Compose Your Differences [on Flawed Wednesday]

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A quick glance at recorded human history and it’s not a stretch to suggest that we’ve done everything BUT give peace a chance. Peace, I imagine, is buried beneath the stacks of untouched gun control legislation towering on Mitch McConnell’s desk.

The centerfold of the June, 2020 National Geographic Magazine is a color-coded chart of the roots of violence across time with corresponding estimates of lives lost. Religious conflicts, wars of conquest, colonial exploitation and revolt, despots, dynastic disputes, wars of dominance, and internal clashes make up some of the variations of the theme. The two most relevant to our current struggle are internal clash and collapse of state.

In an us-and-them world, resources are worth fighting for. There’s not enough pie to go around apparently so taking other people’s pie is reason enough to kill. Defending pie is also reason to kill. It follows.

In 2011 Steven Pinker published a book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. He argues that violence has declined over time and provides a mountain of data and theories to support his contention. He suggests that we are not inherently violent. I find that hopeful.

Of course, the decline in violence can only be seen by stepping far enough away. These days it feels like the necessary step is into outer space. Up close and personal, and according to the narrative-of-the-day, we’re a bloody fighting mess. It’s the story we tell. Startlingly, we are living proof that data, fact, and science can’t hold a candle to conspiracy theory and narcissistic fantasy. Gullibility, thy name is human.

Here’s my two cents: war is profitable and peace is not. Make peace profitable and we’d give it more than a passing chance, we’d insist upon it. That sounds jaded but keep in mind that our lexicon includes the phrase “military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower warned us against this unholy alliance, the marriage of defense contractors and the armed forces. It would become, he foretold, a threat to our democracy. “We must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”

Decent purpose.

The second of my two cents goes like this: we’ve built our castle on a bedrock economy of war. It’s a complex system and systems do not go gentle into that good night, they fight to the death to sustain themselves. Peace will have a chance when we decide to embrace a decent purpose and, ironically, that will probably require a fight.

In the meantime, we’ll see multiple conflicts fueled around the globe, military budgets that dwarf every other line item to fund the fighting. Locally, our leaders will douse us in endless thoughts and prayers as the next elementary school is shot up, we’ll see small differences of opinion settled by guns and not intellect, conversation, or simply agreeing to disagree [on a very sad and revealing note: the people at our local grocery store are timid to reinforce their mask policy for fear of being killed. And so, we see up close and personal the threat to our democracy that Eisenhower cried out to no one listening].

As for me, I do not wish to be covered by anyone with an assault rifle. I do not wish to have one pointed at me either. I do not think citizens in a civilized society need military grade weapons unless they are confined to the shooting range. I think a civilized society should operate on the principles it espouses, principles of civility and, yes, intellect and the most decent of purposes: peace.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE

 

 

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Free Your Freedom [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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David sends photographs of his young son, Dawson, painting. Or playing. Or just enjoying the moment. I love them. They bring smiles and a Picasso-esque reminder. Paint like a child. Play-to-play and for no other reason. Wear a cape and fly!

Adults get enmeshed in all manner of weird issues. They come to think that things like wearing-a-mask-during-a-pandemic can be an inhibitor to their freedom when, in fact, they gave away their freedom ages ago. They grew up and forgot how to play, how to mush color around with their fingers, how to roll down a grassy slope and run back to the top to do it all over again. They forgot how to play with others. They muzzle themselves.

Adults give away their freedom when they come to believe that a brand of car or the label on their clothes gives them status or makes them sexy. They confuse their money with their morality. They give away 5 days so they might live for 2 or, worse, they suffer through thirty years of toil with the zany idea that they will live life when they “retire.”

Adults get lost in illusion. They snap towels and brag about their wild-side while pulling on their uniform-stiff-collar-suit and cinching up a tie around their neck. They somehow come to think that pushing other people down will raise them up the ladder. They create odd justifications: dog-eat-dog or business-is-business or divide-and-conquer. Play-to-win and for no other reason.

Let’s face it, adults fill themselves up with fear and judgment. They can’t paint with their fingers because someone might call them childish or stupid or worse! And, horror of horrors! What if their finger painting isn’t perfect in the eyes of others?! Shame is a great inhibitor especially when it is the imagined response to fun-and-free-self-expression. The only safe thing to do is put away the dangerous color, wash the paint from your hands. The only safety is to judge others! Establish some mask of authority; become the arbiter of right and wrong. Dole out the shame so as not to receive it. Phew.

Adults mistakenly believe that power is control, that power is something wielded over others. Every child knows that power has nothing to do with control. Power is something created with others, like painting with your dad. That is power-full! Even infants know that power is a relationship of mutual support, it crackles between people. Humans-of-every-age are never more powerful than when helping others grow.

Poor sad adults have it upside-down and backwards. As I used to tell students, “Any idiot with a pistol can take life, it takes a very powerful person to give life.” There’s no real power in the taking. There’s infinite power in the giving.

Just so, there’s no freedom in the taking. There’s infinite freedom in the giving, the free expression, the playing, the laughing, the sharing. Every child knows that.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DON’T GROW UP!

 

 

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Look For It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

read Kerri’s blog post about INTREPID LIFE

 

 

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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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Sing [on KS Friday]

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The story is famous in these parts. It goes like this: when I met Kerri I told her that she needed to know two things about me: 1) I don’t sing. 2) I don’t pray. She gave me a sideways knowing look and said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

I had some very-traumatic-early-in-my-life-singing-experiences. Lots of shame and humiliation led me to an adamant preemptive proclamation with my musician-soon-to-be wife: I do not sing. No way. Don’t even ask. I’ll watch from the sidelines.

Of course, within a few months, she had me in a ukulele band, a choir, and a band. It turns out I like to sing. The problem, she taught me, was not in my capacity to sing, it was in how I hear sound. I hear an octave up. She taught me how to hear. I am now a confident parasitic singer (i.e. I sing just fine with others, just don’t ask me to sing alone).

I’ve spent my life teaching people to see. How beautifully ironic (or perfect) that I needed to learn to hear.

Early in the saga of Beowulf, he is caught in a swarm and blinded by bees. Because he was blinded, he had to develop other senses; his heightened senses were critical in combating and defeating the monster Grendel. Late in his life, he retired as a beekeeper. He not only made peace with bees, they become his allies. At the very end, his bees are his greatest strength. They defeat a dragon plaguing his kingdom.

The great stories are with us for a reason. They can help us navigate and craft our own life stories. For instance, the greatest wounds can be limits or they can lead to new and vital gifts. I’ve learned from Beowulf that the path you take – limit or liberation –  depends on the story you argue for, the focus you choose. When I met Kerri I was arguing for my limitation. I do not sing. Period.

Another recurring theme in the great stories goes like this: when you are ready, the right teacher appears.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SING

 

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Expect Nothing [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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The man was about to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail. The interviewer asked, “What do you expect it will be like? What do you expect will happen?” The man replied, “I try not to have any expectations. I want to be open to what comes along, whatever that might be.”

It’s a spiritual practice. Make no assumptions. Release all preconceived notions. Open to what is and not what you think should be. Have the experience first, make meaning second. All good advice for attempting presence: that place we fully occupy but rarely visit.

Making meaning. It’s what people do. Wrap an experience in a story. Wrap it in a blanket of belief. Often we muffle the experience in a heavy cloak  before we’ve had it.”It’s going to be hard.” “I don’t think they will like me.” Or, “This will be the best!” “I’m going to crush it!”

Joe used to call this high-dream/low-dream. Imagine the best. Imagine the worst. Like a magical invocation. Either way, an expectation is set. The story has begun and imposes a slick layer over the happenings. The story bleaches the experience-space, that full range of color available between the high and low.

It’s no wonder we can’t find compromise in our current nation-story.

I watch DogDog in the morning. He can’t wait to race outside. He barks for no other reason than it feels good. He sits in the sun. He chases birds with no hope or expectation that he will catch one [he wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what to do if he actually caught one]. DogDog does not know there is a pandemic. He does not care about people politicizing mask wearing. He holds no expectation for the direction of the day. His to-do list is blank. He is happy going on errands. He is happy sleeping on the cool tiles.  He holds no grudges. He makes no judgments. He holds his story lightly. He is happy both before and after he eats. Sometimes he even tastes his food. Above all, he is happiest when we are happy.

Open to experience, DogDog has much to teach me. He has much to teach the world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HAPPY DOING

 

 

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The quote “happy doing something, happy doing nothing” comes from an article about Augie the dog.

Imagine It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is a tale of two schools, both in the same school district. It is the story of the very day when the younger version of me grasped with both hands the absolute importance of the arts, when I understood to my bones that art was not a luxury but a necessity in a healthy world.

As the manager of the theatre conservatory, I sometimes went to observe the actor outreach programs in the schools. On this particular day, two schools were on the schedule. At the first school, I followed a team that went into the younger classrooms, 1st graders. They played imagination games with the students. I saw princesses and dragons and superheroes reach into wild possibilities.

We left the first school and literally drove across the tracks to the poorer side of town. I decided to follow the same team. They played the same imagination games with the same age group but, at the this school, the children played “Where will the rent come from?” This time, instead of flying into possibilities, these children hit an imagination glass ceiling. The hard realities of life already had a strangle-hold on their creative minds. The actors had to work hard to break through the glass ceiling. I realized that, for these children, it was not safe to entertain possibilities.

Picasso once said that, “He can who thinks he can, and can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” We dream ourselves into being. That is the point and the power of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. That is the purpose of art, to open our imagination so we might create  a better, more expansive version of ourselves. To intend and give shape to what we imagine.

This inexorable, indisputable law applies to nations and communities as well as to individuals.

We have always been a nation divided. There have always been tracks to cross. Our history is of a two party system tug-of-war. We’ve espoused equality while practicing slavery; even our rhetoric is at odds with itself. The new wave of immigrants have been subjected to unspeakable cruelty from the previous generation of immigrants. There has always been “haves” and “have-nots.” The question of whether of not we can unite in the face of diversity is at the epicenter of the American experiment. Can we imagine ourselves whole? Can we create opportunity for all? It is a question with no definitive answer because it requires us to engage with it again and again and again. We must imagine ourselves anew each and every day.

We unite when we are at our shining best. We pride ourselves on the dream of creating a new world where all people experience the freedom to create what they can imagine. Creative tension, competition on a level playing field, invites innovation and invitation. We can.

We divide when our imagination fails us. Fear always fills the void left by vapid imaginations. We are – like people of all nations in all times – easily manipulated when we lapse into fear and turn our angst on each other. It is, after all, a strategy. Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book used by dictators and emperors to fracture an otherwise powerful populace.  It will play out as it always has and always will – a weakened nation. A collapse. People who turn in and cannibalize each other.

We-the-people are telling ourselves a miserable story. The pandemic is merely exacerbating our real dilemma. Divide and rule is filling the void, installing hard glass between us and our best imaginings. We are eating each other alive.

We are better than this. We deserve better.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WE DESERVE BETTER

 

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Consider Levitation [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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And what does this mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Certainly this was not a naturally occurring event! No pear could possibly achieve so grand a seat without some form of assistance. Or, could it?

Levitation is a possibility but it is doubtful that this pear – or any pear, for that matter – is capable of the necessary powers of concentration required to raise itself to wine bottle heights. And, if levitation is the answer, we are still left with the primary question: what does it mean?

The pear might answer, as George Mallory answered when asked why he might want to place himself atop Mt. Everest, “Because it is there.” Meaning making does not require depth but it does necessitate curiosity. “Because I can” really means “because I want to.” The grass is always greener. Why step on the moon? Why sail to the edge of the world? Why paint a painting or compose a song? Something calls.

Because it feels good. Because it is beautiful in my eyes. Because I might learn something about myself and, therefore, the world in which I create/inhabit. Most explorations are internal journeys even if they look like mountain ascents. Soul searching leads to more experiences with soul. The best questions lead to bigger questions, like this one (last week’s winner for best question): Does the soul live in the body or does the body live within the soul?

It seems like a good time to borrow a title from Joseph Campbell: what exactly are The Inner Reaches Of Outer Space?  What are the outer reaches of inner yearning?

Does this pear have yearnings? What does it mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Believe me, I’ve asked the pear and it remains silent on the subject. Wise pear! It knows I must make my own meaning and hopes that I will never cease asking my questions and, above all, never delude myself into thinking I have even the slightest bit of an answer.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the PEAR & THE BOTTLE

 

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Ask, “What Now?” [on DR Thursday]

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“Although each of us is fashioned in careful incompletion, we were created to long for each other. The secret of our completion can only be found in the other. Huge differences may separate us, yet they are exactly what draw us to each other. It is as though forged together we form one presence, for each of us has half of a language that the other seeks.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

My favorite definition of “story” comes from Robert Olen Butler: a story happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. It is, of course, also a great definition of the experience of being alive. In our “careful incompletion” we yearn for other things and other places, other ideas of ourselves. And, so, we set sail. We seek.

Without yearning there would be no story. Without obstacles there would be no story.

Like you, I have spent my time on the kitchen floor, Kerri’s code-phrase for weeping.  When my obstacle was insurmountable, when my yearning required leaving. Loss. Weeping invited surrender. Surrender required weeping. Letting go.

And, after the weeping, emptied of what was, I, like you, stood, took a deep breath and asked myself, “What now?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WEEPING MAN

 

 

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weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson

Stand In It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Adding to the pandemic-time-disorientation-syndrome, gas prices dropped to a level that we haven’t seen for 20 years. I looked at the sign while filling up and asked Kerri, “Wow. Where are we?”

She shook her head. “This is weird.”

“What were you doing the last time gas was this cheap?” I asked.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it,” she replied, “cheap gas and we can’t go anywhere.” We are road tripping fools so inexpensive gas is a titanic tease amidst a stay at home order.

There are cultures on this planet that believe we move through time backwards, we row ourselves through life with our eyes firmly fixed on where we’ve been rather than where we are going.

This makes sense to me since making sense of life is a backward looking affair. And, the really great thing about sense-making is that it is never completed. The story we tell ourselves about our life and choices is…a story. A new day brings a new perspective on an old well-storied choice. Some of my dumbest decisions, the actions I have been most critical for taking, from my current view, now look wise. Or, at the very least, inevitable.

We afford ourselves more grace with a longer view and several revisions of the old story.

It has been said that the fear of death is not, as advertised, the fear of the unknown. It is the fear of the loss of what is known. We hold fast to our oars, grip with all of our might onto what we think we know and  can control.  We row our little boat in a vast uncontrollable sea.

Actors come alive on stage when they forget their lines. Suddenly the “real” penetrates the pretend. The loss of control ignites life both on the stage and off. The audience sits forward. Something real and unknown is unfolding!

Fear of losing the known. Like actors on the stage, people come alive when they turn and stare into what cannot be controlled. The now. When they forget their lines, lose their name and stare blankly into the dark house. And, the only thing to be done is to stand in it. Relax. Sit forward. Something real is unfolding.

The words will return. We’ll get a grip on the oars sooner or later. The illusion will be restored. A good actor knows that panic only perpetuates the blankness. Relax. A good actor knows the others on the stage will lend a hand if necessary. Good assurances for all of us in this pandemic play. Stand in it. Our boat is going someplace we cannot control.

Something real is unfolding.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHEAP GAS

 

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