Find The Treasure [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Every so often in the grocery store I am struck by how many people are involved in making sure I – we – have food to eat. Pick any item from the shelf and work backwards. It was carried, priced, stocked, delivered, warehoused, produced, picked, manufactured, marketed, accounted, inventoried, scheduled. Imagined. And, I wonder, how many of the hundreds of people involved realized that their labor makes my life – our lives – better?

Sitting in front of my computer yesterday I was swirling in a thought-eddy. Attempting to map a workflow, the mechanics of a process, I was befuddled. There were too many variables. As is my practice when perplexed, I stood up and walked away. Halfway down the stairs my mind jigged. I re-remembered that the only thing that mattered in my silly map was the desire to make someone’s life better, someone I would never meet. I realized (again) that I didn’t need to figure it out. I shouldn’t figure it out. There was and is no single answer. Too many variables simply means I cannot know – but I can intend. I will “know” how it all works after the fact. I know that, if I keep focused on my north star, making a life better, then, at this phase, that is all I need to know. It’s an unbeatable criteria for clarifying what to do.

“Do you think someone found our buttons?” she asked. “Do you think they liked them?” On our last hike in North Carolina, she left a small sack of Be-Kind buttons in the knot of a tree. “I wonder who found them,” she giggled.

A small treasure left in the knot of a tree. A sack of potatoes found in the grocery store. Kindness. We get snarky when we divorce our actions – even the smallest action – from the very thing that makes them matter. We get lost when we forget how deeply interrelated are our every action and thought. Cause and effect, as Alan Watts wrote, are not sequential but simultaneous. If you think your actions do not matter or have no purpose, think again. If you think it does not matter how you treat others or that bottom lines are more potent than people, think again. It’s the miracle of a circle or a cycle: where does it begin? Where does it end?

read Kerri’s blogpost about BUTTONS IN A TREE

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

Disagree [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Months later, she* is still angry with me. I asked her to “stop blowing me off.”

Some things need to be discussed and necessarily require entertaining differing points of view. Finding middle ground or considering alternate possibilities requires hearing what others have to say – and giving others the courtesy of hearing what you have to say. Her standard phrase of choice, when faced with an opinion or idea not her own, is this: “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

No. I don’t agree to disagree. Especially at the onset of a dialogue. I want to talk about it. I want to hear what you have to say and more importantly why you hold your point of view. I won’t agree to not hearing or being heard.

Opposing points of view, differing opinions, need not be conflicting. They can be highly generative. Mind opening. Thought provoking. “I’ve never thought of that,” is an expression that results when considering a different point of view. In ideal, our nation is based on the notion of two opposing points-of-view extending to each other the courtesy of listening and considering possibilities not yet seen. Yep. And, we are witness to what happens when one side (or the other) rejects the basic premise. Dismissiveness is the strategy of an empty suit.

Why assume conflict?

She followed “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree,” with the real statement, her actual aim: “You do what you want. I’m going to do what I’ve always done and follow my plan.” In other words, she had no intention of hearing anything that did not support her plan. Why, then, I wondered, did she invite conversation?

When the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. When the only door you have is a closed door, then every knock sounds like an intruder.

I laughed aloud when I read Bill Murphy’s article in Inc. Magazine about his pet-peeve phrase: “Look, I get it.” He writes, ‘”Look, I get it,'” is almost always inherently untrue…Even worse for our purposes, it’s woefully ineffective.”

It’s dismissive. Just as is “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.” The agreement she wanted was for me to agree to be dismissed. An agreement of silence. Why would I – or anyone – agree to that?

[* “She” is not Kerri. We hold each other in high esteem. It’s why the sign in our kitchen reads, “You are my favorite pain-in-the-ass.” We welcome our differing perspectives. Neither one of us dismisses the other nor tolerates being dismissed.]

read Kerri’s blog post about “LOOK, I GET IT.”

Make A Small Choice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When we saw the sign planted on the side of the road – and then another, and another – we wondered what inspired the message and the movement. We were not surprised to learn that the community had recently experienced a cluster of teen suicides. The signs were a message to their young people, a love letter to their children.

