Don’t Go Home [on DR Thursday]

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House on Fire. 2004-ish. Watercolor. And, yes, I was all over copying Guernica.

“The continual retreat from the discomfort of authentic racial engagement in a culture infused with racial disparity limits the ability to form authentic connections across racial lines, and results in a perpetual cycle that works to hold racism in place.” ~ Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

I confess to rewriting this post. What I wrote initially was pedantic and preachy. So, this is a second go-round.

We’ve been hearing this question much in these past days: why don’t things ever change? Here’s an answer I learned in school: a society is a living system and, like all living things, it will fight to the death when threatened with change. Why we can’t seem to “solve” our problem with racial disparity and the dehumanization of black people? It’s built into our system. The system, a complex and living thing, will fight to the death to keep the injustice securely in place.

That’s a heady answer and somewhat hopeless. Its abstraction makes it a safe and somewhat antiseptic response.

I lived in Los Angeles in 1992. My apartment was in the hills so I had a good vantage point to watch the rioting and the city burn. When it felt too unsafe, I fled the city. I had a safe place to go.

A few years later, working with a school district, the head of the Black Student Union asked me to come in and work with her students. MLK day was fast approaching and the students, preparing presentations for the day, were in rebellion. They were mad. They didn’t want to read speeches about peace and justice when those ideals were nowhere on their horizon. I thought it was my job to help them give voice to what they wanted to say. It was my first conscious lesson in my white-blindness. The frightened parents of the students descended. I’ll never forget the mother and father that pulled me aside, saying to me, “You don’t understand. If they say what they want to say they’ll be killed.” Their terror was real. They had to teach their children a lesson that was the opposite of what my parents taught me.

To call it a problem is to reduce it to the level of mechanics. It is to pretend (or hope) that a few changes in the law or better policing will do the trick.  To treat it like a problem guarantees that we’ll recreate it. This is not a problem, this is a pattern. It is a cycle. It is a relationship.

The pattern is currently in our faces. The pattern is not only the death of another black person. The pattern is also what white America chooses to do – or not do-  with the knowledge of it. What is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves that makes it possible to stand in the fire with people of color during the protests but walk-on once the fire subsides? It is simply this: I get to go home. I get to drive out of LA when things feel too unsafe. I have someplace to go. I get to go home when the officer is prosecuted or a law is changed or a commission empaneled, dust off my hands, and say that I did my part.

Why don’t things ever change?

I was stunned when those parents pulled me aside. At first, I couldn’t believe that they were going to silence their children when their children had something so important to say. It made my head spin. And then I went home. And then I realized that they couldn’t go home. There was no place in this “living system” where they were safe. That was what they were trying to tell me. It was what Martin Luther King was trying to tell us. It is what the protesters in the streets today are trying to get us to see/admit/realize. We are watching a living system built on racial division and inequality fight to the death because change is knocking.

What if we realized that we cannot simply go home and forget about it?

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOUSE ON FIRE

 

 

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Check The Acorn [on VERY Flawed Wednesday]

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Apparently Sigmund Freud has a dangerous and ill-intended descendant named Voter. Splashed all over the conservative Henny Penny is a frenzied warning: watch out for Voter Freud! He is running rampant! Threatening the nation! Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and the entire cast of hysterics-with-microphones are gathering other like-minded fowl to amplify the message of a would-be king. Voter Freud is on the loose and if not stopped, he will corrupt your Drakey Lakey!

This is why I adore stories. Even the simplest folk tale has the ominous capacity to reveal us to ourselves. And, if we are wise, we listen to what they might teach us. Variations of the Chicken Little story have been around for centuries.

Times have changed but human nature is surprisingly consistent. Henny Penny was hit on the head by an acorn and thought the sky was falling. Hysterical, she decides to sound the alarm of imminent disaster and clucks away to tell the king before it is too late. Along the way she whips other unquestioning fowl into a panic and they join in her frantic chorus. Depending upon the ending – there are many – but mostly, she and her gaggle are eaten – each and everyone – by the fox [I take pause here for a moment of reflection so the uncanny closeness of the story to our times might sink in].

