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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Check Your Sources [on Flawed Wednesday]

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When I hung up the phone I turned to Kerri and said, “I have to make peace with the fact that Fox News is going to kill my parents. I have to make peace that Fox will inevitably kill someone I love.”

I remember writing research and opinion papers in high school. Beyond giving shape to thought, the lesson was about citation. Know your sources. Know the difference between a fact and an opinion. Perspective is just that, a point of view. When the internet roared into being, as a teacher, I hammered the same nail into my students, “In a world in which anyone can assert anything, it is vitally important, more so now than ever, to discern what has merit and what does not. You have to protect yourself and know what is perspective and what is fact.”

An educated person asks questions about what they are told. An educated person asks questions about what they are telling themselves.

A three minute Google search of media bias rankings will provide an number of links to follow and all issue relatively consistent reports: there isn’t a media watch agency in the world that considers Fox News a source of news. It is ranked as a solid source of right wing propaganda.  Sifted information with an agenda. And yet, so many of the people I love have rooted their hard perspective in this flimsy pseudo soil. The rankings will also point the curious to news outlets that are more neutral and fact based.

If it is so easy to discern, to check whether or not it is drek that you swallow, why are so few adults interested in doing what every middle school student is taught as an essential?

Fact is proclaimed as false news. “Alternative facts” are elevated as truth. Anger is strummed in a fearful populace. Absolute loyalty is demanded for tribal membership (do not question…). Conspiracy theories create a wall of white noise punctuated by cheer inducing blame games and name calling.  Deep state bogeymen and enemies-enemies everywhere. Feed the anger. Hype the fear. Think no thoughts in the face of blaring discrepancies. An unassailable thought-free-firewall is firmly erected in the Fox-votary.

From outside the Fox bubble we ask, “Are they really that gullible?” From inside the Fox bubble, they ask, “Are they really that blind?”

The divide is complete. Two warring narratives. And so we are conquered. The pandemic does not care whether we are in a bubble or not.

Outside the Fox bubble we practice social distance. We are told that it is the only tool we have in the box – in the absence of  adequate testing – to slow the spread. We see the comparison data and recognize that, given the hubris in the other narrative, that the USA is on track to repeat the horror that is now overrunning Italy. We listen to the the CDC and the WHO for our information. We see Spain converting ice rinks into morgues. We challenge the mind numbing notion put forward by a feckless president that this is “like the flu.”

The peace I need to make? The people inside the Fox bubble, many people that I love, are not gullible or stupid – not by a long shot. But, they’ve forgotten what they learned as a baseline to being an educated, curious and responsible adult: check your sources. They wouldn’t wholeheartedly buy the story of a used car salesman. They’d check out the car before they bought it. In this day and age, the same rule applies to news. They are making a choice.

Blind belief is a lemmings game. Human beings have the capacity to open their eyes and to question.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about RED AND BLUE

 

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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.

 

 

 

Draw [on DR Thursday]

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Sue’s request was clear: write a story that is hopeful but does not pretend that everything will be easy or rosy in the end.

In 2005, while Sue Eskridge was teaching a course on children’s literature at The University of the Pacific, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of America. Sue had an idea. She refocused her class to help children who were displaced or had lost their parents in the storm. Her class approached several artists and children’s book authors and asked them to write and illustrate a story, to make single-copy-books. The books would be bundled with other supplies and through service organizations would go to children that needed them. “We want to give them hope but not false hope,” she said when she asked if I would “quick do a book.”

What do you do when the forest fire comes? The hurricane? The pandemic? Run. Hide. But then what? People pull together. People pull apart. The disaster invokes the best in us. The disaster invokes the worst in us. Ultimately, we realize that we are in it together and our togetherness can be defined through selflessness or through selfishness.

What defines us? I lived in Los Angeles during the riots and martial law. People turned on each other. I also saw the same community, just two years later during the Northridge earthquake, pull together. 9/11. AIDS. Our rhetoric does not define us. Our actions do.

I did as Sue asked. I quick did a book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost. I only had a few days and managed to write the story and smack out 16 illustrations. A story of personal gifts brought to communal need in the aftermath of a fire. When I bundled the original and sent it off to Sue I promised myself that I would someday go back into the story and draw all the pictures, fill in the 10 or so illustrations that I did not have time to realize.

This week, we retreated into our home, this pandemic hot and frightening and eerily invisible, except for the growing and incomprehensible numbers on the screen. The unreal reality. The hurricane that cannot yet be grasped.  I asked myself what might be a worthwhile project to do while isolating?  And then I remembered my promise to Peri Winkle Rabbit.

Draw. And perhaps a new story? One that deals with the hot fire now raging through our divided world? Two narratives. One pandemic. What are the odds that this crisis will burn off our national division and clear our eyes so that we are capable of stepping into a single story. I will ask Peri Winkle Rabbit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on PERI WINKLE RABBIT

 

 

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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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Pull The Curtain [on KS Friday]

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I once heard an author speak of the impossibility of writing a farce about The United States of America. He said that before the last chapter was written, the farce will have actually occurred. The bar of absurdity drops quickly from sea to shining sea.

Today we are watching the collapse of the American mythology “The best health care in the world.” In the face of a public health emergency we are seeing with greater clarity how fractured and incapable our system is of delivering even the most basic of services. That statement, sadly, is a daily fact in the USA for many of its citizens (more on that in a moment) but the pandemic has pulled the curtain on the wizard. Oz is not what it seems.

In the past 24 hours I’ve heard it reported multiple times: the difference between our inept response – beyond the absence of coherent leadership – and other nations, is the system itself. In a single payer system no one is confused about what to do or where to go and no one is reticent to seek medical care because of the costs. The necessary tests are available because profit is not the primary motive; public health is.

Our system is a shattered mess of profiteering and, I believe, intentional obfuscation.  Even the people within the system can’t get a straight answer so they can’t provide a lucid response to even the most basic of questions. Yesterday, our question was, “How much does it cost?”  A mere 24 hours ago, Kerri had her first occupational therapy session for her broken wrists. We called our insurance provider to check to see if we were covered. The OT facility also called and we both received two opposing stories. A third call was placed and a third answer was given. So, a fourth call to the insurance provider was made and, yes, a fourth story, a competing answer was proffered.

Four calls. Four stories. The policy itself is ambiguous. We asked the intake receptionist how much the therapy would cost if we decided to pay out of pocket. Her answer, “It depends.” Can we pay the bill we will most certainly receive or should we forgo the therapy altogether? [note: my wife makes her living playing the piano so this is no small or insignificant question]. Kerri started to cry. Standing within the pages of this farce, I started to laugh. No one (outside of the USA) would believe it if I wrote it.

Within 24 hours, our personal farce went nationwide. Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIAID, said it best of our national travesty-of-a-system “It’s failing. Let’s admit it.”

The lucrative business of health care has blinded us for decades to the real needs of public health. We are, by any measure, an increasingly unhealthy society (check obesity rates, infant mortality, teen suicides, etc. if you doubt me). It seems to me that the point of health care should be the health of the public and not profit margins. The conversations coming from the White House are about whether or not our tests and treatments for a pandemic will be covered or not. It’s penny wise and pound foolish. It’s also obscene.

Kerri and I pay nearly half of our combined incomes for “healthcare” that is null and void if we cross the state line. And, now that we are attempting to use the policy that is pushing us into poverty, we are flush with competing stories about the costs but remain empty of even the most basic answer to the simplest of questions.

In the meantime, Senegal is doing a better job testing and protecting its citizens. The farce: our stubborn insistence that this sham of a system, the most expensive yet least effective, is the best in the world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SAGA

 

 

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Knit A Better Structure [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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“…the test of a civilization is how it cares for its helpless members.” ~ Pearl Buck

As a nation, we are currently enamored with tests, and it is not a stretch to say that we’d receive a failing grade on this test of civilization. The helpless members do not fare well.

As Horatio pointed out, much is lost between the cracks of the quintessential conundrum built into the DNA of these United States: the dueling philosophies of every-man-for himself versus I-am-my-brother’s-keeper. Republicans versus Democrats. Corporate greed versus social need. Black and white thinking that leaves gaping voids into which the helpless members disappear. There is no both/and to be found. Division has been a useful tool of control since the inception of the American experiment. The ideological cleaver is sharper than ever these days.

Yet, there is hope that reveals another side to our character.  Kerri said, “Look at this!” The Appalachian Wildlife Refuge put out a call for used mascara brushes. They are a useful tool in saving small critters and returning them to health. They received so many brushes, the response was so great, that they had to put limits on when they would accept new brush donations. It’s my bet that people of all political stripes and social strata sent their used mascara brushes to the Refuge. It’s my bet that the critters and the caregivers were grateful in every case.

When tragedy strikes, we rush to meet the need. When a photo moves us, we respond. Something pierces the superficial divide and reaches into our communal heart.

Robert Fritz teaches that behavior is like water, it follows the path of least resistance. If you want to change behavior, you must first change the underlying structure of the land. What might it take for us to challenge this superficial concocted divide, to reach deep  into our DNA and knit a better structure of the land – something more useful and more profound than perpetually dueling philosophies? What might it take for us to put down our cleaver and pick up our mascara brushes? What might we imagine and create together that would help history give us a better grade on our test?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IMPACT

 

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