Look For Joey [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s been a life-long fascination of mine. In the most individualistic culture on earth, we like to display our status by wearing brand names and shop the same stores in malls that look the same across the nation. We are the inventors of the chain store, the strip mall. The one-size-fits-all. The suburb and cookie-cutter-house. Here in the cult of the individual, we like to do what every one else is doing.

Kerri and I tease about writing a book. It’s called “Looking For Joey.” Google Joey Coconato or his YouTube channel, My Own Frontier, and our blogs pop up at the top. We’ve not written much about Joey Coconato – a few posts – but to our great amusement, we top-the-google-list. And, so, these days, we are regularly contacted by people who are looking for Joey. They think we know him. They think he’s editing his next video in our basement.

Joey lives off the grid. He backpacks the American wilderness and documents his treks with videos. We became avid Joey fans when pandemic-isolating last year and vicariously got “out there” through Joey’s films.

After watching a few of his films it becomes abundantly clear that Joey is what everyone on the grid pretends to be. An individual. His clothes are ripped. His gear is constantly in disrepair. His food is what he can get his hands on at the moment. He is not climbing any ladder. In other words, he is not invested in how he looks, what he wears, or whether or not he’s doing things the way he ought to do them. He’s doing life in his way. At his pace. In his place. According to his star.

After receiving the latest: “Do you know where Joey is? It’s been 8 months since he posted…” I decided that, in these un-united-united-states, everyone is looking for Joey. He has, for me, ascended to the level of metaphor. He is authentic in an age of thin veneer.

While people are draping themselves in tribal-hate-flags and crying “individual freedom”, sticking their heads in the Q-sands as an act of liberation, blinding themselves in a rabid-festival of group think, all the while shaking their fists declaring, “No one can tell me what to do.” Insisting without any connection to reality that an election was stolen, that vaccines in a pandemic are filled with micro chips, that January 6 was an ordinary day at the Capitol – we are a mess of lockstep inanity.

I think everyone is looking for Joey. They – we – no longer know what is real so they -we – are splintering into disparate group-fantasy. Lemmings singing a chorus of My Way as they – we – plummet off our collective cliff.

Honesty is not that hard to spot if you want to look for it. Much of the fight falls away when you are prepared to acknowledge that much of what we profess is cotton-candy, that we are terrified of looking at our full history. Shops and malls and online outlets are not great places to look for answers. Running from critical race theory does not make our past go away.

A walk about in nature has a way of making the absurd abstractions fall away. Carrying your food on your back and looking for water when you need it strips away the investments in the ridiculous.

Individuals – people truly living out of their own center – generally don’t have to wear brands or broadcast their individuality. They are not seeking validation. They are not fighting for their freedom. Like Joey (I imagine) they simply live it.

[ the cool Dr. Seusss plant is called white baneberry or doll’s eyes.]

read Kerri’s blog post about STAND OUT

Recognize The Greater [on DR Thursday]

strange sky

“Can a shallow mind appreciate beauty?…When the mind is merely concerned with itself and its own activities, it is not beautiful; whatever it does, it remains ugly, limited, therefore it is incapable of knowing what beauty is.” ~Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

What accounts for the strange color of the sky? Smoke from the fires? A coming storm?

The quote above is only half of the thought. It is the set up for the real point to be made. A shallow mind is concerned only for itself. And, while consumed with the lesser, it misses the greater. It is the unintentional theme that emerged for me this week: losing the greater for the lesser. The baby goes out with the bathwater.

It is a matter of perception, of focus placement.

Yesterday I wrote about the judge questioning the potential juror about his capacity to experience hardship in order to keep the system going and growing. The juror entered the exchange with a self-focus and exited, admonished, with perhaps the possibility of seeing something beyond his own agenda. Perhaps.

I read that Rome fell when the luxuries became more important than the essentials. Societies fall when they can no longer discern between what is important and what is not, when the lesser is protected at the expense of the greater.

Years ago, during a facilitation, a young woman pulled herself from and exercise. She sat on the sidelines and brooded. After the exercise, during the debrief, she claimed that she was discriminated against because her team did not listen to her ideas. Initially, her team scrambled to apologize – one does not want to be accused of discrimination. We asked the team to explore the situation a bit further. Because the young woman’s idea was rejected, was she truly a victim of discrimination? It was an illuminating conversation. The problem – the real problem – arises when we can no longer discern between what is discrimination and what is not? There is terrible discrimination in our world and needs to be addressed. It can’t be seriously confronted if we are incapable of distinguishing between the rejection of an idea and laws that prevent citizens of color from voting.

