See Your Choices [on Merely A Thought Monday]

He began with silence. He looked them all over, one fox at a time, and his eyes looked deep into theirs. Lucy wanted to hide when his eyes came to her but instead she fell into his gaze. He seemed to be listening. Then, he made up his mind, and in a voice that was both powerful and quiet, he said, “Words are strong magic, misused they are tragic, but handled with care they bring insight and good cheer. So listen, dear friends, listen with care.” ~ Lucy & The Waterfox

“Choice” is a very powerful word. Perhaps one of the most powerful.

Lucy was a story I told many years ago at a conference of healthcare workers. Actually, it wasn’t the primary story; it was an addition. The organizers asked if I had a second story in my bag o’ tricks and I’d just written Lucy.

After the conference I illustrated and self-published it. It was the early days of self-publishing so the layout is wonky. I’ve never really liked how the book looks. I’d turn Kerri loose on it if we were bored and didn’t have other things to do. We’re not bored.

Lucy makes two choices in the story. The first is to hide her special talent. To conform. The second is to own her special talent. To take flight.

She achieves both choices through the intervention of others. The first choice was made with the help of social pressure; who doesn’t want to belong, to fit in! To conform. This choice nearly kills her. The second is made with the help of a storyteller, a role model. Who doesn’t want to fulfill their passion! Follow their bliss? This choice fills her with life.

I’d write a sequel but it’s already imbedded in the first book. What happens to Lucy when she chooses the left hand path? She becomes, as all artists do, the carrier of the story, the mythologist and mythology of the pack.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a choice. To hide your fire. Bend to pressure. To burn brightly. Follow an inner imperative. Yet they are choices, both.

“Lucy was a red fox who lived as other red foxes do, playing in the fields and forests. But Lucy had a secret. She could fly. Not a run-and-jump-to-this-rock kind of fly. No! She could fly like a bird…”

read Kerri’s blogpost about CHOICE

Lucy & The Waterfox © 2004 david robinson

Knit It Together [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Bold lines that break the visual plane. Once upon a time it was how I started a painting. Impulsive, reactive, spontaneous slashes that fractured the image and, in my mind, made it more interesting. Those lines gave me a popcorn trail to follow. A hard edge to push against.

Sometimes I think my life’s work can be reduced into a single word: disruption. I was the guy brought in to offer a counterpoint. I am the guy brought in to tell the story that no one wants to speak. What if? Why not? The bold line to break the visual plane. There is always a pattern. There is rarely a problem. Problems incite blame-games. With pattern comes responsibility and the revelation of choice.

John Muir famously wrote, “And into the woods I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” We walk in the woods for the same reason. The circle comes around. The big bold slashes no longer break the visual plane but pull it together.

Mind breaks it. Soul knits it together. Ebb and flow.

Today is a day to walk in the woods.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BLACK TREES

Lose The Plan [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Plans are maps of territories that do not yet exist.

Working in a software start-up, Skip has taught me a new phrase: infinite regress. The next step is determined by the last step and there is both no end to the steps and no way of knowing a destination because there are so many possibilities. Every step is a plot twist. The Plan would go wrong on a daily basis – an hourly basis – if the expectation to follow it was rigid.

In infinite regress there is no arrival. There are decisions. There are choices. The plan is to take another step.

Taking another step is a good plan! Live another day.

Think of the stress reduction if plans were held lightly, in cupped hands. It’s great to have a destination in mind. It’s not so good to step over the treasure-of-the-moment en route to some imagined gain. Some idea of control or fortress-safety.

Today, as an exercise in reality, every step I take I intend to yell, “Plot Twist!” Kerri will quickly put an end to my yelling, so I’ll transform my exercise into a mental experience. I’ll keep it to myself. That’s the plan, anyway. A mental experience. Hey! It’s an infinite regress.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PLOT TWIST.

Savor The Impossible [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Kerri and I have an ongoing conversation about design. Not graphic design or interior design. Life design. Is there a design, a predetermined path? A destiny? Our verdict lives on a pendulum. Sometimes it seems apparent: there is. Somedays it seems obvious: there isn’t. Both/And.

When we look back at our lives it seems impossible that we met. So many factors – millions, in fact – had to align at just the right moment for the arc of our paths to cross. Change a single aspect, one decision, just one, and our trajectory through space and time would have been wildly different. We would have tumbled through life never having known each other.

It’s hard to recognize in our most ordinary days that the same principle applies. Always. Each moment of every day we are making choices, tiny micro-choices, that bend the course of our lives. I once looked at the “publish” button and thought, “What’s the point?” I almost deleted the newsletter but, in a move that felt utterly impulsive and completely ridiculous, I clicked the publish-button. My life had exploded. Pieces rained down from the sky. I had nothing to lose. Why not. Publish.

Stories are told after the fact. “How” always comes second.

I clicked a button. A woman named Kerri responded. A conversation started.

Our coming together was nothing shy of mystic. Heaven and earth had to move for this possibility to become a reality – and it did. It moved. It felt as if unseen hands gave us a push. What are the odds? Astronomical. What about those hands?

Heaven and earth move everyday. Astronomical odds. Micro-choices. Ordinary life. Miraculous. Looking backward it seems destined. Looking forward it seems random. Design? Arbitrary? Yes. I suppose, either way, the real question is, “Do you appreciate it?” Do you know how impossible this moment is? Where else would you be?

Today is our seventh anniversary. Today, I savor the impossible and appreciate the design. Both/And.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SUPPOSED TO BE

Call Awe [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” ~ The Beatles, The End

Last week was unusual in that I had a sneak-peek at my end-of-life-review. When a trusted doctor looks at you and says, “This is bad,” when tests that ordinarily might be scheduled a few weeks out are rushed into the next few hours, when the palette of available options are mostly shades of black and all include the word “dire,” the life-movie-reel begins to roll. Mine did.

I’ve known for years that among the few choices we really have is 1) where we choose to focus, and 2) where we choose to stand as we focus. Point-of-view, labels slapped onto experience, the story we tell is a story we project onto the world. Rolling through the CT-scan doughnut, I looked at the story I’ve called into the forest. I listened for the story it reflected back at me, as me.

“Take a deep breath,” the machine instructed, “and hold it.” Holding my breath, I saw a single story comprised of many, many chapters. There are the life-pages that I lived in confidence, and pages that I wrote confusion. The shattering, the story of the pieces of my life scattered in four directions. Kintsugi. The pages of the phoenix. Pages written running from my art and the matching pages of running toward it. The chapter of standing still. The pages of betrayal and the balance pages of being betrayed. “Release your breath,” the machine chirped. “Breathe naturally.”

The forest will show me fear. The forest will offer grace. The forest will reflect back to me peace if peace is what I bring to it. Someday, rather than project onto the forest, I will walk into it, become it. A reflector of projections.

Take a deep breath. I’ve never been so appreciative of breath. Hold it. What a gift. Breathe naturally. Call awe into the forest.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOREST

Beg A Good Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

She stopped, turned and went back to the truck. “What are you doing?” I asked. She pulled her camera from her purse and snapped a photo of the Sara Lee truck. She showed me the photo and slid her phone back into her purse.

“I thought this would make a good blog photo,” she said, adding, “If it wasn’t a marketing phrase it would beg a good question.”

How should goodness taste?

How should equality look?

How should community sound?

How should generosity smell?

How should love feel?

We experience the world through our senses. And then we make a story of what we sense. Senses first. Story second. It’s how the brain works. The language capacity, putting words to experience, is essentially a translation function. It does not lead, it follows. It’s why, for the most part, we choose the story we tell.

The word that strikes me the most on the bread truck photo is “should.” How should goodness taste?

How does goodness taste? To you?

How does equality look? To you?

For you, what’s the sound of thriving community?

To me, generosity smells like fresh baked bread and hot dark coffee. You?

And love? There are no words. But you know it when you feel it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GOODNESS

Blink Open Your Eyes [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In an interview, Thomas Friedman called what we now face in this nation a “slow erosion.” Societies do not collapse all at once. They slow boil, frog in a pot.

Timothy Snyder said, ‘Ideas matter.” After all, ideas become action. Ideals matter, too. Democracy is an idea. It is not a given. Those who erode its foundation must believe it is inevitable, otherwise they would think twice before perpetuating The Big Lie, brazenly participating in sedition. Make no mistake, justifying an assault on the succession principle is to turn against the fundamental idea. Democracy is nothing more or less than a succession principle. Ideas matter.

Slow erosion. Slow boil.

Watching the news, reading the streams, there’s not much more that can be said after the court’s assault on a woman’s right to choose what happens with her body. Equality is an ideal. It is not a given. We not only have to choose it, we have to choose it again and again and again. Equality is a kind of power structure. It is the rhetorical central idea of our society.

And, so, we work on and on to make our central ideal more than rhetoric. We fought a war over inequality. We actively chose our central ideal with equal rights amendments. Early in our history, we chose it when we extended the vote beyond white male land owners. We chose it again when we prevented government from dictating what a woman could and could not do with her body. Equal rights.

Equality scares those who stand atop the hierarchy, who believe their privilege is their power. Ask Ginni Thomas what drives her sedition? Ask her husband Clarence why, now that the nation has rendered women second-class citizens, we now must revisit the rules of contraception and same-sex marriage? Ask Mitch McConnell about his life-long mission to pack the courts. What, exactly, might they be afraid of? Why are they working so hard to undermine rather than further democratic ideals? Why are they choosing to restrict equal rights while pushing forward autocratic candidates with authoritarian ideals?

My grandfather told me it was wiser to listen to a person’s actions and not their words.

Ideas, ideals – like equality – are powerful and made visible in chosen actions. Tom used to say that you can see the power of an idea by “the size of the tide that rises against it.” Right now there is a mighty tide rising against the democratic ideal of equality and the core principle of succession. It’s not a given. We are seeing what happens when the guardians of the principle turn against it. Slow erosion. Robbed nest.

The good news is that Tom’s phrase works both ways: you know the power of an idea by the size of the tide that rises to defend the idea.

Timothy Snyder also said that we have recently been a nation of sleepwalkers. Democracy is not inevitable. It is a choice made again and again and again. We create it on a daily basis through our choices and actions – or we lose it. Perhaps this latest assault on the ideal will wake us up? Perhaps we might blink open our eyes and realize that, as the stewards of the democratic ideal, we’d best start choosing to walk toward it rather than allow this minority, that so fears the power of equality, to continue their assault on the right to choose.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROBBING ROBIN’S EGGS

Fulfill The Promise [on KS Friday]

Look up the word “suffrage” in the dictionary and you’ll discover it means, “the right to vote.” Synonyms include “voice,” “enfranchisement,” and “choice.” It took a hundred years of protest for women to secure the right to vote in these un-united United States. As we prepare to take a giant step backwards it should not be lost on us that the battle for a woman’s voice to be heard continues to this day.

The size of the tide rising against a woman’s right to choose has a long root in suffrage. A woman’s choice. The crusty old ideal: “The Cult of True Womanhood, that is, the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother concerned exclusively with home and family.” is yet again rearing its ugly head.

I’ve written before of my experience in a jury pool. I was in the third group of 50 to be called into the courtroom. The judge gave us a single instruction: “Raise your hand if you either have been or know someone who’s been the victim of sexual assault.” Every member of my group raised their hands. The same had happened with the previous two groups. Out of 150 potential jurors, 150 had either been or knew intimately someone who had been the victim of sexual assault. “How am I ever going to seat an impartial jury,” the judge said to us and to himself.

It was a great question. Here’s a better question: why is sexual assault so prevalent in our nation?

The cult of true womanhood is, of course, a man’s idea. What about a powerful woman, with full protected rights and choice over her body, makes (a minority in) this nation froth and scream? What exactly are these few trying to control?

Equality. Actual equality. A promise unfulfilled for so many.

To my long ago judge I would say that we cannot seat an impartial jury until we experience an impartial court and a governing body willing and able to protect the rights of all citizens equally. It’s the ideal, the organizing principle of this nation-of-promise. Or is it?

A woman with an equal voice and equal pay, with the same protections a man enjoys, will, of course, express fully her equality. It begs the rhetorical question: What exactly are these few afraid of?

Suffrage. Enfranchisement. Choice. Equality.

Kerri’s music is available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about MADE FOR WOMEN

silent days/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

Collapse And Decide [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Brad calls it “paralysis by analysis”. Over thinking. Over researching. Reading every label. Considering every color combination relative to every other possible color combination. If you do some quick math, you’ll note that there are an infinite number of color combinations so arrival at a choice is a process of exhaustion. Waving the white flag. Conclusion via collapse. Decision by despair.

Neither Brad nor I suffer from this debilitating condition but both of our partners in life do.

It’s hard to watch. I learned at the very beginning to detach from the process. If I wait for the research and comparison phase to pass, if I say nothing until the desperation arrives, then I can tip the turmoil into a choice. And then I return to detachment because the paralysis has only reached its midpoint..

They say that summiting a high peak is not the dangerous part. Most climbers die on the return trip, the descent from the mountain. The same is true for analysis-paralysis-style-decision-makers. Once the decision is made, a river of decision-doubt and choice-remorse rushes in. The real paralysis happens after the decision is finally made. And revoked. And made again. And revoked. More spouses have collapsed on the way down from Mount Decision than on the initial ascent.

There’s a terrific scene in the movie About Time. The wife wants help from her husband in deciding which dress to wear to an important dinner meeting. She models dozens of dresses. He finds goodness in every option. She finds flaws in every dress. He becomes increasingly desperate, no matter what he says or enthusiastic support he offers, he finds himself swirling into the quagmire of no-good-answer.

I love that movie. Every time I watch that scene, I both howl with laughter and close my eyes. I know his desperation. I feel his fatigue. The minute she circles back and decides on the very first dress she modeled, with his wave of relief I whisper to the screen, “Now you’re really in trouble.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about DECISION FATIGUE

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