Follow The Conversation [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I met Horatio on an airplane. With his wife, Teru, we were seatmates on a flight from Washington D.C. to Seattle. I’d just finished facilitating a workshop at the Smithsonian about story, he was stepping toward directing films, and Teru is passionate about writing life histories. We talked about storytelling clear across the country and our conversation continues to this day.

David and I sat next to each other at a conference. I’d only just moved to Seattle, I knew no one. I saw a sign for the conference and wandered in. It was my good fortune to pick a seat next to a brilliant visual and theatre artist. We started talking about life and art. Years later, every gallery I enter, every play I attend, I have conversations with David in my mind – and hurry home to write him or call him and share what we talked about.

To this day, MM is my greatest collaborator. We used to sit in my office and dream big dreams – and then go out and make them happen. He is the ultimate player-of-infinite-games, playing-to-play. When I need my mind opened, my pot stirred, or my obstacles surmounted, I turn to MM.

I was visiting Tom McK at his ranch. When he asked me to help him tell a story I had no idea that his simple question, the story that he needed to tell, would take more than a decade and would only be possible after his death. His story became my story to tell.

It was Tom’s story that I told to Horatio that day on the flight from D.C. to Seattle. It was multiple good conversations over many years with David about writing plays that finally brought me to clarity. MM was my constant companion. With his band, Mom’s Chili Boys, he composed the music that supported the telling of Tom’s story. He built the world of the play and then, together, we stepped into the world and fulfilled Tom’s request.

Fortuitous seat assignments on a flight. Following an impulse into a conference and taking any old seat. Playing an infinite game. One good conversation, again and again, and nothing will ever be the same.

read Kerri’s blog post about ONE GOOD CONVERSATION

Look Forward, Look Backward [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It stood stark white against the umber of the brush and forest. “A wishbone,” Kerri said.

Furcula. My new word of the day. I also learned that the tradition of breaking the wishbone is brought to us via the Romans. It’s an ancient game of luck and fortune divination. I imagine fowl across the ages had and continue to have no idea that they carry within their feathered bodies an augury. Chefs everywhere caution that the wishbone must be dried before it can properly snap. Pull too soon and the power may not be turned on!

I confess that, standing in the woods, I did not immediately see a wishbone. I saw two diverging paths. It brought to my mind a collision of the Hopi prophecy and The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. It made my head spin and I was grateful that Kerri stopped to take a picture. When my thought-vertigo calmed I realized that both the prophecy and the poem are a call to take the road “less traveled by.”

I see metaphor everywhere. I can’t help it. And so, it is impossible for me not to project this poem and prophecy onto the place we stand in these firmly-divided-united-states. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” I read that the theme of the poem is “that we want to believe that our choices are unique, brave, and life-altering when they really are not.” It is a backward glance at life.

It seems to me that the choices we as a nation make at this particular crossroad, despite the poem’s theme, will be life-altering. Nation-altering. Some interpreters suggest the poem is a celebration of non-conformity, that the real wealth of life is found when breaking away from the well-traveled-and-well-known path. I can only hope that the politicians draped in red, attempting in their blind conformity to minimize a president-inspired-insurrection, find the courage to break from their dangerous orthodoxy.

The Hopi prophecy is a forward look. One path leads to destruction. The other leads to balance and harmony. A “head” path and a “heart” path. Or, a “two-heart” or “one-heart” path. Two hearts are in conflict, a split-intention, and lose all trying simultaneously to chase two goals; a tale of cross purposes. One heart, one intention. One purpose. Unity.

A forward look. A backward look. A wishbone in the forest. We have the luxury of backward-looking and know the path the Romans chose. They are gone. But, they have left us with a rich tradition of chicken-bone-augury.

I wonder what story future-backward-lookers will tell about us? I wonder what path we will take as our road diverges in this yellow wood? I wonder what fowl tradition we will send rippling into the unknown future?

read Kerri’s blog post about the WISHBONE

Story Your Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A difficulty is a light; an insurmountable difficulty is the sun.” ~ Paul Valery

A newsflash from Captain Obvious: this has been a very difficult year. We’ve revoked permission to ask, “What else could happen?” because, in this year, something else always happens; something else climbs on the pile of the already insurmountable mountain of difficulties.

Robert Olen Butler wrote that a story is what happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. We humans love a good story of difficulties surmounted. There is great satisfaction when Luke Skywalker finally trusts the force, when Frodo returns the ring to the lava, when the underdog wins the race. We cheer when the skinny girl punches the bully, when the peasants rise and vanquish the brutal king.

The difficulty, the obstacle, evokes character. The difficulty also reveals character. This year of difficulty has revealed much about the character – and the lack of character – of our nation. Both/And. Healthcare workers run into the fiery jaws of this dragon-virus every day. With hospitals overrun, with numbers of infections skyrocketing, many of us ignore the pleas of healthcare workers to stay put, to avoid gathering, and fly off to play at Disneyland. Both/And.

In the arc of every great story there must be a loss. The difficulty has to win-for-a-moment in order to evoke the light. The obstacle serves as the catalyst for discovery. The discovery serves as the introduction to the next obstacle. Let’s face it, a life without difficulty is flat and void of tales. It’s a cycle of life.

It is tempting, when sitting in the belly of the whale, to think that the belly is the end of the story. It never is. It is the moment to weep. Yes. It is the moment to sit still and wonder what to do. Yes. It is the moment to run around in a last ditch effort to create enough belly-havoc that the whale burps you to the surface and spits you out to face the next obstacle, the next difficulty, that will someday become the story of ‘I didn’t know I had it in me.” The moment of greatest creativity. The Hail-Mary pass.

The story of your light – of our light – and how it came into the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHTS

Pop The Bubble [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“I think we all see the world from our own little unique bubble.” ~ Julie Taymor

“You never know you’re in a bubble until it pops.” ~ Andrew Revkin

The word “bubble” has taken on wildly new significance in the past few years. We refer to our information-tribes as bubbles. This notion of “bubble” is defined by ideological agreement. The universe in the conservative bubble is unrecognizable to the universe in the progressive bubble and vice-versa.

We also create support bubbles, friends and family who have quarantined so they can safely gather together in their bubble. This bubble is defined by an agreement of safety.

We see photographs of people dining in plastic pods. Bubbles, bubbles, everywhere.

These bubbles are ultimately about safety. A support bubble provides a measure of protection from the pandemic. An ideological bubble provides a measure of protection from opposing points of view.

At the end of his days, Stephen Hawking popped his own multiverse theory – an infinite number of “pocket universes” – bubbles by another name – and posited something simpler and provable. It is the beautiful progress of science to burst previous understanding once new information is available. In science, as in life, nothing is static. We admire people like Stephen Hawking, who pursue truth, who are expansive and capable of saying, “I know more now. I had it wrong.”

Growth, maturity, is a parade of bursting bubbles.

We are currently witness to the latest in bubble-fossilization, the outright infantile resistance of fact driving a deeper retreat into the hard-shell bubble of reality denial. A Fox Parler. It’s a pressure cooker of conspiracy theory and magical thinking – anything to explain away those pesky facts, data points, and court rulings. All bubbles eventually pop and we know from history that angry-insular-bubbles burst violently. The killing fields. German villagers sweeping ash from their sills each morning. Planes flown into buildings. Mustard gas.

This violent bubble burst will be shared by all.

I suppose that is the point. If we’ve learned anything from this time of pandemic it is how utterly interconnected we really are. No matter how far we think we can retreat, bubbles, no matter how well blown, are permeable. The air I breathe is the same air you breathe which, lately, has been the problem. The air I use to blow my bubble is shared with all other bubble-blowers. My perceived independence is an illusion in a dynamic universe of interdependence.

Our dedicated bubbles will someday burst and, with any luck, as we form new bubbles, we will, like Stephen Hawking, be capable of saying, “I know more now. I had it wrong.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BUBBLES

chasing bubbles

chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

Unify The Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It is a continued irony. The fuel driving the angry wearers of red hats, those who fervently seek a bygone world with concrete truths, a simpler time awash in black-and-white thinking, have wrapped themselves in a fox-cloak that shields them from fact or data – the very thing that might deliver them to their holy land. Science, the lodestone of reason, the giver of hard truth, is the first thing they deny. Their wizard, magnified through a foxy megaphone, has magically transformed facts into threats, assaults on ham-headed belief.

And, so, we continue the dance of two competing narratives.

Science tells us the climate is changing and human activity is driving the change. Carbon emissions sits atop the list of greenhouse gases. It is a fact. Think of it this way: narrative number one: the west coast burns with record-breaking forest fires, the gulf coast is pounded by record-breaking storms because, as science tells us, the globe is warming. Narrative number two: the west coast is on fire because, as the denier expounds, the good people of California haven’t adequately raked their forests.

Repeat a lie long enough and often enough and it will become a mantra.

Hoax. Hoax. Hoax. Fake. Fake. Fake.

It is the national equivalent of an anorexic looking into a mirror and seeing someone who needs to stop eating. No amount of evidence will penetrate the disorder. It is deadly to be so deluded.

