Try [on DR Thursday]

The operative word in this Chicken Nugget is “try.”

To try is a verb, an action. It’s also a noun but the synonyms used in either variation are mostly the same: attempt, endeavor, make an effort.

Try. It’s such a small word but its impact is unfathomable. It is the defining line between intolerance and empathy. Empathy begins with trying to see what others see. Intolerance begins with refusing to try to see what others see.

Try. It is the epicenter of advise that every parent offers to their children. Take a crack at it. Why not put it out there. Give it your best shot. You can’t win if you don’t run the race. You’ll never know unless you try.

A verb. An action. Try. A noun. A way of being.

Try is the foundation stone of curiosity. Wanting to know, wanting to experience what is “just over there.” To see not only what others see, but why they see it.

I sometimes try to see the unbridled enthusiasm that Dogga sees in each and every moment. I try to see the world of unlimited possibilities that Dawson sees every time he touches a crayon or paint brush. I do not delude myself. My eyes are not so pure. But I try.

Imagine what we might do in this world if we only gave it a try.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRY

Look To 3 [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My long-ago-business-partner used to tell groups that every human being wears an umbrella hat called “normal.” That is, we try to maintain and make sense of the world according to our personal (and cultural) criteria. We carry the criteria around with us – it does not exist beyond us. We are comfortable when wearing our umbrella hats. We get really uncomfortable when something comes along that knocks our hats off of our heads.

When we lose our hats, we’ll do anything to regain our comfortable “normal.” The fear of losing our hats is what makes change – personal and cultural – so difficult. Despite what they say, no one wants to lose their hat. Organizations have a nifty phrase, change-management, to shield against the reality that change – real change- requires discomfort. How to prevent discomfort? Manage it! No worries! Everything is under control!

The other strategy – also not very effective in the long run – is to pretend that the hat is still on your head. No worries! It’s all made-up! Everything is normal!

The pandemic blew our collective hats off of our heads. We’ve had a front row seat to the realities and responses of a disrupted normal. The recent photos from Miami Beach, the aggressive non-mask-wearers, the absurd and deadly politicization of a pandemic…all in the name of hat retention and recovery.

In our circle of life, we’ve had the ubiquitous conversation about the return of normal. “When can we get together again?” Prior to the pandemic, our week was patterned on, our lives were grounded in, our Sunday and Thursday night dinners with 20. In a fluid artistic life, dinner with 20 was the shape-giver to our otherwise formless weeks. One day last March, we tossed our hats to the wind. It wasn’t safe to gather.

Over the year we left groceries at his door. He dropped goodies at our door. We waved from the car. We had regular phone calls. A few times, when the weather was nice, we sat in the back yard at great distance and discussed how weird life had become.

We looked for our new-normal-hats but they were nowhere to be found. It’s what happens when change cannot be denied: the management of discomfort is the best that you can do. Keep stepping. Chop wood/carry water. One day at a time. A new normal will surface sometime. A new pattern will be established. Pattern making is what we homo sapiens do.

In the past few months we three were vaccinated. We waited for a few weeks. We diligently read our CDC guidelines. And then, as if a year had not passed in the interim, we gathered to share a meal and drink a bottle of wine. Nothing had changed and everything had changed.

2 at the table is once again 3. We are slowly reestablishing what we once knew as normal. Our laughter is easy as it has always been. But the nation we inhabit, the community we see and experience, is transformed. There are stores we will never again support. There are relationships that will always be superficial. There is a bald ugliness exposed as never before in the nation. Ruthlessness. So many dead amidst such fatuous games of denial. The hot wind that blew our normal-hats away exposed the geography – the actual geography – beneath our nation that espouses equality but has deep division and favoritism woven into its DNA. Control by division. It is a mechanism: black gain is seen as white loss. White gain is built upon black loss. It is a seesaw, an angel/devil game. It’s a system doing – brutally – what it was designed to do.

Disruption is an opportunity for change. With so many lost hats, with so much ugliness exposed, a good look in the national mirror is possible. As we struggle to find our new normal hats, it occurs to me that angel/devil games, deep divisions, are never “solved” in twos. Movement is created by two points. Insight is a three-legged stool. Complexity is addressed through triangles, through a focus on relationship. Opposition-in-twos will keep us forever on the systemic seesaw.

Laughter is restored, possibility uncovered, through the lens of three.

read Kerri’s blog post about 3

Live By Increments [on KS Friday]

In this case, healing is incremental. One degree at a time. Her doctor told to be patient. “Expect no more than 5 degrees a month,” he said.

After her fall, the second fall, the one on a newly-mopped-but-unmarked-wet-floor, she had a mere 6 degrees of movement in her right wrist. She showed me her range of motion and the movement was so minuscule that I had to ask, “Did you move yet?” Her stare told me that I probably could have asked a better question.

Years ago, preparing to direct a play, I did research on medieval torture devices. You’d be surprised at human ingenuity when it comes to inflicting pain. The device that Kerri uses between occupational therapy sessions to aid in the recovery of her increments looks a lot like the machines I researched so long ago. It has cranks and dials. Straps. It finds the edge of possible movement and then, with one teeny-tiny turn of the dial, stretches a fraction beyond the previous possible. Increments of possibility achieved through increments of pain. Human ingenuity cuts both ways, to the creation of promise as well as pain.

In this part of our journey, we have learned to live by increments. Our journey of a thousand miles truly begins, each and every day, with a single step. The torture device, as we lovingly call it, serves as a mechanical reminder that the greatest triumphs are often the smallest. 5 degrees a month. It’s a reminder that it is best not to rush. One tiny turn of the dial at a time. Each new increment is cause for celebration. My composer wife, in these hard-recovered-increments, steps toward her piano, toward her promise, each day, one step closer.

kerri’s albums, including THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY, are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about INCREMENTS

this part of the journey ©️ 1997, 2000 kerri sherwood

Wiggle And Be Warm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!” ~ Thomas Nashe, Spring, Sweet Spring

“It’s not possible,” we said in unison. For weeks, the temperatures were bitter cold. The mound of snow at the end of our driveway was as tall as I am. The sun finally emerged. We pulled on our snow pants, our heavy boots, and walked into the snow-shocked world. Rounding the corner by the dentist’s office, at the base of the south facing wall, through a patch of cold wet earth surrounded by mounds of ice and snow, tender shoots of green were breaking through, reaching for the warmth. Daffodils. Spring.

We stood staring as if slapped. It was as if we had rounded the corner and come face-to-face with alien hope, something we thought existed only in some distant future, a Hallmark promise of light in the darkest of winters. Yet, there it was, tenacious and tender, a harbinger of Persephone’s return to the sweet surface of the earth. “I have to take a picture,” Kerri whispered, as I broke into a spontaneous sun dance. Passing motorists stared at the lady climbing into the bushes and the wiggling crazy man.

I felt as if I suddenly held a precious secret. I did a slow 360 degree turn and saw only winter, winter, winter. Cold, frozen, frigid, freezing, ice damming, black ice, snow plow, sand and salt world with people puffed out and covered in too many layers to please-god-stay-warm. And, in the middle of it all, a tiny patch of promise. A force greater than despair or depression or pandemic fatigue. Life.

We stayed just long enough to make sure it wasn’t a mirage, linked arms and set course for home. Cold fingers but warm in our core.

As we trudged home, breaking trail in snow, I thought of a small piece by Ellsworth Kelly. He pasted a chunk of warm yellow on a postcard image, a Japanese print. He called it “Spring (Yellow curve).” A shock of yellow completely out of place yet transforming the entire world. I imagine, one day, he took a walk in the bitter cold and saw a shock of yellow blowing through the soil. So out of character yet so welcome. Spring. Yellow curve. “Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!”

read Kerri’s blog post about SPRING?

Stroll The Esoteric Garden [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Lately, I am strolling the esoteric gardens and have picked for you these wild blossoms.

First, my favorite quotes of the week:

  1. “Life is mysterious and transcends logic, so the living thing can never be fully analysed, taught or learned…The doctor may explain why the patient is dead, but never why the patient is alive.” [Declan Donnellan].

2. “Samuel Beckett is a wonderful writer who has meditated deeply on the mystery of death…All of Beckett’s works, especially Waiting For Godot, are about death. In other words, because death exists, time is radically relativized. All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” [John O’Donohue]

DogDog and BabyCat are food-driven. The levels of excitement in our house escalate when the food bowls are filled. DogDog performs his vertical-jump-and-counter-clockwise-spin dance. BabyCat uncorks an excited verbal symphony that sounds a lot like “now, now, now, now, now…” The anticipation of the bowl, it seems, is far more satisfying than eating of the food from the bowl. The anticipation lasts longer and I am certain that, in the gobbling, neither DogDog or BabyCat actually taste their food.

3. “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” ~ Mr. Spock. I laughed the first time I heard this in an episode of Star Trek. Capitalism reduced to a simple, single phrase. The economics of desire, wanting and having en route to wanting.

I have crossed paths with many a seeker. Mostly, they talk of presence or mindfulness or being as a noun. A thing to achieve or possess or gobble. Food in a bowl. The anticipation of unity in a path devoted to separation, thus, we are seekers. The Buddhist’s remedy to the dedication of separation is to chop wood and carry water. In other words, being is a verb.

With the notable exception of how-to-go-on-a-walk-without-pulling-our arms-out-of-the-socket, using the promise of a treat, Kerri can teach DogDog anything. There is no end to the tricks he will perform, the indignities he will suffer, en route to a treat. He sneezes on cue. He counts, high-fives, sits, jumps up, jumps down, wears paper plates on his head…his little Aussie body quakes with excitement, his eyes firmly locked on the promised treat.

We wrinkle our brows daily and ask, “How can they possibly believe that?” Horatio would respond, “It’s game theory. What are the incentives, the promised pay off?” Anticipation. Treat. We might as well ask, “How did hate, division and lie become food in the human bowl?’ There is no end to the tricks people will perform, the lies they will embrace, the funny hats they will wear, the indignities they will suffer or inflict, eyes firmly locked on a promised treat. Superiority. Or mattering?

I have crossed paths with many a power player. Mostly, they talk of winning, and owning, and being-on-the-top. There is never enough food for the bowl. The anticipation of achieving abundance through eyes that only perceive a pie with limited pieces. Owning this piece and then the next and the next and the next…

“Life is mysterious and transcends logic.”

Yearning meets obstacle.* The strange alchemy necessary to invent a story.

Dogs and cats living together, oh my!

“All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” I wonder, as I wander through my esoteric garden, what might it take for us to invent more inclusive, life-giving games, a more generous story?

*this definition of story courtesy of Robert Olen Butler

read Kerri’s less esoteric blog post on ANTICIPATION

Start Thinking [on DR Thursday]

“As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists, who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny, ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”‘ ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Any day now I’m going to watch the 1976 movie, Network. It’s the film equivalent of a crystal ball to our current predicament. A veteran news anchorman loses it on air, threatens to kill himself, but instead goes on a full-blown rant. The network’s ratings skyrocket. An ambitious producer recognizes and exploits the opportunity by creating more and more outrageous programming. Fact falls prey to profitable fiction sold as truth. Ratings imperatives eclipse the north star of accuracy-in-reporting. Roger Ailes created his Fox News Network on the same premise; no veracity necessary. People like a good train wreck, just ask Jerry Springer. It is why the nation is so divided. The blues use news to sort out the lies; the reds use lies to siphon off the truth.

“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley‘s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” ~Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death before Facebook and Twitter were glimmers in their inventors’ eyes, before the internet hit the personal computer, before multiple channels on cable networks. We have, as Postman wrote, an infinite appetite for distraction with nary a need for honesty. And, as we are witnessing, distraction has arrived in the halls of Congress. We’ve now a party in government that actively shuns verity and raises funds on peddling fallacy.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.” Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death.

We are a nation that finds itself at risk. In my post yesterday I wrote that I no longer wonder how a society can willingly and knowingly take itself down. We have front row seats. And yet, the road to our recovery is as simple (and as difficult) as a collective valuing of the truth over ratings or poll numbers or bubbles. We worship at the wrong altar. We are inundated with info-dross. We would be better off if ratings plummeted every time a pundit ranted, a politician bullied, or a commentator lied. We’d be better off if thinking, if fact-checking, was a prerequisite to posting or tweeting or speaking. We’d find ourselves in a shared center, a place of possibility built on a generous commitment to probity.

“For in the end, he [Huxley] was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in ‘Brave New World’ was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

read Kerri’s much more positive post on LEARNING FROM TV

Plan And Reconsider [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Last night it snowed. I had to pry open the back door and shovel so I could let Dogga out. It is snowing now. We are lying low, appreciating the quiet that comes with winter.

