Flush The Principle [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Yesterday I wrote a long note to Senate Majority Leader McConnell de-crying just a few of the amoral specifics regarding his crass, disrespectful and gleeful jig dance around RBG’s deathbed…and more generally about his and his party’s roles in bringing to its knees what had been a reasonably good land peopled by reasonably good people…” ~ MM

With the passing of RBG I have heard this phrase repeated over and over again by politicians and pundits alike as an explanation or perhaps an excuse for the the behavior of our elected officials: It’s power over principle.

Power over principle. Penny wise and pound foolish. What is gained is minimal when compared with what is lost.

On one end of the political spectrum is my mother who screamed into the phone, “I want my country back!” On the other end is my dear MM, who lamented, “I’m coming to realize that the country I thought I inhabited never really existed.” It’s a lose/lose proposition all the way around. Loss of belief is what is gained.

Catch a few of the key words in the definition of principle: a fundamental truth that serves as the foundation for a system. Fundamental truth. Foundation of a system.

In essence, as the politicians and pundits make clear, our elected leaders are willing to ignore our fundamental truths and erode our foundation for a wee bit of short term control. Is there any among us who does not know what happens to a house when the foundation crumbles?

Dare I state the obvious? Power is what happens when people come together. Control is what happens when people are divided. The politicians and pundits have it all wrong. It’s Control over Principle. The penny gained is not worth the stable republic that is lost. Instability is central to the definition of a banana republic. And so we will take the path all empires walk when their principles take back seat to their control lust.

Children in our public schools are taught a pledge of allegiance to the flag. It ends with these words: …indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It seems we are locked in a constant battle to define this word: ALL. Are LGBTQ citizens included in ALL? What about Muslim Americans? Women? Are they included in the word ALL? What about black Americans? Is justice for ALL equally applied or is it only available for the select few?

Our pledge is either a statement of principle or it is a lie. We will become indivisible when liberty and justice are assumed and applied equally to ALL. Principles lead to power; that is the point of a principle and why they must be lived, honored. Control is all that remains to a leadership empty of principle. Division is the only tool in a principle-less toolbox.

Principles matter until they don’t. RBG knew there was a line that must be held. She spent her life fighting for principle over control. It is why, in her passing, we celebrate that she represented the best of us.

It is also why, in her passing, we shake our heads in disgust and disbelief as our senate and president represent the very worst of us. They will, of course, slobber and achieve their small amount of control. The cost, of course, is nothing more or less than our nation’s principles.

read Kerri’s blog post about RBG

Free Your Freedom [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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David sends photographs of his young son, Dawson, painting. Or playing. Or just enjoying the moment. I love them. They bring smiles and a Picasso-esque reminder. Paint like a child. Play-to-play and for no other reason. Wear a cape and fly!

Adults get enmeshed in all manner of weird issues. They come to think that things like wearing-a-mask-during-a-pandemic can be an inhibitor to their freedom when, in fact, they gave away their freedom ages ago. They grew up and forgot how to play, how to mush color around with their fingers, how to roll down a grassy slope and run back to the top to do it all over again. They forgot how to play with others. They muzzle themselves.

Adults give away their freedom when they come to believe that a brand of car or the label on their clothes gives them status or makes them sexy. They confuse their money with their morality. They give away 5 days so they might live for 2 or, worse, they suffer through thirty years of toil with the zany idea that they will live life when they “retire.”

Adults get lost in illusion. They snap towels and brag about their wild-side while pulling on their uniform-stiff-collar-suit and cinching up a tie around their neck. They somehow come to think that pushing other people down will raise them up the ladder. They create odd justifications: dog-eat-dog or business-is-business or divide-and-conquer. Play-to-win and for no other reason.

Let’s face it, adults fill themselves up with fear and judgment. They can’t paint with their fingers because someone might call them childish or stupid or worse! And, horror of horrors! What if their finger painting isn’t perfect in the eyes of others?! Shame is a great inhibitor especially when it is the imagined response to fun-and-free-self-expression. The only safe thing to do is put away the dangerous color, wash the paint from your hands. The only safety is to judge others! Establish some mask of authority; become the arbiter of right and wrong. Dole out the shame so as not to receive it. Phew.

Adults mistakenly believe that power is control, that power is something wielded over others. Every child knows that power has nothing to do with control. Power is something created with others, like painting with your dad. That is power-full! Even infants know that power is a relationship of mutual support, it crackles between people. Humans-of-every-age are never more powerful than when helping others grow.

