Hug The Pain [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Put on your seat belt. I’m going to indiscriminately fling stereotypes at myself and my wife and that requires me to indiscriminately snag other fish in my broad net of oversimplification. To make you feel safe in reading further, please note that this a not so cleverly disguised survival guide for two people living together in this age of stay-at-home-orders.

We are both artists. I often wonder if the universe put Kerri and me in relationship as some kind of whacky psychological experiment. Imagine the laughter on Mount Olympus! If you are an artist or know any artists, please join me now in making a list of adjectives: volatile, hypersensitive, moody, procrastinating,.. Now, multiply that times two. Let’s just say that we do not cancel out each other. We are certain that our friends invite us to dinner for the sheer entertainment value of hearing about our latest train wreck. We are both good storytellers so we take comfort knowing that at least we make our mayhem amusing.

True story: yesterday I apologized to DogDog that neither Kerri or I was an engineer. “You have hard duty this time around,” I said, patting him on the head. He didn’t disagree.

Since we are already standing at the edge of chaos I can see no reason not to jump. It was too late in our developing relationship when we realized that, not only were we both artists but we are diametrically opposed in our approach . Kerri is so detail-oriented that it makes my head hurt. I am such a big-picture-generalist that she regularly has to run screaming from the the room so as not to get lost in my thought.

Kerri organizes through piles. I organize by eliminating piles. I seem incapable of learning the lesson that what-looks-like-a pile-to-me-looks-like-order to her. I’ve probably set her back a decade by imposing my idea of order to her system of filing. We’re still looking for the project notes she lost the day I moved in and decided to help out by cleaning up the piles. Last week I attempted to hang up her snow pants and her icy glare melted my good intention; I let them slip to the chair where they remain to this day.

She is easier in the world than I am. If I begin a project or a painting it is nearly impossible for me to stop thinking about it until it is complete. I dream about it. I ponder and muse. Okay, go ahead and think it: he is obsessive-compulsive. I cannot deny it. In my defense, by bride is incapable of holding on to a thought or completing a single task. She works in circles. Attention deficit. Now, imagine, if you can, the process we’ve developed in working together. If we were a band, our name would be Creative Tension.

DogDog walks in circles around the house. I used to think it was a trait of his breed but I’ve come to believe that circle-walking is what happens to an over-sensitive dog when one of his parents is obsessive and the other is ADD. He simply can never relax since we are such a danger to ourselves.

She’s a New Yorker.  I am from Colorado. I was taught that talking over someone else was rude. She was raised in a part of the world where it is essential. Our conversations are sometimes hysterical but mostly shattered language fragments and hesitations. If only I were a better playwright!

Now, flip all of this too-much-information over. Perceptive, deeply felt, intuitive, adventurous, improvisational. Sometimes mystic. We crawl out the window to drink our wine on the roof. Our life is never routine, never dull. We cultivate surprise whether we intend to or not. Her artistic eye makes mine better. She pulls me from my obsessive mind so that I might breathe and relax. I help her step back from the detail and see another perspective.

The moral: there is no better collaborator, no more treasured companion, than the pain-in-the-ass pushing back on your idea, the one talking over you, the one challenging your choices, the one that you love and trust with your most vulnerable life & artistic decisions because (you begrudgingly admit to yourself) they see things differently. This equal and opposing force that shares space with you is the very reason you are capable of expanding your mind, your perspective, and your heart.  They are what you mean when you utter this word: together.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAIN IN THE ASS

 

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Step Toward The Center [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We had this quote in the melange line up long before there was a pandemic. Now, it is impossible to look at this phrase without pressing it through the lens of COVID19. What might we have written in a less chaotic context?

One of the best lessons I was taught, is that we cannot control our circumstance but we can control who we are within our circumstance. The hurricane will come. The pandemic. It is possible in the midst of the storm to panic. To hoard. To blame. To resent. It is also possible to stand in a center, to share, to support, to reach. You are not your circumstance.

Sitting in his study that smelled of instant coffee, book dust and cigarettes, Quinn and I used to talk endlessly about chaos theory. Within the seeming chaos of a dynamic complex system there exists pattern, repetition, self-organization. Pattern, repetition, organization – these are words of order, not of disorder. Chaos. Order. We only know order relative to chaos. We only know chaos relative to order.

Within the Hermetic laws (and Newtonian physics, equal and opposite forces) there is the law of polarity. Everything contains its opposite. Or, said another way, what might appear to be opposite, is, in fact, two ends (poles) of the same thing. Order. Chaos. We cannot know light without the contrast of darkness. We live on a continuum. What we experience is simply a matter of degree on the continuum. There is always a bit of chaos in my otherwise orderly day. In times of chaos, we become very clear about what matters and what does not.

Out of chaos we self-organize. In the throes of social distance we are finding ways to reach and connect. We are prioritizing connection. I’ve spoken with or texted more people in the last seven days than I have in the last seven months.

We see it every year. The hurricane blows away a city and the greater community always shows up to dig in and help out. And rebuild. In chaos we organize to make sure everyone makes it to the other side of the storm. Initially, the coming chaos reveals the ugliest aspects of our nature. We hoard. We price gouge. We run to the far end of the continuum and hang onto the poles, mine/yours, us/them. But, sit in it long enough, and chaos always reveals the deeper truths. Interconnectedness is another way of understanding a continuum. We turn our focus on relationship. The space between. Your need is my need. We are not separate.

Order arises when we step toward the shared center and away from the chaotic extremes. We are not our circumstance so the question remains: who are we within our circumstance?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHAOS & BOUNDARIES

 

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*this photo of BabyCat is not doctored. I have no explanation for the ordered shape that our very large cat takes in the moments prior to creating chaos.

 

 

 

Touch The Chair [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I am reading books slowly these days. Meditating on words. Sometimes it takes me months to read what I used to blow through in a few days. I am often pleasantly surprised and taken aback by how the words I read on this morning – words written months or years ago – line up exactly with the events of my day. All the time I catch myself thinking, “How did they know I needed to hear that today?”

“There was an altar upon which we could place a photo of someone who had died. Kim chose to put a picture of his “old” self; I found one of him rowing his peapod looking so happy, so strong. Beautiful. We both grieve the loss of that Kim while getting to know and love this new one.” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke.

Grieve the loss. This is the fourth time in my life that world circumstance/events have drawn a hard line between ‘what was’ and ‘who-knows-what-will-become.’ What was normal and true last week will never again be the same. Social distancing. Pandemic. Disruption is scary and confusing.

I’ve many times heard the story of immigrants, preparing to leave their homes forever for some distant and unknown shore, just before leaving, circle the rooms, touching walls, running their fingers along the arm of a well-loved chair. One last look. This is who I was. Who will I become? It is necessary to mourn what is known before making space for the unknown.

In the midst of spinning change, hanging on too long to the way things-ought-to-be or used-to-be is destructive. More than once I’ve stood with a group in full denial of their new circumstance insisting that “This is the way we’ve always done it!”  Perhaps. What is comfortable today was at one time new and uncomfortable. Someday, what is now new and uncomfortable will be a well worn path. The first step: one last look. This is who we were.

“No person is a finished thing, regardless of how frozen or paralysed their self image might be. Each one of us is in a state of perennial formation. Carried within the flow of time, you are coming to be who you are in every new emergent moment.” ~John O’Donohue, Beauty

Imagination lives in the midst of “It happened to me.” One of our greatest super-powers is the capacity to imagine ourselves different, more expansive. It is what we call dreaming. We “see” ourselves” writing the book or scaling the mountain or being a better parent or working at the soup kitchen or losing the weight or…becoming the more perfect union.

Imagination requires leaving. Leaving requires imagination.

“Fate has a way of handing us what we need in order to become whole…” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEALING

 

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Eat The Cold [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Eat the cold!” the Buddhist monk said to the shivering novice. “Eat the cold.” It is” monk-speak for embracing rather than resisting the circumstances of your life.

Non-resistance. Detachment. Hold your self lightly. Presence. Make no assumptions. Be here now. Every spiritual tradition has language for the lesson. Eat the cold. Have the experience. Suspend your judgment. See what is there, not what you think is there. Feel it without condemnation or praise.

When I was a teenager I went on a trip with a school group. The bus broke down in the mountains. We sat on the side of the road bemoaning the state of our affair. The teacher laughed at us. “We’re on an adventure and this is part of it!” he exclaimed. “Rather than fool ourselves into thinking we are stuck, maybe we should fool ourselves into thinking this is exactly where we should be! What’s here? What can we do and create here?” I remember nothing about the rest of that trip but I do remember how much fun we had on the side of the road.

Kerri’s wrists are broken. We find ourselves on a metaphoric roadside. Our patterns are completely disrupted so we are experiencing the gift of mindfulness. Putting on a coat requires complete attention. Lifting a fork. Combing out her gorgeous naturally curly hair. Buckling a seat belt. We have abandoned all notion of rushing. It happens when it happens. When she plays the piano, she does it with full attention; nothing is taken for granted.

What’s here in this storm? Maybe this is exactly where we should be. Amazed at our friendships, our first walk since the accident with Jen and Brad, the sun and wind, laughter with 20, cooing at the meal Joan made for us, flowers, brownies and wine, crawling under the healing quilt that Janet sewed.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERY STORM 

 

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Tickle Open The Closed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It used to be one of my favorite exercises to facilitate. Ask one person in a small group to tell a story of blame. Ask the rest of the group to invest in the story. In no time the small groups would be indignant, talking over each other in disgruntlement. A klatch of agitated victims, howling.  They’d laugh in their aggravated frenzy. They’d devise clever revenge or ways to torment the object of their blame story. They’d grow a monster.

Blame stories are like sugar. They are easy to eat and highly addictive. There’s rarely any real substance, so much gossip-cotton-candy, but there is an odd pleasure in playing the role of  “the injured party.” The groups would always reflect that the exercise was fun. So much so that they’d often forget it was an exercise. Commiseration and validation, after all, are the point of a blame story. That, and making someone else responsible for how we feel.

Ask the same groups to tell a story of choice or opportunity and most times, after only a minute or two, they’d sit in silence. Their, “Great. That’s really great,” support would dwindle. Feeding an idea is not nearly as easy as feeding a story of blame.

Quinn used to tell me that creativity is not for the faint of heart.

The groups were always shocked to discover how much of their lives were spent chewing the gristle of discontent, of feeding the notion that someone else was to blame for their choices or their circumstance. They’d generally comment on how easy it was to commiserate and how difficult it is to question, challenge or stop the blame-game. Mostly, they were shocked to discover how little of their time they dedicated to feeding ideas, theirs or another persons.

Blame stories are easy because they are reductive. They engender tight little balls of closed minds and closed circles. They close hearts. They take almost no energy at all to spark but, once burning, like a wildfire, they are capable of consuming entire forests.

Idea exploration is expansive. Seeing possibilities requires eyes that look up and out.  It takes much more energy to imagine, to question, to ponder. To try. To experiment. To ask. To challenge what you think you know. Opening minds, opening circles and hearts requires a deep sense of self-responsibility. It requires an even deeper sense of responsibility to others.

One of the purposes of the artist is to open closed circles, to tickle open closed minds. To help their community see anew and entertain never-before-imagined possibilities.

It takes more effort and courage to sail to the edges of the known world than it does to hang out around the water cooler and complain about others. Great minds do not have more capacity than any other mind, but they do require a very different focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GREAT MINDS & IDEAS

 

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FaceTheRain

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Snap Your Fingers [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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When I was roaming the world working with corporate types, tilting at windmills, I would tell my be-suited crowd that words matter. I’d relay a story I heard from Don Miguel Ruiz. He told his audience that people in the United States completely misunderstood the word, “spell.” He said, “You think to put a spell on someone is magic, like hocus-pocus. But, that is not it at all. Tell a little girl that she is fat and you will have spelled her forever.”

She will hate her body. That is a powerful spell.

Words matter. Tell the nation that the “Democrats are vicious” or that the news is “the enemy of the people” and the enchantment is undeniable, angry.  Push the spell through a propaganda machine and it magnifies in intensity. Like a ritual drum, the thump-thump whips the glassy eyed adherents into a red frenzy. Insist that long debunked conspiracies are real or that the deep state is out to get us all and the spellbound will see demons threatening everywhere.

The nation body splits and just like the little girl looks with hatred at the other part of itself. A powerful spell.

‘Hoax’ thump-thumped in the face of undeniable fact and the mesmerized fall into line, repeating what they are told to repeat. “Cluck like a chicken!” the hypnotist suggests and the sleepers dutifully cluck. Common sense surrenders to the spell.

Teachers of consciousness use different techniques but are in general agreement about how to awake from a nasty spell. Step back. Doubt what you think. See what is there and not what you think is there. Detach from your attachment to what you want to believe, to what you are being told. The salesman always wants you to buy the car. He is not your friend. He does not have your best interest in mind. He will use his words tell you anything. Despite what you are told, this car will not make you happy, it will not solve all of your problems. It will not make you sexy or powerful or complete. Uncouple from the words, the spell being woven, and see.

If she is lucky, the little girl one day wakes up and realizes that the hatred she experiences is not her own; it was planted in her with a word. The hatred she wields against herself and turns on to others is not of her creation. She learns that she must snap her own fingers and call herself awake. The hypnotist, she understands, only has authority if she continues to cluck and sleep.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WAKING UP

 

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Get Off The List [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Are we even aware of our biases anymore?  ~Shawn Langlois, 2018 Marketwatch. Check out the chart.

“What we all feared has happened. Trump has been normalized.” ~ Bill Maher

“I think they’ve been unleashed.” ~ J after listening to the poolside conversations at the YMCA

It was an accident of timing that I was directing a production of the docu-drama, GOD’S COUNTRY, with college students in Santa Fe, NM when George W. Bush was up for re-election. The play chronicles the rise of a white supremacist group and the man they murdered, Allan Berg, a Denver-based talk show radio host. Much of the dialogue is drawn from court documents from the trials of the white supremacists and the transcripts of Allan Berg’s shows. It’s chilling.

The students and I studied hate groups. We studied division. We read studies about how easily a person or community can be slowly drawn into a mindset of hate. It’s a prescription, like slowly boiling a frog. Angry people are an easy mark to be led down the hate path.

One of the studies that stayed with me was Lawrence Britt’s The 14 Characteristics of Fascism (at that time, the USA exhibited many of the characteristics on the list). The list was chilling in 2004 during the production. It is horrifying now that we’ve waded into the swampy waters of #14: Fraudulent Elections. Last week in the USA  an entire political party (with one exception), despite overwhelming evidence, lined up and gave explicit permission to their leader to allow a foreign power to manipulate our elections.

David Neiwert wrote a book, called In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and The Pacific Northwest. In it are eye-opening tales recounting how a community becomes complicit with its haters. “Boys will be boys.” “Oh, that’s just who they are.” “They didn’t mean any harm by it.” “Turn a blind eye.” Hate crimes rapidly multiply when a community is willing to let it slide. Explain it away. Normalize it. “That’s just who he is.”

And what happens when the enemy, the latest scapegoat that unifies the party-in-lock-step (#3 on the list), is the other half of us, the other party? What happens when indecency is rewarded and ignorance applauded? What happens when fear is the reason the lock-steppers cover their ears and claim that they see no evil? Low-information comes with a very high price.

As they say, history repeats itself. And, somehow, we find ourselves – at least half of our nation – embracing the list.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about INDECENCY

 

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