Check Your Attribution [on KS Friday]

I have just had a front row seat to a full-blown, hyper-antagonistic, years-long, classic case of attribution-bias-escalation. It was [and is] ugly. The ripples are rocking boats, eroding foundations, ending friendships. The damage is thorough and, as is always true, infinitely avoidable.

Attribution bias. Making the assumption that you KNOW why someone did or said something. Assigning your reason to their behavior.

Years ago, a red faced executive called me, the consultant, in and fumed, “She said THAT to demean me!” I paused and asked, “Do you really know why she said it? Have you asked her what was going on from her point of view?” His blank stare told me all I needed to know. He would rather demonize her, be offended by her, than communicate with her. We sat down, drank a cup of coffee and decided that, rather than fume and escalate, rather than simmer in a victim-stew, he had at his disposal a better path. Communicate rather than assume, ask questions rather than blame, poison the well, and indulge in being offended.

It always amazes me how unconscious and/or resistant folks are to challenging their attributions. How eager they are to spin hard narratives and create vicious persecutors. How invested they become at being offended or otherwise insulted en route to being ‘right.’ It is monster-creation. It provides nothing more than a reason to draw a sword.

We do it so fast. Assume we know. And, once the attribution is made, we hold onto it as if it were gospel. It is easier to believe we know-all-things than it is to step out of the yummy-victim-archetype and ask a few simple questions, confess a few honest vulnerabilities. It is easier, more tasty, to take offense than it is to give consideration. Blame provides a great reason to never ask a question. Being ‘right’ is a hard stop to all inquiry.

In the canon of unconscious bias, attribution is one of the most-oft-used routes to really effective miscommunication. It makes mountains out of molehills. It makes muck from otherwise good working relationships. It savages careers. It makes vice presidents run to the phone and call consultants. It makes councils meet in secret and vote without investigation. It makes revenge a serious pursuit of otherwise grown-up adults. It makes weak leaders run for the basement and hide. It makes new-contract-creation and other tit-for-tat flexing a less-than-fun game of control. No one wins. No questions asked. It makes a hammer the only tool in the tool kit.

A few breaths to simmer down, the suspension of a snap-assumption, an honest “can I talk to you” conversation that comes with no blame and a wee-bit of vulnerability…could make a minor miscommunication remain minor. It could save all manner of hurt feelings, ill intention, relationship destruction, HR costs, separation agreements, litigation…all unnecessary wreckage that might have been avoided with an assumption-made-conscious, an attribution challenged. A simple word or phrase can usually be explained, “You took a bullet meant for someone else, I’m sorry.” Mountains return to molehills when we are willing to turn from our hyper-active-attribution-bias (“I’m right and I know it!”) and ask, “I’m not sure what just happened here. Will you help me understand?”

read Kerri’s blog post about ESCALATION

Anticipate The Cake [on DR Thursday]

While I was shoveling snow, Kerri got to work creating a birthday surprise for me. I came around the corner of the house and howled with laughter. She told me her sculpture was me, with my tiara, waiting for my birthday cake. She captured my likeness exactly (this is how I look on the inside when cake is in my future).

On my 30th birthday my pals threw me a party. I lived in Los Angeles and the weather was gorgeous. I’ve never really liked being the center of attention so I remember that day, although fun and filled with love and kindness, as being hard work. On this, my 60th birthday, the weather was frigid. The snow powdery with the cold. We attended to the quiet. We lingered with coffee. We laughed. DogDog ran circles through the house as he always does when he gets a new bone. BabyCat snored in multiple spots around the house. For a few minutes I painted. I shoveled since more snow is on the way. Kerri sculpted. We opened a special bottle of wine, ate snacks, responded to texts and emails from dear friends. A package of unimaginable chocolates and treats appeared at the front door. We made dinner together. Talked to 20 and my mom. We wiled away the evening lost in a jigsaw puzzle. It could not have been a better start to a new decade. I crawled into bed feeling warm and rejuvenated.

Birthdays that end in zero naturally come with some life review. A look back at the road traveled. This zero came with some extra review. My father’s move to memory care has given me an added appreciation for memory. Moving Duke’s paintings after his death has given me a curious perspective on my paintings – and, for a while, a wrestling match with the final destination of my work. There was a moment of sweet release and circling back to long lost purity: in the road ahead I will paint for the simple pleasure of doing it, for the soul-dive that I experience when I’m dancing with a canvas.

At 80, I will look back at 60 and along with the simple celebration and enormous snow cake, I will remember the moment I opened my eyes on the new day. My first thought, my very first thought coming out of my dream was: this will be my favorite age. This marks the beginning of my favorite time of life. From here on, it is all cake.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWCAKE!

Hold Hands And Listen [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

These words, posed as polar opposites, come from the world of relationship advice. The recommendation is to establish clarity. Before you get into trouble, define whether your mate’s need is to be heard or to hear advice, to receive solace or solutions. Offering a solution when the need is solace is not recommended. Knowing my snap-dedication to solving-her-every-need, Kerri will often cut me off at the pass with, “I just need you to listen.” My lending-an-ear is often the only thing she really needs.

I’ve always been a good listener but it is only recently that I’ve discovered that I cannot solve anything for anyone. I cannot spare anyone the necessity of walking through their life lessons. The solving is not mine to do. The discoveries are not mine to make. This comes as a great awakening to my third-child-in-the-family-peacekeeper-identity. It also comes as a great relief. Peacekeeping, as a role assignment, is impossible. It’s akin to herding cats. It’s best to let each cat find peace in its own way. In sitting still, in surrendering the impossible task, my peace, like a magic castle, appeared.

A few years ago, a friend, sensitive to Kerri’s grief, offered her this truism-nugget: there’s only one way to go through it and that is to go through it. Trying to spare or minimize her grief would be to rob her of the depths of her love. Feel the depths. Meet the monster that lives there. Emerge transformed or at least informed. It is how we come to fully know ourselves.

We are learning to walk together with no need to solve. I am learning to hold hands and listen. The walking together, the holding of hands, is essential. The words I spin around our challenges are rarely meaningful and never as necessary as attending to the simple essential of quiet presence.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMFORT OR SOLUTIONS

Breathe and Make Choices [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James

A note from the Rejuvenation Fairy: the relief we seek may depend upon the phrase we choose. For instance, consider this phrase: coping mechanisms. What ease might become available if we viewed ourselves as something other than machines? Turn this dial. Adjust this screw. Add a little oil. Check the battery. Do this, then that will happen. Turn down the pressure gauge. Talk to others. Take a break. Cause and effect.

Breathe. Sentient beings are much more complex and subtle than apparatus made from iron and steel.

We story ourselves. For reasons no one will ever fully comprehend, we sort to the tragic. We imagine the worst. Ask any good storyteller and they will confirm that conflict is the driver. Yearnings meet obstacles and stories ensue. Everyone, without exception, is telling themselves a story. Everyone, without exception, is starring in their own movie, complete with impossible mountains to climb, monsters to face, dreams that remain just out of reach. Robert Sapolsky has it right: zebras don’t hold onto their tale of stress while human beings are reticent to let it go. We like to tell it again and again and again.

If we cast ourselves as victims in our movie, our stories will be filled with ogres to blame. If we reduce ourselves to the mechanical, our stories will be endless attempts at fixing what’s broken, looking for the right hose to replace. How to recharge the battery. The fortunate few recognize that their movie might be a story of choice. Choices made within given circumstances. The storm, like time, passes. How do we stand in it?

There’s little doubt that we are living in stressful times. There’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to turn up those mechanical pressure gauges. Add another notch or two of pressure with extreme national ideological division, cowards at the switches of government, mix in some economic stress…there are plenty of choices on the angst-menu. All are visceral. All are circumstances to the story we choose to tell, the story I choose to tell.

I came across a few universal coping strategies. Eat healthy. Exercise. Give yourself a break. Get plenty of sleep. Talk to others. Recognize when you need help and ask for it. I wondered why these good choices are reserved for times of stress. Why not give yourself a break as an everyday expectation. Talk to others. Eat healthy. Weave a calm center it into the fibers of daily life. Make choices. Especially in the story you tell yourself about yourself. The thought upon which you choose to fixate, to play over and over again in your movie-mind.

When Kerri and I fall off the pony and run around like our hair is on fire, we make chicken soup. I am the sous chef. She is the master mind. The recipe comes from her mother so the making of the soup is more than food prep, it’s a love-touch to her anchor. We touch love. And, of course, defying the advice of experts to avoid alcohol, we enjoy a glass of red wine. We choose the glasses: Jamie’s? Or Skip’s? Or Joan’s? For our wedding, we were gifted with many special wine glasses from many special people. Recently, Jay and Carol and Rob sent us wine. When we clink our glasses, we touch the depth of our support and reach of our friendships. We call 20 and laugh. As the soup simmers and the wine disappears, we realize that our hair is not on fire, that, although we are not zebras, we are infinitely capable of releasing our tale of woe. We need not cope or distract. We can grasp hold of the full tale of the enormity of our lives. We need only refocus our eyes, see the depth and expanse of our story and choices, enjoy the warming soup. Appreciate the story of the wine.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHICKEN SOUP & WINE

See The Action. See The Motivation. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” ~ Noel Coward

Lately, I’ve been rereading books on playwriting. Put them on the stove, boil them down and you will have a fine reduction of action and motivation. The actions a character takes. The reason a character takes them. A playwright’s tool box is filled with words but a playwright’s creation is a sequence of motivated actions.

Tom McK told me that plays are about one moment. A moment of choice. A moment of revelation. A moment of truth. A moment of reckoning. All of the actions of the play lead to the moment. And the world will never be the same.

I began rereading my dusty old playwriting books because of the impeachment trial. I feel as if I am witness to an ancient Greek drama. Power falls. Courage fails. Morals collapse. Act One: the temple is sacked. The actions and motivations for the assault could not be more clear. Naked sedition. Act Two: the trial. The ideals of the temple are gutted. Blind justice is made a mockery as nearly half of the jurists fail in their courage, choosing personal gain over public good. They defend sedition. They kneel to it. Their actions and motivations could not be more clear.

Like every Hallmark movie, the end of this play was known before the actors took the stage. We watched the play to confirm what we already knew.

Doug had a saying: health was a measure of the distance between who-you-say-you-are and who-you-know-yourself-to-be. The shorter the distance, the healthier the person. By Doug’s account, the actions and motivations of the 43 jurors who protected sedition could not be more clear. Despite what they say. Despite what they proclaim. The distance between who-they-say-they-are and who-they-know-themselves-to-be is vast. They are unhealthy. Shiny suits that are rotten to their core.

The climax of the play. The one moment. The realization. Just as in a horror movie, the recognition that the person in the passenger seat is the murderer. All of the actions of the play lead to this one moment, this single recognition: their defense of sedition is not aberrant to this jury’s character. It is their norm. Their fall from grace, their collapse of principle, happened long before their vote to acquit.

Action. Motivation. Expressed through character.

“Character,” Tom McK taught, “is how you do what you do.” This is who they are. It is a matter of character. Their actions and motivations could not be more clear. And the world will never be the same.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORDS & DEEDS

Snap [on KS Friday]

“Whenever the question comes up,/ the poets all say the same thing:/ the only poem we are interested in is in the next room,/ the one not written, the poem of tomorrow.” ~ Billy Collins, The Next Poem

I am trying not to focus on the next. The next chapter. The next day. This is a day of my life even if it is unfolding in a time of pandemic, of jobs lost, careers collapsed, broken-wrists-not-healing and my father’s slow disappearance.

Yesterday was hard. I made it so. Even before noon I was wishing the day away. I was anxious to get to the next. To stick a fork in it. Then, when the truck wouldn’t start, it was all too much. I could have shaken my fist at the sky but instead I decided to stop trying to be someplace else. I decided to feel the hurt. Be in the day.

I miss my studio. That’s not quite right. I miss myself in my studio. I miss how I feel when I am working in it. Timeless. In that place, there is no next. In that place, I feel good, all things become possible. It is a staircase away. These days, it might as well be on the moon.

Mary Oliver wrote, “Next time what I’d do is look at/ the earth before saying anything.” This seems to me, as I approach a birthday, an age marker, a sunrise unlike any other, to be sage advice. See the miracle before I diminish it with my thinking, before I jam it into sackcloth with my opinions.

Once, on a bitter cold day, feeling blue, I leaned back against a red brick wall and closed my eyes. I felt the sun warm my bones and, in a snap, wanted to be no where else on earth. Try as you might, you cannot take that from me, the sun. The warmth against that wall. The absence of next. The boundless power of the snap.

read Kerri’s blog post about NEXT

Look In And Laugh [on DR Thursday]

I’m concerned. This is the 4th week in a row that Kerri has penned a new AT THE DOOR for use in our Melange. “This would be good for DR Thursday,” she says, showing me the latest draft. Originally, this cartoon was about the differences between DogDog and BabyCat; what they might think when staring out-into-the-world from the same door. Now, I fear Kerri’s new AT THE DOOR revival is about us. I am the dog. She is the cat. I am easily amused and too often state the obvious. She is more discerning and precise. I am, I confess, remedial. She can’t help but roll her eyes.

It’s not that I mind the cartoon comparison to DogDog. There are definite similarities. The circles I run are also counterclockwise. I am food driven. I want to run at every horizon simply to see what’s there. She is given to sitting in the sun, content in the bounds of the known, the delights of home.

Other comparisons of note: when BabyCat is hungry, he tortures the Dog. When Kerri is hungry, well, let’s just say that I spring into food-prep-mode for self-preservation. I can feel BabyCat’s stare boring a hole in the back of my head. Kerri’s stare has the same power. No. Words. Necessary. When DogDog is upset, he disappears into his safe spot. For him, it’s the bathroom. For me, it’s the studio.

Saturday – the day we choose our images for the upcoming week of the Melange – is fast approaching. I lay awake last night wondering what message or observation will come my way via AT THE DOOR. Last Saturday, before she showed me the cat’s commentary on the dog, dog = remedial, she was literally cackling. Looking at me and snickering. So was BabyCat!

Of course, it’s possible that AT THE DOOR has always been about us. It’s possible. DogDog and BabyCat, despite their vast differences, are constant companions and champions for the other. Just like us. I suspect that, if DogDog and BabyCat were to collaborate and pen a cartoon about us sitting at the door, staring into this vast wide-open universe, they’d snicker with love at our character collisions, a study in oppositions, and adore us and celebrate us, as we do them, weird quirks and all.

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

Recognize The Art [on Flawed Wednesday]

The snow was too dry. My snowman fell apart when I put the head on. “It doesn’t have to look like a snowman to be a snowman,” Kerri said to cheer me up.

“Maybe it’s modern art!” I quipped, using my if-it’s-a-mess-call-it-art default statement. As I walked down the trail, away from my unsuccessful snowman, I wondered when incoherence had become included in my definition of art.

I am and have been these many months doing some soul searching and life review. Walking down our snowy trail I remembered working with a dying theatre company. The first step in restoring their health and vitality was to help them face a simple truth: that they made the “art” did not necessarily make the “art” good. In fact, the “art” could not be good until their criteria for “good” wasn’t about them.

The challenge with “art” in the modern era is that it is nearly impossible to define. For purely masochistic reasons I looked up the word ‘art’ in the dictionary and nearly fell asleep before I finished reading the definition. “A diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory, or performing artifacts…” Artifacts? The last lap of the definition reads, “…intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Beauty. Emotional power.

Of course, the contemporary world is awash in conceptual art and I read in my dictionary that this form of art, dating back to Duchamp in 1917, “…abandoned beauty, rarity and skill as measures.” Bananas taped to the wall. Statements.

Beauty abandoned. No emotional power necessary. But still “art.”

Art is, I’m told by historians and other scholars, a mirror of society. It is reflective of the era in which the artist lived. What a society values is made apparent in their art. It’s true.

Art, I believe, has a power and purpose far beyond mere appreciation. It is more than a mirror. It generates identity. It pulls disparate individuals to a common center. It affirms connectivity. It awakens us – and provides access to – that which is greater than any single individual. It bonds. It affirms. It transforms.

I wonder if our art, often so unrecognizable, sometimes incomprehensible, dependent upon curatorial interpretation, not concerned with beauty or rarity or skill or any other discernible measure, is not the perfect reflection of us. Narcissistic. Statements. Each day I am, like you, met by a tsunami of stories in the daily news revealing our collective confusion, our collapse of values, a commons at war with itself fueled by leaders stoking division for personal gain. Bananas taped to the wall. It is – we are – in our daily tales – so conceptual – so void of beauty or rarity or recognizable skill or measure – that it requires an anchor/curator to tell us why it – or we – might have meaning.

And then, just when I wonder if we are hopelessly lost, Amanda Gorman stepped up to the mic. The one true test of artistry is that we know it when we see it. No curator necessary. We are, we were, for a moment, bonded together in a way that no politician, no historian, no concept will ever understand or achieve.

I see it alive in Mike, and David, and Mark, and Chris. It glistens every time Kerri sits at the piano or composes a poem. It is not a mess though sometimes skill meets a happy-accident and, like penicillin, something healing emerges.

When we are washed away into the annals of time, what will be our art-love-letter to the future? What legacy – and art is a legacy – will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWMAN

for kicks, Kerri made a Snowman mug. Go here to get it

Defy Augury [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It lifted my spirits. David sent a short video, a snippet of a play. He called it “Sofa Shakespeare.” Using small toys from his son’s collection, he performed – and filmed – a puppet version – of Act 5, Scene 2 of Hamlet. “…we defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow….” He’s a professor of theatre, a director and playwright, a major member of my inspiration-tribe. He is a bubbling wellspring of the creative.

We have a periodic-ongoing-for-years-conversation about Hamlet. The play is special to both of us. I’ve had two runs at Hamlet. Both were significant. Both productions popped open new doors of understanding for me. Both productions also came to me just before the floor-of-my-life collapsed. I’ve come to think of Hamlet as an omen. If today I was approached to direct it, I’d say “Yes,” but, inwardly, I’d think, “Uh-oh.” I would defy augury. Like Hamlet, I’ve come to realize that I have little or no control over my fate.

Later in the day, after Sofa Shakespeare, Kerri and I hit the trail. The sky stopped me in my tracks. It was winter-radiant. I felt as if I was standing between heaven and earth. Staring at this magical sky, Kerri asked, “What do you think is going to happen?” Our lives, like so many others during this pandemic, have been blasted into utter uncertainty. We ask this question daily, “What do you think will happen?”

“I don’t know. Something will happen. That’s for certain,” I respond. She punches my arm.

“Not helpful!” she grimaces.

Making choices. Making peace with your choices and your fate. Chasing ghosts. Asking the ethers for more information. “What does it mean?” Trying to decipher whether the ghost you chase is “a spirit of health or goblin damned.” Whether your ghost brings “airs from Heaven or blasts from hell…” What will happen?

Continuing down our snowy trail, more words from Hamlet rolled to the front of my brain. These words come at the beginning of the play: “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” At the end, “We defy augury.” This great magical world is beyond our capacity to grasp. Still, we must try. And, like Hamlet, the best we can do is arrive at peace with our uncertain fate.

“If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all.” Hamlet. Act V, ii

read Kerri’s blog post about HEAVEN AND EARTH

Pay Attention [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I read this morning in my brainpickings, “We have to try and cure our faults by attention and not by will.” Simone Weil.

Kerri and I walk almost everyday. We head for our known, usual trails, and only occasionally go in search of something new. Even though we walk a well-known path, it never fails to seem entirely new. Kerri attends to the details, taking photographs of unusual pine cones, a downy feather on a limb, the sun streaming through the trees. She pays attention. My awareness is more global, the movement of forest, the orchestra and dance of trees and wind. I pay attention.

Our walks bring us perspective when all else seems dark and disorderly. Our walks refill our well of hope when our circumstance seems bleak. Mostly, our walks “cure our faults,” they bring us into a present moment where all of life’s judgments and fears fall away as the illusions that they are. Our walks, if only for a few hours, wipe clean our canvas and return us to a childlike curiosity.

Sometimes, after a snowfall, we arrive at our trail and it is untouched. It never fails that we stand at the trailhead and marvel at the unblemished snow. Sometimes we hold hands and jump in with both feet and laugh. Sometimes we step carefully, quietly. Reverently. Either way, it seems a special gift. First steps are to be noted. Last steps are to be noted.

This morning I read an article about How Aging Shapes Narrative Identity. How the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves changes as we age. Our investments change. We become less interested in pursuits and achievements, in willful purpose. We become more interested in appreciation of our precious, limited moments. And, so, we begin to tell a different story. New snow on an old path.

The article was timely. Kerri and I lay awake most of the night. Among other things we pondered my dad’s dementia, the stories that he weaves and realities he inhabits. He is obsessed with going home.

Deep in the night, we talked about the stories that we currently weave together as we grow older. It seems that this time in our lives is a blank canvas, a path of new and untouched snow. Standing at the trailhead of our next chapter, no steps to follow or map, neither of us has any desire to reinvent or become different than what we are. Certainly, the circumstances of our lives are changing, but more and more we merely want to pay attention. To hold hands and jump into the unbroken snow. To laugh. To note the downy feather in the tree. The wind song, the deer that surprise us, leaping through tall grasses. “Did you see them?” I whisper. Kerri nods and smiles. Reverence. Nothing in the world, at that moment, is more important.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNBROKEN SNOW