Poor sad adults have it upside-down and backwards. As I used to tell students, “Any idiot with a pistol can take life, it takes a very powerful person to give life.” There’s no real power in the taking. There’s infinite power in the giving.

Just so, there’s no freedom in the taking. There’s infinite freedom in the giving, the free expression, the playing, the laughing, the sharing. Every child knows that.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DON’T GROW UP!

 

 

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Create Calm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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This word, calm, is a rare bird among words. It is a triple play of words: an adjective, a noun, and a verb. A descriptor, a thing, and an action.

If I had a superpower, it would be to calm. To create calm. To inspire calm hearts. Soothe, make peaceful, generate calm within and beyond the eye of the hurricane.

Last night we watched The Barkley  Marathons, a documentary about a wacky ultra-marathon trail race in Tennessee. Very few people finish the race. One of the racers, an unlikely finisher, told the story of how he came to be in the field. His dad did what he was supposed to do – he worked and saved all of his life so he might retire and then go have experiences. But – you know the story – he died one year shy of retirement. “I decided not to wait,” the runner said. “I want to suck the marrow from every moment of this life.”

Usually, the center of a delayed life smolders. Henny Penny races around the center-cage of a fearful life. But, you’ll know someone who is fully in their moment, who is sucking the marrow out of this tasty life, when you see them. Their center is calm. They are not predetermining their experiences. They’ve stripped off their “should” and “can’t.” Rather, they step onto the unknown field and open their arms to what comes. They play an infinite game, they play-to-play, and perhaps learn a little bit about themselves along the way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CALM

 

 

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Reflect [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A look in the mirror and something entirely surprising is reflected back to me:

I started writing because I discovered that I had something to say. The story goes like this: facilitating a group in a corporate headquarters in downtown Chicago, one of the participants asked a question about power. She was feeling powerless. I listened to the group discussion for a while. And then I surprised myself with more than a few things to say about power and empowerment. So, I went home and started writing this blog. The Direction of Intention. Move toward what you want, not away from what you resist.

Initially, I wrote as a challenge for myself. How many days in a row can I write and still have something to say. I thought I’d fizzle out in less than week. That was over a decade ago.

By my reflection in the mirror I can see that some things have changed. In fact, a lot has changed. This is from my archive; it was my 98th post:

My business partner and I have asked the group to do something akin to attempting to consciously create each moment of their day. We’ve asked them to place their focus on their immediate relationships (with others, with nature, with themselves) and to ask, “Is this how I want to story this moment? Is this what I want to create in this moment?”

It seems like an impossible request until you consider that it is what you are doing anyway. The pertinent question is not, “Can you do it?” rather, the question is, “Are you aware of how powerful you are at creating?”

The most potent recognition I have in doing this exercise (and I have it every time I do the exercise), is when I ask myself the question, “Is this how I want to story this moment?” Usually, my answer is, “No.” Usually I want to create something else. I do not want to create frustration or angst or rushing around. I do not want to attempt to control or manipulate or pressure an outcome. I do not want to invest in a fear or let loose the lack monologue to rage once again about my mind. I do not want to deflect or hide. And the moment I see it, I let go my grip on something I can only call a “story.”

I let go, my eyes clear and I become present. That is why I suspect that creating is a quality of being as much or more than anything I will ever do.

***

A look in the mirror. There is a woman by my side! She is blonde. We wear masks?!! There is a really bad shirt hanging behind her. I look as if there is a tea kettle growing out of my head.  The person I was ten years ago would be mystified by this peek into the future. “Who’s the woman?” he’d ask. “And what’s up with the masks? Where are you, anyway?”

So. I ask myself now, how do I want to story this moment in time? In five years or ten, when I look back at this reflection in the mirror, will I be happy with how I storied myself in this precise moment? Will I be grateful for what I chose to create?

We live in a circumstance that we cannot impact. It’s true with or without a pandemic. But, within our circumstance, there is infinite capacity to determine the story.  I create the story I live. I create the story I tell. I create.

I am married to the blonde woman! Everyday, sitting side by side, we write together. Using the same image or quote, we write our thoughts. He said/She said. No peeking. Then, we share. We read what we’ve written. We talk about what we created. We edit. We reflect. And then, together, we publish.

A look in the mirror. A story to tell. A choice to make. A question to ask. A moment to craft.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MIRROR

 

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Imagine It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is a tale of two schools, both in the same school district. It is the story of the very day when the younger version of me grasped with both hands the absolute importance of the arts, when I understood to my bones that art was not a luxury but a necessity in a healthy world.

