Come Together [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My theme of life-as-a-circle is still with me. Today, this Labor Day, 2020, bubbles with portent. Unlike any Labor Day in my lifetime, this day seems to dip its toe into the cold origins of this national holiday celebrating laborers but also serves as an omen. An augury.

This holiday, so benign as we now practice it, was borne of fire and conflict. It seems our nation is only capable of learning through the violence that it inflicts upon itself. Waves of riots, years of bloodshed as laborers as young as 5, worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, and barely eked out a living. The income gap in 2020 mirrors that of the 1890’s, America’s Gilded Age. As historian Nell Irvin Painter explains, “‘Gilded’ is not golden. ‘Gilded’ has the sense of a patina covering something else. It’s the shiny exterior and the rot underneath.” The violence in the streets, the frustration and anger, riots and protests by the common working people forced the government to act. Among other things, Labor Day came into existence. A day off.

“We’re in these cycles in which we learn and forget and learn and forget,” Painter says.

We are in the ‘forgetting’ part of the cycle. It’s Keynsian economics: a capitalist economy can only thrive with the existence of a healthy middle class. Consumption requires capable-and-able consumers. Investment crumbles when consumption stalls. We’ve been here before. We don’t need a crystal ball to see where our unsupported gig economy is taking us. On this Labor Day it is fair game to ask, “What exactly are we celebrating?”

We cycle into remembering when we need to pull together. When we start considering the interests of the whole over the few. When, as the sign says, we remember to take care of one another. During this Labor Day there is a true tell of our capacity to consider one another: a pandemic rages. The estimates top 400,000 deaths by the new year. The only force that can reduce that number is our capacity to consider one another.

Life in the forgetting sweep of the cycle: the streets are alive with riot and protest. People by the millions are losing their homes and their jobs. Desperation and division reign; panicked people rarely think straight.

Life in the remembering sweep of the cycle: people pull their energy and resources together remembering that no one can thrive in a vacuum. A united workforce is capable of reminding “the system” that it was meant to serve them and support them in a shared prosperity. Not to use their labor to benefit the few. Coming together for the betterment of all: it is the original impulse and meaning of Labor Day.

read Kerri’s blog post about LABOR DAY

Shift [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Shift is not an insignificant key. In a nanosecond it can take you from lower case to upper. It can throw your backslash into question. The simple finality of a period can be pitched into a statement of worth: greater or lesser.

Doesn’t it feel like a malevolent pinky just hit the universal shift key in our world? Of this we can be sure: it’s a new sentence and there’s no going back to what we once knew as “normal.”

In spiritual circles, shift is what happens when our otherwise cloudy consciousness becomes crystal clear. In circles of learning and growth, shift is what happens to our perspective when what was previously unknown becomes readily apparent. The penny drops and we can never again not-know what we now comprehend.

Perhaps the omnipotent pinky pushing our shift key is not malevolent. Perhaps it was long past time that we took stock of the gap between our rhetoric and our actions, our professed history and the full accounting? Perhaps we needed a boost from our lower case value-set to actually approach our upper case potentials.

In the great stories, as in life, there is a paradox associated with profound shifts. They come, not through pursuit or seeking, they come when the protagonist stops looking, surrenders and stands still. The shift always comes with the realization that what is sought has been readily available all along. The belief in separation creates the necessity to seek. The commitment to division creates the necessity to fight for dominance.

Shift words like “unity” or “common” or “harmony” or “accord” or “wholeness” or “integrity” arise when the seeking and fighting and pursuing cease. They show up when we stand still, when we stop looking for them. They become options when we realize that they have been available all along.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SHIFT

Kerri is still in the Facebook penalty box so if you enjoy reading her thoughts please consider subscribing to her blog. I do – even though I get to read what she writes before she publishes. As her greatest fan it is always a pleasure to read the before-publish AND after-publish versions.

 

 

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an oldie but goodie: contemplation

 

contemplation ©️ 2004 david robinson

Unify The Rabbits [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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If you chase two rabbits, both will get away ~ Chinese Proverb.

In the theatre, the double-rabbit chase is called a split intention. An actor cannot both play well the scene AND try and please the audience. It’s one of the fundamental lessons an actor must learn; play the scene purely and the audience will enter the story. Trying to please an audience is a fool’s errand and will throw everyone out of the story.

The lesson is not what it might at first seem. The lesson is to recognize that, in truth, it is not an either/or choice. The only way to “please” the audience is to play well the scene. The only way to “please” them is to forget about them. The job is not about “pleasing.” The job is about the performance of a play.  It’s a lesson in priority of focus. In recognizing and attending to the first principle, all other concerns fall into their proper place. The magic is in unifying what might at first look like a two-rabbit chase.

It’s a lesson that has great usefulness far beyond the stage in every walk of life. Either/Or framing is usually a warning sign that two rabbits are on the run.

A split intention is always resolved through a focus priority.

In our pandemic time, in these states-once-united, we’ve managed to cleave our intention. Health or economy? The chase is on and both are getting away. Trying to reinvigorate an economy by ignoring the health implications is akin to an actor trying to please an audience – it is a fool’s errand. People will not go out if they do not feel safe. Although each day we are plied with scenes of packed bars and beaches, we also read an ever-mounting roll call of bankruptcies, job losses, impending evictions, rapidly shrinking GDP, etc.

It’s a pandemic. Roughly 1,000 people a day are dying. In five months over 150,000 people who otherwise would have seen 2021 have ceased to live. The infection rate is doubling [a gentle reminder to those who make me shake my head in wonderment: just as pregnancy is not caused by the test, COVID-19 testing does not produce cases. Testing identifies cases and someday will provide the opportunity to contain the spread.]

Attend to the play. Prioritize the focus. Public health and economic health are not at odds. They need not split and run in opposite directions. Economic health is not possible if people do not feel safe. It’s a basic rule of survival, a fundamental requirement of the play-of-life. Protecting public health, attending to public safety, is the first principle. Wearing masks. Testing and tracing. Social distancing. The rabbits will unify when the message aligns, when the audience-pleasers realize that, by ignoring the first principle, they are literally throwing people out of the life-story.

Focus on the priority and all other concerns will fall into their proper place.

It is palpable when an actor stops splitting their focus. It is magnetic when they fully enter the scene. The play crackles with life and possibility. It pulls audience and actors alike into the same story. Together, all move to the edge of their seats. When it really sparkles, hearts sync and beat in a unified rhythm (no kidding).

I see signs of a single-rabbit-chase everywhere. Checking out from the store a week ago, the cashier said through her face-covering, “I like your mask!” I smiled. I’m certain she knew I smiled even though she could not see it. “Where did you get it?” she asked.

Mask-fashion is arising. In mask-envy I find tiny glimmers of hope.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK ENVY

 

 

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three graces ©️ 2010 david robinson

Treat The Origin [on KS Friday]

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Yaki called. He wants to dust off our Prometheus project and give it another whirl. The Creatures Of Prometheus is one of Beethoven’s early works, a ballet that is nigh-on impossible for a contemporary ballet company to afford. Besides a symphony, it requires  scores of dancers. Twelve years ago, Yaki asked if I would write and perform a narrative – a storytelling- that would weave together the movements. It lives among my all-time favorite collaborations. Yesterday he asked, “Can we update it? Can we make it relevant with what’s happening in the world today?’

My first thought: it’s already relevant! It is a creation story. Prometheus is given the task of creating human beings, a man and a woman. Although he is instructed to make them dull and crude, he creates them to be beautiful, to see and appreciate their connection to the earth from which they were made. Angered by his disobedience, Zeus punishes Prometheus by corrupting the new creatures; he fills them with fear and division. He twists their fear into a lust for war. He makes them dull and crude. Now, Prometheus waits for them to remember and recover their original sight, to remember their capacity for pure seeing, fearless living. To drop their madness and return to their senses.

My second thought: people are notoriously incapable of grasping metaphor. It’s the Zeus thing in practice. The update has to be a direct statement. It must leave no doubt and puncture the commitment to dullness. “Gear down!” as Kerri constantly reminds me.

“How can Prometheus speak to Black Lives Matter?” he asked. We are both artists in the later stage of our career.  Yaki added, “I want my work – my art to really speak to what’s happening today. I want it to help.”

I’ve been sitting in his questions since we talked yesterday. We are standing again at a moment in time when change is possible. We are also standing at the moment when the system, a living thing, a wizard of recreation, will fight to maintain itself. Consider: we had this moment with the abolition of slavery and the system responded with Jim Crow. Segregation. Institutional racism. We had the moment again with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the system responded with a draconian judicial/policing/incarceration apparatus, disproportionate tax structures…segregation by legislation (again and again and again).

In our current moment, in this latest moment, how can we make the necessary changes that are not merely the existing system putting a new face on a 400 year old mechanism? Real change requires steps in unknown directions [the rule: if you know where you are going you are merely re-creating what already exists]. How can Prometheus speak to that?

We focus on behavior when we need to stare at the underlying structures. Behavior, as Robert Fritz reminds us, always follows the path of least resistance – the sub-structure determines the path of behavior.

In the story, Prometheus is in it for the long haul. He knows his creatures are made for beauty and will inevitably see beyond their made-up fear and return to their source. They will one day stop listening to the fear mongers and race baiters. They will wake up and recognize that they are not made to be dull and crude and divisive. In fact, quite the opposite. They were made to appreciate and participate in the creation of beauty and betterment. Nature.

Prometheus is in no hurry. He waits for his creatures to remember. He plays the long story. What will that look like?

 

 

IT’S A LONG STORY is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S A LONG STORY

 

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it’s a long story/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

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

Draw [on DR Thursday]

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Sue’s request was clear: write a story that is hopeful but does not pretend that everything will be easy or rosy in the end.

In 2005, while Sue Eskridge was teaching a course on children’s literature at The University of the Pacific, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of America. Sue had an idea. She refocused her class to help children who were displaced or had lost their parents in the storm. Her class approached several artists and children’s book authors and asked them to write and illustrate a story, to make single-copy-books. The books would be bundled with other supplies and through service organizations would go to children that needed them. “We want to give them hope but not false hope,” she said when she asked if I would “quick do a book.”

What do you do when the forest fire comes? The hurricane? The pandemic? Run. Hide. But then what? People pull together. People pull apart. The disaster invokes the best in us. The disaster invokes the worst in us. Ultimately, we realize that we are in it together and our togetherness can be defined through selflessness or through selfishness.

What defines us? I lived in Los Angeles during the riots and martial law. People turned on each other. I also saw the same community, just two years later during the Northridge earthquake, pull together. 9/11. AIDS. Our rhetoric does not define us. Our actions do.

I did as Sue asked. I quick did a book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost. I only had a few days and managed to write the story and smack out 16 illustrations. A story of personal gifts brought to communal need in the aftermath of a fire. When I bundled the original and sent it off to Sue I promised myself that I would someday go back into the story and draw all the pictures, fill in the 10 or so illustrations that I did not have time to realize.

This week, we retreated into our home, this pandemic hot and frightening and eerily invisible, except for the growing and incomprehensible numbers on the screen. The unreal reality. The hurricane that cannot yet be grasped.  I asked myself what might be a worthwhile project to do while isolating?  And then I remembered my promise to Peri Winkle Rabbit.

Draw. And perhaps a new story? One that deals with the hot fire now raging through our divided world? Two narratives. One pandemic. What are the odds that this crisis will burn off our national division and clear our eyes so that we are capable of stepping into a single story. I will ask Peri Winkle Rabbit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on PERI WINKLE RABBIT

 

 

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Believe [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Kerri just said, “I think I’d believe more if I had another glass of wine.” After I was done laughing (and getting her another glass of wine), I realized that belief is too often like that – contingent on circumstance.

When I was a wee lad (seriously, this stuff ran rampant around my little kid brain), I’d wonder what happened the day after the bloody battle when both sides raged about god being on their side. What do you need to reconcile when your team loses? Why do you need to win to confirm your belief? A side note, another of those rampant ramblings  racing through of my too tiny skull (no wonder my parents were at a loss of what to do with me)  – this one is to really get me in trouble: if your god takes sides, chooses a team or otherwise reinforces a separation from the whole, how can you not see that it must be a very small god indeed? For perspective, an existential reboot, go outside and look at the stars and understand what you are seeing. No sides. Beyond comprehension.

Conditional belief. It is run amok.

If our capacity for belief was not conditional, what might we actually believe? Who might we become if we understood that we are expressions of this great universe and that this great universe was cheering for us and those rowdy huzzahs  had nothing to do with our winning or losing, with borders or righteousness or rules or books or councils or sexual orientation or money or the color of our skin? Or beliefs. Every atom a delight. Every creation a miracle. Would we be hope-full?  Would ‘the enemy’ look the same through the eyes of unconditional belief?

I know. Pie-in-the-sky thinking. Only a child could believe so completely, so unconditionally in…goodness.

Anything is possible if you just believe.

[note: this beautiful ornament was a gift that came atop a container of ‘slushy’ – a life giving concoction brewed in Dan’s secret laboratory and delivered each year to my squeals of delight. If my belief is conditional it is Dan’s fault and I blame Gay for not reining him in. She found this beautiful ornament so I also blame this post on her generosity and good taste. These two people make me believe wholeheartedly, without condition, in goodness].

 

read Kerri’s more coherent blog post on BELIEVE

 

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Feel Them [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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This is a symbol and as symbols go, this one is arguably the epicenter. It is universal. It transcends all other symbols, religious and otherwise. The others deal with energies, vertical and horizontal, masculine and feminine, spiritual and secular. They are symbols of polarities, separation ends that point to a center, a unity. This symbol is the unity. Heart. The meeting ground. The commons. The push-me-pull-you of life.

Try an experiment and think back on these past weeks running up to the solstice (no matter your tradition of celebrating it); re-member the moments that you felt heart. Kerri’s song. A bonfire at midnight. A walk in the woods at sunset. Dogga buried in gift wrap. Craig’s face when we opened the package with smart bulbs. Kirsten clutching the sloth. There are too many to count. None are abstractions. All are experiences. Feel them.

Yearning can be filled with heart. Loss can be heart-full. This symbol is all inclusive. It does not discriminate. It’s bigger than any single desire, any hot pursuit. It, in fact, requires no seeking. It is ubiquitous. It everywhere and nowhere all at the same time because it has nothing to do with time. It asks little more than paying attention to the many faces it lives through, the many moments it simply waits for you to notice, to see/feel/hear/taste/sense what is already here.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the NEON HEART

 

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Practice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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George Leonard wrote that mastery is not about perfection. It is not an achievement. Mastery is a process, a journey. It is a choice, a path, a decision about how you will walk through your life.

“For one who is on the master’s journey, the word [practice] is best conceived of as a noun, not as something you do, but as something you have, something you are. In this sense, the word is akin to the Chinese word tao or the Japanese word do, both of which mean, literally, road or path. Practice is the path upon which you travel, just that.” ~ George Leonard, Mastery

Despite gobs of rhetoric to the contrary, no one lives in isolation. No one achieves in isolation. To believe otherwise is…delusional.

Once, long ago, Roger said something like this: “When I hurt my toe, in fact, my whole body is hurt. It is a trick of language that I can think of my toe as separate from the whole.”

Paul Wellstone’s quote reads like a path, a tao. It is a trick of language on this tiny globe, this tinier country, to think that Us is in any way separate from Them. We all do better when we all do better. It is a choice that marks a path, a practice.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WE ALL DO BETTER

 

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Give It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Janus is a Roman god with two faces. He looks to the future and peers into the past. He is the god of beginnings and endings, transitions, doorways, and passages. He is the god of gateways, the liminal spaces, the between.

Janus must certainly be the god that we dance with on this island, a community defined by divisions, married to its conflicts but also, at least rhetorically, desiring peace.

Kerri and I are the stewards of a performing arts center that is, as Julian Dawson said, punching above its weight. It is the symbol of division in the community, the epicenter of discord, the rope in a very ugly tug-of-war. All of the fault lines run through it. Yet, as Janus would remind us, it then must also hold the path to unity, the potential for common ground.

All in the community want the doors to be wide open; none want the responsibility that comes with access. They want the center, the art, to serve them. They do not yet comprehend that any alive and vital art space is, in fact, the opposite: a place of service to others. Arts spaces and the artists the enliven them are keepers of the commons, the stewards of the stories that unite.

In another life I ran an educational theatre company. It boomed into life the day that the artists, the students, grocked that art was in fact a gift given to others, something they brought to people, not something (like attention or fame or a spotlight) that they got from people.

This island, this center, will someday boom into life. They will discover that the rope in the tug of war goes slack when they walk toward each other. Pulling in opposition exhausts everyone. They will come alive when they cease asking, “What do we get?” and start asking, “What do we bring?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EDGES

 

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