Connect The Poles [on KS Friday]

Though it is not, this could be a close-up of an x-ray. Arteries carrying blood away from the heart, veins carrying blood back to the heart, and the capillaries that connect the them. Outgoing. Incoming. And the connection between the two. And, as is always true of language, in the naming and the action-describing, the whole system is obscured. This part does this. That part does that. Mechanical mind applied to a miracle of pulsating life.

In North Carolina I overheard an old guy grousing about climate change. He is a sceptic. “There’s record snow in California!” he decried, “And, we’re having record heat here! You can’t have it both ways!” His reluctant listener bobbed her head. “It’s either warming or it’s not!” he railed. “Explain that to me!” Mechanical mind. Parts-thinkers cannot see the whole system. The capillary-word that tumbled from his mouth but bypassed his mind was “record.” The poles are, after all, connected.

I am fascinated by my current work. I am witness to and a participant in the creation of software. The language is familiar though the meanings are new: epic and story. Bug. My mind, lately, has been awhirl. The developers necessarily talk of information as content-objects. Items. The language of “fixed” things. Yet, the problems in the world that they design and solve for are “fluid.” Information, in our day-and-age, never stops. It grows exponentially everyday. It is movement, constant motion. More/faster. Sometimes I get a glimpse behind the curtain and see the developer’s work of content-items-in-motion. You’ve never seen a faster moving current of symbols. Is it a particle or a wave? It depends.

The tree in our front yard reaches toward the house. Kerri tells me that our children climbed through the branches when they were young. When the crew had to clear some branches to trench the yard, Kerri winced each time a branch snapped and fell to the ground. “I can’t look,” she said, not taking her eyes off the tree. Holding vigil. Holding her heart.

It’s easy to forget that, in all cases, no matter the eyes though which we see, the movement is always back to center. To the heart-of-the-matter. The pieces are never isolated. This tree is not separate or distinct from the sky or Kerri’s heart. The poles are always connected, whether we recognize it, see it, acknowledge it, or not. Breathe in. Breathe out. Two actions or one?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE TREE AND SKY

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

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

Jump Out Of Your Chair [on KS Friday]

If I want to think clearly – or clear my thinking – I walk. Sitting still has always been and continues to be an invitation for thought-log-jams. It was a problem when I was a student. Classrooms come with desks and an expectation that the learner will sit still. I became a master of the controlled wiggle, not because it broke the logjam but because it helped maintain my sanity. For me, sitting still is like a hair shirt with an itchy tag. Sitting still makes my IQ plummet several points. Sitting still interrupts my synapses.

Tom Mck told me that the alternative schools were populated by artists. I intimately understood his observation. Artists need to move to think. They thrive in an alternative to still-sitting.

I’ve made sure that my work throughout my adulthood included movement. Directing plays. Painting big paintings. Facilitating workshops. Even as a teacher I cleared the room of desks. This morning I saw a headline in Forbes Magazine declaring that children learn more through play than through guided instruction. It was curious to me that this was a headline. Sugata Mitra’s been shouting the news for decades. Neil Postman spent his life reading the research and advocating for what the research implied: turn little people toward a passion and get out of the way. Curiosity and desire are an unbeatable team. They will move faster than you might imagine. Move, move, move. Dance. Paint. Sing. Construct. Act. Play. They will let you know when they need you.

I’m learning the lesson again. My work places me squarely in front of a computer for hours each day. Flow. Eddy. Logjam. Wiggle. Move. Sigh, as the synapses start firing up again. Repeat. At this advanced stage of earth-time, you’d think I’d have grasped the full understanding that, for me to be effective, I have to move around. Each morning I review the previous day’s work and immediately know whether or not I found a movement/sitting-still balance.

When we stepped on the trail and entered the woods in North Carolina, my mind was chock-full-of-thought-logs. Like everyone else, I stare at the screen and lose track of time. A day can pass me by and I never leave my swivel chair. I swivel for survival. For months, I’d been swiveling and forgetting to stand up and dance my ideas. Fifteen minutes into our hike, the jam broke free. My mind cleared. I could see the subtle landscape inside and outside. I breathed a deep breath. The forest was gorgeous. My mind was spacious and flowing! I resolved, once again, yet again, to attend to the necessity of movement that keeps my mind and heart flowing. Wiggling is maintenance, merely. Swiveling is not a solution. The real game, the full flow, is only available when I jump out of my chair and move-it.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOREST

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

meander/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Keep The Embers Glowing [on Two Artists Tuesday]

If you encourage us to talk about porches of our past, we’ll tell a tale of sitting in the rocking chairs at our airbnb in the mountains of Colorado, one evening, watching the traffic go by, accidentally drinking the whole bottle of wine (at 10,000 feet), “walking” down the street to get a burger, and instead, finding ourselves at the center of what the locals called “experimental drink night.” I’m sure, to this day, they laugh at the two black-clad tourists who were too polite to turn down what came out of the bartender’s blender. We dialed 20 at 1am and too loudly told him the tale. Good friends will listen to anything that comes out of your mouth at anytime, day or night, and 20 is the best.

Last night, sitting on our airbnb porch in this North Carolina mountain town, sipping a glass of wine, watching the traffic go by, I “remembered” that night. This is our first venture out – just for us – since COVID washed over our lives. It’s become habit to plan our travel path – through an ordinary day or, in this case, miles from home – with minimal human contact as a top criteria. Watching the traffic go by, I thought about that, too. Now, we’d never stumble down the street to get a burger. We’d sit tight – as we did last night – and make ourselves a meal.

As part of our meal, we lit a few luminaria. We brought a few sacks and candles with us. I realized that we’re keeping a tradition going, however small, so that one day we’ll tell the tale of how we kept our holiday traditions alive – traditions that were once about gathering together, traditions that were meant to bring people into proximity to each other rather than carefully maintaining distance. Our tradition always includes candles. Luminaria. Fire and light. One day – someday – the light we place on the porch will include other people. For now, we keep a small flame to keep the tradition intact.

We’ve started a new tradition that I adore: pop-up dinners. We carry with us a small bistro table and two folding stools. They are lightweight and, in a moment, can appear anywhere. Last night – our last night here – they popped up on our porch. We made a special dinner, surrounded ourselves with luminaria, and watched the world go by. We greeted the people who walked by. We shouted greetings over the traffic across the street to the old guy who’s so beautifully decorated his house for the holidays. He loved our lights. We loved his. At a distance.

We keep the flame alive. We keep the embers of tradition glowing. We’ve established new variations on our adventure theme. Experimental drink night was a one-off affair. Pop-up dinners are here to stay. Be careful what tales you inspire us to tell. Someday, when we’re all together on the porch, we’ll give you an ear-full.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT

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

Dump The Suit [on DR Thursday]

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” ~ Lao Tzu

Lately, I’m on a Lao Tzu quote kick. Have you noticed? An advocate for a simple life, his words – or those attributed to him – appeal to me at this moment in my walk.

The outstanding characteristic of my working life is that I have mostly been a sore thumb, the person in the collective who doesn’t belong to the collective. That’s been my value: I am the consummate outsider. I do not sit on the mountain so I can more clearly see the mountain. The alternative perspective. I’ve not always found that to be a comfortable role. For instance, alternative perspectives are invited into conversations but the alternative perspective, when voiced, is rarely welcome. The first response to the alternative perspective is almost always an emphatic whisper, “Conform!”

I have, my entire life as the sore thumb, been told that, “Our people will never do that!” or “They don’t think that way, therefore you must conform-modify-edit…” The emphasis is placed squarely on the limit, the notion that “They can’t…” or “They won’t…”

And, I’ve never found that to be true. In fact, that’s precisely the perception that a sore thumb is hired to challenge. “They” can. “They” will. The job of the alternative perspective is to emphasize the possible, to open paths to the not-yet-imagined, to the revelation of, “We didn’t know we could do that.” Or see that. Or feel that.

In order to walk in an alien world, the sore thumb necessarily steps into the unknown. The first step is to listen and learn: to open to the possible within themselves, to challenge the inner-limiter. The alternative perspective lives on a two-way-discomfort-street with their client.

It is never comfortable to “not know.” It’s never comfortable to say, “I have no idea what that means.” However, it’s a great exercise, a necessary practice. And, it’s actually what the alternative perspective is paid to do and to model. “We didn’t know we could do that,” are words that come after a step into discomfort, a step beyond the known limits. “We step together because we both know how this feels.”

The alternative perspective is never right or wrong, it is simply an alternative. “These are the patterns I see. They may be useful or not.” Conformity bristles when the unknown beckons. Conformity is safe, and the emphatic whisper, while meant to maintain comfort for all, is the line that a sore thumb is hired to help the whisperer cross, “The possibilities we seek live beyond this line.”

The first day I put out my consultant shingle, I bought a suit. It’s what I thought I was supposed to wear. I bought my suit because I’d snagged a client, a financial advisor who wanted me to work with his staff. He’d seen my work – he’d seen me work – in another context. After the job, he asked me, “What’s up with the suit?” I’d always been told by well-meaning teachers that I should “dress for the job I wanted,” so I told my client that I’d dressed for the job. He gave me some great advice: dump the suit. “I want you to show up as you are, not as the person you think we want to see.”

His words became my mantra.

Truth: I hated that suit. I felt like an imposter wearing it. My client gave me a great gift. Be content to be yourself. Challenge the inner-limiter. Inner-limiters are very loud, and like outer-limiters, are generally not worth listening to; they will always advise you to conform, say nothing, and put on an ill-fitting suit.

[Happy Thanksgiving]

read Kerri’s blog post about GOURDS

tango with me © 2018 david robinson

Throw Some Light [on KS Friday]

“The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke.” ~Jerzi Kosinski

Out of seeming chaos, pattern is found. And, from pattern, chaos is born. It’s a creative cycle. I spent some time this week swimming up the river of systems theory, synthesis instead of analysis. The means of production in an agrarian economy; the means of production in an industrial economy; the means of production in an information economy. The relationship between the methods and materials, the behaviors and the purpose, systems take on a life and energy of their own. The toil to feed more people led to toil to automate to relieve manual toil, led to automation to relieve intellectual toil, will lead to… we can only imagine. And, we do imagine: imagination is the relationship between the present and the future. Stand back and you’ll see, amidst the mess and chaos, we attempt to evoke a better world.

It is not a coincidence that a banana taped to the wall is considered art in an age in which Tucker Carlson is considered a source of truth. Ironically, in the golden age of information, we are befuddled by vapid minds and empty suits. Bananas and duct tape. Shock without substance can only evoke anger and will illuminate nothing. Anger for anger’s sake can only destroy. There’s no nourishment in all of this anger candy but it is certain to lead to national-diabetes and rot our teeth.

Marcel Duchamp, at the beginning of the last century, entered a toilet as sculpture in an art exhibit. He lived and worked in the age of industry at the threshold of mass production. His gesture had purpose and aesthetic framing. What was formerly craft and individual creation was now stamped into being on an assembly line. That’s old news to us but, in his time, it was a shocking revelation. A world war was raging. The collision of old practices meeting new technology was playing out on the battlefield. His exhibit entry evoked questions about loss and gain in the dawn of a new world order.

Sometimes it seems that we are spiraling into chaos. Polynices and Eteocles, brothers who will not compromise, kill each other in a battle for dominance. All lose. A father’s curse fulfilled. In our great art, the work that evokes truth and throws light to our hearts and minds, we have all the guidance we need – if we choose to pay attention. Yesterday I wrote to Mike that it seems we will need to walk the path of Romeo & Juliet: “Two households, both alike in dignity…”will lose their children to violence rather than sit down at a table and earnestly talk. And, when it is too late, when the primary is lost, the formerly indignant will sit and mourn together.

Chaos. Pattern. Sometimes the pattern is chaos. The children die. The mother takes her son across state lines with a big gun and pretends, after he murders people with his big gun, that his crime was self-defense. Bananas taped to a wall. A judge who broadcast to all that a guilty verdict might trigger his decision for a mistrial. He’ll just wait and see if he agrees with the jury. So, here we are. Lady Justice takes off her blindfold and takes sides. Is there a more profound statement of ethical collapse? In the age of information, misinformation gets equal billing; anger-candy.

What might Duchamp put on his pedestal today? What might evoke an honest conversation, throw some light and love, on what is lost and what is gained?

read Kerri’s blog post about FIRE AND SMOKE

Kerri’s music is available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

Decide To Learn [Flawed Wednesday]

[No image today. My technology is having a rough morning]

I spent my day yesterday thinking about lines of perception. I’ve known for a long time that where a focus is placed will largely determine the dynamic reality, the movement, that is created. For instance, a focus on opposition will always produce a chaotic, explosive pattern. The moving energy locks up, tension builds, explosion. Repeat again and again. Focus on the relationships, the spaces between, and the movement, the energy, will harmonize around a common center. The behavior of a system is visible if you know where to look.

Points. Spaces between. Analytics or Synthesis? Break it into parts or look at the whole. Is it a particle or a wave? Both/And.

Tom used to say, “Teaching is a relationship.” It’s not about the material-to-be-covered. It’s never about the test. It’s always about the spaces between. Learning, at its best, is not about coverage. It’s about incorporation. It’s about meaning made from relevant experience. Experiences made relevant.

Every action has an intention, even if the intention is to stir the pot, to see what happens.

A few blocks from our home, outside the courthouse, protestors face each other across a perceptual dividing line. The energy is locking up. Tension is building. Last year a boy, too young to legally order a beer in a bar, legally brought a big gun to a protest. His mom brought him to the protest, big gun and all. He killed two people and maimed a third just a block or two from where he now stands trial. In the year since, he has been made a symbol, a well-financed icon of those who desire a dividing line. The pressure builds, just as the system demands. We await the explosion. It will be here, a few blocks away, or elsewhere, but it is coming just as the system requires.

There’s a less understood truism when the focus is placed on the points & oppositions: the tension builds and the explosion happens again and again because no one ever learns. It’s a repetitive pattern that perhaps feels like progress but is actually an eddy. Empty movement.

The only way out of the eddy is to attend to the relationships, to turn the focus to the spaces between.

read Kerri’s blog post about DIVIDING LINES

Stand In Time [on DR Thursday]

Stephen Hawking asked why we remember the past but not the future. Yesterday, in the middle of a meeting, I received a slack message with a sentiment from Russ Ackoff: entrepreneurs stand in the future and look at the present. I was fascinated by an article by Wade Davis, writing about a culture that experiences time as movement backwards; we row our way into the future.

Declan Donnellan writes that it is impossible to try and be present because we already are present. We live in it. We have to try very hard not to be present. In fact, we have to split ourselves in two halves. One looking backward. The other looking forward. We are, each and every one, Janus.

It is the time of year that time changes. It’s an odd ritual to “fall back” in time. What was 5 o’clock will soon be 4 o’clock, not because of a strange universal movement between planets and stars, but because we say so. A few states in the union don’t participate in the ritual so their time stays the same.

Time on a line. So many different realities, even in the most basic experience. Constructs of time.

I’ve read that old age is a return to childhood. Many, many great thinkers and writers from many disparate cultures tell us that we will journey through life and arrive where we began. The destination is ourself. Have you ever tried to describe your self and found the task impossible? Words simply cannot reach that level of complexity. There is a notion popular in the self-help world to define your life mission, your single life purpose. It’s meant to give you focus-of-action and certain-location on your line of time. It is also nearly impossible to articulate and becomes an exercise in metaphor selection. I’ve smiled knowingly as people in my past have asked, “Is this my mission or am I making it up?” The answer to both is, of course, yes. In a more universal peek, the exercise is meant to take you one more step around the circle that will bring you back to your self.

When I was doubting myself, judgmental because I “didn’t know” what I was doing, Quinn pointed to the tallest building and said, “The person on the top floor is just making it up, too.” He was standing in my future, looking back.

It’s just a matter of time.

Just.

read Kerri’s post about TEA LIGHTS

Greet The World © 2011 david robinson

Place It In The Hollow [on DR Thursday]

For some reason, people need to leave a trace of their passage. We paint on the walls of caves. We erect monuments to ourselves and our heroes. We build cairns to mark the way for those who come behind; we build cairns so others will add stones to the marker. We put plaques on benches and engraved bricks in walkways. We graffiti bridges and walls. Banksy has made a fortune tracing his masked passage.

Growing tired as we hiked up the trail, we sat on an old log. We looked over the valley, turned our faces to the sun. And, as we stood to continue up the trail, Kerri pulled a sharpie from her bag. We left two small dots on the log. “We were here.”

Our work in the world not only can be a marker, it is a marker. Every little action is a stone on the cairn: we contribute to the whole whether we like it or not. The person who delivers packages to my door makes my life better. Easier. The score of people who created this computer, invented this software, manufactured the chip that makes it all work, have made my life better. Someone coming behind us will see the cairn we’ve constructed and add to it. Improve upon it. The first computer I touched was a toy compared to this miracle sitting on my lap.

I’m an artist and sometimes wonder if my paintings will live beyond me or will they end up in the Goodwill as so much used canvas. I hear the advice, so often offered to me: “Yours is to paint them, not decide what happens to them.” Too true. Mine is to make the offer. I have no control over the acceptance.

Returning down the trail, Kerri peered into the hollow of a stump. It was filled with stones! Hikers, just like us, had left a note that also served as an ancient invitation: I was here. We picked up stones, the sharpie came out of the bag, scribbled a heart and a peace sign on our rocks before placing them in the hollow. “Do you think anyone will see our stones?” Kerri asked.

An ancient question. Deeply human. Heart and Peace.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE HOLLOW

three graces © 2012 david robinson