Step Into The Overlap [on Two Artists Tuesday]

The guy on the horse called out, “I love those. They’re called May Apples!” Kerri was taking photographs of the strangely creature-esque plant when the man in the cowboy hat and chaps rode by. “They’ll blanket the forest floor and be gone by Father’s day,” he said as rode down the trail and disappeared.

It is probably an understatement to suggest that life can sometimes be surreal.

Actually, I’m either not aging well or my eyes are finally opening to the utter strangeness of day-to-day life. The whole ride is surreal. Salvador Dali was a realist and society missed the joke.

Where did the cowboy come from? Considering his outfit, he could well have come from another era. The strange army of plants assembling for their march across the forest floor definitely gave the impression that we’d stepped out of linear time. We could be walking through a Venn Diagram of ages and had stepped into the overlap. Cowboys and prehistoric plants. I took a moment and scouted for dinosaurs since, if my Venn-Diagram-suspicion was accurate, we could be back in the food chain, a snack for a Velociraptor. It’s best to check when reality twists.

It tickled me to think that we might have wandered into the golden age of fairies and spirits. These plants may be watching us. They might have Rip Van Winkle intentions for us; we’d snap photos, continue on our walk and return to a parking lot only to discover that 300 years had passed. What would we do then?

We would do exactly as we are doing now. Navigate the strangeness. Take one-pandemic-day at a time. Orient and reorient to a world seemingly caught in an angry spell, conspiracy theories galloping down the info-trail and disappearing into the mad e-forest, lies bellowed as truths and truths shouted down as lies. The globe warms, the deniers deny (loudly), the religious faithful embrace the outrageous salvation of the pumpkin-orange-grifter. We would sip wine at day’s end and compare strange stories of magic, confusion and wonderment sometimes known as “news”.

Salvador Dali was a realist. I’m now certain of it. The Grimm Brothers were historians and not purveyors of folklore. We walk in the woods, Hansel and Gretel could be just around the bend. If we come across Rumpelstiltskin, we’ll be sure to share the gold spun from straw. Or not. By the time we get to the car, gold may have been a passing fancy, worthless, and tin foil will be the market standard. Who knows! This place is a miracle of possibilities and unpredictability. Avalon disappears into the mist. Time bends or at least drapes lazily in our vast dream-scape.

We walk in the woods. The May Apples assemble for a march. Their ultimate intention is anyone’s guess.

read Kerri’s blog post about MAY APPLES

Try [on DR Thursday]

The operative word in this Chicken Nugget is “try.”

To try is a verb, an action. It’s also a noun but the synonyms used in either variation are mostly the same: attempt, endeavor, make an effort.

Try. It’s such a small word but its impact is unfathomable. It is the defining line between intolerance and empathy. Empathy begins with trying to see what others see. Intolerance begins with refusing to try to see what others see.

Try. It is the epicenter of advise that every parent offers to their children. Take a crack at it. Why not put it out there. Give it your best shot. You can’t win if you don’t run the race. You’ll never know unless you try.

A verb. An action. Try. A noun. A way of being.

Try is the foundation stone of curiosity. Wanting to know, wanting to experience what is “just over there.” To see not only what others see, but why they see it.

I sometimes try to see the unbridled enthusiasm that Dogga sees in each and every moment. I try to see the world of unlimited possibilities that Dawson sees every time he touches a crayon or paint brush. I do not delude myself. My eyes are not so pure. But I try.

Imagine what we might do in this world if we only gave it a try.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRY

Fear The Babbling Brook [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I find the sound of a babbling brook soothing unless, of course, it is coming from our basement. Knowing with certainty that we did not install a brook in the basement, I knew the soothing sound bubbling up the stairwell was problematic.

It was more waterfall than brook. A steady stream of water cascaded down a pipe from the ceiling, a large pond was already forming in the carpet.

I’m confessing here and now that I am not a handyman. My first response to most home emergencies is to stare, to flood myself with utter disbelief and brainless-white-noise. So, I did that. And then, a miracle: from somewhere completely unknown to me, a voice of reason, a whisper from deep within, said, “Turn off the water.” So, I did that, too.

The waterfall stopped immediately.

We found the source of our problem in the wall. Some farsighted human-from-the-past installed a Hobbit door in the upstairs closet, knowing that there might be a future plumbing problem and a Hobbit door would make the fix possible without having to also experience demo-day. Kerri and I both stared at the offending plumbing knob. She took photos. She sent texts.

And, although I may not be able to appreciate basement babbling brooks, I very much appreciate friends from all over the country who immediately sprang into action to help us. The digital world met the ultimate analog problem. The advice from Portland and Texas and across town was unanimous: you can fix this. Don’t call a plumber. Our waterfall was the result of a simple gasket failure, a washer gone bad. Unscrew the offending knob, remove the wasted gasket, go to the hardware store, find someone with know-how, buy a replacement, insert the new gasket, tighten the offending knob. Va-Wah-La! Well. Almost.

Our basement now looks like a conceptual art piece in the museum of modern art. The carpet raised, the sodden padding removed, plastic Adirondack chairs, plastic crates, plastic bins stuffed beneath have turned the carpet into a 3-D topographic map, fans blow under and over, baking soda swirls like micro-tornadoes across the mini-mountain range. The waterfall was right smack in the middle of my studio, so surrounding the mountain range, are willy-nilly un-art-ful stacks of old school paintings, lifted above the waterline. An art history statement: the conceptual art explosion forcing the canvas-and-paint-crowd to the margins.

And, so, we do what all good artists do in times like this: we sip wine and wait for things to dry. We spin our experience into tell-able and re-tell-able tales (our generous friends listen whether they want to or not). We send heaps of gratitude to the folks with real practical knowledge who led us by the nose through our watercourse way.

read Kerri’s blog post about WATER

Throw A Snowball At Poe [on Two Artists Tuesday]

With apologies to Edgar…

Read the real thing, THE RAVEN by Edgar Allan Poe

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SNOW CHAIR

Say “Look” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Look” is the new “um.” It now lives among the tribe of words used as placeholders, thought-launching-pads, or mental-composition-vocables.

I had a professor that cleared his throat when composing his thoughts. That semester nearly killed me. I lost all contact with the content of his lectures in the cacophony of throat-clearing. I spent entire lectures either writhing in my seat or wondering what happened in his life to develop such an odd vocal tick. I’m certain Sarah Jessica Parker based her throat-clearing-character in The Family Stone on my professor. Each week I sat in the lecture hall and wondered if he was terrified when speaking in public or perhaps he was fearful of not expressing thoughts clearly. That odd-socks-thought-train sent me down a rabbit hole of pondering weird karma. It’s a wonder I passed his class (or any class, for that matter).

“Look” is significantly different than “um” or throat clearing. There’s a very important nuance to note: it assumes authority. It’s a directive. “Take note!” “Consider this!” It’s a placeholder with a purpose. It’s as if everyone on the public stage secretly doubts their credibility or must demonstrate their sway.

Perhaps it’s the cabin fever that comes with believing in the pandemic, perhaps it is the state of politics and pundits in these media-cleaved-united-states, but we’ve become fascinated by the ubiquitous “Look.” It regularly launches politician replies and reporters’ reports. At first we merely glanced at each other, “Did you hear it, too?” Then we counted. We passed through the cheering phase. We even considered making it a drinking game – take a sip every time we hear “Look” – but decided against it for obvious reasons.

Instead of a drinking game we’ve lapsed into mimicry. “What do you want for dinner?” Kerri might ask. My reply, “Look, I’ve surveyed my belly and 85% of tummy-grumbling prefers pasta over all other candidates.”

Without missing a beat, she counters, “Look, your data is clearly partisan since the people are voting for chicken soup.”

“Look,” I say, gathering my thought for a response, “I’m willing to work with you here. My caucus will support your chicken soup if you’ll guarantee chocolate sometime before bedtime.”

She stares her best stare of thoughtful consideration. “Well, look,” she replies, extending her pause, “I think we can make that happen.”

read Kerri’s blog post about LOOK

Chase Out The Spirit [on DR Thursday]

Let’s just call it intentional superstition. With apologies to DogDog and BabyCat, at midnight tonight, we will fling open the back door and bang big pots and chase all of those bad 2020 spirits away. And then, we will rush to front door and open it to let in the new good spirits of 2021. It makes no difference whether the good spirits or bad spirits actually exist, whether the ritual is ridiculous or not. It makes no difference. We want 2020 out of the house. We want to invite some positive change into our lives. We’ll do whatever it takes.

2020 made me feel like Lieutenant Dan strapped to the mast of the shrimping boat shouting at the storm. Bring it on. It’s you and me! 2020 was a violent storm. It was a reckoning. It is a reckoning.

We know there will be a new day. Calm waters. Peace. This storm will pass. Perhaps with banging our pots and flinging open our doors we can speed it up a bit.

Years ago I had a student who was about to boil over. I bought a box of ceramic plates for him at the thrift store. We took them out back and he hurled them at the brick wall. At first he was timid. And then the storm took him and he smashed plates and screamed at the universe and wept. And then he laughed and laughed and laughed.

We are at the laughing stage of things. Thus, intentional superstition. Imagined causation. 2020 has been utterly irrational so why can’t we meet it on its own ground? Play by its rules? Fear the big pot, 2020!

We just changed our menu. Kerri read a list of Irish folk wisdom for the new year. It recommends pork. Pork it is. Black-eyed peas. Great! Also, if you have red hair, we will not let you over the threshold until someone with dark hair enters. Sorry about that. Our Celtic magic must be honored. There’s a good-and-ancient-story in there somewhere but we don’t really care what it is.

Goodbye 2020. See ya’. So long.

read Kerri’s blog post about 2020-BE-GONE

Lead And Follow [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

And now, a few days beyond the solstice, we baby step our way back into the light. Yesterday on the trail, for a few moments, the sun broke through an otherwise dreary day. I was immediately heartened. The warmth went all the way to my bones. And then, it was gone.

“This will define me or I will overcome it.” Sue’s quote is a re-statement of Viktor Frankl: this experience will give meaning to me or I will give meaning to it. This morning, while pondering this quote, it occurred to me that almost every coaching/consulting relationship I ever had could be boiled down to this meaning-seeking or meaning-making distinction. Will it define me or will I define it?

In some ways – well, in all ways – it is a false choice. It is not an either/or world. Our experiences inform us and we define our experiences. The sun emerges and my spirits lift. The sun disappears and I shove my hands back into my pockets, hunch my shoulders, look at the ground. It’s a dance.

If 2020 has taught us anything it is that no one has control over their circumstances. Pandemics rage. Wrists break. Jobs vanish. Stability collapses.

We do, however, have the capacity to choose how we engage with our circumstances. We have the capacity to choose who we are within our circumstances.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point stood under the stars, shook their fists at the sky and asked, “Why?” It’s also true that I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point in their journey stopped, turned and looked back on their life, and in festival of meaning-making, connected the dots. “It all makes sense,” they whisper.

Am I the captain of my ship or am I tossed about on the seas? It’s not a useful question to ask. A better question to ask: as the captain of my ship, how am I when the seas rise and throw my boat to-and-fro? Every captain is cocky in calm waters but the real story emerges when Poseidon pitches a fit, when the waves tower over your boat.

One of my mentors told me that the trick is not to eliminate your fear. That is a fool’s errand. The exercise is to to keep your focus on where you want to sail. Choose your focus. The fear will always be there, it’s a necessary part of the gig. In a storm, fear is sometimes useful when making choices. The exercise is to know that you are making choices, the best choices given your circumstances. Just don’t make fear your focus. Don’t make fear your choice.

It’s a dance. Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. Sometimes you lose your way. Sometimes you simply stop walking and, for a few brief moments, turn your face to the sun.

read Kerri’s blog post on DEFINING

Choose The Measure [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I’d just like to begin by confessing my inferiority complex. In the time it’s taken me to squeeze my eyebrows together and dribble out a first thought, Kerri has finished her post. In fairness, I am a painter and an introvert [I’ll bore you to tears at a party, that is, if you can find me hiding in the bushes] and Kerri is a poet and lyricist. “Are you done yet?” she asks each day when we sit down to write our melange. Good god! I haven’t even sharpened my pencil yet!

And, so, my inferiority confession can only be salved by a headlong dive into the poles. North/South. Right/Wrong. Good/Bad. Black/White. Worth/Worthless. I could go on but Kerri would have a book written by the time I extract myself from my pole-litany.

Polarity – as understood as fixed points on a line: The state of having two opposite or contradictory tendencies, opinions, or aspects. [Definition by Oxford Languages]

Polarity – as understood as fluid movement: Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature but different in degree. Extremes meet. [The Hermetic Law of Polarity]

If nothing else, we live in a post-Heisenberg-Uncertainty-Principle-World. Perceptions, like atomic particles, can be understood as either fixed points or as fluid movement – but not both at the same time. Those in the fixed camp are mostly unwilling to see things in the fluid camp, and vice-versa, though, those in the fluid camp can’t help but intellectually reach for the possibility of the extremes meeting.

We get into trouble when all sides lapse into fixed points of view. We get lost when all sides slip into fluid points of view.

In a nutshell, it’s the challenge we are facing in these once-united-states and in many other chunks of the world. We’ve all reduced ourselves into fixed points. Survival has made it so. And, a side note: the first words Kerri ever spoke to me were these: I don’t do nutshells.

Rule-bound-folk, seers of absolute good and evil, tend to be fixed. “How can there be good in evil, evil in good?” they will ask, looking at you like you are a martian. “You’re either for us or against us!” Life is a recipe. A reduction. A simple step by step cake to bake. Reds and blues with no possibility of purple.

Relationship-driven-folk, seers of possibility, tend to be fluid. “It depends!” they will chime. “Right and wrong depends upon your point of view.” “Alliances are ever-changing.” Life is a complexity. No set of rules applies to every circumstance. Purple everywhere though, in these divided times, the fixed primary colors rule the day.

Which brings me solidly to my inferiority complex. I live in the complexity camp. I am fluid to the core. Perhaps Kerri’s speed of articulation need not be the measure of my skill. Perhaps slow, sloppy, and mostly incoherent is a valid and worthy process! Yes! I know when to put down my brushes! I know when to sign the painting!

Suddenly, I am awash in personal revisionist history. I am the turtle and she is the rabbit!

And what if there was no race to win?

It’s possible that this is a good time to put down my brushes, cease writing for the day, stop. Full stop. Except for this question: when are you fixed? When are you fluid? As atomic particles, Heisenberg suggests that we are both. Turtle and Hare. What we see depends upon what we measure.

What, exactly, at this point in time, is important for us to measure?

read Kerri’s blog post about START/STOP

Become An Experiment [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Because we walk the streets of our neighborhood almost everyday we’ve inadvertently made a study of holiday decoration practices. “It’s too soon for Halloween!” we declare. “Look at that wreath! The colors are all wrong!” We are snotty decoration critics.

Among Kerri’s greatest holiday-decoration-pet-peeves is over-extended-Christmas decorations. “Don’t they know that Christmas is over!” she raves at the colored lights adorning the eaves. “Why do they still have a tree! It’s February! Santa is gone!” she howls to (almost) no one listening. We laugh at our mock-decoration-disdain. “We’re regular killjoys!”

This year we’ve had to check our derision. We’ve somehow joined the ranks of the eternally decorated. “Look at those people,” Kerri says of our house as we pull into the driveway, “don’t they know that they should take down their lights!”

It’s hard to know exactly how it started. A fall. Two broken wrists. The year began with disruption. One day we realized that the happy lights festooning the garland on the front rail had been burning for months. In an effort to evade our obvious hypocrisy, we agreed it was no longer a decoration but had become an experiment. How long will the happy lights last if we keep them plugged in 24/7? We took bets as hard proof just in case our neighbors looked at us with decoration-scorn.

“They’re still going,” we said throughout the spring, looking up and down the street to see if anyone was listening. “Who would have thought our experiment would last this long!” I’d loudly declare. Amazement set in sometime in July. “I’m going to write a letter to the company,” Kerri said. “They should know that their lights are really good!”

In the eighth month of our experiment, coming home after dark, we saw that half the strand was burned out. The next night the strand was completely dark. We stood on our front stoop and applauded the hardy happy lights before ceremonially taking them down.

“I suspect that the snotty couple that judges everyone’s decorations will be relieved,” I said. “The holiday is finally over.”

“I think they’ll miss them,” Kerri opined. “They made our house happy and, especially this year, who doesn’t need a happy house in their neighborhood.”

read Kerri’s blog post about HAPPY LIGHTS

Clack! Strike! Ding! [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s true. I didn’t touch a computer until I was 25 years old. It’s not that I was deprived or grew up in a cave, the personal computer simply wasn’t a thing in the world. I hearken back to phones with cords, three stations on a black-and-white television, rabbit ears for reception, no reason not to play outside. My high school graduation present was the latest and greatest technology: a typewriter.

I had a dubious relationship with typewriters. I hated typing class. I failed every timed exercise. I couldn’t take my eyes off the keys lest disaster would strike. Once, the teacher had to free my hands from the monster machine because my big-fat-fingers slipped between the keys. I was caught, wiggling like an animal in a trap. She puckered her face and rolled her eyes before slowly moving down the aisle, making a show of releasing me from the hungry jaws of the typewriter-beast.

Kerri found this quote and I had no idea what it meant. Evidently, I was supposed to learn in typing class to double space after periods and other selected punctuation. I’m certain I was taught the rule but was too busy fighting for my life with the demon machine to learn the finer points of typing etiquette. I was doing my best to live-another-day and  was concerned only with how to increase the space between me and the dreaded class. However, this quote does explain the abundance of red pencil circles that appeared on every one of my poorly typed papers throughout college. Another mystery solved!

“YES!” Kerri just shouted in triumph. It’s not that my wife is a nerd but, take my word for it, never challenge her on a question of grammar or punctuation. Never enter a game of Scrabble with her if you don’t want to lose. She’s vicious. A moment ago she disappeared and returned with an APA manual from 1983 (she keeps EVERYTHING and remembers EVERYTHING!!!). I was doubtful about double spacing after colons [in the typewriter era – these rules do not apply in the post typewriter epoch] but guess what?

She just puckered her face and rolled her eyes at me as she slowly strutted around the room, arms raised in ancient-punctuation-triumph. All of these years later and it turns out that I’m still wiggling in the trap, my fingers inexorably stuck between the keys.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DOUBLE SPACING

 

 

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