Start Thinking [on DR Thursday]

“As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists, who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny, ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”‘ ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Any day now I’m going to watch the 1976 movie, Network. It’s the film equivalent of a crystal ball to our current predicament. A veteran news anchorman loses it on air, threatens to kill himself, but instead goes on a full-blown rant. The network’s ratings skyrocket. An ambitious producer recognizes and exploits the opportunity by creating more and more outrageous programming. Fact falls prey to profitable fiction sold as truth. Ratings imperatives eclipse the north star of accuracy-in-reporting. Roger Ailes created his Fox News Network on the same premise; no veracity necessary. People like a good train wreck, just ask Jerry Springer. It is why the nation is so divided. The blues use news to sort out the lies; the reds use lies to siphon off the truth.

“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley‘s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” ~Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death before Facebook and Twitter were glimmers in their inventors’ eyes, before the internet hit the personal computer, before multiple channels on cable networks. We have, as Postman wrote, an infinite appetite for distraction with nary a need for honesty. And, as we are witnessing, distraction has arrived in the halls of Congress. We’ve now a party in government that actively shuns verity and raises funds on peddling fallacy.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.” Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death.

We are a nation that finds itself at risk. In my post yesterday I wrote that I no longer wonder how a society can willingly and knowingly take itself down. We have front row seats. And yet, the road to our recovery is as simple (and as difficult) as a collective valuing of the truth over ratings or poll numbers or bubbles. We worship at the wrong altar. We are inundated with info-dross. We would be better off if ratings plummeted every time a pundit ranted, a politician bullied, or a commentator lied. We’d be better off if thinking, if fact-checking, was a prerequisite to posting or tweeting or speaking. We’d find ourselves in a shared center, a place of possibility built on a generous commitment to probity.

“For in the end, he [Huxley] was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in ‘Brave New World’ was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

read Kerri’s much more positive post on LEARNING FROM TV

Weigh The Actions [on DR Thursday]

“Look K.dot!” I said, “Everything will be ok!” We saw it writ large on a wall as we drove into Chicago.

I’m generally a positive guy and usually side with DogDog but lately I’m lining up with BabyCat. Because we read it on the wall, because we wish it was true, does not make it so.

These days I think we are in trouble.

Never in my life did I think I’d see an entire political party stoop to the 3rd grade level of “The Dog Ate My Homework” style excuses. Their Big Lie, as we all know, as was witnessed by the entire world, led to an insurrection, a violent attempt to overturn our election. Apparently the crowd was infiltrated by rabid liberals, there’s heaps of evidence of election fraud if only the dog hadn’t eaten it. The wicked cabal of baby-eating Democrats that dug a maze of tunnels under the Capitol – one spoonful at a time, Shawshank Redemption style, so no one noticed, is to blame.

It’s an accountability-free-zone with nary a brain cell to be found anywhere. Or spine. Or ethic. Or reality.

It would be fantastically funny were it not so scary. It’s a plot that John Grisham would have tossed out as too absurd yet, here we are. Childish minds hang onto lies when confronted with truths. They double down. I did, when I was ten years old and was caught with my hand in the cookie jar. I swore to the end that my older brother made me do it even though he was not home at the time. I’d maintain my excuse to this day except that I grew up. I learned, in growing up, that it is best to address the truth rather than double down on a lie.

Yesterday we saw the Grand Old Party fall yet another notch. Blame. Demonize. Their lie-loud-or-go-home pact is very much intact. Even an insurrection, an assault on their very lives and the Constitution they swore to uphold will not leverage an iota of responsibility or truth from their ranks. “The neighbor kids came in the house and broke the vase! It wasn’t me. I swear it.”

James Russell Lowell wrote that “all the beautiful sentiments of the world weigh less than a single lovely action.”

Do not get lost in the words. Pay attention to the actions.

The Oregon legislature joined the Arizona legislature who joined the Republican Senators in their “false flag,” it’s-not-our-fault, “Elvis-made-us-do-it” campaign. Action: to blame. Action: to excuse. Action: to deflect. They magnify their excuses through the fox. The dog ate my homework. The socialists are coming! We, the righteous, were infiltrated, by evil-doers and not responsible for our actions. They made us do it!

Lying is an action.

And the child-minded listen and fume and point their fingers, erect their gallows, and beat the police with their flags. That is the point of the lie. Action: to incite.

Action: to retain power at all cost.

At all cost. The cost is mighty and it is not okay. Just because it is writ large on the wall does not make it so.

I’m with BabyCat. I think we are in trouble.

read Kerri’s more uplifting post about OK

shared fatherhood 2 ©️ 2017 david robinson

Feed The Mantra [on KS Friday]

As part of the 2020 census, Kerri and I were randomly selected to participate in a healthcare questionnaire. On first glance this might seem worse than a spoon full of castor oil but we were excited because the system of healthcare in America has been ruinous to us. There isn’t a single life decision that we make that doesn’t run through the fractious draconian system we mistake for health care [note: the good people who populate the system, the nurses and doctors and technicians are remarkable. My barb is meant for the money machine that intercepts our capacity to create a system that places the health of the citizens as central to the mission].

We spent an hour on the phone with a lovely woman who asked us multiple choice questions that were carefully written to avoid any real data. When she asked us if, over the last 12 months, we’d experienced anxiety, hopelessness, or depression, we burst out laughing. She laughed, too. “Was our level of anxiety high, somewhat high, moderate, little, or very little?” We answered with more laughter and she said, “Well, I have to ask!”

I told her the story of taking Kerri to the hospital the night she broke her wrists. Wrapped up like a mummy, in great pain, we sat for several minutes in the parking lot staring at two doors. The first led to the emergency room and would, no doubt, also lead to bankruptcy. The second door led to urgent care and perhaps an inability to care for a pianist with two broken wrists. We debated our choices for several long minutes. Keep in mind, we have healthcare. It is more expensive than all of the rest of our bills combined. And, we are afraid to use it.

“Have you avoided treatment or refused treatment in the anytime in the last 12 months because of cost?”

“Yes.”

We told the lovely woman conducting the questionnaire how much our premiums actually cost and she gasped. Literally. “I had no idea,” she muttered. Her job provides healthcare.

We access our coverage through the misnomer, Affordable Care Act. It provides a supplement so we can actually “afford” our coverage but access also comes with a cliff. It’s constructed like a cage. It’s an all or nothing abyss that prevents us from earning a living. We cannot earn enough to pay our bills because we’d have to jump a mighty-premium-reimbursal-crevasse to make enough money to survive the cliff. Catch-22. It’s why I stopped showing or selling my paintings; a single extra dollar could have pushed us over. Our get-out-of-jail-free-card? A job with healthcare.

For a moment, the lovely woman winced and was silent on the other end of the phone. “There’s no space to put this information,” she said. “I’ll put it in the notes at the end,” she said to herself. We knew, all three of us, that no one will ever read the notes.

We left the questionnaire disappointed but affirmed in our belief that nothing will change anytime soon. Our fatal blind spot in these perhaps-soon-to-be-united-states is that we think everything needs to run like a business. It’s why our schools fail. It is why our prisons are over populated. Market forces come with levers that work well if you are selling electronics but are debilitating if your are trying to educate children or provide accessible healthcare to a citizenry. I’ve seen many, many arts organizations and other not-for-profits enter a death spiral when a “well-meaning” board member insists that the organization run like a business. Apples cannot be oranges.

We feed each other a not-insignificant mantra these days. This is where we are. Let’s not miss this day. Rise above the circumstance. Each day, new. Let’s live, fully live, right here, Right Now.

RIGHT NOW and all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post on EACH NEW DAY

each new day/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Adapt Or Not [on Merely A Thought Monday]

One of Kerri’s 2020 photo series is of discarded masks. I thought it odd the very first time we saw a mask tangled in the weeds on the side of the trail. I also thought it odd that Kerri jumped to take a picture of it. “Things you never thought you’d see!” she proclaimed after capturing her image.

Over these past several months her collection of images has grown exponentially. She adds to it almost daily. Masks in gutters. Masks on sidewalks. Masks in parking lots. Trail side masks left dangling from branches. Masks in aisle 9 near the peanut butter. What was peculiar a few months ago has become normalized. “Another mask!” she says and kneels to take a snap. I barely notice.

A new normal.

I’ve read that homo sapiens are a successful species because of our ability to adapt to changing environments. I’ve also read that entire cultures have vanished off the face of the planet because of their (our) ability to habituate the extreme – that is, adapt – to behaviors that collapse their (our) environment. Frogs in a pot. Just watch what happens to a cohesive community when the well runs dry or the fuel source is exhausted. Just watch what happens as the planet warms and weather-weirding becomes more dire. Fire season never ends. Hurricane season stretches on and on – we adapt our system for counting them because there are too many for the old system to contain.

We are not the first homo sapiens to deny what is right in front of our eyes. Denial, after all, is a cousin to adaptation.

Pandemics rage. People travel en masse for the holidays with no regard to the appeals of healthcare workers or the pleas of the CDC. Individual rights exercised at the expense of neighbors lives. Homo sapiens are capable of denying that they are a social animal. It’s romantic, this illusion of cowboys going it alone. An intentional snub of greater responsibility. Peeing in the pool.

It-is what-it-is. A new normal.

Each day we pass people on the trail. There are two distinct groups. Those with masks who pull them up when they encounter others. And, those without. “People who don’t give a sh*t,” Kerri whispers. The dividing line couldn’t be more apparent.

“Things I never thought I’d see,” I say. After a moment, I add, “You should take out your camera and start a new series. People incapable of adaptation!”

“We’d have to get releases, we’d have to get their permission” she says, always the practical one. Then, cutting to the heart of the matter, she said, “Besides, they’re not that interesting. People who don’t care are sooooo much less interesting than people who do care.”

Adapting to new circumstances – wearing a mask – is an act of caring. “Yes,” I sigh, suddenly understanding her mask photo series. Lost or discarded caring. It’s ubiquitous. It’s normalized.

Somehow, I manage to find her mask series hopeful. Some truths, like kindness – like caring, are universal. The lost masks are evidence. The litter of caring is everywhere.

The ancient norms eventually float to the top. The heat of the fire always – eventually – wakes us up or brings us together. Or we boil. We collapse. We persevere. We divide. We unite. We take a new form. We evolve.

Everything is different now. Nothing new.

read Kerri’s blog post about BECAUSE

Welcome The New Day [on KS Friday]

Strip the religiosity out of the word ‘Alleluia’ and you’re left with its essence: a sunrise. Pure and simple.

Last year – a decade ago – Kerri needed a song for her cantata. She noodled for a few minutes. There was a phrase. A line of music. The next day she said, “What about this?” She played and sang. Magic. I took out my phone and recorded it. “Someday,” I tell her, “someday we’ll record it in a studio.”

She sings of our broken lives, our shattered hearts. Strip the religiosity from it and her song is about tension seeking resolution. Natural order. Basic physics. Broken lives and shattered hearts seek wholeness. Sunrise. A new day. Pure and simple.

Joy does not have to complicated. No symphonic soundtrack necessary. No fireworks required. Yesterday, after spending a few moments with her son in Chicago, we drove the back roads home. It was dark. Gently snowing. She was heart-warm after having received the single item on her wish list. A few moments. No more. No less. Joy, like the first quiet rays breaking over the horizon, announcing a new day.

Years ago, decades ago, standing in the self-made-wreckage of my life, I sent a change of address card to friends so they’d know where I was. An arrow pointing to the earth. “I’m here,” it read.

We’re here. A new day. Pure and simple. Alleluia.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU’RE HERE

you’re here ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

rest now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Walk To The Fence [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“When people disliked each other or wanted to damage each other, they often did it through destroying the person’s harvest. This is the world of pisreoga.” ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

Pisreoga is a Celtic term and lives beyond the reach of Google. It is ancient. The desire to do damage to others who are different or disliked is also ancient. Destroy their harvest. Define them as less than human. Erect obstacles to their participation or power. Starve them.

It’s exhausting.

In Rolling Stone, Wade Davis wrote these words in early August: “In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.”

Four months on, now more than 3,000 Americans are dying everyday. Our death rates and infection rates soar while our government proves itself again and again to be dysfunctional and incompetent each and every day. Our citizenry is divided with several million growing fat on a diet of delusion and misinformation. Our insatiable hunger for misinformation – to believe the worst with nary a fact check or thought-stop – is our nation’s Achilles’ Heel. It poisons our harvest. Our gullibility poisons us.

What is going on? The world of pisreoga.

It’s a precarious community in which neighbors, out of vindictiveness, destroy each other’s harvest. No one thrives when no one can be trusted. Poisoning the neighbor’s harvest eventually – and always – blows back. All are poisoned. The harvest of a poisoned community is its unraveling.

That is what is going on. An emperor with no clothes. Red-hatted-screamers riding the Titanic of party loyalty all the way to the bottom; a nation goes with it. Oaths-of-office that mean absolutely nothing. Sowing the seeds of doubt and misinformation as a tactic to retain power. Useful idiots signing on to garbage lawsuits, undermining the very harvest they were sworn to protect, cheering for a bloated naked ego.

Pisreoga. A failed state. To obstruct. To do damage. To destroy the harvest rather than deal with the realities, rather than walk to the neighbor’s fence and say, “We have a problem. Can we talk?”

read Kerri’s blog post about WHAT IS GOING ON?

Train Your Doubt [on DR Thursday]

tango with me, mixed media, 39 x 52IN

The other night I dreamed I was giving a commencement speech to a class of young artists. I stared at them, looked at my prepared notes, folded them, and told the crowd of curious faces that I had absolutely nothing of value to say. I asked them what advice they would give to me? What would they tell an artist on the other end of the life-road? What wisdom would they share with me? What could they tell me about the artist’s path?

The caps and gowns stared back at me.

Rilke wrote in his Letters To A Young Poet that, “…your doubt may become a good quality if you train it. It must become a way of knowing, it must become critical. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it,…”

My father is in his last lap. Each day, when I get angry or scared or upset or frustrated, I imagine myself sitting at his bedside. I ask him, “Did anything you were ever afraid of really matter?” He doesn’t need to say anything. He knows I already know the answer.

What would I say if, sitting at his bedside, he looked at me and asked, “What can you tell me about living life?”

read Kerri’s blog post about TANGO WITH ME

tango with me ©️ 2018 david robinson

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

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

See The Break [on KS Friday]

a double haiku:

She crawled in the tube,

face down, arm above her head.

Magnetic portrait.

Miraculous hand,

as seen from the inside-out.

Tiny bone, big soul break.

read Kerri’s MRI haiku

Kerri’s music – what she makes with her hands – is available on iTunes