See The Adventure [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Let the adventure begin. We put the sign on the table when we moved into the little house on Washington Island. Our new job came with housing and we couldn’t have been more fortunate. Even as the job turned into a debacle, the little house grew in our hearts. It was – and is – a very special place. A few years down the road, we never give thought-space to the work-fiasco. We reminisce about the beautiful place we lived, the good people we met, starry nights, mornings in the canoe, the deer, the power of the lake right outside our door.

A few moments ago I was feeling anxious and was complaining – and realized that I have no business complaining about anything. I stopped myself. Adventures are hard. That’s what makes the experience an adventure. When people lack challenges, they create them. Jigsaw puzzles and computer games. I complain when standing on the threshold of learning something new. My complaining – as I realized a few moments ago – runs amok when I don’t know what to do. It marks the line between the fat-comfort of knowing and the utter-discomfort of not-knowing. Complaining provides cover. I expose my obvious not-knowing; I preempt the shame-strike by complaining. The moment I disallowed complaining, I once again saw the adventure. My anxiety dissipated. The adventure is a jigsaw puzzle all akimbo in the box. I’ll figure it out one piece at a time. Or not. The end result is not nearly as important as the spirit in which I bring to the task. To the moment. To my life.

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi studied, thought, and wrote extensively about flow. The optimal state of being. I’ve often wished I could invite Mihaly and Alan Watts to dinner and listen to their conversation. The psychologist and the Taoist conversing about flow, that magic space that opens when the path is hard, but not too hard, when boredom is no where in sight. The exercise, when either bored or overwhelmed, is to adjust my orientation to the challenge. Amp it up or slow it down. The zone is self-modulated, rarely an accident, which becomes apparent once the complaining stops. The knowledge that I can place myself in the zone is the spirit I hope to bring to every task for the rest of my days. It’s the practice. It is to see and choose the adventure.

Let the adventure begin. The sign now sits on our table in the sunroom where we meet at the end of each day and tell the stories of our day. While I tell my tale, I see the adventure sign, mostly in reflection, the message reversed. Each day an adventure if I choose to see it. Each day an opportunity for flow if I choose to own and modulate my steps, and place myself in flow.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ADVENTURE

Get Lost [on DR Thursday]

“A person who never made a mistake never tried something new.” ~ Albert Einstein

Recently, I revisited Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity. Among his many points, the central idea was simple and clear: we reinforce knowing answers instead of the pursuit of the question. We reinforce “being right” when the beating heart of learning, the vibrant center of creativity, the foundation of scientific process, is to try-and-see-what-happens. To be “prepared to fail,” as he said, is to remove failure from the equation. A curious mind seeks discovery, not “rightness.” An experiment is meant to test a hypothesis not immediately arrive at the answer.

When Kerri and I stepped onto the trail, new to us, the signage was more than confusing. “It’s a loop,” I said, “What’s the worst that could happen?” We chose the orange trail and started walking. We followed the blazes rather than the signs. A storm or drunken ranger must have erected the signs because they were often out of alignment with the blazes. “If we followed that sign, we’d be in the creek,” Kerri said.

Early on in our hike, a man came crashing out of the woods. “Is this the trail?” he asked. “I think I’m bushwhacking,” he said. This man, I suspect, followed the signs. He was having a great time but was somewhat relieved to be back on the beaten path. He was the first of many. A woman stopped us. She and her husband were having a disagreement about which trail they were taking. “Is this the long or short loop?” she asked. We shrugged, a shadow of concern creeping up in the back of our minds.

There was supposed to be a waterfall somewhere on the trail. We asked more than a few people as we passed and received a marvel of contradictory instructions. “There’s a side path on the left.” “Somewhere ahead you’ll see a side trail on the right.” We took option B and had a lovely trek up the mountain but turned back when it became apparent that our choice did not include the waterfall. “Next time,” we said. It was late in the afternoon and we wanted to be back at the car before sunset.

With tired legs and lack of trust in the signage, we came to a trail crossroads. Orange went in three different directions. The sign that pointed the way to the parking lot did not inspire confidence but we followed it anyway. We passed an older couple, local hikers, that assured us we were on the right path. A couple crashed out of the woods, having lost the trail but were equipped with a GPS app: we were definitely headed in the right direction but had more than a mile to go to get back to the car.

