Compose Your Differences [on Flawed Wednesday]

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A quick glance at recorded human history and it’s not a stretch to suggest that we’ve done everything BUT give peace a chance. Peace, I imagine, is buried beneath the stacks of untouched gun control legislation towering on Mitch McConnell’s desk.

The centerfold of the June, 2020 National Geographic Magazine is a color-coded chart of the roots of violence across time with corresponding estimates of lives lost. Religious conflicts, wars of conquest, colonial exploitation and revolt, despots, dynastic disputes, wars of dominance, and internal clashes make up some of the variations of the theme. The two most relevant to our current struggle are internal clash and collapse of state.

In an us-and-them world, resources are worth fighting for. There’s not enough pie to go around apparently so taking other people’s pie is reason enough to kill. Defending pie is also reason to kill. It follows.

In 2011 Steven Pinker published a book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. He argues that violence has declined over time and provides a mountain of data and theories to support his contention. He suggests that we are not inherently violent. I find that hopeful.

Of course, the decline in violence can only be seen by stepping far enough away. These days it feels like the necessary step is into outer space. Up close and personal, and according to the narrative-of-the-day, we’re a bloody fighting mess. It’s the story we tell. Startlingly, we are living proof that data, fact, and science can’t hold a candle to conspiracy theory and narcissistic fantasy. Gullibility, thy name is human.

Here’s my two cents: war is profitable and peace is not. Make peace profitable and we’d give it more than a passing chance, we’d insist upon it. That sounds jaded but keep in mind that our lexicon includes the phrase “military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower warned us against this unholy alliance, the marriage of defense contractors and the armed forces. It would become, he foretold, a threat to our democracy. “We must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”

Decent purpose.

The second of my two cents goes like this: we’ve built our castle on a bedrock economy of war. It’s a complex system and systems do not go gentle into that good night, they fight to the death to sustain themselves. Peace will have a chance when we decide to embrace a decent purpose and, ironically, that will probably require a fight.

In the meantime, we’ll see multiple conflicts fueled around the globe, military budgets that dwarf every other line item to fund the fighting. Locally, our leaders will douse us in endless thoughts and prayers as the next elementary school is shot up, we’ll see small differences of opinion settled by guns and not intellect, conversation, or simply agreeing to disagree [on a very sad and revealing note: the people at our local grocery store are timid to reinforce their mask policy for fear of being killed. And so, we see up close and personal the threat to our democracy that Eisenhower cried out to no one listening].

As for me, I do not wish to be covered by anyone with an assault rifle. I do not wish to have one pointed at me either. I do not think citizens in a civilized society need military grade weapons unless they are confined to the shooting range. I think a civilized society should operate on the principles it espouses, principles of civility and, yes, intellect and the most decent of purposes: peace.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE

 

 

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instrument of peace ©️ 2015 david robinson

 

 

Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

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I’m a broken record: words matter. They are rarely accidental. For instance, the division between “black” and “white” was created. Our racial legacy is not happenstance. It is by design.

Power does not like to be challenged or threatened and strategies of division are great mechanisms of control. Taking pride-in-ignorance is another – it is a terrific support strategy if discord is the goal. An ignorant people are easily misled.

We enact and reenact Bacon’s rebellion again and again. It is a vicious cycle, a whirlpool that is hard to escape without a clear view of the full story. History, like language, is never passive, it comes with a dedicated point of view – and so we are witness once again to the great narrative tug-of-war.  We could drop the rope if we decided to look at our history, ask a few questions, and perhaps see the narrative slop that the fox and friends are force feeding to white fear as just the latest iteration of an old, old scare tactic.

Misinformation is nothing new. Propaganda is as old as human history. It is the downfall of a critter unique in its need for an identifying narrative to believe almost anything if it provides a sense of belonging. People who refuse to take a step back and ask, “Is this true?” will buy almost any line. Fear is a narrative with an agenda so what-on-earth prevents otherwise thinking people from considering that the daily dose of fear they are being fed might be cooked up intentionally? Trading brains for belonging never works out well in the end.

Black and white. Red and blue. We have a pattern, not a problem.

A people united are an unstoppable force and the worst nightmare of identity politicians.  People unite when their ideals – things like freedom and truth and justice and equality – transcend their small identity bubbles.  Ideals are unattainable – that is what gives them their special uniting capacity. We strive. It’s an active verb with an inclusive pronoun.

Hate and fear – all things divisive – are easily attained. That’s what makes them so useful to despots and control-mongers. Keep the thinking small and encapsulated within the tiny bubble. It will keep the people warring among themselves with no questions asked.

How do we move beyond this pattern and rise above the incessant division that plagues us? Well, we must first desire to see the pattern. We must choose to see. Then, we might be capable of revisiting the words we placed as central to our national ideal and choose to live them. Our words matter. That might require a few challenging questions.

It will definitely require a good deal of soul searching and that’s not such a bad thing. Nations, like people, grow and become better when they grow weary of their dysfunction and go looking for their soul.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Explicitly Divisive

 

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surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Gag On It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“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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Decide To Create A Better Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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To anyone who entertains the mistaken notion that they are not creative, look no further than your thoughts. Thought is a creative act. It leads to the chicken-and-egg conundrum of creating. Do you create your thoughts or do your thoughts create you? Either way, what happens between the ears ripples with creativity.

We live within our thoughts and our thoughts live within us. We feed our thoughts with our fantasies and fears. Universes open or close. For instance, focus on contention and you will see contention everywhere.  That is, you will create contention.

It is, and has been the dirty little secret of governing people since before Machiavelli: keep the masses focused on division and they will be easily manipulated. Create difference whether it exists or not. That way the good people will fight with each other and not focus on the actions of their leaders. It’s a magic trick. A sleight of hand. It is a strategy, not a conspiracy.

A people united as one is a very potent force. A united populace is dangerous to a corrupt and fearful leadership.

Before you roll your eyes with my esoterica, put your highly creative thought on this: is it true that our nation is deeply divided? Yes.  Do we create division ourselves without question, eating heartily the divisive narrative we are being fed? Yes. We are daily meditating on division and daily claiming it as truth. We create division together.

Narratives are powerful and just as capable of obscuring as they are of revealing. Obscurity is a creative act. So is deception. Propaganda. Denial. Conspiracy theory. Lie.

It is the definition of ignorance to embrace a narrative without questioning it. Which brings us back around to the chicken-and-egg conundrum: do you close your mind or does your mind close you? Yes. Hate has no home in a questioning mind.

Are we capable of questioning? Of telling a common story? It depends on what we decide together to create. Yes.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on NO HOME FOR HATE

 

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Stand It Up Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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On the high shelf above our sink are 3 tin letters that spell the word ‘Joy.” They’ve lived up there for a long time and have, until recently, been faithful spellers of joy. Lately, the tin “J” has lost all sense of balance. Either that or it has developed narcolepsy. Either that or it has a drinking problem. Either that or it’s developed a dreadful case of self awareness and, like a shy two year old, is hiding behind the “O.” In any case, our “Joy” now routinely defaults to “Oy.”

We’re sailing through some choppy waters so it’s tempting to assign too much meaning to our “Oy.” After finding the “J” once again laying down on the job I said, “Maybe that’s the universe talking to us.” Kerri punched me in the arm. She said over her shoulder as she left the room, “You better knock on wood.” Apparently the universe listens but does not speak. To be safe I did as she suggested and knocked on the cupboard.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. ~ The Beatles

Live by the sword, die by the sword ~ Aeschylus

Isn’t there is some truth to the notion that what you put out into the world is related to what you get back from it? Of course, then there is this little pinch of conundrum: bad things happen to good people. Also, true. In story terms, it’s called competing narratives. Many people have spent their lives attempting to reconcile or explain this beautiful opposition.

Kerri came back into the kitchen, grabbed a chair , jumped up and returned the “J” to its sober position. “Joy” once again reigned in our kitchen. Perhaps there is no connection at all between what you put out and what comes back to you. I am certain it is one of those great unknowable questions that make believers believe, professors write, preachers pronounce, and seekers seek.  I am also certain that, in the moment, the only thing that really matters is our capacity to see the “J” amidst the “Oy” and stand it back up again.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about OY!

 

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Reach With Wonder [on DR Thursday]

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“One of the reasons that we wonder is because we are limited, and that limitation is one of the great gateways to wonder.” ~John O’Donohue

I loved this canvas before I painted Cloud Watchers on it. It was old and used. Chunky with layers. I can’t remember how it came to me but I do remember thinking that it was the Velveteen Rabbit of canvas. Loved. Well worn. A long history – that is to say – filled with lots and lots of story. Perfect.

And, how appropriate that it is living a next chapter as Cloud Watchers, part of a series that  I call ‘narrative.’ All narratives – inner and outer – are projections. Life’s stories are image transfers, meaning imposed just like the meaning we place upon the movement of clouds. There’s a duck! Look! There’s a dragon, a dinosaur, an elephant. A fear. A goal. An opinion. Mr Magoo! Belief! There’s Thomas Jefferson! The Buddha.

We reach with wonder from our isolation. We touch through imagination. We are cloud watchers full of story, filling the air with our stories. We are glorious creators all!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOUD WATCHERS

 

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cloud watchers/morsel ©️ 2002 – 6/2018 david robinson

Get It Done [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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When Master Miller tossed this phrase my way I laughed out loud. Isn’t it often the case that the closer we come to an important moment the more we pour  our excess nervous energy into any and every distraction? And, isn’t it a bonus if our distraction of choice is actually productive? I’ve washed a lot of dishes in an effort to keep myself occupied! A younger version of me ran miles and miles in fits of productive avoidance.

In the years since Quinn helped me see that no one really knows what they are doing I’ve decided that almost everything is in productive and/or creative avoidance. No one wants to peer into the great not-knowing. Like everyone else, I want to believe that what I do matters, that I am imbued with purpose. I want to believe that I have chosen my destiny and am storming down my path. And, what might I see if I could step out of my all important story? What might I find beyond my grand narrative? It’s scary stuff! Productive avoidance makes for some great distraction!

Kerri and I have an ongoing conversation about things that matter. At the end of the day, there’s only a very few things on the list. The rest? Well…at least we are getting things done!

 

read Kerri’s blog post on PRODUCTIVE AVOIDANCE

 

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Contemplate [on DR Thursday]

 

I do more than my fair share of contemplating (just ask Kerri. My incessant contemplation drives her bonkers). For instance, years ago, it occurred to me that every thought we human-storytellers have IS a kind of meditation. It’s a fair question – a necessary question – to ask: what are you meditating on? Your pain? Your troubles? Who you blame? Your grudges? Your obstacles? Your joys? Your opportunities? Your privileges? Your love? Your losses? Your list? All of the above?  Keep in mind (where else would you keep it) that most of your thoughts are repetitive. The majority of what you think today is a repeat of what you thought yesterday. Your thoughts are not passive. They are also not truth. They are patterned, mostly made up, and a powerful lens through which you define your experiences. The good news is that you can change your meditation if you want to.

Listening to the news it will make you gag when you stop and realize what actually populates our national meditation and how our angry narrative permeates your personal mediation. We are not as separate as we like to pretend. That’s good news. That, and, we can change our meditation. We can tell a better story.

 

This morsel comes from a painting that recently returned to the stable. It is, quite literally, a blast from the past. What I find most amazing about this particular return-to-the-fold is that, just a few months ago, I uncovered the old drawing that inspired Contemplation and sourced it again for another painting, Softly She Prays. And then, in a fit of good timing, Contemplation arrived at our door.

Paintings are like journal entries. It is not often that happenstance provides such a rich opportunity for comparison. Comparison of contemplation. What was my meditation 15 years ago? What is it now? Horatio told me my body of work is a study of stillness in motion (not a direct quote H, but I love the reflection non-the-less). The deep river story remains. The top layer meditation has shifted.

Ah. Do you see? Incessant contemplation.

 

 

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Contemplation, circa 2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Softly She Prays, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post on CONTEMPLATION

 

 

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contemplation/softly she prays ©️ 2004/2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

 

 

 

Sandcastle With Me [on DR Thursday]

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My favorite ongoing series of paintings is called The Narrative Series. I’ve been adding to the series since 1989. It is my least popular series if sales are the determining factor of popularity. Mostly people respond with, “I don’t get it.” When I painted my first, I loved it and thought to myself, “I don’t get it.” So, I’ll spend my life trying to get it, all the while, knowing that it is impossible to get. However, when I birth another in the line, I know it is the closest I come to the center (whatever that means). These paintings are stories in broken time or, in the cubist frame of reference, they are stories in multiple time.

A few years ago I attended a lecture series featuring Brian Greene and Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicists. They have two different theories of multiple universes and it was mind blowing to try and grasp both theories (who am I kidding, trying to grasp one was mind blowing). Brian’s was all about strings and Stephen’s was all about bubbles. The math works for both and I left the lecture with eyes crossed and reaching for sense. And I was thrilled. That day they were narrative painters, too.

Sandcastles and Me is a morsel of a recent addition to the narrative series, titled Spoons & Sandcastles (though you’ll find it in the Beach series folder on my site). If after looking at the morsel and the full painting you find yourself thinking, “I don’t get it.” Take heart. You are in good company.

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SANDCASTLE WITH ME

 

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www.kerrianddavid.com

 

sandcastle with me/spoons & sandcastles ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Be An Idealist

851. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

We rolled down the windows even though it was still hot. The sun was almost down and we just began the climb out of the central valley. Skip said, “Do you think it’s cool enough to turn off the air-conditioner?” Neither one of us liked air-conditioning and only used it when absolutely necessary.

“Of course!” I chirped. We rolled down the windows and the hot air blasted us. I put my hands out of the car window and said, “See! Nice and cool!” Skip smirked and called me an idealist. Truer words were never spoken. I am an idealist.

I’m told (often) that the best thing about me is that I tell a good story. I will put a good spin on every experience. I’m also told that the worst thing about me is that I tell a good story. Is it denial or optimism? Am I detaching, dealing, not dealing or dancing? Am I telling myself a lie or loving to live? Maybe it is all of the above.

Like everyone I know I’ve walked a broken road. No ones’ path is pretty. Earlier in my life I invested in the tragedy and wrestled with every angel. I made up lots of demons to fight. My gifts scared me so I pretended they were not there and served the gifts of others. I dialed down my life-force. I lived in resistance. I took on everyone’s pain and made others problems and priorities my own. I created limits and then moaned about my confinement. I did all of those things, made messes and looked to the heavens and asked for a break.

The heavens looked back at me and said, “It’s not happening to you. You are creating it. If you want a break then make a break, break something, or take a break. Either way, stop pretending that it is someone elses job to make it pretty for you.”

What I broke (am breaking) was my idea of myself. Carol recently told me that she was breaking up with her relationship with the world. She wanted a new relationship. She was tired of waiting for the world to change her story so she decided to change her story of the world. I was tired of telling a broken story. I was tired of telling a story of being broken. I was tired of making my focus other peoples’ stuff. So, I broke up with my story. Call me an idealist or tell me that I’m in denial but this life is mine to interpret and I much prefer joy stories to frustration. As someone once said to me, “I’m the only one who feels my anger so getting angry all the time is only hurting me.” That rule works in reverse, too.

An hour after the sun set we were off the valley floor and the air finally cooled. I looked at Skip and said, “See! I told you it was cool!” He laughed and wrinkled his brow. I said, “This is the strategy of an idealist. Claim that it is cool and then wait long enough for reality to match the ideal.” It always does.