Pay Attention [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I read this morning in my brainpickings, “We have to try and cure our faults by attention and not by will.” Simone Weil.

Kerri and I walk almost everyday. We head for our known, usual trails, and only occasionally go in search of something new. Even though we walk a well-known path, it never fails to seem entirely new. Kerri attends to the details, taking photographs of unusual pine cones, a downy feather on a limb, the sun streaming through the trees. She pays attention. My awareness is more global, the movement of forest, the orchestra and dance of trees and wind. I pay attention.

Our walks bring us perspective when all else seems dark and disorderly. Our walks refill our well of hope when our circumstance seems bleak. Mostly, our walks “cure our faults,” they bring us into a present moment where all of life’s judgments and fears fall away as the illusions that they are. Our walks, if only for a few hours, wipe clean our canvas and return us to a childlike curiosity.

Sometimes, after a snowfall, we arrive at our trail and it is untouched. It never fails that we stand at the trailhead and marvel at the unblemished snow. Sometimes we hold hands and jump in with both feet and laugh. Sometimes we step carefully, quietly. Reverently. Either way, it seems a special gift. First steps are to be noted. Last steps are to be noted.

This morning I read an article about How Aging Shapes Narrative Identity. How the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves changes as we age. Our investments change. We become less interested in pursuits and achievements, in willful purpose. We become more interested in appreciation of our precious, limited moments. And, so, we begin to tell a different story. New snow on an old path.

The article was timely. Kerri and I lay awake most of the night. Among other things we pondered my dad’s dementia, the stories that he weaves and realities he inhabits. He is obsessed with going home.

Deep in the night, we talked about the stories that we currently weave together as we grow older. It seems that this time in our lives is a blank canvas, a path of new and untouched snow. Standing at the trailhead of our next chapter, no steps to follow or map, neither of us has any desire to reinvent or become different than what we are. Certainly, the circumstances of our lives are changing, but more and more we merely want to pay attention. To hold hands and jump into the unbroken snow. To laugh. To note the downy feather in the tree. The wind song, the deer that surprise us, leaping through tall grasses. “Did you see them?” I whisper. Kerri nods and smiles. Reverence. Nothing in the world, at that moment, is more important.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNBROKEN SNOW

Accept What You See [on Flawed Wednesday]

I had the privilege to watch the work of the great Kichom Hayashi. He was a master of the middle way, helping polarized groups find middle ground and shared purpose. I have more than once wondered what Kichom would say about our great national divide.

For someone whose life work has been steeped in the art of “seeing” and perspective flips, I find myself utterly incapable of seeing the perspective of those on the other side. In truth, it’s not that I am incapable, it’s that I believe I already see it and what I see is ugly to the bone.

I remember a heated conversation in 2016 with my dear friend who stands on the opposite side of the divide. Too emphatically I said, “You wouldn’t leave your daughter alone in the same room with this man! How could you vote for him?” To date, 26 women have accused the outgoing president of sexual assault or misconduct. I can’t NOT see that nor can I pretend that it isn’t relevant. Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, my emphatic question to my friend unearthed the crux of the matter. This man has no moral compass. This man is capable of anything.

Standing on my side of the divide, the conversation that pops up again and again is a dilemma that goes something like this: “I want to find common ground but I can’t NOT see what my family, friends, neighbors have embraced.” The list of lies is extensive and pervasive. The corruption is life-long. A scam called Trump University. Bilking donors through his foundation. A businessman, famous for stiffing the working men and women who built his projects, who has been bankrupt six times, is not the biz-wizard he pretends. The emoluments violations are breathtaking. The art of his deal is the art of the swindle and I am utterly mystified at what my loved ones standing on the other side of the crevasse do not see.

And, actually, that sheds light on my fear. I am afraid that they DO see it. That they see it and either don’t care or that they embrace what this man represents. Misogyny. White supremacy. Authoritarianism. Conspiracy theories a-go-go. Fear mongering. Hatred of others. Rob. Rape. Pillage. I can’t NOT see what I know they MUST see.

I’ve provided an excuse for myself, something to make me feel better: they don’t see because they have their heads so firmly thrust into the fox hole. The story that they are being told blinds them. They are filled with info-goop that has all the truth-merit of the National Inquirer. But, in my quiet moments, I have to admit to myself that they must want to eat that bile. Who would choke down so much hatred unless, to them, it tastes good.

I rolled my eyes when my sister repeated the inanity, “There are more COVID cases because they are doing more testing!” I hung up the phone and shouted to the sky, “She can’t be that stupid!” She’s not stupid. She’s caring and loving and works hard in her community to make a better world. So what is it that she doesn’t see? Or doesn’t want to see?

On the other side of the crevasse I hear fear cries of “SOCIALISM” and, again, I roll my eyes. In a nation in which the top 1% holds and controls more of the wealth than the entire middle class, you’ll have to forgive my loud guffaw. “They can’t be that stupid!” I shout from the back deck. They either do not know what socialism is or they cannot SEE what is right in front of them. Or, they don’t care to see it. The slop that they are being fed must taste good. It must feed something inside of them. It certainly profits those who are feeding it to them.

Them. They. It is too easy to fact check what we are being fed. It only takes a moment to investigate media bias. What is it that THEY do not want to SEE?

And, most alarming to me, this is what I SEE: it is not just a difference of opinion that divides us. A difference of opinion orbits a common center of ethical understanding, of moral agreement. Kichom Hayashi could bring seemingly irreconcilable differences to a middle way because he knew the center, the moral compass, was shared.

To my friends and loved-ones, to those that have lined up behind a pathological lie, a gaping virtue-void, I can’t UNSEE it. I can’t justify or pretend there is any merit to the empty center, the grotesque morass of what you embrace. I would never leave my daughter alone in a room with a rapist. I wonder why you would.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNSEEING IT

Touch Nature [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ― John Muir

Since we’ve exhausted every mountain climbing documentary ever made, we now end our days walking an epic trail. We’ve done some serious time on the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Continental Divide Trail and, lately, our imaginary feet have, through the magic of hiker movies, walked every inch of the John Muir Trail.

In addition to our actual walks everyday, our end of evening film walks serve as our escape. It’s how we cope. Because my pals routinely tell me that they, like us, are exhausted or anxious or chronically unfocused, I’ve started the practice of asking them how they mentally get away amid the age of pandemic, social unrest, natural disaster, and pathological lie. My question is always met with a look (or sound) of surprise. Some read. Some play music. Some exercise. Some unplug from news and technology. All seek some time out-of-doors.

Mental get-a-way.

Hands in the dirt, feet on the path. The changing sky, getting caught in the rain or facing the sun, the smell of falling leaves or pine, those damn mosquitoes, cicada chorus, a hawk visitation…perspective givers, all.

Much of the madness chasing us through our days is nothing more than the horror story we unleash in our minds. Human beings are wildly creative and for proof look no further than the fear tales daily yammering through your thought. Amidst the presence of an actual pandemic, the imagination can let loose a full gallery of monsters.

We have legitimate monsters running rampant in our world. We also have imaginary monsters running roughshod in our brains. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Fortunately, there is a test that helps differentiate between them: the legitimate monsters, as a people (as human beings) we will always turn toward and face. The pandemic. Climate change. Injustice. The imaginary monsters we either run from or work hard to magnify. Ignore or amplify. Why is it that human beings argue so ardently for their fears?

The folks that deny the legitimate monsters have confused the legitimate monsters with the illusory. They believe the yuck that runs around in their minds is real. In order to validate the inner yuck requires an all out suppression of the actual threats like viruses, a warming globe, systemic racism. Conversely, dealing with the real challenges leaves no space for fantasy monsters like deep states and wild-hairy-democrats-drinking blood in under ground tunnels. That’s my theory.

A walk in the woods famously clears the mind of made-up-monsters. All of our devices and politics and power games seem silly when standing among the redwoods or on a beach with infinity breaking like waves and rushing the sand to meet your toes. There’s nothing like The Milky Way to make all those inner monsters seem trivial.

There’s nothing like cresting a mountain to affirm that we are – if nothing else – united in our smallness and passing lifetimes. It is only in our minds that we are possibly bigger than the mountain or more important than the seas.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE TRAIL

Pick Up [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I fell into the word “providence” because of a contradiction. Its synonyms are fate, destiny, kismet and predestination. No surprise there. Yet, also mingling among the synonyms list are these words: chance, circumstance, luck, and accident. As if that was not contradiction enough, also on the list is the winner of the most-foreboding-word prize: nemesis. The inescapable agent of your downfall.

What if your destiny is also your nemesis? That Loch Ness monster of words, “curse,” rises to the surface.

I’ve coached many, many people in my life. The majority were attempting to identify their “purpose” or somehow reach beyond an obstacle to fully inhabit “what they were meant to do.” They felt providence was calling and they couldn’t get to the phone. Or, they felt providence was calling and were afraid to answer the phone. Sometimes the dream arrives and the dreamer runs for cover. What if the dream rips off the cover and exposes the truth-of-me? And, why would destiny call if I couldn’t pick up? Is destiny cruel?

