Save Your Nickel [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We walk on snowy trails through the woods because it is quiet. I retreat to my studio to work because it is quiet. It inspires quiet. Quiet evokes quiet.

Scrolling through her news app, Kerri said, “Everyone in the world is angry.” It certainly seems that way, especially if the news is the lens through which the world is defined. Headlines shout. The advertisements flash and disrupt.  Tom used to say that watching television, plugging into the news-of-the-day, reminded him of his childhood. The circus would come to town. Carnival barkers and bright signs, lots of noise and distractions. The one sure moneymaker, the tent everyone clamored to get into, lining up to pay their shiny nickel, was the freak show. Two headed cows in jars of formaldehyde. Things that gross us out or make us mad. “Nowadays, they call it reality television,” he’d say, shaking his head. “Or the news. It’s a lot of noise.”

Here’s a simple truth: conversation is impossible in too much noise. People shouting to be heard. A room full of shouting people actually makes listening more difficult and conversing impossible. It’s a feedback loop. Noise evokes noise. And, noise isolates. It is a perfect recipe for being alone together.

The Five20 is a little bar at the Stagecoach Inn in Cedarburg.  Their tagline, “Where you can actually hear your conversation” is refreshingly accurate and seems a throwback to another era. People valuing conversation; a place, a space, intended to facilitate interaction sans noise. Our group, 10 people strong, the up-north-gang, began and ended our yearly trek to Winterfest there. Sitting at the far end of the long table, I could hear every word spoken at the other end. Even when the bar was packed.  And, the best part, today, I can’t tell you what we talked about – the simple stuff  of life – but I can tell you that we laughed and shared and left the Five20 full of friendship, warmed by sharing rather than exhausted from shouting.

As Tom would have said, “Save your nickel.” Sometimes the thing you seek is not in the tent amidst the noise but outside, far from the circus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHERE YOU CAN ACTUALLY HEAR

 

 

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Write The Essential [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I’m not sure what stacks up around your house. At our house, the stacks are paintings, cartoons, designs, composition notes, manuscripts, folios, notebooks of ideas, scraps of paper jammed into the notebooks of ideas, lyrics a-go-go, and the supplies necessary to make the other stacks possible. Colored pencils, brushes, too many composition books, canvas, tissue paper, paint, sketchbooks, art books, and the stacks-and-stacks of stuff teetering on the piano and bench that somehow resemble a nest.

All of this is to note that we are fantastic generators of content and equally inept marketers of what we generate. Thus, the stacks. It was this realization – and the necessity of making a living – that one year ago gave birth to the melange. Melange means ‘mixture’ or ‘medley.’

The idea was simple: Monday would be dedicated to our cartoon, Chicken Marsala. Tuesday would be dedicated to our Two Artists designs. Wednesday was Flawed Cartoon day. Thursday was for my paintings. Friday was for Kerri’s music. We created a Society6.com store for each day, set about designing 5 product lines a week (oh, god,…more content). Through our blogs we’d write about and publish the day’s selection, he-said/she-said-style. People all over the world would read what we wrote, be captivated by the cartoon, design or composition, and race to the Society6.com store to buy a print or a mug or a laptop sleeve or a greeting card. Content out, income, well…in.

And, it happened. People all over the world read our blogs. And, almost no one raced to the Society6.com stores. We studied a few things, learned a few things, reconfigured, tried a few social-media-marketing variations, bought ad space, waved our hands, jumped up and down, danced silly dances – we pivoted and pivoted again.

More readers. Less-than-no shoppers.

One day, after eight months, we looked at each other and considered pulling the plug and would have pulled the plug except for one small-yet-oh-so-important detail: we love to write together. In the course of a year, the melange managed to boil itself down to its essence. Each day Kerri writes her post. “Don’t look!” she says as I, sitting next to her,  write mine. And then, before posting, we share them. We read to each other. It’s always a surprise (though mine are predictably “heady” and hers are 100% “hearty”).

When I looked back at our first post one year ago I laughed at the irony. Love needs no words. Well, in this case, in our case, love revels in words. There are too many words for the love to contain. And, so, our stacks grow happily higher and higher and higher.

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read Kerri’s blog post about A YEAR IN MELANGE

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Look For It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We live our lives diving for pen and paper or whipping out our phones to text notes to ourselves. We dive or whip because someone just said something interesting. We are trying capture something we just heard before it slips away. It is the reason we created Merely-A-Thought-Monday.

Watching an old episode of Life Below Zero, Sue Aikens, living on the frozen tundra, tossed off this yummy phrase and we both leapt. Kerri was faster on the uptake, “I got it!” she said, texting at lightning speed. I was still looking for a pen.

It is a statement of optimism made all the more meaningful because of the extreme challenges Sue Aikens faces everyday. Her bears are real. She can’t afford pessimism.

When you are a collector of phrases, a watcher of behaviors, a student of story, a few things become immediately clear. People generally focus on the negative. Take a trip to the office water cooler or go to the local coffeehouse and eavesdrop. You’ll listen to tales of dissatisfaction and conflict.  Stories of blame. There’s tons of interesting customer experience data about how readily and disproportionately we tell our tales of woe versus how rarely we tell our tales of wow.

Conflict makes for good storytelling. Tales of wow and tales of woe are both conflict driven, both rife with challenges. I dove for pen and paper because this simple phrase, Sue’s mantra, captures perfectly the distinction, the line that defines a tale as wow or woe.

It depends upon where you place the conflict. In most water cooler tales of woe, the conflict is an endpoint. “Can you believe that happened to me.” The main character, the storyteller, is the victim in the story. Tales woe are told and forgotten. They are replaced by the next yummy woe.

In tales of wow, the conflict is a driver, a propeller toward an end that is not yet visible. The main character is a seeker. The challenge is fuel. “I will find it. I will make it happen.” Tales of wow are unique in that they are usually told by others.

It is human isn’t it? A messy walk between woe and wow. Who hasn’t screamed to the sky, “Why is this happening to me?!” Who hasn’t stopped the presses, found a quiet spot, and thought, “I’m going to figure this out.” Not a problem.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SUE’S QUOTE

 

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Compose A Letter [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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As reductions go, this phrase is a good one. It is eastern philosophy pressed like a grape through western process: Dear Brain…Please Shut Up! Forced mindfulness. Mandatory meditation. Compulsory peace! It is the epicenter of compartments and cubicles: the dedicated belief that brain and body are separate entities, that heart and mind and body and spirit actually need unifying. Competitive non-competitors!

I have a brilliant new idea for a cartoon! It makes Kerri roll her eyes. I call it Bubbles. It’s a single panel cartoon. Two people, two thought bubbles. So, for instance, a man in a red convertible drives down the road thinking that he’s smokin’ hot! He’s especially peacocking for a woman walking her dog. The woman thinks it’s astonishing that the guy in the red convertible has such a bad toupe’. You never know what other people are thinking – especially when you are certain that they are thinking about you! My Bubbles premiere cartoon will be an overly enthusiastic cartoonist who thinks he has a brilliant idea and his beleaguered wife wondering why she married such an insipid man. I draw all of my best ideas from lived experiences.

Thought bubbles. My second Bubbles cartoon will be a brain going on and on and on, rolling incessantly through its fear obsession. Bills and deadlines and tragedy-imaginings. Important stuff! The heart, the neighbor living in the apartment beneath all the racket, will be at a desk trying to compose a letter. “Dear Brain…”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DEAR BRAIN…

 

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bubbles ©️ 2019 just as soon as you let kerri know that my idea is brilliant!

Close The Gap [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Do you remember Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten? Share everything. Play nice. Don’t hit people. Clean up your own mess. It is filled with simple undeniable wisdom. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

It’s really not that complicated to get along. Everywhere I look I find credos and guides and statements of belief. Aspirations and inspirations. In fact, we are fairly drowning in statements of how to get along and how to create a better world. We are also awash in news streams screaming about deep division and our inability to play nice.

There’s a gap between our rhetoric and our choices.

It’s not that we have to see from the same point of view or hold a single omnipotent intention. We don’t. We won’t. The genius, the ideal, of our system is the notion that opposing points of view, wildly disparate beliefs, can come to a middle way. Compromise is possible if the common good is more important than winning at all cost. Sharing toys is possible if sharing is among the…shared values. Sharing engenders empathy, the consideration of the other person’s point of view. The things we learned in kindergarten and actually believe enough to enact. Dog-eat-dog, cheating, lying, exploitation, every man or woman for him/herself; these were not among the things I, or anyone else I know, learned in kindergarten. I was never punished for sharing or for service to others. I was never sent to my room for being fair or for speaking a truth – even if it wasn’t popular.

And, so, on this MLK day, in the midst of our mess, we ask again (and again and again), what is the difference between what we say we value and how we actually behave?

 

read Kerri’s blog post on WHAT THEY VALUE IS ON THE WALL

 

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Enjoy Your Ride [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Navigating a transit system can be confusing. The skill is knowing where you are relative to the end-of-the-line and which end-of-the-line is the direction you wish to travel. It’s a process of orienting. Here I am now. There is where I want to be. Inevitably, learning the system comes from of getting on the wrong train a few times.

It turns out that navigating life requires the same skill. Knowing where you are relative to where you want to be. Getting lost, getting on the wrong train is a necessary part of the process. Who hasn’t looked out their window and thought, “This isn’t where I wanted to go.” Or, “I’m not doing with my life what I wanted to do.” The real challenge, so I’ve  been told, is not in the knowing of where you want to go but in being honest enough with yourself to recognize where you are now.

Recently, climbing the stairs to catch a train in Chicago, we saw this helpful guide. Loop. This train will take you to the downtown loop. I laughed. Transit-Life-Lesson #2: whether you recognize it our not, learning lessons in life happens in loops and not lines. They call them “life lessons” because they come back around again and again and again…. There is no wrong direction in a loop. So, I suppose, whether you know where you are going or not, it’s best to enjoy your ride. Your unique life lesson will most certainly come back around.

Of course, in any case, in every case, asking for help is always…helpful. So, if you don’t mind, please tell me again, where am I?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LOOP

 

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Look Up [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Lester struck up a conversation with us on the train to Chicago. Sitting across the aisle, fresh from a job interview, he was chatty with relief. He has the gift of gab and our chat  was easy and wide ranging. Kids. Art. Relationships. We talked about how difficult it is for people to talk, how guarded we’ve become in our modern world, how armored we are against simple dialogue. We reveled in how unusual it is for strangers on a train to share life-stories for an hour without distraction or wary suspicion! We bemoaned how our political circumstance makes every conversation a mine field, how topic-avoidance defines many of our relationships.

We looked around the compartment and noted how social media is a double-edged sword, providing easy access to our children a thousand miles away but also a ready escape from the people sitting 3 feet away. Lester laughed and shared a moment he recently had with his girlfriend who is addicted to her phone. “She’s constantly looking for what’s trending on Facebook and Instagram. She’s forever lost in what’s trending.” he said. “The other day I told her, ‘Hey! I’m right here! Put down your phone! I’m trending!'”

Many years ago, when texting and social media were new forces in our world, my business partner and I had an ongoing debate about whether a real relationship was possible through social media. I was solidly in the ‘no’ camp. She was an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ Over the years, as the technology has evolved, I’ve stepped back and forth across that debate. The sword remains double-edged and I will most likely dance across that line forever. But I know this: nothing takes the place of reaching out and holding my wife’s hand. Having lunch with Kirsten or Craig is infinitely more rich than any text exchange. I can sit in a room while Kerri reads a book or scribbles notes for a song and not feel left out but all the time feel alone when the person I’m sharing space with is lost in what’s trending.

What’s trending will wash down the streaming river in moments and be replaced with yet another wave. Manufactured importance. It’s breaking news that constantly breaks, a drug that requires bigger and bigger doses. Immediacy is not necessarily substantive.

Lester might well have said, “Hey! I’m right here! I’m with you now. Isn’t that enough?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about I’M TRENDING

 

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