Choose The Measure [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I’d just like to begin by confessing my inferiority complex. In the time it’s taken me to squeeze my eyebrows together and dribble out a first thought, Kerri has finished her post. In fairness, I am a painter and an introvert [I’ll bore you to tears at a party, that is, if you can find me hiding in the bushes] and Kerri is a poet and lyricist. “Are you done yet?” she asks each day when we sit down to write our melange. Good god! I haven’t even sharpened my pencil yet!

And, so, my inferiority confession can only be salved by a headlong dive into the poles. North/South. Right/Wrong. Good/Bad. Black/White. Worth/Worthless. I could go on but Kerri would have a book written by the time I extract myself from my pole-litany.

Polarity – as understood as fixed points on a line: The state of having two opposite or contradictory tendencies, opinions, or aspects. [Definition by Oxford Languages]

Polarity – as understood as fluid movement: Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature but different in degree. Extremes meet. [The Hermetic Law of Polarity]

If nothing else, we live in a post-Heisenberg-Uncertainty-Principle-World. Perceptions, like atomic particles, can be understood as either fixed points or as fluid movement – but not both at the same time. Those in the fixed camp are mostly unwilling to see things in the fluid camp, and vice-versa, though, those in the fluid camp can’t help but intellectually reach for the possibility of the extremes meeting.

We get into trouble when all sides lapse into fixed points of view. We get lost when all sides slip into fluid points of view.

In a nutshell, it’s the challenge we are facing in these once-united-states and in many other chunks of the world. We’ve all reduced ourselves into fixed points. Survival has made it so. And, a side note: the first words Kerri ever spoke to me were these: I don’t do nutshells.

Rule-bound-folk, seers of absolute good and evil, tend to be fixed. “How can there be good in evil, evil in good?” they will ask, looking at you like you are a martian. “You’re either for us or against us!” Life is a recipe. A reduction. A simple step by step cake to bake. Reds and blues with no possibility of purple.

Relationship-driven-folk, seers of possibility, tend to be fluid. “It depends!” they will chime. “Right and wrong depends upon your point of view.” “Alliances are ever-changing.” Life is a complexity. No set of rules applies to every circumstance. Purple everywhere though, in these divided times, the fixed primary colors rule the day.

Which brings me solidly to my inferiority complex. I live in the complexity camp. I am fluid to the core. Perhaps Kerri’s speed of articulation need not be the measure of my skill. Perhaps slow, sloppy, and mostly incoherent is a valid and worthy process! Yes! I know when to put down my brushes! I know when to sign the painting!

Suddenly, I am awash in personal revisionist history. I am the turtle and she is the rabbit!

And what if there was no race to win?

It’s possible that this is a good time to put down my brushes, cease writing for the day, stop. Full stop. Except for this question: when are you fixed? When are you fluid? As atomic particles, Heisenberg suggests that we are both. Turtle and Hare. What we see depends upon what we measure.

What, exactly, at this point in time, is important for us to measure?

read Kerri’s blog post about START/STOP

Take A Peek [on Two Artists Tuesday]

We have two frogs in our pond this summer. Their names are Epic and Tiny. This is a photograph of Epic. He’s in his safe place. When Kerri took this picture she said, “This is how I feel most of the time.”

Each day, in writing this blog, I face a dilemma. I named my blog The Direction of Intention because I desire my writing and artistry (and life) to be conscious steps toward positive creation rather than pushing against and complaining about what I don’t want. Lately, that is a tight rope to walk. I no longer feel it is possible to peek out from my safe place because I doubt in these-once-united-states that there is a safe place. Lately, each day, it seems that pushing back, peeking from my rock and croaking, “Open your eyes,” IS taking conscious steps toward the creation of a healthy spirit, nation-body and world.

I’ve long been a believer that the deep imbalances in our system, like systemic racism, cannot change by focusing on the word “racism.” The change we seek, the safety we desire, will only come when we address this completely broken and ugly system that is composed upon layers of inequity. BLM is a pressure valve. It is an opportunity to look with clear and honest eyes at the favoritism designed into our system.

At the epicenter of our dysfunction is an apparatus that pretends to be a democracy but, in fact, throws its weight behind minority rule. For instance, if the popular vote of citizens actually elected the president, Ronald Reagan would have been the last Republican to occupy the White House [George W. Bush won the popular vote in his second term but initially gained the presidency after losing the popular vote to Al Gore]. Or, consider this: even though, since 1920, more Americans are urban dwellers, the electoral system throws its weight to rural (more conservative) voters. The electoral college ensures democracy will not prevail. It goes on and on. If you want a hysterical look at the hysterical gerrymandering of the American system, visit John Oliver here.

