Teach The Full Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Viewed from space, the earth is round.

That simple fact has led some truly dedicated reality-deniers to the startling conclusion that the earth is flat. They argue that it’s absurd to think that half the population of the earth lives upside-down. Of course, no one has yet been able to prove that there is a top or bottom to the universe so it’s anyone’s guess which hemisphere of the earth is right-side-up and which is up-side-down. Be careful on those vacation cruises not to sail too close to the edge.

The Republican party in these un-united-united-states have become the political equivalent of flat-earthers. Cherry-picked half-data spun by a dedicated-nonsense-media into a Flat Stanley reality. Two-dimensional thinking in a three-dimensional world. It’s a problem. It’s a scary problem. The good ship USA is on course to meet the edge while the captains on the bridge wrestle for control of the steering wheel.

What is the steering wheel? The story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Our history. The Manifest Destiny story is meeting the realities of demographics. The party of white-dominance is in a panic to maintain its story of supremacy. They’d rather run us over the edge than let this richly diverse nation fulfill its promise. Fulling the promise begins with telling the full story. In Florida, the governor has literally banned the schools from telling the full history of this nation.

In other times, more clear-headed times, these laws would be acknowledged as authoritarianism. In our times, it’s marketed as the Republican response to “woke-ness.” In other words, education is the enemy. Stick your head in the sand. Hear-no-evil-see-no-evil. Proclaim the earth is flat or be prosecuted.

It was inevitable. The rhetoric of “All men are created equal” would someday need to reconcile the reality of a system built on the institution of slavery. Our forefathers wrote about it as the single greatest threat to the survival of our nation, this vast difference between our rhetoric and actions. In a school – capable of teaching our history – that would seem to be a very important and timely history to explore.

Systems do what they are designed to do and ours has performed as intended, elevating one group while suppressing others. It’s in our legislative record. It’s in the writing of our founders. It’s history.

For the second time this week I’m using this phrase: As I learned in school, systems are living things and will fight to the death to maintain themselves. We are watching a system – our system – fight to the death to maintain itself. In this fight, it will lie, cheat, scratch, steal, bite and squeal. It will incite fear. It will turn citizens against other citizens. It will whip up division and demonize those it brands as “other.” It will toss away all ethic and morality to maintain itself. It will make laws to protect itself. We are witness to it. We are participants in it.

The national story will maintain itself as flat, or, at long last, take a hard look at itself and change.

I was truly alarmed when I read that teachers in Florida are afraid to teach the history of the United States.

Our nation is round. Plump and full of rich diversity with a rich complex history. It is, after all, the reality of our nation, the story we are living. It is the reason for our successes – cultural crossroads have always been places of innovation. Perhaps it should be the story we at long last embrace. Perhaps, rather than muzzling our story, legislating for white-fragility, we will someday – as a nation – be proud of our iridescence and work to tell our full story rather than the flat-lie the reality-deniers are asking us to swallow.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BE

Learn A Thing Or Two [on KS Friday]

A decade ago I wrote and self-published a book. I called it The Seer. The see-er. A few days ago I pulled it off the shelf and began a slow-read-through. It’s a good book! I’m actually learning a few things from my younger self.

Yesterday I made a spreadsheet (I’ll never again confess to making a spreadsheet so appreciate this moment). The purpose of my spreadsheet was to build a database for Kerri of the cartoons that I’ve drawn for work. She takes my pencil drafts and digitizes them, colorizes them, and adds some quirky dynamics. They begin as mine and complete as ours. To finish my database it was necessary to open every file and look at each cartoon. They made me laugh. I’m proud of those cartoons, our work. I’m excited to share them beyond the small circle of eyes that currently see them. I know I’ve learned a few things because they are so simple.

We have a few sparse analytics on our blogs so can see when someone reads a post from the deep past. Lately, when someone reads a post from several years ago, we read it, too. “Where did that thought come from,” Kerri asked herself after rereading her long-ago-post. Often, after I dive into the archive, I want to rewrite what I read. I’m a much better writer now that I have a great editor reviewing my posts every day. The grammar police should have sent me to the gulag years ago. I am fortunate now to have a daily read through and revision with the-daughter-of-beaky-who-won’t-tolerate-improper-grammar. It’s too soon to know but I might be learning a thing or two.

We had occasion to revisit 2015. We didn’t mean to but were looking for a picture of a lanai and a pizza. It was the year we produced and performed The Lost Boy, illustrated and produced the first of Beaky’s books, we lost her a few weeks after the book release party, we were married in the fall of that year, we inadvertently created our first cartoon character, Chicken Marsala. “We’re content-creating monsters,” I said during our reminiscence. “We’ve learned a few things,” Kerri replied.

We walked to the channel. The last time we took this walk was before Covid. It seemed like a stroll into the past. A walk into a former life. So much has changed. We stopped at the waterpark to take some photographs. Children danced in the fountains. Parents smiled. Innocence at play. Elders occupied benches.

“Look at this,” she said, showing me the picture of the fountain. “I think maybe I’ve learned a thing or two.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOUNTAIN

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

good moments/this part of the journey © 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

Imagine The Possibilities! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~ Lao Tzu

I’ve had this quote sitting on my desktop for months. I’ve been on a Lao Tzu kick, a Kurt Vonnegut kick, a Rainier Maria Rilke kick…all at the same time. They are, not surprisingly, in alignment on many topics, among them self-mastery. “The secret?” they whisper. “Stop trying to control what other people think or see or feel and, instead, take care of what you think and see and feel.” Their metaphoric trains may approach the self-mastery station from different directions but the arrival platform is the same.

It’s a universal recognition: take the log out of your own eye.

Sometimes a penny drops more than once and so it is with Saul’s advice to me. “Look beyond the opponent to the field of possibilities.” “And, just what does that mean?” you may shout at your screen. It sounds like new-age hoo-haw.

Ghandi said, “Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong.” It is the height of self-mastery to bring ideas to the table rather than a gun. It is the height of self-mastery to bring to the commons good intention and an honest desire to work with others to make life better for all. Power is never self-generated but is something created between people. Power is distinctly different than control. Power endures since it does not reside within a single individual. Power lives, as Saul reminded me again and again, not in throwing an opponent but in helping the opponent throw themself. “Focus on the possibilities,” he said again and again. Throw yourself to the ground often enough and, one day, it occurs that there may be another way.

Work with and not against. It seems so simple. The bulb hovering over my cartoon head lights-up. Work with yourself, too, and not against. Place your eyes in the field of all possibilities. Obstacles are great makers of resistance, energy eddies and division. Possibilities are expansive, dissolvers of divisiveness.

I am writing this on the Sunday that Christians celebrate their resurrection. The day that “every man/woman for him/herself” might possibly and-at-last-transform into “I am my brothers/sisters keeper.” All that is required for this rebirth is a simple change of focus; a decision to master one’s self instead of the never ending violent attempt to exercise control over others.

It’s the single message, the popcorn trail left for us by all the great teachers. Instead of fighting with others, master yourself. Imagine the possibilities!

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CEILING LIGHT

Let Fly [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice For The Young

It is now my opinion, based on life’s experience, that it you don’t find the cliff, the cliff will find you. Wing development is the name of this game. Hide in the closet, bury your head in the sand, drink yourself to oblivion, pretend the monster is not at the door, and you’ll discover in your last moments that looking the other way was, in fact, your cliff.

Master Marsh once asked me why I had the need to run and jump off every cliff. At the time I said, “I don’t know!” My latent response comes straight from Vonnegut: wing development. Apparently my wings took their sweet time developing and needed some extra cliff-age. And, as we all know but are too polite or arrogant to admit, wing development never ceases. There’s always another cliff until there’s not.

We had a rare warm day so took a walk on our favorite trail. The brilliant raw sienna of the empty pod caught Kerri’s eye. While she took photos of the pod I thought about the thousands of seeds it once held that took flight on the wind. A few certainly found fertile soil. Most did not. That’s the idea behind Kurt Vonnegut’s advice. Don’t hoard your idea seeds. Put them out. Audition for the play. Submit your story. Offer your idea. There’s great truth to the advice: your job is to put it out there, not to decide whether or not it is good enough. Explode the pod rather than protect the seed.

Greg recently told me said, “it doesn’t have meaning until it’s published.” He wasn’t speaking about publishing in a newspaper or by Random House. Sending an email is an act of publishing. To text is to publish. Greg was referring to sharing. It has no meaning until it is shared. And, sharing your creations can be -and often is – vulnerable and scary. Giving a speech is terrifying to most people. Dancing, painting, composing a song, playing a solo, offering your idea in a meeting…all are acts of publishing. All are potential cliffs to jump off.

Explode the pod. Let the seeds fly. The wind will carry them. Some will find fertile soil. Most will not. Wing development is easier when you realize that you are a pod of ideas and not a judge of worth or value.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE POD

Gurgle On! [on DR Thursday]

I’m certain the first time I tried to walk I was not successful. A few stumble-steps and a return to the floor. My first attempts at speaking the English language did not receive a passing grade. As I recall (and I don’t recall), I made some gurgling sounds into which the adults surrounding me projected meaning. I’m certain they cheered and encouraged me to gurgle-on.

Learning is not a terribly difficult thing to do when 1) there’s a reason to do it, and 2) judgment, including words like “success” or “failure” are absent from the experience. Thank goodness my first art teacher treated me like an infant and, rather than critique my mess, she encouraged me to gurgle-on. Consequently, I associate my artistic impulses with fun and exploration instead of the thousand shades of rignt-and-wrong that most people are subjected to.

Recently Skip wrote and asked, “What’s the second rule?” Suspend your judgment and learn.

We just bought a mandoline. It slices and dices and chops and cuts. “The first thing we’re going to make is potato chips!” Kerri proclaimed. And, then, her brow furrowed. “What if we do it wrong?”

“We’ll learn something and make another batch.” Trial and error. Both “trial” and “error” are essential ingredients in the learning process and, since all of life is a learning process, you’d think someday we’d learn to value the “error” portion of the experience. We do ourselves a great disservice placing so much emphasis on passing the test and having the “right” answer. The essential ingredients of trial and error can’t breathe in brains fogged by so much right-and-wrong-ness.

Our first batch, like our first baby step, was a stumble. But more delicious. We stood over the pan eating our result and discussed second steps. What should we do differently next time? Less heat or more? Thinner slices or thicker? This is all I know. I love to learn, especially when food is involved and judgment is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about POTATO CHIPS!

flawed cartoon © 2016 david robinson

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

Look To The Field [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“…if you observe your mind very quietly without giving explanations, if you just let the mind be aware of its own struggle, you will soon find that there comes a state in which there is no struggle at all, but an astonishing watchfulness. In that state of watchfulness there is no sense of superior or inferior, there is no big man or little man, there is no guru. All those absurdities are gone because the mind is fully awake; and the mind that is fully awake is joyous.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

Saul told me to look beyond my opponent to the field of all-possibilities. He even gave it a location, a hundred feet beyond where he stood. We were doing an exercise called push-hands and, as a tai-chi master, he was teaching me not only where to place my focus but also where to place my belief. It took me a few years to grok: believe in resistance and resistance will appear. Call it an opponent and you’ve defined the relationship and, therefore, your choices. An obstacle is only an obstacle because it is identified as so.

I met Kerri because my world collapsed. Did my world collapse or did it open? Saul would say, “Neither.” Energy is energy. It moves and we give story to the movement, thereby shaping it. Storytelling is more powerful than we know.

Saul might as well have said, “The opponent lives in your mind. Look beyond your mind. Look beyond the story.” It’s a good practice to have an experience before naming it. It’s a better practice to have an experience and not name it at all. I’m not there yet, though I can see the field that Saul recommended. It exists beyond my definition-noise.

Saul threw me across the room yet never touched me. He laughed. I wanted to ask, “How did you do that?” but I already knew what his answer would be: “I didn’t. You threw yourself.”

read Kerri’s blog post on this Two Artists Tuesday

tree and sky © 2021 kerri sherwood

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

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

Move Toward Wholeness [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I look at the bowl of green tomatoes, each plucked from the vine before we pulled the plants from their pots, still moving toward red ripeness, I think of Joe. He was fond of saying, “Life moves in the direction of wholeness.” It’s important to note that his fond phrase included nothing about outcomes. Joe was particular and knew that life is movement and not arrival.

I am revisiting the word ‘rehearsal’ these days only this version of rehearsal is not on the stage with creative minds. It is over Zoom with decidedly analytical minds. Actors in rehearsal halls move through a process of exploration that leads to specific choices. The goal, if there is one, is to embody a state of moving presence within a story. The analytic mind comes with a template overlay that is placed atop the experience before it actually occurs. The language reveals all: content items. Telemetry. The mathematics of movement. Rehearsal is predicated on precision.

As I’ve probably written ad nauseam, these minds are not in opposition. They are complimentary. Freedom of artistic expression comes from years of study of technique. The path to mastery winds through repetition and constraint. Saying more with less comes after a lifetime of saying less with more. The creative mind is one step closer to the senses. The analytic mind applies language, gives voice, to the experience.

Many years ago I participated in a workshop with an actor/director of Noh Theatre. The process was strict, exacting. The movements precise. There was no room for error. We, the participants in the workshop, knew we’d never achieve proficiency since it takes years and years of rehearsal to perform even the simplest of symbolic gestures. No one sings opera in a day. We did our best and failed and failed and failed. That was the point. That is always the point. Each failure is actually an exercise of muscle memory. The body learns. The mind is impatient. Rehearsal is rarely about the mind, despite what the mind insists. At the end of the day, our workshop leader gave a short demonstration of his art form. His ease of movement, born from years of repetition within constraint, was breathtaking. He was free.

Many years later I was helping John in his wood shop. He was a master wood worker. I watched him look over his lumber, preparing to build a cabinet. He ran his hand over the wood, feeling his way into his project. “Ah,” he said, laying his hand on a piece of cherry wood. “This is it.” John was like the Noh actor.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, “it just feels right.” Then he smiled and added, “Plus, I’ve built a lot of crap.”

Life, moving toward wholeness.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES