Let The Outside In [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Civilization excels at manufacturing anesthetics.” ~Declan Donnellan

“What are you waiting for? Snow?” 20 was sweating. It was July, hot and humid, and he wondered why we had yet to put the air conditioner units in the windows. Our house was built in 1928 and central air is something we can only imagine. In truth, we’d been asking ourselves the same question all summer. Why are we suffering the heat and, yet, so resistant to putting the ac units in the windows?

Finally, the penny dropped. We realized why we had no desire to plug up the windows, shut the door, and manufacture cold air. Last summer, as the pandemic numbers soared, as our city burned with civil unrest, we shut the world out. We isolated. We turned on the cold air and made certain we felt as little of the heat as possible. This summer, even though we are still keeping our circle small, we want to feel the summer. We want to breathe the real air, not the manufactured stuff.

The real air is hot. Humid. Uncomfortable.

I made breakfast after reading the news. Poor Kerri had to listen to my epiphany-rant: While cracking eggs I realized that the horror story of the GOP wouldn’t be able to perpetuate their pandemic-denial-march if the people listening to them wanted to hear truth. “If I was born in 1700,” I said, “I’d have an excuse for being ignorant. I’d be illiterate and have very limited access to information. I’d be easily led because I wouldn’t have the capacity to check the story that I was being fed. That’s not true today.” We have, unlike any time in human history, immediate access to information. I rarely participate in a conversation that doesn’t involve someone pulling up information on their phone, checking a fact or the veracity of a story being shared. How then, in the middle of the national pandemic hot spot, can the governor of Florida block every science-based mitigation measure and whip up a fruit smoothie of fear – how can he manufacture so much empty air – without his constituents crying foul? The answer is easy: they would rather not feel or know what’s really going on outside their comfort-bubble. They are choosing fluff over fact, anger over curiosity.

In our day and age, ignorance is a choice. Denial is a choice. Plugging the windows is a choice. Insular is a choice. The device carried in every pocket could, in a heartbeat, puncture the gasbag-foolishness.

Reading this post, MM will be compelled to once again send me this quote, so I will preemptively include it: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.” E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology.

I know. I know.

Belief, like sugar, is easy to consume. Knowledge takes some effort and self-reflection. Anger and fear and division are easy, too, especially when the target audience of the fearmongers has no desire to challenge the narrative. It is the great paradox of our times that those waving their flags and screaming the loudest about their freedoms are so ready and willing to abdicate their freedom of thought. They parrot the fox. They inhale the anesthetic, the manufactured air.

Last night we watched a great short documentary, Lessons From The Water: Diving With A Purpose. Black divers searching for the shipwrecks of slave ships. One of the founders of the projected said,“Here in the US, our (African American) history has been ignored,” he adds. “They don’t really teach anything about slavery in schools. And I think if you don’t teach your history, you’re bound to repeat it.”

They dive to find the artifacts, to tell a fuller story. They dive. They look for artifacts. Facts. A complete narrative.

It made me think about the enormous resistance to critical race theory, the intense counter-narrative to climate change, the ferocious dedication to perpetuating The Big Lie, the ubiquitous conspiracy theories and global rise of authoritarian voices…all of it an appeal to an insular story. Close your eyes. Trust without question what you are told.

The real story is uncomfortable. It is hot. It needs telling. Fingers out of ears, eyes wide open. Forward movement, growth, health, is never the result of suppression, distraction or numbness. Health, equilibrium, always follows the revelation and acceptance of the full story. It’s open windows. It’s letting the outside in.

read Kerri’s blog post about LET THE OUTSIDE IN

Choose [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“It’s a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” ~ Mary Oliver

Were I to have been born in an earlier century I would not be alive today. Twice on my life-path doctors have declared that, “You are now a miracle of modern medicine.” Leeches and blood-letting would not have cured what ailed me.

This thing called ‘science’ is what gave me more days of life. It is the same science that developed vaccines for a pandemic but also made possible the technology that makes mass-media-misinformation possible. Here is the medicine. Here is the disease. It is exactly as Sophocles wrote: Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.

One morning, deeply tired, I arose to go do a job that I did not like. It was a means to an end and I dreaded the day ahead of me. Stepping out the door, the cold morning air stopped me in my tracks. It slapped me awake. The air was crisp and clean, the neighborhood was quiet. The light in the sky was brilliant. I drank it in. I vowed never again to dread a day of my life. In truth, I had no idea what the day held for me. Why then, would I story my day with a frame of dread? Why tell myself a tale of just-getting-through-it? Why not open to the possibilities of surprise and miracle? Why not embrace the already-stated-obvious-thing: I had no idea what the day held. That simple fact would be true every single day of my life. Dread was a choice, not an inevitability.

To be alive on this fresh morning. It is a serious thing. In this world, broken by the little story of us-and-them, the tiny tale of power-over. Choices. The miracle of the new day is present whether it is seen or not. We can cloak it in dread or gratitude, in support or division. It doesn’t care either way. The miracle of the new day, the gift of being alive on this fresh morning in a world that is broken or healed, whole or fragmented – it all depends upon the story-frame we wrap around it. The story we tell is a choice, not an inevitability.

read Kerri’s blog post about JUST TO BE ALIVE

Prove It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am about to prove that I am guilty of everything I accuse others of being. I am just as capable of surrounding myself with like-minded people as the next person. Let me explain:

I cheered when I read Marc’s response in the conversation chain. It was an appeal, an attempt to puncture a dedicated delusion, an untethered ideology. But, as is always the case when fantasy is met with fact, the holder of the fantasy vehemently defended and further retreated into their illusion. Confirmation bias.

Among my favorite phrases this week comes from a New Yorker article, Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. The phrase: the illusion of explanatory depth. Here are two quotes from the article:

“People believe that they know more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people.” In other words, we ally with people who hold a similar belief rooted in the same lack-of-knowledge. Apparently, as a species, we’d rather be reinforced in our ignorance than consider the possibility that we don’t know what we are talking about. Purple Kool-Aid is easier to drink than wondering if what we’re being told may or may not be truth. It explains the current GOP, Fox News, OAN, Ron Johnson, and the rest of the dangerous-national-clown-car.

Quote number 2: “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding.”

Strong feelings. Deep understanding.

In the canon of human self-aggrandizement, we delight in the narrative that we are primarily rational, that our reason, like a good border collie, has driven our emotions into safe containment. The opposite seems to be the case. Or, at best, we are a mass of contradictions.

There is a flip-side, a necessity woven into our contradiction that gives me hope. Strong feelings and deep understanding are not natural enemies and need not be pitted against each other. Think of it this way, no firefighter, in his or her right mind, would run into a burning building to save a life, if we were as rational and reasonable as we like to believe. They do, however, study fires beforehand to know how to run in, how to reach. They study the science. For every exploiter there is a matching story of a giver, someone whose strong feelings combines with their deep understanding in an effort to better the world, save a life, make things easier.

That which makes us crazy also makes us compassionate. How’s that for a statement of contradiction? Families fight each other until the forest fire threatens their house. Common cause and education are a great poppers of confirmation bias.

Some fires are manufactured with the sole purpose of exploiting confirmation bias. This kind of exploitation is dependent upon – and feeds upon – strong feelings with shallow roots in understanding. Ignorance. The big lie. Vaccine misinformation. Divide and conquer is always reliant on strong feelings intended to create blindness.

Some fires are real. And, the test of a real fire: divisions fall, eyes open, and people run toward the flames to help other people. It remains to be seen how hot and close the flames need to come before the confirmation bias burns off and we realize that we’re in real trouble, that science is real, and that the big trough of purple (red) kool-aid being proffered is doing the opposite of what it professes to do.

It may be in our nature to believe that we know more than we do, but, it is also in our nature, without concern or thought for our own safety, to reach for the drowning person. Deep understanding allies with strong feelings when people cared enough to learn how to reach, how not to become the person drowned by the drowning person.

Do you see it? I am an idealist. I want to believe in the goodness of humanity and the necessity of shared truth. Yet, despite powerful evidence to the contrary, I hold fast to my dedicated belief that we are capable of tipping toward love rather than falling toward hate, that, when faced with undeniable data, that we are capable of questioning our strong feelings en route to a deeper, shared understanding. We are capable of recognizing that the science that brought us the cell phone, satellites, allergy medicine, and electric light is the same science that brings us the data of climate change, and the best way to beat this pandemic. Cherry picking belief in science is…absurd and currently dangerous. Cherry picking news is equally as absurd and currently dangerous. From my idealistic mind, it is a necessity to ask questions, check sources, doubt belief.

We are certainly capable of knowing the real fires from the those fanned by the thought-arsonists. We are capable of questioning, of suspending our delusions. At least, I like to believe that we are. I, like you, surround myself with like-minded believers.

We’ve proven it again and again and again. When we recognize that the fire is real, our dedicated illusions burn the filters from our eyes, we transcend our little stories, and reach our hands with no thought of political alliance or other exploitative non-sense, to help dig our neighbors from the rubble.

read Kerri’s blog post about BASIC LOGICAL REASONING

Welcome A New Day [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

An old dream. A new day. Enough said.

Unify The Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It is a continued irony. The fuel driving the angry wearers of red hats, those who fervently seek a bygone world with concrete truths, a simpler time awash in black-and-white thinking, have wrapped themselves in a fox-cloak that shields them from fact or data – the very thing that might deliver them to their holy land. Science, the lodestone of reason, the giver of hard truth, is the first thing they deny. Their wizard, magnified through a foxy megaphone, has magically transformed facts into threats, assaults on ham-headed belief.

And, so, we continue the dance of two competing narratives.

Science tells us the climate is changing and human activity is driving the change. Carbon emissions sits atop the list of greenhouse gases. It is a fact. Think of it this way: narrative number one: the west coast burns with record-breaking forest fires, the gulf coast is pounded by record-breaking storms because, as science tells us, the globe is warming. Narrative number two: the west coast is on fire because, as the denier expounds, the good people of California haven’t adequately raked their forests.

Repeat a lie long enough and often enough and it will become a mantra.

Hoax. Hoax. Hoax. Fake. Fake. Fake.

It is the national equivalent of an anorexic looking into a mirror and seeing someone who needs to stop eating. No amount of evidence will penetrate the disorder. It is deadly to be so deluded.

And so, we arrive at the election. A continued tale of two narratives. In the complete absence of evidence, forest-rakers, climate-change-deniers, scream across a canyon of missing evidence, “FRAUD!”

Narrative number one: all legitimate votes were counted with every possible safeguard in place making sure it was a fair election and Biden accrued the most votes (sidebar: seriously, in these times with a raging pathological liar in the president’s seat, can you imagine any state not doubling and tripling their vote checking? That is, in fact, what happened. There has never been an election with so many safeguards).

Narrative number two: “HOAX! FRAUD. FAKE. CHEAT.” The red hat team screamed their mantra even before the votes had been cast and carry on their chant even though less votes were cast for their candidate (sidebar #2: their guy also screamed “hoax, fraud, cheat” throughout the 2016 campaign until he won the electoral college and then, magically, everything was legitimate. Keep in mind that he also empaneled a commission to prove that there was FRAUD when he lost the popular vote. His panel found no evidence of voter fraud. None. Zero.)

The evidence of voter fraud in these-never-sometimes-united-un-united-states is statistically zero. That has always been true. It is true – especially true – today.

It’s a pattern and it’s more than exhausting. No amount of forest-raking will change the reality of climate change. No amount of bullying or cries that the sky is falling will change the vote count.

Ignorance is not always about a lack of education. Sometimes it is an absolute dedication to a story that has no merit. It is to build a house-of-belief on shifting sand and claim-in-the-face-of-hard-proof that it is built on solid stone.

Kerri’s been humming this song all week. Time for a cool change. Yes. It is way past time. Her humming is like a rain dance, an invocation of life-giving relief from a truth-drought.

The rain has come; the election is over. Perhaps, the earth will cool, the narratives will unify. A boy can dream.

read Kerri’s blog post about COOL CHANGE

Open The Box [on KS Friday]

“Old beliefs die hard even when demonstrably false.” E.O. Wilson, Consilience, The Unity Of Knowledge

On the field where the city holds its Tuesday night summer jazz concert series, boxes are painted on the grass. A visual statement. A nod to the necessity of social distance in a time of pandemic. Stay within the box. The series started despite the CDC warning against large gatherings. The series stopped when the protests began.

Boxes within boxes within boxes. We are a nation that has gladly and enthusiastically confused itself. Mitigating the spread of the pandemic is easily achieved – as demonstrated by much of the world – through mask wearing and social distancing measures. We’ve somehow managed to force ourselves into a too-tight-box by defining the simple pandemic-mitigation-measures as assaults on freedom.

Our freedom must be very fragile indeed if a thin piece of fabric, a mask worn to benefit others in our community, is all that it takes to constitute a threat. Our freedom. 200,000 dead in six months. We wage war on each other, no external threat is necessary.

We’ve managed to make simple science the Cassandra of our time. Screaming in the streets, she delivers to us simple truth and we ignore her dire warnings. We tug the Trojan Horse through once-secure gates into our cities and homes. “We are free to do whatever we want!” we gloat unmasked in reply to Cassandra science. “We are free!”

Boxes within boxes within boxes. Yes, we are free to shoot each other. It is our right. We are free to spread the virus while we assemble unmasked to demonstrate our freedom. In a time of confronting our history of racial injustice, we are free to equate a temporary pandemic lock down to slavery. There is, after all, more than one way to shoot at each other.

We are free, we are free, we are free. Boxes within boxes.

THE BOX on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOX

the box/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Find The Outrage [on DR Thursday]

Sometimes a pertinent question crosses paths with an unrelated conversation and an insight-door opens. Dials spin and blurry confusion becomes clear. Simple.

The pertinent question comes from Don Lemon: “Where’s the outrage?” 150,000 people dead in a span of five months. The number is climbing. The rate of infection is staggering. We remain the most advanced nation on earth and the least capable of slowing the spread of a virus because of intentional campaigns of misinformation, inaction, and failure of national leadership. Where is the outrage? It’s a great question.

At first, I thought our outrage was possibly plummeting into the crevasse created by our national schizophrenia and, therefore, missing. For instance, as a nation, we both heavily rely on science and also, somehow, manage to deny it outright. The science and vetting procedures that bring us blood pressure medicine, treatments for diabetes, depression, cancer, etc., is the same science that tells us the only way to contain this pandemic is 1) wearing a mask, 2) practice social distancing, 3) washing hands, 4) implementing effective testing and contact tracing so we can isolate the outbreaks. It’s simple science. It lives on the same level of science as knowing that vinegar and baking soda will make your school-volcano-project erupt every time. It’s not complex and it’s reliable. It’s also the only way to control the virus until science – yes, science – brings us a vaccine.

In the face of this simplicity we’ve somehow politicized and resisted mask-wearing, we gather in bars and gyms, attend concerts and rallies, travel with abandon, we’ve declared the pandemic a hoax [yea, a conspiracy theory, no less], touted a medication that has been proven and proven again by science – yes, science – to be ineffective. We ignore the science. We attack the science and the scientists when it doesn’t support the fox-fueled-fantasy-tale. Schizophrenic. Outrage is in icy silence at the bottom of the crevasse.

That seems plausible to me. Sad, consistent, and plausible. But not quite complete. How did we get so lost, so complicit with stupidity?

This morning Kerri said, “It’s entitlement.” How many times over the past several months have we heard, “I didn’t get to do what I planned so I deserve to….” or “It’s my right!” How many sunny vacation photos accompany a phrase like, “A well deserved getaway!” I’d be my brother’s/sister’s keeper except that would impinge on my rights.

People I love crisscross the country, eat in bars, refuse to wear masks, swim in motel pools, hold church services and sing in closed spaces, go to hot-spots for some time at the beach because they think they deserve it. It is their right…and they tell me they are being safe. It is not possible to have it both ways. People I love are lost in easily debunked conspiracy theories and can’t be bothered to take a few minutes to check their sources. They don’t care. It is their right to believe what they want to believe with no regard to evidence or data or fact.

Every mouth has two sides. And, as a storytelling animal, people can justify anything and believe wholeheartedly the story they tell, no matter how wacky or untethered. A healthy sense of entitlement can explain away all manner of misdeed.

The dials turned. The picture cleared. The outrage, I would tell Don Lemon, will come when people care more for their neighbors than their imagined entitlements.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ENTITLEMENTS

 

 

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weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson

Know And Share [on Merely A Thought Monday]

 

If you were alive in the 1980’s you’ll remember Robert Fulgrum’s book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.  It is a festival of simple-yet-clear-advice for living well. Play fair. Share everything. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone. Each bit of advice is a nod to our inter-connectivity. No one walks this path alone. Hold hands. Stick together.

Visit Robert Fulgrum’s homepage and you’ll read this: “Often, without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives.” Mutual influence. We impact each other everyday in ways that we remain mostly unaware.

If this pandemic has done anything illuminating it has proven beyond doubt how utterly interconnected we actually are. My breath and your breath are intimate exchanges. My choices and your choices will either harm or help each other. It’s a choice. Your story and my story may be diametrically opposed and warring but they both must adhere to the force of gravity, the nature of time, the spread of virus. This virus actually thrives when we shout at each other. It rides our aerosols in a rodeo of mutual influence and cares not for the political color of the lungs it inhabits. After all. truth and misinformation share the same airspace, touch the same doorknobs, are broadcast over the same technology, are paid for and brought to us by the same commercial sponsors.

One of the things Robert Fulgrum learned in kindergarten and wrote about is this: goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

This virus cares not whether we love or hate each other in the precious bit of life that we share. About us, its host, it is utterly agnostic. On the other hand, we have the choice. It’s a choice and seems so simple. Play fair. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Like it our not, recognize it our not, our lives are in each other’s hands.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ELEMENTARY SCHOOL RULES

 

 

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in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

Put A Face On It [on DR Thursday]

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Strange times. The ukulele band that used to meet every Wednesday evening on our back deck now gathers on Zoom. The time delay makes it impossible for everyone to play and sing together but everyone has adjusted, adapted, and accepted the obstacle; the out-of-sync noise we make is beautiful because we are making it together. For me our noise has become an affirmation of the best of humanity in a time of celebrated ugliness: people are capable of reaching the essential when they want to. It is not the sound of the music that matters, it is the togetherness that is necessary.

It was a rough morning. We’ve been trying to find a way to safely go to Colorado to visit Kerri’s daughter and my parents. It’s been over a year. Kirsten wrote and asked us not to come. “It’s a COVID hotbed here,” she wrote. “With how cautious you guys are trying to be it doesn’t make sense to go to a place where people don’t care.” She lives and works in a mountain town, a tourist destination. “All the respectful tourists stayed at home like they’re supposed to so we have all the a**hole ones here, lol.” In the store where she works, people yell at her when she asks them to put on a mask. “It’s the law right now,” she wrote.

People, as we know, are capable of missing the essential. All across this land they are capable of not caring. The latest projection of pandemic deaths in America by November stands at 208,000. That grim number drops by an astounding 45,000 if, today, people started wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing their hands. If people, today, started considering the impact their actions have on the lives of other people.

45,000 lives. 208,000 people. Those numbers are derived from the best science, from data – you know – the stuff we choose to ignore. The real trouble with numbers is that they don’t have faces, they are without story. They are sterile. Their family groups do not mourn when one goes missing. A simple number: 45,000.  Never was there a massacre so simple to prevent.

Celebrated ugliness. An demonstration of all that is wrong with us.

The music is out of sync. People are capable of reaching the essential if they want to. But first, they must want to. It is the togetherness-in-action that is necessary, even if our togetherness means to agree to stay apart, to mask our faces. Caring. It is an affirmation of our humanity.

Without that, what is left? Numbers. Just numbers.

[This is a sketch of Kerri conducting one of the Zoom rehearsal. It is next up on the easel. The canvas is already primed and the charcoal image is in place.]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SKETCH

 

 

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winged ©️ 2018 david robinson

Why Ask Why [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A rare warm day, walking the Des Plains River trail. I should have been startled when Kerri suddenly jumped off the trail but I’ve grown accustomed to her spring-loaded-photo-impulsive-gambols. I actually love the passion of her image capturing so I’ve learned not to be surprised when she leaps and snaps. There is no danger. There is a photo opp.

“SEE!” she exclaimed, showing me the photo. “Even nature is asking ‘Why?'”

My first thought: Which “why” is nature asking? Why a pandemic?  Why so much division?

Simon Sinek has made a career of teaching people to ask “Why?” before asking “How?” It makes sense: you should probably know why you want to scale the mountain before asking, “How will I do it?” People need an answer to “why.” And, because we are human, the answer to “why” need not be reasonable or rational. “Because it is there,” is an acceptable answer to “why?” I want to. I need to know. I want to feel. I need to see what is there.

“How?” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. “How” is known through reflection. There is the plan. There is the reality that comes when the plan meets the unknown forces. The plan changes. The only honest answer to “how” is: do what makes sense and we’ll talk about it later.

Amidst a pandemic, it is only human to throw up our arms to the sky and demand an answer to our “Why?”  To borrow a lyric from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: “I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I know, darling,  that you do.” In other words, viruses are intention-free. Sometimes, even though we want an explanation, there is no “why.”

There is, however, always a plan, there is a path to “How?”  How do we protect ourselves? How do we deal with it? In fact, there are layers to the question “how?” The first layer of ‘how’ is simple: social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands. Looking back from this vantage point, we know it is the best we can do short of a vaccine. Simple science.

The second layer of the how-cake is more complex and, like all ‘how’ questions, we will only be able to talk about at some point down the broken road. Maybe a vaccine. Maybe herd immunity. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe we will be foolish, like the Philadelphia parade during the Spanish flu and escalate the death toll to the point that we wake up and listen to the first ‘how?’

The virus is a force like a tornado is a force. Why did it take my neighbor’s house and not mine? Why did the forest fire rage through this neighborhood and not that neighborhood?

Here’s the only “why” question we really need to consider: in the face of this virus-forest-fire, why did we rush out to light matches (pack into bars and onto beaches), parade around screaming about our individual rights instead of metaphorically rushing into the fire to save our neighbors in the only way we knew how (social distance, masks) –  as we would have done in an inferno?

I don’t believe in an interventionist god. But I do believe in intentional human beings (conscious and otherwise).

Nature need not ask “why?” We do. It’s a sure bet that our answer will make little or no sense at all.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHY

 

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