Stand On Any Street Corner [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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For reasons that are beyond my pay-grade to comprehend, human beings are obsessed with seeing conflict and division. The news of the day is generally antagonistic and despair-inducing – and that is not unique to our day. Ancient temples and modern televisions alike are overrun with images of war and hostility.

One of the greatest powers a human being can achieve is the power of focus placement. ‘Seeing’ is, after all, a matter of choice.  It is not passive. In any given moment there are multiple points of focus, there are multiple stories, there are many interpretations to choose from.

Stand on any street corner and watch the world happen. Watch the overwhelming number of acts of kindness and generosity. The small moments of simple kindness and consideration. They are everywhere. People giving way, making way, helping. You will be surprised to find that the kindnesses by far outnumber the rudeness, the antagonism.

Stand on any street corner and watch where your focus goes. In the midst of a tsunami of kindness, if you are human and like all other humans, your focus will be captured by the angry guy honking his horn, the commuter shouting at the bus driver. “Such an angry world,” you think and close your eyes, despairing. Anger is so much louder than kindness.

Tell a story of discord, see a story of discord. Practice a story of discord, live a story of discord. Discord is easily leveraged. Division is easily sold. It is like selling candy to a kid. It is readily chiseled into pillars and hungrily read into teleprompters.  It is so easy to see.

Tell a story of kindness, see a story of kindness. Practice a story of kindness, live a story of kindness. Although it is more readily available it is, somehow, more difficult to see. It is less sell-able and, so, is discarded as trite. It requires choice and discernment rather than default. It requires opening your eyes and your story to what is actual, what lives beyond the thundering chorus of conflict-peddlers.

The angry shooters and tweet-happy presidents live on the far margins yet they garner the majority of the attention. Stand on any street corner and open your eyes. There is a sweeping quiet kindness that permeates the vast majority, that defines the middle ground. You can see it if you so choose.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

 

 

 

 

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Go To The Grocery Store [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Last week we went to the grocery store and had a conversation in every aisle. Such is the virtue of a small community.

Gossip: unconstrained conversation about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as true.

This week went to the grocery store to buy bananas and no one would talk to us, including the cash register clerk. It was our first hint that something was up!

Rumor: a currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth.

Before an hour had passed, we heard rumor of our offense. It was egregious and downright offensive! It was an affront to the old school islanders. It was, above all, simply not true. Such is the vice of a small community.

Inflate: to fill with air.

As we stood in the middle of the swift moving undercurrent, players jockeying to be the most offended, we watched and listened as our abuse swelled. It took on epic proportions. Such is the nature of hearsay, regardless of the size of community.

We, of course, realized that our little island is a microcosm of an ailing nation. People believing what they want to believe. People eating gossip like sugar and growing fat on a diet with no substance. Gossip is toxic. It is, as an acquaintance used to say, like eating poison and expecting the other person to die.

We collected the names topping the list of the recently-rumored-offended and called them. Nothing interrupts gossip like facing it directly. We made some new friends.

This morning we went to the grocery store and had some nice conversations. Such is the fickle affection of a small community. Grace is good and the sands are ever-shifting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SNEEZING

 

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Feed The Fable [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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DogDog is a furry beast. He sheds like a champion. I vacuum every other day to stay ahead of the fur onslaught. In my defense I can only say that it is not my vacuum. We are guests in our little house. I realized too late that the vacuum cleaner bag was full. I realized too late that the replacement bag in the cupboard was the wrong size. I learned too late that, here on island, the mercantile doesn’t carry vacuum bags. I now know that Amazon will have new vacuum bags delivered to us by Tuesday, a full five days after my first vacuum revelation.

While we await the arrival of the bags, Kerri has placed a strict moratorium on visitors entering our little house. No one is permitted to see the mess. When someone walks up our driveway, we meet them in the yard. We steer them around the little house to the lake side chairs. We chirp with anxiety if they make a step toward the house.

I suspect we are not the only people who chirp, who sweep things under the rug, turn the lights low when guests are on the way, clean the house before the cleaners come. Once, on my honey-do list, was this: clean house before the electrician arrives. I did. The electrician, a nice young man, worked in a spotless environment. He inhabited and fully participated in our illusion of clean.

You know who your friends are when you allow them beyond the curtain of clean, when you permit them to see what’s behind THAT door in the basement. You really know who your friends are when they return from the clutter zone and say things like, “It wasn’t that bad,” or “I didn’t even see any piles of stuff.” Your real friends, the people that really love you, support you in your illusions. Or, is that delusions? Either way, thanks Dan. We’re glad you returned from the basement to tell the fable.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BASEMENT

 

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Turn It Around [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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There are moments in your life when you suddenly realize that the world has changed. One of those moments for me happened many years ago in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. My introduction to selfies. I watched with confusion as people waited in line to take a selfie with Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night. Most of the selfie-takers didn’t actually look at the painting. The painting was secondary to the desire to be photographed with a famous thing. At first – this is a true story that seems ridiculous from a 2019 vantage point – I thought I was watching a piece of performance art, a brilliant statement of personal inflation and value reduction. Instead, my head spun as I realized I was, in fact, witnessing a museum full of people fundamentally missing the art in pursuit of a look-at-me-moment. It was my very own personal harbinger of the coming narcissistic tsunami.

Kerri showed me an article in the news. People wading into the waters of a toxic lake to take selfies. The water is aqua blue, made so by the industrial chemicals poured into the lake. Even though the lake water can burn skin, getting the selfie is more important. What impressed me most about the article was how dulled I was to it, how completely ordinary it seemed.

Culture is blind to itself. We live in the age of the Tide pod challenge, Facebook and Instagram streams, media echo chambers. Narcissism normalized and celebrated. Consumed by self. Image.

‘It is a strangely narcissistic world,” Kerri said, closing her news app. Yes. It is. Strange. And, it turns out that I was right all those years ago. It is a performance art piece with everyone producing and broadcasting their own image.  Image inflation. Value(s) reduction. Made up importance. And the art? Andy Warhol had it almost right. Everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes, one post at a time, but the world in which they celebrate their fame will be of their own creation.

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A NARCISSISTIC WORLD

 

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guilty as charged! we, too, are expressions of our culture.

 

Hold It Lightly [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Roll this description around in your thought-bowl:

“The Spoon River Anthology, a sequence of free verse epitaphs spoken from [the occupants of] the cemetery of the town of Spoon River. When the collection first saw publication in 1915, it caused a great sensation because of its forthrightness about sex, moral decay, and hypocrisy…”

We saw a snippet of Spoon River performed last week at our new artistic home, TPAC. It’s almost impossible to see even a bit of Spoon River and not realize how fragile and temporary is life. It’s a not-so-subtle poetry-reminder that most of what we think is sooooooo important is, in fact, a tilt at windmills. In its forthrightness, its perspective on hypocrisy and moral decay, we found Spoon River to be remarkably contemporary.

Tom told me that he always used Spoon River to teach his beginning actors. “It’s all there,” he said, “All of it!”

He read a piece from the anthology at his great aunt Bunty’s funeral. It takes life to love life. After Tom’s death, Kerri and I performed the same piece in my play THE LOST BOY, a script derived from interviews with Tom. Words that end the first act. Words that described Bunty. Words that Tom adored:

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It’s the best of paradoxes. Kerri and I remind each other everyday that our work, our artistry is not nearly as important as we think it is. We remind each other to hold it all lightly. And in holding it lightly, we open the door to experience it richly. To laugh rather than resist. To know, that we will, one day, populate a plot on the hill, and the only thing that will have mattered is that we paid attention and participated in our moment, that we loved the little bit of life that we had.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DUST

 

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Use Both Ears [On Merely A Thought Monday]

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When I was young and upset about an issue I can no longer remember, Tom tempered me with this question: “Is this the hill you want to die on?”

Another time, still young, I was very angry, and on a warm spring day in the central valley, Arnie sat with me on the grass and listened to my tale of woe. I wanted to write a letter expressing my discontent. He nodded and, in his gentle way, taught me that sometimes it is sometimes necessary to express yourself because you need to express yourself and for no other reason: “Write it because you need to say it, not because they need to hear it,” he said. This morning, as I write this, I can’t for the life of me remember what made me so angry.

Quinn taught me that there are seven billion people with me on this earth and not a single one cares about what I look like or what I think. Like me, they are invested in what they look like, what they think.

They do care, however, that I listen. Isn’t it the case so often in this life that the opposite of what we believe is actually where the power lives? Aren’t we under siege in a raging war of opinions, a constant bombardment of competing points-of-view? So many mouths and not a single ear in the mix.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what made me so angry on those days so long ago. I can’t remember the hill I chose not to die on. What seemed so important was, in truth, not even worth remembering. I do, thankfully, remember the sage advice of so many mentors, teachers and friends. I’m so grateful that in the midst of my red hot self-righteousness, I was capable of listening.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EARS AND MOUTHS

 

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Begin [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Let the adventure begin – if we were all illuminated, this would be the mantra beginning each day. Every day a new beginning. Everyday an unknown. Stepping boldly into each day as a discovery rather than a known, a dry list of tasks to complete.

However, we are –  I am – not illuminated, so this declaration of adventure is saved for the days when the ships course is set to find the earth’s edges, when there are obvious impossible mountains to climb.

Today, Kerri and I begin a new adventure. We’ve moved for the season to Washington Island, Wisconsin. We are, as of midnight, the co-managing directors of The Trueblood Performing Arts Center. We have no idea what that means – the word “manage” implies that the systems are in place, the root is established, and that is certainly not the case.  The challenges are truly unique. They are island challenges. Dials need spinning. Perspectives need flipping. New paths need exploring.

The community is special. Welcoming. And, although art on this island is valued and appreciated, the community sits atop the hierarchy. People help people. People celebrate people. The island turns out when there is a triumph to cheer or a loss to mourn. That is what makes this place, this island, special. The fabric of the community is intact.

A new beginning. We have many, many lists but hold no illusions that what lies ahead is known, containable. It is lively. It is, in every way, an adventure.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about The Adventure

 

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