Blink Open Your Eyes [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In an interview, Thomas Friedman called what we now face in this nation a “slow erosion.” Societies do not collapse all at once. They slow boil, frog in a pot.

Timothy Snyder said, ‘Ideas matter.” After all, ideas become action. Ideals matter, too. Democracy is an idea. It is not a given. Those who erode its foundation must believe it is inevitable, otherwise they would think twice before perpetuating The Big Lie, brazenly participating in sedition. Make no mistake, justifying an assault on the succession principle is to turn against the fundamental idea. Democracy is nothing more or less than a succession principle. Ideas matter.

Slow erosion. Slow boil.

Watching the news, reading the streams, there’s not much more that can be said after the court’s assault on a woman’s right to choose what happens with her body. Equality is an ideal. It is not a given. We not only have to choose it, we have to choose it again and again and again. Equality is a kind of power structure. It is the rhetorical central idea of our society.

And, so, we work on and on to make our central ideal more than rhetoric. We fought a war over inequality. We actively chose our central ideal with equal rights amendments. Early in our history, we chose it when we extended the vote beyond white male land owners. We chose it again when we prevented government from dictating what a woman could and could not do with her body. Equal rights.

Equality scares those who stand atop the hierarchy, who believe their privilege is their power. Ask Ginni Thomas what drives her sedition? Ask her husband Clarence why, now that the nation has rendered women second-class citizens, we now must revisit the rules of contraception and same-sex marriage? Ask Mitch McConnell about his life-long mission to pack the courts. What, exactly, might they be afraid of? Why are they working so hard to undermine rather than further democratic ideals? Why are they choosing to restrict equal rights while pushing forward autocratic candidates with authoritarian ideals?

My grandfather told me it was wiser to listen to a person’s actions and not their words.

Ideas, ideals – like equality – are powerful and made visible in chosen actions. Tom used to say that you can see the power of an idea by “the size of the tide that rises against it.” Right now there is a mighty tide rising against the democratic ideal of equality and the core principle of succession. It’s not a given. We are seeing what happens when the guardians of the principle turn against it. Slow erosion. Robbed nest.

The good news is that Tom’s phrase works both ways: you know the power of an idea by the size of the tide that rises to defend the idea.

Timothy Snyder also said that we have recently been a nation of sleepwalkers. Democracy is not inevitable. It is a choice made again and again and again. We create it on a daily basis through our choices and actions – or we lose it. Perhaps this latest assault on the ideal will wake us up? Perhaps we might blink open our eyes and realize that, as the stewards of the democratic ideal, we’d best start choosing to walk toward it rather than allow this minority, that so fears the power of equality, to continue their assault on the right to choose.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROBBING ROBIN’S EGGS

Experience It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Dogga was fast asleep just outside the back door. The early morning air was cool and the sun was shining on the deck. He found the perfect spot for a re-pouch.

I was concerned because his usual morning habit is to raise a ruckus and run in circles. His silence brought me to the back door. I was so surprised to find him sleeping that I was at first concerned but the morning was so still, so unusually quiet, that I, too, felt overcome by the peace of it all. I watched him sleep. I wanted to lay down in the sun and cool air and enjoy the rare moment.

Kirsten was here for the weekend. She and Dogga have a special bond. He was laying at her feet; sleepy eyes bobbing. I told her that Dogga was just beginning to have some old-dog behaviors. More naps. Sometimes he allows the squirrels to run across the yard without a chase. He’ll be nine years old soon.

There’s a phrase that’s recently popped up several times in my reading. The purpose of life is to experience life. I thought about that on Saturday night. Kerri was inside prepping for dinner and Kirsten was upstairs. I sat on the back deck to watch the waning light. Dogga came and rested his head on my shoulder.

There are moments that you want the world to stop, moments that you want to rest in, drink deeply and savor, yet you know they are special because they are passing. That particular combination of loves will never again coalesce in just this way. A snowflake .

The purpose of life is to experience life. In all of its snowflake forms. Fully. Deeply.

