Imagine It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is a tale of two schools, both in the same school district. It is the story of the very day when the younger version of me grasped with both hands the absolute importance of the arts, when I understood to my bones that art was not a luxury but a necessity in a healthy world.

As the manager of the theatre conservatory, I sometimes went to observe the actor outreach programs in the schools. On this particular day, two schools were on the schedule. At the first school, I followed a team that went into the younger classrooms, 1st graders. They played imagination games with the students. I saw princesses and dragons and superheroes reach into wild possibilities.

We left the first school and literally drove across the tracks to the poorer side of town. I decided to follow the same team. They played the same imagination games with the same age group but, at the this school, the children played “Where will the rent come from?” This time, instead of flying into possibilities, these children hit an imagination glass ceiling. The hard realities of life already had a strangle-hold on their creative minds. The actors had to work hard to break through the glass ceiling. I realized that, for these children, it was not safe to entertain possibilities.

Picasso once said that, “He can who thinks he can, and can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” We dream ourselves into being. That is the point and the power of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. That is the purpose of art, to open our imagination so we might create  a better, more expansive version of ourselves. To intend and give shape to what we imagine.

This inexorable, indisputable law applies to nations and communities as well as to individuals.

We have always been a nation divided. There have always been tracks to cross. Our history is of a two party system tug-of-war. We’ve espoused equality while practicing slavery; even our rhetoric is at odds with itself. The new wave of immigrants have been subjected to unspeakable cruelty from the previous generation of immigrants. There has always been “haves” and “have-nots.” The question of whether of not we can unite in the face of diversity is at the epicenter of the American experiment. Can we imagine ourselves whole? Can we create opportunity for all? It is a question with no definitive answer because it requires us to engage with it again and again and again. We must imagine ourselves anew each and every day.

We unite when we are at our shining best. We pride ourselves on the dream of creating a new world where all people experience the freedom to create what they can imagine. Creative tension, competition on a level playing field, invites innovation and invitation. We can.

We divide when our imagination fails us. Fear always fills the void left by vapid imaginations. We are – like people of all nations in all times – easily manipulated when we lapse into fear and turn our angst on each other. It is, after all, a strategy. Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book used by dictators and emperors to fracture an otherwise powerful populace.  It will play out as it always has and always will – a weakened nation. A collapse. People who turn in and cannibalize each other.

We-the-people are telling ourselves a miserable story. The pandemic is merely exacerbating our real dilemma. Divide and rule is filling the void, installing hard glass between us and our best imaginings. We are eating each other alive.

We are better than this. We deserve better.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WE DESERVE BETTER

 

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Gag On It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“I was the only one wearing a mask.” Were you to have read this quote three months ago, you would have assumed I went to a masquerade party and I was the only one who showed up with a mask. Or, you might have guessed that I was about to recount an embarrassing Halloween story, “I mixed up my dates – it was October 30 –  and I went to work  wearing a costume.”

Three months. Meaning is now made through the pandemic lens. I went to the store. The parking lot was full. I went into the store and stopped as I entered. I was the only one wearing a mask. My cup of assumptions filled to the brim and spilled over. These people do not care.

In the best of times, meaning is made on a layer cake of assumptions. Assumptions are too easily generalized and thrust into the hard ground as fact. Assumptions are a wide net that catches mostly trash – which is to say that they snag very little of substance. They are nothing more than cake though, because they are mistaken for fact, they can be a deadly cake, indeed. A young black man went jogging. Need I say more?

Our current favorite assumption set is political. For instance, Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine, was asked in an interview why the nation is seeing a partisan divide in response to the pandemic. “Generally, Republicans are less inclined to have the government tell them what to do. And that’s generally how I am,” DeWine said.

I’m willing to wager that most Democrats are not fond of the government telling them what to do. The pro-choice movement is decidedly liberal and is essentially resistance to the government telling a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.

Here’s a safe assumption: none of us want the government telling us what to do. That is in the genetic strand of the American identity.

The nation is seeing a partisan divide in response to the pandemic because we are being force-fed oppositional narratives that demonize the other side.  “They’re socialists trying to ruin the nation.” Or, “They are lazy and ignorant and cannot see how they’re being swung around by the nose.” Assumptions, assumptions everywhere!

As Horatio has said (and I have repeatedly borrowed) the narrative has always been schizophrenic and the divide goes like this: 1) Every man/woman for him/herself or 2)  I am my brother’s/sister’s keeper. Do we care about the others in the populace or do we take care of our own needs? It is a false divide. It is an easy target for propaganda.