“It does not feel good to feel lost,” we agreed. “Especially when the light is waning.”

Arriving back at the car, breathing a sigh of relief. “That was fun!” we laughed. “And stressful at the end.” We were never actually lost but we were successful at filling ourselves with doubt. We were grateful for the older couple that reassured us, the lost couple with the GPS that broke out of the woods exactly when we needed them.

And, we learned a lesson. Next time we’ll take the time to study the map. And, we’ll be equipped with a better app. Our lostness was always in our minds, in our doubt. The next time we lose ourselves in second guessing – and it is certain to happen – we’ll be better equipped to handle our self-imposed-disorientation.

In the meantime, we’re already whipping it up into a great survival story. I didn’t mention the bears or starting fire with flint and steel. Building a survival shelter from twigs. That version, the real story of our heroic adventure, is certain to come soon. Lostness, it seems, stimulates fabulous creativity.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAIN

Dump The Mystic [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Years ago a woman broke up with me because, “Dating a mystic was too hard.” What she really meant but-was-too-polite-to-say was that I was broke and artistic and the stuff that came out of my mouth was not normal. I’m just not good at cocktail parties where office politics and investments drive the dialogue. I spend my time wondering why I – and now we – were invited. That, and I can’t help but ask questions that go beneath the blather-layer. I am an artist with a weak-inner-editor. I want to know what makes people tick. You’d be amazed – or not – at how frightened people become when asked what passions lurk behind their portfolio. It’s a conversation stopper every time.

It was a great relief in my life the day I met Kerri. We were at O’Hare airport. I locked fingers with this woman I’d never met and, together, we skipped out of the airport. Our hearts were singing so skipping seemed natural and appropriate. Apparently adults are not supposed to skip through airports. People took cover. They scowled and stared. She didn’t care either. We laughed. We skipped.

It’s probably among the reasons we don’t have a portfolio (well, not the financial type). But, at the end of my days, when weighing my choices, I’ll be most grateful that I skipped. We skipped. And laughed. And asked real questions at polite parties. And climbed through the window onto the roof to have a glass of wine – because, for us, that is normal. I will also be grateful for learning – after a lifetime of introspection – to simply give voice to the real stuff BECAUSE it always comes to my mind.

read Kerri’s blog post about NOT NORMAL

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Roll With Every Punch [on DR Thursday]

And on the fourth night, just before retiring, I stepped onto the stoop and unplugged the colored lights. Forever. The ancient plug had had enough. It was weary and left behind one of its prongs. “No worries,” Kerri said, “I wouldn’t trust those wires to replace the plug. And, I loved them while they lasted.”

Yes. Just enough. A satisfying gesture. I believe that is our theme for the season. Just enough. Satisfying gesture.

Lately, I’ve made it a practice to ask friends and family, with all the water problems that Kerri and I have had this year, what’s the metaphor they see? What’s the universe trying to tell us? The responses have been great fun: build an ark. The slate is washed clean. Put on your waders. I’ve decided it is none of the above (or all of the above). I’m going with the Lao Tzu paradox:

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

Fluid, soft, and yielding. We are rolling with every punch. Soft is strong. Not much gets us riled up these days. There have been so many punches; rigid wasn’t working. Yielding seemed the better path. We are, as Kerri so aptly articulated, ” Leading with surprise.” Not that a waterline break is to be desired but, ours, although intensely disruptive, brought good stories and good people into our sphere. “I want to be like Kevin,” I said. He’s the engineer at the water utility. Kind, funny, easy in his life. His dedication was to make easier our path through disruption. He and Kerri are sharing holiday recipes.

We are, out of necessity or intention, either way, walking the middle path and being careful not to wander into oppositions. Just enough. Satisfying gestures. Love them while they last. Lighten up. Let go. Fluid, soft and yielding.

No worries.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHTS

nap with dogdog & babycat © 2020 david robinson

Receive The Message [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

We just made a pact to lighten up. It’s not the first time we’ve made this pact and it probably won’t be the last. What’s important in this particular version of our pact is that we are growing more capable of keeping it.

The week before Columbus died, my sister-in-law sent some pictures of him. He was at the very beginning of what would become a rapid decline. She sent the photos to reassure us but they had the opposite impact on me: I was shocked.

Those photos threw me into a pendulum: some days, nothing seems worth getting riled up about. This ride is short and it ends. I know my mind can whip up a fruit-smoothie of drama in a nano-second but that doesn’t mean I need to drink it. And, on the other end of the pendulum, everything seems worth getting riled up about. This ride is short and it ends. Both/And.

I know the pendulum will settle. I know equilibrium is merely a matter of not indulging in the swing but stepping back and watching. The thoughts will sway to-and-fro and I need not sway with them. To lighten up, as Don Miguel Ruiz advises, “Doubt everything that you think.” Or, as someone once told me, “What we think is the mother-lode of comedy.” Changing a mind begins with realizing that a mind, although it will tell you otherwise, is not the keeper of truth.

We hit the trail for many reasons but first and foremost a good walk serves to restore our balance. Someone has been leaving good spirits along our favorite trail and we delight in discovering them. We leave them for others to find. We’ve encountered happy messages, halloween goblins, and folks just like the red and orange googly-eyed fellow that made us laugh. He was sitting with his back to us in the middle of the path. Kerri did a photo shoot with him; he was a willing subject.

I’ve decided that he crossed our path to affirm our pact: he is the spirit of lighten-up. He is the messenger of you-are-not-all-that so enjoy the day. A trail jester to remind us that nothing we imagine or create compares or is more real or important than the step we are currently taking. “Alas, poor Yorick…” he had his time and so do we. What we decide to do with it, how we decide to live it, is not happenstance; it is completely up to us.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOGLY EYES

Dump The Suit [on DR Thursday]

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” ~ Lao Tzu

Lately, I’m on a Lao Tzu quote kick. Have you noticed? An advocate for a simple life, his words – or those attributed to him – appeal to me at this moment in my walk.

The outstanding characteristic of my working life is that I have mostly been a sore thumb, the person in the collective who doesn’t belong to the collective. That’s been my value: I am the consummate outsider. I do not sit on the mountain so I can more clearly see the mountain. The alternative perspective. I’ve not always found that to be a comfortable role. For instance, alternative perspectives are invited into conversations but the alternative perspective, when voiced, is rarely welcome. The first response to the alternative perspective is almost always an emphatic whisper, “Conform!”

I have, my entire life as the sore thumb, been told that, “Our people will never do that!” or “They don’t think that way, therefore you must conform-modify-edit…” The emphasis is placed squarely on the limit, the notion that “They can’t…” or “They won’t…”

And, I’ve never found that to be true. In fact, that’s precisely the perception that a sore thumb is hired to challenge. “They” can. “They” will. The job of the alternative perspective is to emphasize the possible, to open paths to the not-yet-imagined, to the revelation of, “We didn’t know we could do that.” Or see that. Or feel that.

In order to walk in an alien world, the sore thumb necessarily steps into the unknown. The first step is to listen and learn: to open to the possible within themselves, to challenge the inner-limiter. The alternative perspective lives on a two-way-discomfort-street with their client.

It is never comfortable to “not know.” It’s never comfortable to say, “I have no idea what that means.” However, it’s a great exercise, a necessary practice. And, it’s actually what the alternative perspective is paid to do and to model. “We didn’t know we could do that,” are words that come after a step into discomfort, a step beyond the known limits. “We step together because we both know how this feels.”

The alternative perspective is never right or wrong, it is simply an alternative. “These are the patterns I see. They may be useful or not.” Conformity bristles when the unknown beckons. Conformity is safe, and the emphatic whisper, while meant to maintain comfort for all, is the line that a sore thumb is hired to help the whisperer cross, “The possibilities we seek live beyond this line.”

The first day I put out my consultant shingle, I bought a suit. It’s what I thought I was supposed to wear. I bought my suit because I’d snagged a client, a financial advisor who wanted me to work with his staff. He’d seen my work – he’d seen me work – in another context. After the job, he asked me, “What’s up with the suit?” I’d always been told by well-meaning teachers that I should “dress for the job I wanted,” so I told my client that I’d dressed for the job. He gave me some great advice: dump the suit. “I want you to show up as you are, not as the person you think we want to see.”