As the manager of the theatre conservatory, I sometimes went to observe the actor outreach programs in the schools. On this particular day, two schools were on the schedule. At the first school, I followed a team that went into the younger classrooms, 1st graders. They played imagination games with the students. I saw princesses and dragons and superheroes reach into wild possibilities.

We left the first school and literally drove across the tracks to the poorer side of town. I decided to follow the same team. They played the same imagination games with the same age group but, at the this school, the children played “Where will the rent come from?” This time, instead of flying into possibilities, these children hit an imagination glass ceiling. The hard realities of life already had a strangle-hold on their creative minds. The actors had to work hard to break through the glass ceiling. I realized that, for these children, it was not safe to entertain possibilities.

Picasso once said that, “He can who thinks he can, and can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” We dream ourselves into being. That is the point and the power of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. That is the purpose of art, to open our imagination so we might create  a better, more expansive version of ourselves. To intend and give shape to what we imagine.

This inexorable, indisputable law applies to nations and communities as well as to individuals.

We have always been a nation divided. There have always been tracks to cross. Our history is of a two party system tug-of-war. We’ve espoused equality while practicing slavery; even our rhetoric is at odds with itself. The new wave of immigrants have been subjected to unspeakable cruelty from the previous generation of immigrants. There has always been “haves” and “have-nots.” The question of whether of not we can unite in the face of diversity is at the epicenter of the American experiment. Can we imagine ourselves whole? Can we create opportunity for all? It is a question with no definitive answer because it requires us to engage with it again and again and again. We must imagine ourselves anew each and every day.

We unite when we are at our shining best. We pride ourselves on the dream of creating a new world where all people experience the freedom to create what they can imagine. Creative tension, competition on a level playing field, invites innovation and invitation. We can.

We divide when our imagination fails us. Fear always fills the void left by vapid imaginations. We are – like people of all nations in all times – easily manipulated when we lapse into fear and turn our angst on each other. It is, after all, a strategy. Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book used by dictators and emperors to fracture an otherwise powerful populace.  It will play out as it always has and always will – a weakened nation. A collapse. People who turn in and cannibalize each other.

We-the-people are telling ourselves a miserable story. The pandemic is merely exacerbating our real dilemma. Divide and rule is filling the void, installing hard glass between us and our best imaginings. We are eating each other alive.

We are better than this. We deserve better.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WE DESERVE BETTER

 

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an instrument of peace

Scream Into The Mic [on KS Friday]

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During the healing time of Wristgate, as Kirsten called it, Kerri and I have been spending much of our time on the raft [our bed – it is where the broken wrists are most comfortable].  We work from the raft. We eat from a tray on the raft. We plan life from the raft. And, because it is cold winter, we reminisce on the raft. We talk about what might have been, what choices we’ve made, what storms blew in, wreaked havoc and gave shape to our lives.

No Balloons. It is one of the first studio recordings of Kerri. It is from 1980, smack dab in the era of Joni Mitchell, when a cassette tape was the latest and greatest technology. I recognize her very young voice, shaky and not yet rooted, trying to find itself. Sitting on the raft, although I’ve heard the backstory of the song before, to hear it again made me weep.

No Balloons is a song about rape. Kerri’s rape. A young woman, hopeful and trusting, trying to find her voice, a violent storm that blew in, a man twice her age that altered the course of her life. When she sought help she was met with a solid male wall of See-No-Evil-Hear-No-Evil.

We live in the #metoo era. Even though it’s still very hard for young women – any woman – to get the world to listen, to be taken seriously, it was exponentially harder in the 1970’s. The woman, so our sad history goes, was to blame for her own violation. Kerri did what most women did in that time. She internalized it, swallowed her bile, and covered it up. She ran from it, ran from her attacker, ran from a man-world that couldn’t be bothered to listen. She candy-coated her ruin and made it a shameful secret.

After listening to the recording, the sweet quaking voice, the flute floating over the top of the band, the disjoint between the composition and the lyric, Kerri gazed into a dark corner that I could not see and said, “I should have been screaming into the mic.”

Had I not been holding space for her I might have said, “It’s not too late. Maybe the mature woman needs to do what the young woman could not. I suspect there are a legion of young women out there who need you to scream into the mic.”

 

NO BALLOONS

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NO BALLOONS

 

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Find The Quiet [on DR Thursday]

 

 

I paint figures. I’ve never been a landscape painter or a painter of abstracts. I want to touch the spirit within the body.  I want to wander through the inner landscape.  I want to find the quiet-power places.

I didn’t know what to call this painting so Kerri named it A Little Modesty. I liked the name. Synonyms of modesty: unassuming, humility, simplicity. These are quiet-power words.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A LITTLE MODESTY

 

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Decide To Create A Better Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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To anyone who entertains the mistaken notion that they are not creative, look no further than your thoughts. Thought is a creative act. It leads to the chicken-and-egg conundrum of creating. Do you create your thoughts or do your thoughts create you? Either way, what happens between the ears ripples with creativity.

We live within our thoughts and our thoughts live within us. We feed our thoughts with our fantasies and fears. Universes open or close. For instance, focus on contention and you will see contention everywhere.  That is, you will create contention.

It is, and has been the dirty little secret of governing people since before Machiavelli: keep the masses focused on division and they will be easily manipulated. Create difference whether it exists or not. That way the good people will fight with each other and not focus on the actions of their leaders. It’s a magic trick. A sleight of hand. It is a strategy, not a conspiracy.

A people united as one is a very potent force. A united populace is dangerous to a corrupt and fearful leadership.

Before you roll your eyes with my esoterica, put your highly creative thought on this: is it true that our nation is deeply divided? Yes.  Do we create division ourselves without question, eating heartily the divisive narrative we are being fed? Yes. We are daily meditating on division and daily claiming it as truth. We create division together.

Narratives are powerful and just as capable of obscuring as they are of revealing. Obscurity is a creative act. So is deception. Propaganda. Denial. Conspiracy theory. Lie.

It is the definition of ignorance to embrace a narrative without questioning it. Which brings us back around to the chicken-and-egg conundrum: do you close your mind or does your mind close you? Yes. Hate has no home in a questioning mind.

Are we capable of questioning? Of telling a common story? It depends on what we decide together to create. Yes.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on NO HOME FOR HATE

 

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Ask The Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It is a happy accident that we chose this quote for this Merely A Thought Monday. Today, in the United States, we celebrate our veterans. Thucydides was a warrior, a general. He wrote a book on war – and human nature – that is studied to this day.

I confess this quote has left me with thought-fragments, pieces of a mosaic too large to easily construct. So, my fragments:

Happiness. Freedom. Courage. For Thucydides, there is a secret to experiencing  happiness. An effect (happiness) of a cause (courage).

There is this word, ‘freedom,’ a power or a right to act or think without hindrance or constraint.

Then there is this word ‘courage’. The ability to do something that frightens you. Strength in the face of pain.

On the personal level, then, happiness comes from doing the things that frighten you. Stepping toward your unknowns removes hindrances, transcends constraints. Feeling free ensues.

But, then there is this bit of my fragment, something from the bigger picture: Thucydides wrote that fear and self-interest were the central drivers of political endeavor. Political endeavor is the driver of war.

Fear. Self interest. Political endeavor. War.

Thucydides is studied to this day because what he wrote is relevant to this moment in time:

[from Leo Strauss via Wikipedia]: Scholars traditionally view Thucydides as recognizing and teaching the lesson that democracies need leadership, but that leadership can be dangerous to democracy…Thucydides had a deeply ambivalent view: on one hand, Thucydides’s own “wisdom was made possible” by the Periclean democracy, which had the effect of liberating individual daring, enterprise, and questioning spirit; but this same liberation, by permitting the growth of limitless political ambition, led to imperialism and, eventually, civic strife.

On this day that we honor the courage of veterans, amidst a leadership that is dangerous to democracy, we have to ask ourselves in all seriousness, to revisit what we believe is worth fighting for.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on this Merely A Thought Monday

 

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UpLift [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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And, what is the opposite of cohesion? Incoherence. The lack of clarity or unity. Fracture.

For a period of time my work on this earth was essentially a meditation on power. Power with. Power over. After a while I understood that power-over was not really power at all; it was control. Control and power are two very different things. They are often confused.

Power is something created with others. Control is something done to others. The equation is simple: the more controlling a person is, the less powerful they actually are. A person who understands his/herself as powerful has no need to assert control over others.

A leader invested in control has only one sure route to controlling: to fracture. To divide. It is the way of the truly powerless. Incoherence and chaos are great tools if control is the aim. Destroy the unity. Play to the disgruntled. Feed the fire of those who are feeling powerless. Promise them control. Pushing others down to elevate the self can only end badly. Everyone drowns.

People secure in their power create cohesion. They unite. They uplift. Power is a force that grows between people. It cannot be owned by one. It is always the province of the community. A person secure in her/his power generates unity. What else? The power they feel within is an expression of the power they experience with.

Community is a word that implies cohesion. To commune. Common. And, what could be more common than a central focus, the intention to support and bring out the best in all.

What is the opposite of a powerful person?

 

read kerri’s blog post about COHESION

 

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