Societies have seasons, too, though their winters look more like forest fires than bears sleeping.

I remember standing atop a Mayan pyramid in Belize, having just read Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, and wondering how it was possible that such an advanced society didn’t see their demise coming. As NASA Science aptly wrote, “They Did It To Themselves.” It’s hard to see the mountain when you are sitting on it, I suppose.

I no longer wonder how societies do-it-to-themselves as I feel I have a historical front row seat of our unwavering commitment to collapse. We are following a well-known pattern, a rat trail of self-destruction. We are not the first society to impact our temperatures, to influence our rainfall. We are, however, the first to do it on a global scale.

There are so many people ringing the alarm of climate change, the science is incontrovertible, yet overpowering evidence is no match for dedicated human denial. Ignorance is, in this case, to ignore. Action will hurt the markets. Non-action, of course, could destroy life as we know it. We will not be the first society to sacrifice the greater for the lesser, to throw away the essential by protecting the luxury. We will not be the first to ask, “How did that happen?”

I revisited Jared Diamond’s, Collapse. He identifies “two crucial choices distinguishing the past societies that failed and those that survived:” 1) Long term planning – the courage to make difficult choices when problems become perceptible and before they reach crisis proportions. 2) Willingness to reconsider core values – the courage to make painful decisions about values (which treasured values must be jettisoned and replaced with different approaches).

Courage. The-courage-to-make-choices-and-decisions.

The Maya did not cope well when their problems emerged. They doubled down in hearty denial until all resources were exhausted. They waited until their crisis was full blown before attempting to deal with it. The survival odds are better by planning for the hurricane before it hits.

And us? We are on the Mayan path. It seems that we are, like they were, penny wise and pound foolish.

Despite evidence to the contrary, I am not nihilistic or hopeless. In fact, quite the opposite. As Rich used to say, when the pain of change is greater than the pain of staying the same, people get moving. The levels of pain are rising on all fronts. The problems are more than perceptible and it’s debatable about whether or not the crisis has fully arrived. What we’re experiencing could be the very beginning of movement, the willingness to face ourselves and take a good hard look at what we value. It might be the leading edge of courage.

read Kerri’s blog post about POW

find out more about POW

Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK

Welcome A New Day [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

An old dream. A new day. Enough said.

Look Beyond The Wish [on DR Thursday]

Peace on earth. It is something to be wished for, and, in fact, it is something we wish for every winter solstice. We sing. We hold hands. We light candles. We wish.

Wish [verb]: a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; want something that cannot or probably will not happen.

For months I’ve been taking notes and doing research for a play that I want to write. One of the themes of my someday-play is control-by-division and I find myself constantly tripping over stories and mythology with control-by-division as the central tenet. It’s everywhere. For instance, The Tower of Babel features a unified humanity – speaking a single language – who attempt to build a tower to reach heaven. The god’s response was to blast their language, split them linguistically so they were incapable of understanding each other. Plato’s Symposium tells a similar tale. Humans united are too powerful so fearful gods go to great lengths to keep humanity divided. It’s the history of these intentionally-divided-united-states as understood through the lens of Bacon’s rebellion. It’s a repetitive pattern, a living system.

Peace is something the gods, the 17th century aristocrats, and the current republican party do not want us to have. A united populace is capable of peace and a prerequisite of peace is equity. Good will toward men and women and neighbors and speakers of languages other than ones own. The desire for everyone to prosper, for everyone to be safe. Everyone.

When I was young and perhaps more naive than I am now [if that is possible], I explained to rival gang members that they were essentially puppets doing exactly what the powerful expected them to do: fighting and killing each other. Division serves as a useful preoccupation. It keeps eyes and minds off those who were controlling them, keeping them poor. As you might imagine my blather fell on deaf ears and those beautiful young people were back on the streets killing each other before the sun went down.

This is what I read in all of the myths, in all of the stories of intentional-division: peace is our natural state. It takes extraordinary effort and manipulation to divide us.

Peace. Reaching across division. Division that is often – as we have lately seen all too clearly – trumped up to keep us from coming together, from building our too-tall-tower and approaching heaven. United, we might turn our eyes toward the powerful few and ask, “So what are you really doing?”

United, we might ask of ourselves to do something more than our annual-ritual-of-wishing.

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE