Understand That Little Is More Than Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I think that maybe\ I will be surer\ of being a little nearer.\ That’s all. Eternity\ is in the understanding\ that that little is more than enough.” ~ R.S. Thomas [via Anam Cara by John O’Donohue]

And so our dear H is gone. I have written about him before, about how I learned from him how to age well. To “have a wonderful urgency to live life to the full” [John O’Donohue]. H was a study in wonderful urgency. He did not grow cranky as he grew old. He did not darken his sight with what he could no longer do. He gently pushed the edges of what he could do. He was a master of focus-placement.

I have known many people who proclaim a spiritual life. They are quick to advertise their illumination. They live to stand on the mountain top and call attention to their heights. H was not one of those. He simply lived his faith as he lived his life – without need for acknowledgment or recognition. No trumpet necessary. I suspect that his why I was drawn to him. He was simon-pure. Genuine.

“We’re afraid you’re going to take her from us,” H said to me, more warning than salutation, when I sat next to him in choir. It was my first rehearsal in my first choir and, as an avowed non-singer, I was intimidated. Kerri was the director. She’d recently asked H, at 87 years old, to rap Via Dolorosa. He’d jumped at the challenge and, as I heard the story, performed brilliantly, complete with costume and bling. He and Kerri were thick as thieves.

He guided me through that first rehearsal, laughed when I honked a bad note – which was often, and, by sweet example over time, steered me through my confusion until I found more joy than fear in singing. At the end, as he was moving into his 94th year, just before the pandemic made rehearsals impossible, it was my joy to help him find his place in the music. A perfect circle.

This morning, just before we received the news of his passing, I spent some time in the final pages of Anam Cara. The last words are a Blessing for Death and this phrase struck me: May you live compassionately and creatively and transfigure\ everything that is negative within you and about you. When the news came of his passing, I was certain it was H who’d tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Pay attention to this phrase.” It describes him perfectly. It encapsulates what I believe, H, without words, was trying to teach me. Through compassion and creativity, transfigure everything that is negative within you and about you. That is how to live well and age with wonderful urgency. No trumpet necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about H

Follow The Conversation [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I met Horatio on an airplane. With his wife, Teru, we were seatmates on a flight from Washington D.C. to Seattle. I’d just finished facilitating a workshop at the Smithsonian about story, he was stepping toward directing films, and Teru is passionate about writing life histories. We talked about storytelling clear across the country and our conversation continues to this day.

David and I sat next to each other at a conference. I’d only just moved to Seattle, I knew no one. I saw a sign for the conference and wandered in. It was my good fortune to pick a seat next to a brilliant visual and theatre artist. We started talking about life and art. Years later, every gallery I enter, every play I attend, I have conversations with David in my mind – and hurry home to write him or call him and share what we talked about.

To this day, MM is my greatest collaborator. We used to sit in my office and dream big dreams – and then go out and make them happen. He is the ultimate player-of-infinite-games, playing-to-play. When I need my mind opened, my pot stirred, or my obstacles surmounted, I turn to MM.

I was visiting Tom McK at his ranch. When he asked me to help him tell a story I had no idea that his simple question, the story that he needed to tell, would take more than a decade and would only be possible after his death. His story became my story to tell.

It was Tom’s story that I told to Horatio that day on the flight from D.C. to Seattle. It was multiple good conversations over many years with David about writing plays that finally brought me to clarity. MM was my constant companion. With his band, Mom’s Chili Boys, he composed the music that supported the telling of Tom’s story. He built the world of the play and then, together, we stepped into the world and fulfilled Tom’s request.

Fortuitous seat assignments on a flight. Following an impulse into a conference and taking any old seat. Playing an infinite game. One good conversation, again and again, and nothing will ever be the same.

read Kerri’s blog post about ONE GOOD CONVERSATION

See It For What It Is [on DR Thursday]

In the aftermath of my calls with Horatio I often feel as if I’m descending the mountain, as if I’ve just spent a few precious moments with the wise being sitting at the top. He will no doubt frown at my assertion because, as he says, he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. Pants or no pants, Horatio is clear-seeing. He is in-sight-full.

This morning he interrupted my diatribe about the insurmountable dangers of competing information bubbles. “We have to stop the narrative of polar-opposites,” he said, “We’re not a polarized nation. We’ve been invaded by opportunists.”

His point was simple and distinct: It’s not a two-way street. PBS is not the polar opposite of FOX. CNN is not in an apples-to-apples comparison with the likes of OAN. “PBS has a virtuous intention. CNN has a virtuous intention,” he said, “The same cannot be said of FOX or NewsMax or Limbaugh and all the rest. They are opportunistic predators.”

Waging war on truth for profit is not the same as attempting to report the truth.

Horatio continued, “PBS or CNN might be feckless or inconsistent, they may get things wrong, but they are not predatory. They serve a decent intention and the same cannot be said of FOX.”

“The incentive for hucksterism is vibrant in the United States. Apply game theory,” he quipped. “The incentive for waging war on us and our institutions for personal power, personal gain and financial benefit is great. It’s been with us for a long, long time and is now perfected to a fine art. We are living in a confluence of hucksters.”

Josh Hawley. Lindsey Graham. Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz. And all of those who voted not to certify a legitimate election, even after a violent insurrection on the Capitol driven by their willing support of fabrications. Opportunistic predators all. Yes, a confluence of hucksters.

He paused. “We are not radicals,” he sighed. “We’re not being radicalized. PBS and CNN – the NY Times – are not the ideological polar equivalent of FOX or Limbaugh. They are not attempting to radicalize us or disseminate lies for power, profit or position. We have to stop it. We have to say it differently. The press needs to say it differently. Call it out. The press, the real press, not the hucksters, are keeping the world alive. They’re doing the work and the work is often dangerous. It’s inspiring.” he said. “We are living in a golden age of the press. The real press as distinct from the opportunists, the predators.”

They are not the same. Horatio is right.

After our call I went into the studio to find a painting to use in the Melange, something I’ve not used before. “Use this one,” Kerri recommended. It’s one of many I painted of the same theme. “It’s timely,” she said.

Yes. Timely.

read Kerri’s blog post on the UNTITLED PAINTING

untitled ©️ 2019 david robinson

Play On! [On Merely A Thought Monday]

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“So, this is what a pandemic feels like,” Chris wrote. Yes.

This is what division feels like. Years ago I went to a wedding in the mountains. The grandmother of the bride punched the grandmother of the groom. They wrestled each other to the floor. The band kept playing. It was shocking. It was mesmerizing. The rest of the reception was uncomfortable with explosive undercurrents. That is my metaphor-of-the-day for these United States.

Disruption can be tedious. Disruption can be violent. Disruption is definitely disorienting. Old ladies fist fighting, pulling hair, cussing. The band plays through its set list.

Yesterday’s metaphor happened like this: I broke a storm window. My first thought was an unpublishable version of, “Gee! How did that happen?” My second thought was, “This is exactly what the USA looks like.” An old frame, glass shatters. It sounds like the first line of a haiku. The fault lines in this nation are ubiquitous. Sharp.

There is no fix that will put the pieces back together again. Humpty Dumpty. A new pane of glass must replace the old.

Kerri had a bad day. We passed a local bar and it was packed. She said, “Everyone’s pretending that things are normal!” Her inner rule-follower wanted to know how so many people could be so cavalier about spreading the virus. I reminded her that we live in Wisconsin. The supreme court of our state ruled that to protect each other is unconstitutional. To pretend that there is no virus is the only way they could have arrived at their ruling. So, all the children play follow-the-leader.

Everything is changed. And now we yearn for what we once knew as usual. We crave the typical, long for the familiar routine. “I’ll never take a hug for granted again,” Jen said. Touch. Yes. We remember with longing the ease of touch.

Little miracles. Sitting close to a friend. A dinner party. We don’t know what we have until we do not have it. Isn’t it true that within the ordinary is always found the seed of the extraordinary? And, what, exactly, isn’t extraordinary? Relative to the very few life forms we have discovered in this vast universe, it seems that another day of life on this abundant planet of ours is, out of the chute, more than we should expect. Little miracles. To hold a hand. To walk side-by-side.

What exactly is normal?

Doug was one of my heroes. He was a champion of the misfit, a cheerleader of the unconventional path. As a young man he was a soldier in Vietnam. During his tour, he read poetry to keep himself sane. Another day of life was never guaranteed. It changed him.

He was a challenger to the norm because he believed the norm didn’t exist.  His belief in the unusual made him an excellent teacher. With excessive bluster, he used to say, “I wish somebody would show me this fantasy called the mainstream. Everybody talks about it but I’ve never seen the goddamn thing!”

We saw the sign from the road: A little normal would be nice. Yes. Grandmothers fist fighting. Packed bars in a pandemic. Broken glass. Follow the leader over the edge. The band plays on.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A LITTLE NORMAL

 

 

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Become More [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.” ~ Heraclitus

It’s funny how the smallest thing can set a mind off in a different direction entirely. For instance, it seems the entire nation is asking “What now?” Some are asking the question filled with hope. Some are asking it filled with fear. I had some thoughts to share about what now and before I began to write, I checked my email. There was a note from my mother.

She found him this morning standing on the patio weeping. He couldn’t see the water coming from the sprinkler. He wanted to help her take care of the yard but simply could not see. My father has the double challenge of going blind while also slipping into dementia. He’s pretty far along in both. She wrote that “she is amazed that he is not perpetually angry.” Instead of being angry, he is unbearably kind. He just wants to help. He cries, not because he cannot see, he cries because he cannot see the water. He can’t remember what to do. He cannot help and, somewhere in his increasing darkness, he knows my mother needs his help .

Kerri believes that people don’t change over time, they simply become more of who they’ve been all along. Age reveals our character. I can only hope, as I age, that the character revealed as my control drops away, is as beautiful as my father’s. He is kind. He is kind. He is kind. Each day he steps further into the darkness and he is kind.

What now?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHAT NOW?

 

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Listen To Beaky [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Today we turn our thoughts toward Beaky. A bright light. Five years ago, on this day, she passed away.

Not only does it seem impossible that she died five years ago but it seems more impossible that I only knew her for 18 months. If you were to ask me how long I knew Beaky I’d say, “Forever.” Some people are just like that. Kindred.

She and I were co-conspirators. We plotted strategies – all unsuccessful – to convince Kerri that her natural curls were gorgeous and did not need straightening. She gave me a lesson in applying lipstick and rouge, standing next to her walker, looking into the mirror, popping our lips. After being catheterized, she cautioned me to be careful what I wished for. “When I was young I wished I could pee standing up.” she said. “MOTHER!” Kerri blushed as Beaky winked at me.

Time and again, I was moved by her kindness, her generosity to others. After taking a fall, rushed to the emergency room, writhing in pain, she looked up at the attending nurse and said, ‘You have a beautiful smile.” The role of nurse fell off, the woman flushed pink and was transformed by the compliment. Beaky did that a lot, she hit people with a dedicated kindness when they least suspected it. Her kindness was not manufactured, it was matter-of-fact. It was sturdy,  genuine.

The night before we saw her for the last time, we scoured her house for a blue notebook, the journal she’d kept during a long ago trip through Europe with her husband. Beaky was a recorder of life’s events. Not merely notes, her journals and calendars were threads to a vital time, to living memory. She thought the notebook was lost. When Kerri gave her the journal, Beaky hugged it to her breast and rocked it like it was a long lost child come home.”Oh, you found it! You found it!” she cried.

As we left her that day, she said, as she always did when we departed, “Be kind to each other!” Much more than a salutation, it was an invocation. Be kind to each other.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE

 

 

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Give And Receive [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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DogDog has two distinctly different personalities. In the sunny hours he is high strung, high energy, high joy. He rarely stops moving, circling the yard, circling the rooms of the house, moving his toys from here to there and back again. When it is time to take out the garbage, he delights in clearing the yard of marauding squirrels. I am always well protected when I deliver the trash to the can.

At night, our energizer-bunny-of-a-dog collapses. He gently herds us into the living room and, if we sit, even for a moment, he believes that his people are securely in the pen and he is off duty for the day. He punches out,  settles on the cool floor and is asleep in a nanosecond. In that moment he is transformed into ‘sweet dog.’

Rather than serving as the protector, sweet dog is a sponge for affection. If we move, stand, cross the room, cough,… he rolls onto his back, availing himself for a belly-belly. Sweet dog does not bark. Sweet dog knows our nighttime travel patterns and is somehow always positioned in our path. Sweet dog is a no-apology opportunist.

High joy. Sweet. Giver. Receiver. Both are qualities to be admired.

At night, before he retires to his crate, he waits for us on the foot of our bed. We spend several minutes loving on him. He gives himself over completely to our affection. It is among my favorite rituals of the day to heap love on DogDog before putting him in his crate.

I read once that the phrase “unconditional love” was redundant. The quality that makes love love is the absence of condition. If what we call “love” comes with qualifiers or expectations then it is not love at all. It is something else.

High joy. Sweet. Love (unconditional). I am always, everyday, in awe of this furry teacher and mostly grateful that he is endlessly patient with the glacial pace of his student.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGDOG SLEEPING

 

 

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Pick Your Star [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Mike Libecki is a mountain climber. He calls the necessary suffering of his sport pre-joy. “That way,” he explains, “I get to use the word joy in all of my sentences.” There’s joy at the summit. There’s pre-joy on the way up. It’s not a bad orientation to life, everything is relative to joy.

Skip’s meditation these days is on resilience. After a horrific car accident, he has more than a few tales of pre-joy. He has even more tales of joy. Human beings have a remarkable capacity to choose their stories, to orient to a path that is life-giving or to collapse their story into a state of no-joy. Skip chose resilience. The capacity to recover. To spring back in order to spring forward. Pick your star and sail toward it. That is Skip’s lesson to me.

Judy just wrote a book, Summoned By A Stroke. It is the blog posts she wrote to her community of support after her husband, Kim, suffered a major stroke. It is a remarkable testament to the invincibility of the human spirit when it intentionally orients to joy. It is also pays homage to the magnetic pull joy has on a community. There is  no attempt in Judy’s story to deny the pre-joy; there is a deep understanding that there would be no real joy without it.

During my Seattle years, when I was feeling blue, I would jump on the ferry to Bainbridge Island to visit Judy and Kim. This man wrecked by a stroke and, my friend, Judy, his wife, never failed to lift my spirits, to fill me up with laughter. More than once, on the return ferry, I would sit in utter amazement. I told myself that I should be bringing comfort and support to them but the opposite was, in fact, the case. What I experienced with them was beyond words. So much joy. If there is a place where pre-joy and joy blend together, Judy and Kim inhabited it. Today, this is Judy and Kim’s lesson to me:

“Kim and I are learning that happiness is not about what we do or where we go but how loving we are in relationships, how open and curious we are about where we find ourselves, and how inventive we can be with what we are given.” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke

 

read Kerri’s blog post on PRE-JOY/JOY

 

 

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Ask A Simple Question [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Here’s a very sexy beginning to a blog post: this morning I read that sales of durable goods in these United States are up .06%. Stoves. Washing machines. Dryers. It is a dubious statistic. The week before our wedding, our washing machine AND dryer died. The nice salesman at the appliance store, an older man, began his sales pitch with reminiscence. “I remember when we actually made good products built to last. Now we make crap built to fall apart.” The next 45 minutes was a lesson in what’s built to break in 5 years or less. He steered us away from more appliances than he tried to sell. It was eye opening.

“Durable” goods, these days, are built to be less than durable. They are built to be replaced. They are built to be thrown away. They are built to produce nice looking economic statistics. [note: Kerri and I have and still cook on a stove that is at least 40 years old. It looks like hell but works like a dream. It was built in the era before planned obsolescence was considered a consumer best-buy]. The seedy dark side of our consumer culture is 1) the mountains of refuse we leave behind and 2) how rarely we turn and look at the consequences of our consumption.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch , one of five garbage patches gyrating around our oceans, is at least twice the size of Texas and growing. When I was in graduate school I took a class about my city and the environment. Like me, none of my classmates knew what happened to our trash. None of us knew our watershed. None of us knew how our trash impacted our water.  We take our refuse to the curb. It goes away. Magic!

Where does it go? The latest National Geographic Magazine (12.2019) has an eye-opening article on our addiction to plastics and the pollution/environmental devastation it creates. One of the chief denials of the modern era is that humans are somehow separate from the environment in which we exist. We can do whatever we want to do to “it” and “it” will have no impact on “us” at all. According to the story, we are above it all. And, as is true of all denial tales, we either wake up and reorient or we hold fast to our delusion and drown as the unsinkable ship goes down.

Speaking into steadfast denial often requires a new, courageous, and unlikely voice. Enter Pattie Gonia, an environmental advocate drag queen. A modern berdache.  A powerful presence, an artist, standing in the trash, wearing the trash, asking (and answering) a very simple question: what do we have to lose?

 

 

Watch this short documentary to learn more about EVERYTHING TO LOSE and PATTIE GONIA:

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERYTHING TO LOSE

 

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Eat The Marshmallows [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I know it’s confusing. In my life there is H, also called Horatio. And then there is H, not Horatio at all, but a 93 year old man who is one of the few elders in my life that did not grow angry with age. H grew sweeter with time, and, therefore, wiser. He is my master teacher in how to age with joy.

I sit next to H in choir. He loves to sing. He has been singing his entire life and, so, he is easy in his voice. Ease of voice. I suspect that’s one of the main reasons he has such ready access to his humor. He isn’t trying to keep his voice down. He’s not editing himself or otherwise tying off his expression. He’s paid attention to keeping his creative channels open and free flowing. He wheels in with his walker, drops his coat, and teeters to-and-fro before dropping into his chair with a giggle. Even sitting down has become an oddity and rather than grouse about it, he smiles. “Made it!” he announces after hitting the chair with a thud.

‘Yes,’ I think to myself, ‘You made it.’ We should all make it like H.

I know H has had tragedy in his life. I know he had and continues to have a hard road. He sings in a church choir but I accuse him of being a secret Buddhist, so joyfully is he participating in the sorrows of the world.

Picasso famously said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” H has made of his life a great painting that even Picasso would enjoy. He has circled back to the child, the innocent appreciation of the great gift of living.

There are no lines of import in H’s coloring book and he inspires me to take out my great big Jethro Bodine bowl and fill it full with Lucky Charms. Pour the milk! Why wait.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about H

 

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