Watch Your Mouth [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

My mouth gets me into trouble. It has all of my life. Once, I told an artistic director – the theatre company was in trouble – that we could build our sets with little or no budget if they were cleverly designed. She said, “Great. You’re hired Mr. Designer.” She threw down the gauntlet. I designed a season of plays that cost nary a penny. Once a scavenger, always a scavenger.

My mouth gets me in trouble with Kerri almost every day. That’s how, over time, my mouth came to be an independent character, a persona separate from the rest of me. “Did your mouth just say that?” she asks. “My mouth said it, but I didn’t mean it,” I reply.

I have to constantly watch my mouth. It has a mind of its own and will take every opportunity to put my foot in it.

read Kerri’s blog post about my MOUTH

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

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

Enter The Sanctuary [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This is an image of sanctuary. The back yard of dear friends, time spent together, taking precautions to be safe in a time of pandemic.

There’s more than one compromised immune system represented in this photograph. It is why we continue to meet outdoors. It is why, until we were vaccinated, we were careful to keep distance between us. How odd to honor the love of dear friends by inserting space between us. Our flip flops and sandals are stand-ins for a group selfie.

When our postal carrier came to the door to deliver a certified letter, she groused about the process for capturing the required signature, “We have to do this because of COVID,” she sneered, “even though there is no COVID.” We’ve learned not to push back on ignore-ance. I was reading about Brazil eclipsing the the over 500,000 deaths-mark when the doorbell rang. Kerri signed for the letter. She closed the door and we simply stared at each other. No words.

I delight in this photograph because, to me, it is slightly disorienting. If you had to guess which direction the photo was taken, you’d most likely guess blue. You’d be wrong. Perspective is just that – perspective. From my perspective, the photograph is upside-down. The photographer wears black flip flops.

We constantly locate ourselves in our stories. The location we choose is not passive or general. It is unique, dynamic. It gives us a point of view but does not afford us a lock on truth. Learning to question your unique perspective, to challenge your story-as-central, is an important growth step. It is maturation. Learning to question what you are told is an invaluable skill to develop.

As a lover of story, as a student of perspective, I am fascinated by the story-war raging in my nation. Politicians drape themselves in the flag, defending a violent insurrection on democracy, while demonizing and fearmongering BLM. Propaganda, hate-mongering and conspiracy theory is run amok and fueled by entertainment posing as news. Voter suppression laws, gerrymandering, stuffing the courts, all in the name of…what? The story of division. The dedicated maintenance of a half-story. A national story increasingly exposed as redacted. Why should a democracy work so hard to prevent a portion of its population from voting? To prevent its full history from being told? As we ask in the coaching world, “What’s underneath?”

Nations, like people, cannot grow until they look at the whole of their story, until all perspectives are voiced.

I’ve wandered back into the world of entrepreneurs and business. Each day I read or am shown the data on teamwork or the power of collaboration. The software-as-a-service world is dedicated to facilitating better communication, efficiency in sharing and collaborating, crossing disjointed platforms, and reaching into clouds where all are stronger as one than when in silos. I’m finding it intensely hopeful. Progress is calling us together. The economy is global as is the pandemic. We are in this together.

No one is healthy if all are not healthy. It’s the rule of the backyard, the honoring of dedicated friendship. My job is to protect you and yours is to protect me. It’s the story of the sandals and flip flops, the image of sanctuary, and, if not the yearning of this nation, it is the reality of this interconnected world.

read Kerri’s blog post about SANDALS

Ask The Gorilla [on DR Thursday]

I’m not the first person to use a gorilla as the teacher in a story. This gorilla, in this story, is teaching the little girl the difference between playing-to-win and playing-to-become-a-better-player. The story begins when the girl asks the gorilla, “Do you want to play?” and the gorilla responds, “Well, it depends. What do you mean by ‘play’?”

It’s not a flippant question. It speaks directly to the “why” of what you do. The reason. Simon Sinek put this question at the center of his golden circle. James Carse wrote his philosophical masterpiece, Finite and Infinite Games, about this simple distinction.

Yesterday I had a conversation about success. A conversation about the difference between internal and external motivation. External motivators, like winning-as-your-why, are necessarily grounded in fear. What if you lose? Who are you if you fail? Winning at all cost will eventually lead to quagmires not unlike where the Republican party now finds itself. Obstruct. Lie. Gerrymander. Fix the vote. Fix the game. Any and all deeper value or ethic is sacrificed. There is always a cost when the “why” is as superficial as “to win.” The body seizes-up, loses its freedom of movement when fear of losing is the central driver of action. The nation-body, too.

The path to mastery cannot run through a win-lose “why.” Failure is an essential on a master’s path. Throw many pots, the metaphor from Art & Fear, is a mantra not only for artistic freedom, but for honing skills. Getting better and better at playing. See what happens. Playing to play, to become a better player, transcends and finally removes the word ‘failure.’ The body gains more and more freedom of movement when every action is a learning experience.

I wrote and illustrated this book back in my dark ages when I was facilitating diversity and inclusion trainings. Some companies hired us because they feared being sued. They feared losing money and had no real interest in diversity, inclusion, equality, fair play, betterment for their employees. They feared losing their privilege. Diversity initiatives ask that we stop rigging the game.

Other companies hired us because they truly desired to address the inequities in their organization. They wanted to step into their blind spots and see. They wanted to become better and better players in their communities. Early on we learned to distinguish between the fear-clients and those that were sincere. We became better players by choosing to work with organizations that were honest and sincere about their “why.” Players of infinite games.

I never attempted to publish Play-to-Play, my little illustrated meditation. Over the years I’ve given away some of the illustrations. It is one of the many stones I’ve stacked, pots I’ve thrown, the many projects and paintings that are literally stacked in my studio. It seems more relevant now than ever before. Yesterday, looking again at the illustrations, I told Kerri, “I should draw this again. I’m better now.”

She asked, “Why?”

I said, “Exactly.”

read Kerri’s blog post about STACKING STONES

play to play ©️ 2005 david robinson

Make Good Mistakes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

At the front desk, we answered a long series of questions about our recent health, had our temperatures scanned and recorded. A ritual of the COVID era. Name tags rolled from a printer and, with masks on, the door clicked open and we entered the memory care facility. It was the first time visiting my dad in his new home.

We found him in his room, number 110. His bed was sharply made, something he’d done all his life. He was sitting in a cranberry colored easy chair and was, in his mind, tending the store. He breathed an audible sigh of relief when we came in. “Finally!” he said, “I’ve been watching the store all day and haven’t had a single customer.”

I learned long ago to jump into his reality rather than try and pull him into mine so we talked about his business. He was especially excited about the television and radio spots promoting the shop. He pointed to the door to the bathroom and told us it was the library and confessed that he’d started to organize it but had been interrupted so it was a fantastic mess. He laughed and the old sparkle, for a moment, returned to his eyes.

I told him I was really good at making messes. He leaned in, adjusted his oxygen tube, and spoke a lovely wisdom, a lesson from the very old that, in my opinion, should be taught to the very young, “I can make as good a mistake as anybody.” We laughed.

He was always a good teacher. Making good mistakes was, and still is, even deep in his dementia journey, the epicenter of his good teaching. Make mistakes freely and learn from what you find in the mess. Remove failure from the equation.

He walked us to the door when it was time to go, and, for a moment, he knew who we were. He looked at Kerri and said of me, “I’m sorry you have to look at that all the time. Damn, is he ugly.” In my clan, to tease is to love. “I get my looks from my father,” I replied. More sparkle.

“Keep making those mistakes,” I said, hugging him goodbye.

“I don’t think I can avoid it,” he smiled and, he turned down the hall. “Guess it’s time to close up the shop.”

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MISTAKES

Answer The Call [on DR Thursday]

Eve copy 2This painting makes me laugh. It is an inside joke [in my exclusive club of one], a mash-up between Newton’s apple and the variety enjoyed by Eve. The apple, in both stories, is a symbol for knowledge – or, better, that most human of characteristics: curiosity.

Curiosity is piqued when forbidden. Isn’t that the point of Pandora’s box or Eve’s apple? That piece of symbolic fruit is better understood in a greater illustrative context (making it, therefore, useful): in the story, there are two trees in the allegorical garden, 1) a tree of knowledge and 2) a tree of everlasting life. To “know” requires separation. Eat of this apple and you will forever discern between this and that. With this apple comes self-knowledge. You will “know” rather than simply “be.” You will, in your separation from your Self, spend the rest of your days attempting to get back into the garden to eat from the other tree (unity, wholeness, no-separation,…purpose, meaning, etc.). It’s a parabolic life cycle. Don’t bite that apple, I dare you.

The other apple-of-legend knocked some insight into Newton. “And, why did that apple fall straight to the ground?” Newton asked himself. His answer: universal gravitation! Every body in the universe is attracted to every other body with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them [my comprehension and advanced math stopped at the word “force” so the rest of the law is yours to sense-make]. This apple was most welcome!

In both cases, I imagined, seated in front of my easel, that both the symbolic Eve and the actual Sir Isaac, in their respective apple moments, looked to the sky and uttered, “You have got to be kidding me!” And, so, curiosity calls.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EVE

 

 

 

 

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eve ©️ 2004ish david robinson

 

 

Put Down Your Straight Edge [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I just wrote a “Statement of Philosophy of Teaching.” It’s for an application to teach at a college that emphasizes experiential learning. If I had a dime for every time I championed experiential learning or used that phrase on a crowd of wooden educators, stony-faced business types, or boards-of-directors, I’d have no need to write statements of teaching philosophy. And, truly, think on it for a moment, what is the opposite?

Andy’s phrase: experience equals knowledge, knowledge equals confidence, confidence equals success. In other words, the only way to learn to ride a bike is to get on the bike and ride. There will be falls. We call that learning. And, the really great thing about getting on the bike and riding is that one day, after a few more falls and many more miles, you might compete in the Tour de France. You will be pursuing something other than your balance skills. Learning is like that.

The problem with shorthand phrases like Andy’s, although accurate on one level,  is that they describe a straight line. Life, I’ve learned from experience, has rowdy roller coaster phases that nearly fling you off the planet, awkward backward stepping to get out of wrong choices, chapters wandering lost in the forest, days spent sitting on the rock stripping off the armor before another step can be taken. Life is not lived in a straight line. Experience is a windy road. It only looks straight in the post-mortem. Knowledge gathering en route to confidence is no walk in a meadow. Andy will tell you that, too.

We make meaning out of our experiences after the fact. We have experiences first and story them second. It is why learning is circular. It is why a rich life is circular, why life lessons come around again and again.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WINDING TRAILS

 

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Plan For Surprise [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley ~Robert Burns, To A Mouse

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. It is something we keep in mind as we wade into the planning phase of our next project [well, learning first. Planning, second].

Actually, in truth, the best laid plans always go awry. Life, circumstance, is a constantly moving and changing force that generally alters all well-conceived plans. Whether we acknowledge it or not. We plan but [you might want to sit down for this next bit of revelation]: we do not control.

The plan, at best, is an abstraction that assumes a perfect circumstance and completely ignores relationship dynamics. People are fickle. Everyone has a plan and many of the plans do not line up with my plan! There is weather. There are partycrashers.  Pick pockets. Tripping stones. The budget. The children get sick. The internet portals are tapped out. The bridge fails. There is a better idea.

If everything went according to plan there would be no happy accidents. No teachable moments. Most discoveries come precisely because the plan fails. It is a rule of change that if you know where you are going, you will recreate what you already have. The plan can only pretend to bring about change. Change comes when you veer off course. Change comes from time spent in the unknown lands. Oddly, so does learning.

The only plan that makes sense? Plan for surprise. You’ll never be disappointed or frustrated because everything will go according to the plan.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on THE PLAN

 

 

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Live So Much [On Merely A Thought Monday]

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“So much life lived this week,” Heidi said to Kerri. Yes. So much.

It is, of course, true every week. Some weeks it is simply more apparent. The happenings seem bigger. A wedding. A graduation. A passing. A new job. A birth. A week of life.

Last week? A walk on the beach. Both children under the same roof; something that has not happened in years. Travel to another state. Staying present with my dad for those moments when he’d forgotten who I was. Staying present with my mom as a wave of fear washed over her. A job lost. Taking his keys and truck away. The deep gratitude of sleeping in my own bed, even for a night. So much life lived.

I have taught myself, in my waking moments, to think, “Make this day a discovery.” I have given too many weeks of my life away, too many days, too many hours, too many minutes, believing that I knew what was going to happen. Dulling myself. Blinding myself to so much life happening. ‘Discover the day’ is a much better approach than ‘Get through the day.’ The truth: none of us really know what is going to happen.

And this week?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SO MUCH LIFE LIVED.

 

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Live Into Simplicity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I am a fan of simple wisdom. Most of my mentors, the people I admire most, lived their way into simplicity. Measure twice, cut once. Know the hill you want to die on. An actor can only do one thing at a time. Write a good story backwards. Let go your technique.

I use the term ‘fools errand’ a lot because I’ve been on so many of them myself. Tilting at windmills. Trying to change the world, fighting ogres, slaying dragons. All the best stories, the simple wisdom tales, tell us that the thing we seek is with us all along and yet, we need to go looking anyway. We have to. It is the rare bird that knows who they are right out of the chute. The universal quest is always to find yourself.

Roger once told me that he went to graduate school to expedite his learning. “I can take forty years figuring it out for myself or I can go to school for three years.” It was a statement made sensible by his youth. It was a statement of arrival – of knowing – and, after a few years of living, it becomes apparent to artists and seekers alike that arrival is an illusion. Knowing is relative and ongoing. I’d love to talk to the artist he has become forty years after making that statement. My bet is that he’d laugh.  We’d laugh at the jungle of nonsense we’ve both mapped our way through.

“You can make a piece of wood short but you can’t make a piece of wood long.” You can’t force a square peg into a round hole. If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. Nothing is broken, nothing needs to be fixed. Wherever you are is called Here.

The necessary action is always clear but the story wrapped around it makes it seem complex. Simple, yes?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MAKING A PIECE OF WOOD SHORT

 

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