny Penny is a frenzied warning: watch out for Voter Freud! He is running rampant! Threatening the nation! Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and the entire cast of hysterics-with-microphones are gathering other like-minded fowl to amplify the message of a would-be king. Voter Freud is on the loose and if not stopped, he will corrupt your Drakey Lakey!

This is why I adore stories. Even the simplest folk tale has the ominous capacity to reveal us to ourselves. And, if we are wise, we listen to what they might teach us. Variations of the Chicken Little story have been around for centuries.

Times have changed but human nature is surprisingly consistent. Henny Penny was hit on the head by an acorn and thought the sky was falling. Hysterical, she decides to sound the alarm of imminent disaster and clucks away to tell the king before it is too late. Along the way she whips other unquestioning fowl into a panic and they join in her frantic chorus. Depending upon the ending – there are many – but mostly, she and her gaggle are eaten – each and everyone – by the fox [I take pause here for a moment of reflection so the uncanny closeness of the story to our times might sink in].

The multiple screeching voices currently re-enacting the Henny Penny story did not intend to invent Sigmund’s evil descendant. It is only through the magic of spelling errors that voter fraud donned the villainous persona of Voter Freud. And, I confess, I love the character!

All good stories have a moral and that is true for the tale of Henny Penny: traditionally, the moral is to not be a “chicken” but to have courage. Hysterical chickens get eaten by Foxes. The current moral-of-the-story might go something like this: be wary of acorns dropped on your noggin. It is not a falling sky. It is a set up. A modicum of research will spare the entire hen house of yet another hysterical outburst.  In the United States of America, voter fraud is very rare. The current fox guarding the hen house would like all the fowl to cluck with fear of Voter Freud. The purpose, of course, is to make it harder for many citizens to vote. Or, stated another way: keeping the chickens hysterical serves the fox; voters exercising their right to vote does not.

Voter Freud is made up. So is voter fraud.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on Voter Freud

 

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Stand Still And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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~Beloved by Sam Magill, from his collection of poems, Fully Human

Today my thoughts return again and again to Sam, a secret poet, a bard, a believer in the goodness of humanity. Sam knows that a wound, when properly honored, can lead to something far greater than mere healing.

He would look, as we do, with awe at the ferns. He would giggle at how quickly they change color with the light. He would delight in the frog that magically took up residence in our pond. He loves, as we do, the things of this life that live beyond explanation.

If you asked Sam what we need do as our cities burn, as a pandemic rages, as leadership fails and the face of inequity stands naked and unmasked, he might tell us to do nothing. To stand still and listen. “The hard crusty soil is cracking open,” he might say, “there is new growth struggling to push through.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FERNS

 

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Exit Stage Left [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is a love story. This is how the love story began:

I knew the moment Kerri looked up from her computer that we were in trouble. She had THAT look in her eyes. She spun her computer around so I could see: a photograph of a performing arts space on a little island up north. They were looking for a managing director. “We could do this together,” she said.

I was opposed to the idea. I’ve run theatres and theatre companies. For an entire era in my life, I seemed called to restore them when they were on the verge of collapse. This felt like a step backward. It would be the smallest company I’d ever worked with. It had obvious and ominous warning signs of rip tides and undertows.

However, I’ve seen THAT look in Kerri’s eyes a few times and I’ve learned that it is best to either get on the train or get out of the way. We interviewed. We visited. The first time we stepped into the theatre I saw something – beyond words – return to Kerri. She walked the auditorium like it was sacred space. She stepped onto the stage and fell deep into imagining. Life rushed into her. How could I oppose that?

Initially, we turned the job down because it made no financial sense. It made even less practical sense; we’d have to move on island for six months every year, take unpaid sabbaticals from other work. Kerri grieved. Literally. I could not understand the depth of her loss. To me it was yet another job with yet another non-profit that was cracking below the water line, which meant too many hours for too little pay featuring a bottomless to-do list and a board of directors resistant to patching the holes, let alone reconstructing a seaworthy vessel. Standard fare, par for the course, yada-yada.

Kerri wept. What was this about? The image of her walking through the auditorium, hands brushing the seats like they were magic blossoms, haunted me. “They’ll come back to us,” I told her, “no one else is crazy enough to consider this job.”

A month later they came back with an improved offer, still impossible but closer to feasible. They could find no one else that was crazy enough to consider the position. Love is a kind of insanity.

We took the job. That is how this love story began.

Yesterday was our final day on the job. Today is the day the story ends. In many ways it was exactly as my crystal ball predicted: a non-profit that was cracking below the water line, too many hours for too little pay featuring a bottomless to-do list and a board of directors resistant to patching the holes, let alone reconstructing a seaworthy vessel. I am a systems guy; the organizational system behaved like all systems behave. In our first 3 months we had 3 different board presidents. Big battles. No surprises.

Yet, my crystal ball missed the prediction in one very important aspect. The most important aspect. This was not merely standard fare. It was a love story. The incredible people we met, the adventures we shared, the mountains we moved, the dark starry nights, the ominous power of the lake, the deer, many lessons we learned…Kerri stood on the stage and fell into deep imagining. Everyday. Life rushed into her. Everyday.  This may be the day the relationship ends but we leave, she leaves, filled with new imaginings, her heart breaking, full of love for this magic space, brimming with life.

 

[Kerri made this as a parting note for TPAC]

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EXIT

 

 

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Lose The Argument [on KS Friday]

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I’m losing the argument and it just became nearly impossible for me to make my case. My loss goes like this:

In the school of great ironies comes this latest and greatest entry: recently when Kerri posts her music to Facebook, the platform often pulls it down with a copyright claim.

Don’t yet see the irony? Let me unpack it. She composed the music. Recorded it. She formed a holding company to protect the rights of her music. No matter how you spin the legal rubik’s cube, she owns the rights to her artistry (as it should be). A social media platform is blocking her from using her music for copyright infringement on music that she holds the copyright. There is no customer service person to pick up the phone. All appeals go into the black hole of “email us and we’ll get back to you.” There is a bot with nary a mind in its matter or care in the world.

Wait. There’s more. We have, since we met, spent entire evenings surfing the web to find the millions of people who use her music (royalty free) to play beneath their home movies, their nature videos, their wedding collages, their graduation montages, the news stories, the documentary previews, moving baby albums. It seems anyone has been able to pull down and use her music without nod or consideration to copyright or royalty.

Over the course of her career, entities like Napster and Spotify and Pandora and Apple Music sprang fully grown from Zeus’ head. They play her music – paying her – dare I call it a royalty – of .000079 of penny for every play (that’s documented). She has well over a million listeners each year (that are documented). Had she any form of royalty and copyright protection -any at all – she’d be a very wealthy artist, indeed.

The argument that I lost? I’ve been nagging her incessantly to record the pieces that now grow yellow in her composition book. Some of her best work. Her generic answer is, “Why bother.” In the past year, my campaign was gaining ground! She was considering it. And then, in a split second, the last avenue where she could exercise a modicum of control over her artistry – locked her out from sharing her own music.

Irony. In a split second.

 

IN A SPLIT SECOND on the album AS SURE AS THE SUN  is available on iTunes or you can, like so many, get it almost anywhere you look (that’s facetious).

 

read Kerri’s blog post on IN A SPLIT SECOND

 

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in a split second/as sure as the sun ©️ (though you’d never know it) 2002 kerri sherwood

Look Again [on DR Thursday]

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Recurrence. Occurring again and again. I wrestled with an image for many weeks until I arrived at the painting I desired:

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my loves, mixed media on hardboard, 24 x 48IN

I wrestled for a long time and I took photos of all of the drafts. Skip has nudged me to document my process and, along the way, I’ve learned that taking a photograph of a work in progress helps with art-blindness. If you stare at something long enough, you no longer see it – you see parts of it or you see what is in your mind (mostly criticism and fear). A photograph often provides a fast track out of art-blindness [note: of course, I take the photograph with me everywhere I go and stare at it so much that I create new blindness…]

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I took a close up of one of the iterations. Kerri liked it but it was impossible to save. I’d have to cut the painting down and, since it is on two pieces of hardboard, cutting it was unfeasible [look close and you can see the seam]. I painted over it but promised to come back and revisit it.

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my loves II [close-up]. still in progress.

It’s a work in progress. It has a ways to go. Different but the same. I’m still wrestling but find it soothing that I can disappear into my studio and focus on light in this dark time.

Focusing on light in a dark time. Affirmation. Hope, when it is so easy to focus on the bleak and insane. Escapism? No doubt. I wish I could take a snapshot of our nation – of what we are wrestling with and have grown so blind to seeing. I’d like to hold it up so we might have even a few moments of perspective, so we might see again what we have been staring at for so long that we have grown blind to seeing. Recurrence. Patterns occurring again and again.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIRCLING BACK

 

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my loves/in all iterations ©️ 2020 david robinson

Listen To The Hatter [on Flawed Wednesday]

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“I don’t think…”

“Then you shouldn’t talk!” said the Hatter

~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The entire world is down the rabbit hole though, we citizens of the U.S.A., have fallen into a deeper darker hole. We’ve found a way-out-wacky cast of characters at the helm that challenge in strangeness the inhabitants of Wonderland. Truth, as it turns out, is much stranger than fiction.

Sometimes out of the mouth of madness comes a whisper of truth. If you do not first think, you should probably not talk. The Hatter’s advice is sage.

For kicks, I asked the mystic Google this question: What did Alice learn in Wonderland? It’s been a few years since I held her hand and went down the rabbit hole.

Alice learned that bullies are really two-dimensional and ultimately vapid. The pandemic is exposing our very own Queen of Hearts, a man who, like the Queen, gets his excitement from belittling others. Diminishing others is really the only card in a bully’s  deck. Here we are.

Alice learned that a bully is powerless without the support of minions. So, to garner support, a healthy cadre of minions must also agree to be flat and loud but remain thought-free. As it turns out, minions are powerless without a bully. It’s a loop. Well. Here we are.

The Caterpillar asks Alice, “Who are you?” She has no answer. She finds herself in a wholly strange world. The rules of life as she understands them no longer apply.  It is madness everywhere she looks. Yup. Here we are.

Her experiences with the madness expose who she is. That is my favorite of Alice’s lessons. Our madness is also exposing many things about us. It’s revealed the bully. It has called forward the courageous. It has uncovered the minions. It lays bare the deep cracks in our foundation. And, perhaps, to take some advice from the Hatter, since the bully and his crew has undermined science, morality, ethic, facts, jurisprudence, and is taking partisan bites from the constitution, it might be time for us to start thinking.

“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.

“I won’t,” said Alice.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Mouth Shut

 

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