Ask The Real Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Through a lack of love everything hardens. There is nothing as lonely in the world as that which has hardened or grown cold. Bitterness and coldness are the ultimate defeat.” ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

We just watched a news segment about Taiwan’s successful response to COVID-19. At the heart of their response, the reporter said, is a sense of social solidarity. Social solidarity; we are all in this together.

American’s celebrate their independent spirit which leads them to the delusion that they can go-it-alone. Watching documentaries and television shows of people living remotely in the great Alaskan frontier, I’m always aware of the manufactured rifles and bullets, the chain saws, clothes and coats from the store, boots and knives and rope and gas…participation in an economy. There is an entire web of support, hundreds of human beings making possible even the most dedicated illusion of the cowboy spirit.

It’s where we get it wrong. We are blind to our reliance on each other. An economy is more than the production and consumption of goods and services. It is a living, breathing web of interconnection.

Income gaps are descriptors of belief. Terms like “consumer behavior” are scrubbed, antiseptic descriptions of relationship, ethics, communal participation. The story is told in the economics. How the money flows defines the legislation: who starves, who prospers, how we support each other or not. Who has access to power and who does not.

Every-man-for-himself is not only a cold and bitter road, it is also a fantasy. The isolation of every hermit is made possible by the production of others. The existence of a leisure class is not possible without a successful working class. Prosperity is a team sport, especially in a capitalist economy.

No one walks this life alone so the real question is how we want to walk it?

These once-united-states have grown cold. We are hardened. We are divided. Fewer and fewer feel the wealth. There are no rules that apply, no ethic to the game of governance. Fearful and angry people are easily led into wild tales of deep states. Neighbors become enemies. Economies teeter and fall when balance is ignored. No one thrives for long in a bitter divide.

The ultimate defeat is ours. No garden grows in hard soil. We will have required no enemy invasion, no conqueror breaking down the gate or overrunning the ramparts. All that was required was to turn our backs on each other. To think we are two distinct teams, and need to win over the other at all cost, no-holds-barred and no rules apply, go it alone, protect the freedom of the individual with nary an understanding that no individual survives in a vacuum.

It is a lonely supper, indeed, at a table for one.

read Kerri’s blog post about CARING

Unify The Rabbits [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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If you chase two rabbits, both will get away ~ Chinese Proverb.

In the theatre, the double-rabbit chase is called a split intention. An actor cannot both play well the scene AND try and please the audience. It’s one of the fundamental lessons an actor must learn; play the scene purely and the audience will enter the story. Trying to please an audience is a fool’s errand and will throw everyone out of the story.

The lesson is not what it might at first seem. The lesson is to recognize that, in truth, it is not an either/or choice. The only way to “please” the audience is to play well the scene. The only way to “please” them is to forget about them. The job is not about “pleasing.” The job is about the performance of a play.  It’s a lesson in priority of focus. In recognizing and attending to the first principle, all other concerns fall into their proper place. The magic is in unifying what might at first look like a two-rabbit chase.

It’s a lesson that has great usefulness far beyond the stage in every walk of life. Either/Or framing is usually a warning sign that two rabbits are on the run.

A split intention is always resolved through a focus priority.

In our pandemic time, in these states-once-united, we’ve managed to cleave our intention. Health or economy? The chase is on and both are getting away. Trying to reinvigorate an economy by ignoring the health implications is akin to an actor trying to please an audience – it is a fool’s errand. People will not go out if they do not feel safe. Although each day we are plied with scenes of packed bars and beaches, we also read an ever-mounting roll call of bankruptcies, job losses, impending evictions, rapidly shrinking GDP, etc.

It’s a pandemic. Roughly 1,000 people a day are dying. In five months over 150,000 people who otherwise would have seen 2021 have ceased to live. The infection rate is doubling [a gentle reminder to those who make me shake my head in wonderment: just as pregnancy is not caused by the test, COVID-19 testing does not produce cases. Testing identifies cases and someday will provide the opportunity to contain the spread.]

Attend to the play. Prioritize the focus. Public health and economic health are not at odds. They need not split and run in opposite directions. Economic health is not possible if people do not feel safe. It’s a basic rule of survival, a fundamental requirement of the play-of-life. Protecting public health, attending to public safety, is the first principle. Wearing masks. Testing and tracing. Social distancing. The rabbits will unify when the message aligns, when the audience-pleasers realize that, by ignoring the first principle, they are literally throwing people out of the life-story.

Focus on the priority and all other concerns will fall into their proper place.

It is palpable when an actor stops splitting their focus. It is magnetic when they fully enter the scene. The play crackles with life and possibility. It pulls audience and actors alike into the same story. Together, all move to the edge of their seats. When it really sparkles, hearts sync and beat in a unified rhythm (no kidding).

I see signs of a single-rabbit-chase everywhere. Checking out from the store a week ago, the cashier said through her face-covering, “I like your mask!” I smiled. I’m certain she knew I smiled even though she could not see it. “Where did you get it?” she asked.

Mask-fashion is arising. In mask-envy I find tiny glimmers of hope.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK ENVY

 

 

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three graces ©️ 2010 david robinson

Fill In The Thought Bubble [on DR Thursday]

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I sit in the truck and wait while Kerri goes into the building to work. I’m not allowed in so I use my time to sketch or work on other projects. Big Red is my mobile studio.

I was flipping through my latest sketchbook and found  this on the last page. I laughed because I’d forgotten about it. It is from the early days of the pandemic. I LOVE YOU. NOW STAND BACK. It captures the ever growing mountain of contradictions that tumbled-in with COVID-19.

On the facing page of the sketchbook, I wrote 3 haiku:

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Sketchbooks are like archives or a diary. If I wrote a book about this time I’d call it Weird Calculus. Every decision, even the smallest, is awash in contradictions and placed on a sliding scale of risk.

Since I drew this sketch, we’ve thrown ourselves against a hard wall of conflicting beliefs. We play a deadly game of racquetball with so much intentional misinformation. Data denial. We’re 4% of the world’s population and we’ve managed to fight ourselves into a full 25% of the world’s infections. That’s quite an achievement.

Were I to draw this sketch today, a mere 3 months later, the thought bubble might say: I LOVE YOU. NOW WAKE UP!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about STAND BACK!

 

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now stand back ©️ 2020 david robinson

sleepers ©️ 2014 david robinson

Why Ask Why [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A rare warm day, walking the Des Plains River trail. I should have been startled when Kerri suddenly jumped off the trail but I’ve grown accustomed to her spring-loaded-photo-impulsive-gambols. I actually love the passion of her image capturing so I’ve learned not to be surprised when she leaps and snaps. There is no danger. There is a photo opp.

“SEE!” she exclaimed, showing me the photo. “Even nature is asking ‘Why?'”

My first thought: Which “why” is nature asking? Why a pandemic?  Why so much division?

Simon Sinek has made a career of teaching people to ask “Why?” before asking “How?” It makes sense: you should probably know why you want to scale the mountain before asking, “How will I do it?” People need an answer to “why.” And, because we are human, the answer to “why” need not be reasonable or rational. “Because it is there,” is an acceptable answer to “why?” I want to. I need to know. I want to feel. I need to see what is there.

“How?” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. “How” is known through reflection. There is the plan. There is the reality that comes when the plan meets the unknown forces. The plan changes. The only honest answer to “how” is: do what makes sense and we’ll talk about it later.

Amidst a pandemic, it is only human to throw up our arms to the sky and demand an answer to our “Why?”  To borrow a lyric from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: “I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I know, darling,  that you do.” In other words, viruses are intention-free. Sometimes, even though we want an explanation, there is no “why.”

