Ask, “What’s Really Happening?” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of Occam’s Razor, you know, that simple but useful little principle that, in the presence of two explanations that account for facts, the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. In our current national spin, the corrosive and stupidly-complex justifications are overrunning the simple explanation every time. For instance, is it more likely that the “Democrat” leaders are conspiring to inflate the pandemic numbers in a worldwide conspiracy (yes, 195 countries that rarely agree on anything are united in collusion with the American Democratic party!) to bring down the president – or – did the man botch the job and that’s why our numbers are so high? I’m going with botched job since I still have sight of Occam with plenty of data sharpening that simple razor.

Sometimes when I am sifting my too-many-thoughts-for-a-post I’ll jump into the Google pool in the hope that I’ll hit my head on a Google rock and clarity or at least some sense will come. Today I typed in a question: what conspiracy theories helped bring down the Roman Empire? There’s plenty to read if the fall of Rome is on your mind. I went down the rabbit hole and bumbled upon this fun phrase embedded in the List Of Conspiracy Theories page on Wikipedia [sidebar: there are more inane conspiracy theories than you might imagine and most find their place on the “What were we thinking” shelf-of-shame after a year or two passes. We can only hope that the good folks at Q or the pandemic deniers take their place high on the shelf before too long and too many people are hurt or killed from their delusion. Occam would cut them to ribbons if he weren’t laughing/crying so hard].

I digress. Here’s the phrase: Psychologists attribute finding a conspiracy theory where there is none to a mental illness called illusory pattern perception. Illusory Pattern Perception. It’s a “phenomenon in which observers see patterns that do not exist.” The epicenter of the illness that drives folks to see what is not there: lack of control. It’s existential, this American decline.

We are rapidly becoming the poster child for “a nation divided cannot stand.” As a lover of pattern, perception, and metaphor I find it profoundly sad that our latest chapter of lack of control has led us to division and mental illness. Seeing patterns where none exist. Making up horror stories about each other rather than letting Occam’s razor slice away the absurd and elucidate some simple truth.

Lack of control, as we know from the stories we just shared about 9/11, can also unite us. Lack of control can clarify us. It can inspire us to run into burning buildings, link arms with fellow passengers to rush a cockpit – knowing full well your action will bring a plane down and your life to an end – and do it anyway because your action will save the lives of people you’ll never meet or know. The lack of control can inspire us to stand in the hot fires of injustice (injustice is a control mechanism) and declare it wrong.

Unity, goodness, self-sacrifice – all of these virtues are exposed – or can be – in moments when control abandons us. Our path need not be ugly, vicious, divisive, or inhumane. The mental illness that blinds us is not natural to this nation – or to humanity. It’s what happens when frightened people, feeling out of control, meet a salesman of snake-oil solutions, a weaver of dark places in the public mind, rather than link arms and ask, “What’s really happening?”

read Kerri’s blog post about AMERICAN DECLINE

Come Together [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My theme of life-as-a-circle is still with me. Today, this Labor Day, 2020, bubbles with portent. Unlike any Labor Day in my lifetime, this day seems to dip its toe into the cold origins of this national holiday celebrating laborers but also serves as an omen. An augury.

This holiday, so benign as we now practice it, was borne of fire and conflict. It seems our nation is only capable of learning through the violence that it inflicts upon itself. Waves of riots, years of bloodshed as laborers as young as 5, worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, and barely eked out a living. The income gap in 2020 mirrors that of the 1890’s, America’s Gilded Age. As historian Nell Irvin Painter explains, “‘Gilded’ is not golden. ‘Gilded’ has the sense of a patina covering something else. It’s the shiny exterior and the rot underneath.” The violence in the streets, the frustration and anger, riots and protests by the common working people forced the government to act. Among other things, Labor Day came into existence. A day off.

“We’re in these cycles in which we learn and forget and learn and forget,” Painter says.

We are in the ‘forgetting’ part of the cycle. It’s Keynsian economics: a capitalist economy can only thrive with the existence of a healthy middle class. Consumption requires capable-and-able consumers. Investment crumbles when consumption stalls. We’ve been here before. We don’t need a crystal ball to see where our unsupported gig economy is taking us. On this Labor Day it is fair game to ask, “What exactly are we celebrating?”

We cycle into remembering when we need to pull together. When we start considering the interests of the whole over the few. When, as the sign says, we remember to take care of one another. During this Labor Day there is a true tell of our capacity to consider one another: a pandemic rages. The estimates top 400,000 deaths by the new year. The only force that can reduce that number is our capacity to consider one another.

Life in the forgetting sweep of the cycle: the streets are alive with riot and protest. People by the millions are losing their homes and their jobs. Desperation and division reign; panicked people rarely think straight.

Life in the remembering sweep of the cycle: people pull their energy and resources together remembering that no one can thrive in a vacuum. A united workforce is capable of reminding “the system” that it was meant to serve them and support them in a shared prosperity. Not to use their labor to benefit the few. Coming together for the betterment of all: it is the original impulse and meaning of Labor Day.

read Kerri’s blog post about LABOR DAY

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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Read The River [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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The great gift of writing this blog is that I now have ten years of recorded ramblings and ruminations. I have an almanac of my thought patterns, a rolling document of what really matters most to me. I  periodically revisit what I wrote five or ten years ago. My visits to the past never fail to surprise me.

I’m chewing on the same stuff. I’m rolling around the same ideas. You’d be shocked – as I am – at how many times I’ve had the same revelation, thinking it was the first time. Yet, since my writing serves as a map to my revelation cycle, I can also see how the man having the old-revelation-anew is not the same man. I have the old revelation through new eyes. Perhaps that is why I have these revelations again and again. Discovery as rediscovery. New perspective makes the old revelation vital again.

As I’ve written before, I feel as if I am living the Parcival story. When I was young I failed in The Grail Castle.  I didn’t speak my truth. Rather, I did as I was taught, practiced my good social training, and withheld my voice as a proper knight should. Should. I started writing my blog when I was wearing armor, riding around the kingdom attempting to slay dragons and fight ogres to make up for the wasteland I’d created. I won my battles but lost my war – just as the story prescribed.

Now, I read about my battles sitting in the forest, having dropped my armor. Having mourned my defeat. Having lost my way. Having passed through the frustration and fear and anger that comes with lost-ness. Having relaxed into chopping wood and carrying water. Having the same old revelation again and again.

The story, this life story that we live, is a story of letting go, of paring down. Dropping the “shoulds.” Simplifying to the point that recognizing who we are is of much greater import than who we should be. Inhabiting the present moment is most often the abolition of “should.”

One of the greatest lessons I taught but failed to grock is, “suspend your judgments and learn.” ‘Should’ is a judgment by another name. A self-judgment. Armor. Mechanisms that separate. What story do I tell that separates me from this moment? What story do I tell that separates me from delighting in my self just as I am – and not as what I think I should be? What limits do I impose on my story and why?

Life, I’m learning, is one long lesson about the illusion of separation. We spend the first half of our days creating distance and the second half closing the gap-of-our-own-creation.

So, this morning I sit with my blog. I read the chronicle, this old river, and laugh at what I’ve apparently always known but refused to learn. The old story comes with a consistent bit of wise and useful advice: let go. No one but you tells the old story. No one but you misses seeing the Grail Castle that, as the hermit-in-the-woods giggles when it appears a second time to Parcival, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AN OLD RIVER

 

 

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Look For It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“Consider yourself blessed. These stones that break your bones will build the altar of your love.” ~ Lynn Park

20 has a collection of images. Faces found in objects. A light socket that seems to be eyes and a nose and a mouth. A teapot face. A widget-face at the hardware store. He sees them everywhere because he looks for them.

Looking for it. It’s the key to a positive attitude: you see what you look for. Look for generosity and kindness and you’ll see it everywhere. It’s also true of a darker view on life: there’s plenty of horror story to be found if you spend your days looking for it.

As a rule, both kindness and cruelty are available in abundance. Both are on display at any given moment of the day.

People seem to be more attracted to cruelty – especially for pleasure. We build coliseums so we can watch gladiators do combat. We thrill when the car crashes on the track. The bloodier the video game the better the sales. We love to yammer on and on about our bad experiences but will tell far fewer people about the good moments. We’ve managed to turn something as benign as Facebook into yet another bloody coliseum for e-battle. People negating people. Dedicated division. “Shouting into the canyon,” as Rob called it.

