Meet The Saw [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As the magician saws the woman in half, he tells her that, “Magic is not an exact science.” It is among my favorite Flawed Cartoons.

“There’s nothing sadder than a forty year old production assistant,” she said, sipping her drink, looking across the room at a man she clearly thought was a loser. I was living in Los Angeles and was at a party with movers-and-shakers. The gathering also included a few of the people who carried the cables, loaded the trucks, moved the electrics – the lowest rung on the ladder. The runners. I swallowed hard. At the moment she said it, I was thinking the exact opposite. There is nothing more interesting than a forty year old production assistant. I wanted to be standing with the very man she considered a loser. He’d have stories to tell. Experiences to share. The movers-and-shakers bored me. Dulled by their dedication to security, thoroughly protected from the unknown or surprising experiences, they sneered at the people who’d actually lived. I found my way across the room and spent the rest of the evening sitting in the kitchen talking with a man who traveled the world.

Were I at the party today, she would look across the room at me and whisper, “Sad.”

Life is like magic. It is not an exact science. Ideals collapse. Dreams implode. Yet, the luckiest people I know are the few who have stepped out of their seats and volunteered to climb on to the stage. They’ve taken chances. Built wood buses or put their lifeblood into starting a theatre company or went boarding instead of dying in a cubicle. They’ve stepped beyond traditions and expectation. They’ve been cut in half, opened, challenged, surprised, disappointed, scared, triumphant, awed. They’ve learned. They’ve questioned their beliefs and perceptions. They’ve made titanic mistakes. They’ve stared down their demons. They’ve opted for curiosity rather than being right. They stepped off the edge. They followed, “What if…”

There’s no shortage of people who watch life from the safety of their seats. As Tom used to say, “They paint with a limited palette.” There are those lucky few who, if you see them at the party, most likely the people serving drinks, who’ve been cut in two and know from scary experience that there’s nothing more numbing or illusory than certainty. Follow them into the kitchen and ask about their lives. You’ll be amazed at the full spectrum of colors you find in them.

read Kerri’s blog post about SAWED IN HALF

flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson

Be Indeterminate [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Through the good graces of our tomato plants, I’ve learned a few new concepts this summer. Determinate and indeterminate. Bush and vine. Determinate tomato plants (bushes) are bred to stop growing. Indeterminate tomato plants (vines) will grow indefinitely or until the weather conditions “are no longer favorable.”

Our plants are indeterminate. Each morning, Kerri visits our planting bench and checks her tomatoes. 20 taught her a few simple tending-rules and now, each morning, there are more and more little indeterminate miracles moving backward along the color spectrum, finally arriving at a brilliant red.

Life is indeterminate.

My new tomato-terms come just in time. My current project has me revisiting my past life as a teacher and facilitator. If I apply my new terminology to people I can’t help but think it is the lucky few who survive so much dedicated energy to stop the learning-mind in the name of education. The natural output of a system designed on manufacturing principles is to truncate the questioning mind by patterning the notion that there is a predetermined answer. It becomes a game of finding the answer that teacher wants – a closed loop – instead of an incitement of curiosity. Children are excellent game players and translate the gaming pattern into their now-dulled-adulthood.

There is a cycle apparent in all genuine learning processes. It begins with discontent. Curiosity is a movement born from some form of discontent. It leads to questioning. Questioning always leads to disturbance (the interruption of the known). And, just like that, out of the disturbance something new is seen, call it a breakthrough, call it an insight, call it new learning…Many classrooms – certainly the systems – are designed and organized to keep disturbances to a minimum. The mantra is ‘control’ rather than ‘inspire curiosity.’ Business has the same dedication.

We’re taught that disturbance is the sign of something wrong rather than the crusty earth breaking to reveal new verdant life.

Discontent leads to questioning, leads to disturbance, which leads to breakthrough. And, an insight will always lead to discontent. It’s a story cycle, where yearning meets obstacle. Learning is by definition uncomfortable and at its best when it is uncontrollable.

Last week I attended a meeting. My two companions and I brought our homework back to the team. One was content. The other two of us were filled with discontent. The leader of the session, at first, was angry. He did not get the result he’d anticipated from his exercise. “So, you two are telling me this process was worthless!” he raged. We’d spent our week questioning instead of answering. Discontent. Questioning.

“No! It was great!” we chimed in chorus. “Look at all the good information we uncovered!” It was a mess. Big disturbance. We cycled through our misalignment a few times, wrangling over perception and usefulness. More rage. And then…an insight. The breakthrough. All of the rage, all of the appeasing, began to flow in a single direction. A possibility took shape. A target materialized that was much better than the prescribed pursuit. Energy filled our zoom-osphere. Laughter. Excitement.

Learning. Indeterminate. Open questions. Hot pursuits.

I am drawn to and surrounded by the dedicated indeterminates; those who refuse to stop learning: David, Mike, Horatio, MM, Bruce, 20, Judy, and yes, Kerri…I am a very fortunate man to be surrounded by so many tomatoes moving their way backward along the color spectrum, not afraid to walk through their discontent toward bigger and bigger questions.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Prove It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am about to prove that I am guilty of everything I accuse others of being. I am just as capable of surrounding myself with like-minded people as the next person. Let me explain:

I cheered when I read Marc’s response in the conversation chain. It was an appeal, an attempt to puncture a dedicated delusion, an untethered ideology. But, as is always the case when fantasy is met with fact, the holder of the fantasy vehemently defended and further retreated into their illusion. Confirmation bias.

Among my favorite phrases this week comes from a New Yorker article, Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. The phrase: the illusion of explanatory depth. Here are two quotes from the article:

“People believe that they know more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people.” In other words, we ally with people who hold a similar belief rooted in the same lack-of-knowledge. Apparently, as a species, we’d rather be reinforced in our ignorance than consider the possibility that we don’t know what we are talking about. Purple Kool-Aid is easier to drink than wondering if what we’re being told may or may not be truth. It explains the current GOP, Fox News, OAN, Ron Johnson, and the rest of the dangerous-national-clown-car.

Quote number 2: “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding.”

Strong feelings. Deep understanding.

In the canon of human self-aggrandizement, we delight in the narrative that we are primarily rational, that our reason, like a good border collie, has driven our emotions into safe containment. The opposite seems to be the case. Or, at best, we are a mass of contradictions.

There is a flip-side, a necessity woven into our contradiction that gives me hope. Strong feelings and deep understanding are not natural enemies and need not be pitted against each other. Think of it this way, no firefighter, in his or her right mind, would run into a burning building to save a life, if we were as rational and reasonable as we like to believe. They do, however, study fires beforehand to know how to run in, how to reach. They study the science. For every exploiter there is a matching story of a giver, someone whose strong feelings combines with their deep understanding in an effort to better the world, save a life, make things easier.

That which makes us crazy also makes us compassionate. How’s that for a statement of contradiction? Families fight each other until the forest fire threatens their house. Common cause and education are a great poppers of confirmation bias.

Some fires are manufactured with the sole purpose of exploiting confirmation bias. This kind of exploitation is dependent upon – and feeds upon – strong feelings with shallow roots in understanding. Ignorance. The big lie. Vaccine misinformation. Divide and conquer is always reliant on strong feelings intended to create blindness.

Some fires are real. And, the test of a real fire: divisions fall, eyes open, and people run toward the flames to help other people. It remains to be seen how hot and close the flames need to come before the confirmation bias burns off and we realize that we’re in real trouble, that science is real, and that the big trough of purple (red) kool-aid being proffered is doing the opposite of what it professes to do.

It may be in our nature to believe that we know more than we do, but, it is also in our nature, without concern or thought for our own safety, to reach for the drowning person. Deep understanding allies with strong feelings when people cared enough to learn how to reach, how not to become the person drowned by the drowning person.

Do you see it? I am an idealist. I want to believe in the goodness of humanity and the necessity of shared truth. Yet, despite powerful evidence to the contrary, I hold fast to my dedicated belief that we are capable of tipping toward love rather than falling toward hate, that, when faced with undeniable data, that we are capable of questioning our strong feelings en route to a deeper, shared understanding. We are capable of recognizing that the science that brought us the cell phone, satellites, allergy medicine, and electric light is the same science that brings us the data of climate change, and the best way to beat this pandemic. Cherry picking belief in science is…absurd and currently dangerous. Cherry picking news is equally as absurd and currently dangerous. From my idealistic mind, it is a necessity to ask questions, check sources, doubt belief.

We are certainly capable of knowing the real fires from the those fanned by the thought-arsonists. We are capable of questioning, of suspending our delusions. At least, I like to believe that we are. I, like you, surround myself with like-minded believers.

We’ve proven it again and again and again. When we recognize that the fire is real, our dedicated illusions burn the filters from our eyes, we transcend our little stories, and reach our hands with no thought of political alliance or other exploitative non-sense, to help dig our neighbors from the rubble.

read Kerri’s blog post about BASIC LOGICAL REASONING

Care Enough To Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Have you noticed that people all over the world are divided into groups, calling themselves Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and so on? What divides them? Not the investigations of science, not the knowledge of agriculture, of how to build bridges or fly jet planes. What divides people is tradition, beliefs which condition the mind in a certain way.” ~Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

John helped me carry a treadmill downstairs into the basement. It was a beast, a one-step-at-a-time affair. After the job was done we fell into a conversation about how baffling we find our divided nation. He confided that, of late, he’s completely unplugged from the news. “I’m happier, less anxious,” he said, though somewhat conflicted about his decision.

I told John about my dear friend whose strategy for navigating the division and the noise was to read only The Wall Street Journal. It aligns with his conservative values and provides the business and financial news that he enjoys. For his mental health and well being, he’s eschewed all other sources.

On our drive from Wisconsin to Colorado and back again, Kerri and I were amazed by the rabid roadside proclamations of belief. A bumper sticker trumpeting Extreme Right Wing, a pick up truck, weaving through traffic, flying a Confederate flag. We stopped to get gas and went into the convenience store to use the restroom. We were wearing masks which apparently was an affront to the other patrons; I literally locked myself in a stall to avoid being assaulted.

I thought all night about my conversation with John. What are our strategies for surviving the toxic noise? Note the word, “survive.” John suggested (and I agree) that the division is intentional, a strategy. “They’ve learned to monetize hate,” he said, “Both sides.” Our strategies of survival are indications of the problem. Like my dear friend, we seek a source of information – a single source – based on our belief, what we align and are comfortable with, and not based on any measure or expectation of truth.

This is not a new revelation. We’ve been talking about the problem with info-bubbles for years. John’s question, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions of what they are being told?” is, I think, exposes the root of the challenge. People have to want the truth, expect the truth, before they care enough seek it.

Questioning is the basis of education. Curiosity is what drives progress. Belief asks adherents to stop questioning. We are, apparently – at least 50% – a nation of believers. Not a question in sight. Witness the circus in Arizona, the implosion of the GOP, the restrictive voting laws sweeping our nation, the undying support of a lie that undermines the pillars of our democracy. Belief without question is a toxic soup.

It’s become a metaphor that is easy to grasp: the Kansas billboard read, “Don’t Let Pigweed Creep Back.” A warning to vigilant farmers, pigweed strangles crops. It is toxic to farm animals. To keep the fields and the farm prosperous, a farmer must wage a consistent and conscious battle to keep the invasive weed from overrunning their fields. Our nation is no different than the farmer’s field. We are overrun with pigweed. It seems our information sorting mechanisms are out of whack. We no longer know – or care – to sort out what is edible and what is toxic.

We eat the weed and ignore the vegetable. John’s question is more and more relevant, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions about what they are being fed?”

Belief without question. Conditioned minds. Mental farms overrun by pigweed.

read Kerri’s blog post about PIGWEED

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

Turn Around And Look [on KS Friday]

When we were at the other end of life, Roger and I often discussed the “bodies” of artists’ work. The overview of their lifetime of work and what it revealed. We speculated about what our bodies of work might someday reveal. He is, and always has been, singular, a director of plays, certain of his path. His body of work would be – and has become – the plays he’s directed and the actors that he’s instructed. It’s an impressive body of work. I am, as Horatio calls me, a polymath. My body of work has never been certain. As Roger knew with clarity the destination of his path, I knew with curiosity that I would be a wanderer. The path was and continues to be my destination.

In other words, I’m all over the map. It’s visible in my paintings. I dare anyone to make linear sense of my resume.

Tom Mck hired me because, in his words, I was a “Johnny Appleseed.” When he was old, he told me that he turned me loose in the schools to see what I’d stir up and also what I’d plant. It was one of my favorite “jobs” because it came without a description. I followed the fires. I found the need. I brought art and stories to hearts and minds grown arid from the pursuit of dusty answers.

Tom was a brilliant theatre artist and teacher. His body of work was immense. I was surprised, at the end of his life, when he told me that he rarely thought of the plays he’d directed. He believed his best work, the work that he most loved and defined him – his real body of work – was at the very beginning of his teaching career. He was assigned a 2nd grade class and had no idea what to do with them. So, his curriculum was to invent stories with them. They traveled the world as pirates, went on safari, designed and priced supply lists and mapped routes. Math and history and geography. For weeks they prepared for a day of being blind. What would they need to do to spend an entire day safely learning what it was to be without sight? Curiosity and discovery. Empathy. Inner and outer worlds. He ignited and followed their imaginations. Tom was a polymath, too. He was a Johnny Appleseed.

Today marks Kerri and my 156th week of consecutive posts. 3 years, 5 days a week. My wife is a poet and composer and pianist and teacher and singer/songwriter and recording artist and business owner and photographer and designer. A polymath. After breakfast each morning, we write. It occurred to me recently that my body of work, when all is said and done, will be my posts. I’ve directed many plays, performed many plays, written some really bad plays and a few good ones, consulted with corporations, performed stories at conferences and with symphonies, painted and shown paintings, written children’s books, taught and facilitated workshops and dug ditches and delivered warm bread to grocery stores. I started an experiential learning school, a diversity and inclusion training company, and coached people from all over the world. All of my wandering has provided a rich field of experiences to pull from, to ponder and reflect.

Sometimes (more times than I care to count) I ask myself, “How did I get here?” These days, in the pandemic era, I have plenty of time to look back on my road, on my body of work. “How” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. ‘How do we do it?” tops my list of most useless questions. How did I get here? What is my body of work? I turn around and look where I’ve traveled, where I’m from, and write myself into coherence.

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s post about WHERE I’M FROM

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Love The Journey [on KS Friday]

tpotj song box copy

This morning, sitting on the steps off the back deck, sipping coffee, DogDog sniffing around the yard, I watched the eagles fly across the bay, dodging seagulls protecting their brood. I fell into one of those moments, those precious few moments, of profound appreciation for my life. This part of my journey is surprising and as orienting as it is disorienting. Both/and.

I like to travel precisely because it throws me off center. Even the simplest things require attention. Which side of the road am I supposed to drive on? Oh my god, where is the corkscrew? What did I just order (I couldn’t even pronounce it)? Once, in a barter culture, I failed miserably because I bartered myself to a higher price. The merchant and I laughed until we cried and then he patted me on the back and only accepted half of my money. Laughter was my coin. That part of my journey changed the trajectory of my life entirely.

Read the order of the tracks on Kerri’s album, THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY, and you notice that the final two titles on the album are This Part Of The Journey followed by The Way Home. She is hyper-intentional so I believe she did that on purpose. Sitting on the deck this morning, I knew without doubt that this part of the journey, no matter how complicated or lost-feeling or unnerving or uncomfortable…or peaceful, is a great gift. It is a step on the way home. And, it will someday make for the best stories, perhaps the best part of my story.

THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY sparkles like the sun on the lake. It is as abundant as DogDog’s curiosity on his discovery trip around the yard. It is as full of laughter as a merchant in Bali who, to this day, tells the story of the tourist who had no idea what he was doing.

THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

not our best morning minturn website box copy

 

this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Listen To The Whisper [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

blessed are the curious copy

this image comes from my niece Hannah, a great adventurer and inspiration.

One of the mantras – I called them caveats at the time – that I hammered into clients when I was young and foolish, was this: have the experience first, make meaning of the experience second. It is the natural order of things. It is, after all, how the brain works. Stimulus first. Then comes the meaning-making.

Curiosity is at the epicenter of every hobby. It is what makes us look at hills and walk toward them. It is the driver of scientists and artists alike. What if…? It need not be grand or earth shattering. In fact, curiosity most often leans in and gently whispers.

Adult-people routinely do themselves a great disservice  by making meaning of an experience before they actually have it. It’s going to be hard, bad, no good, dirty rotten, obstacle-laden, shame-ridden, horror inspiring,…or the worst pre-determination of them all: same-old-same-old. Just another day like any other.

So much armor against experience.

Human beings are hard wired for curiosity. What happens to put a crimp in so much good wiring? Why is it so difficult to open to possibilities? To allow that each day of life is not prescribed but is actually filled with unknowns.

The unknowns are the things we sometimes call ‘play.’  I have great faith in people’s desire to play. Inside all of that heavy armor lives the original impulse, curiosity, and it only takes a small reach beyond the protection to touch play. From play, it is a short hop to full-fledged adventure.

Blessed are the curious. Yes. A secret to “how?” The armor comes off – always – with these powerful magic words: “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BLESSED ARE THE CURIOUS

 

archeswebsitead copy

 

 

 

Realize And Reach [on Merely A Thought Monday]

it's in the stars copy

A beautiful thing happened ages ago when human beings, gazing at the night sky, recognized patterns in the myriad of blinky bright stars. The recognition was so profound that it lit a roaring fire in their curiosity. It propelled them to do what human beings do. They studied the patterns. They mapped them. They philosophized about them. They storied them. They argued about them. They created models. They claimed them and named them. They projected onto them their thirst for meaning and order, their need for reassurance in a greater design. If there is pattern and predictability in the stars then there must be pattern and predictability in the arc of a human life! They navigated their ships and their days according to their relationship with the stars.

During my life in Los Angeles, for a few eye-opening months, I volunteered at a school. The students at the school risked their lives everyday to attend. They had to cross rival gang territory. In some cases, the students had to literally check their guns at the door before entering the building. Some of the faculty, in an attempt to help the students dream of a better future, used the phrase, “Reach for the stars.” One day, watching a class, I recognized that the students had a limited capacity to relate to the phrase because they’d never seen the night sky. In their experience, the meager few stars that they could see through the light and haze of the Los Angeles sky were less than inspiring. The staff took the students to a place where they could see the stars. The shock and awe of standing beneath the unobliterated night sky was profound. It reoriented them to a universe of possibilities more vast than the tiny gritty city that had always before seemed so large and given them context.

It is possible to reach for vast visions when you recognize how tiny you really are.

In a moment of uncertainty and confusion, 20 told us not to fret because the opportunities unfolding before us were in the stars. In the stars. Safe. There was pattern and predictability. Things were lining up and all we need do was play our part. These things were meant to be. Kerri and I held hands and stared, like our ancestors, into the myriad of blinky bright stars, feeling very very small. “Do you think 20 is right?” she asked.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about STARS

 

moon website box copy

 

 

Drink It In [on DR Thursday]

I wrote to Master Miller. He is one of my favorite artist confidantes. I told him that I was in a dry spell and so I was taking advantage of my artistic empty well by playing with sketches and revisiting old themes. Drawing memories.

He was (as always) enthusiastic. He regularly bubbles with love of art and artists. He often sends me photos of his young son painting. They have become a source of great joy and inspiration for me. Curiosity and freedom. A father and son, both artists, at play.

I remember a spring day in Colorado. A mountain trail. It was hot and then the afternoon rains came. A short burst, a downpour. There was nothing to be done but turn and face it, open and drink it in.

facetherain morsel

a close up

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FACE THE RAIN

 

vailKdotDdot website box copy

 

face the rain ©️ 2019 david robinson