Become A Heart Symbol [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Almost anything can become a symbol. Almost anything can be made a symbol.

Symbols are very powerful, probably more powerful than we realize or are willing to admit. People die defending them. People die attacking them. They can serve as a moral compass. They can be a siren call and entice entire communities to crash on the rocks of devastation. Symbols can unite. They can divide. They can clarify. They can obscure. In almost every case, symbols serve as the defining line between Us and Them. They identify.

As a servant to identity, a single symbol can facilitate diametrically opposing points of view: hope and threat. It can be the taut rope in a social tug-of-war. Crazy things happen when, within a community, a symbol runs in opposite directions. We are witness to that today through the symbol of the “mask.” Some see a mask as communal responsibility. Some see it as a threat to individual freedom.

The challenge with any potent symbol is that it burns either through the heart or the guts. Only then does it run to the brain.

For instance, mask-wearers begin their symbolic journey in the heart. The symbol of “mask” is proactive. It signifies service to others and community protection. It unites in a common cause. It runs in the direction of hope. Giving. Inclusion. For them, a mask is a positive symbol. It confirms and accepts science, data, fact. It adapts to new information. It grows.

Mask resisters begin their symbolic journey in the guts. For them, the mask represents a fear of personal loss. It is a divider. It runs in the direction of threat. The symbol is reactive and signifies service to self. Exclusion. A mask, for them is a negative symbol. No amount of data or fact can assault a negative belief. A gut inception inflames the brain. It entrenches.

We’ve heard that, where mask wearing is concerned, there is a declining vigilance of the public. I wonder if that is true. I suspect the perception of declining vigilance is actually a matter of noise. Those who operate from their guts, their fear, will do anything, are capable of any and every form of cage-rattling. Theirs is a symbol of distress and is loud and enraged as is the case with most “me” focused symbols.

Those who operate from their hearts are generally quieter. They know the restraint that compassion brings. They are focused on the betterment of the entire community, including the fearful, so, as is true of most “us” focused symbols, calming the panic is an essential aspect of the action.

I doubt that vigilance is in decline. The fearful gut is screaming louder, garnering attention, daring to be made to wear a mask, cranking up the volume, loudly crying “hoax” – all the while knowingly spreading the disease.

In the meantime the quiet heart, the larger part of us, moves masked through each day. Hope need not make noise or news or announce itself. It is satisfied simply by doing the work of community, the real work of public vigilance.

read Kerri’s blog post about DECLINING VIGILANCE

Take Another Step [on Two Artists Tuesday]

old boots copy

During my corporate-facilitation-of-change-and-diversity phase, I learned that the best way to warm up my always-defensive audience was to enter the space and, before saying a word, take off my shoes. People have a surprising amount of identity-investment wrapped up in what they put on their feet. Inevitably, taking off my shoes gave people permission to relax, take off their shoes – remove one layer of identity armor – and take a tiny step toward vulnerability. Tough conversations generally require all parties to step out of their fortifications. If I ruled the world, my policy makers would have to take off their shoes before debating issues. Reporters would be encouraged to step out of their leather and heels before asking questions.

My foot-identity-investment required me to wear shoes without laces. I’ve never been at peace with things tied to my feet. Quick escape from shoes is among my highest fashion priorities. Clogs. Boots. Flip flops. Crocs.

Yesterday we retired two pairs of boots. Neither had been worn in years. My contribution to the footwear release party was my drug-dealer-boots. I loved them and wore holes in them. They were very comfortable. They took me to many countries and to many trainings. I could step out of them in a snap. I met Kerri wearing my silver-tipped, well worn, out-of-character-for-me drug dealer boots.

When I bought them, they had taps in the heels. I took the taps off because I don’t like making sound when I walk (hmmmm, yet another revealing foot identity characteristic) though the taps were slippery and great assistance in my predilection for public pratfalls.  Falling down with great intention is also a good way to loosen up  a defensive crowd.

Kerri wanted to sing a song as we wrapped our old boots in plastic and prepared them for the dumping – but we couldn’t pull up a single appropriate song so a strange cascade of laughable lyrics sent our boots on their way.

But, here’s my bet: before the trash truck arrives, the boots will be retrieved and de-shrouded. They will have a resurrection, another life. They will sit on the edge of the deck, filled with dirt and basil plants. There is still one more road for these old boots to walk.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about OLD BOOTS

 

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a day at the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson

Don’t Go Home [on DR Thursday]

House On Fire copy

House on Fire. 2004-ish. Watercolor. And, yes, I was all over copying Guernica.

“The continual retreat from the discomfort of authentic racial engagement in a culture infused with racial disparity limits the ability to form authentic connections across racial lines, and results in a perpetual cycle that works to hold racism in place.” ~ Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

I confess to rewriting this post. What I wrote initially was pedantic and preachy. So, this is a second go-round.

We’ve been hearing this question much in these past days: why don’t things ever change? Here’s an answer I learned in school: a society is a living system and, like all living things, it will fight to the death when threatened with change. Why we can’t seem to “solve” our problem with racial disparity and the dehumanization of black people? It’s built into our system. The system, a complex and living thing, will fight to the death to keep the injustice securely in place.

That’s a heady answer and somewhat hopeless. Its abstraction makes it a safe and somewhat antiseptic response.

I lived in Los Angeles in 1992. My apartment was in the hills so I had a good vantage point to watch the rioting and the city burn. When it felt too unsafe, I fled the city. I had a safe place to go.

A few years later, working with a school district, the head of the Black Student Union asked me to come in and work with her students. MLK day was fast approaching and the students, preparing presentations for the day, were in rebellion. They were mad. They didn’t want to read speeches about peace and justice when those ideals were nowhere on their horizon. I thought it was my job to help them give voice to what they wanted to say. It was my first conscious lesson in my white-blindness. The frightened parents of the students descended. I’ll never forget the mother and father that pulled me aside, saying to me, “You don’t understand. If they say what they want to say they’ll be killed.” Their terror was real. They had to teach their children a lesson that was the opposite of what my parents taught me.

To call it a problem is to reduce it to the level of mechanics. It is to pretend (or hope) that a few changes in the law or better policing will do the trick.  To treat it like a problem guarantees that we’ll recreate it. This is not a problem, this is a pattern. It is a cycle. It is a relationship.

The pattern is currently in our faces. The pattern is not only the death of another black person. The pattern is also what white America chooses to do – or not do-  with the knowledge of it. What is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves that makes it possible to stand in the fire with people of color during the protests but walk-on once the fire subsides? It is simply this: I get to go home. I get to drive out of LA when things feel too unsafe. I have someplace to go. I get to go home when the officer is prosecuted or a law is changed or a commission empaneled, dust off my hands, and say that I did my part.

Why don’t things ever change?

I was stunned when those parents pulled me aside. At first, I couldn’t believe that they were going to silence their children when their children had something so important to say. It made my head spin. And then I went home. And then I realized that they couldn’t go home. There was no place in this “living system” where they were safe. That was what they were trying to tell me. It was what Martin Luther King was trying to tell us. It is what the protesters in the streets today are trying to get us to see/admit/realize. We are watching a living system built on racial division and inequality fight to the death because change is knocking.

What if we realized that we cannot simply go home and forget about it?

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOUSE ON FIRE

 

 

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Gag On It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

the only one wearing a mask copy

“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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Watercolor - Jacob and Angel copy 2

jacob wrestling the angel

Let It Spin [on Two Artists Tuesday]

perspective copy

The answer to “Who Am I?” is mostly a matter of perspective [or concoction, depending upon your perspective ;-)]. As much as we might want it to be, who-am-I is not a fixed state of affairs. Thankfully, we are not as narrowly defined as we want to believe.

We constellate together some identity-fixed points (son, father, banker, artist, gardener…) that give general shape to the who-am-I inquiry.  Mix in a few subsets: competitive, passive, rich, poor, successful, homeless, handy, all-thumbs… and there’s some nice variation giving color to the primary fixed points.

For some real fun, factor in the changes of identity that happen over the course of a lifetime. Who did you understand yourself to be at 10? At 20? At 30? Dear friends just became grandparents; their entire universe is spinning. Who are they now?

I have had moments of triumph that turned to dust in my mouth. What looked like fulfillment was, in fact, an empty sack. Once, thinking I was looking good, I walked headlong into a glass door. Instant fool. Identity is much more fluid than fixed.

In the Buddhist tradition there is a “Big Dipper” exercise. From our perspective on the earth, there is a constellation of stars that form a big dipper in the sky. But, travel toward that constellation, the image of ‘big dipper’ starts to warp and then falls apart altogether. The position of the stars does not change. Our perspective does. The constellation is nothing more than an illusion. Mostly, my constellation of fixed identity points is nothing more than an illusion.

These days I’m thinking much about my illusion and attachment to my fixed points. My move to Wisconsin came with career death and I spent more than a few years grasping for the lost stars in my constellation. New stars appeared. I became a husband. I have two ‘given’ children. My beard has become grey. Yesterday, to my utter amusement, I found myself concerned with fallen leaves staining the patio and had thoughts of immediate raking. What has become of me? In the past week, I’ve awakened more than once with this thought: What if the painting on my easel is to be my last. It’s not finished and it’s an utter mess! I want to leave a better last impression! I have more work to do!

And then, I wondered, what if, as I travel out beyond the constellation, this image of myself, this part of me that I call ‘artist,’ matters not at all? Fluid, not fixed.

And so, my perspective spins, more anchor points fall away and the entire universe opens.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PERSPECTIVE

 

 

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Be Like Your Dog [on Merely A Thought Monday]

independent dog copy

Some people look like their dogs. Some people are like their dogs. I am one of the latter.

DogDog resists all recognizable constraints. He cannot tolerate tight spaces. It’s the reason he won’t climb stairs. It’s not the stairs, it’s the tight passage way. How’s that for a metaphor! I would be more successful in this life if I had better tolerance of constraints.

He is hypersensitive to other people’s feelings. He is, to use a phrase from the Dog Whisperer, an energy-reading machine. He knows when I am sad or angry or frustrated BEFORE I know that I am sad or angry or frustrated. I have, like DogDog, always been able to walk into a room and “feel” where the energy-eddies were swirling. Sometimes I can’t tell if it is my sadness or the person I am sitting with. That takes some time to sort out. I wonder if DogDog has the same challenge in sorting which feeling belongs to which animal.

DogDog is fearful of non-threatening, seemingly ridiculous things. For instance, his food bowl is metal and it sits at the base of the oven. When the bowl makes contact with the oven, metal on metal, he flees to save his life. He hides in the other room until we convince him that the sound-monster is gone. My monsters are just like his. Seemingly ridiculous to outside eyes. Always constituted of the things I do not understand. The sounds that make no sense (what people say, what people do to each other). The future. The past. Metaphoric metal on metal.

What I would like to learn from DogDog? My monsters keep me awake at night. His fears don’t stick – or, rather, he doesn’t carry them forward. Not only is he a profoundly sound sleeper but, the next time there’s kibble, he’s back at his bowl giving it another go.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A VERY INDEPENDENT DOG

 

 

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Flawed Cartoon Wednesday

SNOWMAN BIG COPY Master

“This surprise that reality is other than expected is weirdly tenacious.” Declan Donnellan

Of all the Flawed Cartoons, and there are many of them, this just might be my personal favorite. I giggle every time I see it – and I wrote it! And drew the image! It is a layer-cake of the human condition, a loving nod to our infinite capacity to generate, invest in, and then get lost in the life-stories of our own creation. I love our surprise that life is a festival of surprises.

Just ignore my snicker the next time you tell me that you know where you’re going.

A SNOWFLAKE WITH POSSIBILITIES merchandise

Flawed Snowman MUG  Flawed Snowman FRAMED PRINT  Flawed Snowman TSHIRT

kerrianddavid.com

read Kerri’s thoughts on A SNOWFLAKE WITH POSSIBILITIES

a snowflake with possibilities ©️ 2016 david robinson and kerri sherwood

 

 

Row

may-you-be-small-crop-jpegSometimes the way forward is akin to rowing a boat: facing backward is the only way to get proper leverage. Today, to stir my pot, to get some leverage and new energy, I revisited three books that I wrote but never published (or limply offered to a tiny audience). It was a revelation. It’s as if the man who wrote those books in the past meant for me to read them today. The man who wrote them was not ready or clear enough to birth them. The man who read them today knows just what to do (including rewrite some odd bits). Here is the introduction to the first of the three books:

I’ve generally stepped in every pothole, tripped over every opportunity, broken the family dishes, and made every mistake a person can make. I feel fortunate to be alive. I used to try and hide the mess behind a veneer of “knowing.” Eventually I realized that in order to find what I was seeking I had to stop pretending that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. I now recognize that the more I learn, the less I know. Life is not about knowing stuff. Life is vibrant when engaging with the un-known. Seeking is messy business. Being human is messy business. To pretend otherwise is…well, to pretend.

One day, while exhausting myself pretending, I realized that I was telling myself a story of fear. I realized that I was the only person invested in my fear story. I realized that I’d cast all the other people in my story as dangerous characters. I believed that if they really knew me they’d shame me. I realized that I was the only person in my story feeling pain, frustration and exhaustion. So, why was I telling myself this story? This was not the story that I wanted my life to tell. That day I began changing my story.

At some point, each of us comes face-to-face with the story of our lives. When we do, we have the choice to retreat further into hiding or to take off the mask, turn around, and walk toward the thing we fear the most. This is to seek the bear.

Every human being who has walked the face of the earth has come to the same crossroad; those that faced their bear left behind clues about how to do it. They left us messages about how best to stop hiding, how to turn and walk toward fear, what to do when it is time to stand in front of the bear’s cave and how to welcome the encounter. The clues and messages are found in the stories they left for us. The stories are maps for navigating our inner geography.

Our ancestors understood that stories are a participation sport. Our lives are mirrored in the tale of adventure. We know what to do in our personal story because we identify with the heroine/hero in the story. Their journey of transformation is a guide to our journey of transformation. Their follies and foibles give coherence and direction to our messy passage. Their death and rebirth is a map for our death and rebirth. Their story is a call for us to step more fully into our adventure-story.

As is true in all life-lessons, it’s a perfect loop. I’m back where I started (apparently) only with new eyes and a few more years of experience. Order from chaos, chaos from order, I suspect we are all, one way or another, rowing in a perfect circle.circle-peace-earth-jpeg

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Let’s Be Us

a detail from my painting, May You Be

a detail from my painting, May You Be

[continued from Put Down The Hammer]

It is night and I am sitting alone in the sanctuary. I’ve been setting up chairs for a performance and now that the job is complete I’m taking a moment to savor the silence and review this day.

The temperatures have been unseasonably warm and when I opened the back door this morning for Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog I was greeted by the sound of birds singing. It was an April sound in the middle of December. I was so taken by the sound that I called Kerri, “Come and listen to this!” We stood in the doorway for many minutes. It was beautiful as well as a little disconcerting. “El Niño or global warming?” I asked.

Arnie wrote a comment to my last post. He asked: Can it be that we don’t want the ‘we’ in our society – we aren’t comfortable with the ‘we’ and only feel our identity by living out the “us and them”? I am an idealist but, of course, he is right. David Berreby wrote a terrific book called, Us and Them. We are hardwired to perceive the world through a lens of Us and Them. It’s a survival imperative to distinguish between friend and foe. However, a point that is most salient to me: the delineation of Us is mutable. It is not a fixed state but largely circumstantial. That is especially true in this modern age. There is an out of fashion phrase used to describe these United States: a melting pot. There could not be a better metaphor for an ever fluid definition of US. We need not melt but we do need to acknowledge that we are in the same pot. “Give us your tired, your hungry, your poor,…” is central to our national identity (not always central to our national rhetoric) and is a sacred, central statement of an ever-changing US.

We are among the first humans in history to have the pleasure of seeing our planet Earth from space and, as it has been said, from space there are no visible borders. The definition of US depends upon how far out we pull the camera. From space WE are the human race. There are a bevy of alien invasion movies that carry a common theme: when attacked WE inhabitants of Earth will pull together. Or, said another way, until there is a THEM that invades from another planet, WE will be incapable of recognizing full inclusion in the Earth pot.

To Arnie’s point, there is a lot of responsibility that comes with WE. A few months ago, Kerri and I were in Chicago for the day and passed a homeless man, holding a filthy cardboard sign asking for help. He was young, in his early 20’s, and more filthy than his sign. He was suffering. We walked by him. On the train home we had a long conversation about our responsibility to that young man or to any member of our community that is suffering. Many years ago I was with a student group in Bali. We were invited to Udayana University and one member of our group gave a talk about homelessness in America. Our Balinese hosts were shocked. “How could a member of your community be without a home?” they asked. The concept was abhorrent to them, unthinkable. “You are the wealthiest people on Earth…,” they stammered. Later, a Balinese professor said to me, “When you came here today, we wanted to be like you Americans. As you leave, we are proud to be Balinese.”

Us. Them. We. Like me. Not like me. Me. Little words with far-reaching impact. I am not the same person I was only a few years ago. I find it infinitely hopeful – especially now – that, just like me, the delineation of US is mutable, ever changing. It begs the question, Who are WE? And, to another of Arnie’s points, the answer to the question depends upon where we decide to place our focus.

Step Toward Faith

My latest. An unusually small canvas.

My latest. An unusually small canvas: Will Is Belief.

I began writing this post a few weeks ago, just before the run to Florida and the launch of Beaky’s book. It was a very busy week and I’d forgotten that I started but did not finish the thought. This morning, wanting to get back into the rhythm of writing, I opened my iPad and found these words already written and awaiting my return:

I’m sitting in the choir loft watching the evening sun illuminate the stained glass window. I’m tired tonight and listening to Kerri, preparing for the Maundy evening service, rehearsing Nancy’s solo. Nancy’s voice is like a warm cello, deep and rich, and is working like a sound-massage on my tired bones. I’m giving over to it.

This cycle of services on Easter week is relatively new to me so I’m paying attention to all of the symbols and rituals of this story of rebirth. As is true of every great story cycle, the night is darkest before the dawn (thus, the cliché). This night, called Maundy Thursday in the cycle – I’m told that Maundy means mandate – is the night of the last supper and all the betrayals that followed. It is the segment of the story that is chocked full of crises of faith. If, like me, you are a lover of story you will recognize that some form of betrayal usually precedes a crisis of faith and, in turn, a crisis of faith always leads to growth and new direction; it always leads to sunrise.

Others betray us. We betray ourselves. Betrayal happens on the edges of the dark forest and forces a step into the unknown. Betrayal happens when we fall asleep (that is most often how we betray ourselves – sitting in front of the television to numb us to the richness of our lives). Things crumble: the relationship that we believed was secure, the truth into which we rooted our belief, the career that we thought would carry us to retirement. Security dissolves, identity dissipates, and then what? All the fears bob to the surface. All the dragons come out of the closet.

This was the unfinished thought I found this morning. I have no recollection of where I was going with it. Now, two weeks and a lot of life later, I read it as if someone else wrote it. However, there was one other sentence, detached from the others. It now reads like a mystery to me. When writing, I routinely float a sentence at the bottom of the page because it is the point of what I’m trying to reach. My floating sentence read:

A crisis of faith often has very little to do with faith.

And, as I try to resurrect my thought of a few weeks ago, I can only smile and write the first thing that occurred to me when I scrolled down and found the floater: Faith, like love or truth or time or anything else, is not something fixed. It moves and grows as we move and grow. A crisis of faith is really a step toward faith renewed. It enlivens. It helps us retire old dragons or let go of empty promises. It gets us out of our easy chair and helps us fully feel the day.