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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an instrument of peace

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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angel at the well

 

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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Call It Something Else [on KS Friday]

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“Waiting is hard,” said the rabbit. Thump, thump, thump.

“Why is it hard?” asked the bear.

“BECAUSE!! the rabbit screeched.

“Oh.” said the bear, wrinkling his nose.

“It’s there and I’m here and when it’s here I will be, too, but it’s not here and I am!!” rabbit huffed. “And that is HARD!” ‘Bears can be soooo slow,’ rabbit thought but did not say.

Thump, thump, thump.

“So, you’re here.” bear said, sorting it out.

‘Yes.” grumbled the rabbit.

“And, it is not here.”

Thump, thump. Rabbit rolled his eyes.

“Is it waiting for you, too?” bear asked, concerned.

“I DON’T KNOW!!! rabbit shouted. “How could I possibly KNOW that? I’m HERE and IT IS NOT!”

“Oh. Well. Hmmm. Maybe we should DO something while you wait,” offered the bear. “We could find a good scratching tree! We could roll in mud!”

Rabbit squeezed closed his eyes, “That would defeat the WHOLE POINT!”

“Oh,” puzzled the bear. “The point is to make it hard?”

Rabbit rubbed his ears in exasperation, “It wouldn’t be called WAITING if it wasn’t HARD!”

Bear thought for a moment. “What if we called it something else? What if we called it PLAYING? Would it be less hard if we called it playing? What if we called it NAPPING?” Bear ambled to a sunny spot and settled in. “I like napping!”

Thump, thump, Thump. Bears could be sooooooooo slow.

 

WAITING on the album JOY! A CHRISTMAS ALBUM is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WAITING

 

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waiting/joy! a christmas album ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

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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Be Us [on KS Friday]

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It is times like these that the grand illusion of every man/woman for themselves drops away. It doesn’t take long in a crisis to reveal how interconnected and interdependent we really are. As New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, said this morning, what I do impacts you and what you do impacts me. There is, in essence, no such thing as you and me.

This is true in good times, too. It is true in all times. It is simply true. What I do affects you. What you do affects me. What I do is often a ripple of what you’ve done and vice versa. We are not nearly as separate nor independent as we like to pretend.

The delusion plays itself out. The run on TP. We’ve all seen the lines at the gun store. Sooner or later it will occur – as it always does – that the best form of self-protection is participation in community. Participation is protection.

Ironically, it is the sturdy fabric of the interconnection – in good times – that allows us to delude ourselves into thinking that – in bad times –  we can do it all by ourselves. Stop for a moment, look at the food on your plate and ask yourself how many people were necessary for you to enjoy your meal. The rings of interdependence will run farther than your capacity to imagine. That is always the case.

An article shot crossed my email this morning. It was from an artist sharing her realization in the midst of this pandemic that she does not create art for audiences, she creates with audiences. Like her, my paintings are not complete until people engage with them. People are not complete in the absence of art. Listening to Kerri play is more life-giving than any of the news broadcasts we’ve been glued to. There are levels to meaning making and the heart level rarely requires data but always requires other people and their gifts.

This morning we are hearing of the real difficulty of social distancing: mental health is stressed in isolation. We do not do well in quarantine. We, do, however, get creative. Jen prompted us to text images of all things green so we are looking around the house for green things. Emails and phone calls are on the rise. Mike reminded me last night that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine for the plague. He meant it as a challenge, “Any takers?” he winked.

Rob wrote, “In times like these we NEED art.” Yes. We need art because we need to create with people. To experience with people. To story our experiences with people. To grieve with other people. To laugh with other people. With. Always. Us.

 

 

ALWAYS WITH US from the album AS IT IS available in iTunes & CDBaby

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ALWAYS WITH US

 

 

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always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood