Consider The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

Because it is outside, she grabs her camera. Were it inside, I’d hear the special scream saved for spiders and I’d come running. The power of a screen, flipping fear to fascination. “It’s amazing,” she said and cringed.

Spider symbolism – like all vital symbols – carries the power of a complex split-metaphor. On one side of the screen they are toxic, malicious, potential bringers of slow venomous death. On the other side of the symbol, they are world creators, weavers of life and interconnectivity. Certainly, they are central characters in this world-wide-web that we enjoy.

In this era, we attempt to restrict our symbols, preferring them to be absolute, one-sided, either this or that. Symbols never work that way. They lose their power when cut in half. To be potent, a symbol must embody both sides of the moon. Limiting a symbol to only one side flattens it, robs it of dimension, renders it useless. The real power of the symbol ignites when both aspects are understood and embraced. Symbols are polarities.

We would be wise, in our nation, to look at both sides of our symbols. Our history, embodied in our symbols, is both shining and dark. Vapid fear-stories like “replacement theory” fester in a flattened symbol culture, a half-told history. Ugly nationalism grows in the spaces left empty by a cleaved symbolism, a highly-edited narrative.

Gaze through the screen at both sides of the symbol, and a fuller, richer, more color-full story emerges. An honest narrative.

Nations, like people, become healthy when they embrace all sides of their story, the dark side and the light, when they acknowledge both aspects of their symbol, when they take responsibility for their actions, the venomous and the virtuous alike.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SPIDER.

Prometheus Resurrection © 2008 David Robinson

Do Good Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

As a purveyor of story, I’ve regularly explained away the large mound of dirt in our front yard as either the tunnel-sign of an enormous gopher or an ancient burial mound. Neither story had sticking power but I had to say something about the mountainous mess left behind after the crew dug a moat to fix our broken water line.

Kerri and I visited the mound daily and asked each other the same question: what are we going to do? The paperwork for the repair mentioned our responsibility for possibly doing “light landscaping” after the repair. With weeds wildly growing atop the burial mound, snaking their way through the chunks of concrete and asphalt, an answer to our question became pressing. Our neighbor, the landscaper, wheezed every time he looked our way. “We have to do something,” she said, marching inside and picking up the phone.

These are a few of the responses to her initial appeal to the company that dug the hole and made the mound: It will eventually settle. It can’t be that bad. It’s not our responsibility.

These are a few of Kerri’s replies to their responses: It is that bad. It will never settle. It’s your responsibility.

Initially they thought it was a smart move to send someone out to see the mound that was not so bad and would eventually settle. I’m certain they sent someone as a gesture, a token visit to demonstrate their concern, to quiet the complaint of the customer. The guy that came took one look and said, “This is a mess. We did this?”

A few days later a dump truck appeared, followed by a large scraper. They took away the mound. They smoothed the scar with a layer of new top soil. They scattered new grass seed. They covered it all with protective hay. We were shocked. We expected mound removal and nothing more.

Kerri and I visited the new hay-covered flat land front yard. Gopher and burial mound tales suddenly a thing of the past. She texted the story of the mound disappearance to Dan, our new-grass advisor and renowned-lawn-master. He wrote, “It’s nice to find people who want to do good work, who want to take responsibility for their work.” True. So true.

“I can’t believe it’s gone,” she said and smiled. “The squeaky wheel…”

Clapping imaginary dirt from my hands, feigning boy bravado, strutting with mock accomplishment, “Well. What’ll we take care of next?” I asked.

read Kerri’s blog post on HAYNETS

Find A Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In the age of Covid, the rules are different. We keep our distance from friends and loved ones. We make rules for engagement. Vaccinations, boosters and negative tests are the requirement for a visit. What was once connective tissue – like an airplane – is now a barrier. A cost/benefit analysis is required before stepping into a terminal. And then, spin the world of rules and boundaries on its axis and this is also true: we find a way. It’s what I appreciate most about people. Will finds way.

A species ends when it can no longer adapt to changes in circumstance.

For weeks we searched for a way to see Craig. To give him his xmas presents. A restaurant that required masks, proof of vaccination, and had a protected outdoor patio provided the necessary ingredients. On a January night, with temperatures dipping into the low 20’s we sat at a table nested between heaters and shared a meal. We exchanged gifts. And, we weren’t the only guests dining on the patio. Other patrons also searched for and found a way.

We loved our meal and our time together. We laughed at the absurdity of the situation. We acknowledged and embraced the necessity of outdoor dining in sub-zero temperatures. We made a story that we’ll tell in years to come. Do you remember when…?

Zoom has become a way. To a point. We’ve learned in this time of pandemic that seeing someone on a screen doesn’t replace seeing them in person. At work we’ve learned that many things can be done through a screen but many generative experiences are slower or inhibited without presence.

Presence.

Energy begets energy; the fire of enthusiastic idea generation is dampened through an app. As Skip said at our end of year meeting, “Nothing replaces breaking bread together. Someday we’ll share a meal.” I look forward to that time, to meeting the incredible people that I see each day through my screen.

We are racking up stories as we adapt to an ever-changing circumstance. To drive rather than fly takes time so we’re learning to take more time. To not rush to arrive. We feel the limits on the distance of our reach. We’re learning the depth of yearning to be-with as opposed to merely-look-at. We’re learning the necessity of boundaries and the health-considerations that come with saying “No.” Mostly, we’re learning the hard line between what’s do-able through a screen, and when we need to consider the ridiculous – and find a way.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEATERS

Climb The Ladder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Very few images are as potent as Tom Mck’s story of finding his 90 year old aunt Bunty on the roof of the farmhouse. There had been a storm. She’d hooked her cane on a rung and climbed the rickety ladder to make sure the shingles were intact, “Papa put a fine roof on this house,” she said, staring down at her alarmed nephew. Bunty was a farm woman. She saw no reason why she should not be on the roof. As the elder of the family, she was the keeper of the legacy. The house and ranch were the tangible creations of her ancestors and she was the steward.

Years later, when Bunty was gone and Tom was the ancestral steward, his task was untenable. The city was spreading like a fire, gobbling up farm land. He knew it was only a matter of time before the ranch was consumed. A Walmart was being built and he could almost see it from the porch. “What am I going to do?” he asked, knowing that he was the end of the line. His question was rhetorical. Sometimes the steward’s job is to close the door on an era. He knew what he had to do.

After Tom passed and the ranch was sold, I imagined him, like Bunty, standing on the roof of the farmhouse. He made sure that, as the land was lost, the legacy remained intact. He was strong, like Bunty. His ladder was rickety but he climbed it none-the-less. He made sure the shingles were intact. He met his task without self-pity.

I learned from him that life can forge you into strong metal or, if you choose, if you feel sorry for yourself, it can break you into tiny pieces. Jonathan told me that a tree must split its bark to grow and I understood that as a metaphor for aging. The bark splits because the spirit outgrows the body’s capacity to contain it. Beaky was like that. And, Dorothy. Mike. Grandma Sue. H. I admire them. Bodies break down. Aging hurts. Spirits, on the other hand, need not wither.

I’m told that, in her elderhood, Margaret stopped what she was doing each day to go out back and watch the sun set over the desert. She was made hardy by a hard life. She was made kind by how she chose to live within her hard life. Drying her hands, stepping out on the back porch, the sky electric with peach and pink, she met each sunset with gratitude. Intentional thankfulness for the day.

Gratitude is not a soft thing. It is an attribute of the strong. Hard won from a long life of choices. Bitterness is easy, a lazy thing. Climbing the ladder, standing on the roof, feeling the aches and the loses, facing the running sands with a smile and admiring the day’s end, celebrating the shingles that held fast through the storm and those who placed them, that takes grit. Courage. And, an understanding of the connected power and responsibility of standing in the long line of ancestry.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRONG WINGS

Take The Opportunity [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Paul used to teach his actors that, in choosing to step onto a stage, they had a profound responsibility. “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life,” he’d say. I took his lesson and passed it along to my students. I hope that a few of my students took Paul’s lesson and, in turn, passed it on. You have a responsibility.

Another lesson I learned, this time from Jim, was that great acting is about standing in truth. “Acting is the honest pursuit of an intention in imaginary circumstances.” Honest pursuit. It’s a misunderstanding to equate the art of acting with pretending. The circumstances are pretend. Actors are meant to be portals to a shared story, a channel to a common experience. They transport. They transform. “Never underestimate your power…”

John O’Donohue writes that the soul does not inhabit a body. It’s the other way around: bodies live within the soul. We only think we are isolated individuals, bubbles. The bubble is singular, soul, and we play our small dramas within it. We fill our bubble by how we stand in it, by what we bring into it. There is no on-stage or off. It’s all the stage.

The other day I was exhausted. I was standing on the edge of despair when my phone dinged. It was Rob. “What kind of wine do you like?” he texted. The edge disappeared.

From across the country, MM sends me cartoons that make me smile. Horatio sent an episode of The Twilight Zone. “You gotta watch this,” he said. David sends photos of Dawson at the easel. There is nothing so freeing to an aging artist than to watch a child draw. No limits.

The bubble is singular. The soul of the earth. These good friends, living honestly on the stage, have no idea of their profound impact and influence on me.

These days, when I think of my good teachers and dedicated mentors, when I think of Jim and Tom McK and Paul, I know that, were I to teach again, I would add a small caveat to our legacy-lesson. I’d say, “In choosing to step onto the stage, you have a profound responsibility and opportunity: never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.”

Take the opportunity. Each and every moment. Ripples sending ripples.

read Kerri’s blog post about SOUL OF THE EARTH

Adapt Or Not [on Merely A Thought Monday]

One of Kerri’s 2020 photo series is of discarded masks. I thought it odd the very first time we saw a mask tangled in the weeds on the side of the trail. I also thought it odd that Kerri jumped to take a picture of it. “Things you never thought you’d see!” she proclaimed after capturing her image.

Over these past several months her collection of images has grown exponentially. She adds to it almost daily. Masks in gutters. Masks on sidewalks. Masks in parking lots. Trail side masks left dangling from branches. Masks in aisle 9 near the peanut butter. What was peculiar a few months ago has become normalized. “Another mask!” she says and kneels to take a snap. I barely notice.

A new normal.

I’ve read that homo sapiens are a successful species because of our ability to adapt to changing environments. I’ve also read that entire cultures have vanished off the face of the planet because of their (our) ability to habituate the extreme – that is, adapt – to behaviors that collapse their (our) environment. Frogs in a pot. Just watch what happens to a cohesive community when the well runs dry or the fuel source is exhausted. Just watch what happens as the planet warms and weather-weirding becomes more dire. Fire season never ends. Hurricane season stretches on and on – we adapt our system for counting them because there are too many for the old system to contain.

We are not the first homo sapiens to deny what is right in front of our eyes. Denial, after all, is a cousin to adaptation.

Pandemics rage. People travel en masse for the holidays with no regard to the appeals of healthcare workers or the pleas of the CDC. Individual rights exercised at the expense of neighbors lives. Homo sapiens are capable of denying that they are a social animal. It’s romantic, this illusion of cowboys going it alone. An intentional snub of greater responsibility. Peeing in the pool.

It-is what-it-is. A new normal.

Each day we pass people on the trail. There are two distinct groups. Those with masks who pull them up when they encounter others. And, those without. “People who don’t give a sh*t,” Kerri whispers. The dividing line couldn’t be more apparent.

“Things I never thought I’d see,” I say. After a moment, I add, “You should take out your camera and start a new series. People incapable of adaptation!”

“We’d have to get releases, we’d have to get their permission” she says, always the practical one. Then, cutting to the heart of the matter, she said, “Besides, they’re not that interesting. People who don’t care are sooooo much less interesting than people who do care.”

Adapting to new circumstances – wearing a mask – is an act of caring. “Yes,” I sigh, suddenly understanding her mask photo series. Lost or discarded caring. It’s ubiquitous. It’s normalized.

Somehow, I manage to find her mask series hopeful. Some truths, like kindness – like caring, are universal. The lost masks are evidence. The litter of caring is everywhere.

The ancient norms eventually float to the top. The heat of the fire always – eventually – wakes us up or brings us together. Or we boil. We collapse. We persevere. We divide. We unite. We take a new form. We evolve.

Everything is different now. Nothing new.

read Kerri’s blog post about BECAUSE

Look Into Their Eyes [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I joke that my experience of moving to Wisconsin was akin to a brake-less semi-truck hitting a runaway truck ramp. I plowed into the sand and pieces of me flew off in all directions. My work, my artistry, my orientation to life. Also lost in the rapid deceleration were my defense mechanisms, my armor, my “status” and “role” as I understood it. Full stop. Bumpers, bolts and bits of me strewn all over the place. It seemed that I was no longer useful.

I recently read a story about African porters, after days of hurrying to keep up with the team of explorers racing to get through the jungle, the porters refused to go another step. They simply sat down. The exasperated explorers appealed to the porters to no avail. “We have been moving so fast, ” the porters said, “we must now wait for our souls to catch up to our bodies.”

I have learned that, amid my wreckage, I am like the porters. Although my abrupt stop was largely unconscious, my soul needed some time to catch up. Wonderment takes time. Depth of experience (otherwise known as relationship) requires a good bit of standing still.

It’s a lesson I have learned more than once. During my time in Bali, if I wanted to walk with Budi, I had to slow way down. It’s actually possible to walk-in-presence rather than walk-in-purpose. In slow walking I learned I could breathe. My mind slowed. Direct experience (also known as relationship) and imagination filled-to-the-brim my new found space.

In our world, so addicted to speed and achievement and possessing and lists and “getting there,” we flatten our experiences to the mechanical. In nuts-and-bolts there is very little meaning to be found. Worse, there is no inter-connectivity. There is no experience of togetherness in an expectation of quotas and cubicles.

When I was consulting with organizations, the most profound experience I could provide my clients was simply to have them stand and face each other. No words. Presence is utterly terrifying to people who are dedicated to never being present. Once through the terror, however, there is no better balm to the horrors of a “business-is-business” wound.

Flat world phrases like “bottom line,” “human resources,” and “business-is-business” are ultimately the language of abdication of responsibility. It is the language of separation. It is the language of cowardice. As we know, it is possible to do all manner of violence on people and the planet when they are reduced to a “resource” or considered an obstacle to business.

We can forgive ourselves anything when we refuse to stand still and look each other in the eye.

The eyes are, after all, the window to the soul.

Stand still. facing another human being, and you will at first pull up the drawbridge and man the parapets. Guards will rush to the towers. But, after a few moments of eye-to-eye-looking, the castle falls apart. The pieces come down. It’s like laying in a hammock on a dark starry night, gazing into the Milky Way. You will either clap your hands and laugh with wonder or you will weep with the profound recognition of belonging.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRAVELING TOGETHER

Pray For Apollo [on Two Artists Tuesday]

contrail copy

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

 

 

ace and bill website box copy

 

Horses FullSize copy

Change They to We

photo-2

the next step in my painting, The Weeping Man. He’s nearly complete

The word that’s captured my recent attention is the word “they.” I’m captivated by language choices that might at first seem insignificant but, once unpacked, are profound. “They” is one of those words.

“They” caught my attention when 20 was making us dinner. His recipe included fennel and, until we googled it, we thought anise and fennel were the same thing. While we Googled for truth, Kerri asked, “Why would they name something twice?”

“Good question!” I replied and then asked, “Who are ‘they?'”

“Good question!” she echoed as the Google oracle brought us clarity about our fennel/anise confusion (as it turns out they are two different plants). Google was not very useful in clarifying who “they” were.

So, this week I listened for samples. Some of what I heard: “Why would they do that?” (a conversation about women in another culture). “They don’t care about us.” (what else, politics). “Don’t you think they cause their own problems?” (referring to a situation in a local minority community).

“They” can be a word of distancing, a word of exclusion. If you want to mess with the meaning, simply change the pronoun. For instance: why would we do that? We don’t we care about us. Don’t you thing we cause our own problems? “We” is inclusive. “We” makes us participants. “We” makes us culpable.

a detail of Weeping Man.

a detail of Weeping Man.

What if, in our current state of mis-education for instance, we stopped asking about our policy makers, “What are they doing?” And, instead, asked, “What are we doing?” What kind of action or meaningful discussion might ensue if we simply refused to use the word “they?” What if, as artists, we stopped asking, “Why don’t they get it?” and instead asked, “What don’t we get?” Artists do not create in a vacuum. Our expression might be individual and unique but without a community to receive, debate, appreciate, revile and otherwise engage it, has little purpose. After all, “they” are “we” if our language will allow us to see it.

the previous photo/stage I posted

the previous photo/stage I posted

Make Your Own Adventure

TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS

make your own adventure

FOR TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.