The multiple screeching voices currently re-enacting the Henny Penny story did not intend to invent Sigmund’s evil descendant. It is only through the magic of spelling errors that voter fraud donned the villainous persona of Voter Freud. And, I confess, I love the character!

All good stories have a moral and that is true for the tale of Henny Penny: traditionally, the moral is to not be a “chicken” but to have courage. Hysterical chickens get eaten by Foxes. The current moral-of-the-story might go something like this: be wary of acorns dropped on your noggin. It is not a falling sky. It is a set up. A modicum of research will spare the entire hen house of yet another hysterical outburst.  In the United States of America, voter fraud is very rare. The current fox guarding the hen house would like all the fowl to cluck with fear of Voter Freud. The purpose, of course, is to make it harder for many citizens to vote. Or, stated another way: keeping the chickens hysterical serves the fox; voters exercising their right to vote does not.

Voter Freud is made up. So is voter fraud.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on Voter Freud

 

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Let The Pieces Fall [on KS Friday]

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“It is the paradox of spiritual growth that through such bleak midwinter journeys we eventually come through a hidden door into a bright field of springtime that we could never have discovered otherwise. This is the heart of the mystical. It is not about building protectionist armour of prayer and religion; it is, rather, the courage for absolute divestment. In the sheer vulnerability of Nothingness everything becomes possible in a new way, but there is an immense temptation to flee back to the shelter of old complacency. Now could be the most important moment in life to steel our courage and enter the risk of change.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

Parcival returned to the place in the deep woods where he’d stripped off his armor. Was it yesterday? A year ago? Two? He couldn’t remember. While he searched for the place he remembered with satisfaction the battles he’d waged, the ogres he’d defeated. The mission he’d served. He longed to once again inhabit that simple clarity, that single focus.

His old armor was not hard to find but it looked nothing like he remembered it. No longer shiny and hard, it was brittle with rust and covered in moss and vines. Nature was reclaiming it. Still, he wanted to put it back on. He wanted to forget the reasons he took it off in the first place. The loneliness. The fear. Forever fighting the lost cause, the imagined foe. He wanted to remember the good and ignore completely the painful parts of the story.  He could go back! He could be the great knight once again.

His vision crumbled like his armor when he attempted to pick it up. Going back was a fantasy. Retreating back in time, donning again his old armor,  was perhaps the final ogre to fight. Like all of the other ogres, it, too, was an illusion. He let the rusty pieces fall back to the forest floor.

Now, allowing the full force of his vulnerability, the utter absence of role or definition, he no longer yearned for the tight closure of what was, but wholly surrendered to the expansive, the infinite and uncontrollable new.

LONGING on the album AS IT IS is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LONGING

 

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longing/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

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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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Heed The Thwack [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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It occurs to me now that Marilyn J. was thwacking me on the back of the head. In her comment about my post, AGREE TO DISAGREE, she mirrored back to me something I have taught: without an antagonist there is no story. Without an obstacle there is nothing to drive the story forward. Marilyn was reminding me of two things. First,  the antagonists in my story were giving me fuel for forward movement. Second, that in my post, I was pushing against what I don’t like. She was reminding me that productive movement is toward what I wish to create rather than resisting what I do not want.

We have a new phrase in our lexicon though it feels ancient: social distancing. In thinking about what Marilyn wrote to me I have decided the real social distancing that we are experiencing has less to do with stay at home orders or six feet of space or wearing masks; it is about the distance between the world inhabited by the red and the world inhabited by the blue. They are, I believe, no longer merely divided, they are distinctly separate realities. What makes sense in one reality looks like utter nonsense in the other.

I just took a dive into quotes by E.O. Wilson. He wrote something about brilliant enemies and I wanted to find it: “Without a trace of irony I can say that I have been blessed with brilliant enemies. I owe them a great debt, because they redoubled my energies and drove me in new directions.”

