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

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

Accept What You See [on Flawed Wednesday]

I had the privilege to watch the work of the great Kichom Hayashi. He was a master of the middle way, helping polarized groups find middle ground and shared purpose. I have more than once wondered what Kichom would say about our great national divide.

For someone whose life work has been steeped in the art of “seeing” and perspective flips, I find myself utterly incapable of seeing the perspective of those on the other side. In truth, it’s not that I am incapable, it’s that I believe I already see it and what I see is ugly to the bone.

I remember a heated conversation in 2016 with my dear friend who stands on the opposite side of the divide. Too emphatically I said, “You wouldn’t leave your daughter alone in the same room with this man! How could you vote for him?” To date, 26 women have accused the outgoing president of sexual assault or misconduct. I can’t NOT see that nor can I pretend that it isn’t relevant. Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, my emphatic question to my friend unearthed the crux of the matter. This man has no moral compass. This man is capable of anything.

Standing on my side of the divide, the conversation that pops up again and again is a dilemma that goes something like this: “I want to find common ground but I can’t NOT see what my family, friends, neighbors have embraced.” The list of lies is extensive and pervasive. The corruption is life-long. A scam called Trump University. Bilking donors through his foundation. A businessman, famous for stiffing the working men and women who built his projects, who has been bankrupt six times, is not the biz-wizard he pretends. The emoluments violations are breathtaking. The art of his deal is the art of the swindle and I am utterly mystified at what my loved ones standing on the other side of the crevasse do not see.

And, actually, that sheds light on my fear. I am afraid that they DO see it. That they see it and either don’t care or that they embrace what this man represents. Misogyny. White supremacy. Authoritarianism. Conspiracy theories a-go-go. Fear mongering. Hatred of others. Rob. Rape. Pillage. I can’t NOT see what I know they MUST see.

I’ve provided an excuse for myself, something to make me feel better: they don’t see because they have their heads so firmly thrust into the fox hole. The story that they are being told blinds them. They are filled with info-goop that has all the truth-merit of the National Inquirer. But, in my quiet moments, I have to admit to myself that they must want to eat that bile. Who would choke down so much hatred unless, to them, it tastes good.

I rolled my eyes when my sister repeated the inanity, “There are more COVID cases because they are doing more testing!” I hung up the phone and shouted to the sky, “She can’t be that stupid!” She’s not stupid. She’s caring and loving and works hard in her community to make a better world. So what is it that she doesn’t see? Or doesn’t want to see?

On the other side of the crevasse I hear fear cries of “SOCIALISM” and, again, I roll my eyes. In a nation in which the top 1% holds and controls more of the wealth than the entire middle class, you’ll have to forgive my loud guffaw. “They can’t be that stupid!” I shout from the back deck. They either do not know what socialism is or they cannot SEE what is right in front of them. Or, they don’t care to see it. The slop that they are being fed must taste good. It must feed something inside of them. It certainly profits those who are feeding it to them.

Them. They. It is too easy to fact check what we are being fed. It only takes a moment to investigate media bias. What is it that THEY do not want to SEE?

And, most alarming to me, this is what I SEE: it is not just a difference of opinion that divides us. A difference of opinion orbits a common center of ethical understanding, of moral agreement. Kichom Hayashi could bring seemingly irreconcilable differences to a middle way because he knew the center, the moral compass, was shared.

To my friends and loved-ones, to those that have lined up behind a pathological lie, a gaping virtue-void, I can’t UNSEE it. I can’t justify or pretend there is any merit to the empty center, the grotesque morass of what you embrace. I would never leave my daughter alone in a room with a rapist. I wonder why you would.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNSEEING IT

Simplify [on Flawed Wednsday]

Well, here we are. Counting all the votes. It is our practice, our right and our tradition. While we await a final tally, one thing remains abundantly clear: we couldn’t be more deeply divided. Maybe.

In the months following the 2016 election, Ken Wilber published a small book positing that our division was an evolutionary course correction. We’ve swerved too far into the fields of relative truth – so far, in fact, that there are only personal truths which means that there is no centrally-held value set or moral framework. Thus, we are awash in nihilism and narcissism.