Why would a system that purports to be a democracy knowingly allow and continually enable unfair political advantage to a minority elite? Why would a political party work so hard to gerrymander electoral maps, prevent black and brown voters from voting, whip up with no evidence the notion that, if they lose, the election will be rigged? The advantage is blatantly apparent in our tax codes, in how we fund schools and fill prisons, an on and on and on.

The gap between who we are and who we pretend to be is vast.

The game is rigged. A thriving democracy is impossible when one team, the conservative elite, do not believe in nor support democratic processes. Winning at all cost, regardless of the cost, is a tool from the fascist toolbox. it is the opposite of the democratic ideal. What we are experiencing is not an accident. It is not a mistake. It is a design. A thriving democracy is impossible when the system is designed to be undemocratic [when you are done laughing with John Oliver, weep at Umberto Eco’s list of 14 common features of fascism].

In other news, upheaval makes systems change, real change, possible. Peeking out from my rock I can only hope that we-the-people, in this turbulent time, have both the will to show up at the polls AND the courage, resolve, and clarity to stick with it until we align our words with our actions, until we pull down the institutions that keep inequity and minority-rule the name of the game – until we expect our system and our elected leaders to actually believe in democracy.

It’s epic.

read Kerri’s blog post about EPIC

Click-To-The-Loo [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Language is fluid and ever changing. For instance, twenty years ago the words “hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow,” had little or nothing to do with social interactions. You might snooze an alarm-clock but never another person. In 2020, in the alternate reality known as social media, people snooze, hide, unfriend, and unfollow people on a daily basis.

Language is powerful. We both define and reveal ourselves by the words we choose. It’s as easy as the click of a button to eliminate people from view. Click. Gone! Magic. The power to insulate. “Unfriend” and “unfollow” ensure that our engagements are only with like-minded people. Is it any wonder that we no longer need to find common ground? It’s a simple equation: you bug me/I snooze you. “Hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow” are the words of bubble creators. Fortress makers.

Closing the gates might lock others out but it also locks us in. Either way, click. Gone! A smaller world. Raise the gates for agreement.

Closing the gates is not a function of disagreement. I heard this said the other day, “People say things on Facebook that they’d never say in person.” True. It is corrosive and ugly. There is rarely space for civil disagreement. Ideas are attacked as a first action. Responses are salvos. In other words, no one is snoozed for being kind. Courtesy and consideration rarely result in unfollowing or the ultimate nuke: unfriending. There is no space for civil discourse. We snooze, hide, unfollow because we are assaulted or we assault. Social media is startlingly anti-social.

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to listen to Stephen Hawking give a lecture on the possibility of multiverses, a string of multiple universes. His theory involved bubbles that occasionally bumped together. The bumping opened small windows of communication between the bubbles. The great miracle of two universes brushing together is that they, even for a short time, can communicate. They can share experiences.

Our great miracle is the opposite. We construct bubbles against each other. When our universes bump together, windows are slammed closed. We believe ourselves all powerful when, with the click of a button, we can extract a voice from our “stream.” So powerful is our illusion of the button, we’ve happily become the buttons. No courtesy, no kindness, no listening, no consideration necessary or expected.

Click: assault. Click: be gone.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNFOLLOWING

Direct Your Gratitude [on KS Friday]

Skip wrote, sharing some of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It was a breath of fresh air in a week that’s been chock-a-block with disrespect, deceit, and hypocrisy:

Skip wrote, “I love her discussion of what the tribe does each morning:

Here the school week begins and ends not with the Pledge of Allegiance, but with the Thanksgiving Address, a river of words as old as the people themselves, known more accurately in the Onondaga language as the Words That Come Before All Else. This ancient order of protocol sets gratitude as the highest priority. The gratitude is directed straight to the ones who share their gifts with the world. 

All the classes stand together in the atrium, and one grade each week has responsibility for the oratory. Together, in a language older than English, they begin the recitation. It is said that the people were instructed to stand and offer these words whenever they gathered, no matter how many or how few before anything else was done. In this ritual, their teachers remind them that every day, “beginning with where our feet first touch the earth, we send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world.” 

Today it is the third grade’s turn. There are only eleven of them and they do their best to start together, giggling a little, and nudging the ones who just stare at the floor. Their little faces are screwed up with concentration and they glance at their teacher for prompts when they stumble on the words. In their own language they say the words they’ve heard nearly every day of their lives. 

Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.* 

There is a pause and the kids murmur their assent.

 We are thankful to our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect. Now our minds are one. 

The kids sit remarkably still, listening. You can tell they’ve been raised in the longhouse.”

*****

A legacy of respect and gratitude. A duty to live in balance and harmony. An orientation of responsibility both to self AND other. Can you imagine – will you imagine – the members of our red team and blue team meeting on the streets and joining hands with protestors of all colors and religions and sexual orientations, starting each day, together, speaking The Thanksgiving Address, “Today we have gathered…” Directing their gratitude straight at the ones who share their gifts with the world. Gratitude set as the highest priority.

It is a legacy to be admired. Words that come before all else. It is a legacy to be desired.

*The actual wording of the Thanksgiving Address varies with the speaker. This text is the widely publicised version of John Stokes and Kanawahientun, 1993.

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

read Kerri’s blog post about LEGACY

legacy/released from the heart ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Play A New Game [on DR Thursday]

“To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.” ~ Confucius

When I do not know what to do or say about the state of the world, I draw pictures. That’s been true all of my life. Apparently, when I was very young, I was in a constant state of not knowing what to do or say. I repeatedly drew an imaginary cabin in the woods. It was a place of peace and solitude. I came into this world with a bit of Thoreau imprinted on my soul.

I know things are bad when my drawings lapse into caricature. These sketches might look like nasty-grams to Mitch McConnell but they are, in truth, ruminations on our system. Last night the streets were again alive with protest. Yet another black American was murdered (in her home) and the system turned its head and looked away. A very long trail of tears. I feel like I need to climb to the top of the mountain and scream, “OUR SYSTEM IS DOING WHAT IT WAS DESIGNED TO DO!”

Suppressing black Americans, as designed into our system, is the same action as elevating white Americans. It’s a mechanism, a single action. A seesaw. This is not the first era in which citizens took to the streets to protest the inequities between black and white America. The protests are immediate and necessary but they do not come close to touching the system.

Legislation will not touch it (a system never assaults itself). Police reform will not change it as systems are great shape-shifters; a new form of suppression/elevation will arise. A system has to be acknowledged before it can be addressed and the acknowledgment can’t come from the angry people in the streets – it must come from the people in suits-and-ties who deny systemic racism exists, the ones who fear the loss of their supremacy. [Isn’t it remarkable that leaders in a country founded on slavery, celebrated lynching with picture postcards in a Jim Crow era, while a terrific battle was being fought en route to civil rights legislation were rigging tax codes and redlining and on and on and on, can deny the existence of racism? That IS the system talking].

The system is dancing right in front of our eyes. While the streets are alive with BLM protests demanding justice and equal rule of law, Mitch McConnell, awash in hypocrisy, is doing what he wants to do with no regard to precedent, rule, or ethic. The system is Lindsey Graham and his fellow red senators following their leader without shame. Laws are made of words – so are creeds and constitutions – as are ethics and morality. Words have no meaning when they are so easily discounted.

We’ve built our crumbling castle on a foundation of Manifest Destiny. A chosen people who believe they can do what they want to do to whomever stands in their way. Native Americans will tell you that government treaties were made to be broken. Words mean nothing when winning-at-all-cost is the name of the game. Laws are made of words – so are creeds and constitutions.

Winning at all cost IS the name of the game. It is the system. It is a game that cares not for who is thrust through the meat grinder. To watch Mitch is to see the system.

Winning at all cost is not governance. Undermining elections is not governance. Gerrymandering electoral maps is not governance. Suppressing voters is not governance. Whipping up fantasies about voter fraud is not governance. How is it possible that the people occupying the seats of a representative government do not believe in the democratic process?

It’s not new. It’s the system.

Our constitution and creeds will matter when our words matter, when we can say what we mean and mean what we say. Black lives will matter when the words written into our creeds and constitution guide us rather than disguise us. In the meantime, we will take another step on the road of cowardice, all the while pretending to be righteous.

It’s enough to make me return to drawing pictures of my cabin in the woods.

read Kerri’s blog post about MITCH

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