Look Up. Look Higher. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about anything.” ~ Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

This will read like a blazing generality and I do not intend it to be so. Some of the best people I have known are readers of the book(s). They learned along the line to read their book(s) as metaphor instead of literally, as a history. There are, after all, many paths up the same mountain.

As for me, I was cured of religion when I was a boy but it’s taken a lifetime to understand what and why – and to find language to express what should (to me) be obvious to all.

It only takes a moment to lift your eyes from the book and look up – all the way up to the sky. The book is a human invention, as are the gods and the stories of the gods told in them. The sky, on the other hand, complete with stars and suns and universes beyond imagining, are not human inventions. The book lives in the human mind. That which the book is meant to illuminate is…wholeness…all around us. We are part of, not separate from. That’s it. It’s that simple. The game of separation and unity.

We are part of, not separate from. This word “Love” is unity, the absence of made-up-separations.

The book will have you believing that your body and its myriad of impulses are, like nature, in need of taming. Separation from yourself. The book will promote the notion of a chosen few, the singular path, a destiny that is manifest. Separation from other. Elevation for team-white. Moral authority for team-straight. It’s probably good to feel above others and certainly feels powerful to believe yourself keeper of the book’s rules. Isn’t it blatantly obvious that the rules were/are made by men to justify, as-the-voice-of-god, all manner of privilege and cruelty? Separation, separation, separation.

Here’s what I understood as a boy: any god that promotes separation in any form is very small, indeed, and probably not worth worshipping. At the very least it is a man-made god meant to make folks feel better about their obvious impermanence in an infinite universe.

There’s so much in this life worthy of our worship.

Whether or not we walk as one or decide to beat the hell out of each other for the color of our skin or the natural orientation of our sexuality has nothing to do with the vast universe outside of the book. We create the separations to justify our fear or to protect our property.

We are completely capable of love. We are completely capable of reaching across the unknown and living our short time on this earth in full support of the rich myriad of wonder and diversity expressed through us in this infinite possibility called life.

The book is an abstraction. The person standing before you is not.

Love is love. Love is not separation or division or privilege or a skin color or gender or sexual orientation. Love has nothing to do with how much money you have or do not have. Separations are the province of small people inventing small gods for very small reasons – so they can feel good about being separate and small.

Love is love.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PRIDE

See Beyond The Numbers [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

200. The number of mass shootings in the United States this year to date. Heck, it’s not even June. Of course, I’m writing this a few days ahead so, at the very least, by the time you read this, 222 more people will be dead from gun violence since we are averaging 111 people a day.

What’s remarkable to me is how many bar charts and line graphs are available. How much data we keep and information we track, all made easily digestible through smart visual analytics and colorful charts. Murdered children and teachers and church goers and concert attendees and folks who simply went to the grocery store – reduced to an abstraction translated into a visual that’s easy for us to consume. Apparently, we’re adept at making the carnage-numbers pretty and consumable but not so accomplished at seeing the numbers as people – children and elders, parents and friends. Scrub it. Nothing personal. That way our leaders* can offer a few more antiseptic thoughts and prayers and we, for some reason, vote them back into office.

[*I wonder if our representatives were required to go to the morgue every time we have a mass shooting and actually see the damage a military grade weapon does to a human body, especially a small child’s body, if they might see beyond their personal ambition and lobby dollars. They might see murdered children and teachers with names, and parents. I know, I know, a stupid idea. Were they required to experience the reality, they’d have little or no time to legislate. 200 morgue visits in 5 months would certainly be a full time job. With ample time to lead or no time at all, it seems the result is the same.]

read Kerri’s thoughts on this saturday morning smack-dab.

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Embrace Wabi-Sabi [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“I love this photo,” she said, “because the flower isn’t perfect.” Wabi-sabi. Appreciation and acceptance of impermanence and the absence of perfection. The full embrace of ‘what is’ rather than some imagined belief or ideal.

I read that the church leaders refused to look through Galileo’s telescope because their book already explained to them how the universe worked. I don’t know if this account is true or not but I’m given to believe it. I see the same story playing out in all shapes and sizes of blind-belief systems today. The wily Fox has millions refusing to look through the telescope in favor of an abstract and angry conviction.