This is point of Marilyn’s head thwack. Redouble your energies. There is no denying that my daily disbelief at the malignant narcissist and his propaganda machine is driving me in new and as yet unknown directions. It has filled me with fear for my family and friends. It is also filling me with energy and it is up to me to live what I believe and use my redoubled energy to move toward what I desire to create rather than become “the thing hate:” an angry absolutist incapable of listening. A resister. An energy eddy.

Or, as Saul-the-Tai-Chi-Master so often reminded me, “Look beyond the obstacle to the field of possibilities.” That is where all of life is truly found.

[note: if you want to feel good about humanity or just need some perspective in the time of pandemic, Google quotes by E.O. Wilson. Or, better yet, since we are in this for a while read one of his books].

 

read Kerri’s blog post on this NOT SO FLAWED WEDNESDAY

 

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Ask, “What Now?” [on DR Thursday]

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“Although each of us is fashioned in careful incompletion, we were created to long for each other. The secret of our completion can only be found in the other. Huge differences may separate us, yet they are exactly what draw us to each other. It is as though forged together we form one presence, for each of us has half of a language that the other seeks.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

My favorite definition of “story” comes from Robert Olen Butler: a story happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. It is, of course, also a great definition of the experience of being alive. In our “careful incompletion” we yearn for other things and other places, other ideas of ourselves. And, so, we set sail. We seek.

Without yearning there would be no story. Without obstacles there would be no story.

Like you, I have spent my time on the kitchen floor, Kerri’s code-phrase for weeping.  When my obstacle was insurmountable, when my yearning required leaving. Loss. Weeping invited surrender. Surrender required weeping. Letting go.

And, after the weeping, emptied of what was, I, like you, stood, took a deep breath and asked myself, “What now?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WEEPING MAN

 

 

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weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson

Stand In It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Adding to the pandemic-time-disorientation-syndrome, gas prices dropped to a level that we haven’t seen for 20 years. I looked at the sign while filling up and asked Kerri, “Wow. Where are we?”

She shook her head. “This is weird.”

“What were you doing the last time gas was this cheap?” I asked.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it,” she replied, “cheap gas and we can’t go anywhere.” We are road tripping fools so inexpensive gas is a titanic tease amidst a stay at home order.

There are cultures on this planet that believe we move through time backwards, we row ourselves through life with our eyes firmly fixed on where we’ve been rather than where we are going.

This makes sense to me since making sense of life is a backward looking affair. And, the really great thing about sense-making is that it is never completed. The story we tell ourselves about our life and choices is…a story. A new day brings a new perspective on an old well-storied choice. Some of my dumbest decisions, the actions I have been most critical for taking, from my current view, now look wise. Or, at the very least, inevitable.

We afford ourselves more grace with a longer view and several revisions of the old story.

It has been said that the fear of death is not, as advertised, the fear of the unknown. It is the fear of the loss of what is known. We hold fast to our oars, grip with all of our might onto what we think we know and  can control.  We row our little boat in a vast uncontrollable sea.

Actors come alive on stage when they forget their lines. Suddenly the “real” penetrates the pretend. The loss of control ignites life both on the stage and off. The audience sits forward. Something real and unknown is unfolding!

Fear of losing the known. Like actors on the stage, people come alive when they turn and stare into what cannot be controlled. The now. When they forget their lines, lose their name and stare blankly into the dark house. And, the only thing to be done is to stand in it. Relax. Sit forward. Something real is unfolding.

The words will return. We’ll get a grip on the oars sooner or later. The illusion will be restored. A good actor knows that panic only perpetuates the blankness. Relax. A good actor knows the others on the stage will lend a hand if necessary. Good assurances for all of us in this pandemic play. Stand in it. Our boat is going someplace we cannot control.

Something real is unfolding.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHEAP GAS

 

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