Providence or chance? Are we supported in this vast universe or is it all a matter of happenstance? Or, peel the paint from the question and it’s possible it’s not about kismet at all. It’s about the desire to control or at least an explanation that makes sense. Who doesn’t want to feel in control their destiny? Who doesn’t want to believe that they are supported, blessed, guided, or destined? And what happens to that dedicated belief when the hurricane comes or COVID?

And, what if none of that matters? Aesop reminds us that curses might be blessings and vice versa. Perspective reveals both faces so why get wrapped up either way?

What if that hard puritan word, purpose, was softened just a bit by the equal but more-to-the point-phrase: follow your heart. Purpose is a head-word. A true calling or yearning never comes from that head place. A heart calls. Purpose likes to be sought.

Listening to my clients, I wrote these two sentences more times than I can count: The actions we need to take are almost always easy. The story we wrap around the actions make them seem difficult. The steps are simple. The story wrapped around the simplicity is often full of shame, fear, and that most mighty horror-of -horrors: failure. What if I fail? Better not answer that providence phone or dare to dream! Look to the actions. Take one.

Hearts call. That often looks like caring and caring almost always begs for an action. One  simple action. And another.  A step toward a true heart-call promises abundant surprise but never-ever comes with a guarantee.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CARING AND FAILURE

I’m baking Kerri a cake with a file baked in it so that she might escape the Facebook jail. In case the FB guards eat the cake (and, therefore, detect the file) before it makes it to my dainty duck, it might be a good idea to subscribe to her blog. Unless I can bust her out, she might be in lock up for sometime to come.

 

 

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Step Back [on KS Friday]

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When we first met we danced in the front yard. We danced in the kitchen. We danced in downtown Chicago. We skipped through airports. We crawled out of second story windows to sip wine on the roof. A spirit of play and celebration ran amok in our togetherness.

Later, we had a slow dance party. All of our pals came over with their favorite slow dance music. We played the songs, slow-danced on the patio, sipped wine, ate snacks, and laughed a lot. With Linda and Josh’s tricksterism, it became a wild line dancing free-for-all. Joy-full. It was meant to be a yearly tradition and, perhaps, in a post-pandemic world, the slow dance party will return and fulfill its promise.

Fulfilling promise.

Yesterday for my melange post I used an old cartoon, a Chicken Nugget. I spent some time poking around the hundreds of strips and single panel offers that we sent to the syndicate. They liked Chicken Marsala but wanted us to further develop it. At the time, we thought it was good and, although we tried and tried to “develop” it, Chicken languished. That was a few years ago. Looking now, I can see what was missing. “These aren’t very good,” I told Kerri. “The writing could be better. I could have drawn them better.”

Each week we look at our archives to choose a piece to write about in this Melange. Most often we are hyper-critical of our past work. “Yuck!” Kerri says. “Oh, god!” I say, “I can’t believe I ever showed that piece!” It’s what happens when you grow, when you improve. Your best work is never what you’ve done in the past but what you imagine for your future.

They teach an important skill in art school – step back. You can’t see it if you are too close – and you will always be too close when you are creating. Let perspective work for you.  It’s a slow dance: step away. Step forward. Step away. Leave it alone. Step back into it. Forget it. Look again.

Life is like that, too. You can never fully see it in the moment. It requires a step back, an intentional step away. It takes some time to recognize how varied and beautiful it really is.

 

SLOW DANCE in on the album AS SURE AS THE SUN

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SLOW DANCE

 

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slow dance/as sure as the sun ©️ 2002 kerri sherwood

dancing in the front yard ©️ 2013 david robinson

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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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

Learn To Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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There’s something about opinions that needs saying. It is simply this: not all opinions are created equal.

Neil Postman wrote that “In the development of intelligence, nothing can be more ‘basic’  than learning how to ask productive questions.”

Hearty opinions, opinions worth holding, are generally sourced from a deep well of questioning. If you are, like me, of a certain age, you’ve seen the promise of the age of information warp into the age of intentional misinformation. Knowing what and how to question is not only a necessity, it is the only protection we have, inundated as we are, with so much malignant hooey.

An opinion – a perspective – worth holding is not afraid to be questioned precisely because it is the product of questioning. It is not rigid or defensive because it is an open-ended inquiry. It invites questions, challenges and more information. A worthwhile opinion strives to see more, not less – another quality of a developing intelligence. A solid opinion need not shout down opposing points-of-view or belittle a challenge or bully a questioner because it is not fearful of the light. It need not hide behind “alternative facts” or conspiracy theories or rely on deflection when revealed as ridiculous. It practices stepping outside of the echo chamber to check the veracity of the information upon which it is built.

A dulled intelligence is a choice. It is a closed fortress, leaving the inhabitant trapped inside, self-righteous, indignant and afraid of challenge, clarifying data, and fact. Protecting the fortress, whipping up anger and multiple specters of invasion, is the function of an information echo chamber. Refusal to step outside the fortress, take a look around and ask productive questions of information sources – unwilling to consider whether or not the vaunted opinion is worth the energy to hold – is a tip-off that the thought-house is built on nothing but the softest of sand.

Everyone is, after all, entitled to their own opinion. We can agree to disagree and we will remain on opposite sides of the crevasse forever. Common ground is infinitely available – and will return for us – when stoking anger is less important than embracing the ‘basic’ and learning how to ask productive questions – of ourselves and of the information we are being fed.  Until then, all things will be stagnant, the narrow mind will proclaim itself victim to confirmed facts and relevant questions.  Pathological lie, division and deceit will be called virtuous by those too angry and unwilling to step back and care enough about their hard opinion to ask a simple question.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AGREE TO DISAGREE

 

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Let It Spin [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The answer to “Who Am I?” is mostly a matter of perspective [or concoction, depending upon your perspective ;-)]. As much as we might want it to be, who-am-I is not a fixed state of affairs. Thankfully, we are not as narrowly defined as we want to believe.

We constellate together some identity-fixed points (son, father, banker, artist, gardener…) that give general shape to the who-am-I inquiry.  Mix in a few subsets: competitive, passive, rich, poor, successful, homeless, handy, all-thumbs… and there’s some nice variation giving color to the primary fixed points.

For some real fun, factor in the changes of identity that happen over the course of a lifetime. Who did you understand yourself to be at 10? At 20? At 30? Dear friends just became grandparents; their entire universe is spinning. Who are they now?

I have had moments of triumph that turned to dust in my mouth. What looked like fulfillment was, in fact, an empty sack. Once, thinking I was looking good, I walked headlong into a glass door. Instant fool. Identity is much more fluid than fixed.

In the Buddhist tradition there is a “Big Dipper” exercise. From our perspective on the earth, there is a constellation of stars that form a big dipper in the sky. But, travel toward that constellation, the image of ‘big dipper’ starts to warp and then falls apart altogether. The position of the stars does not change. Our perspective does. The constellation is nothing more than an illusion. Mostly, my constellation of fixed identity points is nothing more than an illusion.

These days I’m thinking much about my illusion and attachment to my fixed points. My move to Wisconsin came with career death and I spent more than a few years grasping for the lost stars in my constellation. New stars appeared. I became a husband. I have two ‘given’ children. My beard has become grey. Yesterday, to my utter amusement, I found myself concerned with fallen leaves staining the patio and had thoughts of immediate raking. What has become of me? In the past week, I’ve awakened more than once with this thought: What if the painting on my easel is to be my last. It’s not finished and it’s an utter mess! I want to leave a better last impression! I have more work to do!

And then, I wondered, what if, as I travel out beyond the constellation, this image of myself, this part of me that I call ‘artist,’ matters not at all? Fluid, not fixed.

And so, my perspective spins, more anchor points fall away and the entire universe opens.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PERSPECTIVE

 

 

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Sit Together [on DR Thursday]

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Our cartoon, At The Door, lives in the category of ideas-that-we-knew-would-never-fly-but-wanted-to-do-anyway. In other words, we knew we’d make the submission and the syndicate would reward our good efforts with silence. And, they did just as we predicted!

If conflict is the epicenter/driver of story, then At The Door has a premise filled with great story potential. The dog wants to go out exploring the unknown. The cat wants to stay in his comfort zone. His bowl is the center of his cat-world and he is rarely found far from the bowl. The dog is an idealist, a dreamer. The cat is a realist. A conservative. He enjoys raining on the dog’s parade.

You’d be surprised how much material you can write with such a simple premise. We laughed heartily in the writing of it, especially because we drew our inspiration directly from our crazy Aussie and enormous cat. They share space. Together, they stare out of the door or window, their desires are wildly apparent. Each following their star. Each honest in their pursuit.

In versus Out. Cats-and-dogs-living-together. Oh, my!

Truth? I’d forgotten about At The Door. And, then, watching the news of the day combined with the wave of contention swirling around us, I remembered. I sought the cartoon file more for solace than anything.  I wanted to revisit my belief [my experience] that division need not be ugly. Division need not be disingenuous. Division provides the ripe necessity for collaboration. Two points are a mathematical requirement for the third point to become possible; it’s called ‘perspective.’ Creative tension can be a positive force for forward movement and new ideas if the division serves an honest intention.

If the division is the intention, sitting at the door together becomes, as we’ve seen, altogether impossible.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

 

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