In a pandemic, a mask is not a breach of personal freedom. It is not the state ripping away control of your body. It is a minor inconvenience to ensure the mitigation of a virus that is killing scores of fellow citizens. Despite the rhetoric otherwise, the fearmongering and tribe-building, wearing a mask is something done for the health of the whole. It is not unlike jury duty.

It is a matter of perception. Of focus placement. Self or other? Lesser or greater?

The rest of the quote: “Whereas, a mind that is not concerned with itself, that is free of ambition, a mind that is not caught up in its own desires or driven by pursuit of its own success – such a mind is not shallow, and it flowers in goodness. Do you understand? It is this inward goodness that gives beauty, even to a so-called ugly face.”

Pay attention to the verb. Beauty is given. Concern for the well-being of the other is a sentiment expressed and championed in every corner of the world, by all the figures we quote, elevate, and sometimes emulate. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa,…it’s a very, very long list.

Communities thrive when they are capable of enduring hardship for each other, for the benefit of the whole. They also thrive when they hold boundaries and protect the rights of the individuals. Those two seemingly different actions are, in fact, one and the same.

Societies fall when shallow minds prevail, when they can no longer discern between essentials and luxuries, privileges and responsibilities. When personal comfort takes precedence over enduring ideals.

It’s a matter of perception. Of focus placement, and make no mistake, focus is easily led. Just like a package of pastrami mistaken for a strange colored sky.

read Kerri’s blog post about PASTRAMI SKY

shared fatherhood ©️ 2017 david robinson

Choose Your Way [on DR Thursday]

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankel

I always feel a bit disappointed in myself after writing a post like the post I wrote yesterday. It was a near-rant, an ugly system becoming more ugly as it fights to protect its ugliness.

It’s been a battle all of my life, wrestling with what to do or say when my desire to focus on the life-giving runs headlong into the harsh realities of the life-denying. To shine a light on the life-denying is sometimes the most life affirming thing to do, it just doesn’t feel very good. “Look at the ugly. No, really look.” Last night, I listened to a conversation – in all seriousness – about the collapse of our democracy. It’s been a minor fascination of mine to witness how self-destructive people and organizations – and nations – will become before they admit that they need to change. Before they turn and say, “I’ve been lying to myself and to you.” Sometimes they destroy themselves rather than turn and face their truth. That was the crux of the conversation. It seems more and more likely that we’ll set ourselves on fire before we embrace the truth of our dysfunction.

One of Kerri and my greatest losses during the time of pandemic was our weekly ritual dinners with 20. Thursday night we’d cook at his condo. Sunday night we’d cook at our house. We’d cook for each other. Sometimes we’d cook with each other. Always we’d drink wine, laugh, and reaffirm what is most important about life. Each other.

Post-vaccination, after a long year of isolation, we recently, gratefully, returned to our ritual. We cook. We talk about our days. We laugh. 20 and I tease Kerri. She feigns indignance and loves every moment. We talk about art. We share the curiosities that have crossed our paths and screens. Sometimes we talk about the nation’s self-immolation but only briefly as we very quickly realize that it pulls us from what is really important. Each other.

Tonight is dinner with 20. We can’t wait and are making our menu, designing our day around what will be the most important thing to happen all day. Time with each other.

As a nation, “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, in a letter discussing slavery.

How a question is framed determines the answers/paths-forward one sees or does not see. It could be said of our national trauma that we’ve framed our dilemma with justice pitted squarely against self-preservation, or, to be clear, self-preservation will be at the cost of justice-for-all. It’s too bad. As the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-preservation will always negate a reach toward justice. You’d think that we’d someday recognize that the wolf we have by the ears is of our own creation and that justice-for-all is the only path to self-preservation, national self-actualization. You’d think that it might occur to us, rather than do the same old thing in the same old way, to ask a different question.

If I had a magic wand I’d ding the noggin of this nation with the one strength we share, the one thing that 20 and Kerri and I know without doubt, the only real path to laughter and support and all the other good things we can offer: time with each other. A good meal made with heaps of love. A ritual born of a simple desire to each week make the world a bit better for each other.

read kerri’s blog post about DINNER WITH 20

Know How To Use It [on Flawed Wednesday]

Kerri has started a new collection of images. It began a few months ago on our walk through Des Plaines. Why did someone discard their mask on the river trail? Her collection is the discarded mask collection.

Look around you. They are ubiquitous. Star Wars masks and smiley faces, Mickey Mouse masks and the garden variety medical mask. They are on sidewalks and in parks. They are in less obvious places like a nature trail.

I suppose a few of the masks in her now vast collection fell from a walker’s pocket. Most were tossed aside. As cultural studies go this one is many layered. We are consumers. Mostly, we know not where our garbage goes as long as it goes away.

Masks, like the people they protect, in these once-united-states, are disposable. That sounds harsh but with every prediction of lives lost, with the daily horror story of rising loss of life, comes a clear caveat: roughly 80% of those who will die, those who have died, would be alive today, will be alive by January, if 95% of us wore masks.

We hear that wearing a mask is an assault on personal freedom and shake our heads.

Many years ago in a facilitation, a person bemoaned that they didn’t have a voice. My business partner asked simply, “If you did have a voice, what would you say?” The person was…speechless. Having a voice is wildly different than knowing how to use it, why to use it. The same is true of personal freedom. We have it but know not how to use it.

And, after all, isn’t that the point? To have freedom requires the responsibility to know how to use it well and to know when…well…you are being used.

read Kerri’s blog post on MASK DISCARDS

Open The Box [on KS Friday]

“Old beliefs die hard even when demonstrably false.” E.O. Wilson, Consilience, The Unity Of Knowledge

On the field where the city holds its Tuesday night summer jazz concert series, boxes are painted on the grass. A visual statement. A nod to the necessity of social distance in a time of pandemic. Stay within the box. The series started despite the CDC warning against large gatherings. The series stopped when the protests began.

Boxes within boxes within boxes. We are a nation that has gladly and enthusiastically confused itself. Mitigating the spread of the pandemic is easily achieved – as demonstrated by much of the world – through mask wearing and social distancing measures. We’ve somehow managed to force ourselves into a too-tight-box by defining the simple pandemic-mitigation-measures as assaults on freedom.

Our freedom must be very fragile indeed if a thin piece of fabric, a mask worn to benefit others in our community, is all that it takes to constitute a threat. Our freedom. 200,000 dead in six months. We wage war on each other, no external threat is necessary.

We’ve managed to make simple science the Cassandra of our time. Screaming in the streets, she delivers to us simple truth and we ignore her dire warnings. We tug the Trojan Horse through once-secure gates into our cities and homes. “We are free to do whatever we want!” we gloat unmasked in reply to Cassandra science. “We are free!”

Boxes within boxes within boxes. Yes, we are free to shoot each other. It is our right. We are free to spread the virus while we assemble unmasked to demonstrate our freedom. In a time of confronting our history of racial injustice, we are free to equate a temporary pandemic lock down to slavery. There is, after all, more than one way to shoot at each other.

We are free, we are free, we are free. Boxes within boxes.

THE BOX on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOX

the box/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Give Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Viktor Frankel

We walked downtown a few days after the fires. We decided it was time to go see for ourselves what had happened in our town only a few blocks from our home. In truth, the sound of speeches ringing through the neighborhood drew us. We were already walking when we first heard them. We couldn’t understand what they were saying or where exactly they were coming from so we followed the sound. The amplified voices and cheering bounced off the buildings and sometimes seemed to be coming from all directions.

We followed the echo to the street that runs by the civic center. From a distance we could see the crowd. ACLU observers wearing blue vests roamed the area. There was a first aid center. Tables were manned to distribute water to the crowd. When we saw the burned out car lot Kerri took out her camera and began taking pictures. “Why did they burn this?” she asked. Yes. Why?

It is uniquely human to ask why. To need an explanation. We attempt to record and document. To gather evidence. All in the pursuit of sense-making. To find meaning. And, if no meaning is easily found, no readily graspable answer to “Why?” is available, it is among our greatest human powers to make it.

To make meaning. To find meaning.

Viktor Frankel, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, asked “Why did some people survive and some not? He looked for an attribute that favored survival in such extreme, random and deadly conditions. He concluded that, after sheer luck, survival in the camps favored people who made meaning from their circumstance. The people who sought meaning from their circumstance soon lost hope. He wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

On the hood of one of the burned out cars someone had stenciled this appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans. What might it take for us to be better humans?

When I was in elementary school great pains were taken to teach me how to be a good human and function in a civilized society. Wait for my turn. Open the door for someone with their hands full. Help where you can. Listen to others. Raise my hand before speaking. All of these simple lessons shared one thing in common, a specific organizing principle: consider others. Be considerate to others. Good humans are mindful and cooperative.

All of these simple lessons ran contrary to the rules I was taught about succeeding in the world: it’s dog-eat-dog. It’s a fierce competition. Do whatever it takes. In other words, it’s every man and woman for themselves. It’s just business.

So, like all of us, I’ve wrestled with the national schizophrenia: I can either be a good human and consider others or I can succeed. Not both. Said another way: in order to succeed I have to abandon my goodness.

As is the case with most either/or framing, it is a false choice. Money need not be absent of morality. Success can be the blossom of compassion.

It is important as we stand at this national crossroad, this opportunity for reckoning with our past, that we look at this polarity, that we step into the gaps between all of the false choices, black and white. Our troubles will not go away until we attempt to live our rhetoric, until we unpin white success from black subjugation. Equality of opportunity, equal justice, equal (fill in the blank) has not been afforded all members of our community. To be better humans we need to challenge our either/or false choices and instead walk toward a center that includes a full spectrum of color, choices and opportunities for all.

If we can find our center, if we can challenge our rhetoric, we just might find our path to being better humans living in healthy inclusive society. In the end, we may even come to the same conclusion as did Viktor Frankel: “I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BE BETTER HUMANS

Free Your Freedom [on Merely A Thought Monday]

dontgrowup copy

David sends photographs of his young son, Dawson, painting. Or playing. Or just enjoying the moment. I love them. They bring smiles and a Picasso-esque reminder. Paint like a child. Play-to-play and for no other reason. Wear a cape and fly!

Adults get enmeshed in all manner of weird issues. They come to think that things like wearing-a-mask-during-a-pandemic can be an inhibitor to their freedom when, in fact, they gave away their freedom ages ago. They grew up and forgot how to play, how to mush color around with their fingers, how to roll down a grassy slope and run back to the top to do it all over again. They forgot how to play with others. They muzzle themselves.

Adults give away their freedom when they come to believe that a brand of car or the label on their clothes gives them status or makes them sexy. They confuse their money with their morality. They give away 5 days so they might live for 2 or, worse, they suffer through thirty years of toil with the zany idea that they will live life when they “retire.”

Adults get lost in illusion. They snap towels and brag about their wild-side while pulling on their uniform-stiff-collar-suit and cinching up a tie around their neck. They somehow come to think that pushing other people down will raise them up the ladder. They create odd justifications: dog-eat-dog or business-is-business or divide-and-conquer. Play-to-win and for no other reason.

Let’s face it, adults fill themselves up with fear and judgment. They can’t paint with their fingers because someone might call them childish or stupid or worse! And, horror of horrors! What if their finger painting isn’t perfect in the eyes of others?! Shame is a great inhibitor especially when it is the imagined response to fun-and-free-self-expression. The only safe thing to do is put away the dangerous color, wash the paint from your hands. The only safety is to judge others! Establish some mask of authority; become the arbiter of right and wrong. Dole out the shame so as not to receive it. Phew.

Adults mistakenly believe that power is control, that power is something wielded over others. Every child knows that power has nothing to do with control. Power is something created with others, like painting with your dad. That is power-full! Even infants know that power is a relationship of mutual support, it crackles between people. Humans-of-every-age are never more powerful than when helping others grow.

Poor sad adults have it upside-down and backwards. As I used to tell students, “Any idiot with a pistol can take life, it takes a very powerful person to give life.” There’s no real power in the taking. There’s infinite power in the giving.

Just so, there’s no freedom in the taking. There’s infinite freedom in the giving, the free expression, the playing, the laughing, the sharing. Every child knows that.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DON’T GROW UP!

 

 

donnieandmarie uke website box copy

 

 

ChasingBubbles (full) copy

 

chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

Value It [on DR Thursday]

DawsonDetail copy 2

“Creativity is a dance where the flow of the eternal gleams through the brittleness of time and the distance of space.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

The arts are so often seen as unnecessary. They don’t pencil out. Hard to make money, yada yada. The budget just submitted by the current administration once again is attempting to cut the funding for and kill the National Endowment for the Arts. “A waste of money,” they say.

No way to measure it. Can’t be reduced to a spreadsheet.

Kerri was recently asked by her employer to calculate how many hours per week she spent working on her music. “What constitutes working on it?” she asked, “I think about it all the time. I’m constantly listening for and searching out good music. Does it qualify as working on it when I sit to play, to compose, to noodle on an idea?” She sighed the sigh that all artists sigh when asked to reduce their artistry to a number. “Maybe 125 hours a week? Does a lifetime playing, composing, conceptualizing, conducting, rehearsing and leading choirs count in my working on it” she quipped. They didn’t smile. The committee got together and determined her value based on their spreadsheet.

We know that when a society disappears from earth it leaves behind art and artifact. We discover what was important to the society by the arts they produced.  The architecture, the pottery, the scribbles on a cave wall. Their values expressed. Their arts – like ours – are the eternal gleam pressed into specific forms.

The arts are nothing less than the glue that keeps a society together. The common story is, after all, a story, and it is told through literature and theatre and dance and music and painting.

One of the necessary first acts of every dictator, after identifying a scapegoat, is to eliminate the artists, the thinkers, and the educators. It is a control strategy: rend the common story. Split the people. Then, make questioning and expressing a crime. Diminish reason. Eliminate the voice of imagination and reflection. Vilify the voice of dissension. Appeal to the reptile brain [that part of your brain that deals with the basic functions but has no reach into higher order thought].

Asking the question “why” and challenging the group-think is the artist’s and academic’s job. To discern between truth and lie. To open eyes. To open hearts. To open minds. Value beyond measure in a free society if the society values its freedom.

Yada yada.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEW MOTHER

 

 

bonfire website box copy

 

new mother ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

Ask The Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

choir room calendar copy

It is a happy accident that we chose this quote for this Merely A Thought Monday. Today, in the United States, we celebrate our veterans. Thucydides was a warrior, a general. He wrote a book on war – and human nature – that is studied to this day.

I confess this quote has left me with thought-fragments, pieces of a mosaic too large to easily construct. So, my fragments:

Happiness. Freedom. Courage. For Thucydides, there is a secret to experiencing  happiness. An effect (happiness) of a cause (courage).

There is this word, ‘freedom,’ a power or a right to act or think without hindrance or constraint.

Then there is this word ‘courage’. The ability to do something that frightens you. Strength in the face of pain.

On the personal level, then, happiness comes from doing the things that frighten you. Stepping toward your unknowns removes hindrances, transcends constraints. Feeling free ensues.

But, then there is this bit of my fragment, something from the bigger picture: Thucydides wrote that fear and self-interest were the central drivers of political endeavor. Political endeavor is the driver of war.

Fear. Self interest. Political endeavor. War.

Thucydides is studied to this day because what he wrote is relevant to this moment in time:

[from Leo Strauss via Wikipedia]: Scholars traditionally view Thucydides as recognizing and teaching the lesson that democracies need leadership, but that leadership can be dangerous to democracy…Thucydides had a deeply ambivalent view: on one hand, Thucydides’s own “wisdom was made possible” by the Periclean democracy, which had the effect of liberating individual daring, enterprise, and questioning spirit; but this same liberation, by permitting the growth of limitless political ambition, led to imperialism and, eventually, civic strife.

On this day that we honor the courage of veterans, amidst a leadership that is dangerous to democracy, we have to ask ourselves in all seriousness, to revisit what we believe is worth fighting for.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on this Merely A Thought Monday

 

handshadowstones website box copy

Drink It In [on DR Thursday]

I wrote to Master Miller. He is one of my favorite artist confidantes. I told him that I was in a dry spell and so I was taking advantage of my artistic empty well by playing with sketches and revisiting old themes. Drawing memories.

He was (as always) enthusiastic. He regularly bubbles with love of art and artists. He often sends me photos of his young son painting. They have become a source of great joy and inspiration for me. Curiosity and freedom. A father and son, both artists, at play.

I remember a spring day in Colorado. A mountain trail. It was hot and then the afternoon rains came. A short burst, a downpour. There was nothing to be done but turn and face it, open and drink it in.

facetherain morsel

a close up

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FACE THE RAIN

 

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face the rain ©️ 2019 david robinson