Cope Another Way [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” ~ Mark Twain

From the national department of absurdity, I read in my morning news trawl that people-on-the-right were fleeing their tried-and-true social media platforms because they are tired of having their facts checked. They’re tired of being flagged for hate speech. They’re moving to a new platform that allows them to claim as true any old thing that fuels their fantasy. Of course, their new platform purports to have standards. In the absence of truth, they will be monitoring and censoring pornography and nudity. Bare bodies are shunned but bare lies are encouraged.

Google the question “Why Do We Lie?” and you might stumble across this phrase: lying is a ‘maladaptive coping mechanism.‘ Why are the good folks on the right fleeing from fact-checkers in search of an inadequate coping mechanism? Why are they – and, therefore, we – so deliberately racing from the truth? Truth is, after all, supposed to be the glue that holds a society together.

Perhaps, in our case, truth is not the glue that has held our young nation together. Perhaps the current hunger to lie is because we are [once again] confronting our truth? Division, not truth, is our glue. We know it. And we pretend it isn’t true. Denial of the truth is a lie by another name.

Plato reminds us that Zeus feared the power of the original humans so he split them into two separate parts. Our forefathers feared the power of a united working class so, taking a page from Zeus’ handbook, they split their budding society along the color line. And, in an “improvement” on Zeus’ original recipe for division, our god-fathers, in a single action, as a single action, reduced the black faces to less-than-human while simultaneously granting extra privileges to the white faces. They linked the privilege of the whites to the suppression of the blacks. White supremacy and Black Lives Matter are inextricably linked. It is the sad gravity that binds us.

It’s the truth we have never been able to face and, historically, when we dare to part the veil and have a look, there is a concerted effort by the working whites – those on the other side of the diploma divide [so many false divisions…] to run for the comfort of the supremacy-lie. It’s a safe space.

We embrace our maladaptive coping mechanism because we are afraid of facing the consequences of our truth. Great fear of status loss drives the wearers of red-hats to the lie-saloon where they can drink their fill, amp their anger, and fight progress. Fact-checking gets in the way. It’s how the system works.

Fueling the supremacy-lie is the central appeal – it’s the only appeal – of the outgoing titanic Liar-In-Chief. Supremacy stories, after all, require the supremacists to think they are victims. Facts become assaults. News becomes fake. Deep states and conspiracy theories abound. A good victim story is necessary for an Us and Them world. A good victim story is necessary to hold onto the promise-lie of white supremacy.

Division by design.

“The lie” crumbles in a social media space that checks facts and flags hate speech. What could be a better alternative than a gossip-circle-social-media-space where lies are called truths and truths are branded as lies?

Division, running from truth, pretending the division isn’t there, has worked well as a national glue if you are a god-father. It kicks the can down the road. Perhaps it’s time we sent Zeus and our forefathers a note. If we want to grow up as a nation, if we want a united people dedicated to ideals like freedom and justice for all, we need to look at our shadow and seek shared truth. Unity is a much better glue than our comfortable age-old division.

We need to cease fleeing into our maladaptive coping mechanism, look at ourselves, our leaders, and, together, begin telling – and expecting – and guarding – some truth.

read Kerri’s blog post on HUNGRY FOR LIES

Define ALL [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Kerri named this photo “peace shadow.” It brought to my mind a project begun by a group of artists in 2009, The Peace Shadow Project. They make and collect shadows all over the world. When the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the force of light released by the bombs burned shadows of people into the walls. As a way to enter a conversation about nuclear weapons and advocate for a nuclear weapons free world, the artists “burned” shadows of survivors – with strong light on photo paper – and displayed them all over the cities. Then, they asked people all over the world to send their shadows.

It’s what I love about artists. They (we) believe that art can transform consciousness. And so, a shadow might make us think of what we do, why we do it, how we do it. Pipe-dreamers all!

It made me ponder what art project I might offer these once-united-states. What might make us think? What could transform our consciousness so that we might occupy a single story, join together in a bigger identity?

I believe that all the many forces at play that ail us can be boiled down into a single word. ALL. We wrote this word in our documents of inception. “All men are created equal.” We have, since the beginning, wrestled with this word, ALL. Who does it include? Who does it exclude? BLM is the latest challenge to the word ALL.

The men that wrote the word ALL into our documents of inception meant white-land-holding-males. They believed that they were chosen, that their destiny was manifest, granted by god. By definition, when you believe yourself to be chosen, the word ALL becomes complex at best. It only applies with caveats.

Does ALL apply equally to women? What about black Americans? LGBTQ people? What about new immigrants? What about people who worship Allah? Or Shiva?

My art project would be the ALL project. I’m not sure what shadow might be burned or face might be photographed – what might be the art of the ALL project. I know that it would be intended to transform consciousness – to confront the forces of ugly exclusion. It would be meant to open doors not only of acceptance, but of belonging.

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE SHADOW

Click-To-The-Loo [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Language is fluid and ever changing. For instance, twenty years ago the words “hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow,” had little or nothing to do with social interactions. You might snooze an alarm-clock but never another person. In 2020, in the alternate reality known as social media, people snooze, hide, unfriend, and unfollow people on a daily basis.

Language is powerful. We both define and reveal ourselves by the words we choose. It’s as easy as the click of a button to eliminate people from view. Click. Gone! Magic. The power to insulate. “Unfriend” and “unfollow” ensure that our engagements are only with like-minded people. Is it any wonder that we no longer need to find common ground? It’s a simple equation: you bug me/I snooze you. “Hide,” “snooze,” and “unfollow” are the words of bubble creators. Fortress makers.

Closing the gates might lock others out but it also locks us in. Either way, click. Gone! A smaller world. Raise the gates for agreement.

Closing the gates is not a function of disagreement. I heard this said the other day, “People say things on Facebook that they’d never say in person.” True. It is corrosive and ugly. There is rarely space for civil disagreement. Ideas are attacked as a first action. Responses are salvos. In other words, no one is snoozed for being kind. Courtesy and consideration rarely result in unfollowing or the ultimate nuke: unfriending. There is no space for civil discourse. We snooze, hide, unfollow because we are assaulted or we assault. Social media is startlingly anti-social.

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to listen to Stephen Hawking give a lecture on the possibility of multiverses, a string of multiple universes. His theory involved bubbles that occasionally bumped together. The bumping opened small windows of communication between the bubbles. The great miracle of two universes brushing together is that they, even for a short time, can communicate. They can share experiences.

Our great miracle is the opposite. We construct bubbles against each other. When our universes bump together, windows are slammed closed. We believe ourselves all powerful when, with the click of a button, we can extract a voice from our “stream.” So powerful is our illusion of the button, we’ve happily become the buttons. No courtesy, no kindness, no listening, no consideration necessary or expected.

Click: assault. Click: be gone.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNFOLLOWING

Direct Your Gratitude [on KS Friday]

Skip wrote, sharing some of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It was a breath of fresh air in a week that’s been chock-a-block with disrespect, deceit, and hypocrisy:

Skip wrote, “I love her discussion of what the tribe does each morning:

Here the school week begins and ends not with the Pledge of Allegiance, but with the Thanksgiving Address, a river of words as old as the people themselves, known more accurately in the Onondaga language as the Words That Come Before All Else. This ancient order of protocol sets gratitude as the highest priority. The gratitude is directed straight to the ones who share their gifts with the world. 

All the classes stand together in the atrium, and one grade each week has responsibility for the oratory. Together, in a language older than English, they begin the recitation. It is said that the people were instructed to stand and offer these words whenever they gathered, no matter how many or how few before anything else was done. In this ritual, their teachers remind them that every day, “beginning with where our feet first touch the earth, we send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world.” 

Today it is the third grade’s turn. There are only eleven of them and they do their best to start together, giggling a little, and nudging the ones who just stare at the floor. Their little faces are screwed up with concentration and they glance at their teacher for prompts when they stumble on the words. In their own language they say the words they’ve heard nearly every day of their lives. 

Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.* 

There is a pause and the kids murmur their assent.

 We are thankful to our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect. Now our minds are one. 

The kids sit remarkably still, listening. You can tell they’ve been raised in the longhouse.”