And so, we arrive at the election. A continued tale of two narratives. In the complete absence of evidence, forest-rakers, climate-change-deniers, scream across a canyon of missing evidence, “FRAUD!”

Narrative number one: all legitimate votes were counted with every possible safeguard in place making sure it was a fair election and Biden accrued the most votes (sidebar: seriously, in these times with a raging pathological liar in the president’s seat, can you imagine any state not doubling and tripling their vote checking? That is, in fact, what happened. There has never been an election with so many safeguards).

Narrative number two: “HOAX! FRAUD. FAKE. CHEAT.” The red hat team screamed their mantra even before the votes had been cast and carry on their chant even though less votes were cast for their candidate (sidebar #2: their guy also screamed “hoax, fraud, cheat” throughout the 2016 campaign until he won the electoral college and then, magically, everything was legitimate. Keep in mind that he also empaneled a commission to prove that there was FRAUD when he lost the popular vote. His panel found no evidence of voter fraud. None. Zero.)

The evidence of voter fraud in these-never-sometimes-united-un-united-states is statistically zero. That has always been true. It is true – especially true – today.

It’s a pattern and it’s more than exhausting. No amount of forest-raking will change the reality of climate change. No amount of bullying or cries that the sky is falling will change the vote count.

Ignorance is not always about a lack of education. Sometimes it is an absolute dedication to a story that has no merit. It is to build a house-of-belief on shifting sand and claim-in-the-face-of-hard-proof that it is built on solid stone.

Kerri’s been humming this song all week. Time for a cool change. Yes. It is way past time. Her humming is like a rain dance, an invocation of life-giving relief from a truth-drought.

The rain has come; the election is over. Perhaps, the earth will cool, the narratives will unify. A boy can dream.

read Kerri’s blog post about COOL CHANGE

Wash Your Spirit [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir

I did not know how badly my spirit needed a good washing until we were hiking the Ditch Trail. The aspen trees were just beyond their autumn peak so the mountainside popped with islands of orange and vibrant yellow. The only noise was the breeze murmuring through the trees, quaking the leaves. I literally felt the world of angry people drop away. I breathed deeply the air, the sun warmed me to the bone. The cleansing commenced. Silence of the mind.

Jim once told me that people go to the seashore to experience the eternal. The tides were coming and going long before your birth and will come and go long after you are gone. It puts everything into perspective.

The mountains are like that, too. They are perspective-givers. This week Horatio told me “This life is short so we better get out there and do what we want to do.” The mountains are in constant motion but our lifespans are too short to see the waves rising and falling. On our last day in Colorado, while climbing above timberline, I realized (again) that in my short life I have been less and less concerned with what I want to do and more and more interested in how I want to be. Standing at the edge of Lower Lost Man Lake with Kerri and Kirsten, a bitter wind watering my eyes, I wanted nothing more. The spirit washing continued.

Driving back to Wisconsin, we mused that our re-entry into the world of people would be difficult. It was nice to be out of the fighting and the lying and the aggression. It made me wonder how the mountains perceive us. Such a small creature steeped in a full-blown-delusion-story of having dominion over all things. “Hubris,” the mountain blinks and we are gone.

In the midst of our incessant search for value and meaning and achievement and worth and dominance, our bitter fight over whose story we will tell, the mountain issues an invitation. Come. Walk awhile. Exit the chatter and stand in this moment. What else do you seek?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAINS

Consider The Circumstance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Easy Way Down. We laughed. The sign only makes sense in the context of winter and deep, ski-able snow. Just out of the frame of this photograph is a chair lift. There is an easy way down because there is an easy way up. Later, as we knew we would have to do, we matched our easy walk down with a breathless slog back to the top.

Circumstance is everything. Sense-making requires a context. Stories only make sense within a specific context. Plunk a choice or a story line into an unrelated context and it seems like madness. Or stupidity. Yank Romeo and Juliet from the context of a society deeply divided by conflict and there is no story. There is no obstacle. It becomes the story of two delusional self-absorbed teenagers. Their choices would seem ridiculous without their circumstance.

I’m certain that Captain Obvious is yawning at my pedestrian observation. Circumstance is everything to sense-making. “So what!” the good Captain sighs.

Well, stop for a moment and consider this: we are in the grips of a worldwide pandemic. That is our circumstance. On this day in these once-united-states, roughly 8 months into our pandemic circumstance, over 220,000 of our citizens have perished from the virus. More than 8 million Americans have been infected. There are 42 million cases world-wide with more than 1 million deaths.

I might agree that a mask mandate – absent the circumstance of a global pandemic – might seem like an infringement on my personal liberties. It would make no sense. However, within the context of a global pandemic, railing against simple public protective measures – mask-wearing, social-distancing, washing hands – seems like so-much-lunacy.

The pandemic is our circumstance. Despite whatever noise and misdirection is being circulated within the fox-bubble, the pandemic is our circumstance. Denying the existence of a pandemic while the rates of infection break records daily is the madhouse equivalent of dumping Frodo and his mission into a Hallmark movie [a Hobbit with a mission finds himself in Christmas town where nice looking citizens offer him hot cocoa and the opportunity to find love in a tree farm]. It makes those within the fox-bubble crying “HOAX!” seem angry, petulant, delusional, and self-absorbed. It makes their dedicated resistance to mask-wearing and social-distancing infantile. It makes their gun-toting, testosterone-riddled protestations puerile.

The pandemic is our circumstance. It is the circumstance of the world. Denying it does not make it go away. As Doug might have said, “Wow! Every goddamn country in the world is pretending to have a deadly pandemic just to throw an election in the USA! I’ll bet that took some serious diplomacy!” [note: his language would have been much more salty]. Denying our circumstance creates worldwide incredulity at our utter stupidity and, above all, facilitates the spread of the virus.

I’m certain that theatre companies across this land are planning productions of Romeo and Juliet set in America 2020. Romeo is a child of the Blues, Juliet is the child of the Reds. The two youngsters, for a moment, with hearts full of new love, transcend their circumstance. Their society’s dedication to division will, of course, kill them both. Remember, too, that other cherished family members die along the way. Mercutio. Paris. It’s an old story asking a current question: how many will have to die, what [or who] is the loss so great that it/they will finally and at last open our eyes?

The pandemic is our circumstance.

read Kerri’s blog post about EASY WAY DOWN

Turn Around And Look [on Merely A Thought Monday]

A few years ago, while swimming in the world of entrepreneurs, I wrote a short book entitled The Seer. It was in many ways a process summary of the work of my life to that point. All of my work – whether in the visual arts, the theatre, diversity and intercultural facilitation, systems change, teaching…driving a bread truck, shoveling dirt…all of it, has in one way or another orbited the moon we call ‘story.’ Occasionally, I pull my little book from the shelf and read what I once knew because it seems more relevant now than when I wrote it.

For instance, the white house recently pulled the plug on all diversity training in government agencies. The reason is simple and explicitly stated: they do not like the story it tells of these-once-united-states. The story, they claim, is “anti-American.”

I structured my book around 9 Recognitions. The first is this: You do not have a problem. You have a pattern. We don’t have a problem. We have a pattern.

Our pattern, generation after generation, is the lengths we will go, the violence we will suffer, to ensure that we exclude a significant part of our story from the national telling. It is untenable to maintain a nation-story built on the ideal of equality that began with, among other things, the institution of slavery and the annihilation of native peoples. To avoid the full story guarantees a schizophrenic national persona. It perpetuates division. Ours is a pattern of adamant story avoidance.

The story works well for the white aristocracy that created it. It’s an exercise in celebrating Doctor Jekyll while denying the existence of Mr. Hyde. Those good guy settlers had to eliminate those pesky “Indians” because they stood in the way of a destiny that was manifest. What is the story as told from the Native American point of view? Or from the point of view of the black American that, to this day, everyday, navigates institutions designed to repress them? They have lived this history – this story of slavery, Jim Crow, and new forms of institutional violence. They are located in the story as the obstacle or the bad guy. The less-than-human.

Diversity training is nothing more than an attempt to tell the full story from all points of view. It is only made necessary because we have a deeply ingrained pattern of either dismissing the full story or pretending that our inequality is in the past.

We cannot become whole until we look in the mirror and reflect on the full picture. It is as ruthless as it is hopeful. It is as dark as it is bright. The path to health for any individual is to first admit that they have a dis-ease. The same is true of a nation.

In the recent actions of the white house, the response to the BLM movement, we are witnessing the latest in our pattern to severely edit our story made the more violent because diversity is percolating its way into the halls of power.

The slogans “Keep America Great” and “Make America Great” only make sense or have appeal to those committed to the Jekyll part of the story. They are the pattern. They are a rally cry to those who feel that in real equality they have something to lose. It’s an “all hands on deck” siren that will tolerate all manner of violence, ugly rhetoric, shaming, dereliction of duty, undermining of judicial integrity to avoid admitting the full story entrance into the American narrative.

The good news is that it is possible, once the full story is realized and the pattern is seen and told, to change the story. The tension is, after all, between conserving what was and progressing toward the ideal.

America may one day become great.

First, we must tire of our schizophrenia, our commitment to division and a system that works for the few. Doctor Jekyll must turn and take a good honest look at Mr. Hyde and stop pretending that the horror that follows him isn’t really there.

read Kerri’s blog post about GRRRREAT!

Touch Nature [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ― John Muir

Since we’ve exhausted every mountain climbing documentary ever made, we now end our days walking an epic trail. We’ve done some serious time on the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Continental Divide Trail and, lately, our imaginary feet have, through the magic of hiker movies, walked every inch of the John Muir Trail.

In addition to our actual walks everyday, our end of evening film walks serve as our escape. It’s how we cope. Because my pals routinely tell me that they, like us, are exhausted or anxious or chronically unfocused, I’ve started the practice of asking them how they mentally get away amid the age of pandemic, social unrest, natural disaster, and pathological lie. My question is always met with a look (or sound) of surprise. Some read. Some play music. Some exercise. Some unplug from news and technology. All seek some time out-of-doors.

Mental get-a-way.

Hands in the dirt, feet on the path. The changing sky, getting caught in the rain or facing the sun, the smell of falling leaves or pine, those damn mosquitoes, cicada chorus, a hawk visitation…perspective givers, all.

Much of the madness chasing us through our days is nothing more than the horror story we unleash in our minds. Human beings are wildly creative and for proof look no further than the fear tales daily yammering through your thought. Amidst the presence of an actual pandemic, the imagination can let loose a full gallery of monsters.

We have legitimate monsters running rampant in our world. We also have imaginary monsters running roughshod in our brains. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Fortunately, there is a test that helps differentiate between them: the legitimate monsters, as a people (as human beings) we will always turn toward and face. The pandemic. Climate change. Injustice. The imaginary monsters we either run from or work hard to magnify. Ignore or amplify. Why is it that human beings argue so ardently for their fears?

The folks that deny the legitimate monsters have confused the legitimate monsters with the illusory. They believe the yuck that runs around in their minds is real. In order to validate the inner yuck requires an all out suppression of the actual threats like viruses, a warming globe, systemic racism. Conversely, dealing with the real challenges leaves no space for fantasy monsters like deep states and wild-hairy-democrats-drinking blood in under ground tunnels. That’s my theory.

A walk in the woods famously clears the mind of made-up-monsters. All of our devices and politics and power games seem silly when standing among the redwoods or on a beach with infinity breaking like waves and rushing the sand to meet your toes. There’s nothing like The Milky Way to make all those inner monsters seem trivial.

There’s nothing like cresting a mountain to affirm that we are – if nothing else – united in our smallness and passing lifetimes. It is only in our minds that we are possibly bigger than the mountain or more important than the seas.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE TRAIL

Take It In [on KS Friday]

The morning air was cool and crisp. When I let Dogga out I stood by the back door and breathed in the hint of fall.

I laughed as I lingered by the back door because I had the revelation. It’s the revelation I have every year, the revelation that signals not only the change in season but a truth I wish I could hold onto throughout the year. It’s simple: life is a circle, not a line.

It’s useful, when so much of our unease is about “getting there,” about being some place other than where we are, to realize that it is not a line we walk, but a loop. Hurrying to “get there” when looping is nonsensical. Life as a cycle is much more amenable to presence-in-the-moment. It cracks the hard bark of desire and allows space for insight, gratitude, and appreciation.

Yesterday I read that this year, 2020, has been a decade long. I reminded myself, standing at the back door awash in my yearly revelation, not to wish a moment of my life away. To stand in it – all of it. This is certainly a time of disruption and the fatigue that comes with loss of balance and the comforts of the known. This IS the experience. This is life. This is what change feels like. Pattern disruption is meant to be a slap into awareness.

And, as it turns out, for me, that hint of fall in the air comes as a gentle seasonal slap. Slow down. Do not rush to get through it. This is precious life – all of it – no matter the circumstance. As Chris wrote months ago, “So, this is what it feels like to be in a pandemic.” Yes. This is what if feels like. We are in it.

It is the call of Kerri’s Millneck Fall. Stand still. Take it in.

Dogga races with great zest around the yard, protecting us from marauding squirrels. The frogs in the pond sound out, morning roll call. The smell of coffee pulls me to the kitchen. There will be plenty of time as we cycle around to make meaning of these days.

Millneck Fall on the album Blueprint For My Soul is available in iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about MILLNECK FALLS

millneck fall/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood