Step Toward The Center [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We had this quote in the melange line up long before there was a pandemic. Now, it is impossible to look at this phrase without pressing it through the lens of COVID19. What might we have written in a less chaotic context?

One of the best lessons I was taught, is that we cannot control our circumstance but we can control who we are within our circumstance. The hurricane will come. The pandemic. It is possible in the midst of the storm to panic. To hoard. To blame. To resent. It is also possible to stand in a center, to share, to support, to reach. You are not your circumstance.

Sitting in his study that smelled of instant coffee, book dust and cigarettes, Quinn and I used to talk endlessly about chaos theory. Within the seeming chaos of a dynamic complex system there exists pattern, repetition, self-organization. Pattern, repetition, organization – these are words of order, not of disorder. Chaos. Order. We only know order relative to chaos. We only know chaos relative to order.

Within the Hermetic laws (and Newtonian physics, equal and opposite forces) there is the law of polarity. Everything contains its opposite. Or, said another way, what might appear to be opposite, is, in fact, two ends (poles) of the same thing. Order. Chaos. We cannot know light without the contrast of darkness. We live on a continuum. What we experience is simply a matter of degree on the continuum. There is always a bit of chaos in my otherwise orderly day. In times of chaos, we become very clear about what matters and what does not.

Out of chaos we self-organize. In the throes of social distance we are finding ways to reach and connect. We are prioritizing connection. I’ve spoken with or texted more people in the last seven days than I have in the last seven months.

We see it every year. The hurricane blows away a city and the greater community always shows up to dig in and help out. And rebuild. In chaos we organize to make sure everyone makes it to the other side of the storm. Initially, the coming chaos reveals the ugliest aspects of our nature. We hoard. We price gouge. We run to the far end of the continuum and hang onto the poles, mine/yours, us/them. But, sit in it long enough, and chaos always reveals the deeper truths. Interconnectedness is another way of understanding a continuum. We turn our focus on relationship. The space between. Your need is my need. We are not separate.

Order arises when we step toward the shared center and away from the chaotic extremes. We are not our circumstance so the question remains: who are we within our circumstance?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHAOS & BOUNDARIES

 

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*this photo of BabyCat is not doctored. I have no explanation for the ordered shape that our very large cat takes in the moments prior to creating chaos.

 

 

 

Be Us [on KS Friday]

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It is times like these that the grand illusion of every man/woman for themselves drops away. It doesn’t take long in a crisis to reveal how interconnected and interdependent we really are. As New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, said this morning, what I do impacts you and what you do impacts me. There is, in essence, no such thing as you and me.

This is true in good times, too. It is true in all times. It is simply true. What I do affects you. What you do affects me. What I do is often a ripple of what you’ve done and vice versa. We are not nearly as separate nor independent as we like to pretend.

The delusion plays itself out. The run on TP. We’ve all seen the lines at the gun store. Sooner or later it will occur – as it always does – that the best form of self-protection is participation in community. Participation is protection.

Ironically, it is the sturdy fabric of the interconnection – in good times – that allows us to delude ourselves into thinking that – in bad times –  we can do it all by ourselves. Stop for a moment, look at the food on your plate and ask yourself how many people were necessary for you to enjoy your meal. The rings of interdependence will run farther than your capacity to imagine. That is always the case.

An article shot crossed my email this morning. It was from an artist sharing her realization in the midst of this pandemic that she does not create art for audiences, she creates with audiences. Like her, my paintings are not complete until people engage with them. People are not complete in the absence of art. Listening to Kerri play is more life-giving than any of the news broadcasts we’ve been glued to. There are levels to meaning making and the heart level rarely requires data but always requires other people and their gifts.

This morning we are hearing of the real difficulty of social distancing: mental health is stressed in isolation. We do not do well in quarantine. We, do, however, get creative. Jen prompted us to text images of all things green so we are looking around the house for green things. Emails and phone calls are on the rise. Mike reminded me last night that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine for the plague. He meant it as a challenge, “Any takers?” he winked.

Rob wrote, “In times like these we NEED art.” Yes. We need art because we need to create with people. To experience with people. To story our experiences with people. To grieve with other people. To laugh with other people. With. Always. Us.

 

 

ALWAYS WITH US from the album AS IT IS available in iTunes & CDBaby

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ALWAYS WITH US

 

 

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always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Draw [on DR Thursday]

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Sue’s request was clear: write a story that is hopeful but does not pretend that everything will be easy or rosy in the end.

In 2005, while Sue Eskridge was teaching a course on children’s literature at The University of the Pacific, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of America. Sue had an idea. She refocused her class to help children who were displaced or had lost their parents in the storm. Her class approached several artists and children’s book authors and asked them to write and illustrate a story, to make single-copy-books. The books would be bundled with other supplies and through service organizations would go to children that needed them. “We want to give them hope but not false hope,” she said when she asked if I would “quick do a book.”

What do you do when the forest fire comes? The hurricane? The pandemic? Run. Hide. But then what? People pull together. People pull apart. The disaster invokes the best in us. The disaster invokes the worst in us. Ultimately, we realize that we are in it together and our togetherness can be defined through selflessness or through selfishness.

What defines us? I lived in Los Angeles during the riots and martial law. People turned on each other. I also saw the same community, just two years later during the Northridge earthquake, pull together. 9/11. AIDS. Our rhetoric does not define us. Our actions do.

I did as Sue asked. I quick did a book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost. I only had a few days and managed to write the story and smack out 16 illustrations. A story of personal gifts brought to communal need in the aftermath of a fire. When I bundled the original and sent it off to Sue I promised myself that I would someday go back into the story and draw all the pictures, fill in the 10 or so illustrations that I did not have time to realize.

This week, we retreated into our home, this pandemic hot and frightening and eerily invisible, except for the growing and incomprehensible numbers on the screen. The unreal reality. The hurricane that cannot yet be grasped.  I asked myself what might be a worthwhile project to do while isolating?  And then I remembered my promise to Peri Winkle Rabbit.

Draw. And perhaps a new story? One that deals with the hot fire now raging through our divided world? Two narratives. One pandemic. What are the odds that this crisis will burn off our national division and clear our eyes so that we are capable of stepping into a single story. I will ask Peri Winkle Rabbit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on PERI WINKLE RABBIT

 

 

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Pull The Curtain [on KS Friday]

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I once heard an author speak of the impossibility of writing a farce about The United States of America. He said that before the last chapter was written, the farce will have actually occurred. The bar of absurdity drops quickly from sea to shining sea.

Today we are watching the collapse of the American mythology “The best health care in the world.” In the face of a public health emergency we are seeing with greater clarity how fractured and incapable our system is of delivering even the most basic of services. That statement, sadly, is a daily fact in the USA for many of its citizens (more on that in a moment) but the pandemic has pulled the curtain on the wizard. Oz is not what it seems.

In the past 24 hours I’ve heard it reported multiple times: the difference between our inept response – beyond the absence of coherent leadership – and other nations, is the system itself. In a single payer system no one is confused about what to do or where to go and no one is reticent to seek medical care because of the costs. The necessary tests are available because profit is not the primary motive; public health is.

Our system is a shattered mess of profiteering and, I believe, intentional obfuscation.  Even the people within the system can’t get a straight answer so they can’t provide a lucid response to even the most basic of questions. Yesterday, our question was, “How much does it cost?”  A mere 24 hours ago, Kerri had her first occupational therapy session for her broken wrists. We called our insurance provider to check to see if we were covered. The OT facility also called and we both received two opposing stories. A third call was placed and a third answer was given. So, a fourth call to the insurance provider was made and, yes, a fourth story, a competing answer was proffered.

Four calls. Four stories. The policy itself is ambiguous. We asked the intake receptionist how much the therapy would cost if we decided to pay out of pocket. Her answer, “It depends.” Can we pay the bill we will most certainly receive or should we forgo the therapy altogether? [note: my wife makes her living playing the piano so this is no small or insignificant question]. Kerri started to cry. Standing within the pages of this farce, I started to laugh. No one (outside of the USA) would believe it if I wrote it.

Within 24 hours, our personal farce went nationwide. Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIAID, said it best of our national travesty-of-a-system “It’s failing. Let’s admit it.”

The lucrative business of health care has blinded us for decades to the real needs of public health. We are, by any measure, an increasingly unhealthy society (check obesity rates, infant mortality, teen suicides, etc. if you doubt me). It seems to me that the point of health care should be the health of the public and not profit margins. The conversations coming from the White House are about whether or not our tests and treatments for a pandemic will be covered or not. It’s penny wise and pound foolish. It’s also obscene.

Kerri and I pay nearly half of our combined incomes for “healthcare” that is null and void if we cross the state line. And, now that we are attempting to use the policy that is pushing us into poverty, we are flush with competing stories about the costs but remain empty of even the most basic answer to the simplest of questions.

In the meantime, Senegal is doing a better job testing and protecting its citizens. The farce: our stubborn insistence that this sham of a system, the most expensive yet least effective, is the best in the world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SAGA

 

 

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