The WHO reports that more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year. That’s more people than die by homicide or war combined. Even as I write this I am startled at how antiseptic a statistic can make hopelessness. The data of despair.

The signs appeared on the roadside because the violence-of-hopelessness had faces and names and addresses. And parents. And teachers. And friends. People moved, they pulled together. The threat transcended the numb data and became personal. They needed to talk. They needed to grieve together. They had no idea what to do so they made signs: you matter.

I thought a lot about those signs during our long drive home. Campaigns for change most often fail. They lose steam. They dissolve into abstraction. Behavior cannot be legislated. The messages we receive in the media are mostly violent. Ask most people about a blow to their self-esteem and you’ll hear a specific story. A moment of bullying, a glancing blow that altered the trajectory of their life one degree but, over time and distance, that small degree of violence made a huge difference.

In the same fashion, tiny acts of kindness, one small gestures of support, can send titanic ripples throughout a lifetime.

On the road, there was a distinct message sent to us by the people that roared up behind us, flashing their lights, riding our bumper. There was an entirely different message sent to us by the people who slowed their speed to let us in the lane of traffic. Small choices. Tiny moments. We are humans and learn to respond in kind.

Each day an opportunity. Each moment a choice. When we truly believe what the signs say, we will make certain that in small ways and large, it will be a priority to instill in each and every heart the message that they are worth more than they know. No one arrives at despair by themselves. No one arrives at hope by themselves.

I believe we actually do know what to do. It might begin with a sign or a curriculum but real hope – the intentional creation of worth – will shine through millions of small choices, communities dedicated to filling each and every day with tiny moments of support.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORTH

Enjoy A Cuppajava [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The night is still and it’s hot. I suppose that’s why we’re having trouble sleeping though, if you read our smack-dabs, you’ll already know that sleepless nights make a regular appearance in our life and, therefore, our cartoon.

Sleepless nights and coffee. You might suspect that the coffee causes the sleepless nights but the opposite is true. Sleepless nights contribute to the giant mugs of coffee in our hands each morning so it also shows up in the hands of our cartoon selves. Puffy comic faces and never-enough-coffee. Sleep deprivation and coffee desperation make for good humor.

Coffee has always been central to our story. Before we met, the subject line of our daily emails was cuppajava. We wrote our cuppajava for months. Eventually, we called our combined catalogue of cuppajava The Roadtrip. With coffee in hand, we wrote truth-fests. Confessions. We asked questions and told secrets and laughed at foibles – all over a cup of coffee shared fifteen hundred miles apart. On my birthday, months before we met, a package arrived at my studio with a pound of Sumatra and a coffee mug stenciled with our shared middle-name (we have the same middle name). After months of correspondence, when we finally met, Kerri picked me up from the airport and had a cup of coffee waiting in the car.

Coffee is more than a casual player in our story. That’s especially true now that we are nearly a decade into our tale and have taken several actual road trips and written over a million words sitting side-by-side.

If we come to stay at your house, don’t be offended if we bring our own coffeemaker and coffee. We are coffee snobs, it’s true, but there’s more to our quirk than meets the eye. My old studio coffeemaker, the one that brewed my cuppajava, goes everywhere with us. It’s raspy and gasps the entire time that it’s brewing, but, somehow, all these years later, it continues to deliver coffee for our chats. Like us, it’s not pretty but it perseveres.

read Kerri’s blog post about COFFEE

Laugh With It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Yesterday we celebrated an anniversary. Nine years ago we spoke on the phone for the first time. An offer of a free coaching call changed both of our lives. Kerri said, “Just think, we talked on the phone nine years ago and all hell broke loose.” I laughed. Her comment was, above all things, an understatement. Our road together has been both magical and tumultuous.

This season we are sitting on the cusp of the new. Appropriately, before turning our eyes to what’s-next, we’ve been looking back, sense-making what-was. We’re cleaning out. Making sense of the past is making space for the future. More than once I’ve said to myself, “If I knew then what I know now, I would never have had that problem. Or made that mess. Or tolerated that situation.”

What do I know now that I did not know then? Things are messy. Most of the ogres I fought existed nowhere but in my head. Some did not, but what was true of the imagined variety, the tangible ogres also were not worth fighting. “Take nothing personally” tops the list of “best-advice-ever.” Number two on the list is “Make no assumptions.” People are crappy. I’ve been crappy. People are great. I’ve been great. That’s pretty much true of everyone so a bit of grace and understanding goes a long way.

Burned into the things-I-know-now, way beyond a Facebook platitude, is this: life is as short as this moment so it’s best to appreciate everyone you love in this moment. For us, 2021 was the year of water but also it was a year of loss. Our sweet BabyCat left us quite suddenly. Our dear H passed in the summer. Peter died. We learned that Lance died, too young. My dad passed in September. And Ruby followed not long after. There are so many things I wish I’d said or done for Ruby. There were tug-of-wars that I had with my dad – that ate up months of life – that seem utterly silly to me, now.

The boxes that are coming out of my inner-attic are stuffed with the-need-to-be-right. Justifications. Explanations. Control fantasies. Armor. They are quite heavy and I am relieved to be tossing them into the bin.

I hope I am turning my face to see what Quinn knew and tried to teach me. Relationship is a messy business. No one knows what they are doing. There’s abundant love in all of it and it’s made visible when you choose to laugh with it rather than fight with it. The important stuff is lost or found in the very heart of the mess.

read Kerri’s blog post about MESSY

Eat And Evolve [on Merely A Thought Monday]

DogDog actually sat still long enough to don antlers and have his picture taken. This is progress. Our Aussie pup rarely sits still and is known for his committed resistance to headwear. He is, however, responsive to the promise of treats and the real story of his antler success is Kerri’s ability to juggle the antlers, the camera and the waving of a treat – all in one balletic gesture. I suspect we are not so different from DogDog: all evolution is probably snack driven.

More than once we’ve made the 45 minute drive to Lake Geneva to buy a single piece of flourless chocolate cake. In pre-Covid times we’d stay awhile and visit the shops or walk part of the path around the lake (it’s a 21 mile loop), but lately, we grab our cake and go. I also want to confess that, in our recent drive to Denver, we went through Lake Geneva and, not only did we buy a piece of cake but also an entire loaf of freshly baked Turkey Red Rustic bread. And a brownie. It was all gone before Kansas. I am certain that decadent cake and warm bread are signs of incremental evolution. We are slightly better people for having indulged our food fantasies. We are slightly bigger, too.

It’s the holidays. I know this because my dog is wearing antlers. I also know it because people are making plans to gather and have meals together. There will be singing and gifts and other events but mostly there will be food. Cookies. Pies. Hams. Yams. Kerri asked Jen for a recipe in our evening Zoom happy hour. Yesterday, the grocery store was packed with enthusiastic shoppers carrying lengthy lists, racing through the aisles, all to hunt and gather the ingredients necessary for evolution to continue.

Sworn enemies find a path to peace when breaking bread together. A community knows it is prosperous when none of its members want for food. The same will be true of the world. Peace and enough to eat are bedfellows. We have a ways to go in our evolution.

When this world really wants to break bread, might I recommend Simple Bakery in Lake Geneva. The Turkey Red Rustic has always brought us great peace and I’m certain the same will be true for the bevy of committed enemies the world round. In the meantime, it’s my turn with the antlers. Kerri has promised me a treat and a sip of Bailey’s Irish Creme if I am good boy and sit still. Let’s just say that DogDog and I share the same sitting-still-for-headwear gene. I love evolution though I fear the photo. I suppose there’s always a price to be paid.

read Kerri’s blog post about EVOLUTION

Welcome The Next Normal [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There was a time when my marker of the holiday season was the return of Pirate Christmas Ale; a rich and happy stout. It tickled me that the return of the holiday season was signaled with a Pirate and not jolly Ole Saint Nick. I drank one-a-night, from the day I saw the Pirate’s return to the store, through the end of the year. Pirates-in-holiday drink in moderation.

It’s been many years since I walked with the Pirate through the threshold of light’s return. With my move to Wisconsin came the establishment of a new normal. And then came COVID. I think we’ve both come to the realization, after a few years of deep disruption, that there will not be a return to normal. Just as with my move from the west coast to the upper-midwest, there will be the creation of a new normal. Just what that will be remains to be seen.

We know the new normal means leaving the house. We work at home and have mostly isolated these past few winter seasons. Cabin fever is getting to us. So, we’re taking calculated adventures. A visit to the Botanical Gardens. A walk around the small town of Cedarburg. A drive into Chicago. We continue to hike our trails but we’re both feeling the call of exploration, the desire to sail our ship toward the horizon. We really wanted to go to a concert but chose not to – COVID considerations remain central to our weird calculus.

Yesterday, while walking the streets of Cedarburg, we saw a tent behind the Stilthouse. Tables and heaters. We grabbed a spot under a heater, ordered lunch and lingered over a glass of wine. It sounds so normal yet, what was once commonplace, what was once something done without much thought – was a rare and delicious treat. We savored every moment.

Lately, we’re getting this reminder again and again. When the water line into the house broke – and we were without water for a day, the return of the water through the faucet brought cheers and happy dancing. There’s so much we take for granted. There’s so much to be savored in the commonplace, in the everyday, especially when we understand it might not be available forever.

Mostly, there is this: during the darkest days of every year, people come together in many ways to light candles, to exchange gifts, to make meals, to offer hope, to help each other through the dark time. Whether they realize it our not. The light returns. The earth spins. There’s water in the pipes. A heater and a table. Merlot in the bottle. Good friends. Good cheer. New work. The beginning of the next normal.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD CHEER

[this post marks the 200th consecutive week of the melange. Corks are-a-poppin’]

Ask A Better Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

This may be the height of cynicism but I don’t think so. Suddenly, as if dinged by a magic wand, we’ve entered that time of year when people remember to be kind. “After you,” the woman said, when I gestured for her to go first. The check out line was long so I had ample opportunity to witness the instantaneous return of the “After you!” It was ubiquitous. People were thinking of the needs of other people!

Later, we came to a four-way stop and everyone at the intersection waved for the other drivers to go first “Wow!” I exclaimed, “Just like the old days.” In my one-day anecdotal sample set, we’d just experienced more public generosity in an afternoon than we’d experienced in a very long time – twelve months to be exact.

It is possible, for the people in a nation newly-priding-itself on the depths of its divisions, to be considerate, one-to-the-other. If we are capable of a ritual-compassion-practice every year when Santa is looking, I have to believe that we can muster up some kindness and generosity of spirit in the eleven month gap between holiday seasons.

It was the day after Thanksgiving so it’s possible that the crowds were high on tryptophan, that the good mood and kindness I witnessed was turkey-induced. But, I don’t think so. I suspect the turkey consumption simply demarcates the time when we turn from our aggression-fantasy and consider our better nature. It simply feels better to lend a hand, to help another than it does to drive on top of someone’s bumper.

I appreciated the turn-of-question Kerri found in an article in Inc. magazine: instead of asking yourself, “What am I thankful for,?” a better question is, “What will I do to make others thankful?” The first question is a me-me-me question. The second turns the eye out, it first considers the needs of other people. It requires action, doing. What we experienced in the store, what we experienced at the four-way-stop, was steeped in asking the better question.

Sometimes the change we seek need not be legislated or debated or strategized; sometimes it is no more or less difficult than asking – and then practicing – a better question.

[Even though we’d hidden the store on our website, we’ve lately had a small run on Be Kind buttons. That, too, gives me hope that others out there feel as I do: a better world is not so far away. It’s as close as an act of kindness]

read Kerri’s blog post about A BETTER QUESTION

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