Enjoy The Return [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s back. Pop Goes The Weasel, in an incessant cycle, playing as background accompaniment to the birdsong. The truck circles the neighborhood, the sonic equivalent of water torture on wheels. I’ve spent too many hours pondering how the driver, the seller of ice cream, sitting in the epicenter of the looping Pop refrain, retains their sanity. I couldn’t do it. It’s low on my list of aspirations. I’m certain my assignment in hell will be the ice cream truck driver.

Of course, the musical assault is accompanied by – no, much more, it inspires – the delighted squeals of children, excited-to-a-frenzy when hearing the tune, begging coins from their parents, and running to the truck to get their treat before it disappears around the corner. The happy squeals bring instant forgiveness to my hardened heart for the Weasel drumming of my brain.

It’s the solstice. The ice cream truck, like the position of the sun in the sky, is a sure sign of summer’s return. On a walk by the lakefront a few days ago, the truck bellowed passed us, looking a bit worn and tired. It stopped. The neighborhood kids scrambled, parents’ pockets were emptied, purses turned upside down, skinny legs and clenched fists raced toward the paint-peeling truck.

Forgive my brain but I was suddenly overwhelmed and duly impressed at the chain of innovation that, although it now appears old and ordinary, went into making this dilapidated truck and the joy it invokes possible. Refrigeration. Pasteurization. The waffle cone. Ice cream on a stick. Recorded sound. Speakers. Not to mention the internal combustion engine.

As the kids swarmed the Weasel, I looked around at all the older faces, those folks with newly emptied pockets, watching their kids and grandkids enjoy the ritual that they once enjoyed when they were the young enthusiastic pick pockets. Every face was smiling. Even mine. Add that to the chain of innovation. It might be the most important of all the innovations in the chain. Bringer of joy. Inciter of happy memory. It certainly should be the point, the aim of all invention. Better life. No one needs to read a business book when an ice cream truck is circling the neighborhood. It’s all right there.

Bird song. Children’s squeals of delight. Pop Goes The Weasel. Hot days. Melting ice cream. Summer.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD HUMOR

Turn And Take A Hard Look [on Flawed Wednesday]

Systems are living things and like all living things will fight to the death when threatened. It is, I believe, what is at play in these un-united-united-states.

I love the irreverence of the questions taken from a mock conference agenda, published in the October 2017 issue of Real Simple Magazine. Who bears the bulk of moral responsibility and what’s the appropriate punishment? Beneath the humor, the real question is made clear: why are women expected to mold their bodies, often in torturous ways, to fit an impossible ideal? It is a centuries old phenomenon.

There is a very telling photograph from 2017 of an all male White House task force discussing health benefits that included women’s health issues. This photograph is nothing new. The ideal represented within it, is ubiquitous. A headline from The Guardian reads “These 25 Republicans -All White Men – Just Voted To Ban Abortion In Alabama.”

A system is a living thing. It will fight to the death when threatened.

This paragraph from Rolling Stone Magazine [May 17, 2019] captures the essence of the fight, the core of the system that is under threat: The Republican movement behind forced-birth bills is truly ignorance allied with power, as James Baldwin once warned us about. The rhetoric may be more vociferous and reckless now than it was when the religious right was first revving up, but it is no less cynical. Even if it escapes the lips or is written or signed into law by women like Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, the primary goal of that revanchist talk has always been to take America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned.

“The unquestioned word of white men.” The system as designed is now being questioned. And so, ignorance allies with power. The Big Lie. The Republican party is afraid to investigate-and-talk-about what happened on January 6th because of what an investigation will reveal. Ignore-ance.

Taking America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned. We never actually left that time but had certainly broached the subject of progress toward the promise of equality for all. And so, the system is fighting. It is threatened like never before so it is fighting like never before. Voter suppression laws. The legal assault being mounted on a woman’s right to choose. Fearmongering BLM rhetoric like Ron Johnson’s inanity.

Black Lives Matter. Women’s Rights. Voters’ Rights, Civil Rights…all embodiment of the ideals that we espouse and yet, all are threats to the system. All ask questions of the unquestioned white men.

In a speech yesterday, President Joe Biden said that America is based on an idea. “It’s the greatest idea in the long history of humankind. An idea that we’re all created equal in the image of Almighty God. That we’re all entitled to dignity, as my father would say, and respect, decency, and honor. Love of neighbor. They’re not empty words, but the vital, beating heart of our nation.

Division is the control-mechanism designed into the system to keep the word of the white men unquestioned. Colonists everywhere installed the same mechanism in their colonies. Powerful women, powerful citizens of all colors and sexual orientation, united, are a threat to the system. And so it fights. It lies. It blocks scrutiny. It screams that Black Lives are a more dangerous threat than a white insurrection on the capitol. Antifa! Socialism! Fear! Divide the people. Keep them fighting each other. It’s a strategy that’s worked for centuries.

It is more than time that the idea of America, at long last, punch through the wall of the system and fulfill its promise, its highest ideal. What is there to fear in equality?

Pre-torn jeans made of elastic. Who bears the bulk of the moral responsibility? Beneath the humor, the real question comes clear: do we have the capacity, at long last, to stop molding ourselves in tortuous ways to fit an impossibly conflicted system? Can we turn and take a hard look at our empty words and fill them with the promise, the beating heart of the idea? Equality. United.

read Kerri’s blog post about Pretorn Jeans

Run Through Norway [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

DogDog is a very vocal pooch. He sings his body electric, he gives full voice to his soul. There are times that I, with great delight, watch him run fence to fence, barking for the simple pleasure of making sound. He is a vocal hedonist.

Sometimes he barks and listens. He wants some dog out there to bark back, a pooch call-and-response. There is no better gift for DogDog than when one of his neighborhood pals barks in response. Pure pleasure, he runs circles around the yard. When his call does not evoke a response, he waits a few minutes and tries again. He is an eternal optimist.

DogDog knows when he’s NOT supposed to bark. Inside the house is a no-bark-zone. When Tim, the neighbor gets in and out of his car. When Lucky, the dog that recently showed up in the yard behind ours, comes to the fence. When we are in the car, going on errands, and he sees another dog; his body quakes with full-bark-desire but he knows better. Kerri taught DogDog a bit of Norwegian. “Hold Kjeft,” she says, when we he winds up for a good bark-in-the-car. DogDog hears Hold Kjeft and he moans and whines and complains. He performs a melodramatic Medea until something else captures his attention.

Initially, she didn’t use the phrase in any other situation. Norwegian was reserved for the car. Hold kjeft, in translation, means shut-up but for us it has become a preemptive command, “no bark.” Norwegian was so successful in the car that it has now spilled out into all other situations. She never has to raise her voice. She simply opens the back door, says, “Hold Kjeft,” and all barking turns to enthusiastic circle-running. It’s magic. It’s Norwegian.

It doesn’t work when I use it. For some reason that I can’t explain, my “Hold Kjeft” elicits howls of laughter from DogDog. He looks at me and, as if to make a point, “Your Norwegian is no good!” he barks in reply. And then, to sear in his criticism, he barks again. I revert to my Frankenstein English “No Bark!” DogDog immediately complies. “That’s more like it,” he wags and runs for the back door.

Language is a mysterious and magic beast. Lately, I’ve noticed, that when I am whining and complaining and feeling like performing my version of melodramatic Medea, a tiny voice in the back of my mind whispers, “Hold Kjeft!” So taken aback by the sudden whoosh of Norwegian, my performance is short-circuited. My mind shuts up.

I look to Kerri to suss out whether that tiny voice is hers or coming from some other mysterious source. She always appears to be innocent and asks, “What?” to my inquisitive stare. “Nothing,” I reply and look to DogDog, who wags and rolls for a belly-belly.

I suspect that, rather than DogDog, it is I who am being trained. Belly-belly. Hold Kjeft. I am suddenly suspicious about my overwhelming desire to wash the dishes. What is going on here?

There is only one thing of which I am certain: my path to inner quiet runs through Norway. Hold Kjeft! On me, Norwegian works.

read Kerri’s blog post about HOLD KJEFT!

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