And, as a rule, we will either go through life seeking meaning for our experiences or we will go through life giving meaning to our experiences. We focus on what we have or we focus on what we lack. Opportunity or obstacle. Us or Them. Either way, it’s a story and we are the storytellers.

People are patterned so they generally see what they expect to see. It’s the lesson that’s all the rage these days in the USA. Lesson #2: once patterned, people are resistant to seeing anything other than what they believe. We have the unique capacity, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to argue to the death to maintain our point of view. The anti-mask crowd are providing generations of psychologists with a heyday of research: people literally arguing to death to maintain their point of view despite a veritable mountain of evidence that contradicts their belief.

It seems impossible, yet there it is. There we are.

Like 20, I have decided to train my eyes to see. Only, instead of faces found in inanimate objects, I’ve decided to look for the little miracles. Intrepid life. The magnificent force that expresses in small affirmations. An unlikely plant growing from a crack in the wood. A snake stretched out on the path to catch the sun. The single-day proliferation of crabgrass taking over our yard! A meteor flying by.  People more invested in the sunset than the Facebook. The fox at midnight. The turkey on the roof. The friends who love each other enough to keep their distance.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about INTREPID LIFE

 

 

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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

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

Pop Your Bubble [on KS Friday]

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There is a sad mantra in the not-for-profit world: people don’t give money, time, or attention to “causes” until the cause impacts them personally. It has to be personal – it has to be MY son-with-cancer or MY daughter-who-was-shot-at-school or MY community-that-has-no-grocery-store in order for us to care beyond the superficial.  In other words, it is someone else’s problem until it knocks on MY door.

The word “cause” provides some cover – it keeps the cancer at arm’s length. It abstracts and sanitizes. The word “poll” does the same thing. Throughout this pandemic we’ve actually reduced the reality of the virus to a number that indicates personal belief, which has nothing to do with the virus and everything to do with whether or not  it has penetrated your personal bubble. To date, there are over 2 million bubbles impacted and, of those, 113,000 deaths. That is 113,000 people who, on New Year’s Day 2020, had every reason to believe they’d see 2021. Their belief number sits solidly at 100%. Their family’s belief number is way up there, too.

Masks have become a split symbol – or perhaps better stated, a symbol of our split. Wearing a mask is meant, as we all know, to protect others. It is not a measure of personal protection which is perhaps why it is so messy an issue here in these United States. We’ve somehow managed to transmogrify a gesture of protecting our neighbors into an assault on individual rights. It is not merely a consistent problem, it is a national pattern. The pattern plays itself with great symphonic insanity every time we have another mass shooting and can do no more than offer condolences to the dead.  It is the river that runs beneath the richest and most innovative nation on earth and its inability to provide affordable (or any) health care to its citizens. We keep ourselves brilliantly schizophrenic by insisting that this abundant creative citizenry is only capable of considering two choices. EITHER individual rights OR what’s best for the community! BOTH/AND is nowhere to be found. “We” is the word we run from.

This morning Kerri read an article about a server going back to work at a restaurant. She does not feel safe. Her customers are solidly in their bubbles caring only for their dining experience and not their server’s health. Our daughter supplements her life by bar tending and serving. Kerri cried. It’s personal.

She chose her song for this week’s melange in that moment. EVERY BREATH. And, ironically, it is found on the album AS IT IS. The present condition. Every breathe; as it is. It reads like the I-Ching: The air you breathe. The air I breathe. No difference.

One bubble. And, like it or not, believe it or not, we all inhabit it.

 

EVERY BREATH is on the album AS IT IS. Find it on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERY BREATH

 

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every breath/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

helping hands ©️ 2011 david robinson

Don’t Go Home [on DR Thursday]

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House on Fire. 2004-ish. Watercolor. And, yes, I was all over copying Guernica.

“The continual retreat from the discomfort of authentic racial engagement in a culture infused with racial disparity limits the ability to form authentic connections across racial lines, and results in a perpetual cycle that works to hold racism in place.” ~ Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

I confess to rewriting this post. What I wrote initially was pedantic and preachy. So, this is a second go-round.

We’ve been hearing this question much in these past days: why don’t things ever change? Here’s an answer I learned in school: a society is a living system and, like all living things, it will fight to the death when threatened with change. Why we can’t seem to “solve” our problem with racial disparity and the dehumanization of black people? It’s built into our system. The system, a complex and living thing, will fight to the death to keep the injustice securely in place.

That’s a heady answer and somewhat hopeless. Its abstraction makes it a safe and somewhat antiseptic response.

I lived in Los Angeles in 1992. My apartment was in the hills so I had a good vantage point to watch the rioting and the city burn. When it felt too unsafe, I fled the city. I had a safe place to go.

A few years later, working with a school district, the head of the Black Student Union asked me to come in and work with her students. MLK day was fast approaching and the students, preparing presentations for the day, were in rebellion. They were mad. They didn’t want to read speeches about peace and justice when those ideals were nowhere on their horizon. I thought it was my job to help them give voice to what they wanted to say. It was my first conscious lesson in my white-blindness. The frightened parents of the students descended. I’ll never forget the mother and father that pulled me aside, saying to me, “You don’t understand. If they say what they want to say they’ll be killed.” Their terror was real. They had to teach their children a lesson that was the opposite of what my parents taught me.

To call it a problem is to reduce it to the level of mechanics. It is to pretend (or hope) that a few changes in the law or better policing will do the trick.  To treat it like a problem guarantees that we’ll recreate it. This is not a problem, this is a pattern. It is a cycle. It is a relationship.

The pattern is currently in our faces. The pattern is not only the death of another black person. The pattern is also what white America chooses to do – or not do-  with the knowledge of it. What is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves that makes it possible to stand in the fire with people of color during the protests but walk-on once the fire subsides? It is simply this: I get to go home. I get to drive out of LA when things feel too unsafe. I have someplace to go. I get to go home when the officer is prosecuted or a law is changed or a commission empaneled, dust off my hands, and say that I did my part.

Why don’t things ever change?

I was stunned when those parents pulled me aside. At first, I couldn’t believe that they were going to silence their children when their children had something so important to say. It made my head spin. And then I went home. And then I realized that they couldn’t go home. There was no place in this “living system” where they were safe. That was what they were trying to tell me. It was what Martin Luther King was trying to tell us. It is what the protesters in the streets today are trying to get us to see/admit/realize. We are watching a living system built on racial division and inequality fight to the death because change is knocking.

What if we realized that we cannot simply go home and forget about it?

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOUSE ON FIRE

 

 

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Look Again [on DR Thursday]

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Recurrence. Occurring again and again. I wrestled with an image for many weeks until I arrived at the painting I desired:

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my loves, mixed media on hardboard, 24 x 48IN

I wrestled for a long time and I took photos of all of the drafts. Skip has nudged me to document my process and, along the way, I’ve learned that taking a photograph of a work in progress helps with art-blindness. If you stare at something long enough, you no longer see it – you see parts of it or you see what is in your mind (mostly criticism and fear). A photograph often provides a fast track out of art-blindness [note: of course, I take the photograph with me everywhere I go and stare at it so much that I create new blindness…]

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I took a close up of one of the iterations. Kerri liked it but it was impossible to save. I’d have to cut the painting down and, since it is on two pieces of hardboard, cutting it was unfeasible [look close and you can see the seam]. I painted over it but promised to come back and revisit it.

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my loves II [close-up]. still in progress.

It’s a work in progress. It has a ways to go. Different but the same. I’m still wrestling but find it soothing that I can disappear into my studio and focus on light in this dark time.

Focusing on light in a dark time. Affirmation. Hope, when it is so easy to focus on the bleak and insane. Escapism? No doubt. I wish I could take a snapshot of our nation – of what we are wrestling with and have grown so blind to seeing. I’d like to hold it up so we might have even a few moments of perspective, so we might see again what we have been staring at for so long that we have grown blind to seeing. Recurrence. Patterns occurring again and again.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIRCLING BACK

 

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my loves/in all iterations ©️ 2020 david robinson