Imperfection. Appreciation of nature and its forces. Look up. Open eyes. Open mind. Open heart. Direct experience that has the power to challenge the staunch and rigidly held opinions. Modesty.

Wabi-sabi. I love this photo.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WHITE BLOSSOM

Take Note [on DR Thursday]

Although it may not be at first apparent, this is a map for product development. A single stout stalk that supports shoots of replication that explode in support features. One clear central intention. Multiple expressions that return nutrient to the stalk.

Although it may not be at first apparent, this is a map for healthy community. A single stout story stalk that supports shoots of replication, diverse paths that explode in seeming individual expression. One clear central narrative. Multiple expressions sending sunlight back to the root.

Who hasn’t seen the time-lapse films of plants growing, forms expressing and then retreating, the accelerated motion of people commuting on a city street, what seems like chaos is, at speed, cooperation. Those people on the street in real time, walking to work, a to-do list on their mind, are mostly unaware of their symphony of togetherness.

It’s easy to forget the stout stalk when standing at the individual expression point. I have been witness to the demise of many organizations who turn against the stalk in favor of the feature. For instance, the fastest way to kill a non-profit organization is to attempt make it run like a for-profit business. It will forget its story-stalk and lose its heart and mind in a spreadsheet.

The quickest way to destroy a community is for its branches to forget that they are individual expressions of a single stout story. They are not separate as much as extensions. To focus on the multiple tiny expressions as if each small branch is a stand-alone truth is absurdity-creation. Chaos masked as convention. Inverted, the plant dies.

In our literature we are riddled with advice to turn toward nature. Existential crisis? Lost? Go to the meadow, find the woods, take a hike. Get quiet. We go there because…we are there. Alan Watts wrote,”We don’t come into the world, we come out of it.” We are not separate from the stalk; we are expressions of it. Occasionally, the map to sanity that we seek is hiding in plain sight dressed as a platitude. Go to nature. You cannot do otherwise. Realize it.

When I’m running abstract questions of design in my dreams, I know it’s time to take a walk. It’s time to stop, look around, take note of nature’s design, the perfection of a plant. A perfect yoga, branch-fingers reaching for the sun, root-fingers reaching deep into soil.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PARSNIPS

sam the poet, 48×48 (painted and sold a long time ago)

sam the poet © 2004 david robinson

Use A Bag [on DR Thursday]

To Chris Crites, grocery shopping day is a feast. To Chris, these sacks are more than functional. They are more than ordinary shopping bags. These bags are canvas. They are opportunities for art. They are surfaces meant for brilliant mugshots. The underbelly of society made beautiful on brown paper sacks.

I’m not sure if it was Chris or the other artists in my Seattle pod that prompted me to experiment. One of my forays into “where will this take me” required paper sacks. Lots of paper sacks, torn to bits and pasted on a canvas. I drew and painted on top of the bits.

I forgot about my experiment until I met Kerri and one day unrolled all the canvas to show her what was in the pile. She cooed at my paper bag experiment. “This should be a series,” she said. “It should be called Earth Interrupted.” And, so it was.

I have (mostly) been a painter of people. I’ve learned that art – and theatre – for me are a means and not an end. In other words, I don’t paint because I want to master the craft of painting or make brilliant paintings. I paint to study people. I paint because it is a meditative space. I paint because I lose myself and enter someplace bigger. I paint because it helps me “to see.”

I completed six additions to the Earth Interrupted series and then stopped. I lost my way. That’s always been my experience when I abstract- when I leave the figure and mess with texture and shape. I know I’m not finished with it. Getting lost is part of the process.

Unloading the groceries last week brought me up short. I felt like Chris Crites. So much possibility sitting on the counter. So much material begging to be transformed.

Earth Interrupted I, mixed media, 48x53IN

read Kerri’s blog post about BAGS

earth interrupted I © 2012 david robinson

Point The Way [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“You can accomplish with kindness what you cannot by force.” ~ Publilius Syrus

It’s one of the most interesting Wikipedia pages I’ve come across. Publilius Syrus. A life described in two sentences that conclude with this: “…but by his wit and talent he won the favor of his master, who freed and educated him. The rest of the page are maxims attributed to him. A Syrian. A Roman slave. An observer of human-kind.

We live in a world of ubiquitous maxims. They are posted everywhere, in stores, billboards, and elementary school signboards. Appeals to our better nature. Choose kindness. There are, of course, plenty of appeals to our worse nature, too. It’s as if our maxims are in a tug-of-war. I imagine that Publilius Syrus experienced in his short life both ends of the rope, the cruel and the kind, which is why he wrote so many maxims.

This quote came across my screen so I wrote it on a lilac colored post-it note and stuck it to my monitor. It may or may not be from Christina Wodtke: “When you make complex things, words eventually fail.” Life is a complex thing that words will always fail to describe or contain. The best a word can do is point to something, or the way to something. A maxim, an ideal, is, after all, a signpost, a direction. A choice of path. A point-of-view is created during those moments of choosing.

Kindness is not a thing. It’s not a word – not the word. The word simply points the way to something so complex, so boundless, that the word will always fail. But, we know it when we see it. We know it when we offer it. We know it when we receive it. We know with certainty when we choose it and when we do not.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHOOSE KINDNESS

Make A Small Choice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When we saw the sign planted on the side of the road – and then another, and another – we wondered what inspired the message and the movement. We were not surprised to learn that the community had recently experienced a cluster of teen suicides. The signs were a message to their young people, a love letter to their children.

The WHO reports that more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year. That’s more people than die by homicide or war combined. Even as I write this I am startled at how antiseptic a statistic can make hopelessness. The data of despair.

The signs appeared on the roadside because the violence-of-hopelessness had faces and names and addresses. And parents. And teachers. And friends. People moved, they pulled together. The threat transcended the numb data and became personal. They needed to talk. They needed to grieve together. They had no idea what to do so they made signs: you matter.

I thought a lot about those signs during our long drive home. Campaigns for change most often fail. They lose steam. They dissolve into abstraction. Behavior cannot be legislated. The messages we receive in the media are mostly violent. Ask most people about a blow to their self-esteem and you’ll hear a specific story. A moment of bullying, a glancing blow that altered the trajectory of their life one degree but, over time and distance, that small degree of violence made a huge difference.

In the same fashion, tiny acts of kindness, one small gestures of support, can send titanic ripples throughout a lifetime.

On the road, there was a distinct message sent to us by the people that roared up behind us, flashing their lights, riding our bumper. There was an entirely different message sent to us by the people who slowed their speed to let us in the lane of traffic. Small choices. Tiny moments. We are humans and learn to respond in kind.

Each day an opportunity. Each moment a choice. When we truly believe what the signs say, we will make certain that in small ways and large, it will be a priority to instill in each and every heart the message that they are worth more than they know. No one arrives at despair by themselves. No one arrives at hope by themselves.

I believe we actually do know what to do. It might begin with a sign or a curriculum but real hope – the intentional creation of worth – will shine through millions of small choices, communities dedicated to filling each and every day with tiny moments of support.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORTH

Offer The Chair [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Indeed, the effect of the forum is all the more powerful if it is made clear to the audience that if they don’t change the world, no one will change it for them.” ~ Augusto Boal, Games For Actors And Non-Actors

Many of my pals in the theatre turned their noses up at me when I began doing work in corporations. They thought I was yet another theatre artist doing improvisation-games with the terminally neck-tied. I was not. My work was more in the tradition of Augusto Boal than Keith Johnstone. Some of the best plays I’ve ever facilitated, some of the most profound pieces of theatre I’ve directed and witnessed, happened in board rooms, classrooms or conference spaces. Here’s how I know: the actors and audience were one-and-the-same. Their play was personal. When they left “the theatre” they did not leave the nice story behind and end the evening with a cocktail. They were disrupted. They had seen something that could no longer be ignored or deflected. The hard work was about to begin.

People yearn. People entrench. People plant their flags and claim the most ridiculous territory. I’ve seen teachers come to blows over an overhead projector. I’ve seen lawyers undermine colleagues to gain dominion over a swiveling chair. And, the chair or the projector are never really the issue. The issue is usually an abstraction. Pecking order. Boundaries. Alliances. People have killed each other over a pair of shoes. It’s not the shoes but the status the shoes represent. Abstraction and illusion.

People are generally unconscious about the reasons beneath their passions. I’ve met a score of dedicated meditation practitioners who meditate to control their thoughts rather than realize them. Once I led a group of teachers through the ritual they enact each morning before the arrival of their students. The question was, “What are you preparing to do in your day?” Their answer was unnerving and revolutionary: they were preparing to control the kids. Teaching and learning were secondary.

We are witness to a country-wide communal piece of theatre, an unconscious play. The issue is not the mask. The issue has never been the mask. The issue is, I suppose, people feeling out of control, imposed upon. Fearful. They are, with their bare faces, making a stand. Drawing a line in the sand. That “no one can tell me what to do” might as well be “I am losing control over my life.”

And, as is always the case, as with the office chair and the overhead projector, refusing to don the mask does not really address the real issue, it merely deflects it. The energy and action is focused on non-sense. And when non-sense rules the day, the action taken actually brings about the thing-most-feared. Loss of control. The pandemic continues, the children are being taken, the economy suffers, the community fractures. It’s a lengthy list.

The lesson in the office chair wars and the overhead projector games is always the same. No one wins. Everyone loses in a toxic tug-of-war. The chair might be yours today but it will be theirs tomorrow. The game only ends when one of the players offers the chair to the other or the projector becomes a reason to share. The same will be true of the mask wars. People will die, the pandemic will continue until the mask becomes a generosity. Then, low-and-behold, the virus will abate and real control over our destiny will be within our grasp.

I hope that, like the lawyers or teachers who were brave enough to walk into the real story, to stand face-to-face with a dysfunction, that we meet our story and ask, “Why would so many sacrifice so much over a little piece of cloth?” An overhead projector. A pair of shoes. A chair that swivels…

read Kerri’s blog post about MASKS

Draw A Chalk Circle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There are charts for everything. Definitions and distinctions of value meant to clarify but, in the end, make life seem more and more farcical. For instance, we recently were directed to a worker’s compensation website and learned that losing your hand in an accident is worth 400 weeks of [minimal] compensation. The dominant hand is worth more than the non-dominant hand. Fingers have less value-in-weeks than a thumb. Just imagine the guys-and-gals-in-suits sitting around a conference table discussing the value of a human hand as expressed in weeks. Sometimes I’m certain that we live inside the mind of Gary Larson.

Is it no wonder that we are confused about the value of a human life? We have actuaries calculating human-life-value and making smart looking tables with support graphs to answer this most fundamental question. I’m certain that those guys-and-gals-in-suits sitting around the conference table would come up with a different answer if it was their hand or fingers or toes or life on the chopping block. If it was their child’s eye or foot. Charts, like all data points, are not personal.

We awoke this morning to the news that the latest mass shooting (if 4 or more people are shot it is, according to the FBI, considered “mass”) was in our town. We are number 47 since March 16. March 16 is the date of the mass shooting in Atlanta; 8 people were killed. Here are some nifty and comprehensive charts on gun violence in America.

When I was in elementary school we did safety drills, crawling under our desks, in the event of an atomic bomb drop. Although I was certain that my desk was not going to protect me in the event of an atomic explosion, I was comforted by the knowledge that the enemy was far away, external. Now, our children in elementary school do active shooter drills and they, too, know that their desks offer little protection. But their predicament is dire: the enemy they face is right here. It is everywhere, internal. Sitting under my desk I knew there was an entire military machine between me and the potential dropper of atom bombs. Sitting under their desks, our children know with certainty that there is nothing, not even legislative will, standing between them and the ubiquitous shooter.

I once listened to an author speak about the difficulty of writing a farce about the USA. He said, “Before you can a publish the book, the fictional farce that you’d written will have actually happened.” Our scary farce: the only answer we can muster to daily mass killing in schools, grocery stores, work places, concerts, houses of worship…the only idea that the markets will support in an out-of-control gun culture, is more guns. Sales charts and political donation data drive policy to dedicated inaction. [For some lightheartedness in the midst of this dark-and-dismal post, go here. I laughed aloud when I heard comic Steve Hofstetter riff on gun control.]

What is the value of a human life?

We had a lovely conversation in the grocery store. An accidental path crossing with friends. Sue remarked, as we compared life experiences, that our personal challenges are meant to remind us that we are still here.

What is the value of a human life as determined by those of us who are still here?

Bertold Brecht wrote a play called The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Two women claim to be the mother of a small child. A judge has to settle the case. He has a small circle drawn on the ground. The child is placed in the circle. The judge instructs the women to stand on opposite sides of the circle, each taking one of the child’s hands. The woman that successfully pulls the child from the circle will be declared the mother. One woman quickly yanks the child from the circle. The other will not pull. She refuses. She cannot do harm to her child. She proves herself to be the true mother.

I wonder what we might value if we could put down our charts and data points and amendments-as-seen-in-isolation-from-all-the-other-amendments, step beyond our abstractions, and draw a simple circle in the dirt. What might we discuss if we placed a small child in the circle, and considered the value of that one precious life? My bet is that none of us would yank that child out of the circle of life. We’d do everything imaginable to protect the child from harm. To keep it safe. Sales graphs and actuary tables and every other dehumanizing analytic would drop away. We would, in considering the beating heart of our public dangers, make the safety of the child, of every child, our personal challenge. It would slap us awake and remind us that we are still here. Alive. And, as custodians of the circle of each and every actual life, we are responsible to and for each other.

read Kerri’s blog post about STILL HERE

Consider The Numbers [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There are numbers. Then, there are the realities that the numbers represent. For instance, I am writing this a few days before the post date. Between the time I write this post and the time it publishes, more than 9,000 people will die of COVID-19. The counting-unit-of-measure is not golf balls or jelly beans in a jar. It is not socks lost in the dryer. It is lives lost. People who otherwise would be alive. People who celebrated the new year and hoped 2020 would be better than 2019. The counting unit is people-who-die-of-COVID-19.

9,000 is a number. So is 276,000. That’s today’s number. 400,000 is also a number. That’s the estimated number of lives lost in these divided-united-states by January 1, 2021. People. Dreamers. Seekers. Grandparents. Sisters. Uncles. Friends.

“Lives lost” is also an abstraction. Words. Easy to say. Easy to write. There’s no reality until there is a reality, though, these days, realities are readily denied. Actively denied. In the face of medical professionals pleading with us to listen, emergency rooms overrun, refrigerator trucks serving as morgues, there are still folks who look at the numbers and cry “HOAX!” No one they know has become a number. Not yet.

Mask wearing and social distancing. The two most potent actions we can take to make the numbers smaller. I won’t go on. Enough said. It’s been said from the outset, again and again and again. Masks. Social distancing. Wash hands. Disbelief and/or truth-resistance makes more and more people, each and every day, become numbers-on-the-news.

Life minimized. Life reduced.

Here’s something to think about. Our dear 20 tested positive. A pandemic-disbeliever sauntered mask-less into a space where he was working. She cried “HOAX!” He breathed her hoax-aerosols, already loaded with virus. He has chronic asthma. He needed to order a new phone but didn’t. He wanted to make sure he survived before he spent the money. I’m not sure how to reduce his fear-of-dying to a number or some other abstraction that makes it count-able. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” the interviewer asks, “how afraid are you?”

Of this I am certain. The woman who shared her virus-loaded aerosols with 20 also shared her virus-loaded aerosols with many, many other people. It was apparently her “right” to reduce other people to abstract numbers. She shared her aerosols with us, too! And we never met her. For some reason her hoax-belief was not a protection against infecting other people. She bragged of going to parties and restaurants. She proudly made resistance-statements by going to grocery stores unmasked. Her aggressive pandemic-disbelief, I am certain, sent infection-ripples far and wide. 14,200,000 is a number. People in these delusion-laden-united-states infected by negligent-others. So far. As a denier of reality, she will, I am certain, take no responsibility for her contribution to the numbers. The odds are, she will have contributed in her small way to the 9,000 who will die between the time I write and the time I post.

She may be one of them. A number.

read Kerri’s blog post about COVID TESTS