Move The Mountain [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The box of avocados arrived like a gift a familial love. It was. Kerri’s sister sent them and they found us like surprise Christmas. “Holy Smokes!” Kerri, said, lifting the first football-sized avocado from the box. “This is too much!” Eyes filling with tears. She misses her sister.

It takes so little. Avocados in a box.

The day following my health scare, my older brother called. I fell immediately into my role of younger brother and was comforted-to-the-bone to hear his voice. He has always been a rock. Stable ground when the world tilts.

A phone call. A small gesture. Profound in impact. Stable ground.

It seems a cliche’ yet remains the human-seminar that is most difficult to grasp. The grand gesture is fine, but mountains are moved by the small reach. A touch on the shoulder. A call to check in. Simple presence. A box of avocados.

read Kerri’s blog post about AVOCADOS

Listen [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Sage advice someone, somewhere, offered to Kerri: sometimes there’s only one way to get through it and that’s to go through it. No resistance. Turn around and see it, feel it, experience it. All of it.

Once, long ago, I emailed my friend Rob and wrote that I felt like I was lost in the forest. He wrote back that sometimes, when you feel lost, it’s best to sit down, smell the pine, and enjoy the birdsong. That, too was sage advice. Be where you are, not where you think you should be.

Identity crisis is a misnomer. Growth and change only feels like a crisis, mostly because it requires letting go of “the knowns” and stepping into “the unknowns.”

My sage advice to myself, learned from too many experiences of opening my mouth when I had nothing of value to offer: if you’re lucky enough to attend to someone who’s stepping off the edge of their known world: listen. Quiet presence is better than loud comfort.

read Kerri’s blogpost about IDENTITY CRISIS

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Choose Your Irritant [on DR Thursday]

The snowplow just scraped down the street. They keep the streets clear of snow but create great heaping snow-walls at the end of every driveway. Some people grumble, especially the early morning shovelers. I’m sure it’s disconcerting to clear the driveway only to have the snowplow block the egress. I’ve seen people shake their fists and curse at the plow drivers. We work from home so have the luxury to sip coffee and wait until the snow stops and the plows finish their great-wall-creation. Only then do I venture out with my big green shovel and clear the way.

Dogga is getting older. While the coffee brews in the early morning he goes outside. He used to race out the door, excited to chase away the squirrels. Now, he lopes. Lately, he locates the geographic center of the backyard, plants all four paws, and barks-and-listens. He is desperate for a return bark. It’s a pooch call-and-response. We’re up early enough that the other dogs are not yet out so he listens and barks in vain. After several disappointing attempts at rousing the troops, he lopes to the back door and barks at me to let him inside. It’s uncanny; his morning ritual takes the exact amount of time for the coffee maker to complete the brew. Sometimes I think he hears the final whoosh of steam. Back inside, he leads the way as I bring my-errand-of-mercy-first-cup-of-coffee to Kerri.

Although I drink less coffee than I once did, it remains the thread that weaves together the fabric of our day. We start our day with it. The last thing I do before retiring at night is to set up the coffee. “I love that smell,” Kerri says, as she turns out the lights.

During a recent visit, my doctor insisted that coffee is an irritant. His timing was curious because I was, in that moment, thinking the same thing about him. However, in that moment I was certain that, given the choice of spending 15 minutes with him or with a cup of coffee, I’d choose the coffee. One must be picky about the irritants they choose to embrace.

It’s still snowing. There’s no sense shoveling for a while. I guess it’s time for a second cup.

read Kerri’s blogpost about COFFEE

greet the world © 2011 david robinson

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

Porch Sit [on KS Friday]

Quinn used to say that two things ruined western civilization: salad bars (serve yourself) and attached garages. “It all went south when we started inviting our cars into our homes,” he mused. To his list I might add air conditioners. Porch-sitting and the neighborhood evening promenade, with accompanying neighbor conversations, went away with the invention of cool indoor air. Imagine what we might be able to solve if we actually talked to each other on a regular basis. Imagine what nonsense might dissipate if we pulled our heads out of the television and, instead, strolled the neighborhood to see what was going on.

We look for porches. And, when we don’t have one, we create it. I knew I would be with Kerri forever because (among other things) she had two Adirondack chairs sitting in the grass outside the front door of her house. Early in out time together, we sat out front, sipped wine, and waved and chatted with people walking by. She’s dedicated to greater things than cold-air comfort.

