Stand and Trawl [on KS Friday]

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I call it her daily horror trawl. Each morning, as I make breakfast, Kerri scrolls through Facebook. She yips and growls and exclaims, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!” It is akin to intentionally hitting your thumb with a hammer or repeatedly smacking your head against the wall. Purposeful pain.

This is a new behavior. It corresponds with the pandemic, what feels like the intermission between act one and act two of life. Some folks saddle up to the bar. Some folks hit their hands with hammers. Kerri tosses her fishing net into the e-weeds.

After breakfast she gives me a summary of the horrors. Occasionally, there is something positive, a cute puppy story or a blast-from-the-past photo. Mostly it’s grisly stupidity and loud proclamations of ignorance. And vacation photos. This morning, she showed me Craig’s post. Green Day’s prescient song from 2004, American Idiot.  Check out the lyrics! Now everybody do the propaganda/ And sing along to the age of paranoia. I laughed heartily. The horror trawl is not without its prophets and rewards.

I know it’s hard not to look at the collision. The wreckage is strewn across the  e-landscape and magnified over the air waves. People can’t help but gawk at the fight. I’m finding that all I want to do these days is go down into the studio. Mostly I stand in it and look. I rarely touch my brushes and am curious about that.  I don’t sit and that’s also curious. I suspect I don’t want to bring the outer world into my inner sanctum. It’s too soon. The fire is still raging.  I stand in my momentary escape and breathe. Then, without fail, I go back up the steps and say, “Let’s take a walk!”

Life in the interlude. We stand together, making some sense and perhaps finding a wee-bit-of-grace in the liminal space.

 

 

UNTITLED INTERLUDE is on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNTITLED INTERLUDE

 

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a snippet of FEEL THE RAIN

 

 

untitled interlude/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

feel the rain ©️ 2019 david robinson

Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Explicitly Divisive

 

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surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Gag On It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“I was the only one wearing a mask.” Were you to have read this quote three months ago, you would have assumed I went to a masquerade party and I was the only one who showed up with a mask. Or, you might have guessed that I was about to recount an embarrassing Halloween story, “I mixed up my dates – it was October 30 –  and I went to work  wearing a costume.”

Three months. Meaning is now made through the pandemic lens. I went to the store. The parking lot was full. I went into the store and stopped as I entered. I was the only one wearing a mask. My cup of assumptions filled to the brim and spilled over. These people do not care.

In the best of times, meaning is made on a layer cake of assumptions. Assumptions are too easily generalized and thrust into the hard ground as fact. Assumptions are a wide net that catches mostly trash – which is to say that they snag very little of substance. They are nothing more than cake though, because they are mistaken for fact, they can be a deadly cake, indeed. A young black man went jogging. Need I say more?

Our current favorite assumption set is political. For instance, Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine, was asked in an interview why the nation is seeing a partisan divide in response to the pandemic. “Generally, Republicans are less inclined to have the government tell them what to do. And that’s generally how I am,” DeWine said.

I’m willing to wager that most Democrats are not fond of the government telling them what to do. The pro-choice movement is decidedly liberal and is essentially resistance to the government telling a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.

Here’s a safe assumption: none of us want the government telling us what to do. That is in the genetic strand of the American identity.

The nation is seeing a partisan divide in response to the pandemic because we are being force-fed oppositional narratives that demonize the other side.  “They’re socialists trying to ruin the nation.” Or, “They are lazy and ignorant and cannot see how they’re being swung around by the nose.” Assumptions, assumptions everywhere!

As Horatio has said (and I have repeatedly borrowed) the narrative has always been schizophrenic and the divide goes like this: 1) Every man/woman for him/herself or 2)  I am my brother’s/sister’s keeper. Do we care about the others in the populace or do we take care of our own needs? It is a false divide. It is an easy target for propaganda.

And what if taking care of our own needs included taking care of the needs of others. Wouldn’t we all be wearing a mask? Isn’t that the point of the mask? It is not worn to protect me but to protect you from me. What if the assumption – the safe assumption -was that we are all in this together? We are. What if, as I stood in the doorway of the store, the only person wearing a mask, I could have made another assumption? What assumption is it that I could have made?

Three short months and the word “mask” has become a line drawn in the pandemic sand, a symbol of community or is it a marker of our divide?  No matter. Through this lens we can only cast a broad net of assumption and gag ourselves on the same giant piece of cake.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ONLY ONE

 

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Pray For Apollo [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I confess to seeing this contrail and thinking it might be Apollo’s chariot. Of course, if it was Apollo’s chariot then we’d all be in really big trouble. The sun seems untethered from the chariot. Depending on how the myth is told, the sun is either being pulled by the chariot or the sun IS the chariot and, either way, if you are seeing what I am seeing, Apollo has lost control.

Of course, the other side of my brain always kicks in and I think to myself, “Apollo flipping across the sky, gripping the reigns, sans chariot, is not a bad metaphor for these troubled days.” In addition to riding the chariot/sun across the sky, Apollo is symbolic of reason and logic. All things illuminating.

Our world is upside down. Fact is assailed as fiction. Conspiracy theories are traded like baseball cards to deflect attention from the actions of a feckless president  pushing disinfectant as a pandemic cure while science bites its tongue for fear of offending him. Blame inhabits the vaunted seat of responsibility. A good portion of the population willingly and knowingly plants their heads in the sands of propaganda.  Reason is shunned. Questioning and perspective are rejected. Sand is preferable to logic. We’ve reduced our hallowed ideal of jurisprudence to base partisanship; justice is no longer blind but sees in shades of red or blue.

Apollo twirls like a kite, hanging on for life to his mighty horses as they race across the sky, wild-eyed, in no particular direction.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CONTRAILS

 

 

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Check Your Sources [on Flawed Wednesday]

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When I hung up the phone I turned to Kerri and said, “I have to make peace with the fact that Fox News is going to kill my parents. I have to make peace that Fox will inevitably kill someone I love.”

I remember writing research and opinion papers in high school. Beyond giving shape to thought, the lesson was about citation. Know your sources. Know the difference between a fact and an opinion. Perspective is just that, a point of view. When the internet roared into being, as a teacher, I hammered the same nail into my students, “In a world in which anyone can assert anything, it is vitally important, more so now than ever, to discern what has merit and what does not. You have to protect yourself and know what is perspective and what is fact.”

An educated person asks questions about what they are told. An educated person asks questions about what they are telling themselves.

A three minute Google search of media bias rankings will provide an number of links to follow and all issue relatively consistent reports: there isn’t a media watch agency in the world that considers Fox News a source of news. It is ranked as a solid source of right wing propaganda.  Sifted information with an agenda. And yet, so many of the people I love have rooted their hard perspective in this flimsy pseudo soil. The rankings will also point the curious to news outlets that are more neutral and fact based.

If it is so easy to discern, to check whether or not it is drek that you swallow, why are so few adults interested in doing what every middle school student is taught as an essential?

Fact is proclaimed as false news. “Alternative facts” are elevated as truth. Anger is strummed in a fearful populace. Absolute loyalty is demanded for tribal membership (do not question…). Conspiracy theories create a wall of white noise punctuated by cheer inducing blame games and name calling.  Deep state bogeymen and enemies-enemies everywhere. Feed the anger. Hype the fear. Think no thoughts in the face of blaring discrepancies. An unassailable thought-free-firewall is firmly erected in the Fox-votary.

From outside the Fox bubble we ask, “Are they really that gullible?” From inside the Fox bubble, they ask, “Are they really that blind?”

The divide is complete. Two warring narratives. And so we are conquered. The pandemic does not care whether we are in a bubble or not.

Outside the Fox bubble we practice social distance. We are told that it is the only tool we have in the box – in the absence of  adequate testing – to slow the spread. We see the comparison data and recognize that, given the hubris in the other narrative, that the USA is on track to repeat the horror that is now overrunning Italy. We listen to the the CDC and the WHO for our information. We see Spain converting ice rinks into morgues. We challenge the mind numbing notion put forward by a feckless president that this is “like the flu.”

The peace I need to make? The people inside the Fox bubble, many people that I love, are not gullible or stupid – not by a long shot. But, they’ve forgotten what they learned as a baseline to being an educated, curious and responsible adult: check your sources. They wouldn’t wholeheartedly buy the story of a used car salesman. They’d check out the car before they bought it. In this day and age, the same rule applies to news. They are making a choice.

Blind belief is a lemmings game. Human beings have the capacity to open their eyes and to question.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about RED AND BLUE

 

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Snap Your Fingers [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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When I was roaming the world working with corporate types, tilting at windmills, I would tell my be-suited crowd that words matter. I’d relay a story I heard from Don Miguel Ruiz. He told his audience that people in the United States completely misunderstood the word, “spell.” He said, “You think to put a spell on someone is magic, like hocus-pocus. But, that is not it at all. Tell a little girl that she is fat and you will have spelled her forever.”

She will hate her body. That is a powerful spell.

Words matter. Tell the nation that the “Democrats are vicious” or that the news is “the enemy of the people” and the enchantment is undeniable, angry.  Push the spell through a propaganda machine and it magnifies in intensity. Like a ritual drum, the thump-thump whips the glassy eyed adherents into a red frenzy. Insist that long debunked conspiracies are real or that the deep state is out to get us all and the spellbound will see demons threatening everywhere.

The nation body splits and just like the little girl looks with hatred at the other part of itself. A powerful spell.

‘Hoax’ thump-thumped in the face of undeniable fact and the mesmerized fall into line, repeating what they are told to repeat. “Cluck like a chicken!” the hypnotist suggests and the sleepers dutifully cluck. Common sense surrenders to the spell.

Teachers of consciousness use different techniques but are in general agreement about how to awake from a nasty spell. Step back. Doubt what you think. See what is there and not what you think is there. Detach from your attachment to what you want to believe, to what you are being told. The salesman always wants you to buy the car. He is not your friend. He does not have your best interest in mind. He will use his words tell you anything. Despite what you are told, this car will not make you happy, it will not solve all of your problems. It will not make you sexy or powerful or complete. Uncouple from the words, the spell being woven, and see.

If she is lucky, the little girl one day wakes up and realizes that the hatred she experiences is not her own; it was planted in her with a word. The hatred she wields against herself and turns on to others is not of her creation. She learns that she must snap her own fingers and call herself awake. The hypnotist, she understands, only has authority if she continues to cluck and sleep.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WAKING UP

 

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De-Compress [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I had no intention of writing about white rot fungi. I never imagined myself in the course of my lifetime writing or even being interested in white rot fungi. In fact, in scholarly terms, I have no business writing about it. But, here I am. White. Rot. Fungi.

I live in the age of the internet and Google. I remember the moment in the mid 1990’s that I realized the world had changed! I was doing research for a play about Joan of Arc and, instead of using the card catalogue and spending days in the library scouring the stacks, I was trying this new thing called ‘the internet.’ In a matter of moments, I found the complete transcript of Joan’s trial. The actual notes from the actual scribe that sat in the room in the 15th century during that very political/religious trial! The scribe’s notes were typed for my consumption, digitized, and available for my 20th century eyes. Information-gathering was suddenly so easy! Then, I discovered the notes for the 2nd trial! Ten years after burning Joan at the stake they reconsidered their decision and admitted a mistake. It was also, no doubt, a very political/religious trial; the making of a saint! Days of dedicated research compressed into a few hours of poking around. It was a kind of miracle. I reached through time and a scribe handed me his meticulous notes. “Do not judge us,” he whispered.

And, so, white rot fungi. Kerri shot this gorgeous photograph (she calls it ‘nature’s stripes’) and we chose it as a prompt for our studio melange. This morning, wondering what to write about nature’s stripes, I asked myself, “What’s all over that nurse log?” In less time than it took to find Joan’s second trial I had my answer. It digests dead wood.

The name, white rot fungi, a collection of words, does not do poetic justice to this species. It is the vital middle stage in a snapshot of the life cycle. On the left, the vibrant green shoots of new life, spring. The middle: a nurse log, a fallen tree, providing food for the fungi. And on the right, the brittle brown leaves returning to the soil, nutrient for the next new growth. A hundred year cycle captured in a single image.

This photograph is also a compression, making it possible for me to easily see an unimaginable life cycle. Yet another miracle. Yet another way to reach through time and see.

I forgot how difficult it once was. Finding facts. Blowing dust from pages made it somehow more important to check the data. Reaching through time to a reader in the 25th century, I whisper, “Don’t judge us. It happened so fast, this enamoring of the easy, this nonchalance of meaning, this indifference to information”.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE’S STRIPES

read Kerri’s blog post about White Rot Fungi

 

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pray now/john’s secret ©️ 2010 david robinson

Ask A Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“The world is as full of opinions as it is of people. And you know what an opinion is. You say this, and somebody else says that. Each one has an opinion, but opinion is not truth; therefore do not listen to mere opinion, it does not matter whose it is, but to find out for yourself what is true. Opinion can be changed overnight, but the truth cannot be changed.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

She said with easy confidence and utter conviction, “The earth is warming because it’s spinning on its axle.” I was so stunned that I had to close my eyes and count to ten.  This thought-tree has no roots. It contains no thought. It’s lost in a mix-master of metaphor. It is a common marker of our times, a wildly confused opinion mistaking itself for a fact.

Propaganda (noun): information, especially biased or misleading in nature, used to promote a particular political cause or point of view.

I am wary of using the word ‘ignorant’ because I believe it applies to all of us. Ignorant (adjective): lacking knowledge or awareness in general. I’m not wary of using the word ‘lazy.’ Lazy (adjective): unwilling to work or use energy. Belief without investigation is lazy. And, it is dangerous.

“Political ideology can corrupt the mind, and science.” E.O. Wilson

Denial, as Roger once taught me, is one of the most potent forces at play in the human drama. David Neiwert tells the story of German villagers, at the end of the second world war, stunned to learn that the facility next to their village spewing ash was an extermination camp. Even though, every day, they watched trainloads of people enter the camp, and every day, saw empty train cars leaving the camp. They did not question. Every morning the villagers swept thick ash from their sills and walkways; they claimed that they had no idea. They were told it was a work camp. They believed what they wanted to believe – what they needed to believe. They did not question what they were told.

We are not the first human cohort to exhaust our resources or poison our environment. We are the first to attempt it on a global scale. We did not invent propaganda machines nor are we the originators of intellectual laziness. We simply have bigger, louder machines and more potent tools to toss around our unquestioned opinions. In the meantime, the earth, I’m sure, will continue to spin on its “axle”…er…axis. With or without us and our dedicated opinions.

 

[for grins and a good place to begin asking your questions, visit the NOAA Global Monitoring Division. Take the time to watch the CO2 movie – all of it. Write a few questions for yourself. Then, for grins, Google human population growth and sustainability. Draw no conclusions. Spout no opinions for a spell. Simply ask questions, check sources. Read some more. Learn to discern between fact and opinion…and your opinions about facts].

 

read Kerri’s blog post on NO SIDES IN CLIMATE

 

 

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Wait [on DR Thursday]

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“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

My studio often serves as a retreat, a place to escape the noise and nonsense-of-the-day. It is a quiet place. A sanctuary. I recoup perspective when I step into it.

Lately, when I am painting, I find myself pondering the paradox of living in the time of Google. I rarely have a conversation these days that doesn’t include a quick dip into Google to check a fact, pull up a statistic, check spelling or a date or data. We rely on it. We can investigate or verify anything in an instant. Yet – and here’s the paradox – no amount of data or information seems to put a dent in people’s beliefs. In fact, we’ve learned, that confronting a belief with data that contradicts it will serve only to reinforce the belief. Information threatens, and so, is useless.

My dad once told me in a fit of frustration that I had educated myself into stupidity. I question everything. He grew up in a simpler time, in a smaller town. I understand the opposite to be true, the path out of stupidity IS education. The capacity to question, to doubt, to consider, to compare what is said with what is provable, is what makes us powerful. Propaganda is only useful in a society that does not or will not question what it is being told.

Collaboration, cooperation, the capacity to organize, to contemplate and pursue possibilities, to unify disparate points of view is only possible in a mind that doesn’t fear being wrong – in a mind that opens (chooses to open) and isn’t constrained by fear of what it doesn’t understand. Fear makes us stupid. To be educated doesn’t mean to be rigid or buried in knowledge. It means the willingness to question, the ability to look, experience, to see, to reach. To learn.  Fear blinds. Curiosity illuminates.

This painting tumbled out of my Google meditation. It is a sketch, a quick gesture. I used to tell my students that daydreaming was an essential skill. Looking out the window and pondering, imagining,…daydreaming is the first step of invention. Waiting, too, is also an essential skill. It is invaluable when entertaining a thought….

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THEY WAIT

 

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they wait ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Find The Way Home

holdtheworldinpeace-lowerfontcopy-jpeg“Our search for truth must be wide open, even when it takes us in directions we preferred not to go. This is the difference between propaganda and truth. Propaganda has a certain end in mind, and so it marshals and manipulates the ‘facts’ to support its conclusion. Truth weighs evidence, seeks proof, is appropriately skeptical of authoritarian claims, welcomes questions, and doesn’t fear dissent.” Philip Gulley, The Quaker Way of Living*

Kerri and I often read books aloud to each other. On cold winter days we sit beneath a blanket, Dog-Dog at our feet, BabyCat snoring by our side, sip coffee, and read. We like to discuss and compare perceptions, ask questions, and re-read passages for clarity or the simple poetry of the language. Sometimes we savor a book, moving through it slowly. Sometimes we devour a book and go back to reread especially potent sections.

Propaganda resists close inspection and must continually be defended. Truth welcomes doubt and skepticism; indeed it is best served by questions, suggestions, and corrections.”

I am guilty of burying my head in the sand. My move to Wisconsin came with an intentional unplugging from the news. I was tired of pundits shouting each other down. I was weary and wary of conversations with family and friends that seemed to be territory-guarding regurgitations of our news-channel-of-choice. I was using the language given to me by my news sources and rolled my eyes at the predictable language leveled by the “other” side. One day as I raged at family members to pay attention to how they were being manipulated by their news source, I thought that it was probably a good idea for me to do the same. At the time, unplugging, stepping out of the toxic stream, seemed the only option to clear my mind.

The search for truth begins within the seeker, for if we are not honest with and about ourselves, we will find it impossible to be honest with and about others.”

On a recent trip to Indiana, Bill and Linda suggested a book for us, The Quaker Way Of Living by Philip Gulley. They read it with their church group and found it compelling, especially given our corrosive political climate and collapse of civil discourse. We bought it when we returned home and a few days ago started reading it together. We couldn’t put it down. It asks some powerful questions. It doesn’t pretend to have answers [that, I’ve learned, would be the antithesis of the Quaker Way] but it does speak directly to the quandaries of personal and communal integrity in a climate of self-righteousness, blame, and distrust. It is hopeful and funny and places the onus of creating a better world squarely on the shoulders of each and every one of us. It reminded me that burying my head in the sand is not very useful while also affirming that their are options beyond planting a flag in the sand.

“To say a person has integrity means several things. Most commonly, we mean the person is honest, that his or her word can be trusted…. But there is another level of meaning that has to do with the integration of our values and lifestyle. In that sense, to say we have integrity is to say the separate parts of our lives combine to form a unified whole. What we believe is consistent with how we live. Our beliefs influence the work we choose, the way we use our time and spend our money, the relationships we form and the goals to which we aspire. This integration is critical for inward peace.”

While reading, I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had a few years ago with Jim Marsh, one of the people I most admire in this world precisely because he walks his talk. He told me of an issue in his community that had deeply concerned him and that he’d been grousing about for long time. One day he’d had enough and to move forward he recognized that he had three options: First, to stop complaining (he said, “to just shut up.”). Second, to move away. Leave. Get away from the source of his irritation. That didn’t seem like a healthy option. The third was to strap on his boots and do something about it. To act instead of complain. But, (and here’s the reason why I adore him) not to act against, but to work to create what he wanted. His responsibility was not to fight or resist. It was to create.

“We preserve our integrity and wholeness when we are aware of what threatens it and then choose to act deliberately and prudently when tempted. When we fail to do this, we disintegrate, creating a chasm between who we are and who we wish to be.”

I practice tai chi and had the good fortune to have, for a few years, a master teacher, Saul, whose teaching transcended the specifics of tai chi. He was teaching me how better to live. One day, while I was in a fit of resistance, he quietly showed me the power of looking beyond my “opponent” and placing my focus, instead, in the field of possibility. I understood (intellectually) that the opponent was always of my own making and my dedication to having an opponent (inside or out) would always pull me off balance. In other words, as long as I invested in resistance I would always pull myself off balance.

“Integrity isn’t conditional…There is a seamless nature to integrity that transcends situations and relationships. Integrity does not present one face in public and another in private. It delights in transparency, having nothing to hide.”

Now, with my head freshly out of the sand, I understand Saul’s teaching beyond my thinking (I’ve had a lot of time to meditate on things with my head in the sand) and, taking my cue from Jim, I recognize that I have three options but only option-number-three holds the promise of integrity. The best news: no one creates alone…

*all quotes in this post are from the chapter on Integrity from The Quaker Way of Living by Philip Gulley

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THE WAY HOME on itunes – Kerri Sherwood-Track 13 on THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

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