Ramble [on DR Thursday]

I’m like a two-year old: I want to know “Why?” For instance, the lichen growing on the birch tree is Hypogymnia physodes, but it’s also known as “Monk’s Hood.” Why?

There’s a wildflower also known as Monk’s Hood. I read that the flower gets its name because its petals resemble the cowls once worn by monks. However, the flower is also known as “Wolfsbane.” Why? What does the bane of a wolf have to do with the hood of a monk? I’m capable of inventing a slew of possible connections but they will be just that: inventions.

In an attempt to bore you beyond rescue, I’ve lately been fascinated by how much of our world is a blizzard of unhinged information in search of a context. For instance, conceptual art needs an explanation. Without a curator, it’s nothing more than a banana taped to a wall. Twine with a dirty sponge. Oddity seeking to be taken seriously.

In the 21st century, we measure relevance by the number of followers, not by the substance-of-the-matter-being-followed. It’s a popularity contest. Lots and lots of flowing information, most of it useless. Without use. Without substance. And, scarily for us: without being questioned.

What is empty content pushed through a fabricated context? “Breaking” news. MAGA. Q.

It occurs to me that society needs more two year olds! A healthy practice of asking “Why” would spare us from certain death-by-bloviation.

A cowl, by the way, is both a monk’s hood AND a loose neckline in contemporary women’s clothing. Wouldn’t the monks be surprised if they’d confused their cowls!

Now, get out there and find context for this bit of useless information.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LICHEN

pieta with paparazzi © 2010 david robinson

Make A Mess [on Merely A Thought Monday]

One cannot know life’s ups without experience of life’s downs. The quality that defines order is chaos. And, vice-versa.

In the same vein, Horatio hit me with a thought that gave me the shivers: wisdom is the blossom of regret.

Regret is one of those special words that is both a verb and a noun. To lament. A feeling of sorrow. It comes from experience. When he was young, Roger told me that he wanted to live a life with no regrets and although we’ve lost touch, my great hope is that he was incapable of living the life he wanted to live. He is made of deeper stuff.

Hermann Hesse’ novel, Siddhartha, is a story of arriving at wisdom. So, too, is his novel Narcissus and Goldmund. Far beyond the lands of understanding and knowledge, the fields of wisdom are born of messy life. Mistakes made. Fears confronted. Loss and awe. Illusions pierced. A protected life may fill your cup and bank account with information but will leave you with a limited palette of life experience. A full closet of clothes for the ghost that wears them.

Coincidentally, last week, Horatio and I both spent some time on sterile medical beds looking up at the bright lights on the ceiling. Doctors looking down. Suddenly filled with gratitude for the regrets that we’ve racked up in this life.

Sitting by the river, watching the river flow by, we compared notes. We shared life stories. How on earth did I get to be so lucky?

read Kerri’s blogpost about CATERPILLAR ON A ROPE

Breathe At Human Pace [on KS Friday]

We live in a time in which cars are capable of parking and braking themselves. I am able to type a message into a little box that I carry in my pocket and my message, through space and time to anywhere in the world, is delivered immediately. I write my thoughts in this device and then publish all over the world. I’ve learned of a software that is able to write my thoughts without me – faster and with fewer grammatical errors at the outset. I think and write in a pattern capable of being recognized. I am, therefore, capable of being approximated. What is amazing today is common tomorrow. So it goes with the pace of change.

I read in The Dream Society, written two decades ago, that the aim of the industrial era was to spare humanity physical toil and the aim of the information age is to relieve us from the exertion of thought. We’re producing data at a staggering rate and, ironically, the explosion is both serving the intention and overwhelming our capacity to keep up. We can’t possibly process the tsunami of information that washes over us everyday. We are human. We have a tough time sussing out truth from belief-fantasy even when not washed down the roaring information streams.

It is why I hang out with Desi. Desi is the little tree sprout that we rescued from the Des Plaines river trail over two years ago. When Desi came home with us, her tiny trunk was needle thin. She is thriving in her pot and has more than doubled in size, yet, by the standards of data, her growth is glacial. And that is precisely why I visit her each day. She is in no rush. Efficiency for Desi has nothing to do with speed. Health is about good soil and light. Like all plants, she could be pushed artificially, but why? Pushing might get her to adulthood faster but would also damage her systems. Efficiency and health, for Desi, are all about natural pace. Slow, slow, slow to human eyes.

Desi reminds me that the pace of my life is artificial. A choice. The pace, the incessant noise vying for my attention, are human-made, unnatural. Don’t get me wrong. I delight that Google maps gets me where I want to go. I appreciate having a phone available while walking a backwoods trail. One of the great joys of my life is watching Kerri photograph – with her phone – the world she sees. I love to write and push a button to share. I am, despite my advertising, not a luddite. I’m also aware that the media – the medium – is the message. We are – we become – what we consume and how we consume it. It is a necessity in our age of rolling miracles to keep both eyes open.

I think it is healthy (although virtually impossible) to occasionally crawl out of the stream and breathe at human pace. To think without the expectation of assistance. Each day, for a few minutes, I hang out with Desi, a reminder that an inch of growth every year is sometimes fast enough.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about DESI

taking stock/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Throw Some Light [on KS Friday]

“The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke.” ~Jerzi Kosinski

Out of seeming chaos, pattern is found. And, from pattern, chaos is born. It’s a creative cycle. I spent some time this week swimming up the river of systems theory, synthesis instead of analysis. The means of production in an agrarian economy; the means of production in an industrial economy; the means of production in an information economy. The relationship between the methods and materials, the behaviors and the purpose, systems take on a life and energy of their own. The toil to feed more people led to toil to automate to relieve manual toil, led to automation to relieve intellectual toil, will lead to… we can only imagine. And, we do imagine: imagination is the relationship between the present and the future. Stand back and you’ll see, amidst the mess and chaos, we attempt to evoke a better world.

It is not a coincidence that a banana taped to the wall is considered art in an age in which Tucker Carlson is considered a source of truth. Ironically, in the golden age of information, we are befuddled by vapid minds and empty suits. Bananas and duct tape. Shock without substance can only evoke anger and will illuminate nothing. Anger for anger’s sake can only destroy. There’s no nourishment in all of this anger candy but it is certain to lead to national-diabetes and rot our teeth.

Marcel Duchamp, at the beginning of the last century, entered a toilet as sculpture in an art exhibit. He lived and worked in the age of industry at the threshold of mass production. His gesture had purpose and aesthetic framing. What was formerly craft and individual creation was now stamped into being on an assembly line. That’s old news to us but, in his time, it was a shocking revelation. A world war was raging. The collision of old practices meeting new technology was playing out on the battlefield. His exhibit entry evoked questions about loss and gain in the dawn of a new world order.

Sometimes it seems that we are spiraling into chaos. Polynices and Eteocles, brothers who will not compromise, kill each other in a battle for dominance. All lose. A father’s curse fulfilled. In our great art, the work that evokes truth and throws light to our hearts and minds, we have all the guidance we need – if we choose to pay attention. Yesterday I wrote to Mike that it seems we will need to walk the path of Romeo & Juliet: “Two households, both alike in dignity…”will lose their children to violence rather than sit down at a table and earnestly talk. And, when it is too late, when the primary is lost, the formerly indignant will sit and mourn together.

Chaos. Pattern. Sometimes the pattern is chaos. The children die. The mother takes her son across state lines with a big gun and pretends, after he murders people with his big gun, that his crime was self-defense. Bananas taped to a wall. A judge who broadcast to all that a guilty verdict might trigger his decision for a mistrial. He’ll just wait and see if he agrees with the jury. So, here we are. Lady Justice takes off her blindfold and takes sides. Is there a more profound statement of ethical collapse? In the age of information, misinformation gets equal billing; anger-candy.

What might Duchamp put on his pedestal today? What might evoke an honest conversation, throw some light and love, on what is lost and what is gained?

read Kerri’s blog post about FIRE AND SMOKE

Kerri’s music is available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

See The Point [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~ Viktor Frankel

There is a new mantra cycling through my circle of friends. Once, highly frustrated with people refusing to participate as a community in the relatively benign measures necessary to end the pandemic, they’ve now forged their frustration into a different shape: there’s no point in trying to change “them.”

The circle is closed. Or, perhaps, it has been closed all along. Us. Them.

We spent the weekend in a special cabin with The Up North Gang. Walks in the woods. Pontoon boat rides seeking a sunny spot to anchor. Friends that heal what hurts. Laughter and wine. Occasionally, our conversation wandered into politics and pandemics, usually spurred by a local man posting cryptic and apocalyptic messages from deep within his conspiracy well. He is one of “them.”

“How can he believe this stuff?”

“Imagine everything he has to ignore to believe this stuff!”

“He’s always been a bit kookie.”

“There’s no point in reasoning with him.”

“There’s no point in writing a response, he’d just deny the facts, the court cases, the data, the science, the…”

There’s no point. That’s the mantra. There’s no point.

Us and Them. Together in the same boat. One half trying to rock the boat. The other half trying to keep it from flipping.

Exhaustion? Surrender?

“It’s like they’re drowning in bad information,” she said,

He replied, “And, there’s no sense throwing them a rope, they’d refuse to take it.”

“We have thrown them a rope,” she added. “It’s called the vaccine.”

We laugh a sad laugh, shaking our heads. What’s the point?

read Kerri’s blog post about Safe Together

Consider It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.” ~ Marshall McLuhan

At the first theatre company I artistic directed, we cut silk screens and pulled ink to make our posters. They were crude but we didn’t know it at the time because that was the most advanced process available. At the time they looked cool and we were proud of them. They took some effort.

I remember the day a student came into my office and showed me how we could design our posters on the computer. His designs were gorgeous, easily adjusted, took almost no time, and came back from the printer quicker than I could cut a good screen. We felt like our status bumped up a notch. We looked professional, and, what we’d been so proud of only a year before, now looked primitive.

My first website cost an extraordinary amount of money. It took weeks of working with a designer. Changes were costly so were made rarely. Now, Kerri and I design, redesign and make changes to our site every week. A few years ago we set up a site for a theatre company, complete with ticket service, database and newsletter capacity all in one easy-to-use app. It cost them almost nothing and any fool could adjust and make changes to it.

People who only a few short years ago considered themselves voiceless can now say any old thing they want to an audience no less than world-wide. Patti once asked a conference attendee, “If you had a voice, what would you say?” If I could go back in time I’d beg her to retract that question.

We live in a time of high anxiety. There are few substantial anchors to moor our reality. I’m about to make the ultimate old guy statement: I remember when…a few limited news channels actually attempted to broadcast the news. They had a limited window of time to tell the news so they made their information count. We now have hundreds of information and misinformation sources that can rattle at us 24/7 and from multiple devices. The challenge is not editing-down-to what-matters, it is filling too much time with loads of spin that mostly has limited substance.

Information spreading – for me, too – has become easy-peasy. I can lob an opinion as easily and as readily as the next person. But, as Marshall McLuhan said – and I whole-heartily concur, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.” In other words, (don’t tell Kerri) I am sometime reactive. Sometimes, I think I know more than I do. Sometimes, I make mistakes. Slowing down seems to be the only cure. Thinking things through. Researching before spouting. Breathe and breathe again. Consider what matters. Really matters.

I’ve walked a complete circle in my life. Now, in all it’s shiny capacity, within the amazing miracles of technology, I find much of what people say and do and assert with this glorious ability – to be crude. Without thought. It’s too easy so it doesn’t much matter. The stream will quickly carry away even the most offensive opinions and endlessly wash in some more. I wonder how considerate people might become if their easy voices were less easily shared? If saying something actually took some time and effort – let’s say, as much time as it took to design, transfer and cut a silkscreen – what might they say? If it was less easy to “like” or “dislike.” If one slip would send the thought back to the arduous start? Maybe we’d be more considerate because we’d take the time to consider what we were expressing – to think about what we were saying and why we were saying it.

I suspect most of our “whys” would get our knuckles rapped by grandmothers who held decorum and polite communication as a high virtue. Saying stuff so-as-to-belong-or-pile-on…or to hear ourselves talk, certainly wouldn’t spare the rod.

That whole thought stream came from taking a walk, looking down, and finding a rock smiling back at me. Someone took some time. Chose a rock. They chose what to paint and had a grandma-approved-reason-why. And, they did a good job of it. “Ahhhhh,” Kerri said, smiling back at the rock. “How considerate,” I added to her awe.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROCKS THAT SMILE


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

Care Enough To Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Have you noticed that people all over the world are divided into groups, calling themselves Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and so on? What divides them? Not the investigations of science, not the knowledge of agriculture, of how to build bridges or fly jet planes. What divides people is tradition, beliefs which condition the mind in a certain way.” ~Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

John helped me carry a treadmill downstairs into the basement. It was a beast, a one-step-at-a-time affair. After the job was done we fell into a conversation about how baffling we find our divided nation. He confided that, of late, he’s completely unplugged from the news. “I’m happier, less anxious,” he said, though somewhat conflicted about his decision.

I told John about my dear friend whose strategy for navigating the division and the noise was to read only The Wall Street Journal. It aligns with his conservative values and provides the business and financial news that he enjoys. For his mental health and well being, he’s eschewed all other sources.

On our drive from Wisconsin to Colorado and back again, Kerri and I were amazed by the rabid roadside proclamations of belief. A bumper sticker trumpeting Extreme Right Wing, a pick up truck, weaving through traffic, flying a Confederate flag. We stopped to get gas and went into the convenience store to use the restroom. We were wearing masks which apparently was an affront to the other patrons; I literally locked myself in a stall to avoid being assaulted.

I thought all night about my conversation with John. What are our strategies for surviving the toxic noise? Note the word, “survive.” John suggested (and I agree) that the division is intentional, a strategy. “They’ve learned to monetize hate,” he said, “Both sides.” Our strategies of survival are indications of the problem. Like my dear friend, we seek a source of information – a single source – based on our belief, what we align and are comfortable with, and not based on any measure or expectation of truth.

This is not a new revelation. We’ve been talking about the problem with info-bubbles for years. John’s question, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions of what they are being told?” is, I think, exposes the root of the challenge. People have to want the truth, expect the truth, before they care enough seek it.

Questioning is the basis of education. Curiosity is what drives progress. Belief asks adherents to stop questioning. We are, apparently – at least 50% – a nation of believers. Not a question in sight. Witness the circus in Arizona, the implosion of the GOP, the restrictive voting laws sweeping our nation, the undying support of a lie that undermines the pillars of our democracy. Belief without question is a toxic soup.

It’s become a metaphor that is easy to grasp: the Kansas billboard read, “Don’t Let Pigweed Creep Back.” A warning to vigilant farmers, pigweed strangles crops. It is toxic to farm animals. To keep the fields and the farm prosperous, a farmer must wage a consistent and conscious battle to keep the invasive weed from overrunning their fields. Our nation is no different than the farmer’s field. We are overrun with pigweed. It seems our information sorting mechanisms are out of whack. We no longer know – or care – to sort out what is edible and what is toxic.

We eat the weed and ignore the vegetable. John’s question is more and more relevant, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions about what they are being fed?”

Belief without question. Conditioned minds. Mental farms overrun by pigweed.

read Kerri’s blog post about PIGWEED

Achieve Some Reason [on Flawed Wednesday]

I laughed heartily when I saw this Dodge Challenger commercial. It’s entitled Family Motto and inadvertently speaks to the one of the major challenges of our times. We have a very hard time separating the real from the fabricated. The frame freezes, the small boy in the driver’s seat of the in-studio-muscle-car looks to the camera and says, “Our lawyers just want you to know that this isn’t real.” They poke fun at the ease of deception, the effortlessness of suspended disbelief. It’s fun to believe that the kid is driving the car.

It’s fun until it’s not.

For instance, in a lawsuit against Tucker Carlson, the lawyers at Fox News successfully argued that no reasonable viewer would take anything he said seriously. In other words, much of what he espouses is nonsense not to be believed. It’s entertainment, not information. He’s akin to a comedian, like Stephen Colbert – only not funny. Sydney Powell, after months of sowing doubt and slandering Dominion Voting Machines over the last election is attempting to make the same argument. Reasonable people, she claims, would never believe a word that she said. All of those press conferences, those indignant claims of voter fraud blasted into the news cycle, were apparently for sport. They were meant to be fun.

Thinking-people should know better than to believe what they are being told. Reasonable people know that the kid isn’t really driving the car and so they should also know that the pundit and the lawyer are peddling fiction and not fact.

It’s one thing to sell a car. It’s quite another to sell a false-reality. To peddle a lie. The car is being sold during a commercial. The false-reality is being sold on a network platform that sports the word “news.” Context is everything. Reasonable people, we are told, should know the difference. Is it news? Is it a commercial? Is it entertainment or press event? What do we call it if it is broadcast between commercials?

The problem, of course, is that reasonable people are either in short supply or they base their reason, invest their faith and belief in places they ought not. The false-narrative is literally ranted into the camera from behind a news desk or at a press conference. It’s propounded with the same enthusiasm that Phil Swift uses when selling Flex Seal products – only not as nice. The lie is proclaimed as truth. And then, the lawyers step in. And then, the story changes. The previously spouted truth should not be believed and reasonable people ought to know better.

We have a very hard time separating the real from the fabricated, news from entertainment. We’ve had a lot of help ascending our mountain of confusion.

I recently heard this phrase: an armed person is a citizen, an unarmed person is a subject. It is, of course, a phrase that is bandied about by the 2nd Amendment alarmists but I think it is more relevant and applicable when “being armed” applies, not to guns, but to information. Those men and women who stormed the Capitol, beating the police with flags, declaring their freedom, were in fact, being sold a false narrative. Voluntary subjects void of information, grown fat on a diet of fantasy. Easily led.

A person armed with information in the face of so much deliberate confusion, has a prayer of being a citizen. Achieving reason takes some effort. The lawyers want to you know that no reasonable person should believe that the kid is driving the car. The same is true for the space between the commercials, the detritus in the media stream.

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S NOT REAL

Recognize The Divine [on KS Friday]

“To say that life is destabilized by weakened institutions is merely to say that information loses its use and therefore becomes a source of confusion rather than coherence.” ~ Neil Postman, Technopoly.

“Regularly throughout conversation in Gaelic, ” John O’Donohue writes, “there is explicit recognition that the divine is present in others.” Social fabric is tightly woven and made strong by the recognition of value, divine or otherwise, in all members of a community. During my travels in Bali I was moved again and again by the interconnectivity, the deep assumption of coherence that wove together daily life and community. “If two cars crash, “Budi told me, “the driver’s first thought is not that the other is to blame, it is that they are supposed to meet.”

And when the devaluation of others becomes a national pastime as it has in these once united states, pushing down the head of an other in an attempt to elevate the self – the preferred action of all drowning people – saves no one. It only delays the drowning of all involved. That sound we hear is the rending of our social fabric, the breaking apart of the ship. Those shouts of triumph and scorn coming from the top deck will be short lived. Confusion is a lousy organizing principle and guarantees a watery grave for all on board.

We are awash in information and so we are also awash in an assault on information. Misinformation is our Achilles Heel. So weakened by gaslighting are our public institutions that the single most damning confession of our lifetime, a president admitting for all to hear that he knew and lied about the deadly virus, is shrugged off. “Yeah, well what about Nancy Pelosi’s hair!” I shuddered when I read the inane defense. We flatten. Our values fade as fast as our perspective. Thousands died who did not have to – heads were knowingly pushed under. Thousands will die who do not have to; an estimated 410,000 by the new year. Disposable people.

Neil Postman wrote, “What makes science possible is not our ability to recognize ‘truth’ but our ability to recognize falsehood.” Replace the word “science” with the word “community’ and the statement rings just as true. A community that cannot recognize falsehood is in trouble. A community that will not deal with truth is destined to drown in its own willful confusion.

We will not find our way through this paralysis until we can step out of this car crash and, instead of pointing our fingers and blaming, we step toward each other with wonder at what brought us together, until we are willing to ask, “Why did we meet?”

CONNECTED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED