Look At The Display [on Flawed Wednesday]

Del and Dorothy’s house sat on the side of a mountain. It was small. The kitchen table accommodated two and was placed close – very close – to the front door. Dorothy cooked on a wood burning stove. The house listed to the downhill side. It had a small yard that seemed carved out of the mountain. Del’s WW II jeep sat close to the edge. Dorothy populated the yard with blue glass and hummingbird feeders. It was a quiet home. A peaceful place.

Artifacts of a time gone by. Del fought in the second world war. He kept a corner display cabinet with things he’d brought home from the war. A Luger. Nazi insignia. A flag. Patches and medals. Booty from the enemy. It seemed out of place, especially in a home dedicated to simplicity and peace. The display was a curiosity for me. Why enshrine in your home objects from an enemy-of-the-past? I wanted to ask Del about it but he was not a talker. In fact, while, 50 years later, I would recognize Dorothy’s voice if I heard it today, I have no recall of the sound of Del’s voice. I can’t remember him uttering a word. I never broached the subject of the artifacts.

Each day we receive an alert on our phone. Exposure Notification Available. Recently, when Kerri officiated a wedding, we both took two Covid tests to make certain, while also vaccinated, that we were negative. Dangling from a clip on the side of our refrigerator are masks. Many, many masks. We put in our special box the flag they gave us on the day we were vaccinated. Wave the flag if you have a question or need help. The artifacts in a time of pandemic, now so normal that we barely see them.

This weekend, with all of the observances of 9/11, I watched a tour of the 9/11 museum. A crushed firetruck. A shoe. Xerox pages with faces and the word, “Missing.” Del whispered into my ear, “Pay attention. This is why I kept my display.” The tour guide said, “So we never forget.” The Luger. The Nazi flag and insignia. The medals and ribbons. The reason Del and Dorothy retreated to the mountainside, the reason they simplified and built a life of quiet and peace, the reason he kept his glass-cabinet-display. So they wouldn’t forget. The horrors that people enact upon each other in the name of…righteousness, control. Superiority. The madness people embrace when they are angry or scared. The lies so easily told and so hungrily gobbled.

People are capable of great things. We know because those things are meant to draw us together. They unite us. Great art.

People are capable of appalling acts. We know because those actions are born of and meant to divide. They rend us apart.

Del lived through the full savagery of what people are capable of doing, one to another. He came home and with Dorothy lived an intentional life of quiet, on the mountain, out of the main. I’ve noted of late that Kerri and I talk often, dream, of a mountain retreat. We are witness of what people are capable of doing, one to another. We are also witness of and generators of the beauty meant to draw people together. Her music. My paintings. The things people are capable of doing, one for another. We are surrounded by artists and art. Both/and.

History repeats itself. The story is told – again and again – through the art and artifacts we display, the symbols we keep. The memories we carry forward. Guernica. Empty shoes. A simple mask.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTIFACTS

Read The Walk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Between the morning rehearsal and the evening wedding, we had several hours without commitments so we did the thing we most like to do. We walked. It was a gorgeous September day. We were in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, a miracle of reclaimed and converted warehouses, shops and condos that line the waterway. We followed the Riverwalk, Kerri snapping photographs, ambling our way to Lake Michigan.

It’s odd in this age of pandemic, to be in a city on a beautiful weekend day. The rules of engagement are different. The rules of enjoyment are different. Be out in the day but avoid the crowds. There was an art fair, a crush of people, so, as artists, normally pulled toward art gatherings, we walked the other way. In years past we would have waded in to the fray, talked to the artists, enjoyed people enjoying art.

Instead, we found a bounty of art on our walk. The shadows playing on the walls. The flowers. The finials. The sculpture. Everywhere we looked we found riches of intentional design. People dedicated to creating beautiful spaces had a field day re-imagining what had once been an industrial wasteland on the water.

Chiseled into the the boards upon which we walked was a narrative history of the city. We stepped on top of important dates of the Civil War. We walked across innovations, breweries arising in a city of beer, World Wars and the changes they wrought. Sports victories. We walked across the story of a previous pandemic, a hundred years ago. A few thin boards, markers of a tragic toll.

For a moment I stood and watched the kayaks paddling, the pontoon boats cruising the channel, the diners seated beneath umbrellas, the strollers, like us enjoying the day with no destination calling. Full moments in lifetimes that someday might be told in a few thin boards of narrative highlights.

I wondered how many people, how much dedicated action, it took to make this moment beautiful and possible. The architects. The artists. The artisans. The craftsmen and women. The laborers. The florists, The gardeners. The shopkeepers. The waiters. The chefs. The suppliers. The mail carriers,…Dreamers all, stretching back through time. Interconnected and interdependent in ways that only few recognize.

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Were I to chisel the story of our pandemic in a boardwalk, or create a sculpture meant to capture our moment in narrative time, my theme would be interconnection and interdependence unnoticed. Unmasked. A myopic madness, a messy delusion of every-man-for-himself, a sure-fire way to perpetuate a pandemic or warm a globe.

There is, of course, no evidence for life thriving in a vacuum. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence, apparent on a stroll in a city on a beautiful sunny September day, killing some time before a wedding, that it takes all of us, every last life, to thrive. An artist needs an audience. A developer needs a supplier. A doctor needs a patient who wants to be healthy. Who wants to do more than survive. Thriving is, after all, a group sport. A careful reading of the boards tells a very specific tale: no one does this walk alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about OUR WALK

Let The Outside In [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Civilization excels at manufacturing anesthetics.” ~Declan Donnellan

“What are you waiting for? Snow?” 20 was sweating. It was July, hot and humid, and he wondered why we had yet to put the air conditioner units in the windows. Our house was built in 1928 and central air is something we can only imagine. In truth, we’d been asking ourselves the same question all summer. Why are we suffering the heat and, yet, so resistant to putting the ac units in the windows?

Finally, the penny dropped. We realized why we had no desire to plug up the windows, shut the door, and manufacture cold air. Last summer, as the pandemic numbers soared, as our city burned with civil unrest, we shut the world out. We isolated. We turned on the cold air and made certain we felt as little of the heat as possible. This summer, even though we are still keeping our circle small, we want to feel the summer. We want to breathe the real air, not the manufactured stuff.

The real air is hot. Humid. Uncomfortable.

I made breakfast after reading the news. Poor Kerri had to listen to my epiphany-rant: While cracking eggs I realized that the horror story of the GOP wouldn’t be able to perpetuate their pandemic-denial-march if the people listening to them wanted to hear truth. “If I was born in 1700,” I said, “I’d have an excuse for being ignorant. I’d be illiterate and have very limited access to information. I’d be easily led because I wouldn’t have the capacity to check the story that I was being fed. That’s not true today.” We have, unlike any time in human history, immediate access to information. I rarely participate in a conversation that doesn’t involve someone pulling up information on their phone, checking a fact or the veracity of a story being shared. How then, in the middle of the national pandemic hot spot, can the governor of Florida block every science-based mitigation measure and whip up a fruit smoothie of fear – how can he manufacture so much empty air – without his constituents crying foul? The answer is easy: they would rather not feel or know what’s really going on outside their comfort-bubble. They are choosing fluff over fact, anger over curiosity.

In our day and age, ignorance is a choice. Denial is a choice. Plugging the windows is a choice. Insular is a choice. The device carried in every pocket could, in a heartbeat, puncture the gasbag-foolishness.

Reading this post, MM will be compelled to once again send me this quote, so I will preemptively include it: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.” E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology.

I know. I know.

Belief, like sugar, is easy to consume. Knowledge takes some effort and self-reflection. Anger and fear and division are easy, too, especially when the target audience of the fearmongers has no desire to challenge the narrative. It is the great paradox of our times that those waving their flags and screaming the loudest about their freedoms are so ready and willing to abdicate their freedom of thought. They parrot the fox. They inhale the anesthetic, the manufactured air.

Last night we watched a great short documentary, Lessons From The Water: Diving With A Purpose. Black divers searching for the shipwrecks of slave ships. One of the founders of the projected said,“Here in the US, our (African American) history has been ignored,” he adds. “They don’t really teach anything about slavery in schools. And I think if you don’t teach your history, you’re bound to repeat it.”

They dive to find the artifacts, to tell a fuller story. They dive. They look for artifacts. Facts. A complete narrative.

It made me think about the enormous resistance to critical race theory, the intense counter-narrative to climate change, the ferocious dedication to perpetuating The Big Lie, the ubiquitous conspiracy theories and global rise of authoritarian voices…all of it an appeal to an insular story. Close your eyes. Trust without question what you are told.

The real story is uncomfortable. It is hot. It needs telling. Fingers out of ears, eyes wide open. Forward movement, growth, health, is never the result of suppression, distraction or numbness. Health, equilibrium, always follows the revelation and acceptance of the full story. It’s open windows. It’s letting the outside in.

read Kerri’s blog post about LET THE OUTSIDE IN

Come To The Table [on DR Thursday]

Duke and Eileen sat at this table for many years. And, because St. Vincent de Paul wouldn’t take it for second hand sale because the top had dings in it, it rode around in the back of Big Red for many months. We forgot it was there.

When Covid roared in and the world shut down, we wanted to put a table in our sun room. That way, we could sit and look out at the day. We thought it would help buoy our spirits while in isolation. In the middle of wondering-out-loud where we could possibly get a table in a world-shut-down, we remembered that Duke and Eileen’s table was camping out in the back of Big Red. It was a perfect fit.

It began the transformation of a room that has become our favorite place in the house to sit and hang out. We’ve populated our former work table with plants. Duke and Eileen’s table is also home to many succulents and a Bonsai Gardenia sent as a birthday present from Kirsten and Chris. We resurrected an old fountain so the sound of peace is the sound of gurgling water. There are candles. Special rocks from special places. Water, earth, fire, and air; lots of air. We’ve created a sanctuary.

Watching Kerri and 20, Duke and Eileen’s son, sit at the table filling out paperwork for Eileen, I was struck by the circle coming back around, the story that this table might tell. 20, sitting at his mom and dad’s table, now center to our sanctuary, doing the work of a son to care for his mom.

It also occurred to me, standing outside, looking in at these two siblings-from-different-mothers sit at the table filling out forms (Kerri and 20 are truly brother and sister), that in the midst of “living in interesting times,” our response to the pandemic, to civil unrest, to our town literally being on fire, amid job losses and wrists breaking, has been to create a place of peace. A center of quiet around which the chaos spins.

“Make all the world your studio” was once – and still is – a mantra for me. And, now at the center of my spinning-world-studio is an intentional space, a bright and happy room bringing together all of the elements, built around the long history of comfort etched in the top of Duke and Eileen’s table.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE TABLE

meditation, 48x48IN, mixed media, 2012

meditation ©️ 2012 david robinson

Witness The Tide [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“You’ll know you are doing something important,” Tom McK said, “by the size of the tide that rises against you.” He spoke those words to me thirty years ago and yet, each day in these un-united-united-states, I hear his voice in my head. Look at the size of the tide rising against BLM. Witness the extraordinary measures Republicans are taking to block access to the vote, to gerrymander and obstruct, to deny an insurrection on the institutions they are sworn to serve.

Based on the tide of resistance, equality for all must be mighty important. Especially since it is central to our rhetoric, the ideal that we espouse.

As a nation we’ve just celebrated the 4th of July, independence day.

Juneteenth was just celebrated for the first time as a national holiday. The Emancipation day of enslaved African Americans.

Are you reading, as I am, of the tsunami of resistance to Critical Race Theory? In a nation that essentially legislated slavery into existence, legislated that black people were lesser-humans, legislated slavery out of existence but created a series of laws enforcing segregation, Jim Crow laws, it wouldn’t be threatening to suggest that racism is embedded in our laws. It’s in our tax codes. In banking practices. It is, today, being legislated in voter restriction laws across this nation. Laws. Laws. Laws.

What’s the big deal with stating the obvious?

Here is the definition of Critical Race Theory: “…that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.” [Education Week]

Perhaps stating the obvious is the big deal.

It leaves me wondering (not really) why we as a nation are so resistant to telling our story – our full story. The size of the tide rising against the full story is – and always has been – breathtaking. We forget that this American experiment is just that, an experiment. And, just as no human can ultimately succeed standing on a lie, no nation can succeed until it comes clean with itself.

When the full story of our nation rises to be told, the forces of suppression have always risen with it. Witness the tide. It must be a very important story that, for all of our sake, needs a full telling.

read Kerri’s blog post about RBG

Imagine It [on Flawed Wednesday]

Malidoma Somé wrote that a society with locks on its doors is a sick society. Something has broken down when a home needs protection from the other members of the community. Acquiring stuff takes precedence over honoring your neighbor. Can you imagine living in a community built upon mutual respect and trust, that valued and protected its members over its acquisition of stuff? Pie-in-the-sky? That might be the problem: we can’t imagine it.

Societies betray themselves. Despite the values inscribed in library cornices, despite the commandments we hold up as sacred ideals, we lock our houses against each other. We turn away when we see a person in need, their cardboard sign an appeal for help. The gap between the espoused and lived value-set is wide. In a society that claims greatness but practices mediocrity, is it no wonder that so much energy is dedicated to perpetuating a big lie? The lie is not the exception, it is the norm. The lock on the door.

Apparently, there is so much road rage on a particularly beautiful stretch of road rolling into Aspen, Colorado, that signs are posted giving travelers the number to call when the need for help is dire. Societies betray themselves. Why would a road through so much beauty, a road that dead ends in to some of the world’s great ski areas, a place where the elite retreat for some peace and quiet, why would there be so much rage on the road to such a place?

It must be a metaphor.

We tell a good story, that all are created equal, but we fight like hell to keep the full story untold. It’s happening now. Again. Still. Why are we so afraid to tell the whole story of a nation touting equality but built upon slavery and a rolling metamorphic racism? Like an individual, a society can’t address its problem until it admits it has one.

Gaps between espoused and lived values usually fill up with rage. Our gap is textbook. So many guns, so many locks on the door, so many patterns of violence and suppression that repeat over and over again.

Can you imagine living in a society that was proud of its story and need not dunk it in a lie? Or feast on an orgy of guns in order to feel potent and protected? Or post signs warning of the ubiquity of rage? That just might be the problem: we either can’t or won’t imagine it.

read Kerri’s blog post on ROAD RAGE

Weave With Intention [on KS Friday]

I have on my studio altar Demarcus’ paint box. Sitting atop the box is the nutcracker my grandfather used. He kept it next to the pool table. The nutcracker rests on a batik that Judy gave me. There is a laughing Buddha, a dancing Shiva, a sturdy White Buffalo. There is a woven braid of palm from Bali. Special rocks.

Dots that connect me to my heritage, to the people that inspire me. To ideas that open me and remind me to see the universal, the metaphoric.

I wrote a post this morning about history as events and history as interpretation. I tossed it because I lost my way, I lost what I really wanted to say in a forest of complexity. What I wanted to say is simple and that is why I lost it. What I wanted to say was this: I weave my history through the dots I connect, as do you. My history is not pre-wrapped. I crawl into bed each night and assign a story to the events of my day. Was it a good day or bad? Meaningful or insignificant?

There are events. DeMarcus and my grandfather have been gone a very long time. Yet, they are with me everyday. Encouraging me to play and discover. Crack nuts. Open my paint box. Feed the connection. Judy’s batik, a reminder to see the beauty. It’s all around if we care to see it. Connect the dots. Laugh. Dance. Stand sturdy. Weave the story. Weave with intention. Connected.

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

connected/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

See And Speak [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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We were sitting on a concrete wall, taking a break, when he asked the question. I’ve been asked this very question more times than I care to count and I did what I always do: I took a breath. When you facilitate conversations on diversity and culture change, this question is always lurking somewhere in the room, waiting for a break, a side conversation, so it can be given voice without ramification. Truth often steps forward at the water cooler. It was the question that illuminated for me the real problem with race in America and the mountain we need to move. “Don’t you think black people cause their own problems?” he suggested.

Breathe.

No. I don’t. I believe privilege is blind to itself. And, isn’t this the very conversation we need to have happen in the middle of the room and not at the margins? The mark of institutional racism is that it is utterly invisible to the privileged class.

In the United States we hear a lot these days about tribes and information bubbles as if they were a new phenomenon.  They are not new. Our bubbles, like all bubbled history, is meant to cleanse the narrative to justify the indefensible, to hide the ugly behind a noble mask. Here’s a phrase from our history: The ruling class responded [to Bacon’s Rebellion] by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of The Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.

If you are white in America this might not yet have pierced your bubble. Note these phrases relative to the history you learned in school. It might help to understand the system at play in our current historical attempt to change systemic racism: Ruling class. Harden the racial caste of slavery [yes, a created caste system. The system of slavery was erected and black Americans were legally defined as lesser beings]. Divide the two races [black & white]. The point of the black/white division was and is to prevent subsequent uprisings against the ruling class. Ruling class.  The division we wrestle with was intentional, crafted for a specific purpose, and systematized. It serves the same institutional purpose to this day.

Another tidbit worth gnawing on: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first appearance in print of the adjective white in reference to “a white man, a person of a race distinguished by a light complexion” was in 1671. Colonial charters and other official documents written in the 1600s and early 1700s rarely refer to European colonists as white.

If we are learning anything in these days of fox propaganda and pandemic tales it is the power of people to entrench in their narrative despite data, fact, and personal experience that disputes the narrative. Systematize a narrative and it is nearly impossible to challenge. No see, no hear, no speak. Systems, as I learned in school, are living things – not mechanical – and will fight to the death to keep themselves alive. We are currently watching the fight of a systemic challenge.

The question at the water cooler, “Don’t you think black people create their own problems?” was always asked in earnest. It revealed the successful hardening of racial caste, the power of the mechanism preventing the uniting of the races so as to ensure no possible subsequent uprisings. Us. Them. Bubbles. A vicious cycle.

It’s hard to see a mountain when you are sitting on it. We The People. Ruling class. These two phrases are incompatible but co-exist through the successful creation of division. It’s black and white.

We have a long history and have worked very hard not to see what is right before our eyes. The second rule of systems change: if you know where you are going then it is not change but repetition. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The opportunity for change is, once again, upon us. The conversation needs to move to the center of the communal square and we need to muster the courage to step into unknown territory. Silence and denial are not now nor ever have been valid excuses for perpetuating an ugly system. We betray ourselves.

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.” ~ John Lewis

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SILENCE

 

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Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

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I’m a broken record: words matter. They are rarely accidental. For instance, the division between “black” and “white” was created. Our racial legacy is not happenstance. It is by design.

Power does not like to be challenged or threatened and strategies of division are great mechanisms of control. Taking pride-in-ignorance is another – it is a terrific support strategy if discord is the goal. An ignorant people are easily misled.

We enact and reenact Bacon’s rebellion again and again. It is a vicious cycle, a whirlpool that is hard to escape without a clear view of the full story. History, like language, is never passive, it comes with a dedicated point of view – and so we are witness once again to the great narrative tug-of-war.  We could drop the rope if we decided to look at our history, ask a few questions, and perhaps see the narrative slop that the fox and friends are force feeding to white fear as just the latest iteration of an old, old scare tactic.

Misinformation is nothing new. Propaganda is as old as human history. It is the downfall of a critter unique in its need for an identifying narrative to believe almost anything if it provides a sense of belonging. People who refuse to take a step back and ask, “Is this true?” will buy almost any line. Fear is a narrative with an agenda so what-on-earth prevents otherwise thinking people from considering that the daily dose of fear they are being fed might be cooked up intentionally? Trading brains for belonging never works out well in the end.

Black and white. Red and blue. We have a pattern, not a problem.

A people united are an unstoppable force and the worst nightmare of identity politicians.  People unite when their ideals – things like freedom and truth and justice and equality – transcend their small identity bubbles.  Ideals are unattainable – that is what gives them their special uniting capacity. We strive. It’s an active verb with an inclusive pronoun.

Hate and fear – all things divisive – are easily attained. That’s what makes them so useful to despots and control-mongers. Keep the thinking small and encapsulated within the tiny bubble. It will keep the people warring among themselves with no questions asked.

How do we move beyond this pattern and rise above the incessant division that plagues us? Well, we must first desire to see the pattern. We must choose to see. Then, we might be capable of revisiting the words we placed as central to our national ideal and choose to live them. Our words matter. That might require a few challenging questions.

It will definitely require a good deal of soul searching and that’s not such a bad thing. Nations, like people, grow and become better when they grow weary of their dysfunction and go looking for their soul.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Explicitly Divisive

 

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surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Smell The Flowers [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Ferdinand is the story of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight. In a moment of bad timing, Ferdinand sits on a bee and is mistaken for the most ferocious bull in his cadre. He is hauled off to be the main event at the bull fights, a high honor for most bulls! Needless to say, he disappoints. Through a mighty wave of provocation, matadors taunting and goading crowds, Ferdinand refuses to fight. He sits center ring and smells the roses. His dedication to peace is a disappointment to all. He is hauled back to his pasture where he lives out his days enjoying the flowers.

The book became a best seller when it was first published in the mid 1930’s. The world was busy readying itself for yet another world war. In the second year of it’s publication, 1938, Ferdinand was the best selling book in the United States.

A mixed metaphor. A big bull with a gentle heart. The greatest power in the arena impervious to the ugly taunts and goading. Ferdinand, you might say, didn’t take it personally.

As luck would have it this week, we enjoyed a children’s concert telling of Ferdinand and a few days later we saw a one-man show, a Winston Churchill impersonator. We left both events with the same impression: if history repeats itself then we are certainly cycling through the late 1930’s. The world seems dedicated to tweeting itself into greater and greater conflict. The arena is alive with screaming and taunting, accusations and blame. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if, into this blood-lust, a bull would enter, sit center stage, and smell the roses?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FERDINAND

 

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