Get Close And Look [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Get close and look. Really look. Raindrops on the screen. Distortions. Light bends. The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid. “What do you see?” she asked.

Last night, somewhere in the vicinity of 2am, we were wide awake. We ate rice Chex and reviewed the stressors of the year. It read like a biblical plague. We laughed when we realized that there were/are so many stressors that we’d actually forgotten the local riots, the curfew, chaos. and murder that happened a few blocks from our home. “In any normal year,” she said, “that would have been the top of the list. This year it didn’t even make the cut.”

Get close and look. What do you see? Future PhD’s will apply their magnifying glass to our time and find the tail wagging the dog, the greater falling to the lesser. A political party cowering and conspiring with delusion. They would rather see the system fall than risk their power seats. A populace jousting over wearing masks in a pandemic. Many would rather their neighbor die than have their imagined rights restricted. Propaganda networks, posing as news, peddling fantasy as fact. They would rather worship at the altar of the advertising dollar and feed the division (division sells!) rather than hold fast to the mast of journalistic integrity. It’s all entertainment when the necessary is swallowed in a mouthful of superficial. Gossip and conspiracy are so much tasty sugar!

Rome fell when the chief-toga-team guarded their luxuries rather than attended to the essentials. Millions of people line up for food. The market soars.

Really, get close and look. Little miracles are everywhere. “You were plucked out of the snake-pit,” he wrote. “Get the water boiling and get out the corkscrew. It’s time to celebrate.”

We found wine by the front door. Twice.

“I will sit with you in the dark,” she wrote.

“Do you need anything?” they asked.

Slushy came with smiles. “We thought you might need this!”

“Stand above your circumstance,” he suggested.

A special delivery of vitamin c and zinc brought tears to my eyes. True friends emerge from the pack.

The boys join us on the raft every morning for breakfast. Dogga comes running every time tears fill her eyes.

The shock of organic shapes colliding on a grid, raindrops on the screen. Hard lines, soft shapes. “We’re very lucky” she said, stooping to take a picture of a pine cone, a fallen branch with wispy needles. The day was cold but the sun was warm.

“What do you see?” she asked, turning the camera so I could see her photograph. “Really look.”

read Kerri’s blog post about RAIN ON THE SCREEN

Give Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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

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

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

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

To make meaning. To find meaning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read Kerri’s blog post about BE BETTER HUMANS

Dissolve The Image [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We watched a live stream of the protests yesterday. The streamer interviewed many people. He chatted casually with others. What became abundantly clear was the myriad of issues driving people to the streets. The catalyst may have been the shooting of Jacob Blake or the president’s visit but the deep matter that drove each person to the street was utterly individual, personal. Unique. All trying to give substance and voice to their deep matter.

So many people alone together. I was witnessing a part of the Sisyphus saga that I’ve written about repeatedly. A boatload of souls arrive in the underworld, disembark, and wander along the beach. Each is completely unaware of the other souls. So wrapped in their story, they think they are alone. Finally, their stories play out, and in the silence they begin to see each other, and in coming together, dissolve, and blend into a single bank of mist. From separation to unity.

A quote from Krishanmurti roared into my mind: “You say that if the mind has faith in the image, then the image will give power to the mind. Obviously; the mind creates the image and then derives power from its own creation. That is what the mind is everlastingly doing: producing images and drawing strength, happiness, benefit from those images, thereby remaining empty, inwardly poverty stricken.”

The mind creates the image. The mind gives power to the image. The mind creates the story. The mind gives power to the story. It’s a fantasy feedback loop. We are mistaken to call our image, our story, “normal” or believe it to be “truth.” The protesters stand toe-to-toe and shout into the faces of others, a screaming match of conflicting images. A story collision.

“But the mind cannot create truth. What it creates is not truth, it is merely an opinion, a judgment.

Even as I write this I think, “Who cares?” The shouting, de-friending, families dividing and plunging into right-or-left-media-madness that matches the image-of-the-mind is escalating. The tug-of-war for story dominance is vicious and it seems Ethic and Moral have packed their bags and fled to a safe house.

Despite warning and wailing and prediction, the streets were silent last night. So still. Perhaps in our silent moments we will begin to see each other, and like the souls in the story, be drawn together, dissolving our individual images into a single bank of purpose. Perhaps.

read Kerri’s blog post on this Not-So-Flawed Wednesday

See The Pattern [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“The United States, virtually a demilitarized nation on the eve of the Second World War, never stood down in the wake of victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.”’ ~ Wade Davis, The Unraveling of America

The most remarkable thing about these toy soldiers on a dish, is that a child did not place them in the garden. The adults did. People regularly place statues in their gardens, a Buddha or the Virgin Mary or gnomes or fairies. They are statements of value. They are statements of identity. Little guardians with powers no bigger than their guns.

In the words of Captain Obvious, the United States is rife with contradictions. In our sacred founding documents we wrote that “All men are created equal,” while simultaneously legislating that black men (and women) were less than human. It’s the crevasse we fall into again and again, our metaphoric original sin. The people currently protesting on the streets across this land simply want the rhetoric of the nation to align with the actions of the nation. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Today in Kenosha we await the unwelcome arrival of the commander-in-chief, a leader whose has only one note to pluck: division. The white nationalists are taking to the streets, waving their flags and chanting, “Four more years.”  For a nation comprised of immigrants from all over the planet, the world’s greatest crossroads, it seems more-than-absurd that anyone in this nation could or would revel in xenophobia. It’s astounding that the leader of a nation so rich in diversity would throw gasoline on the fires of racism. Contradiction upon contradiction. It’s farcical.

Or, perhaps it’s not contradiction at all. As Shakespeare wrote, “The truth will out.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that “the most warlike nation in the history of the world” is habitually at war with itself. The battle lines are as clear as the vast difference in the photographs comparing the Republican and Democrat members of the 116th Congress Members-Elect [scroll the article to see the photographs]. Ours is a war of identity and the dividing line runs along the color line. More Captain Obvious, I know [my apologies].

We do not have a problem, we have a pattern. And, to change our pattern of division and internal war, we need only take an honest look at the story we tell ourselves. The story we continue to tell ourselves about ourselves. We need to take a good honest look at who fits into the definition of “ourselves.” Right now we have two working definitions. And, that is our pattern. A pattern of conflicting definitions (inclusion vs. exclusion) works for some but is misery for most. Division by design.

Taking an honest look at ourselves is easily said. Even Captain Obvious is rolling his eyes!

The truth will out. It’s in our gardens. It’s in our statues. It’s in our streets. It’s on the images of brutality we capture on our iPhones. It’s in our tax codes and how we fund our schools and the children killed by guns while at school. It’s in our COVID-19 morbidity data and the populations of our prisons. The truth will out again and again and again until we decide to look at it with honesty, until we learn that our words matter, until we resolve to tell a different story, a story that lines up with our professed ideals. Until we decide that perpetual war is not a pattern that leads to social harmony and peace.

And, it’s a choice. Nothing more, Nothing less. Obviously.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TOYS IN THE GARDEN

 

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Care Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is my broken record moment: a system will do what it was designed to do. Sitting as I am in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the latest national flashpoint, I feel I have a front row seat to the system activating in response to a challenge.

Our system was designed to prevent “the unity of the commoner” in order to keep the focus off of the ruling aristocracy. This morning I read this sentence in the news: The president is fanning the flames of violence and dividing the country for political gain. The implication of Trump’s attacks is that there is a binary choice between law and order, and offering understanding and a path to justice for Black Americans.

A binary choice. A false choice. The commoners can EITHER have law and order OR they can stand for equal justice for all Americans. With equality comes the possibility of unity and unity is a threat to the system. In other news, just as you might suspect, vigilantism is on the rise. The system is responding exactly as designed.

Here’s the conundrum: we believe that protest and civil unrest are the path to real systems change and yet protest and civil unrest always split the community (prevent the unity of commoners). The path to social change in the USA cannot come from division. It might start there but it has to transcend the designed divide.

While the pandemic rages and the commoners are fighting each other on the streets, the stock market has soared. The United States has the highest level of income inequality among the countries in the G-7 and the gap is growing. It is not an accident that Fox News has its Henny Penny followers running around screaming “Socialism!” at the very time that America boldly steps toward an oligarchy.

My dad used to tell me that I’d educated myself into stupidity and I’d shake my head. Why would anyone choose to be uninformed? An ignorant populace is easily swung by the nose. An ignorant populace might have guns but they are unarmed where the real danger lurks.  It seems a good many of us are happily manipulated, hungrily eating anger and hate rather than asking a question or bothering to scratching the paint to discover if what we’re being sold is true or a con. It’s easy to check a fact or a source but you first must want to do it. That is where we fall down. We simply do not care. We opt for tribal division and easy blame over communal health – again, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Caring enough to question. That, too is an option. Caring enough to question is a possible path forward but requires us to look beyond the spoon-fed-rhetoric, the misinformation campaigns, and the intentionally stoked fires of division. It requires us in our questioning to shift our focus from the fight to the workings of “the ruling aristocracy.”

There’s also this: the businesses in downtown Kenosha and beyond are boarded up. The people of the community came out to paint them with messages of hope and support. Stamped on the hood of a burned out car is an appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans.

The impulse for change and a better world is there. A river of hope is there. The voices from the angry fringe will always shout loudest but I have to believe the vast majority, the quiet people who come out to paint, are looking for a common ground. There is hope, lots of hope, if we can take a look in our national mirror and see that we are doing exactly what the system is determining that we do. If we see it, we might be able to care enough to question, to deny the divide. We might be able to come together. We might be able to find a way to do better, to be better humans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

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Face In [on KS Friday]

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“…gentleness can be a greater force for transfiguration than any political, economic, or media power,…” ~ John O’Donohue

Here is my utopian fantasy: The protesters put down their signs, the police put down their shields, the militia drops their weapons, the citizens of all races, creeds, colors, political identities and economic stripes come out of their houses and hold hands facing into a circle of their creation. Nothing need be said. What are we protesting FOR if not this?

We are excellent at pushing against what we do not want. We are practiced at screaming in rabid reactivity. Finger pointing and blame is among our most popular Facebook pass times.  We like to make noise and bluster about the violation of our rights and ignite fearmongering fires warning of imagined assaults on our amendments. Propaganda and lie make for good reality television ratings. They provide permission to smash glass, loot, denigrate “others” and give cover to murder in all its forms, but are lousy foundations for a civil and civilized society.

Truth is intentional, not reactive. It steps toward an ideal. It provides a national focal point, a guide-star that will not cotton with lie and propaganda.

We seem utterly inept, absolutely incapable at walking toward what we profess. Our ideal is printed on our dollar bills and chiseled into the facades of our buildings: e pluribus unum: out of many, one.  Our division is chiseled into our history.

My utopian fantasy is not so hard to realize but notice it requires a common first step: a putting down of weapon and rhetoric and dedicated division. The  second step is also not difficult: reach out, take the hand that is closest. Circle up with those who you most disagree. The third step may be the hardest: say nothing. Defend and justify nothing. Prove or claim nothing. Face in, not face off.  The greatest intentions, like the most profound truths, are often silent. Step four: live the circle.

We can figure it out. It’s no greater matter than walking toward what we want, what we espouse, instead of forever pushing against what we do not want. Perhaps our first truth is to admit that there is a lie built into what we chisel in walls and what we actually live. We need to intend oneness if we are to realize our central ideal.

Doc Rivers, a black man and coach of the LA Clippers said this yesterday: “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.” Love. Love back. There is no better or simpler statement of intention. Walk toward it.

He also famously said, “Average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth.” His dictum applies to nations as well as players: great nations want to be told the truth. Average nations want to be left alone.

 

FIGURE IT OUT on the album RIGHT NOW is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FIGURE IT OUT

 

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figure it out/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

 

 

 

Call Her Anguish [on DR Thursday]

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It was a long night. We’ve spent the last few evenings listening to a police scanner and watching live-stream reporting of the violence in our streets. We sit on our back deck and follow the swirl of helicopters, listen to the explosions, the angry voices in the street. We have a “go” bag packed by the door. We sleep with one eye open.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde pattern of our national protests has come to roost in our city, the epicenter a few blocks from our home. Peaceful protests by day; violent destruction by night. And, each night it gets worse. Each day I scan the heart-sickening savage call-and-response of an ugly divided citizenry, a crumbling society incapable of civil discourse.

I am haunted by an article written by Wade Davis. I’ve reread it a dozen times. I will read it a dozen more. Each day new quotes arise. After watching an armed militia strut up and down the boulevards of Kenosha under the pretense/delusion of protecting the city, stand cock-guard over a dry cleaning shop, and ultimately, one young militia member [too young to drink a beer in Wisconsin but not too young to sport an automatic weapon] murdered two and maimed one of the unarmed citizens they proclaimed to protect. Alice’s wonderland makes more sense than America’s implosion. This young man was not a citizen of our town or of our state. He brought his big gun across state lines to feed his white nationalist fantasy and ended the evening a murderer who will spend the days of his life in prison. What did he imagine might happen? Waste upon waste. These are the quotes from the article that today bobbed to the top:

“The measure of wealth in a civilized nation is not the currency accumulated by the lucky few, but rather the strength and resonance of social relations and the bonds of reciprocity that connect all people in common purpose.”

“The American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society. No one owes anything to anyone. All must be prepared to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights — universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed — America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness.”

By his measure, we are a very poor nation indeed. Violent to the core because we eschew shared responsibility, shun a common center and refuse to deal with our issues.

I asked Kerri to choose a piece for the Melange today. I was surprised because she selected a snippet from my painting, Three Graces. She’s not fond of this painting. Traditionally the Graces represent Muses: Brightness, Joyfulness, Bloom. Beauty, Charm, Creativity. It’s ironic.

Were I to name this fragment, this lonely Muse culled from her sisters, I think I’d call her Anguish. What else?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ANGUISH

 

 

Three Graces

 

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three graces ©️ 2012 david robinson

See It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Systems do what systems are designed to do. For instance, this seawall is a simple system designed to protect one element (land) from the other (water). Left unchecked they come together and change occurs. This wall is a system built to prevent significant changes to the coastline.

Our system, relative to black and white Americans, as stated in the colonial records and enacted through legislation, was designed to keep the two groups from uniting. Division by design.

The law [the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705] was devised to establish a greater level of control over the rising African slave population of Virginia. It also served to socially segregate white colonists from black slaves making them disparate groups hindering their ability to unite. A unity of the commoners was a perceived fear of the Virginia aristocracy which had to be addressed, and who wished to prevent a repeat of events such asBacon’s Rebellion, occurring 29 years prior.” [Wikipedia, An act concerning Servants & Slaves]

A unity of commoners is to be feared. To that end, African Americans were determined through legislation to be less-than-human, three-fifths to be exact. No other group in our history have been institutionalized, bills debated and passed into colonial law, as sub-human.  When we see signs that read “Black Lives Matter” it speaks to a systemic definition, a system that to this day is doing what it was designed to do. African Americans simply want their two-fifths recognized and returned.

To match the denigration of black Americans, poor (non-land-owning) whites were given a promotion, new rights and status. “Many of the European-descended poor whites began to identify themselves, if not directly with the rich whites, certainly with being white. And here you get the emergence of this idea of a white race as a way to distinguish themselves from those dark-skinned people who they associate with perpetual slavery.” [Facing History & Ourselves]

The system only works if pushing the black head down is the mechanism that elevates the white head. The police are merely servants of the system. To redefine the police, through funding changes or otherwise, will not address the root of the pattern. The system will reinvent itself in another form because that is what systems do.

America has a pronoun problem. As I write this I am sitting in my smoke-filled house in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Downtown is burning in reaction to Jacob Blake’s shooting. A quick scroll through the Kenosha Facebook page and I read again and again this question, “What do they want?” THEY. Not a hint of WE to be found. The system is working perfectly to prevent the unity of commoners.

Yesterday, I wrote to my pal David that nothing has changed. I was in Los Angeles in 1991 during the Rodney King riots. I watched Los Angeles burn. Today I am watching the destruction of downtown Kenosha. To understand the violence of the response you need look no further than the violence present in the two videos. In a routine traffic stop, Rodney King was pulled from his car and beaten nearly to death. Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, was shot seven times in the back. In a situation where no club was necessary, a black man was brutally beaten. In a situation where no gun was necessary, a black man was shot seven time in the back. Is the burning of the city more or less repugnant and out-of-proportion than the violence that incited the flames?

My point: The violence is already present. It is the seawall erected through law to prevent the two groups, black and white, from coming together. Slavery was violent. Jim Crow was violent. This latest iteration is, not surprisingly, violent. It’s how the system maintains itself. The form changes but they system remains constant. The violence prevents the unity of commoners.

Finally, consider this: “With the COVID crisis, 40 million Americans lost their jobs, and 3.3 million businesses shut down, including 41 percent of all black-owned enterprises. Black Americans, who significantly outnumber whites in federal prisons despite being but 13 percent of the population, are suffering shockingly high rates of morbidity and mortality, dying at nearly three times the rate of white Americans. The cardinal rule of American social policy — don’t let any ethnic group get below the blacks, or allow anyone to suffer more indignities — rang true even in a pandemic, as if the virus was taking its cues from American history.” [Wade Davis, The Unraveling Of America, RollingStone Magazine, 8.6.2020]

So, if you are one of the legion asking this question, “How can this be happening?” I suggest you ponder this: how could it not be happening. It’s by design.

If you are one of the many wondering what can be done, begin by paying attention to how YOU are participating in the design. And then, perhaps, all us can begin the difficult search to find a path to WE.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the SEAWALL

 

 

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Spend Time Together [on KS Friday]

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In the fall of 2013, still new in our relationship yet already tired of making it work at a distance, Kerri and I flew to Seattle, packed my studio, my paintings, and my few worldly possessions into a Budget truck. We headed east over Snoqualmie Pass en route to Wisconsin. The trip took us five days. Five days of adventure. Five days of gorgeous scenery. Five days of uninterrupted time together. It served as the portal into our new life.

This piece, TIME TOGETHER, could be the soundtrack for our five day journey. It is hopeful, bright, and present in the way that people become when on a road trip, surrounded by a startling world, en route to the unknown new. On this KS Friday, sit back in your seat, close your eyes, and let Kerri’s TIME TOGETHER take you on the road. Marvel at the simple pleasure of companionship, of precious time shared with the person you love.

 

 

TIME TOGETHER on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about TIME TOGETHER

 

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time together/this part of the journey ©️ 2000 kerri sherwood