*****

A legacy of respect and gratitude. A duty to live in balance and harmony. An orientation of responsibility both to self AND other. Can you imagine – will you imagine – the members of our red team and blue team meeting on the streets and joining hands with protestors of all colors and religions and sexual orientations, starting each day, together, speaking The Thanksgiving Address, “Today we have gathered…” Directing their gratitude straight at the ones who share their gifts with the world. Gratitude set as the highest priority.

It is a legacy to be admired. Words that come before all else. It is a legacy to be desired.

*The actual wording of the Thanksgiving Address varies with the speaker. This text is the widely publicised version of John Stokes and Kanawahientun, 1993.

LEGACY on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about LEGACY

legacy/released from the heart ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Recognize The Divine [on KS Friday]

“To say that life is destabilized by weakened institutions is merely to say that information loses its use and therefore becomes a source of confusion rather than coherence.” ~ Neil Postman, Technopoly.

“Regularly throughout conversation in Gaelic, ” John O’Donohue writes, “there is explicit recognition that the divine is present in others.” Social fabric is tightly woven and made strong by the recognition of value, divine or otherwise, in all members of a community. During my travels in Bali I was moved again and again by the interconnectivity, the deep assumption of coherence that wove together daily life and community. “If two cars crash, “Budi told me, “the driver’s first thought is not that the other is to blame, it is that they are supposed to meet.”

And when the devaluation of others becomes a national pastime as it has in these once united states, pushing down the head of an other in an attempt to elevate the self – the preferred action of all drowning people – saves no one. It only delays the drowning of all involved. That sound we hear is the rending of our social fabric, the breaking apart of the ship. Those shouts of triumph and scorn coming from the top deck will be short lived. Confusion is a lousy organizing principle and guarantees a watery grave for all on board.

We are awash in information and so we are also awash in an assault on information. Misinformation is our Achilles Heel. So weakened by gaslighting are our public institutions that the single most damning confession of our lifetime, a president admitting for all to hear that he knew and lied about the deadly virus, is shrugged off. “Yeah, well what about Nancy Pelosi’s hair!” I shuddered when I read the inane defense. We flatten. Our values fade as fast as our perspective. Thousands died who did not have to – heads were knowingly pushed under. Thousands will die who do not have to; an estimated 410,000 by the new year. Disposable people.

Neil Postman wrote, “What makes science possible is not our ability to recognize ‘truth’ but our ability to recognize falsehood.” Replace the word “science” with the word “community’ and the statement rings just as true. A community that cannot recognize falsehood is in trouble. A community that will not deal with truth is destined to drown in its own willful confusion.

We will not find our way through this paralysis until we can step out of this car crash and, instead of pointing our fingers and blaming, we step toward each other with wonder at what brought us together, until we are willing to ask, “Why did we meet?”

CONNECTED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

Honor The Line [on DR Thursday]

“We often need to lose sight of our priorities in order to see them.” ~ John Irving

Walking down the trail a few days ago, Kerri and I had a hysterical conversation. If you could go back in time, who would you tell to f**k off? There was a long list and some seriously funny stories of misplaced tolerance. We laughed at the moments when younger versions of ourselves were silent, when we should have spoken. We groaned at the moments that we let someone run over us. When we should have held a boundary but did not.

“Why didn’t I say something?” We chortled. Grace comes with time. What was years ago a violation is now head-shaking-story.

The next day, about to enter the local corner market, someone called Kerri’s name. Before she could stop it, in the middle of this pandemic, a time when we’ve been religious about social distancing, a woman threw open her arms and locked Kerri in an embrace. It was an awkward and short-lived hug; Kerri was like a stone cold post, her hand that was rising for protection was squished in the unwelcome clutch. The woman shrunk and retreated. We ducked into the store.

“Why didn’t I stop her?” Kerri asked as we walked home. There was no time. “Doesn’t she know there’s a pandemic?” A space violation.

Context is everything.

I was delighted when Kerri chose this snippet of a painting for the Melange. For her, it represented the moment that she could have interrupted the unwanted hug. She named this little morsel “Back Up!”

For me it is something entirely different. This full painting is called Pieta With Paparazzi. I’d mostly forgotten about this painting since I only showed it one time and that was over a decade ago. It is more relevant today than it was when I painted it. It is about the flattening of importance, the loss of perspective. It is about how – even a decade ago – everything seemed to be a media event. Mary contemplates the body of her dead son while the media circus swirls around her.

The shorthand phrase for our time: nothing is sacred. The line between a simple truth and a manufactured event has been blurred, perhaps irreparably. Lies are celebrated and vehemently defended. Truths discarded. Boundaries crossed. Hugs taken. Shots fired. The other day I heard someone say, “People say things on Facebook that they’d never say in person.” Too true. Social discourse and public policy are tragedies enacted on a social platform for a ready-made audience. All the world’s a stage.

In time, we might ask ourselves, “Why didn’t we do something?” or “What were we thinking?” Perhaps, in time, we’ll have the distance and the grace to see why we should have stepped back and stopped this incessant crossing of boundaries, this white house media circus. Perhaps, in losing sight of our priorities, they will someday come back into focus and we will see them again.

pieta with paparazzi

read Kerri’s blog post about BACK UP!

pieta with paparazzi ©️ 2010 david robinson

Come Together [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My theme of life-as-a-circle is still with me. Today, this Labor Day, 2020, bubbles with portent. Unlike any Labor Day in my lifetime, this day seems to dip its toe into the cold origins of this national holiday celebrating laborers but also serves as an omen. An augury.

This holiday, so benign as we now practice it, was borne of fire and conflict. It seems our nation is only capable of learning through the violence that it inflicts upon itself. Waves of riots, years of bloodshed as laborers as young as 5, worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, and barely eked out a living. The income gap in 2020 mirrors that of the 1890’s, America’s Gilded Age. As historian Nell Irvin Painter explains, “‘Gilded’ is not golden. ‘Gilded’ has the sense of a patina covering something else. It’s the shiny exterior and the rot underneath.” The violence in the streets, the frustration and anger, riots and protests by the common working people forced the government to act. Among other things, Labor Day came into existence. A day off.

“We’re in these cycles in which we learn and forget and learn and forget,” Painter says.

We are in the ‘forgetting’ part of the cycle. It’s Keynsian economics: a capitalist economy can only thrive with the existence of a healthy middle class. Consumption requires capable-and-able consumers. Investment crumbles when consumption stalls. We’ve been here before. We don’t need a crystal ball to see where our unsupported gig economy is taking us. On this Labor Day it is fair game to ask, “What exactly are we celebrating?”

We cycle into remembering when we need to pull together. When we start considering the interests of the whole over the few. When, as the sign says, we remember to take care of one another. During this Labor Day there is a true tell of our capacity to consider one another: a pandemic rages. The estimates top 400,000 deaths by the new year. The only force that can reduce that number is our capacity to consider one another.

Life in the forgetting sweep of the cycle: the streets are alive with riot and protest. People by the millions are losing their homes and their jobs. Desperation and division reign; panicked people rarely think straight.

Life in the remembering sweep of the cycle: people pull their energy and resources together remembering that no one can thrive in a vacuum. A united workforce is capable of reminding “the system” that it was meant to serve them and support them in a shared prosperity. Not to use their labor to benefit the few. Coming together for the betterment of all: it is the original impulse and meaning of Labor Day.

read Kerri’s blog post about LABOR DAY

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

Honor Their Choices [on DR Thursday]

I am guilty of lately losing my sense of humor and lightness of being. When our house filled with smoke from burning buildings, when a militia member murdered two people blocks from our home, when yet another black American was brutalized by the police, I shifted a gear. Seeking silver linings and applying positive thinking seemed like so much denial, spooning sugary frosting on a very bad cake. Love, I’ve learned, sometimes needs to be sharp. A mother will always yell when their child is running toward the street.

Yesterday we took a turn-around trip to Chicago. We stayed off the freeway and hugged the lake. There was no rush to get there. On the way it occurred to me that historians could boil down the entirety of the 45th presidency into a single phrase: defending the indefensible. I realized that my humor and lightness took flight, not because of the smoke and brutality, but because of the lengths people are going to defend the utterly indefensible, the completely ridiculous. Plane loads of black attired thugs toting “gear”? Dark forces, conspiracy theories run amok? A global pandemic whipped up to make the man in the hot seat look bad? The evil CDC attempting to manipulate data and conspire with the shadow-lurking-socialists to bring down the American president? John Grisham would reject this plot as too absurd.

It should buoy my humor – the ridiculous usually does – except so many in power positions are so complicit, wildly contorting themselves and with straight faces to bend hearts and minds to embrace the rolling fantastical narrative. And, so many are so eager to swallow the puerile stories without nary a thought or question. Where did my smile go? It’s hiding out with Occam’s razor waiting for the restoration of simple reason and good intention.

It’s not funny because it is dangerous. What began with crowd size protestations has fouled and inflamed every fiber of our institutions. We are the frogs in a pot and it is boiling. Half the frogs are screaming, “Wake up! Get out!” and the other half are croaking, “Come in. The water’s fine.”

In the evening we took a walk. There is a whisper of fall in the air. We agreed that it was time to breathe deeply and invite humor and humility back into our minds and hearts and writing.

The best advice I constantly give myself and too-soon-forget is to control my controll-ables and let the rest go. We (I) cannot control this dumpster fire. I miss my good humor and my eyes that are capable of seeing the good and decent in all things. We agreed there is no use screaming into a pot of frogs so dedicated to boiling. Even if we love those frogs who are taking pleasure in the hot, hot water. Boiling is their choice. Sometimes love needs to be sharp but sometimes it needs to recognize the teachable moments. After all, although they may be thinking like toddlers, these are not children racing toward the street; they are adults. There are public servants defending the indefensible and knowingly enticing their constituents into traffic.

The most loving thing we can do now is the American thing: take care of ourselves. Lightness and laughter will carry us toward the shore. This heaviness can and will sink all that we hold dear.

read Kerri’s blog post about DEFEND THE INDEFENSIBLE

earth interrupted vi ©️ 2018 david robinson

Dissolve The Image [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We watched a live stream of the protests yesterday. The streamer interviewed many people. He chatted casually with others. What became abundantly clear was the myriad of issues driving people to the streets. The catalyst may have been the shooting of Jacob Blake or the president’s visit but the deep matter that drove each person to the street was utterly individual, personal. Unique. All trying to give substance and voice to their deep matter.

So many people alone together. I was witnessing a part of the Sisyphus saga that I’ve written about repeatedly. A boatload of souls arrive in the underworld, disembark, and wander along the beach. Each is completely unaware of the other souls. So wrapped in their story, they think they are alone. Finally, their stories play out, and in the silence they begin to see each other, and in coming together, dissolve, and blend into a single bank of mist. From separation to unity.

A quote from Krishanmurti roared into my mind: “You say that if the mind has faith in the image, then the image will give power to the mind. Obviously; the mind creates the image and then derives power from its own creation. That is what the mind is everlastingly doing: producing images and drawing strength, happiness, benefit from those images, thereby remaining empty, inwardly poverty stricken.”

The mind creates the image. The mind gives power to the image. The mind creates the story. The mind gives power to the story. It’s a fantasy feedback loop. We are mistaken to call our image, our story, “normal” or believe it to be “truth.” The protesters stand toe-to-toe and shout into the faces of others, a screaming match of conflicting images. A story collision.

“But the mind cannot create truth. What it creates is not truth, it is merely an opinion, a judgment.

Even as I write this I think, “Who cares?” The shouting, de-friending, families dividing and plunging into right-or-left-media-madness that matches the image-of-the-mind is escalating. The tug-of-war for story dominance is vicious and it seems Ethic and Moral have packed their bags and fled to a safe house.

Despite warning and wailing and prediction, the streets were silent last night. So still. Perhaps in our silent moments we will begin to see each other, and like the souls in the story, be drawn together, dissolving our individual images into a single bank of purpose. Perhaps.

read Kerri’s blog post on this Not-So-Flawed Wednesday