Make Belief [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” ~ Saul Bellow

In addition to meaning uneducated, it occurred to me that the word ‘ignorant’ also means to ignore. It’s an adjective, a descriptor. Someone who ignores is ignorant, is an ignorant. I looked up the root of the word to be sure. To disregard.

Early in the pandemic, we placed a table in our sunroom. We call it our pandemic table. In our isolation it helped us to end the day, looking out at the back yard, and watching the light wane. Through the spring, summer, and into the fall, we’d sit at the table and talk about the news of the day. We’d ramble on and on about our disbelief in the angry wave of intentional misinformation rolling over the country, the big things and small things people have to ignore in order to make belief. To support an angry illusion.

One evening, we shook our heads in utter incredulity as a member of our community re-posted a QAnon assertion that the CDC was exaggerating the numbers of COVID deaths just to make the then-president look bad. As proof, the post included a morbidity chart extracted from the official CDC website. We pulled up the website – it took less than 15 seconds – to see the extracted chart nestled on a page with multiple charts detailing comorbidity data; the many many ways that COVID kills. We felt compelled to write a note. It was too easy to debunk the assertion. We asked him to take a moment and go to the site, to look at all of the data. He was being fed a chart cherry-picked from a veritable mountain of information. Nothing was being hidden. No evil plot was in play. His reply was angry, defensive. He unfriended us. We’d done the unthinkable and revealed what he was ignoring.

We learned a lesson about the power of invested ignorance.

Over the year our pandemic table has changed. It’s been populated with sparkling lights and plants. A bonsai gardenia, a birthday present from Kirsten to Kerri sits next to the ponytail palm, both surrounded by succulents. It’s become a sanctuary. We’ve changed, too. We rarely give our time to shaking our heads in disbelief or pushing back against the non-sense things people-in-our-world believe. I’ve stopped exclaiming, “Check Your Sources!”

We occasionally comment about the big things and small things – the mountains – being ignored in order to sustain the modern bubbles of make-belief. The big lie. We are no longer shocked by the dreck that people swallow without question or thought. We’ve moved beyond our own naive illusion and admitted that many people simply do not want to know anything that might challenge their make-believe.

We sit at our pandemic table. We listen to the mourning doves. We eat our lunches looking out at the vibrant green returning to the backyard. We laugh at Dogga running circles in delight. We talk about replacing the very-worn rug beneath our feet. We appreciate the bonsai gardenia, checking the moisture of the soil. We celebrate when our friends and family are vaccinated. We know more than ever it is important to hold dear the baseline, to not disregard our responsibility to check our sources, to carry a healthy doubt about what we are hearing on the news, the story we are being told.

read Kerri’s blog post about BONSAI GARDENIA

See The Verb [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Random fact of the day: my waking thought this morning was about The Geography of Thought. No kidding. It’s a terrific book by Richard Nisbett. The subtitle is “How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why.” Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I must have been pondering the bumper sticker we recently saw: I’m With Earth.*

One of the points made in the book, the one that permeated my dream state, is that different languages place different emphasis on different parts of speech. For instance, many Asian languages place emphasis on the verb. English speakers place the emphasis on the noun. In listening to mothers talk to their infant children, an English speaker will say, “Look at the red truck! Do you see the red truck?” An Asian mother will say, “Look at the red truck go!” Do you see the red truck go?”

Why does it matter where the emphasis lands in a language structure? Noun or verb?

The language we use shapes our thinking and seeing. It shapes basic worldviews. Earth as a noun or earth as a verb. Earth as a stand-alone-thing or earth as a moving interrelationship. These are vastly different worldviews.

This was my thought/image coming out of sleep: earth and sky. In a noun world, earth and sky are two distinctly different things. In a verb world, earth and sky are not separate things, they are verbs, actions, interplay of a dynamic relationship. In a noun world, I am also a distinctly different thing. In a verb world, earth, sky and I are not separate things, we are a dynamic inseparable relationship. We.