And what if taking care of our own needs included taking care of the needs of others. Wouldn’t we all be wearing a mask? Isn’t that the point of the mask? It is not worn to protect me but to protect you from me. What if the assumption – the safe assumption -was that we are all in this together? We are. What if, as I stood in the doorway of the store, the only person wearing a mask, I could have made another assumption? What assumption is it that I could have made?

Three short months and the word “mask” has become a line drawn in the pandemic sand, a symbol of community or is it a marker of our divide?  No matter. Through this lens we can only cast a broad net of assumption and gag ourselves on the same giant piece of cake.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ONLY ONE

 

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Draw [on DR Thursday]

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Sue’s request was clear: write a story that is hopeful but does not pretend that everything will be easy or rosy in the end.

In 2005, while Sue Eskridge was teaching a course on children’s literature at The University of the Pacific, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of America. Sue had an idea. She refocused her class to help children who were displaced or had lost their parents in the storm. Her class approached several artists and children’s book authors and asked them to write and illustrate a story, to make single-copy-books. The books would be bundled with other supplies and through service organizations would go to children that needed them. “We want to give them hope but not false hope,” she said when she asked if I would “quick do a book.”

What do you do when the forest fire comes? The hurricane? The pandemic? Run. Hide. But then what? People pull together. People pull apart. The disaster invokes the best in us. The disaster invokes the worst in us. Ultimately, we realize that we are in it together and our togetherness can be defined through selflessness or through selfishness.

What defines us? I lived in Los Angeles during the riots and martial law. People turned on each other. I also saw the same community, just two years later during the Northridge earthquake, pull together. 9/11. AIDS. Our rhetoric does not define us. Our actions do.

I did as Sue asked. I quick did a book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost. I only had a few days and managed to write the story and smack out 16 illustrations. A story of personal gifts brought to communal need in the aftermath of a fire. When I bundled the original and sent it off to Sue I promised myself that I would someday go back into the story and draw all the pictures, fill in the 10 or so illustrations that I did not have time to realize.

This week, we retreated into our home, this pandemic hot and frightening and eerily invisible, except for the growing and incomprehensible numbers on the screen. The unreal reality. The hurricane that cannot yet be grasped.  I asked myself what might be a worthwhile project to do while isolating?  And then I remembered my promise to Peri Winkle Rabbit.

Draw. And perhaps a new story? One that deals with the hot fire now raging through our divided world? Two narratives. One pandemic. What are the odds that this crisis will burn off our national division and clear our eyes so that we are capable of stepping into a single story. I will ask Peri Winkle Rabbit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on PERI WINKLE RABBIT

 

 

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Knit A Better Structure [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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“…the test of a civilization is how it cares for its helpless members.” ~ Pearl Buck

As a nation, we are currently enamored with tests, and it is not a stretch to say that we’d receive a failing grade on this test of civilization. The helpless members do not fare well.

As Horatio pointed out, much is lost between the cracks of the quintessential conundrum built into the DNA of these United States: the dueling philosophies of every-man-for himself versus I-am-my-brother’s-keeper. Republicans versus Democrats. Corporate greed versus social need. Black and white thinking that leaves gaping voids into which the helpless members disappear. There is no both/and to be found. Division has been a useful tool of control since the inception of the American experiment. The ideological cleaver is sharper than ever these days.

Yet, there is hope that reveals another side to our character.  Kerri said, “Look at this!” The Appalachian Wildlife Refuge put out a call for used mascara brushes. They are a useful tool in saving small critters and returning them to health. They received so many brushes, the response was so great, that they had to put limits on when they would accept new brush donations. It’s my bet that people of all political stripes and social strata sent their used mascara brushes to the Refuge. It’s my bet that the critters and the caregivers were grateful in every case.

When tragedy strikes, we rush to meet the need. When a photo moves us, we respond. Something pierces the superficial divide and reaches into our communal heart.

Robert Fritz teaches that behavior is like water, it follows the path of least resistance. If you want to change behavior, you must first change the underlying structure of the land. What might it take for us to challenge this superficial concocted divide, to reach deep  into our DNA and knit a better structure of the land – something more useful and more profound than perpetually dueling philosophies? What might it take for us to put down our cleaver and pick up our mascara brushes? What might we imagine and create together that would help history give us a better grade on our test?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IMPACT

 

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Sit Together [on DR Thursday]

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Our cartoon, At The Door, lives in the category of ideas-that-we-knew-would-never-fly-but-wanted-to-do-anyway. In other words, we knew we’d make the submission and the syndicate would reward our good efforts with silence. And, they did just as we predicted!

If conflict is the epicenter/driver of story, then At The Door has a premise filled with great story potential. The dog wants to go out exploring the unknown. The cat wants to stay in his comfort zone. His bowl is the center of his cat-world and he is rarely found far from the bowl. The dog is an idealist, a dreamer. The cat is a realist. A conservative. He enjoys raining on the dog’s parade.

You’d be surprised how much material you can write with such a simple premise. We laughed heartily in the writing of it, especially because we drew our inspiration directly from our crazy Aussie and enormous cat. They share space. Together, they stare out of the door or window, their desires are wildly apparent. Each following their star. Each honest in their pursuit.

In versus Out. Cats-and-dogs-living-together. Oh, my!

Truth? I’d forgotten about At The Door. And, then, watching the news of the day combined with the wave of contention swirling around us, I remembered. I sought the cartoon file more for solace than anything.  I wanted to revisit my belief [my experience] that division need not be ugly. Division need not be disingenuous. Division provides the ripe necessity for collaboration. Two points are a mathematical requirement for the third point to become possible; it’s called ‘perspective.’ Creative tension can be a positive force for forward movement and new ideas if the division serves an honest intention.

If the division is the intention, sitting at the door together becomes, as we’ve seen, altogether impossible.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

 

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Believe [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Kerri just said, “I think I’d believe more if I had another glass of wine.” After I was done laughing (and getting her another glass of wine), I realized that belief is too often like that – contingent on circumstance.

When I was a wee lad (seriously, this stuff ran rampant around my little kid brain), I’d wonder what happened the day after the bloody battle when both sides raged about god being on their side. What do you need to reconcile when your team loses? Why do you need to win to confirm your belief? A side note, another of those rampant ramblings  racing through of my too tiny skull (no wonder my parents were at a loss of what to do with me)  – this one is to really get me in trouble: if your god takes sides, chooses a team or otherwise reinforces a separation from the whole, how can you not see that it must be a very small god indeed? For perspective, an existential reboot, go outside and look at the stars and understand what you are seeing. No sides. Beyond comprehension.

Conditional belief. It is run amok.

If our capacity for belief was not conditional, what might we actually believe? Who might we become if we understood that we are expressions of this great universe and that this great universe was cheering for us and those rowdy huzzahs  had nothing to do with our winning or losing, with borders or righteousness or rules or books or councils or sexual orientation or money or the color of our skin? Or beliefs. Every atom a delight. Every creation a miracle. Would we be hope-full?  Would ‘the enemy’ look the same through the eyes of unconditional belief?

I know. Pie-in-the-sky thinking. Only a child could believe so completely, so unconditionally in…goodness.

Anything is possible if you just believe.

[note: this beautiful ornament was a gift that came atop a container of ‘slushy’ – a life giving concoction brewed in Dan’s secret laboratory and delivered each year to my squeals of delight. If my belief is conditional it is Dan’s fault and I blame Gay for not reining him in. She found this beautiful ornament so I also blame this post on her generosity and good taste. These two people make me believe wholeheartedly, without condition, in goodness].

 

read Kerri’s more coherent blog post on BELIEVE

 

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Know The Matter [on Flawed Wednesday]

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I’ve had this conversation twice in my life. The first time I was working in The Netherlands. The second time I was working in Canada. The conversation, both times, started with exactly the same question:  What’s the matter with you Americans?

It is an irrefutable fact: we (Americans) pay more than 7 times what any other nation on earth pays for healthcare and we provide poorer coverage for less people. Our life expectancy is shorter. We are an obese nation. Our infant and maternal mortality rate is higher than any other developed nation.

What’s the matter with (us) Americans?

Here’s another irrefutable fact: the top 1% of households owns more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. The gap is, in fact, growing.

We are being force-fed the fear of socialism* but, if you dare, take off the blinders, plug your ears to the noise of heated misdirection, and look at the data. It’s clear that our fear should be of the oligarchy.

What’s the matter with (us) Americans? We are too easily led, susceptible to diversion by division, and extraordinarily fact-averse. We are too lazy to question, research or otherwise investigate the easy tribal narratives of red or blue. We are (to borrow a great book title) a confederacy of dunces.

The stresses of “healthcare” are making most of us sick while making a very, very few of us as rich as Croesus. That is another irrefutable fact and is the crux of what is the matter with (us) Americans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEALTHCARE.GOV

 

*try this experiment (I have and it is eye opening): To everyone who screams in fear the word “socialism,” ask them to define the word “socialism.” You will find, as I do, the screamers can’t define it. They don’t really know what they are screaming about. They (we) also are inordinately incapable of defining “oligarchy.” That is (sadly) why I’ve provided links. It is also an alternate answer to the question, “What is the matter with you Americans?” I decided in the final moment to exclude a link to the words “representative democracy.” Given the irrefutable but too often denied facts, it begs a whole other set of questions.

 

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