There is, however, always a plan, there is a path to “How?”  How do we protect ourselves? How do we deal with it? In fact, there are layers to the question “how?” The first layer of ‘how’ is simple: social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands. Looking back from this vantage point, we know it is the best we can do short of a vaccine. Simple science.

The second layer of the how-cake is more complex and, like all ‘how’ questions, we will only be able to talk about at some point down the broken road. Maybe a vaccine. Maybe herd immunity. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe we will be foolish, like the Philadelphia parade during the Spanish flu and escalate the death toll to the point that we wake up and listen to the first ‘how?’

The virus is a force like a tornado is a force. Why did it take my neighbor’s house and not mine? Why did the forest fire rage through this neighborhood and not that neighborhood?

Here’s the only “why” question we really need to consider: in the face of this virus-forest-fire, why did we rush out to light matches (pack into bars and onto beaches), parade around screaming about our individual rights instead of metaphorically rushing into the fire to save our neighbors in the only way we knew how (social distance, masks) –  as we would have done in an inferno?

I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I do believe in intentional human beings (conscious and otherwise).

Nature need not ask “why?” We do. It’s a sure bet that our answer will make little or no sense at all.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHY

 

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Pull The Curtain [on KS Friday]

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I once heard an author speak of the impossibility of writing a farce about The United States of America. He said that before the last chapter was written, the farce will have actually occurred. The bar of absurdity drops quickly from sea to shining sea.

Today we are watching the collapse of the American mythology “The best health care in the world.” In the face of a public health emergency we are seeing with greater clarity how fractured and incapable our system is of delivering even the most basic of services. That statement, sadly, is a daily fact in the USA for many of its citizens (more on that in a moment) but the pandemic has pulled the curtain on the wizard. Oz is not what it seems.

In the past 24 hours I’ve heard it reported multiple times: the difference between our inept response – beyond the absence of coherent leadership – and other nations, is the system itself. In a single payer system no one is confused about what to do or where to go and no one is reticent to seek medical care because of the costs. The necessary tests are available because profit is not the primary motive; public health is.

Our system is a shattered mess of profiteering and, I believe, intentional obfuscation.  Even the people within the system can’t get a straight answer so they can’t provide a lucid response to even the most basic of questions. Yesterday, our question was, “How much does it cost?”  A mere 24 hours ago, Kerri had her first occupational therapy session for her broken wrists. We called our insurance provider to check to see if we were covered. The OT facility also called and we both received two opposing stories. A third call was placed and a third answer was given. So, a fourth call to the insurance provider was made and, yes, a fourth story, a competing answer was proffered.

Four calls. Four stories. The policy itself is ambiguous. We asked the intake receptionist how much the therapy would cost if we decided to pay out of pocket. Her answer, “It depends.” Can we pay the bill we will most certainly receive or should we forgo the therapy altogether? [note: my wife makes her living playing the piano so this is no small or insignificant question]. Kerri started to cry. Standing within the pages of this farce, I started to laugh. No one (outside of the USA) would believe it if I wrote it.

Within 24 hours, our personal farce went nationwide. Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIAID, said it best of our national travesty-of-a-system “It’s failing. Let’s admit it.”

The lucrative business of health care has blinded us for decades to the real needs of public health. We are, by any measure, an increasingly unhealthy society (check obesity rates, infant mortality, teen suicides, etc. if you doubt me). It seems to me that the point of health care should be the health of the public and not profit margins. The conversations coming from the White House are about whether or not our tests and treatments for a pandemic will be covered or not. It’s penny wise and pound foolish. It’s also obscene.

Kerri and I pay nearly half of our combined incomes for “healthcare” that is null and void if we cross the state line. And, now that we are attempting to use the policy that is pushing us into poverty, we are flush with competing stories about the costs but remain empty of even the most basic answer to the simplest of questions.

In the meantime, Senegal is doing a better job testing and protecting its citizens. The farce: our stubborn insistence that this sham of a system, the most expensive yet least effective, is the best in the world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SAGA

 

 

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