When we travel, our airbnb’s almost always have porches. A porch is on the list of requirements. It never fails. The porches in our travels are always sources of good stories, special moments, new friendships. They are not magic. They were invented for peace and polite conversation. They are liminal spaces, both public and private. People wave and greet each other. People stop and chat – even for a moment. You can learn a lot about a new place by sitting on the porch and asking a local carrying a pizza where the good food is to be found (a true story). People like to share what they know.

As Skip reminded us yesterday, people write things on Facebook or other social media that they’d never say otherwise. I think there’s a lot of that going around these days. Forums for ugliness. I’m certain it’s nothing that a good porch and an evening constitutional couldn’t cure.

time together/this part of the journey is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about PORCHES

time together/this part of the journey © 1997 kerri sherwood

Look Down [on DR Thursday]

To all the rugged individualists out there living under the grand illusion that you are blazing a new trail, I have only one thing to say: look down. Someone has been there before you. It’s why there’s a path. And, more to the point, someone – a crew of someones – worked very hard to make and maintain the trail you now tread. It’s true in the forest. It’s true in the big-bad city. Every time we flick a switch and the lights come on it might not be a bad idea to recognize how many people were – and are – involved in the maintenance of our comfort and our self-reliance-fantasies.

On the Pink Bed trail there’s a boardwalk that elevates hikers over the swampy sections. I stopped in utter admiration at the section that took a hard left. Someone – a crew of someones – spent a long time making my corner not only easy to walk but beautiful. Certainly there are more efficient ways to build a turn in a boardwalk and they could have chosen any number of simpler solutions but they didn’t. They took the time to make their work functional, sturdy, AND aesthetic.

Daniel was building a house on the lake. He only builds one a year these days, mostly for fun. He invited us in. Far from being finished, the craftsmanship was exposed. The joints were meticulous. The lumber he chose was solid. The materials mattered. There was beauty in the structure and he was proud to point out the love taken in every step, even the roughest stage of the build. The eventual buyers would never see or know the care alive behind the drywall. They might never fathom the depth of effort and design involved in making their comfort – their triumphant lake home – a possibility.

Horatio and I talk often of the deep philosophical divide in these un-united-united-states. The every-man/woman-for-him/herself camp is at odds with the I-am-my-brother/sisters-keeper folks. I understand the appeal of the self-made-man/woman story but I also recognize it to be mostly a fantasy. Sir Edmund Hillary understood that standing atop Everest, celebrated as the first, was only made possible by the efforts of hundreds of Sherpa, months of expedition planning by John Hunt and team, financing, travel arrangements, government officials, 8 previous unsuccessful expeditions, and the good graces and guidance of Tensing Norgay.

We’d be better off if periodically we stopped and simply looked down.

read Kerri’s blog post about the BOARDWALK

prayer of opposites © 2003-4 david robinson

Light A Few Candles [on KS Friday]

“An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.” ~ George Santayana

It was like a visual Zen koan. The candles were placed close to the window and the reflection stretched back and back into infinity. What is real and what is reflection? We sat for several minutes, caught in the light trail that seemed to reach into the future/past.

We light candles for remembrance. We light candles for comfort. We light candles for the quiet they invoke. Inspiration. For hope. Buddhist prayer flags flutter and “release” their prayers to the wind. We light candles with the same intention: the remembrance is carried deep into the future/past. The comfort floats and fills our home.

It was our practice, prior to Covid, late at night on christmas eve, after Kerri was finished with work, to illuminate our street with luminaria. Little paper sacks weighted with sand and holding single candles ran up and down the sidewalk, the entire length of the street. We’d place fire pits in our driveway. Neighbors, friends and family would gather around the fire, drink wine and grog, eat snacks, sing a song or two, laugh. Somewhere, deep into the night, our fingers and toes would protest the cold, we’d say goodnight, douse the flames, and call it a night. Crawling into bed, it always felt as if the good humor of our gathering caught the breeze and carried a light-heart into the world.

Tonight, Kerri and I will light a few candles in sacks, weighted by sand. We will sit, sip wine, laugh and remember. Luminaria. Gatherings. Good wishes carried on the wind. The laughter and candlelight from the past will find us as we reminisce. We’ll send a wave of good intention into the future so that it might one day find us standing around a fire pit with neighbors, family and friends, shaking our heads and saying, “Do you remember when…”

you’re here (kerri sherwood rough cut)

hope/this season available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT INFINITY

hope/this season © 1998 kerri sherwood

you’re here © 2018 kerri sherwood

Laugh With It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Yesterday we celebrated an anniversary. Nine years ago we spoke on the phone for the first time. An offer of a free coaching call changed both of our lives. Kerri said, “Just think, we talked on the phone nine years ago and all hell broke loose.” I laughed. Her comment was, above all things, an understatement. Our road together has been both magical and tumultuous.

This season we are sitting on the cusp of the new. Appropriately, before turning our eyes to what’s-next, we’ve been looking back, sense-making what-was. We’re cleaning out. Making sense of the past is making space for the future. More than once I’ve said to myself, “If I knew then what I know now, I would never have had that problem. Or made that mess. Or tolerated that situation.”

What do I know now that I did not know then? Things are messy. Most of the ogres I fought existed nowhere but in my head. Some did not, but what was true of the imagined variety, the tangible ogres also were not worth fighting. “Take nothing personally” tops the list of “best-advice-ever.” Number two on the list is “Make no assumptions.” People are crappy. I’ve been crappy. People are great. I’ve been great. That’s pretty much true of everyone so a bit of grace and understanding goes a long way.

Burned into the things-I-know-now, way beyond a Facebook platitude, is this: life is as short as this moment so it’s best to appreciate everyone you love in this moment. For us, 2021 was the year of water but also it was a year of loss. Our sweet BabyCat left us quite suddenly. Our dear H passed in the summer. Peter died. We learned that Lance died, too young. My dad passed in September. And Ruby followed not long after. There are so many things I wish I’d said or done for Ruby. There were tug-of-wars that I had with my dad – that ate up months of life – that seem utterly silly to me, now.

The boxes that are coming out of my inner-attic are stuffed with the-need-to-be-right. Justifications. Explanations. Control fantasies. Armor. They are quite heavy and I am relieved to be tossing them into the bin.

I hope I am turning my face to see what Quinn knew and tried to teach me. Relationship is a messy business. No one knows what they are doing. There’s abundant love in all of it and it’s made visible when you choose to laugh with it rather than fight with it. The important stuff is lost or found in the very heart of the mess.

read Kerri’s blog post about MESSY

Relax And Prime [on KS Friday]

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon yesterday drawing cartoons. I had to get away from the computer screen. I’ve learned – relearned – that staring into the screen too long makes me myopic and unimaginative. I’m not certain if this is true for everyone but I am kinesthetic. There’s a necessary balance. Sitting still and staring at a screen without the opposite focus are creative-killers for me. I do my best thinking when I move around, when I stop trying to solve or deconstruct. I’m fortunate that drawing with a #2 pencil at an old-fashioned light table is part of my job.

Greg lives his life in front of a screen – multiple screens – and, to get away, he dives. His underwater photography is gorgeous. In a meeting a few days ago, he said that diving clears his mind. His greatest insights come when he’s underwater or sitting on the beach after a dive. There’s good science behind his insight. Relaxation triggers dopamine: the more dopamine, the more creative. Comfort and relaxation prime the creative pump. Stress and tension unplug the pump.

The best thing to do when trying to squeeze out a revelation is to walk away. Take a drive. Take a shower. Stop thinking so hard. Daydreaming is very productive. I’ve learned that anger and frustration rarely – if ever – lead to creative insight and generally produce the opposite of what’s desired. Anger (like too much time in front of a computer screen to me) is myopic. It narrows. It squeezes off the dopamine. It blinds the mind and heart to possibility.

Kent Nerburn wrote that, “For those of us in the arts, enthusiasm is never outlived. The sun is always rising before us, and our wonder at the world, the true source for all meaningful art, only grows stronger as life slows from passage to moments…” There’s always a next painting to paint. Another song to write. A photograph to take. It’s one of the reasons I love taking walks with Kerri: we rarely get very far before she gasps, and stops to take a photograph of some small miracle. And, while she’s collecting images of small miracles, I look to the sky and let my mind wander, a walking meditation, a creative pump primer.

And, almost always, somewhere on the trail, the dot that refused to connect while I was too-long staring at the screen, takes me by the hand and says, “It’s so simple. Do you see?”

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERGREEN

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

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