Ramble [on DR Thursday]

I’m like a two-year old: I want to know “Why?” For instance, the lichen growing on the birch tree is Hypogymnia physodes, but it’s also known as “Monk’s Hood.” Why?

There’s a wildflower also known as Monk’s Hood. I read that the flower gets its name because its petals resemble the cowls once worn by monks. However, the flower is also known as “Wolfsbane.” Why? What does the bane of a wolf have to do with the hood of a monk? I’m capable of inventing a slew of possible connections but they will be just that: inventions.

In an attempt to bore you beyond rescue, I’ve lately been fascinated by how much of our world is a blizzard of unhinged information in search of a context. For instance, conceptual art needs an explanation. Without a curator, it’s nothing more than a banana taped to a wall. Twine with a dirty sponge. Oddity seeking to be taken seriously.

In the 21st century, we measure relevance by the number of followers, not by the substance-of-the-matter-being-followed. It’s a popularity contest. Lots and lots of flowing information, most of it useless. Without use. Without substance. And, scarily for us: without being questioned.

What is empty content pushed through a fabricated context? “Breaking” news. MAGA. Q.

It occurs to me that society needs more two year olds! A healthy practice of asking “Why” would spare us from certain death-by-bloviation.

A cowl, by the way, is both a monk’s hood AND a loose neckline in contemporary women’s clothing. Wouldn’t the monks be surprised if they’d confused their cowls!

Now, get out there and find context for this bit of useless information.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LICHEN

pieta with paparazzi © 2010 david robinson

Go Will-Hunting [on KS Friday]

In the middle of the day, Skip sent a quote: “We take ourselves too seriously these days. Something sad appears to have happened to our sense of humor. It is true that our outlook is grim; we face many tough problems. We have to tackle them with determination, and we will do a better job at it if we do not let them get us down—pitch us into gloom and frantic despair. Have we lost our sense of humor?” 

I snapped back a reply, “Timely,” I wrote, “Humor relies on shared context – and shared values…we have definitely lost our shared context.”

“Not bad for being written 50 years ago,” he responded – laughing, I’m sure. It’s a quote from Pieces of the Action by Vannevar Bush. The rest of the quote:

“Have we lost our sense of humor? I don’t think so. But I sorely miss Will Rogers, who could remind us of our absurdities, and do so without rancor. One new Will Rogers would do us more good than a dozen economics professors lecturing us on our sins. I have been looking for him, and have not found him.”

Sitting on the back deck after work, watching the sky morph into electric orange, purple and pink, I wondered if people in every era have shaken their collective head in utter amazement at the absurdity of their time. Who hasn’t thought, “If we can’t laugh about it, we’ll cry.” I’ll bet Abe Lincoln regularly pinched the bridge of his nose and whispered, “…unbelievable.”

We often start our day sipping coffee and reading the news. Sometimes we end the day sipping wine and reading the news. Toxic bookends. I wish I had kept count of the number of times we spontaneously combusted with, “Can you believe it!” Absurdity abounds.

I have a choice to either put my head in the sand (again) or go in search of my inner Will Rogers. I know he’s in there (here) and I’ve never had more reason to go searching for him.

To laugh without rancor at the absurdities of our time. A worthy pursuit! I’m going good Will Rogers hunting!

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read Kerri’s blogpost about THE PINK ORANGE SKY

the way home/this part of the journey © 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

Intend Renewal [on DR Thursday]

Context is everything. When we chose this picture for our Melange, I thought I’d probably write about renewal. Out of devastation, a phoenix rises. Or, perhaps the kind of renewal that doesn’t just happen but requires a bit of scraping, new soil, scattered seed, and hay-net to prevent the birds from feasting on the seed. Intentional renewal.

Context. Between the day we chose this photo and this cool quiet morning that I’m attempting to write about it, the mass shooting at Highland Park happened. I’m finding it nearly impossible to write about renewal.

Highland Park is not far away. We attend the annual art fair on their small-town Main Street. We’ve driven through 4 times in the last two weeks.

We were about to go out the door and walk to our local 4th of July festival when the news arrived. We looked at each other, no words necessary. We kicked off our shoes. We decided to stay home. Going to a place where people congregate – like grocery stores or elementary schools or places of worship or movie theatres or parades meant to celebrate our “independence” – seemed unsafe.

Context.

HIghland Park was one of three locations in the USA that experienced mass shootings on the 4th of July. No, check that. Four locations. Even as I type, Kerri brought news of the mass shooting that happened here – not so many blocks away – on the 4th. Staying home was a good choice. Oops. Check that. More news. There were eight. Oops (again). Check that. Eleven.

I cannot write about renewal but, for the third time this week, I am tapping out thoughts about interconnectivity.

It is a trick of language to say, “I broke my toe” and believe that only the isolated body-part called “toe” is injured while everything else is fine. Except it’s not fine. An injury anywhere to the body is an injury to the whole body. Everything is impacted. Everything adjusts. The pain-impulse you feel in your toe has already completed a round trip to your brain. Your posture adjusts so expect your hip or back to be sore tomorrow. Your spatial awareness goes on high alert: it’s best to avoid toe contact with any immovable object. If you desire to understand interconnectivity, consider how your whole body might respond if you happen to stub your seeming-isolated-and-already-broken-toe. Whole body response. Imagine it.

There have been over 300 mass shootings in the United States this year. So, the single most puzzling comment to come out of HIghland Park? “How could it happen here?” As if “here” is somehow isolated from Uvalde or Buffalo or Boulder or…it’s a long list and growing.

The whole nation-body is injured. It’s the illusion of isolation that underpins the mad-thought that more guns, unrestricted, are a solution to gun violence. Build a fortress? Isolate? Better doors? Arm yourself? It’s only the toe.

Where exactly is the boundary of “here?” And why would it be okay for “it” to happen “there”?

We’re all here. There is no “there” that is “safe.” Context is everything.

Perhaps I am writing about renewal. The intentional kind that requires some leadership scraping, new soil, seed, and a whole-body community united and relentless in their demand for proper protections from the insanity of guns.

read Kerri’s blogpost bout NEW GRASS

may you © 2015 david robinson

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

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

Look Again [on DR Thursday]

EARTHInterrupted7.THIS ONEJPG copy 3

It’s all a matter of context. As it stands, this is the seventh painting in a series I call Earth Interrupted. This piece would not exist today except Kerri stopped me from painting over it. She likes it. I find it dark. Foreboding. Of the seven paintings, it is the darkest piece in the series. When I painted it, I didn’t know how to place it – I didn’t know its reference point. It wasn’t and isn’t comfortable.

I pulled it out of the stacks last week. Now, in this time of pandemic, I know exactly what it represents. Everyday in the news I see a graphic of the virus. It is dark and foreboding.  Earth interrupted.

In an earlier version of myself I spent a great deal of time trying to educate educators to this simple truth: art is not supposed to be entertainment. It can’t always be comfortable. In fact, it holds diminished value if it doesn’t sometimes challenge, sometimes upset, sometimes confront, sometimes incite. Art is powerful because it confronts us, asks us to question what we see and think and believe.

And now, looking at this painting that makes me uncomfortable, I find it necessary to listen to that earlier version of me. This painting is beautiful, not because it makes me feel good or takes me away, it is vital because it upsets me. It lands me squarely into this inescapable moment in time.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about E.I. 7

 

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earth interrupted vii ©️ 2018 david robinson

Consider Context [on Merely A Thought Monday]

civility 2 copy

It’s an idiom. A turn of phrase. When push comes to shove. The moment when a decision must be made. Look it up and you’ll read that the expression carries a connotation of escalation. Shoving is more aggressive than pushing.

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation.

Like all idioms (or all words, for that matter) context is everything. We saw this phrase on a billboard. It is a campaign promoting civility at a time when civility seems in short supply. We liked it and thought it would be a good quote for Merely-A-Thought-Monday. Context: Civility.

Google the phrase and you’ll discover the disease that plagues us. Namely, the lack of capacity to consider context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to recognize context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to consider a context that differs from one’s own. The top of your Google search will reveal a rage of opposition to the billboard promoting civility.  Shove harder. “…so basically they’re telling you let the son of a b$&@? push you around…”

Wow. It’s an idiom. Context: Civility.

To be fair, a scroll down the Google chain includes motivational stories, a dance piece by Twyla Tharp, more links to PassItOn.com images and tv spots, a song by The Grateful Dead, a lyric by Rascal Flatts. A festival of differing contexts and usages of this phrase when push comes to shove.

Here are a few other idioms: where the rubber meets the road. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When the chips are down…, When the dust settles…, When in Rome…

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation. Context matters.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIVILITY

 

shadow des plaines river trailwebsite box copy

Put It In Context [on Two Artists Tuesday]

THIS from the ferry copy

Context (noun): the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

I love this photograph. It could be of the salt flats. It could be desert landscape. It could be the arctic snows. Absent of context, how can we know?

The headstone of the 21st century will read ‘Taken out of context.’ I was a teacher when the internet first washed over the land and the question on every educator’s desk was this: how do we teach students to discern what information is valid and what is not? Education is, at least partially, the pursuit and discernment of what is true and what is not.

Discernment (noun): the ability to judge well.

In a world in which any one can post anything about any topic in service to any agenda, void of context and with an astounding expectation of 280 characters or less, how do we judge well? No attention span available. No context necessary. Discernment is out of reach. As W.B. Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.” 

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  (Yeats, The Second Coming)

Context avoidance and manipulation is not unique to the 21st century. It’s been around since the invention of preachers and politicians. We simply have the tools to amplify it and glut ourselves on the fat that remains.

‘Taken out of context’ comes with a cold surgical sister phrase: after the fact. They knew after the fact. He was an accessory after the fact. It was only after the fact that they saw what was there all along.

fact (noun): a thing that is known or proved to be true.

How do you know or prove something to be true? It is the same question educators faced so long ago: how do we discern what information is valid and what is not? Well, begin by slowing down enough, care enough to place the thought, idea, opinion, data, in its full context. Conviction, ideals, truths…all of these lofty words, have meaning and value, become grounded, solid, and meaning-full – in the presence of context.

(The photograph was taken from a ferry cutting through the surface ice at Death’s Door).

lake ice copy

pull the camera down and this is what you see

 

read Kerri’s blog post on ICE LANDSCAPE

 

zigzag through ice website box copy

 

Reach The Other Side [on Merely A Thought Monday]

lifebelowzeroquotesueaikens copy

Nope. This is not a political comment. Though it could be. Context is everything though I couldn’t blame you for assuming this is a statement of ideological division. Simple statements are rarely friendly in divided environments. They are meant to reinforce the division, to broaden the divide. We are inundated with divisive simplicity. We are drowning in out-of-context sound bytes.

No, this saw concerns the simplicity of survival. It’s quote from an episode of Life Below Zero. Sue lives above the arctic circle. She measures and ties guide ropes on to  her buildings so she can find her way around her compound in white-out conditions. If she reaches the knot in the rope – a knot that marks the exact distance to the door she seeks –  and hasn’t yet reached the door – she knows she must hang onto the rope and scribe an arc. Left is always left. Right is always right. The door will be there. If it’s not, if things go awry and she can’t find the door, she can follow the rope back to the safety of the place she just left.

Sue is a font of simple maxims born of the harsh necessities of her environment. Her rope is a statement of preparation. Her rope ups her odds of survival. No rope, she dies. Her simplicity is not ideological. It is necessary. It is meant to cross divides, to help her reach the other side.

On second thought, maybe this is a political statement after all. Or, perhaps an appeal in our harsh environment. Maybe Sue will come down to the lower 48 and teach us how to use a rope and give us a few simple suggestions for how to reach the other side.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LEFT AND RIGHT

 

hands across tree WEBSITE BOX copy