[Jim Seals passed this week. His passing has Kerri singing We May Never Pass This Way Again]

read Kerri’s blog post about WE MAY NEVER…

Unearth Your Modtro [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Our latest late-night binge is Bad Hikers. An adorable young couple hiking the John Muir Trail. Never have two people hiked the JMT in such modtro style. Goth meets urban chic. They are at home in their style, comfortable in their bodies, so they are both unaffected and affected at the same time. Glimmers of Mad Max on the JMT. I love it. Their spirit inspires us.

William Blake is another in the canon of artists unrecognized during his lifetime but now considered a creative titan, one of the great artists of the Romantic era. His contemporaries thought he was crazy because he was not like them. He stood out and no amount of hammering would make him fit the mold.

In the dance between the conservative and the creative impulses, the conservative will always claim the safe ground, plant their flag in “normal.” Tradition. “We’ve always done it this way.” The creative will swim to the margins, climb to the tops of the mountains where they can see more clearly. “What’s over the next horizon?” All people are a mix of both impulses, conservative and creative. We dance between the poles.

One of the first lessons I learned in art school is that, in the western tradition, every era reacts against the previous standard (I laughed when it occurred to me that our tradition is to react against our tradition – no wonder we are always at war with ourselves!) Realists rise in response to the Romantics. Impressionism reacts to Realism. And on and on. The other side of that equation is that the artists are generally tuned into societal and technological advances. Picasso’s cubism and Einstein’s theory of relativity hit the world within a few months of each other. Reactivity holds hands with innovation.

And so it goes with clothes, too. To dress as is expected. To dress as a statement. To dress as is comfortable. To find your style. To define yourself within your era. Clothes are how we publicly locate ourselves relative to the two poles. “This is me!” We shop at the same stores, we buy the same brands, all to express our individuality relative to the expectation-of-the-day. Sometimes you find your style and sometimes it finds you. And, mostly, your style changes as you do. Tie-dye puts on a suit and tie.

And so, this long and winding road brings me to a caution: do not, when you unearth the box of sponge curlers in your basement, exclaim as I did, “Oh my god! Who on earth ever used these things! Why do we have these in our house?” My laughter fizzled the moment I realized that the obvious answer was standing right next to me.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SPONGE CURLERS

Stand Still [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The understanding of what you actually are is far more important than the pursuit of what you should be.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

I wrinkled my brow the first time I heard Kerri say it: “We don’t change. We just become more of who we already are.” I didn’t like it. I wanted to pop the notion with pithy ideas of transformation. Something made me hold my tongue. “Consider it,” I said to myself.

Now, a full decade into the latest phase of my life-long-onion-peel, I see the wisdom in her words. The layers of protection, the suits of armor, the wall of respect, the race from shame, the measuring sticks and self-inflicted-social-expectations stripping away. Trying-to-be falls to the floor like a robe. The story-husks and fear-shells and false skins, false faces, false labels and roles and masks falling to the forest floor.

And, there you are. Just as you are. Naked and vulnerable and oh, so passingly human. Standing still. No ghosts to chase. No monsters chasing you.

And, there you are.

No distance between you and what you desire to create or experience. Finger painting. A child with a crayon and an empty wall for scribbles.

Kerri looks for hearts. She finds rocks shaped like hearts and leaves, heart-impressions in walls and heart-shaped clouds. Each one is a first-and-only and evokes delight. Last week on the trail, it occurred to me that she finds them everywhere, not because she looks for them, but because she expects to see them.

Seeing old friends. There you are.

read Kerri’s blog post about the HEART LEAF

Fail At The Box [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Among Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements is this gem: do the best that you can.

Through the lens of the Occident, those folks on earth oriented to the idea that their nature is bad and needs taming, the Agreement is a statement of self-forgiveness. Do the best that you can. It’s a good bit of advice when everything on earth seems to come with a measuring stick.

Don Miguel is Toltec so his Four Agreements are rooted in an entirely different understanding of nature. To do the best that you can has little to do with performance or achievement. There’s no judge sitting on the high bench scrutinizing goodness or badness. There’s no book with black marks next to your name. This Agreement is about setting an intention. The other Agreements are about speaking with impeccability, making no assumptions, taking nothing personally. In other words, it’s never about you; you can’t possibly know the reasons why; your words matter. So, do the best that you can.

Circumstances are uncontrollable. Sometimes people are mean. Sometimes the tornado comes through and blows your house away. It’s not personal. You probably can’t do anything to change the tornado and even less to change other people. So, change yourself. Or, better, be yourself. Attend to your story and free yourself from the illusion of living under grand judgment or any of a number of other control fantasies. Do the best that you can.

Lately, I’m pondering the too-tight-image-boxes we squeeze into and try, but can never quite, fulfill. The impossible image; a too tight expectation. The Pleaser. The One Who Knows What Is Right. The Peacekeeper. The Strong One. A step away from the box-expectation, the-role-I-think-I-must-fulfill, is a giant leap into happiness. Inside the box it is virtually impossible to do the best that you can. Boxes are alive with assumptions (what I must do, who I must be); buzzing hives of judgment, and, when in a box, speaking truth is frowned upon, so editing and/or silence rules the day. Just try doing your best when living in a too tight box!

Fear and anger fill boxes. That is, after all, the purpose of the box, the fruit of the impossible mission.

Here’s my advice to myself: fail at the box. Cut it up and put it into the recycle bin. Then, free of the too-tight judgments, it’s possible to set mistake-free intentions. Life as finger painting: do the best that you can.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SOME DAYS

Re-Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The latest addition to my “Terms in this Unknown Land” document is TL;DR. Too-Long-Didn’t-Read. I laughed aloud when I heard this new acronym in a meeting. If there is a sign of our times, an identifying marker of our era, it is this: TL;DR.

We communicate through text and emoji. Chat. Twitter is a thing because it mandates brevity. Scrolling the news app is a study in cramming the full story into a brief headline. Marketers have mastered the 5 second ad. Businesses are liberal in their use of “narrative” and “story” but have no time to actually hear one. A short synopsis will have to do. Get to the point.

As a member of my culture I find that I scan more than I read. If I can find it on Youtube, I’d rather watch it than read about it. When I began writing blogposts ten years ago, the “rule” was 800 words or less. The rule has adjusted with our attention spans and now the target is between 400 and 600 words. Often, when I receive links to articles, they come complete with an estimate of how many minutes are required to read them. Yesterday, I read advice from a marketing guru that suggested we restrict paragraphs to two sentences or less; more than two sentences is a red flag: too much information. Less than two sentences is…a sentence.

So much information is coming at us all the time, we have no time or thought-space to take it all in. I wonder if we can discern relevance from dreck. A quick look at our leaders leaves me with a resounding “No!” Relevance is lost in the dreck and, since they represent us, they are us, our information inundation has rendered our attention spans tiny and blunted our acuity. We are awash in information while wisdom has gone missing.

Each week I attend meetings; the central concern is explicitly or implicitly about helping people connect. It reminds me of the conversations I heard in graduate school: while living in a city of a million people, the concern was about how to create community. So many people. So little community.

I ponder these things every day. With our ubiquitous technology, we couldn’t be more connected. Through social media, I know what people had for dinner or what cute thing the kids said. I receive advertising that confirms my devices are listening to me. Yesterday, for-the-hell-of-it, I said, “Machu Picchu.” Today I am awash in travel ads for Peru.

We are connected. Connection to everything is connection to nothing. Relevance is hard to discern in a tsunami of information masking as connectivity.

Relationships – real relationships – take time. Values cannot be communicated in a text. They must be demonstrated and deeply rooted in lived narrative. Stories that carry relevance cannot be well-told in synopsis. Opinions are so easy to tweet. Dreck is easy to fling. It is not the capacity to share that we lose in the crush. It is not connection. It’s the capacity to be present. With presence comes the capacity to listen. Presence is not in a hurry to be some other place.

Rich connectivity requires more than quick consumption of information. Sharing, real sharing, the kind beyond pressing a “send” button, is a two-way street between people who have the time to invest in each other. Once, it was called relationship.

TM;CL. Too much. Can’t listen.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TL;DR

Chew On It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The first and most important question of the day is, “What is nougat?” I’ve always been more of a peanut M&M’s guy or, these days, a straight-up almonds, sea salt in dark chocolate lover. I’m currently accepting donations of Chocolove’s Salted Almond Butter in Dark Chocolate. You should be, too.

So, what is nougat? Originally it was honey, nuts, and egg whites but in this era of “it’s-better-not-to-know-what-I-just-put-into-my-mouth-and-called-it-candy,” I wonder what passes for nougat? I only ask because I’d never heard of a Charleston Chew so, to understand the reference, I looked it up. When I read that a Charleston Chew is, “…flavored nougat covered in chocolate flavored coating…” I immediately spotted the word “flavored” twice in the same sentence. If the chocolate isn’t really chocolate then what are the odds that the “flavored” nougat is really honey, nuts and egg whites?

To borrow and bastardize a bit of Hamlet”To eat; perchance to savor: aye, there’s the rub.” Kerri assures me that a Charleston Chew is yummy. Who cares what’s in it if it makes my toes wiggle with satisfaction? It’s the inverse argument of all those nasty foods adults made us swallow as children: who cares if it’s good for me if it makes me gag? Make me go hungry and send me to my room! Please! Caring adults forget that kids squirrel away and hide Charleston Chews beneath the mattress so banishment to the bedroom for not choking down brussel sprouts is tasty a reward.

This is key to understanding why people do what they do: we know what’s in a brussel sprout*. We have no idea what’s in a Charleston Chew. We’ll clamp down our jaws or pitch public fits rather than eat what’s good for us. Yet, we’ll happily binge on mystery snacks that are certainly no good for us but, damn-do-they-taste-good. Insight: humans are not rational beings. We puff up and proudly defend all manner of thought-nougat but can’t be bothered to look up the source or verity of the dreck we’re feeding on.

Of our current dilemmas, there is one thing that is certain: we can’t Charleston Chew our way out of this.

Take heart. There’s always Chocolove.

[*now that I’m rumored to be an adult I love roasted brussel sprouts]

read Kerri’s blogpost about CHARLESTON CHEWS

Know Their Name [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As I let Dogga out each morning, I stand for a few moments and listen to the birdsong. Our particular spot on the earth is alive with birds: starlings, finches, sparrows, robins, hawks, crows, owls… The Mourning Doves always stop my motion. Their song is hypnotic.

The pandemic changed – and continues to change – many things. Our world became significantly smaller. The table in the sunroom. The backyard. Our trails. As someone with his head in the clouds I am a dedicated generalist. I have always appreciated bird song yet never, not once, thought of identifying the specific birds and their song. “Sparrow? Finch? Who cares! They are beautiful and that’s enough for me! I spend too much time in my left brain as it is! The last thing I want to do is categorize the birds!”

COVID changed that. Sitting on the back deck or at the COVID table staring out the window for hours on end, our relationship with the birds grew. From general appreciation to specific experience. From passive appreciation to personal connection. We began to see nuance. Pattern. We wanted – and want to know more about these beings that sing us awake each morning, that alert us to changes in the weather, that signal alarm in the neighborhood.

While visiting the Botanical Gardens, Kerri found a small book, coded by color, that identifies the birds in our region. In a flash we can open the book and identify the bird. “Hey! Look! That’s Paul!” I say.

“Stop!” Kerri scowls. “It’s Martha. Paul’s on the fence.”

Just kidding. House Sparrow. Carolina Wren. My favorite to pronounce is Grackle. Great-tailed Grackle to be exact. I’ve decided that, were I to somehow achieve tough-guy status and ride a Harley to breakfast, my motorcycle-dude name will be Grackle. “Hey, Grackle,” the waiter will say, as I come through the door en route to my usual stool. “Hey,” I respond. Motorcycle-dudes named Grackle are birds of few words.

Deb showed us an app. Merlin. It identifies birds by their song. Now, armed with our book from the Botanical Garden and our Merlin app, when I ask, “What’s that?” Kerri – who is always alarmingly way ahead of me – has the answer. “Eastern Towhee,” she says.

“You’re making that up!” I cry, knowing she can’t stand to be challenged so will immediately jump to prove to me that she is right (it’s my secret fast-track to knowledge).

“Look it up!” she insists, showing me both the book and the Merlin return.

“Wow,” I say. “Towhee. Who knew. Maybe my pen name should be Grackle Towhee!”

She yanks the book from my hands. “Oh, Look!” she exclaims. “Merlin has identified you: Midwest DoDo.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BIRDS!

Tell The Full Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

If you Google Harriet Beecher Stowe you’ll come across a confounding question: Did Harriet Beecher Stowe cause the Civil War?

Think about it. Tease it apart. If the question doesn’t make you shudder ever so slightly, you’re not paying attention to the happenings in our day.

A woman in 1851, a full seventy years before women in our nation had the right to vote, wrote a book depicting “the harsh conditions experienced by enslaved African Americans.” She did not write a fantasy. She wasn’t concocting a circumstance. She wrote a book “which highlighted the evils of slavery.” She called attention to a moral horror story.

The question jumps the long and legislated history of slavery in the land of all-men-are-created-equal. It ignores the economic engine that made enslavement of human beings an institution in our nation. It suggests that shining the light, calling attention to the immorality, not the immorality itself, caused the war. The slavery wasn’t the cause, the industry and economics and political drivers had nothing to do with the war. Looking at slavery, calling attention to it, was.

If we close our eyes it doesn’t exist. If we ban the books it will not be part of our history. It’s a game we play with infants. It’s the puerile mentality of Fox news.

“Since January of 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism or sexism, according to an Education Weekly analysis.”

To be clear: “Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

Why do we work so hard to cover our eyes and plug our ears? The path to health begins with admitting and taking a good hard look at the disease. Slavery is a part of our history. As is Jim Crow. The Civil Rights Movement. Red lining,…Black Lives Matter. A clear narrative path.

Isn’t the frenzy to introduce bills restricting discussion about our history yet another example of racial bias embedded into our policies? We are watching critical race theory in action.

Talking about what ails us isn’t the cause of our division. Our inability to fully look ourselves in the mirror and acknowledge all aspects of our story – perpetuates our dis-ease. We would do well to revisit the Serenity Prayer and muster our courage.

According to Harriet, there is hope. There will someday come a place and time that our tide turns, a time when we can without fear or shame or legislation, look at each other and tell our full story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE TIDE TURNING

Collapse And Decide [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Brad calls it “paralysis by analysis”. Over thinking. Over researching. Reading every label. Considering every color combination relative to every other possible color combination. If you do some quick math, you’ll note that there are an infinite number of color combinations so arrival at a choice is a process of exhaustion. Waving the white flag. Conclusion via collapse. Decision by despair.

Neither Brad nor I suffer from this debilitating condition but both of our partners in life do.

It’s hard to watch. I learned at the very beginning to detach from the process. If I wait for the research and comparison phase to pass, if I say nothing until the desperation arrives, then I can tip the turmoil into a choice. And then I return to detachment because the paralysis has only reached its midpoint..

They say that summiting a high peak is not the dangerous part. Most climbers die on the return trip, the descent from the mountain. The same is true for analysis-paralysis-style-decision-makers. Once the decision is made, a river of decision-doubt and choice-remorse rushes in. The real paralysis happens after the decision is finally made. And revoked. And made again. And revoked. More spouses have collapsed on the way down from Mount Decision than on the initial ascent.

There’s a terrific scene in the movie About Time. The wife wants help from her husband in deciding which dress to wear to an important dinner meeting. She models dozens of dresses. He finds goodness in every option. She finds flaws in every dress. He becomes increasingly desperate, no matter what he says or enthusiastic support he offers, he finds himself swirling into the quagmire of no-good-answer.

I love that movie. Every time I watch that scene, I both howl with laughter and close my eyes. I know his desperation. I feel his fatigue. The minute she circles back and decides on the very first dress she modeled, with his wave of relief I whisper to the screen, “Now you’re really in trouble.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about DECISION FATIGUE