His words became my mantra.

Truth: I hated that suit. I felt like an imposter wearing it. My client gave me a great gift. Be content to be yourself. Challenge the inner-limiter. Inner-limiters are very loud, and like outer-limiters, are generally not worth listening to; they will always advise you to conform, say nothing, and put on an ill-fitting suit.

[Happy Thanksgiving]

read Kerri’s blog post about GOURDS

tango with me © 2018 david robinson

Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Last night we watched a documentary on the launch of the James Webb telescope, The Hunt for Planet B. One of the scientists said (I scrambled for a pencil but didn’t get the direct quote), “There’s something deeply human that needs to connect.” True. So true. So, we launch a miraculous telescope into space, far beyond the moon, and aim it at planets that might, just might have life forms capable of looking back at us. Not science fiction. Science. To connect.

There’s a prerequisite to connecting: an intentional step into the unknown. It is as true when shooting telescopes into space as it is when trying to grasp “Who am I?” “Lao Tzu wrote, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Our ancestors painted the walls of caves, not for decoration, but for connection to “something greater”. It is the same reason folks fill up synagogues and mosques and churches and temples. To connect.

Art, science, and religion all serve the same deeply human impulse. To connect. To reach across time, to reach across space, to plumb the depths of inner and outer space, in order to connect. Legacy and imagination. Identity, tradition, progress toward…connection to something bigger, something better. We reach to grasp and breathe life into our best ideas, both future and past.

The first step of the entrepreneur, the artist, the scientist, the explorer, the dreamer…the human, is a step into the unknown, to question the limits of the known. What else? Leeches were once believed to be good medicine until some bright inquiring mind observed and asked, ‘I wonder it that is really true?”

Einstein dreamed a dream and, so, he reached through the math to connect to the inconceivable: light is the only constant. Time and space are malleable. Picasso, initially, hid his first cubist painting, not yet ready risk ridicule. And then, needing to connect to “what might be”, he turned it around, stepped into new unknown territory, and invited the world to see.

read Kerri’s blog post on the UNKNOWN

Throw Some Light [on KS Friday]

“The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke.” ~Jerzi Kosinski

Out of seeming chaos, pattern is found. And, from pattern, chaos is born. It’s a creative cycle. I spent some time this week swimming up the river of systems theory, synthesis instead of analysis. The means of production in an agrarian economy; the means of production in an industrial economy; the means of production in an information economy. The relationship between the methods and materials, the behaviors and the purpose, systems take on a life and energy of their own. The toil to feed more people led to toil to automate to relieve manual toil, led to automation to relieve intellectual toil, will lead to… we can only imagine. And, we do imagine: imagination is the relationship between the present and the future. Stand back and you’ll see, amidst the mess and chaos, we attempt to evoke a better world.

It is not a coincidence that a banana taped to the wall is considered art in an age in which Tucker Carlson is considered a source of truth. Ironically, in the golden age of information, we are befuddled by vapid minds and empty suits. Bananas and duct tape. Shock without substance can only evoke anger and will illuminate nothing. Anger for anger’s sake can only destroy. There’s no nourishment in all of this anger candy but it is certain to lead to national-diabetes and rot our teeth.

Marcel Duchamp, at the beginning of the last century, entered a toilet as sculpture in an art exhibit. He lived and worked in the age of industry at the threshold of mass production. His gesture had purpose and aesthetic framing. What was formerly craft and individual creation was now stamped into being on an assembly line. That’s old news to us but, in his time, it was a shocking revelation. A world war was raging. The collision of old practices meeting new technology was playing out on the battlefield. His exhibit entry evoked questions about loss and gain in the dawn of a new world order.

Sometimes it seems that we are spiraling into chaos. Polynices and Eteocles, brothers who will not compromise, kill each other in a battle for dominance. All lose. A father’s curse fulfilled. In our great art, the work that evokes truth and throws light to our hearts and minds, we have all the guidance we need – if we choose to pay attention. Yesterday I wrote to Mike that it seems we will need to walk the path of Romeo & Juliet: “Two households, both alike in dignity…”will lose their children to violence rather than sit down at a table and earnestly talk. And, when it is too late, when the primary is lost, the formerly indignant will sit and mourn together.

Chaos. Pattern. Sometimes the pattern is chaos. The children die. The mother takes her son across state lines with a big gun and pretends, after he murders people with his big gun, that his crime was self-defense. Bananas taped to a wall. A judge who broadcast to all that a guilty verdict might trigger his decision for a mistrial. He’ll just wait and see if he agrees with the jury. So, here we are. Lady Justice takes off her blindfold and takes sides. Is there a more profound statement of ethical collapse? In the age of information, misinformation gets equal billing; anger-candy.

What might Duchamp put on his pedestal today? What might evoke an honest conversation, throw some light and love, on what is lost and what is gained?

read Kerri’s blog post about FIRE AND SMOKE

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Decide To Learn [Flawed Wednesday]

[No image today. My technology is having a rough morning]

I spent my day yesterday thinking about lines of perception. I’ve known for a long time that where a focus is placed will largely determine the dynamic reality, the movement, that is created. For instance, a focus on opposition will always produce a chaotic, explosive pattern. The moving energy locks up, tension builds, explosion. Repeat again and again. Focus on the relationships, the spaces between, and the movement, the energy, will harmonize around a common center. The behavior of a system is visible if you know where to look.

Points. Spaces between. Analytics or Synthesis? Break it into parts or look at the whole. Is it a particle or a wave? Both/And.

Tom used to say, “Teaching is a relationship.” It’s not about the material-to-be-covered. It’s never about the test. It’s always about the spaces between. Learning, at its best, is not about coverage. It’s about incorporation. It’s about meaning made from relevant experience. Experiences made relevant.

Every action has an intention, even if the intention is to stir the pot, to see what happens.

A few blocks from our home, outside the courthouse, protestors face each other across a perceptual dividing line. The energy is locking up. Tension is building. Last year a boy, too young to legally order a beer in a bar, legally brought a big gun to a protest. His mom brought him to the protest, big gun and all. He killed two people and maimed a third just a block or two from where he now stands trial. In the year since, he has been made a symbol, a well-financed icon of those who desire a dividing line. The pressure builds, just as the system demands. We await the explosion. It will be here, a few blocks away, or elsewhere, but it is coming just as the system requires.

There’s a less understood truism when the focus is placed on the points & oppositions: the tension builds and the explosion happens again and again because no one ever learns. It’s a repetitive pattern that perhaps feels like progress but is actually an eddy. Empty movement.

The only way out of the eddy is to attend to the relationships, to turn the focus to the spaces between.

read Kerri’s blog post about DIVIDING LINES

Coalesce [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Rich used to tell me that, “People don’t change until the pain of the change is less than the pain of staying the same.” At the time, I thought his mantra was cynical; pain either way. Now, I think it is spot-on.

Discord is the essential ingredient for initiating any creative process. Explorers look at the horizon with a deep need to find-out what’s beyond. Their curiosity outstrips their comfort. Curiosity and comfort. Change and stay-the-same. There’s a tug-of-war in every decision that’s worth making.

Creative tension is a dynamic pull between two poles. Do I add a brushstroke or is the painting finished? This morning I came across a well-known quote by Leonardo da Vinci: Art is never finished, only abandoned. Pain either way. Finishing a work of art is akin to dropping the rope in the creative tug-of-war.

When I was wearing my corporate-consultant-hat, almost daily I repeated a lesson relative to Little Red Riding Hood: without the Wolf there is no story. Too often we try to eliminate our Wolf. We are inundated with messages trumpeting the notion that happiness (or good process) arrives in the absence of discord. It does not. Happiness avails itself when the necessity of the Wolf is understood as the fuel of the story.

People thrive when challenged. We create challenges when we don’t have them. Understanding the role of the Wolf transforms Rich’s mantra into something far less pain-full. The heart yearns. The brain fears. The yearning and the fear will coalesce into some action that may or may not be recognized as a choice. Which is the Wolf? The yearning? The fear? Either way, another day is lived. The story is created.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNCOMFORTABLE