Ponder Before Turning [on DR Thursday]

Today is Thanksgiving Day in these sometimes-united-states. As a master of understatement and friend of Captain Obvious, I would like to suggest that this Thanksgiving is like no other.

Many of us are in quarantine so we cannot gather. In fact, with COVID-19 raging, the most loving and responsible thing we can do is NOT gather. Family relationships are strained as we peer at each other across the red/blue reality divide. Many of us have lost our jobs – all of them – so the traditional horn-of-plenty is a slightly frightening empty bucket. Thousands of us are queuing at the food banks. Homes are lost, evictions abound. Many are grieving the over quarter-million lives (so far) lost to the pandemic.

And yet…

If I understand my history, this 2020 Thanksgiving is more like the original 1621 version than our usual remembrance. Theirs was a celebration of survival. More than half of the people who arrived the previous year to establish a colony had perished. A hard winter and a raging epidemic took a heavy toll. That very first day of thanks encompassed the grief of loss as well as the gratitude for living to see another day. A successful harvest meant they had a slightly better chance of making it through the coming winter. Can you imagine their exhaustion?

Hope, no matter how dim, provides the necessary fuel of dogged perseverance.

Hope. Belief in the promise of a better day. Imagination sets sail on the seas of the unknown, following the guide star of renewal. Making it through, surviving to see a time of abundant harvest.

So, today, we take a moment, a day. Colonists awash in apprehension. We take a breath. We look back, we know that there is no going back. We grieve what is lost. We ponder how we got here. We take another breath, a day of rest and gratitude before turning to face the realities of rampant uncertainty. We wonder how we can do better. We fill our tanks with hope, knowing that tomorrow we will arise, look forward, and take a single-first-next step.

Sometimes a single-first-next step is as far as we can see.

read Kerri’s blog post on PONDERING LIFE

chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Avoid The Box [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

When I was in high school a significant teacher told me that I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t paint AND be in the theatre AND write. She told me I had to choose. She told me I needed to focus. When she said the word ‘focus’ I felt like I would suffocate if I followed her advice.

One day, standing in the back of the theatre with Roger, I realized that I was bored. I needed to take my impulse to the theatre out of the building and off the stage. At the time I didn’t know what that might look like. My pals in the theatre rolled their eyes, made smallish assumptions, closed their doors to me. What I found, what I created, was thrilling. Profound.

The single consistent criticism from gallery folk of my paintings is that I am stylistically too broad. I’m all over the map. It’s true. More than once I’ve been told to come back when I know who I am. I’m not yet able to go back and, at this stage of my life, doubt that I will ever meet the criteria. I hope not.

I have made wrong turns and burned bridges. I have been my own worst enemy and my own best friend. I’ve broken things that ought not to have been broken. I’ve restored things to wholeness that others could not because I understand brokenness. I’ve run from opportunities. I’ve taken ridiculous risks. As MM asked, “What is it in you that makes you run at every edge and jump?” Fear of heights.

Makaela once told me that there was something feral in me. I thought of her the other day when I realized that DogDog was a perfect reflection of me: he can learn anything but WILL NOT walk on a leash. Try and constrain him in any way and he pulls, resists, and otherwise works to yank my arm out of the socket. I wonder how many arms I’ve yanked when I was approached with a leash? I know that once, a long time ago, I was a good teacher because I knew firsthand the power and necessity of removing constraints.

I’ve given away my best work, my best thinking. I have lived my way into utter irrelevance. The layers of the onion fall away. These days I feel more essence than substance. Pure ghost watching a world to which I have never belonged and rarely understood.

Horatio calls me a polymath to which I reply, “Back at you.” I dare anyone to try and track our conversations. The question in life that I have learned to hate the most is, “So, what do you do?”

I avoid boxes. And leashes. Apparently, that’s about the best I can do.

read Kerri’s blog post about DEFINE YOURSELF

Get To Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On page one of the despot’s handbook is this instruction: silence the artists. Mute the intellectuals. Authoritarians have power only when people become sheep. Silence in the face of abuse is tacit agreement. Permission to bully.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve stood before a school board and explained that art is supposed to be powerful, that it plays a very important role in a healthy society, I’d have a lot of nickels. I was generally called to speak when a play or a painting upset the apple cart, when the art made the community confront a truth or look at a reality. Brecht’s Epic Theatre or the plays of Artaud were/are meant to shake the irrational in people, force them into discussion and revelation.

Art can be beautiful, poetry can soothe, but that is only one side of the coin. It can also shine a light and expose an ugly truth. It can give voice to what is not-being-spoken. It can work out problems on the stage instead of sending the violence into the streets. It can ask us to take a hard look at ourselves and our motives. Picasso’s large painting, Guernica, a response to horror wrought by fascists on the people of a town in Spain, is a powerful art-mirror.

The conscience of a community, like the conscience of every individual that comprises the community, lives beyond the superficial, it bubbles in the place beyond words. An artist’s job is to reach into that place, pull the veil for a moment, root or re-root the community in its values.

A despot’s job is to secure a unanimous vote, no questions asked. Sheep.

Art is not superficial. It is not the image or the words on the page. It is what the image, the words, the dance, the music, touch. Hearts. Souls. Conscience.

Without it, what remains is propaganda. Propaganda is never news, it is the opposite of art. It snuffs the question, it prevents the quest for meaning and deep-felt-truth. Without it, communities flatten, lose their center, wither, and fall apart. Silence, eyes downcast or sideways glancing. Permission to bully. Sheep.

It’s time for the artists to get to work.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS

See Through [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Quinn used to say that if someone has to tell you that they are good at something, they probably aren’t. If someone has to tell you that they are being transparent, they’re definitely hiding something. It is akin to the stereotypical-strategy of the used car salesman, “This baby runs like a dream! Trust me.” If someone has to tell you to trust them, well…

A great athlete has no need brag about their greatness. It is apparent in their play. A great artist has no need to spin perception. Their work speaks for them. A great teacher will never tout their mastery. The expansive nature and lives of their students is testament enough.

Transparent: Trans. Through or across. The appearance. See through the appearance.

Currently, the country is upside-down, in a fog, and choking on irony and COVID. For instance, those crying “FRAUD” are frantically spinning deceit. Those claiming transparency are purposefully opaque. Those claiming moral high-ground stink of muck and mire. Those claiming to save democracy are collapsing the piers upon which it is built [where-o-where is the Grand Ole Republican party?]

That stack of papers we see is a prop and not a plan. That curve that we are rounding does not lead to the promised land; it puts us on a COVID rocket, a steep arc to the sky of escalating infection and death. The arsonist-in-chief lighting fires is not protecting our homes and families, despite the story we are being told and sold.

When the world is upside-down, truth telling is dangerous. It will get you fired. Pointing to the apparent, stating the obvious, is met by an angry chorus of lies orchestrated by well paid liars. Inane belief screams foul in the face of science, data, fact, and, yes, evidence. Exposure, shining light in the dark corners, is threatening to those loudly peddling transparency in taxes and all things. “A perfect call.”

The glaciers melt. The forests burn. The country splits asunder. And, even as we are admonished for our lack of raking, asked to doubt what we see, we are -at long last – in the midst of a transition. We hold our breath, watch the tantrum-tweeter wreak havoc, and count the days until his thumbs exit stage left..

Transition. To go across.

Perhaps, when we are across, with some time, the country will right itself. Sense will return. Perhaps many, many heads will pop out of dark foxholes, their eyes will clear of the mad-illusion, and truth will matter once again. Perhaps, in the coming times, the word ‘transparency’ will no longer be a word-tool used to obscure. We will easily and together see through the thin-appearances. Let’s face it, this baby is not running like a dream. Don’t trust me, look for yourself.

read Kerri’s blog post on TRANSPARENT

Pause And Listen [on KS Friday]

A pause. Unspecified length. Fermata. It reads like poetry. I, a consummate non-musician, am learning and loving new musical terms.

We live in a world of noise. Too much noise. Too much talking. Too many screamers competing for our shrinking attention spans.

So much noise blocks access to the still small voice, the soul voice. That whisper-voice of inner truth never shouts. It is very hard to hear things-of-depth in a world so enamored with the superficial, so consumed by the marketing-moment. The breaking news. The voguish sale. The hip. The hop. The latest tweet. The newest outrage. Tik-Tok, Facebook, Instagram, spin-your-noggin-round-and-round.

This morning I’ve heard and read a thought surfing atop all the noise-feeds: we have to find a shared truth. Without it, we will enter the ranks of the failed states, if we are not there already.

Standing on the streets shouting at each other is guaranteed to further gape-our-void. Running deeper into fact-less-“news”-bubbles that spit blather 24/7 will send us deeper and deeper into banana-republic-status.

Our hope of unity lies in the fermata. The pause of unspecified length. Quiet.

It is from the silence that we might recognize that shared truth never pops out of its hole in the middle of a street fight. Truth stays clear of cacophony. It is in the silence that we have a slight prayer of hearing some truth.* We’ll know when we’re ready to share truth again when, out of the shared silence, we begin our conversation with some form of this simple question: “What did you hear?”

[*this highly idealistic and slightly naive thought assumes the restoration of respect for facts & science in all parties, a shared baseline for all inner-listeners]

read Kerri’s blog post on FERMATA

find all of Kerri’s albums on iTunes

Fly The Middle Way [on DR Thursday]

a watercolor sketch for Icarus

My call with Norm could not have been better timed. For some reason I’d recently dipped my toes into an old thought-pool and our conversation was like a ripple across the water. He is working with a team dedicated to self-empowerment, articulating purpose, making better relationships and a better world. I laughed as he reminded me of a younger version of myself.

A few days ago I wrote a phrase twice on a piece of paper. My Whole Life. My Whole Life. The phrase could mean “my entire life.” It could also mean “my flawless life.” I’m hard-pressed to conjure up a single example of someone who considers their life-story whole.

The words “purpose,” “power,” “voice” and “strength” populate the contemporary quest through the wasteland. We seek our power. We search for our unique voice. We hire coaches. We consume curriculum. We attempt to tune ourselves to wholeness like we tune our cars for the road.

There is a profound lesson in all of the great stories [stories are terrific guides…] and it is simply this: you can’t find “it” out there. You already have “it” and will, if you are lucky, realize “it” when you give up the search. Stand still. Feel the sun on your face.

The penny dropped for me while working with a group in the Netherlands. Everyone – every group I’ve ever worked with – wants to know “how?” There must be a prescription! What are the guaranteed six techniques to personal power? John O’Donohue wrote,“The gateway to our deepest identity is not through mechanical analysis.” In other words, there is no prescription. There isn’t a list. There are no tools to fix what is broken.

Parcival had his illusion shattered. The more he fought the dragons the worse the wasteland became. The grail castle came back to him only after he took off his armor, only after he completely relinquished and forgot about the fight.

None of this is to suggest that the search is ridiculous. It is not. It is a necessary process step in the cult of the individual. It is a necessity for people who believe themselves to be powerless to climb on a warhorse and ride into a personal hero tale. The knight will also need to flee from or fight with the inner-dark-anti-hero, the one who cries “fraud” or “loser” or “worthless” that serves as the shadow, the balance point of every power quest. The more he fight the dragons the worse the wasteland becomes.

“Let go of the hero,” Harald taught me, “and the anti-hero will also disappear.” Then, and only then, do we find the the middle way and the selflessness that comes with it. Some traditions call “it” presence. Some call “it” illumination. Some call “it” self-actualization. Some call “it” getting neutral or detachment. Some call “it” wholeness. Most locate “it” in the middle way.

Icarus did not listen to his father who warned him not to fly too close to the sun as it would melt the wax holding together his wings – and to not fly too close to the sea as the water vapor would make the feathers of his wings too heavy for flight. “Fly in the middle,” Daedalus cautioned. “Fly the middle way.”

Icarus, so the story tells us, became enamored of his ability to fly, so lost in his new power, that he soared toward the sun. Only when he was plummeting from the sky did he remember his father’s caution, “Fly the middle way. Fly the middle way and live.”

read Kerri’s blog post about ICARUS

Icarus, acrylic, 30.5 x 59.5

icarus ©️ 2004 david robinson

Keep The Sign [on Flawed Wednesday]

I have never, until this election, planted candidate signage in my yard. This season, however, Biden signs abounded. Our front yard was a wash of blue.

We opened the blinds the morning after the election was called and our signs were gone. The sign kidnapper left a clear trail through the leaves. We took a drive around the neighborhood and saw that other homes had their signs nabbed. The larger Biden signs had been tipped over or kicked to the ground.

Anger, as the old trope states, is a secondary emotion. Anger is one of the many shades of fear. That someone – or many someones – would, in their anger at an election loss, troll a neighborhood, stomp and steal signs would be laughable except it is akin to the behavior of their candidate, the one that lost. An angry pout. A child breaking toys so others can’t play. Holding the nation hostage.

In my career I worked with many, many schools and learned that a school generally takes on the personality of its principal. Nations are the same. Aggression, thuggery, bullying, lying…generally erasing opposition (“you’re fired”) in a single-direction-loyalty-imperative is the personality of our outgoing populist-principal. His behavior-fractal extends to the smallest cell of the sick red organism he created so it was not a surprise that election signs were stolen or stomped. Would-be bullies following their leader.

As we endure the final pout, a myriad of empty court cases in a frantic attempt to manufacture evidence of voter fraud, all-caps twitter-temper-tantrums, hoarding all the toys so the transition of power is delayed, sycophants-in-suits tumbling over themselves to please the grand-pout, we should perhaps ask the obvious question, ” What are they afraid of?”

They. Them. They are, I suspect, afraid of Us – of what US really implies. They are afraid of progress, an intention to unify. They fear the exposure of science and fact. They are afraid of women in power and a “minority” becoming the majority. They are afraid of people of color. Just as wagon wheel makers shook their fists at auto makers, just as coal barons now sneer at wind power, the boys club stuffs the courts while throwing doubt at a system called democracy. The remaining tools in their box are obstruction and denial.

We are a crossroads nation that is made great because we have to constantly reinvent ourselves. We change. That is our strength when the center ideals hold. The sign-stompers would have us look backward to a Hallmark time that never actually existed. Perhaps out of our recent chaos will emerge an order that finally fulfills the promise and includes all citizens, one that strives to fulfill the democratic ideals of equality rather than remove them. Obstruct them. Deny them. Perhaps.

“They can have the signs,” Kerri said, “as long as they take their guy with them.”

Amen to that.

read Kerri’s blog post about SIGNAGE

Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

Cope Another Way [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” ~ Mark Twain

From the national department of absurdity, I read in my morning news trawl that people-on-the-right were fleeing their tried-and-true social media platforms because they are tired of having their facts checked. They’re tired of being flagged for hate speech. They’re moving to a new platform that allows them to claim as true any old thing that fuels their fantasy. Of course, their new platform purports to have standards. In the absence of truth, they will be monitoring and censoring pornography and nudity. Bare bodies are shunned but bare lies are encouraged.

Google the question “Why Do We Lie?” and you might stumble across this phrase: lying is a ‘maladaptive coping mechanism.‘ Why are the good folks on the right fleeing from fact-checkers in search of an inadequate coping mechanism? Why are they – and, therefore, we – so deliberately racing from the truth? Truth is, after all, supposed to be the glue that holds a society together.

Perhaps, in our case, truth is not the glue that has held our young nation together. Perhaps the current hunger to lie is because we are [once again] confronting our truth? Division, not truth, is our glue. We know it. And we pretend it isn’t true. Denial of the truth is a lie by another name.

Plato reminds us that Zeus feared the power of the original humans so he split them into two separate parts. Our forefathers feared the power of a united working class so, taking a page from Zeus’ handbook, they split their budding society along the color line. And, in an “improvement” on Zeus’ original recipe for division, our god-fathers, in a single action, as a single action, reduced the black faces to less-than-human while simultaneously granting extra privileges to the white faces. They linked the privilege of the whites to the suppression of the blacks. White supremacy and Black Lives Matter are inextricably linked. It is the sad gravity that binds us.

It’s the truth we have never been able to face and, historically, when we dare to part the veil and have a look, there is a concerted effort by the working whites – those on the other side of the diploma divide [so many false divisions…] to run for the comfort of the supremacy-lie. It’s a safe space.

We embrace our maladaptive coping mechanism because we are afraid of facing the consequences of our truth. Great fear of status loss drives the wearers of red-hats to the lie-saloon where they can drink their fill, amp their anger, and fight progress. Fact-checking gets in the way. It’s how the system works.

Fueling the supremacy-lie is the central appeal – it’s the only appeal – of the outgoing titanic Liar-In-Chief. Supremacy stories, after all, require the supremacists to think they are victims. Facts become assaults. News becomes fake. Deep states and conspiracy theories abound. A good victim story is necessary for an Us and Them world. A good victim story is necessary to hold onto the promise-lie of white supremacy.

Division by design.

“The lie” crumbles in a social media space that checks facts and flags hate speech. What could be a better alternative than a gossip-circle-social-media-space where lies are called truths and truths are branded as lies?

Division, running from truth, pretending the division isn’t there, has worked well as a national glue if you are a god-father. It kicks the can down the road. Perhaps it’s time we sent Zeus and our forefathers a note. If we want to grow up as a nation, if we want a united people dedicated to ideals like freedom and justice for all, we need to look at our shadow and seek shared truth. Unity is a much better glue than our comfortable age-old division.

We need to cease fleeing into our maladaptive coping mechanism, look at ourselves, our leaders, and, together, begin telling – and expecting – and guarding – some truth.

read Kerri’s blog post on HUNGRY FOR LIES

Stand In Ambiguity [on KS Friday]

Liminality: the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

Here we are, just like you, standing in the in-between place. The liminal space. The previous way is all-but-gone. The new way has not yet arrived.

We did not know in January when she fell and broke both wrists that the fall would signal the beginning of a transition. Therapy was interrupted by a pandemic. Job loss. More job loss. Job reduction. A wet floor, a second fall on an already injured wrist. More disorientation, a step further into uncertainty. “Who will I be if I can’t play?” she asked. Her question has layers. “Who will I be if I can’t play like I used to?” “Who will I be if my hands are no longer the hands that I know?” She has artist’s hands. Musician hands. This is no small question.

Given a whirl of disappearing norms, we are doing well within the ambiguity.

2020 will serve as a marker for all of us. There was a way of life before the pandemic. There was a way of life before the liar-president. New ways will arise. Out of chaos, order. Right now, there is full-press-disorientation.

Our threshold seems to stretch in all directions, inner and outer. Personal and national. Professional and spiritual. The rite, we know, is not yet complete. The ritual wound is still open and hurting. Our only certainty is that we stand in this not-here-not-there place, filled with mostly unanswerable questions, letting go of what-has-been.

Nothing is ever black and white and that is more true now as we slowly turn to face a new way.

IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE on the album RIGHT NOW is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE

it’s not black & white/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood