Say, “If Only.” [on KS Friday]

“God is silent. Now if only man would shut up.” ~ Woody Allen

If only.

We knew this was going to be a chaotic week. A run off election in Georgia that would decide the control of the senate. The counting of the electoral college vote as a president openly mounted a coup against his own government. The District Attorney in our town revealing his decision not to prosecute a police officer that shot a black man 7 times in the back [we knew the decision prior to the announcement. Our little courthouse was better protected than the nation’s capitol]. And, let us not forget the out-of-control pandemic cracking our already-fragmented system of healthcare. Record numbers. Record deaths. Record denials of reality.

The election in Georgia is decided. The rats are jumping off the national ship after the violent coup they incited blew back on them. The local D.A. offered a litany of sad justifications that boiled down to the usual sleight-of-hand: the man was black so he was, therefore, dangerous. No charges. Case closed.

The spin whirling through social media would be hysterically funny were it not so readily embraced by so many. The info-bubbles remain intact. The blame game is run amok. Personal responsibility for words spoken – and unspoken – is too much to ask. Systems usual.

It’s too soon to tell whether or not we really survived this week. It is too soon to know whether we learned anything from our national shame, our jousting realities. We do know this: we are yet incapable or unwilling to address the problems that plague us.

Unlike any other time in the history of humanity, we have so many avenues in which to blather, so many media into which we can scream. We delight in our echo chambers – who doesn’t want to hear, over and over again, their beliefs parroted back at them? The sound is deafening. So many words wielded with nothing really to say. It seems the only tool in the box is to shout down the other side. Competing filibusters. We hold ourselves hostage.

Words matter until they don’t. Words, words, words.

If only.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORDS & SILENCE

Learn The Trick [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s a problem when your dog is smarter than you. If I lapse into thinking that I am the master of my ship or that my opposable thumbs give me an advantage over paws, I find that I am somehow using my opposable thumbs to do the dog’s bidding. “Wait a minute,” I question, “didn’t I just give you a cookie?” The rapid tail wag overrides my doubting frontal lobe and the cookie finds the open muzzle.

We can teach DogDog almost anything and in fairly short order. We can rest a tasty treat on his paw and he won’t touch it until we give him the signal. Last week, Kerri taught him to balance a paper plate on his head. She’s taught him to sneeze for a treat. We used to spell the word E-R-R-A-N-D because he goes berserk if we say it – he likes to go on errands – he REALLY likes to go on errands – but since he’s learned to spell, we are forced to use an advanced eyebrow code, a series of knit-and-raised brows, like dots and dashes. I could warn the allied army of enemy secrets with my eyebrows. It’s insane though Kerri and I can now openly gossip at a party and no one would know we’re talking about them – though they might be curious about the sudden rise and fall of our strange facial twitches.

All of this is to note that Kerri taught DogDog to wear a mask. And, even though his dogga-ears are not made for masking, it took her less than a minute. With her eyebrow-Morse-code she sent me a secret message: “Damn!” she arched and bobbed her brow, “It’s been 9 months and human-beings-in-a-pandemic haven’t been able to learn this trick. Dogga got it in seconds!”

“Dogga is a smart boy,” I reply with twitches.

“Maybe if we gave people treats?” Kerri mused. Dogga wagged his tail.

My eyebrows fell silent.

“You’re right.” she eyebrow-coded. “Even tasty treats wouldn’t change the selfishness of people.” She ruffled his head, saying, “Dogga is a very smart boy.”

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGGA MASKS

Follow The Lights [on KS Friday]

Before moving to Wisconsin I had no holiday tradition. Being “not religious,” my celebrations were more spontaneous and improvisational than rooted in any specific custom or expectation. Dinners with friends. One year I baked bread with strangers. One year I took a boat to an island because there was a hot springs by the beach. One year, because I was alone and life was crumbling all around me, I scheduled for myself 30 coaching calls; that was the most memorable and profound holiday season of my life. I helped people. I met Kerri.

Since moving to Wisconsin my holiday tradition has been to help Kerri create choir performances for services. When I suggest that I helped, I mean I carried stuff, set up chairs, pushed pianos, moved bells into the choir loft, set up microphones, hauled big bowls of sand for candles. I am part Sherpa. It has been the busiest and zaniest time of the year. After playing the late night Christmas Eve service – the last of many running through the week, we come home, and with our neighbors, light luminaria up and down the street, pull two fire pits onto the driveway and stoke them for warmth. We open bottles of wine and place on a table bowls of snacks. People come and, huddled around the fire, we talk and laugh until the cold wee-hours of the morning.

This year, with the loss of jobs and collapse of community, with the pandemic spiking, our traditions are erased. For me, this feels like familiar territory. For Kerri, it is a profound loss and is disorienting. She had a full-on-old-fashioned-melt-down a few nights ago after cutting her finger on a broken wine glass. “It’s too much…” she sobbed. I couldn’t help but feel as she wept that I/We have walked a full-circle. Eight years later, life is again crumbling all around me/us. This could be the most memorable and profound holiday season of our lives. I didn’t offer my thoughts. I have learned in moments of crisis that silence is often more helpful than platitudes of encouragement. I am slow but sometimes I get there.

Leo had a Christmas tradition that I admired. He gave everyone in his circle an orange and a few walnuts. He grew up very poor and, as a child, those were the gifts he received. It was the most and best gifts that his parents could give. Throughout his long and successful life, he gave them to remind himself – and those he loved – that the holiday was not about the stuff. It was about the people who stand in the circle with you, the people who stand in the fire with you. The people who you love, who give all that they have: their hearts. An orange. A few walnuts. Big, big love.

This year, those people will stand virtually with us and we with them. The hot fire of this year has burned away the superficial. The recognizable patterns have all but disappeared. Yet, the essentials remain. The essential few remain. Deeply rooted. Deeply felt.

The cycle of life, the cycle of The Lights in Kerri’s song, reminds us of all that really matters. New life, linking back. Ancient hearts beating in our breasts. Full of light. Full of big, big love.

Kerri’s albums – including the lights – are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LIGHTS

the lights ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Savor The Simple [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

If there is a single reoccurring lesson rippling through these days of pandemic, it is this: appreciate the small things. Savor the simple pleasures.

With our plate heaped with job losses, backs stabbed, broken-and-not-healing- wrists, parent-worries and COVID restrictions, there is ample fodder over which to fret. We do our share of midnight staring at the ceiling. These are the circumstances, the storm that whirls around us.

In the center of our storm we attend to the moment. We step on the back porch and breathe the cold air. We check the pond for sightings of Epic and Tiny, our frogs-in-residence. We watch the crows chase the hawk from the neighborhood. We laugh at the lengths DogDog will go to get a treat. With care, each night before retiring, we make-up Uncle Mortie’s Hotel, a blanket on the couch where BabyCat loves to sleep (our ample cat snores like a champ so it is no small pleasure that he chooses to check-in to the Hotel over crashing at the foot of our bed).

The smell of coffee. A close-up photo on the trail of pine cones and needles. A special rock. The color of the sky. Deer leaping through a field of sunset grasses. A 45 minute drive to Simple Bakery (a big adventure!) just to get a few pieces of flourless chocolate cake. And a macaroon to share on the drive home. Friends who go out of their way to send encouragement, to touch base, to say, “We are here.”

Life reduced is, in fact, a discovery of riches. Expansion in another direction. A practice of appreciation of “what is.” Sharing a single piece of flourless chocolate cake, the bounty of our adventure, just so we will have anticipation in the morrow, another piece waiting, a double- savor to share.

read Kerri’s blog post about FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE

Pop The Bubble [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“I think we all see the world from our own little unique bubble.” ~ Julie Taymor

“You never know you’re in a bubble until it pops.” ~ Andrew Revkin

The word “bubble” has taken on wildly new significance in the past few years. We refer to our information-tribes as bubbles. This notion of “bubble” is defined by ideological agreement. The universe in the conservative bubble is unrecognizable to the universe in the progressive bubble and vice-versa.

We also create support bubbles, friends and family who have quarantined so they can safely gather together in their bubble. This bubble is defined by an agreement of safety.

We see photographs of people dining in plastic pods. Bubbles, bubbles, everywhere.

These bubbles are ultimately about safety. A support bubble provides a measure of protection from the pandemic. An ideological bubble provides a measure of protection from opposing points of view.

At the end of his days, Stephen Hawking popped his own multiverse theory – an infinite number of “pocket universes” – bubbles by another name – and posited something simpler and provable. It is the beautiful progress of science to burst previous understanding once new information is available. In science, as in life, nothing is static. We admire people like Stephen Hawking, who pursue truth, who are expansive and capable of saying, “I know more now. I had it wrong.”

Growth, maturity, is a parade of bursting bubbles.

We are currently witness to the latest in bubble-fossilization, the outright infantile resistance of fact driving a deeper retreat into the hard-shell bubble of reality denial. A Fox Parler. It’s a pressure cooker of conspiracy theory and magical thinking – anything to explain away those pesky facts, data points, and court rulings. All bubbles eventually pop and we know from history that angry-insular-bubbles burst violently. The killing fields. German villagers sweeping ash from their sills each morning. Planes flown into buildings. Mustard gas.

This violent bubble burst will be shared by all.

I suppose that is the point. If we’ve learned anything from this time of pandemic it is how utterly interconnected we really are. No matter how far we think we can retreat, bubbles, no matter how well blown, are permeable. The air I breathe is the same air you breathe which, lately, has been the problem. The air I use to blow my bubble is shared with all other bubble-blowers. My perceived independence is an illusion in a dynamic universe of interdependence.

Our dedicated bubbles will someday burst and, with any luck, as we form new bubbles, we will, like Stephen Hawking, be capable of saying, “I know more now. I had it wrong.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BUBBLES

chasing bubbles

chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

Consider The Numbers [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There are numbers. Then, there are the realities that the numbers represent. For instance, I am writing this a few days before the post date. Between the time I write this post and the time it publishes, more than 9,000 people will die of COVID-19. The counting-unit-of-measure is not golf balls or jelly beans in a jar. It is not socks lost in the dryer. It is lives lost. People who otherwise would be alive. People who celebrated the new year and hoped 2020 would be better than 2019. The counting unit is people-who-die-of-COVID-19.

9,000 is a number. So is 276,000. That’s today’s number. 400,000 is also a number. That’s the estimated number of lives lost in these divided-united-states by January 1, 2021. People. Dreamers. Seekers. Grandparents. Sisters. Uncles. Friends.

“Lives lost” is also an abstraction. Words. Easy to say. Easy to write. There’s no reality until there is a reality, though, these days, realities are readily denied. Actively denied. In the face of medical professionals pleading with us to listen, emergency rooms overrun, refrigerator trucks serving as morgues, there are still folks who look at the numbers and cry “HOAX!” No one they know has become a number. Not yet.

Mask wearing and social distancing. The two most potent actions we can take to make the numbers smaller. I won’t go on. Enough said. It’s been said from the outset, again and again and again. Masks. Social distancing. Wash hands. Disbelief and/or truth-resistance makes more and more people, each and every day, become numbers-on-the-news.

Life minimized. Life reduced.

Here’s something to think about. Our dear 20 tested positive. A pandemic-disbeliever sauntered mask-less into a space where he was working. She cried “HOAX!” He breathed her hoax-aerosols, already loaded with virus. He has chronic asthma. He needed to order a new phone but didn’t. He wanted to make sure he survived before he spent the money. I’m not sure how to reduce his fear-of-dying to a number or some other abstraction that makes it count-able. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” the interviewer asks, “how afraid are you?”

Of this I am certain. The woman who shared her virus-loaded aerosols with 20 also shared her virus-loaded aerosols with many, many other people. It was apparently her “right” to reduce other people to abstract numbers. She shared her aerosols with us, too! And we never met her. For some reason her hoax-belief was not a protection against infecting other people. She bragged of going to parties and restaurants. She proudly made resistance-statements by going to grocery stores unmasked. Her aggressive pandemic-disbelief, I am certain, sent infection-ripples far and wide. 14,200,000 is a number. People in these delusion-laden-united-states infected by negligent-others. So far. As a denier of reality, she will, I am certain, take no responsibility for her contribution to the numbers. The odds are, she will have contributed in her small way to the 9,000 who will die between the time I write and the time I post.

She may be one of them. A number.

read Kerri’s blog post about COVID TESTS

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

Ponder Before Turning [on DR Thursday]

Today is Thanksgiving Day in these sometimes-united-states. As a master of understatement and friend of Captain Obvious, I would like to suggest that this Thanksgiving is like no other.

Many of us are in quarantine so we cannot gather. In fact, with COVID-19 raging, the most loving and responsible thing we can do is NOT gather. Family relationships are strained as we peer at each other across the red/blue reality divide. Many of us have lost our jobs – all of them – so the traditional horn-of-plenty is a slightly frightening empty bucket. Thousands of us are queuing at the food banks. Homes are lost, evictions abound. Many are grieving the over quarter-million lives (so far) lost to the pandemic.

And yet…

If I understand my history, this 2020 Thanksgiving is more like the original 1621 version than our usual remembrance. Theirs was a celebration of survival. More than half of the people who arrived the previous year to establish a colony had perished. A hard winter and a raging epidemic took a heavy toll. That very first day of thanks encompassed the grief of loss as well as the gratitude for living to see another day. A successful harvest meant they had a slightly better chance of making it through the coming winter. Can you imagine their exhaustion?

Hope, no matter how dim, provides the necessary fuel of dogged perseverance.

Hope. Belief in the promise of a better day. Imagination sets sail on the seas of the unknown, following the guide star of renewal. Making it through, surviving to see a time of abundant harvest.

So, today, we take a moment, a day. Colonists awash in apprehension. We take a breath. We look back, we know that there is no going back. We grieve what is lost. We ponder how we got here. We take another breath, a day of rest and gratitude before turning to face the realities of rampant uncertainty. We wonder how we can do better. We fill our tanks with hope, knowing that tomorrow we will arise, look forward, and take a single-first-next step.

Sometimes a single-first-next step is as far as we can see.

read Kerri’s blog post on PONDERING LIFE

chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

See Through [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Quinn used to say that if someone has to tell you that they are good at something, they probably aren’t. If someone has to tell you that they are being transparent, they’re definitely hiding something. It is akin to the stereotypical-strategy of the used car salesman, “This baby runs like a dream! Trust me.” If someone has to tell you to trust them, well…

A great athlete has no need brag about their greatness. It is apparent in their play. A great artist has no need to spin perception. Their work speaks for them. A great teacher will never tout their mastery. The expansive nature and lives of their students is testament enough.

Transparent: Trans. Through or across. The appearance. See through the appearance.

Currently, the country is upside-down, in a fog, and choking on irony and COVID. For instance, those crying “FRAUD” are frantically spinning deceit. Those claiming transparency are purposefully opaque. Those claiming moral high-ground stink of muck and mire. Those claiming to save democracy are collapsing the piers upon which it is built [where-o-where is the Grand Ole Republican party?]

That stack of papers we see is a prop and not a plan. That curve that we are rounding does not lead to the promised land; it puts us on a COVID rocket, a steep arc to the sky of escalating infection and death. The arsonist-in-chief lighting fires is not protecting our homes and families, despite the story we are being told and sold.

When the world is upside-down, truth telling is dangerous. It will get you fired. Pointing to the apparent, stating the obvious, is met by an angry chorus of lies orchestrated by well paid liars. Inane belief screams foul in the face of science, data, fact, and, yes, evidence. Exposure, shining light in the dark corners, is threatening to those loudly peddling transparency in taxes and all things. “A perfect call.”

The glaciers melt. The forests burn. The country splits asunder. And, even as we are admonished for our lack of raking, asked to doubt what we see, we are -at long last – in the midst of a transition. We hold our breath, watch the tantrum-tweeter wreak havoc, and count the days until his thumbs exit stage left..

Transition. To go across.

Perhaps, when we are across, with some time, the country will right itself. Sense will return. Perhaps many, many heads will pop out of dark foxholes, their eyes will clear of the mad-illusion, and truth will matter once again. Perhaps, in the coming times, the word ‘transparency’ will no longer be a word-tool used to obscure. We will easily and together see through the thin-appearances. Let’s face it, this baby is not running like a dream. Don’t trust me, look for yourself.

read Kerri’s blog post on TRANSPARENT

Try, Try Again [on DR Thursday]

shared fatherhood

This morning, as I looked through my stacks, I could find no more relevant painting for this day, for our times.

Ironically, I made two runs at this painting. Both times it evolved into something else. It started in violence and ended in shared fatherhood. In the final paintings, you cannot see is the inception, the original impulse, the story that made me pick up my brushes. Polynices and Eteocles. Brothers fighting for the control of the kingdom. Both die. They kill each other rather than share.

The story is ancient. Like all Greek stories, it’s a cautionary tale. It’s a story of fate. Oedipus’ children. An original sin playing to its inevitable conclusion. It’s been one of my metaphors for these now-ridiculous-united-states. Brothers fighting for control, forgetting that they are brothers. It’s a lose/lose story. Hubris kills all.

The mystery to me is why – in both attempts – did my if-wishes-were-fishes subconscious kick-in and transform this horror story into something positive? Out of the fire, I argue in the naive recesses of my being, we will forge a union.

I’ve always known that I am an idealist but, this morning, listening to the trickster fox whip its gullible crowd into an election fruit-smoothie, amplifying the bloviated rants of a shyster, creating fraud-fantasies from thin air, I recognize that I am perhaps the most foolish of all, the blue ribbon winner of witless. Perhaps not.

I will make a third go of this painting. I have the drawings. This time, my realist might punch through the wall of hopeful idealism. The tale is cautionary. It is ancient. It is worth telling. To look with clear eyes at “what is” does service to “what might be.”

Kerri just reminded me that, on our walk yesterday, I waxed poetic about how what we focus on matters. It’s true. Possibility needs to be firmly rooted in reality.

Bubbles always burst.

The brothers kill each other rather than share a kingdom. Is it their fate [our fate]? Is it inevitable – human nature – to be so blinded by the lust for control that we plug our ears to possibility, that we refuse to see the promise we lose in our petty penny struggle? Do people always need to sacrifice the greater for the lesser en route to waking up?

The pandemic rages. The Fox feeds lies to hungry-angry listeners. The brothers fight over something as silly as a mask. The map sprouts virus-red. The populace dies in the struggle.

Is this merely a chapter in the story of becoming? I guess we’ll see.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHARED FATHERHOOD. With any luck, her thoughts will be more hopeful.

this is my second run at my subject. Shared Fatherhood 2

shared fatherhood 1 & 2 ©️ 2017 david robinson