Teach The Full Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Viewed from space, the earth is round.

That simple fact has led some truly dedicated reality-deniers to the startling conclusion that the earth is flat. They argue that it’s absurd to think that half the population of the earth lives upside-down. Of course, no one has yet been able to prove that there is a top or bottom to the universe so it’s anyone’s guess which hemisphere of the earth is right-side-up and which is up-side-down. Be careful on those vacation cruises not to sail too close to the edge.

The Republican party in these un-united-united-states have become the political equivalent of flat-earthers. Cherry-picked half-data spun by a dedicated-nonsense-media into a Flat Stanley reality. Two-dimensional thinking in a three-dimensional world. It’s a problem. It’s a scary problem. The good ship USA is on course to meet the edge while the captains on the bridge wrestle for control of the steering wheel.

What is the steering wheel? The story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Our history. The Manifest Destiny story is meeting the realities of demographics. The party of white-dominance is in a panic to maintain its story of supremacy. They’d rather run us over the edge than let this richly diverse nation fulfill its promise. Fulling the promise begins with telling the full story. In Florida, the governor has literally banned the schools from telling the full history of this nation.

In other times, more clear-headed times, these laws would be acknowledged as authoritarianism. In our times, it’s marketed as the Republican response to “woke-ness.” In other words, education is the enemy. Stick your head in the sand. Hear-no-evil-see-no-evil. Proclaim the earth is flat or be prosecuted.

It was inevitable. The rhetoric of “All men are created equal” would someday need to reconcile the reality of a system built on the institution of slavery. Our forefathers wrote about it as the single greatest threat to the survival of our nation, this vast difference between our rhetoric and actions. In a school – capable of teaching our history – that would seem to be a very important and timely history to explore.

Systems do what they are designed to do and ours has performed as intended, elevating one group while suppressing others. It’s in our legislative record. It’s in the writing of our founders. It’s history.

For the second time this week I’m using this phrase: As I learned in school, systems are living things and will fight to the death to maintain themselves. We are watching a system – our system – fight to the death to maintain itself. In this fight, it will lie, cheat, scratch, steal, bite and squeal. It will incite fear. It will turn citizens against other citizens. It will whip up division and demonize those it brands as “other.” It will toss away all ethic and morality to maintain itself. It will make laws to protect itself. We are witness to it. We are participants in it.

The national story will maintain itself as flat, or, at long last, take a hard look at itself and change.

I was truly alarmed when I read that teachers in Florida are afraid to teach the history of the United States.

Our nation is round. Plump and full of rich diversity with a rich complex history. It is, after all, the reality of our nation, the story we are living. It is the reason for our successes – cultural crossroads have always been places of innovation. Perhaps it should be the story we at long last embrace. Perhaps, rather than muzzling our story, legislating for white-fragility, we will someday – as a nation – be proud of our iridescence and work to tell our full story rather than the flat-lie the reality-deniers are asking us to swallow.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BE

Consider The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

Because it is outside, she grabs her camera. Were it inside, I’d hear the special scream saved for spiders and I’d come running. The power of a screen, flipping fear to fascination. “It’s amazing,” she said and cringed.

Spider symbolism – like all vital symbols – carries the power of a complex split-metaphor. On one side of the screen they are toxic, malicious, potential bringers of slow venomous death. On the other side of the symbol, they are world creators, weavers of life and interconnectivity. Certainly, they are central characters in this world-wide-web that we enjoy.

In this era, we attempt to restrict our symbols, preferring them to be absolute, one-sided, either this or that. Symbols never work that way. They lose their power when cut in half. To be potent, a symbol must embody both sides of the moon. Limiting a symbol to only one side flattens it, robs it of dimension, renders it useless. The real power of the symbol ignites when both aspects are understood and embraced. Symbols are polarities.

We would be wise, in our nation, to look at both sides of our symbols. Our history, embodied in our symbols, is both shining and dark. Vapid fear-stories like “replacement theory” fester in a flattened symbol culture, a half-told history. Ugly nationalism grows in the spaces left empty by a cleaved symbolism, a highly-edited narrative.

Gaze through the screen at both sides of the symbol, and a fuller, richer, more color-full story emerges. An honest narrative.

Nations, like people, become healthy when they embrace all sides of their story, the dark side and the light, when they acknowledge both aspects of their symbol, when they take responsibility for their actions, the venomous and the virtuous alike.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SPIDER.

Prometheus Resurrection © 2008 David Robinson

Add To The Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Our water theme continues though, instead of pipes breaking, surprise waterfalls in the basement, or spontaneous fountains in the front yard, we’re dancing on the other side of the theme. What was broken or compromised is slowly, as we can afford it, being fixed or replaced. And, as metaphors go, I welcome what this implies.

It is our very own kintsugi. Golden repair – or in our case – copper repair.

“…treating breakage and repair as part of the history…rather than something to disguise.” We’ve consciously created our home to be a keeper of stories: the driftwood that adorns our mantel, the rock cairns stacked by the plants, the chairs in our sunroom… all tell a story. A walk on a special beach. A mountain top. The day the car broke down in Minnesota. Adventure. Routine. Accident. Surprise.

We have a series of old suitcases stacked in our dining room. They are our “special boxes.” Each is filled with momentos of our life together. Concert ticket stubs, birthday cards, notes, old calendars, the bits chain from Pa’s workbench that we once wore as bracelets… Our story fodder. Connective tissue to our shared history.

The copper that Mike-the-plumber has installed in key locations around the house serve as connective tissue to the era of water. Our house is a special box, too. It’s nearly 100 years old so we are a chapter in its story, stewards merely. The copper repair is a visual keepsake, a golden repair from a time when the old pipes and fittings, having done good work, let us know with no uncertainty that they were retiring.

We love this house. We love being stewards to its story. We love that it is the keeper of our story. And, lately, we especially love being on this side of the water era, putting all the pieces back together again, adding to our entwined history, with undisguised copper-gold.

read Kerri’s blogpost about COPPER PIPES

Catch The Glimmer [on KS Friday]

Barney, the piano that lives in our backyard, nearly had a chandelier suspended above his lid. We thought it would be funny to look out back at night and see Barney all-gussied-up.

We’re not really chandelier people but you’d be amazed at how many pieces of chandelier, separate crystal ornaments, live around our house. It’s as if a chandelier came to visit, had an unfortunate explosion, and the falling pieces conveniently landed near windows or light sources so they might catch and reflect the light. We like the glimmer yet are more subtle than a chandelier.

We finally decided on this year’s christmas tree. In our time together we’ve only had one traditional-looking-tree. Craig forced it on us. He was driving the day we went to the farm to cut a tree and threatened to leave us in the snow if we brought home our first choice. It was…unique. He had his heart set on a scotch pine so we brought it home and named it Satan. That tree had seriously sharp needles and a very bad attitude. On the 26th of December we lassoed Satan, drug him out of the house and down the street, through the snow, to the tree drop-off spot. For months afterward, his needles would jump out of hiding and stick our toes.

This year, our tree is large branch whacked from the aging maple tree by the heavy machinery that dug the moat in our front yard. Kerri saved it from the mulcher. I’m not sure how we got it in the house but we did. DogDog hid in the bedroom during the transition. His courage failed him, as it does when we vacuum or drop a cooking pot, when he saw the monster-branch entering through the front door.

We love our tree. It is, like us, simple and proud in its history. It carries stories. Long ago our children sat on this branch. It shaded Kerri and me the weekend we met and laughed tossing a frisbee in the street. It waved the evening we danced in the front yard. Now, it stands in the house, near the window, wearing a strand of white lights and holding a single ornament. A tin star.

We think it looks happy to be here. We’re certainly happy that it’s here. A different kind of tree. A glimmer, reflecting the many, many years of memories, the symbol of our year of water, and destruction transformed into beauty. What, for us, in this year and this season, could be more appropriate?

read Kerri’s blog post about GLIMMER

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

the lights/the lights: a christmas album © 1996 kerri sherwood

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