See Through It [on Flawed or Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

Light passes through. Transparent. Trans; across or beyond. A prefix of movement.

Last night we had snacks with some pals. Our conversation turned to politics and how resistant we are as a nation to tell our full story. Opaque. The opposite of transparent. Impenetrability of light. “It’s just history,” someone said. “History is history.”

Narrative. With a point of view. The winners of wars tell one story. The opposite side has another tale to tell. History is never just history. A country as deeply divided as ours is warring over its history. What happens if we actually tell our full story? Who are we if we acknowledge our shadow? Shine the light or snuff it?

Boiling our times down to the essence, we’d arrive at these two words. Transparent. Opaque. Isn’t it always the way that people who have something to hide proclaim transparency? Isn’t it always the case that people who lie claim to be holders of the truth? Opacity is a tricky business.

I recently watched again Simon Sinek’s first TED talk. He said, “There are leaders and there are those who actually lead.” We could call it a simple truth: we know those who actually lead because they boldly shine-the-light. They are not afraid of being seen or seen through. They are, however, a threat to those who call themselves “leaders,” those that fear the revelations of light. Reveal-ations. Those leaders will fight to-the-death to maintain their opacity. They will sacrifice the greater for the lesser if necessary to remain opaque.

We are watching – and participating in – history being written. Our question – as has been true from the beginning: will we shine the light without fear of transparency or hide behind the wall of opacity? It’s just history.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRANSPARENCY

Ask The Simple Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Simplicities are enormously complex. Consider the sentence “I love you”.” ~Richard O. Moore, Writing The Silences

I’ve been told again and again that, at the heart of every complexity, there is a simplicity. And, of course, at the heart of every simplicity, there is a complexity. So, either way you go, there you are.

I find that I am yearning for greater and greater simplicity. I appreciate quiet. I avoid crowds, not “like the plague” but because of it. I’d rather be in my studio or on a trail than almost anywhere else. I wish I could go sit in a museum all by myself, in the quiet for an hour or two, with a Chagall or Picasso. Intentional beauty. I feel like the world is so full of extraneous noise and dedicated bloviating that I’m having trouble hearing the simple essentials.

And, perhaps because my desire is for simplicity, I find that I am, like Frankie, projecting simple solutions on to everything. Yes, 9 million dollars in my bank account would solve everything!

Almost.

Do you remember Rodney King? I was in Los Angeles when he was beaten, when the city was aflame after the acquittal of the officers who beat him. Do you remember what he asked? It was the ultimate simplicity: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I think it would take something more than 9 million dollars to solve the complexity to which Rodney King spoke. There probably isn’t enough money in the world. But, here in my dedicated simplicity, I think the opposite should be true. Rather than cost anything, getting along would probably save all of us a lot of money, and time, and heart ache. Getting along would profit all of us.

It costs nothing to open a door for someone. Put a price on gratitude. I can’t. How much does it cost to tell the truth? What about making sure everyone is safe and well fed, that everyone can walk safely down the street, that people are paid fairly, that the rules apply equally to all, that, if you’re injured or become sick, you will be treated and not lose your house in the process?

It doesn’t seem like that should be so far out of reach.

There I go again. At the heart of every simplicity…

read Kerri’s blog post about 9 MILLION DOLLARS

Discern [on Flawed Wednesday]

“For in the end, he [Aldous Huxley] was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in ‘Brave New World’ was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business

Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death in 1985. Cassandra, sounding the alarm to a community too distracted to listen. Were he alive today, he’d think – but would not say – “I told you so.” All the quotes in this post are his.

I read in my daily-news-horror-trawl a quote from a Wyoming man who believes he’s protected from the pandemic because of the color of his hair. It might sound wacky until you consider that his staunch belief in the virus’ preference for hair color is just one of the many misinformation narratives currently being fed to the angry and easily led. He is, without question or thought, breathing the gas of a political party that wants to keep him distracted, fearful and high.

If you are not choking on the fumes of excessive gaslighting, then you are among those whose eyes are burning from the corrosive air it produces. Are you as tired as I am of reading accounts of deathbed appeals for the vaccine? It is too late, in your final moments of life, to realize you’ve been duped. It’s a tragedy. Are you as disgusted as I am, having been witness to the undeniable violence of the insurrection, of listening to the blatant denials? Despite what your eyes saw, it was just another day of tourists wandering through the Capitol. Gaslight tears.

During the first year of the pandemic an acquaintance latched onto a comorbidity table lifted from the CDC website and circulated as “proof” that COVID was less dangerous than the common cold. It was, of course, taken out of context. A quick visit to the CDC website (seriously, less than 30 seconds), viewed in context and with an understanding of the meaning of the word “comorbidity,” easily debunked the claim. Our acquaintance, enraged, doubled down on his claim of “proof” – though he could not be bothered to spend 30 seconds to check the poison gas that he was gulping.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”

The legal defense has been successfully used to defend both Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow: the courts ruled that reasonable viewers should know the difference between news and opinion. This is news. This is not.

Do we have the ability to differentiate between public business and a vaudeville act? The evidence is not hopeful.

The court’s ruling, then, is likely based on a faulty premise: that people are able to differentiate. That the audience is reason-able or values reason. Able-To-Reason. Reason is the power to think, understand and form judgments through a process of logic. In order to be reasonable one must value reason. One must want it.

Logic and reason, both assume the inclination and capacity to question. Curiosity, real curiosity, does not seek agreement or group think. It seeks to step into the gap between what is espoused and what is lived. It seeks solid ground to build upon so must recognize sand when it sees it.

And, what if “reason” long ago fled the coop? Or, what if “reason,” has never been a dominant trait in the coop in the first place? What if discernment dies in the presence of so much gas?

“Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

read Kerri’s blog post about IT DOESN’T KNOW

Consider The Revelation Necessary [on KS Friday]

An exercise that is designed for generic failure is also designed for specific success. And, so it is with the bridge. The instruction is simple: get everyone safely across the space. If anyone touches the floor, all must go back. Invariably, the first attempt is an abject failure. The group ignores the word “everyone” and, instead, opts to try and get themselves safely across the space. They believe the game is about them, that “winning” is a singular affair.

After being sent back to the beginning more than once, they come to a spectacular yet inevitable innovation: if they work together, crossing the space will be easy. It is only a matter of moments after their revelation that they, together, construct a secure bridge and are all safely standing on the other side of the room. Specific success wrought from generic failure. And, once they have their realization, they cling to it. They own it. They must, the stakes are raised, the rules are tipped against them during the ensuing phases of the exercise.

I’ve led this exercise hundreds of times. Every single time the group has the necessary revelation. They are not in the game alone. They can only “win” if they join together. If they build it together, everyone will safely cross the space. It gives me hope.

Last night, during the town hall, President Biden said something that ought to slap us from our divisive stupor. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin believe the 21st century belongs to the autocrats. The pace of change is moving too fast and democracies, in their divisiveness, move too slow. So far, we are proving them right.

Once, as an experiment, rather than set the challenge of the bridge, I forced the answer. The group did as I said but collapsed in the ensuing rounds. When I raised the stakes, the people gave up. The harder it got, the less they tried. They coalesced in apathy. They never made it across the bridge again, even though they knew how to build it.

This is what the autocrats do not understand. There is no ownership, no game, in a forced answer [educators could pay attention to this simple rule, too].

We are being divided through titanic campaigns of misinformation. And so, no one will make it safely across this time-space. Generic failure. Wade Davis wrote that we now live in a failed state and, so far, we are proving him right. But I have hope. The necessary revelation, the specific success, bubbles in the frustration. Those stoking the division, feeding fear, will have their day but, in the long run, the lie collapses, people join together and, like a prayer flag, build a bridge to ensure that all make it safely across. They recognize that they are not in this game alone. Winning is hollow if half the team is lost in the process.

This game, the bridge. The necessary revelation is in our nature; nature’s prayer flag. It gives me hope.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE’S PRAYER FLAG

hope/this season ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Step Beyond Words [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Truth is a pathless land.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

I have done my share of seeking and, also, my share of not finding.

I believe that I began painting because, while doing it, while lost in the discovery of an image, I experienced truth – or something close to it. Always in quiet studios. Always beyond the place of mind chatter. Something “bigger” washed through. Something beyond words.

That must be why I associate truth with silence.

All around I hear people proclaiming transparency. No hidden agendas. Everything up-front! As Quinn used to say, “If they have to tell you that they are being transparent, it’s a good bet that they are not.” Words, words, words.

Many evenings we sit on our back deck. The umbrella shields us from the heat. We watch Dogga run circles, dig holes, and bark at squirrels. The birds perch at the feeder or drink from the pond. A chipmunk dashes across Barney’s keys. The crows call from the treetops. The sun drops behind the trees. The mosquitoes come out; our cue to go in.

So much life! And not a single word required though, clearly, it is more than tempting to try and describe it. Try is the best I can do.

I often remind myself that I have never lived this day and will never again live this day. No trail to follow even when I think I know what will happen next. I don’t. That’s the truth.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE UMBRELLA

Care Enough To Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Have you noticed that people all over the world are divided into groups, calling themselves Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and so on? What divides them? Not the investigations of science, not the knowledge of agriculture, of how to build bridges or fly jet planes. What divides people is tradition, beliefs which condition the mind in a certain way.” ~Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

John helped me carry a treadmill downstairs into the basement. It was a beast, a one-step-at-a-time affair. After the job was done we fell into a conversation about how baffling we find our divided nation. He confided that, of late, he’s completely unplugged from the news. “I’m happier, less anxious,” he said, though somewhat conflicted about his decision.

I told John about my dear friend whose strategy for navigating the division and the noise was to read only The Wall Street Journal. It aligns with his conservative values and provides the business and financial news that he enjoys. For his mental health and well being, he’s eschewed all other sources.

On our drive from Wisconsin to Colorado and back again, Kerri and I were amazed by the rabid roadside proclamations of belief. A bumper sticker trumpeting Extreme Right Wing, a pick up truck, weaving through traffic, flying a Confederate flag. We stopped to get gas and went into the convenience store to use the restroom. We were wearing masks which apparently was an affront to the other patrons; I literally locked myself in a stall to avoid being assaulted.

I thought all night about my conversation with John. What are our strategies for surviving the toxic noise? Note the word, “survive.” John suggested (and I agree) that the division is intentional, a strategy. “They’ve learned to monetize hate,” he said, “Both sides.” Our strategies of survival are indications of the problem. Like my dear friend, we seek a source of information – a single source – based on our belief, what we align and are comfortable with, and not based on any measure or expectation of truth.

This is not a new revelation. We’ve been talking about the problem with info-bubbles for years. John’s question, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions of what they are being told?” is, I think, exposes the root of the challenge. People have to want the truth, expect the truth, before they care enough seek it.

Questioning is the basis of education. Curiosity is what drives progress. Belief asks adherents to stop questioning. We are, apparently – at least 50% – a nation of believers. Not a question in sight. Witness the circus in Arizona, the implosion of the GOP, the restrictive voting laws sweeping our nation, the undying support of a lie that undermines the pillars of our democracy. Belief without question is a toxic soup.

It’s become a metaphor that is easy to grasp: the Kansas billboard read, “Don’t Let Pigweed Creep Back.” A warning to vigilant farmers, pigweed strangles crops. It is toxic to farm animals. To keep the fields and the farm prosperous, a farmer must wage a consistent and conscious battle to keep the invasive weed from overrunning their fields. Our nation is no different than the farmer’s field. We are overrun with pigweed. It seems our information sorting mechanisms are out of whack. We no longer know – or care – to sort out what is edible and what is toxic.

We eat the weed and ignore the vegetable. John’s question is more and more relevant, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions about what they are being fed?”

Belief without question. Conditioned minds. Mental farms overrun by pigweed.

read Kerri’s blog post about PIGWEED

Achieve Some Reason [on Flawed Wednesday]

I laughed heartily when I saw this Dodge Challenger commercial. It’s entitled Family Motto and inadvertently speaks to the one of the major challenges of our times. We have a very hard time separating the real from the fabricated. The frame freezes, the small boy in the driver’s seat of the in-studio-muscle-car looks to the camera and says, “Our lawyers just want you to know that this isn’t real.” They poke fun at the ease of deception, the effortlessness of suspended disbelief. It’s fun to believe that the kid is driving the car.

It’s fun until it’s not.

For instance, in a lawsuit against Tucker Carlson, the lawyers at Fox News successfully argued that no reasonable viewer would take anything he said seriously. In other words, much of what he espouses is nonsense not to be believed. It’s entertainment, not information. He’s akin to a comedian, like Stephen Colbert – only not funny. Sydney Powell, after months of sowing doubt and slandering Dominion Voting Machines over the last election is attempting to make the same argument. Reasonable people, she claims, would never believe a word that she said. All of those press conferences, those indignant claims of voter fraud blasted into the news cycle, were apparently for sport. They were meant to be fun.

Thinking-people should know better than to believe what they are being told. Reasonable people know that the kid isn’t really driving the car and so they should also know that the pundit and the lawyer are peddling fiction and not fact.

It’s one thing to sell a car. It’s quite another to sell a false-reality. To peddle a lie. The car is being sold during a commercial. The false-reality is being sold on a network platform that sports the word “news.” Context is everything. Reasonable people, we are told, should know the difference. Is it news? Is it a commercial? Is it entertainment or press event? What do we call it if it is broadcast between commercials?

The problem, of course, is that reasonable people are either in short supply or they base their reason, invest their faith and belief in places they ought not. The false-narrative is literally ranted into the camera from behind a news desk or at a press conference. It’s propounded with the same enthusiasm that Phil Swift uses when selling Flex Seal products – only not as nice. The lie is proclaimed as truth. And then, the lawyers step in. And then, the story changes. The previously spouted truth should not be believed and reasonable people ought to know better.

We have a very hard time separating the real from the fabricated, news from entertainment. We’ve had a lot of help ascending our mountain of confusion.

I recently heard this phrase: an armed person is a citizen, an unarmed person is a subject. It is, of course, a phrase that is bandied about by the 2nd Amendment alarmists but I think it is more relevant and applicable when “being armed” applies, not to guns, but to information. Those men and women who stormed the Capitol, beating the police with flags, declaring their freedom, were in fact, being sold a false narrative. Voluntary subjects void of information, grown fat on a diet of fantasy. Easily led.

A person armed with information in the face of so much deliberate confusion, has a prayer of being a citizen. Achieving reason takes some effort. The lawyers want to you know that no reasonable person should believe that the kid is driving the car. The same is true for the space between the commercials, the detritus in the media stream.

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S NOT REAL

Complete The Ritual [on KS Friday]

One of the strangest rituals in directing plays comes in the closing hours of tech rehearsal. It is the final button, the cherry on the sundae; the last detail before the addition of the audience: choreographing the bow. The mechanics of gratitude. The curtain falls. The audience claps. The actors return to the stage to accept the appreciation. It’s important, in that moment, to know what to do and where to go. It’s important to know when to bow and when to vacate the stage.

It’s a mechanical moment made generous – made real – when the audience arrives. After having been led through a story or gifted with a performance, the curtain falls, the audience claps in appreciation. The actors, relieved and filled with gratitude, return to the stage and bow in thanks. Appreciation meets appreciation. The strange ritual of the previous day becomes the point of the whole exercise. Without the other, audience and performer, the storytelling is empty. We complete each other. We acknowledge in appreciation this absolute truth. My story is nothing without your witness. Your story is incomplete without my story. You applaud for me. I bow to you.

A major purpose of the artist is to remind the community of this truth. We are nothing without each other. We are capable of walking into impossible questions, when, together, we gather to share and complete a story.

Artistry is a service industry. It is humbling. It is meant to be humbling.

I sit staring at the screen. I am rewriting a script, a piece I performed with a symphony in 2008. I was terrified until the conductor lifted his baton. I remember very little after the first note was played. I came back into my body the moment the music concluded, my story told. The applause. I’ve never felt so small. I’ve never felt so full. Both.

The conductor wants to perform the piece again in 2022, only he asked that I revise the story, something that will speak directly to the issues of our times. The mechanics of writing. A strange ritual, this staring at the screen. I know the story I want to write. I wonder if I am up to this task. And then, I remind myself that this question, “Am I up for it?,” is the wrong question. It leads me to believe that I am alone in this creation. Of course I am not up for it! But, together, with the musicians, the conductor, the audience… Someday, after the mechanics, the rehearsal, the revision, the final button of preparation, we will gather and together, we will walk into impossible places, ask questions too big to be answered. Together, we will join hands and share the experience of a story. The curtain will fall. The audience will clap. The performers will bow. We will remind ourselves, as this strange ritual completes itself, that we are nothing without each other.

[I love this sculpture. Kerri keeps it close by her piano. The Bow by Duke Kruse.]

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

Start Thinking [on DR Thursday]

“As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists, who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny, ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”‘ ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Any day now I’m going to watch the 1976 movie, Network. It’s the film equivalent of a crystal ball to our current predicament. A veteran news anchorman loses it on air, threatens to kill himself, but instead goes on a full-blown rant. The network’s ratings skyrocket. An ambitious producer recognizes and exploits the opportunity by creating more and more outrageous programming. Fact falls prey to profitable fiction sold as truth. Ratings imperatives eclipse the north star of accuracy-in-reporting. Roger Ailes created his Fox News Network on the same premise; no veracity necessary. People like a good train wreck, just ask Jerry Springer. It is why the nation is so divided. The blues use news to sort out the lies; the reds use lies to siphon off the truth.

“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley‘s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” ~Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death before Facebook and Twitter were glimmers in their inventors’ eyes, before the internet hit the personal computer, before multiple channels on cable networks. We have, as Postman wrote, an infinite appetite for distraction with nary a need for honesty. And, as we are witnessing, distraction has arrived in the halls of Congress. We’ve now a party in government that actively shuns verity and raises funds on peddling fallacy.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.” Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death.

We are a nation that finds itself at risk. In my post yesterday I wrote that I no longer wonder how a society can willingly and knowingly take itself down. We have front row seats. And yet, the road to our recovery is as simple (and as difficult) as a collective valuing of the truth over ratings or poll numbers or bubbles. We worship at the wrong altar. We are inundated with info-dross. We would be better off if ratings plummeted every time a pundit ranted, a politician bullied, or a commentator lied. We’d be better off if thinking, if fact-checking, was a prerequisite to posting or tweeting or speaking. We’d find ourselves in a shared center, a place of possibility built on a generous commitment to probity.

“For in the end, he [Huxley] was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in ‘Brave New World’ was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

read Kerri’s much more positive post on LEARNING FROM TV

Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK