Start Thinking [on DR Thursday]

“As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists, who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny, ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”‘ ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Any day now I’m going to watch the 1976 movie, Network. It’s the film equivalent of a crystal ball to our current predicament. A veteran news anchorman loses it on air, threatens to kill himself, but instead goes on a full-blown rant. The network’s ratings skyrocket. An ambitious producer recognizes and exploits the opportunity by creating more and more outrageous programming. Fact falls prey to profitable fiction sold as truth. Ratings imperatives eclipse the north star of accuracy-in-reporting. Roger Ailes created his Fox News Network on the same premise; no veracity necessary. People like a good train wreck, just ask Jerry Springer. It is why the nation is so divided. The blues use news to sort out the lies; the reds use lies to siphon off the truth.

“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley‘s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” ~Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death before Facebook and Twitter were glimmers in their inventors’ eyes, before the internet hit the personal computer, before multiple channels on cable networks. We have, as Postman wrote, an infinite appetite for distraction with nary a need for honesty. And, as we are witnessing, distraction has arrived in the halls of Congress. We’ve now a party in government that actively shuns verity and raises funds on peddling fallacy.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.” Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death.

We are a nation that finds itself at risk. In my post yesterday I wrote that I no longer wonder how a society can willingly and knowingly take itself down. We have front row seats. And yet, the road to our recovery is as simple (and as difficult) as a collective valuing of the truth over ratings or poll numbers or bubbles. We worship at the wrong altar. We are inundated with info-dross. We would be better off if ratings plummeted every time a pundit ranted, a politician bullied, or a commentator lied. We’d be better off if thinking, if fact-checking, was a prerequisite to posting or tweeting or speaking. We’d find ourselves in a shared center, a place of possibility built on a generous commitment to probity.

“For in the end, he [Huxley] was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in ‘Brave New World’ was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

read Kerri’s much more positive post on LEARNING FROM TV

Balance The Opposites [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Skip told me that the only problem Kerri and I would face is that we are both CEO personalities but come at it from entirely different directions. Truer words were never spoken! For instance, when we walk, my eyes are generally in the sky pondering the greater meaning of the universe while Kerri’s eyes are on the ground looking for a cool photo op. I see big pictures and she is a master of detail. I am easily lost in thought and she is snagged in nuance. Most of our wranglings are hysterical arguments for the same thing but from diametrically opposed points of view; we are quite capable of making agreement sound like dissent. Word magic.

Our walks, with my eyes in the sky and hers on the ground, have become a metaphor for why we are so good for each other. She pulls my eyes to the ground. I pull her eyes into the sky. I’ve recently been awed by a nurse log covered in ice crystals, the lines running through a tiny rock, the composition of a fallen pine branch in undisturbed snow. She helps me see in life what I easily miss. It’s a paradox – from my view at 30,000 feet – pulling my eyes to the ground is expansive. I see more. I appreciate more. I stop and look. It is my favorite paradox that, in our house, I’m considered the visual artist but she is teaching me to see.

Balance. It comes from opposition. Like a yoga pose, energy sent in opposite directions creates stable grounding. It creates space, creative tension. Center.

When Terry was teaching me to scuba dive he often instructed me to “get neutral.” He was Buddhist and his teaching was as much spiritual as it was practical. “Getting neutral” meant not to struggle. Maintain or change depth with breathing. Inhale or exhale. “Getting neutral” meant not to swim through the dive like a tourist but to be in it. Be in the enormous power of the ocean. Balance the opposites. Begin with your breathing.

On the trail, Kerri often stops, kneels close to the ground, focusing her camera. “I love this,” she whispers. “This is beautiful.” She carefully frames her shot. “Do you want to see?” she asks, standing after taking a few shots.

“Yes.” I say. “Yes, I do.”

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDISTURBED

Welcome The New Day [on KS Friday]

Strip the religiosity out of the word ‘Alleluia’ and you’re left with its essence: a sunrise. Pure and simple.

Last year – a decade ago – Kerri needed a song for her cantata. She noodled for a few minutes. There was a phrase. A line of music. The next day she said, “What about this?” She played and sang. Magic. I took out my phone and recorded it. “Someday,” I tell her, “someday we’ll record it in a studio.”

She sings of our broken lives, our shattered hearts. Strip the religiosity from it and her song is about tension seeking resolution. Natural order. Basic physics. Broken lives and shattered hearts seek wholeness. Sunrise. A new day. Pure and simple.

Joy does not have to complicated. No symphonic soundtrack necessary. No fireworks required. Yesterday, after spending a few moments with her son in Chicago, we drove the back roads home. It was dark. Gently snowing. She was heart-warm after having received the single item on her wish list. A few moments. No more. No less. Joy, like the first quiet rays breaking over the horizon, announcing a new day.

Years ago, decades ago, standing in the self-made-wreckage of my life, I sent a change of address card to friends so they’d know where I was. An arrow pointing to the earth. “I’m here,” it read.

We’re here. A new day. Pure and simple. Alleluia.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU’RE HERE

you’re here ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

rest now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Split The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

One of the great pleasures of having a bevy of cartoons-that-went-nowhere is to pull them out and see them anew through the lens of changing times. Space Invader – which begged for the addition of a mask – has taken on a whole new meaning in these days of COVID-19.

It’s funny and it’s not. Each week we hear stories of the collision of mask wearers and pandemic-deniers. Each week we are witness to the aggressive posturing of the mask-free.

This little piece of fabric has become a split symbol: for those of us who believe in science, a mask saves or could save lives. To wear it is to care for the well-being of others. For those who deny the science and gorge on the rhetoric, wearing a mask has come to represent an affront to their personal freedom. To ignore it is to care only for themselves. Space invading is now a bellicose statement.

These once-united-states has 4% of the world’s population and boasts over 20% of the world’s deaths. This is not an accident. It is utterly predictable. When the simple science of mask wearing and social distancing is whipped into a fruit-smoothie-of-controversy, a dividing line for division, more people will die. More people are dying.

The split-symbol goes further. It has come to represent America-the-Ridiculous. My pals in other nations shake their heads in disbelief at our mask-wrangling. They express sadness for our plight but a river of incredulity runs beneath their concern. Were Americans this superficial all along?

My imaginary future professor, preparing his notes for the seminar, “2016-2020 – What Were They Thinking,” will no doubt utilize the mask as symbol for our collapse. The symbol of the divide. The marker of how shallow, glib, and selfish we came to hold our notion of freedom.

The original. From the time when space invasion couldn’t kill you.

read Kerri’s blog post about SPACE INVADER

space invader/flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson, kerri sherwood, john kruse

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

Take It In [on KS Friday]

The morning air was cool and crisp. When I let Dogga out I stood by the back door and breathed in the hint of fall.

I laughed as I lingered by the back door because I had the revelation. It’s the revelation I have every year, the revelation that signals not only the change in season but a truth I wish I could hold onto throughout the year. It’s simple: life is a circle, not a line.

It’s useful, when so much of our unease is about “getting there,” about being some place other than where we are, to realize that it is not a line we walk, but a loop. Hurrying to “get there” when looping is nonsensical. Life as a cycle is much more amenable to presence-in-the-moment. It cracks the hard bark of desire and allows space for insight, gratitude, and appreciation.

Yesterday I read that this year, 2020, has been a decade long. I reminded myself, standing at the back door awash in my yearly revelation, not to wish a moment of my life away. To stand in it – all of it. This is certainly a time of disruption and the fatigue that comes with loss of balance and the comforts of the known. This IS the experience. This is life. This is what change feels like. Pattern disruption is meant to be a slap into awareness.

And, as it turns out, for me, that hint of fall in the air comes as a gentle seasonal slap. Slow down. Do not rush to get through it. This is precious life – all of it – no matter the circumstance. As Chris wrote months ago, “So, this is what it feels like to be in a pandemic.” Yes. This is what if feels like. We are in it.

It is the call of Kerri’s Millneck Fall. Stand still. Take it in.

Dogga races with great zest around the yard, protecting us from marauding squirrels. The frogs in the pond sound out, morning roll call. The smell of coffee pulls me to the kitchen. There will be plenty of time as we cycle around to make meaning of these days.

Millneck Fall on the album Blueprint For My Soul is available in iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about MILLNECK FALLS

millneck fall/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Divine It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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[warning: Kerri just said this post is ‘heavy’ so enter at your own risk]

And, who hasn’t pulled the petals off a daisy in an attempt to divine the love of another? Loves me, loves me not, loves me… Perhaps a silly childhood practice but, truth be told, I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t secretly, unconsciously, or otherwise, put their right shoe on first for good luck, throw the I Ching, look to the stars, whisper a prayer for guidance, follow their intuition, avoid stepping on the crack, read the Tarot, plumb the sacred numbers, sit in the forest and listen for the ancestor to whisper.

I read an article yesterday that frightened me. Sometimes the statement of the obvious is more frightening than the monster peering from within the closet. The use of the behavioral sciences “to determine the news we read, the products we buy, the cultural and intellectual spheres we inhabit, and the human networks, online and in real life, of which we are a part.” Invisible Manipulators Of Your Mind. Techniques that appeal to “… our non-rational motivations, our emotional triggers, and unconscious biases.”

Techniques. A cold word. Manipulation. Perhaps manipulation is the central action and natural endpoint of capitalism. The reduction of the meaning-of-life to something that can be bought and sold. The church we construct and inhabit is built upon a hard sale and requires a made-up-reality to realize its fulfillment. The ritual of the market, the ringing of the bell, calls the worshipers to trade. We watch the numbers in an attempt to divine a fast moving future.

There is a tug-of-war happening now as the information age eats itself. “The pressures to exploit irrationalities rather than eliminate them are great and the chaos caused by the competition to exploit them is perhaps already too intractable for us to rein them in.”

Can you feel the chaos? Are your relationships fracturing along lines defined by red and  blue? What forces are determining your belief about the pandemic? The science is simple enough for a child to understand; the seeds of doubt, the ubiquitous exploitation of emotional triggers and unconscious bias makes us a behavioral sciences petri dish. It seems our division is not accidental, our tribes are rigged, our information is bubble-wrapped and packaged. Our division is also, we are told, increasingly irreparable.

Exploit irrationalities? Scary! Eliminate them? Scary, too! Why must we either exploit or eliminate our irrationalities? Think about it. The war on our irrationality might be a sign of our real root rot, our actual dis-ease.

The pursuit of pure reason. Cut yourself in half and toss the dream-side in the bin? Creatures who fight multiple world wars, build economies on weapons sales, send their kids to school during a raging pandemic, soil their nests with plastic, cut down their rain forests (lungs of the earth) for more grazing land, exploit each other…are not following the signs on the path to pure reason. Exploitation of others is not a characteristic of reason, pure or otherwise.

Creatures that make art and prize beauty are not purely reasonable.

Rationality is not the goal. It’s a sick tease to promise the elimination of fear and mystery. It’s hubris to desire to transcend nature, to promise dominance over creation. No one really wants to be Mr. Spock. Staring into the Milky Way with wonderment, standing with your back to a warm brick wall while facing the sun on a cold winter day is gloriously human. Sensual. Not rational. Mystical and mysterious. The dark side of the moon is as necessary as the light.

Sensuality is as necessary as rationality. Why strive to build a gate with a single post?Why close the gate on the middle way? Maybe the word we need to strive to achieve is “sense.” Common sense. Shared sense. It may lead to common good, shared responsibility and other wild ideals built on bedrocks of trust rather than sandy deceit.

There’s nothing rational about generosity or kindness. They are, however, specifically human and vitally irrational, made even more plentiful when not exploited for small change.

Loves me. Loves me not.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVES ME

Kerri remains in the FACEBOOK penalty box for unspecified crimes against e-humanity. If you enjoy reading her musings, please consider subscribing to her blog. It will keep you (and her) out of the daily trawl of horrors.

 

 

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icarus ©️ 2004 david robinson

Ask The Essential Question [on KS Friday]

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Quinn told me that there are really only three questions: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do? All other questions can be boiled down to one of these essences. All stories can be reduced to one of these questions. And, the real kicker? There is never a single answer to these three essential questions. Life is always moving so, the moment you think you have an answer-by-the-tail, you’ve moved to a different place. You’ve changed. You will change again. And again. The story evolves. The long body of a life is rich in transition. Life is transition.

Change the pronoun. Who are we? Where are we going? What is ours to do? These are the questions beating at the heart of the American experiment. Our rhetoric is out of alignment with our reality. It turns out that our hero tale has a matching anti-hero story. We know it but do not deal with it. The shining city on the hill was built on the backs of slaves and sustains itself on a rolling subjugation of the latest arrivals. We revel in inequality while proudly pronouncing that all are created equal.

As master Shakespeare reminds us, “…but at length truth will out.” Our truth is out. We are a festival of inequity. There is a yawning maw between the haves and the have-nots. It is by design and not by accident. It is not our problem as much as it is our pattern. And so, we  ask one of the essential questions: Who are we? And, in asking it, we must first look at how we define the pronoun ‘we.’ WE. The people. Who are WE? White male land owners? The one percent? Or, many diverse and rich origin stories come together in a promise of one nation, a nation of equal opportunity for all devoid of exploitation? It is the ideal. Is it the intention? Who do we want to be?

WE, as I understand it, is all inclusive. Multi-cultural as one. Both/And.

I take heart. Every caterpillar has a melt down phase en route to becoming a butterfly. The mush phase is necessary to fulfilling the mature promise, the expression of the ideal. In transition.

 

IN TRANSITION is on Kerri’s album RELEASED FROM THE HEART

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IN TRANSITION

 

 

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in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

waiting and knowing ©️ 2015 david robinson

Face Them [on KS Friday]

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The dream was vivid. I was being chased by a pack of very large demons. Terrified, I was becoming exhausted when I saw a door into a warehouse. I quickly jumped through the door, looking for a place to hide. To my chagrin, the warehouse was empty. Swept clean. No walls. A vast, open and exposed floor. The demons came through the door behind me. There was no other door. No way out. My only option was to turn and face them. So, I did.

They rushed me. But, to my surprise, as I stood my ground, facing them, as they raced snarling toward me, they began to shrink. The closer they came, the smaller they got. By the time they reached me they were no larger than ants. They had no power over me at all.

All along, all I needed to do was stop running from them. All I ever needed to do was to turn and face them. To see what they were, not what I feared they were.

This dream – so many years ago – helped me understand hope – a word that is both a verb and a noun, a thing and an action. A wish and a want. Hope, like happiness, ensues. It is not found up front, it follows. It is meaning that becomes available when a choice is made.

This nation, running so long from its demons, is once again, standing in a vast empty warehouse. There is no place to hide. When we recognize that all we can do is turn and face our demons, our racially divided path, the inequity-demons plaguing us may grow smaller. They may lose their power over us entirely.

The choice to stop running and turn. The choice to face the demons. In that moment, hope will arise.

 

HOPE on the album THIS SEASON is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

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hope/this season ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

pray now ©️ 2010 david robinson

Sow A Better Seed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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The last Monday in May, what was once called Decoration Day has, over time, become known as Memorial Day in these United States. On the first Decoration Day, several thousand people descended on Arlington National Cemetery and together decorated the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. Honoring the dead.

BENEATH THIS STONE REPOSE THE BONES OF TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN UNKNOWN SOLDIERS GATHERED AFTER THE WAR FROM THE FIELDS OF BULL RUN,… [Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns].

The bones of combatants together in repose. Dust to dust. It turns out they were made of the same stuff after all. I have, since I was a small human, wondered why we only get around to honoring the front line after they are gone. It seems a little late to make statements of mattering after we dig a big hole and fill it with bodies. Why not honor each other before we step on opposite sides of a whipped up divide?  Why not hold hands together prior to repose?

I know, I know. Silly idealism! There’d be no drama if we honored each other up front. Peace and collaboration do not make for scintillating news. Cooperation and common cause is bad for weapons sales. When all the deeper meanings of existence have been masked (consumerism is a lousy soul-filler), then the superficial fillers take over. Hatred of other, conspiracy theory and fear-mongering are great unifying forces when buying stuff no longer fills the metaphysical black hole.

Kerri has said it. So has 20. I’ve heard it from Jim, from the checker in the store, from people walking on the trail, the nurse interviewed for the news: “I’m tired.” General fatigue is understandable in the midst of the emotional pandemic roller coaster but I’m sensing a deeper root to the ubiquitous weariness: fields sowed with division and lies and  distraction and misinformation and malfeasance.

Throughout time, those idealist/realists that we most admire and strive to emulate, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandi, Mother Teresa, Rumi…[it’s an extensive list] including those that we profess to worship, would each and every one ask us why, with all we espouse and purport to believe, do we sow our fields with combatants who find togetherness only in repose?

Today we honor those who died in the many, many, many battles that fill our divisive history. Perhaps tomorrow we will find a way to turn to each other and sow the seeds of courtesy and generosity, and find a way to honor each other before we join together as dust.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TIRED.

 

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held in grace: rest now