The bumper sticker is a declaration: I am with earth. It makes perfect sense in a noun world because it is also possible, in a perceptual world of separate things, to be against earth. Nature needs to be conquered, tamed. In a noun world, earth, once tamed, is a resource and resources are meant to be used. In a noun world, we are capable of believing that our actions have no impact on our environment. Action and environment are nouns, separate things.

In a verb world, what you do to the earth is what you do to yourself. No separation. In a perceptual world of relationship, of verbs, it is understood that your actions not only have impacts, your actions are impacts.

We woke to the news of yet another mass shooting. This one in Colorado. As usual, we know that our community and leadership will offer thoughts and prayers but nothing really – not really- will be done to address it. In a noun world, we protect the rights of the individual, the separate thing. In a verb world, there are no mass shootings. None. Violence done to one is violence done to all. In fact, more people are gunned down in the United States in a day than are killed by gun violence in Japan in a decade. The differing linguistic emphasis extends to differing understanding of rights and responsibilities.

Language matters. Where we focus matters. What we emphasize matters. The story we tell is determined by the language we use to tell it. I am with earth. Or, I am earth. I go to worship. I am worship. I seek purpose. I am purpose. Separation. Relationship. A whole philosophy of living reduced to a simple bumper sticker.

So, when we ask complex questions like, “Why can’t we do anything about gun violence?” or, “How is it possible that people in a pandemic refuse to wear masks to protect each other,” our answer is really very simple: our language makes it so.

Perhaps in a world of nouns a declaration is the best we can do. It is a step toward the middle way, a declaration of responsibility to the commons. Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. Stop Asian Hate. I’m With Earth.

*The “I’m with Earth” sticker is from the very cool company Gurus

read Kerri’s blog post about I’M WITH EARTH

Embrace Orbisculate [on Merely A Thought Monday]

A family is trying to get ‘orbisculate‘ into the dictionary to honor their dad who died of Covid-19

Compromise. Accuse. Jaded. Dishearten. Tranquil. Swagger. Mimic. These are just a few of the over 1,700 words that William Shakespeare invented or adapted. Making up words, playing with sounds and meanings and clever twists of usage was appreciated in his lifetime. Audiences went to hear plays like we go to hear concerts. The sound of the word was more important than the visual on the stage.

During Shakespeare’s lifetime, Robert Cawdrey toyed with a thing that would someday be called The Dictionary though it wasn’t something Will had to consider. Spelling was phonetic. Teachers did not think to circle his words with red pencil. That bit of standardization was still a few centuries away. Spend time within the unedited-for-our-eyes First Folio and you’ll find yourself sounding out words just as the poet did. Tasting the sounds. Shaping meaning in your mouth en route to making meaning in the world.

Language is fluid. Each year new words come into being and others drop from sight. For instance, our word “google” is a “creative spelling of the word googol, which implies an unfathomable number. It was coined in the 1930’s. Our version is in the dictionary as a verb: to search for information. And, you’ve probably already heard that it’s also a company that facilitates the search for information. Which came first, the verb or the company? Some words, over time, come to mean the opposite of what they originally meant. The archaic meaning of the word “egregious” is “remarkably good.” From remarkably good to outstandingly bad is quite a journey!

Definitions are discoveries and agreements made according to how we use the tasty sounds we call “words.” Each word comes into being from necessity.

Orbisculate is a tasty word that William Shakespeare might have created and enjoyed. But, he didn’t. Neil Krieger did. It is a word for juice squirting in your eye. Neil died of COVID and, to honor this good man and his good life, his family is attempting to get Neil’s good word into common parlance and, ultimately, to the dictionary. They are appealing to poets and pedestrians alike to embrace their necessity and use Neil’s word. If you visit their site, check out their 50 Goals. Never was a single word so lovingly brought into the lexicon. Help them if you will. Will would have. He’d have used orbisculate in one of his comedies. Or many of his comedies.

I have a sneaking suspicion, if they are successful in their quest, that, over time, orbisculate will come to have another meaning: an act of familial love.

The Orbisculate haiku challenge! Here’s mine:

Now, it’s your turn. Make sure you let the family know.

read Kerri’s blog post about ORBISCULATE

Check Your Attribution [on KS Friday]

I have just had a front row seat to a full-blown, hyper-antagonistic, years-long, classic case of attribution-bias-escalation. It was [and is] ugly. The ripples are rocking boats, eroding foundations, ending friendships. The damage is thorough and, as is always true, infinitely avoidable.

Attribution bias. Making the assumption that you KNOW why someone did or said something. Assigning your reason to their behavior.

Years ago, a red faced executive called me, the consultant, in and fumed, “She said THAT to demean me!” I paused and asked, “Do you really know why she said it? Have you asked her what was going on from her point of view?” His blank stare told me all I needed to know. He would rather demonize her, be offended by her, than communicate with her. We sat down, drank a cup of coffee and decided that, rather than fume and escalate, rather than simmer in a victim-stew, he had at his disposal a better path. Communicate rather than assume, ask questions rather than blame, poison the well, and indulge in being offended.

It always amazes me how unconscious and/or resistant folks are to challenging their attributions. How eager they are to spin hard narratives and create vicious persecutors. How invested they become at being offended or otherwise insulted en route to being ‘right.’ It is monster-creation. It provides nothing more than a reason to draw a sword.

We do it so fast. Assume we know. And, once the attribution is made, we hold onto it as if it were gospel. It is easier to believe we know-all-things than it is to step out of the yummy-victim-archetype and ask a few simple questions, confess a few honest vulnerabilities. It is easier, more tasty, to take offense than it is to give consideration. Blame provides a great reason to never ask a question. Being ‘right’ is a hard stop to all inquiry.

In the canon of unconscious bias, attribution is one of the most-oft-used routes to really effective miscommunication. It makes mountains out of molehills. It makes muck from otherwise good working relationships. It savages careers. It makes vice presidents run to the phone and call consultants. It makes councils meet in secret and vote without investigation. It makes revenge a serious pursuit of otherwise grown-up adults. It makes weak leaders run for the basement and hide. It makes new-contract-creation and other tit-for-tat flexing a less-than-fun game of control. No one wins. No questions asked. It makes a hammer the only tool in the tool kit.

A few breaths to simmer down, the suspension of a snap-assumption, an honest “can I talk to you” conversation that comes with no blame and a wee-bit of vulnerability…could make a minor miscommunication remain minor. It could save all manner of hurt feelings, ill intention, relationship destruction, HR costs, separation agreements, litigation…all unnecessary wreckage that might have been avoided with an assumption-made-conscious, an attribution challenged. A simple word or phrase can usually be explained, “You took a bullet meant for someone else, I’m sorry.” Mountains return to molehills when we are willing to turn from our hyper-active-attribution-bias (“I’m right and I know it!”) and ask, “I’m not sure what just happened here. Will you help me understand?”

read Kerri’s blog post about ESCALATION

Hold Hands And Listen [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

These words, posed as polar opposites, come from the world of relationship advice. The recommendation is to establish clarity. Before you get into trouble, define whether your mate’s need is to be heard or to hear advice, to receive solace or solutions. Offering a solution when the need is solace is not recommended. Knowing my snap-dedication to solving-her-every-need, Kerri will often cut me off at the pass with, “I just need you to listen.” My lending-an-ear is often the only thing she really needs.

I’ve always been a good listener but it is only recently that I’ve discovered that I cannot solve anything for anyone. I cannot spare anyone the necessity of walking through their life lessons. The solving is not mine to do. The discoveries are not mine to make. This comes as a great awakening to my third-child-in-the-family-peacekeeper-identity. It also comes as a great relief. Peacekeeping, as a role assignment, is impossible. It’s akin to herding cats. It’s best to let each cat find peace in its own way. In sitting still, in surrendering the impossible task, my peace, like a magic castle, appeared.

A few years ago, a friend, sensitive to Kerri’s grief, offered her this truism-nugget: there’s only one way to go through it and that is to go through it. Trying to spare or minimize her grief would be to rob her of the depths of her love. Feel the depths. Meet the monster that lives there. Emerge transformed or at least informed. It is how we come to fully know ourselves.

We are learning to walk together with no need to solve. I am learning to hold hands and listen. The walking together, the holding of hands, is essential. The words I spin around our challenges are rarely meaningful and never as necessary as attending to the simple essential of quiet presence.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMFORT OR SOLUTIONS

Breathe and Make Choices [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James

A note from the Rejuvenation Fairy: the relief we seek may depend upon the phrase we choose. For instance, consider this phrase: coping mechanisms. What ease might become available if we viewed ourselves as something other than machines? Turn this dial. Adjust this screw. Add a little oil. Check the battery. Do this, then that will happen. Turn down the pressure gauge. Talk to others. Take a break. Cause and effect.

Breathe. Sentient beings are much more complex and subtle than apparatus made from iron and steel.

We story ourselves. For reasons no one will ever fully comprehend, we sort to the tragic. We imagine the worst. Ask any good storyteller and they will confirm that conflict is the driver. Yearnings meet obstacles and stories ensue. Everyone, without exception, is telling themselves a story. Everyone, without exception, is starring in their own movie, complete with impossible mountains to climb, monsters to face, dreams that remain just out of reach. Robert Sapolsky has it right: zebras don’t hold onto their tale of stress while human beings are reticent to let it go. We like to tell it again and again and again.

If we cast ourselves as victims in our movie, our stories will be filled with ogres to blame. If we reduce ourselves to the mechanical, our stories will be endless attempts at fixing what’s broken, looking for the right hose to replace. How to recharge the battery. The fortunate few recognize that their movie might be a story of choice. Choices made within given circumstances. The storm, like time, passes. How do we stand in it?

There’s little doubt that we are living in stressful times. There’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to turn up those mechanical pressure gauges. Add another notch or two of pressure with extreme national ideological division, cowards at the switches of government, mix in some economic stress…there are plenty of choices on the angst-menu. All are visceral. All are circumstances to the story we choose to tell, the story I choose to tell.

I came across a few universal coping strategies. Eat healthy. Exercise. Give yourself a break. Get plenty of sleep. Talk to others. Recognize when you need help and ask for it. I wondered why these good choices are reserved for times of stress. Why not give yourself a break as an everyday expectation. Talk to others. Eat healthy. Weave a calm center it into the fibers of daily life. Make choices. Especially in the story you tell yourself about yourself. The thought upon which you choose to fixate, to play over and over again in your movie-mind.

When Kerri and I fall off the pony and run around like our hair is on fire, we make chicken soup. I am the sous chef. She is the master mind. The recipe comes from her mother so the making of the soup is more than food prep, it’s a love-touch to her anchor. We touch love. And, of course, defying the advice of experts to avoid alcohol, we enjoy a glass of red wine. We choose the glasses: Jamie’s? Or Skip’s? Or Joan’s? For our wedding, we were gifted with many special wine glasses from many special people. Recently, Jay and Carol and Rob sent us wine. When we clink our glasses, we touch the depth of our support and reach of our friendships. We call 20 and laugh. As the soup simmers and the wine disappears, we realize that our hair is not on fire, that, although we are not zebras, we are infinitely capable of releasing our tale of woe. We need not cope or distract. We can grasp hold of the full tale of the enormity of our lives. We need only refocus our eyes, see the depth and expanse of our story and choices, enjoy the warming soup. Appreciate the story of the wine.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHICKEN SOUP & WINE

Defy Augury [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It lifted my spirits. David sent a short video, a snippet of a play. He called it “Sofa Shakespeare.” Using small toys from his son’s collection, he performed – and filmed – a puppet version – of Act 5, Scene 2 of Hamlet. “…we defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow….” He’s a professor of theatre, a director and playwright, a major member of my inspiration-tribe. He is a bubbling wellspring of the creative.

We have a periodic-ongoing-for-years-conversation about Hamlet. The play is special to both of us. I’ve had two runs at Hamlet. Both were significant. Both productions popped open new doors of understanding for me. Both productions also came to me just before the floor-of-my-life collapsed. I’ve come to think of Hamlet as an omen. If today I was approached to direct it, I’d say “Yes,” but, inwardly, I’d think, “Uh-oh.” I would defy augury. Like Hamlet, I’ve come to realize that I have little or no control over my fate.

Later in the day, after Sofa Shakespeare, Kerri and I hit the trail. The sky stopped me in my tracks. It was winter-radiant. I felt as if I was standing between heaven and earth. Staring at this magical sky, Kerri asked, “What do you think is going to happen?” Our lives, like so many others during this pandemic, have been blasted into utter uncertainty. We ask this question daily, “What do you think will happen?”

“I don’t know. Something will happen. That’s for certain,” I respond. She punches my arm.

“Not helpful!” she grimaces.

Making choices. Making peace with your choices and your fate. Chasing ghosts. Asking the ethers for more information. “What does it mean?” Trying to decipher whether the ghost you chase is “a spirit of health or goblin damned.” Whether your ghost brings “airs from Heaven or blasts from hell…” What will happen?

Continuing down our snowy trail, more words from Hamlet rolled to the front of my brain. These words come at the beginning of the play: “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” At the end, “We defy augury.” This great magical world is beyond our capacity to grasp. Still, we must try. And, like Hamlet, the best we can do is arrive at peace with our uncertain fate.

“If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all.” Hamlet. Act V, ii

read Kerri’s blog post about HEAVEN AND EARTH

Say “Look” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Look” is the new “um.” It now lives among the tribe of words used as placeholders, thought-launching-pads, or mental-composition-vocables.

I had a professor that cleared his throat when composing his thoughts. That semester nearly killed me. I lost all contact with the content of his lectures in the cacophony of throat-clearing. I spent entire lectures either writhing in my seat or wondering what happened in his life to develop such an odd vocal tick. I’m certain Sarah Jessica Parker based her throat-clearing-character in The Family Stone on my professor. Each week I sat in the lecture hall and wondered if he was terrified when speaking in public or perhaps he was fearful of not expressing thoughts clearly. That odd-socks-thought-train sent me down a rabbit hole of pondering weird karma. It’s a wonder I passed his class (or any class, for that matter).

“Look” is significantly different than “um” or throat clearing. There’s a very important nuance to note: it assumes authority. It’s a directive. “Take note!” “Consider this!” It’s a placeholder with a purpose. It’s as if everyone on the public stage secretly doubts their credibility or must demonstrate their sway.

Perhaps it’s the cabin fever that comes with believing in the pandemic, perhaps it is the state of politics and pundits in these media-cleaved-united-states, but we’ve become fascinated by the ubiquitous “Look.” It regularly launches politician replies and reporters’ reports. At first we merely glanced at each other, “Did you hear it, too?” Then we counted. We passed through the cheering phase. We even considered making it a drinking game – take a sip every time we hear “Look” – but decided against it for obvious reasons.

Instead of a drinking game we’ve lapsed into mimicry. “What do you want for dinner?” Kerri might ask. My reply, “Look, I’ve surveyed my belly and 85% of tummy-grumbling prefers pasta over all other candidates.”

Without missing a beat, she counters, “Look, your data is clearly partisan since the people are voting for chicken soup.”

“Look,” I say, gathering my thought for a response, “I’m willing to work with you here. My caucus will support your chicken soup if you’ll guarantee chocolate sometime before bedtime.”

She stares her best stare of thoughtful consideration. “Well, look,” she replies, extending her pause, “I think we can make that happen.”

read Kerri’s blog post about LOOK

Start Here [on Flawed Wednesday]

Let’s start here: a strange attractor. “Chaos has its own pattern, a peculiar kind of order.” This magical definition pairing chaos and order is from the good folks at Merriam-Webster. They provide definitions of words. Words are a collection of symbols, called “letters,” assigned to specific sounds which, when placed in a sequence, carry meaning. For instance, D-O-G points to something unique and different than, say C-A-T. A collection of words placed in a sequence carries even more complex meaning. Dogs chase cats.

Thought. Expression. It’s nothing short of miraculous if you think about it. And, if you are thinking about it, you, too, are a carrier of meaning. The symbols and their sequence are useless without me and you, reaching to each other, agreeing on the general meaning of the sequence of sounds. And, more to the point, we not only carry but we create meaning. With our magical sounds-in-sequence we are capable of generating the high art of story, the supreme gift of understanding each other. We can reach each other, touch each other, move each other. We can find each other with our words. We shape each other with our words.

From the chaos of all-possible-sound, to the pattern of word and alphabet, to the order of sentence, to the power of story. Anyone who tells you that they are not creative is missing the point of their existence.

I suspect the power of story is infinitely more powerful than we might realize. We take it for granted, this extraordinary capacity, this glorious gift. You’d think we’d have more appreciation for our high art of language, our transcendent ability of speech. You’d think we might honor and protect truth and fact. They are the compass, the map through the forest of all possible tales. You’d think we might use our most powerful accomplishment to find, or better yet, to create shared ground. Common good is an intention, a creation.

You’d think.

There’s a vast difference between disagreement, conflicting points of view, and lie.

The point of a disagreement is to find agreement. After all, single-point-perspective begins from two disparate points of view. It is a “coming together.”

The point of a lie is to mislead. To deceive. To create false impression. False ideals. To foster disagreement. It is a tool for exploitation. It is meant to render apart.

Because we so easily sequence our words, pattern our thoughts, we are capable of using our magic, our ordered language to create…order. We are also capable of using it to create chaos. Disorder.

To help. To hurt. To accomplish. To disrupt. It’s a matter of intention. The direction of intention. How do you intend to use your precious gift?

The real power comes when we learn to think beyond our belief. To question. To ask.

The first rule of education, an essential rule in shaping precious words into thoughts, into actions, is simple: check your sources. Make sure the story you’re embracing, the piper you are following, arises from a well spring of good intention. That it has an ethical center. Check that it seeks to clarify and reach rather than obscure and demonize. Check that your thought-house is not built on a lie.

Check your sources. Of information. You, too, are a source of information, so…check your sources.

With our most powerful capacity to pattern, to create, to think in words and sentences and stories, we can be a carrier of the lie-virus or we can be part of the cure. Reach or reject. It is our choice, through how we use our miracle words and language, what we agree to create together.

Let’s start here.

read Kerri’s blog post on AGREE

Say, “If Only.” [on KS Friday]

“God is silent. Now if only man would shut up.” ~ Woody Allen

If only.

We knew this was going to be a chaotic week. A run off election in Georgia that would decide the control of the senate. The counting of the electoral college vote as a president openly mounted a coup against his own government. The District Attorney in our town revealing his decision not to prosecute a police officer that shot a black man 7 times in the back [we knew the decision prior to the announcement. Our little courthouse was better protected than the nation’s capitol]. And, let us not forget the out-of-control pandemic cracking our already-fragmented system of healthcare. Record numbers. Record deaths. Record denials of reality.

The election in Georgia is decided. The rats are jumping off the national ship after the violent coup they incited blew back on them. The local D.A. offered a litany of sad justifications that boiled down to the usual sleight-of-hand: the man was black so he was, therefore, dangerous. No charges. Case closed.

The spin whirling through social media would be hysterically funny were it not so readily embraced by so many. The info-bubbles remain intact. The blame game is run amok. Personal responsibility for words spoken – and unspoken – is too much to ask. Systems usual.

It’s too soon to tell whether or not we really survived this week. It is too soon to know whether we learned anything from our national shame, our jousting realities. We do know this: we are yet incapable or unwilling to address the problems that plague us.

Unlike any other time in the history of humanity, we have so many avenues in which to blather, so many media into which we can scream. We delight in our echo chambers – who doesn’t want to hear, over and over again, their beliefs parroted back at them? The sound is deafening. So many words wielded with nothing really to say. It seems the only tool in the box is to shout down the other side. Competing filibusters. We hold ourselves hostage.

Words matter until they don’t. Words, words, words.

If only.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORDS & SILENCE