Listen To Them [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Saul taught me to look beyond anything I understood as an obstacle and, instead,  place my focus on the field of all possibilities. “Place your focus on the obstacle and you will deal with the obstacle. Place your focus on the possibilities and you will deal with possibilities.”

Tom taught me to choose my battles and to fight only those worth fighting. “You don’t want to die on every hill,” he said. “In life there are really only one or two hills worth dying on.”

Ironically, Quinn, one the best storytellers I’ve ever known, taught me not to make up stories. Pointing to the big tall bank building he said, “See those people up there on the top floor? They don’t know what they are doing, either. They’re just making it up, too.” Or, maybe, he was attempting to teach me to tell a better story about myself.

It is not an understatement to say that I am rich in guides, teachers and mentors.

Doug, a Vietnam vet and one of the best teachers I’ve known, one day called me into his office and showed me a tattered, ruined book of poetry. “I bought it in the airport on the way to the war,” he said. “It saved my life.” He told me the story and it made me weep. Doug taught me the power of art. So did Paul and Roger. My two MM’s (Master Marsh and Master Miller) continue to teach me this lesson. Dawson, too.

Kerri and I are in a period of change that is simmering with unknowns. It is not the first time in my life that the dense fog has come in. She asked, “What do you think will happen?” I said, “Well, ultimately we’ll die.” She punched me. “That’s not what I mean!” she groused, adding a second punch. “Geez.”

Later, after the double punch, we took a walk on the Des Plaines river trail. An elderly man came around the bend and said with great jest and enthusiasm, “I cleared the path for you! It’s all clear.”

“Clear.”  It’s a poetic term. It means ‘possibility.’ And I heard them, my chorus of teachers and guides. All of them. Loud and clear.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CLEAR PATH

 

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Turn The Phrase [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I just read this phrase and laughed aloud: Conversation in English is often full of phrases not to be taken literally.

It’s the word ‘often’ that got me chuckling. I’d have been more sober if ‘always’ had been the adverb. Conversation in English is always full of phrases not to be taken literally.

My head exploded! She turned the tables on me! You don’t say! I’ll be dogged. It’s nothing to sneeze at! It’s more than you can shake a stick at! I’d rather stick needles in my eyes!

Isn’t it the best of paradoxes? Language, at it’s best, is inexact. It is referential. It can only point toward experience.  It’s why we have legal opinions, religious debates and news pundits that scream at each other.  It’s why we have differing points of view.

“I didn’t say that!”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Just what are you implying?”

Nothing. No thing. The absence of a thing. The absence of a thought (in English, a thought, however fleeting, is a noun, a thing).

Of course, in it’s inexactness, there is also an infinity of space. There is as much reason to reach, to ask, to discover as there is to push, negate, or differ. To put down your end of the rope. To shake hands not make fists. A common ground.

Word for word. Line for line. To the letter. It’s never black and white. In a toxic time, a poisoned well. Find the middle way. Heart felt. We need not stab each other in the back. Kill two birds with one stone. Pull your head out of the sand. It’s a piece of cake. It literally blew me away. They put down their swords. They reached across the aisle.

Well I’ll be! How ’bout them apples?

 

read Kerri’s blog post BOUT THEM APPLES

 

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Consider Context [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It’s an idiom. A turn of phrase. When push comes to shove. The moment when a decision must be made. Look it up and you’ll read that the expression carries a connotation of escalation. Shoving is more aggressive than pushing.

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation.

Like all idioms (or all words, for that matter) context is everything. We saw this phrase on a billboard. It is a campaign promoting civility at a time when civility seems in short supply. We liked it and thought it would be a good quote for Merely-A-Thought-Monday. Context: Civility.

Google the phrase and you’ll discover the disease that plagues us. Namely, the lack of capacity to consider context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to recognize context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to consider a context that differs from one’s own. The top of your Google search will reveal a rage of opposition to the billboard promoting civility.  Shove harder. “…so basically they’re telling you let the son of a b$&@? push you around…”

Wow. It’s an idiom. Context: Civility.

To be fair, a scroll down the Google chain includes motivational stories, a dance piece by Twyla Tharp, more links to PassItOn.com images and tv spots, a song by The Grateful Dead, a lyric by Rascal Flatts. A festival of differing contexts and usages of this phrase when push comes to shove.

Here are a few other idioms: where the rubber meets the road. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When the chips are down…, When the dust settles…, When in Rome…

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation. Context matters.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIVILITY

 

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Bust Yourself [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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As you know, I am a lover of the paradox. Among my favorite incongruities in this American culture is the hyper-celebration of the individual amidst the hyper-pressure to swim in the mainstream. To belong by standing out. To be distinct by shopping the brand stores. Within our national schizophrenia, we are, each of us, a festival of quirks, a riot of split intentions.

I laughed out loud when 20 told us his grocery store story. Standing in an aisle of hundreds of soap brands; ice-blue, blossom-pink, orange-orange, lemon-yellow, cool lilac… stacked taller than most people can reach, 20 carefully scrutinized all of the bottles. He gasped! He spotted a bottle of dish soap that seemed to have an ounce more in it! Elated, he looked left and right to make certain no other shopper had yet seen what he saw. With stealth, he reached way to the back of the shelf to snag his prize. The hunter trapped his game and wrestled it into his basket. He quickly sped from the aisle putting distance between him and other dish-soap-hunters. “There must be something wrong with me!” he exclaimed laughing at himself.

A mountain of choices, an ounce of triumph. Do you recognize it? Life lived in the paradox. It is in our national dna.

It makes for a festival of beautiful quirks. A riot of split intentions. We laugh when we bust ourselves standing in the paradox. You’ll know you are there when through your amusement you exclaim, “There must be something wrong with me.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post on SOMETHING WRONG

 

 

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Lose Your Right Mind [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I have made some incredibly bad decisions in my life that set off a chain of events that led to some extraordinary, life-illuminating experiences. Conversely, I have made some incredibly good, well-considered decisions that led me to total devastation. My life reads like one of Aesop’s Fables.

The “bad” decisions were “irrational” and “spontaneous” and some of my pals  questioned whether or not I was in my “right” mind.

The “good” decisions were “rational” and I was lauded for using common sense, for my clear-eyed, right-minded logic.

Intuition, following your gut, listening to your heart has very little to do with the rightness of mind.

Back in the previous century (20 years ago), educators were awash in the term “the mainstream.” Getting divergent students back into the mainstream was the stated goal of most alternative education programs. Doug, my hero of the alternative path, champion of finding the stream that worked for the student (as opposed to channeling all students back into a single stream), used to snarl, “I’d love to see this mainstream if someone would be kind enough to point it out to me.” (note: this is not a direct quote as I’ve cleaned up Doug’s language for my less sturdy readers).

In mythology it is called the left-hand path, this route that makes no sense to adherents of the mainstream. The left-hand path is intuitive and counter-intuitive, all at the same time. It seems nonsensical to sail toward the edge of the known world. Explorers, artists, innovators, mystics, must take this road less traveled. They must wander off the main and cut a new path. They must. Their fellows will wonder if they’ve taken leave of their senses. Left their right mind. The answer: no. They are following a deeper call, something speaking to their senses. They’ve left a mainstream that appears to them like total madness.

If logic is your compass it is, of course, best to stay on the road well-traveled. If safety and security is your goal, then a known path holds what you seek.

If knowing where you’re going sounds a lot like a death sentence, then leaving your right mind for a left-hand path is the only choice that makes sense.

Truth? I think the right-mind is bit of rhetoric that has little to do with the realities of being human. We find the rational side of things comfortable so it gets good marks. No one gets a cake-walk in this life. Everyone has a mountain to climb, a valley to get lost in, a spontaneous jump to make, a gut feeling, a heart to be listened to – and some of the worst impulsive decisions inevitably lead to the most profound growth experiences. It is only after the fact, when we need to make sense of our nonsensical leap, our follow-the-heart choice, that we call on the “right” mind to make the story coherent. Just ask Aesop.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about RIGHT MIND

 

 

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Ask, “Why?” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I’m told that every evening of her life, Margaret would stop what she was doing, and go outside to watch the sun set. If she was on the phone she would hang up. If she was doing dishes she’d turn off the water. She’d step into her back yard and attend the setting of the sun. It was her ritual.

Last year, Kerri, my mom, and I took my dad back to visit the small town where he grew up. He wanted to live his life there but that was not to be. Now, he is sliding into dementia. Before his sun set he wanted to make at least one last pilgrimage to the place he’s always considered home.

I draw and paint. Not because I want to but because I have to. As far back as I can remember that has been true. The rest of this world seems like Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole. Mad. Illusory. Missing the point. I know what is solid and true when I step in front of a canvas. It’s a paradox, yes?

Why do people make paintings? Why do they compose music? Why are we tellers of story? Inventors of story? Poets? Budget makers and parents alike caution that there is no real value in the arts. They rarely make money. Money making as the ultimate arbiter of value makes for an empty world, indeed.

Why do people climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, or kayak over waterfalls?

“Why does she say, ‘guidance is eternal?'” Kerri asked. We were streaming an episode of Life Below Zero on the National Geographic site and the Boeing commercial came up for the umpteenth time. Amid images of advanced technology and machines that fly, the narrator begins a countdown, 10, 9, 8, guidance is internal, 6, 5,… “I think she’s saying that guidance is internal, not eternal.” We looked at each other. Either way, what a great phrase! Guidance is internal. Guidance is eternal.

Why do people step outside each evening of their lives to watch the setting sun? Return like salmon to their birthplace? Listen to the wind and run to their piano?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GUIDANCE

 

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Live Into Simplicity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I am a fan of simple wisdom. Most of my mentors, the people I admire most, lived their way into simplicity. Measure twice, cut once. Know the hill you want to die on. An actor can only do one thing at a time. Write a good story backwards. Let go your technique.

I use the term ‘fools errand’ a lot because I’ve been on so many of them myself. Tilting at windmills. Trying to change the world, fighting ogres, slaying dragons. All the best stories, the simple wisdom tales, tell us that the thing we seek is with us all along and yet, we need to go looking anyway. We have to. It is the rare bird that knows who they are right out of the chute. The universal quest is always to find yourself.

Roger once told me that he went to graduate school to expedite his learning. “I can take forty years figuring it out for myself or I can go to school for three years.” It was a statement made sensible by his youth. It was a statement of arrival – of knowing – and, after a few years of living, it becomes apparent to artists and seekers alike that arrival is an illusion. Knowing is relative and ongoing. I’d love to talk to the artist he has become forty years after making that statement. My bet is that he’d laugh.  We’d laugh at the jungle of nonsense we’ve both mapped our way through.

“You can make a piece of wood short but you can’t make a piece of wood long.” You can’t force a square peg into a round hole. If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. Nothing is broken, nothing needs to be fixed. Wherever you are is called Here.

The necessary action is always clear but the story wrapped around it makes it seem complex. Simple, yes?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MAKING A PIECE OF WOOD SHORT

 

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