This morning that seems undeniable. The road to integration must pass through a pull in the opposite direction, a course correction. The return to simple truth (make america great again) is what drives the folks in red hats. The irony, of course, is that their chosen champion is one of the great liars of all time. You can’t make this stuff up. The age of relativism and the age of reason are relegating themselves onto the dusty shelf of history and evolving into…

People always recoil when the pace of change announces a new world too fast. Think of this: the Wright brothers first flew a few feet above the ground in 1903. The moon landing happened a mere 66 years later in 1969. In the span of a single lifetime, the entire notion of what it meant to be human changed. We left the planet and looked back at it.

When I was a child and humans were first stepping on the moon, television was black and white, a phone was something with a dial that had a long cord attached. Both needed to be plugged into a wall. People had to gather around “the set” to watch the news. Now, I carry my “phone” in my pocket. It has more computing power than the lunar module. More importantly, I can personalize this magic device. And, to-really-get-to-the-point, my screen is my own. My screen is my own and need not be shared. My truth is my own and need not be shared. In the space of half a lifetime, what if means to be a human community has changed.

The folks in red hats want to pretend that they can go back to simpler times, black and white television, cords on phones, a car in every garage: a world that worked for straight white men but not the rest of the nation. A world of tradition and values. And, need I point out (yes, I do) that their chosen champion is void of anything resembling a value. He assaults our traditions at every turn as he attempts to interrupt the counting of votes, discredit our election process. You can’t make this stuff up.

Simple truth. Simple times.

I’ve learned a new phrase through this election cycle: the diploma divide. The difference between the reds and the blues, as the phrase implies, is education.

Consider this: the simplest of farmers is dependent upon the latest technology. No one is out there harvesting crops with a scythe and mule team. No scientist in the lab or engineer in the factory is growing their own food. Take a stroll through some of the poorest communities in this nation and you’ll find advanced technology. My grandfather could fix his car with a screwdriver and wrench; car mechanics in 2020 fix cars with a computer.

If we can, as Ken Wilber suggests, pull our camera back into outer space and take an honest look at ourselves, we are not as divided in practice as we are in perception.

We need each other. We depend on each other. We are stepping through a transition time, wrestling for our future-identity in rapidly changing times. We can’t go back. We can’t go forward without a shared truth. We need each other now more than ever. We depend upon each other more than ever.

It is that simple.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOGETHER APART

Call It What It Is [on Flawed Wednesday]

If you are disgusted and surprised by the Republican senators’ hypocritical jamming through of the nomination of Amy Coney Barret to the Supreme Court then it’s a good bet you don’t live in Wisconsin. Life in Wisconsin is basic-training for the stomach-turning antics of modern day Republicans. Governance is nowhere on the agenda. If you lived in Wisconsin you’d be utterly surprised if belief in the democratic process was more than bloviated rhetoric by the party in red.

Consider this: in the midst of a global pandemic, with a national economic melt-down erasing jobs and driving folks from their homes, the Wisconsin Republican-led legislature simply refuses to meet. In 195 days they’ve managed to gavel open a few sessions called by the Democratic governor only to gavel them closed seconds later. They simply refuse to debate, collaborate, or compromise (the tools of governance). They’ve only one lonely tool in their sad little tool box: obstruction. They plug their ears and drown out all other voices. They can and do sue with ease, especially when reasonable minds and public health officials try to protect citizens from a deadly virus. The good-old-boys stop the process every time so it should come as no surprise that the seven day average of new cases in Wisconsin has jumped 405% in the past two months. Obstruction has a price.

The Wisconsin Republicans are famous for their 2011 gerrymandering the legislative map. The maps are so egregiously tipped [rigged] for Republican success that fair representation is nigh-on impossible. It’s their ball and they’ll play when they want to – and they’ll only play if they’re guaranteed a win. The Supreme Court is weighing in. Though, on this day, the Supremes, in a 5-3 decision, just ruled against a voter’s right to have mail-in ballots counted in the days following the election. Our neighborhood is pocked with signs demanding fair elections and fair legislative maps. Wish us luck and don’t hold your breath.

If you lived in Wisconsin you’d not be surprised by the shenanigans of the national Republican party that is gifted at obstruction but resistant to participation. The stack of legislation sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk is legendary. In these past four years the red party’s enabling of the-pathological-liar-at-the-helm has undermined our system of governance and given us the sad experience of flailing during a pandemic. Who isn’t sickened to hear yet again “rounding the curve” while the numbers of deaths and infections skyrocket? Who isn’t sickened by the guys-in-ties defending the lie and the liar?

MM recently wrote that he is awakening to the reality that this nation, this government is not what he’s always assumed it to be. I suspect he’s not the only person having that revelation. We are routinely lectured by our leaders about ethics, values, the virtues of moral compass, fair play, responsibility to community. As Hamlet said to Polonius, “Words, words, words.”

Politics are ugly but we are no longer in the arena of politics. For that to be true, Republicans would have to once again believe in the democratic process. They would have to stand by their words.

It could happen. But it’s a good bet it won’t start in Wisconsin.

read Kerri’s blog post about DISHONEST PERIODS

Choose To See [on Flawed Wednesday]

If there are angels, they speak to me through books. Today’s post is a perfect example. We often choose our melange quotes and images a week ahead of time. The point is to NOT know what to write about until we sit down to write. That is the game we play. See what pops up. This morning, I opened Anam Cara, my current slow-read-book, and John O’Donohue’s thought-string could not be a more perfect angel.

“The human eye is always selecting what it wants to see and also evading what it does not want to see. The crucial question then is, What criteria do we use to decide what we like to see and to avoid seeing what we do not want to see?”

I’m hard pressed to find a more appropriate quote for our times. People deciding what they like to see and evading what they do not want to see. In gentler times – in healthier times – people are more willing and capable of challenging their criteria for seeing. Learning, in this sense, is nothing more or less than seeing what was previously unseen. Expanding the criteria.

“Many limited and negative lives issue directly from this narrowness of vision.”

Sadly, we do not live in healthy times. Isn’t it true that our national divide is predicated on NOT seeing? Contraction of thought, reduction of thinking, shrinkage of seeing is the rule of the day. Dedicated narrowness of vision is a necessary prerequisite for clusters of red hats to gather unmasked during a pandemic and cheer for a grifter. Conspiracy theories like Q are only possible when NOT seeing is more vital than seeing. Fox news depends upon viewers dedicated to narrow vision.

“To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed…It is sad that a greedy person can never enjoy what they have because they are always haunted by what they do not possess.”

Leona Helmsley and the current occupant of the White House are doppelgangers. Motivated by “naked greed.” I once directed a version of The Taming of the Shrew that dove headlong into the question of what happens when people try to fill their spiritual void with possessions. The short answer is that they twist and become grotesque. They bloat and become blind. You’ll never find a better image for the “greedy eye” or the current potus than Paul Cadmus painting of Gluttony & Greed.

“This greed is now poisoning the earth and impoverishing its people. Having has become the sinister enemy of being.”

Expanded seeing is the gift given to those who orient on this earth according to what they bring. Narrowness of vision is the result of those who orient on this earth according to what they get. It’s no longer a mystery why we are so divided. It’s now our choice to either see or to evade what is right in front of our eyes.

Read Kerri’s blog post about THE LITTLE PEOPLE

Hear The Echo [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Hitting the road double-haiku:

The sign speaks the truth.

In the last moment of life:

Food with family.

My face, too, will fade

But the laughter will remain.

Echoes across time.

read Kerri’s road trip haiku

Know How To Use It [on Flawed Wednesday]

Kerri has started a new collection of images. It began a few months ago on our walk through Des Plaines. Why did someone discard their mask on the river trail? Her collection is the discarded mask collection.

Look around you. They are ubiquitous. Star Wars masks and smiley faces, Mickey Mouse masks and the garden variety medical mask. They are on sidewalks and in parks. They are in less obvious places like a nature trail.

I suppose a few of the masks in her now vast collection fell from a walker’s pocket. Most were tossed aside. As cultural studies go this one is many layered. We are consumers. Mostly, we know not where our garbage goes as long as it goes away.

Masks, like the people they protect, in these once-united-states, are disposable. That sounds harsh but with every prediction of lives lost, with the daily horror story of rising loss of life, comes a clear caveat: roughly 80% of those who will die, those who have died, would be alive today, will be alive by January, if 95% of us wore masks.

We hear that wearing a mask is an assault on personal freedom and shake our heads.

Many years ago in a facilitation, a person bemoaned that they didn’t have a voice. My business partner asked simply, “If you did have a voice, what would you say?” The person was…speechless. Having a voice is wildly different than knowing how to use it, why to use it. The same is true of personal freedom. We have it but know not how to use it.

And, after all, isn’t that the point? To have freedom requires the responsibility to know how to use it well and to know when…well…you are being used.

read Kerri’s blog post on MASK DISCARDS

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

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