Re-Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The latest addition to my “Terms in this Unknown Land” document is TL;DR. Too-Long-Didn’t-Read. I laughed aloud when I heard this new acronym in a meeting. If there is a sign of our times, an identifying marker of our era, it is this: TL;DR.

We communicate through text and emoji. Chat. Twitter is a thing because it mandates brevity. Scrolling the news app is a study in cramming the full story into a brief headline. Marketers have mastered the 5 second ad. Businesses are liberal in their use of “narrative” and “story” but have no time to actually hear one. A short synopsis will have to do. Get to the point.

As a member of my culture I find that I scan more than I read. If I can find it on Youtube, I’d rather watch it than read about it. When I began writing blogposts ten years ago, the “rule” was 800 words or less. The rule has adjusted with our attention spans and now the target is between 400 and 600 words. Often, when I receive links to articles, they come complete with an estimate of how many minutes are required to read them. Yesterday, I read advice from a marketing guru that suggested we restrict paragraphs to two sentences or less; more than two sentences is a red flag: too much information. Less than two sentences is…a sentence.

So much information is coming at us all the time, we have no time or thought-space to take it all in. I wonder if we can discern relevance from dreck. A quick look at our leaders leaves me with a resounding “No!” Relevance is lost in the dreck and, since they represent us, they are us, our information inundation has rendered our attention spans tiny and blunted our acuity. We are awash in information while wisdom has gone missing.

Each week I attend meetings; the central concern is explicitly or implicitly about helping people connect. It reminds me of the conversations I heard in graduate school: while living in a city of a million people, the concern was about how to create community. So many people. So little community.

I ponder these things every day. With our ubiquitous technology, we couldn’t be more connected. Through social media, I know what people had for dinner or what cute thing the kids said. I receive advertising that confirms my devices are listening to me. Yesterday, for-the-hell-of-it, I said, “Machu Picchu.” Today I am awash in travel ads for Peru.

We are connected. Connection to everything is connection to nothing. Relevance is hard to discern in a tsunami of information masking as connectivity.

Relationships – real relationships – take time. Values cannot be communicated in a text. They must be demonstrated and deeply rooted in lived narrative. Stories that carry relevance cannot be well-told in synopsis. Opinions are so easy to tweet. Dreck is easy to fling. It is not the capacity to share that we lose in the crush. It is not connection. It’s the capacity to be present. With presence comes the capacity to listen. Presence is not in a hurry to be some other place.

Rich connectivity requires more than quick consumption of information. Sharing, real sharing, the kind beyond pressing a “send” button, is a two-way street between people who have the time to invest in each other. Once, it was called relationship.

TM;CL. Too much. Can’t listen.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TL;DR

Know Their Name [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As I let Dogga out each morning, I stand for a few moments and listen to the birdsong. Our particular spot on the earth is alive with birds: starlings, finches, sparrows, robins, hawks, crows, owls… The Mourning Doves always stop my motion. Their song is hypnotic.

The pandemic changed – and continues to change – many things. Our world became significantly smaller. The table in the sunroom. The backyard. Our trails. As someone with his head in the clouds I am a dedicated generalist. I have always appreciated bird song yet never, not once, thought of identifying the specific birds and their song. “Sparrow? Finch? Who cares! They are beautiful and that’s enough for me! I spend too much time in my left brain as it is! The last thing I want to do is categorize the birds!”

COVID changed that. Sitting on the back deck or at the COVID table staring out the window for hours on end, our relationship with the birds grew. From general appreciation to specific experience. From passive appreciation to personal connection. We began to see nuance. Pattern. We wanted – and want to know more about these beings that sing us awake each morning, that alert us to changes in the weather, that signal alarm in the neighborhood.

While visiting the Botanical Gardens, Kerri found a small book, coded by color, that identifies the birds in our region. In a flash we can open the book and identify the bird. “Hey! Look! That’s Paul!” I say.

“Stop!” Kerri scowls. “It’s Martha. Paul’s on the fence.”

Just kidding. House Sparrow. Carolina Wren. My favorite to pronounce is Grackle. Great-tailed Grackle to be exact. I’ve decided that, were I to somehow achieve tough-guy status and ride a Harley to breakfast, my motorcycle-dude name will be Grackle. “Hey, Grackle,” the waiter will say, as I come through the door en route to my usual stool. “Hey,” I respond. Motorcycle-dudes named Grackle are birds of few words.

Deb showed us an app. Merlin. It identifies birds by their song. Now, armed with our book from the Botanical Garden and our Merlin app, when I ask, “What’s that?” Kerri – who is always alarmingly way ahead of me – has the answer. “Eastern Towhee,” she says.

“You’re making that up!” I cry, knowing she can’t stand to be challenged so will immediately jump to prove to me that she is right (it’s my secret fast-track to knowledge).

“Look it up!” she insists, showing me both the book and the Merlin return.

“Wow,” I say. “Towhee. Who knew. Maybe my pen name should be Grackle Towhee!”

She yanks the book from my hands. “Oh, Look!” she exclaims. “Merlin has identified you: Midwest DoDo.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BIRDS!

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

Gaze At The Seam (on KS Friday)

Some things are hard to grasp. When that’s the case, it’s a good time to look at the sky. You’ll not find many explanations up there but gazing at the seam between us and the infinite-universe can, in moments of clenched fists, bring some perspective. As Kerri says, “It just keeps rolling.” No problem can remain large when measured against the seam, that fragile ozone layer that makes breathing and every current dilemma possible.

Sometimes when I look at the sky I wonder how many people across the ages have engaged in seam-gazing.

I imagine, one day in Kansas, 1932, as his fields turned to dust, a farmer looked to the sky. All his appeals for rain exhausted.

I can’t imagine how many women looked to the sky over the 100 years of protests and parades before being afforded the right to vote.

Can you imagine how many African-Americans looked to the sky as slaves in a nation that boasted to the world about its freedom and equality?

I look to the sky every time another state in the union passes legislation prohibiting discussions about our history, so fearful are we of critical race theory and the equality that we profess.

I find nothing in the seam that explains anything, but the clouds remind me that it just keeps rolling and, since I believe we tend toward wholeness, I catch a whiff of hope in all the blue and moving puffy white.

Someday, somewhere down the historic road, someone will look to the sky, in a post-nonsense era, and will, perhaps, imagine me staring back. To them, from their perspective, my unanswerable questions will have found resolve. They will have questions of their own, no doubt, but won’t it be nice to have a new set of questions to thrust at the seam?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SKY

Little By Little (©2022 Kerri Sherwood featuring Dogga)

Trip And Trip Again [on KS Friday]

One of the advantages of having stepped in every pothole, tripped on every cobble, and made every mistake at least twice, is that I’ve learned about potholes, cobbles, mistakes, tripping and stepping where I ought not step. If I could boil down to the essence the single thing I’m beginning to grok it is this: life is not elsewhere.

I laughed aloud when I at last I realized the absurdity of “practicing mindfulness” as if it was something to achieve. Mindfulness arrives when the practice stops. Of course. Meditating for self-improvement, I’ve read, is a uniquely Western oddity. “Trying” to be present is ridiculous if you think about it. You are present. What else? Because your mind is running amok does not actually magically transport you to the past or the future. You are present with a mind that is running amok. Minds are like puppies: chase them and they run away. Stand still and they will eventually come to you.

Is any of this pothole wisdom helpful? Absolutely not. Like mindfulness, wisdom arrives when the obsession with knowledge-for-betterment ceases. I’ll let you know what that looks like when I stop trying to attain it. There’s no end to the tripping stones. I’ve learned that, too. Again and again. And again.

The best things in life are not achievements. They are relationships. Me to you. Me to me. Me to the world I am passing through, one moment at a time. With you. Stand still in the moment – you might as well since it is where you are – and you’re libel to experience all manner of beauty.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWFLAKES

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

kindred spirits…away/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Look Back [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Our 3am conversation was about the horrible clothes we once wore. We both lived through the 70’s and 80’s so there was plenty of fodder for shudders and laughter. I couldn’t be more delighted that cameras in that era used film that was expensive to process, and were not ubiquitous, so there’s limited visual proof of the alarming garments of my past.

Looking back. My favorite aspect of our horrible-clothes-conversation is how much we loved the offending items when we wore them. I had a Huckapoo shirt that was only worn on special occasions. I’d scream and run from that shirt if I opened my closet and found it there today. Kerri described a favorite periwinkle blue dress with black polka dots that had me crying with laughter. The woman I know would faint in fright if she awoke wearing that dress. “Get it off! Get it off,” she’d scream, as if it was a spider.

For two people who spend most of their lives wearing black thermal shirts and blue jeans, it was delicious to trace our past lives through the costumes we’ve worn. The people we were. The investments we made. The colors we donned.

What was sacred is now profoundly silly. What was serious is now grin-worthy. What seemed so important turned out to be so-much-powder.

“Time just rolls. It just keeps rolling,” she said. The hard times and the good times. Hang on long enough and what-is will become what-was and a new-thing will have replaced the previous thing. “It just rolls on through.” At 3am, what matters in life could not be more clear. It’s the conversation. The laughter at our foibles, the sweet, “Shall we try and get some sleep?” It’s what we will see of this age when time rolls on and, late one sleepless night, we look back.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LOOKING BACK

Say Her Name [on Two Artists Tuesday]

From the six-month-email-conversation that led to our first meeting, we compiled and edited a play – in the spirit of Love Letters – that we call The Roadtrip. We took the script through a workshop process, read it a few times for invited audiences, produced a soundtrack, approached a few venues…and then left it. Someday, perhaps, we’ll pull it off the shelf, dust it off, and realize it through performance.

Occasionally I open the script and read a section or two. It’s fun to read because it’s not an invention, not a fiction, it’s our actual coming-together story, edited for length and arranged according to themes. I visit my two favorite sections. The first is Kerri’s story of The Little Pillow (a story she must tell) and the second is our exchange the night we realized that we shared the same middle name. It was priceless. I vividly remember where I was the night I read her email-middle-name-confession – and asking if I had a middle name. My jaw dropped. I laughed heartily. And then I carefully crafted a too-long response finally landing on the surprise. Erle and Earl.

The coffee cup that later arrived in the mail, emblazoned with multiples of D.Dot Earl to match her K.Dot Erle twin cup, firmly established our monikers for each other. Over time we’ve condensed our names to K.Dot & D.Dot.

The crew that arrived this week to put in the temporary slab of sidewalk for the chunk we lost during the great-water-main-trenching-day, suggested that we sign our slab. It will come out in the spring when it’s warm enough to pour the real thing. We grabbed a screwdriver and happily scribbled our names in the wet cement.. As I stepped back to admire our scribble, I was struck by the names we scribed. K.Dot + D.Dot. Kerri and David, those two people who wrote to each other so many years ago, are transformed. Rebranded. It feels funny in my mouth to say, “Kerri.” I never do unless talking about her to someone who’s not familiar with the transformation.

We still write everyday only now we’re not 1500 miles apart. And we’ve finally met. And married. We sit together, side-by-side. And when the tap-tap-tapping stops, I say, “K.Dot, will you read what I wrote?”

read Kerri’s blogpost about NAMES

Sing, “EEE-AAAWWW!” [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Drive across the country with Kerri and one thing is certain to happen: the moment she sees a donkey, she bursts into a rousing chorus of “EEE-AAAWW-EEE-AAAWWW!” She loves donkeys. She wants one. Or two. “They’re like big dogs,” she assures me. I have my doubts but I confess to picking up her quirk. Now, if I spot a donkey before she does, I point and launch a festive “EEE-AAAWW!”

Bill and Linda have two donkeys. We arrived after dark so had to wait until morning to go to the barn for a donkey-confab. She wiggled all night with excitement. “Smack-dab material,” I thought. I’ll be drawing cartoon donkeys soon. I can’t wait to figure out how to make the Kerri-cartoon character wiggle in anticipation.

Linda knows of Kerri’s donkey-love so she had donkey treats ready. I stood back and watched. “This is my future,” I thought. “Can I have another?” Kerri asked and Linda smiled, handing over the plastic container of orange donkey-cookies. Those lucky donkeys hit the cookie lotto.

Donkey cookies. Who knew! There’s more amazing wonders in this world than any of us can comprehend. Stand outside of anyone’s world, peer in at their passions, and you’ll have to try hard not to drop your jaw in fascination. From inside their world, the quirk seems boringly normal. I try to remember that when people stand agog at something in my world that seems normal-to-boring. “What’s the big deal,” I think.

People are great at reducing the magic in their lives to seem insignificant. I’m a “people” so, like all people, am guilty of my own diminishment. Beware of the word, “normal.”

Bill and I bumped fists. We are brothers-in-quirk. While Kerri and Linda stuffed the donkeys with cookies, Bill and I talked about the-things-that-come-out-of-our-mouths that get us into trouble. We think they are obvious. Ordinary. But, the response to our commentary indicates otherwise. He just retired from a board position and, his peers, in their farewell speech, described him in two words, both beginning with the letter “o”: outspoken and opinionated. All laughed. “It’s true!” he said, “And I’m proud of that,” and added, “No one wants to be a rubber stamp.”

What a perfect summation. EEE-AAAWWW-EEE-AAAWWW. Donkey cookies! Magic-in-the-ordinary. No one wants to be a rubber stamp.

read Kerri’s blog post about DONKEYS!

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

Roll With Every Punch [on DR Thursday]

And on the fourth night, just before retiring, I stepped onto the stoop and unplugged the colored lights. Forever. The ancient plug had had enough. It was weary and left behind one of its prongs. “No worries,” Kerri said, “I wouldn’t trust those wires to replace the plug. And, I loved them while they lasted.”

Yes. Just enough. A satisfying gesture. I believe that is our theme for the season. Just enough. Satisfying gesture.

Lately, I’ve made it a practice to ask friends and family, with all the water problems that Kerri and I have had this year, what’s the metaphor they see? What’s the universe trying to tell us? The responses have been great fun: build an ark. The slate is washed clean. Put on your waders. I’ve decided it is none of the above (or all of the above). I’m going with the Lao Tzu paradox:

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

Fluid, soft, and yielding. We are rolling with every punch. Soft is strong. Not much gets us riled up these days. There have been so many punches; rigid wasn’t working. Yielding seemed the better path. We are, as Kerri so aptly articulated, ” Leading with surprise.” Not that a waterline break is to be desired but, ours, although intensely disruptive, brought good stories and good people into our sphere. “I want to be like Kevin,” I said. He’s the engineer at the water utility. Kind, funny, easy in his life. His dedication was to make easier our path through disruption. He and Kerri are sharing holiday recipes.

We are, out of necessity or intention, either way, walking the middle path and being careful not to wander into oppositions. Just enough. Satisfying gestures. Love them while they last. Lighten up. Let go. Fluid, soft and yielding.

No worries.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHTS

nap with dogdog & babycat © 2020 david robinson