Learn A Thing Or Two [on KS Friday]

A decade ago I wrote and self-published a book. I called it The Seer. The see-er. A few days ago I pulled it off the shelf and began a slow-read-through. It’s a good book! I’m actually learning a few things from my younger self.

Yesterday I made a spreadsheet (I’ll never again confess to making a spreadsheet so appreciate this moment). The purpose of my spreadsheet was to build a database for Kerri of the cartoons that I’ve drawn for work. She takes my pencil drafts and digitizes them, colorizes them, and adds some quirky dynamics. They begin as mine and complete as ours. To finish my database it was necessary to open every file and look at each cartoon. They made me laugh. I’m proud of those cartoons, our work. I’m excited to share them beyond the small circle of eyes that currently see them. I know I’ve learned a few things because they are so simple.

We have a few sparse analytics on our blogs so can see when someone reads a post from the deep past. Lately, when someone reads a post from several years ago, we read it, too. “Where did that thought come from,” Kerri asked herself after rereading her long-ago-post. Often, after I dive into the archive, I want to rewrite what I read. I’m a much better writer now that I have a great editor reviewing my posts every day. The grammar police should have sent me to the gulag years ago. I am fortunate now to have a daily read through and revision with the-daughter-of-beaky-who-won’t-tolerate-improper-grammar. It’s too soon to know but I might be learning a thing or two.

We had occasion to revisit 2015. We didn’t mean to but were looking for a picture of a lanai and a pizza. It was the year we produced and performed The Lost Boy, illustrated and produced the first of Beaky’s books, we lost her a few weeks after the book release party, we were married in the fall of that year, we inadvertently created our first cartoon character, Chicken Marsala. “We’re content-creating monsters,” I said during our reminiscence. “We’ve learned a few things,” Kerri replied.

We walked to the channel. The last time we took this walk was before Covid. It seemed like a stroll into the past. A walk into a former life. So much has changed. We stopped at the waterpark to take some photographs. Children danced in the fountains. Parents smiled. Innocence at play. Elders occupied benches.

“Look at this,” she said, showing me the picture of the fountain. “I think maybe I’ve learned a thing or two.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOUNTAIN

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

good moments/this part of the journey © 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

Take One More Step [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Tom and I spent many hours on the deck of his cabin at the ranch watching sunsets. It was during those moments of waning light that he’d reminisce about his life in education and the arts. “To this day I am in awe of what many of my students taught me about perseverance.”

The teacher as student. The lesson – both ways – was tenacity in the face of monumental difficulty. Tom climbed metaphoric mountains in a system dedicated to hurling avalanches against his progress. His was an innovator’s path. He kept climbing, I learned during our sunset talks, because his students inspired him. Some achieved their mountaintop against all odds. In many cases, the mountaintop was – to other eyes – as seemingly simple as showing up for one more day. They kept climbing so he kept climbing. Showing up for each other. A feedback loop of tacit encouragement. They kept climbing because he was present on the metaphoric mountainside every day.

His students inspired him. He inspired me. An ancestry of inspiration.

I might have imagined it. The chipmunk butted in line at the bird feeder, sending the toddler cardinal fleeing to the safety of the Adirondack chair. More birds gathered while the chipmunk gorged. In a moment of chipmunk consciousness, he turned, looked at the growing assembly of hungry beaks, turned back to the feeder and, like Santa Claus, began kicking mounds of seed to the ground. Chipmunk potlatch. Bird extravaganza. Every critter had their fill.

Weeks later, while weeding the garden, Kerri called across the yard: “I think we’re growing corn.” she said. I joined her at the row of dense grasses growing beneath the bird feeder. A tender stalk, against all odds, found enough sun and water to reach through the thick resistance. Nature amazes me. The impulse to life, from chipmunk-seed-toss to corn stalk pushing through impenetrable grasses.

It brought thoughts of Tom. Seeds planted. Mountains to climb. The sunset, glowing orange and pink across his face, he’d smile, “Often the secret is nothing more or less profound than taking the next step, showing up for each other one more day.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about CORN

Let Go And Fly [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

“Learning and unlearning can only take place in the context of decision making.” ~ Russ Ackoff, On Learning and Systems That Facilitate It

I was reading this phrase in the article when Kerri showed me the Smack-Dab cartoon for this week. Uncanny. The decision to change. Unlearning who you think you are in order to learn who you might become.

There’s a lot of unlearning going on in our house.

Here’s a secret about maps: you can only draw them after the fact. “Knowing how” comes second, after “not knowing how.”

Unlearning, facing the unknown, it’s not linear or easily traced. It’s a tug-a-war between the safety of what you know and the absolute necessity of getting lost.

There’s a photograph I often think about: my uncle Al, in the last months of his life, dying from cancer, fulfilled a dream to fly on the high trapeze. In the photo, he’s released the first swing, sailing through the air, reaching for but not quite touching the second swing. The look on his face, eyes wide open, full delight, utter freedom. Elated. Fully alive in the space between.

There’s a lot of that going on in our house, too. The decision to let go and fly.

read Kerri’s blogpost about MAPS

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Stroll [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday, for some reason, I revisited days of early childhood. I played four-square in the driveway. I threw dirt clods at the site of new home construction. I raced my cars off the side of the abandoned building above Del and Dorothy’s house in the mountains; the cars tumbled and I ran to retrieve them so I might send them flying again and again. I ran home in a panic the day I learned that Nancy’s little sister had drowned in utility hole that was filled with water. It was on the route I walked to school and passing the hole filled me with trepidation, it was a dark portal, my first experience of death. I didn’t really understand it.

Late at night, Kerri and I sometimes talk about everything that has happened in the short time of our relationship. We’ve lost parents and lost careers, spiraled in a free fall of uncertainty, had surgeries and broken bones. We’ve also climbed mountains, watched sunrises and meteor showers, we hold hands when we walk, we write together every day. We dance in the kitchen. I am the sous chef to her cooking artistry.

I’m not sure if we practice paying attention to our moments or it’s something that has come naturally to us. She is rarely without her camera, noticing the smallest flower, capturing the angry sky. I hold the space and hope someday she stops apologizing for stopping again to take a photo; I love watching her discover the shapes and colors of this world. Besides, I get to see what she captures in her lens with an excited, ‘Lookit!”

Today the plumber comes. Yesterday we appealed to the company that destroyed our yard replacing the waterline to come back and strip off the top layer of soil, now filled with hardware and concrete and asphalt. Slowly, we are digging out, repairing and replacing all that was destroyed or delayed in our free fall. Our lessons seem to be about stress – or, rather – not stressing. We are having experiences, rich and varied. Some things we can control. Most, we cannot. The best we can do is hold hands and stand together in each experience. Appreciate them no matter whether they look like tragedy or comedy. We’ll make meaning of them later down the road.

The artist dances with death. The appreciation of the fragility of life. Each day I walk by that metaphoric utility hole, only now it does not fill me with trepidation. It makes me squeeze her hand and fills me with gratitude for this life, this moment, this shadow we cast together as we take our time strolling through the garden.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SHADOW

Gurgle On! [on DR Thursday]

I’m certain the first time I tried to walk I was not successful. A few stumble-steps and a return to the floor. My first attempts at speaking the English language did not receive a passing grade. As I recall (and I don’t recall), I made some gurgling sounds into which the adults surrounding me projected meaning. I’m certain they cheered and encouraged me to gurgle-on.

Learning is not a terribly difficult thing to do when 1) there’s a reason to do it, and 2) judgment, including words like “success” or “failure” are absent from the experience. Thank goodness my first art teacher treated me like an infant and, rather than critique my mess, she encouraged me to gurgle-on. Consequently, I associate my artistic impulses with fun and exploration instead of the thousand shades of rignt-and-wrong that most people are subjected to.

Recently Skip wrote and asked, “What’s the second rule?” Suspend your judgment and learn.

We just bought a mandoline. It slices and dices and chops and cuts. “The first thing we’re going to make is potato chips!” Kerri proclaimed. And, then, her brow furrowed. “What if we do it wrong?”

“We’ll learn something and make another batch.” Trial and error. Both “trial” and “error” are essential ingredients in the learning process and, since all of life is a learning process, you’d think someday we’d learn to value the “error” portion of the experience. We do ourselves a great disservice placing so much emphasis on passing the test and having the “right” answer. The essential ingredients of trial and error can’t breathe in brains fogged by so much right-and-wrong-ness.

Our first batch, like our first baby step, was a stumble. But more delicious. We stood over the pan eating our result and discussed second steps. What should we do differently next time? Less heat or more? Thinner slices or thicker? This is all I know. I love to learn, especially when food is involved and judgment is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about POTATO CHIPS!

flawed cartoon © 2016 david robinson

Jump Out Of Your Chair [on KS Friday]

If I want to think clearly – or clear my thinking – I walk. Sitting still has always been and continues to be an invitation for thought-log-jams. It was a problem when I was a student. Classrooms come with desks and an expectation that the learner will sit still. I became a master of the controlled wiggle, not because it broke the logjam but because it helped maintain my sanity. For me, sitting still is like a hair shirt with an itchy tag. Sitting still makes my IQ plummet several points. Sitting still interrupts my synapses.

Tom Mck told me that the alternative schools were populated by artists. I intimately understood his observation. Artists need to move to think. They thrive in an alternative to still-sitting.

I’ve made sure that my work throughout my adulthood included movement. Directing plays. Painting big paintings. Facilitating workshops. Even as a teacher I cleared the room of desks. This morning I saw a headline in Forbes Magazine declaring that children learn more through play than through guided instruction. It was curious to me that this was a headline. Sugata Mitra’s been shouting the news for decades. Neil Postman spent his life reading the research and advocating for what the research implied: turn little people toward a passion and get out of the way. Curiosity and desire are an unbeatable team. They will move faster than you might imagine. Move, move, move. Dance. Paint. Sing. Construct. Act. Play. They will let you know when they need you.

I’m learning the lesson again. My work places me squarely in front of a computer for hours each day. Flow. Eddy. Logjam. Wiggle. Move. Sigh, as the synapses start firing up again. Repeat. At this advanced stage of earth-time, you’d think I’d have grasped the full understanding that, for me to be effective, I have to move around. Each morning I review the previous day’s work and immediately know whether or not I found a movement/sitting-still balance.

When we stepped on the trail and entered the woods in North Carolina, my mind was chock-full-of-thought-logs. Like everyone else, I stare at the screen and lose track of time. A day can pass me by and I never leave my swivel chair. I swivel for survival. For months, I’d been swiveling and forgetting to stand up and dance my ideas. Fifteen minutes into our hike, the jam broke free. My mind cleared. I could see the subtle landscape inside and outside. I breathed a deep breath. The forest was gorgeous. My mind was spacious and flowing! I resolved, once again, yet again, to attend to the necessity of movement that keeps my mind and heart flowing. Wiggling is maintenance, merely. Swiveling is not a solution. The real game, the full flow, is only available when I jump out of my chair and move-it.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOREST

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

meander/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Decide To Learn [Flawed Wednesday]

[No image today. My technology is having a rough morning]

I spent my day yesterday thinking about lines of perception. I’ve known for a long time that where a focus is placed will largely determine the dynamic reality, the movement, that is created. For instance, a focus on opposition will always produce a chaotic, explosive pattern. The moving energy locks up, tension builds, explosion. Repeat again and again. Focus on the relationships, the spaces between, and the movement, the energy, will harmonize around a common center. The behavior of a system is visible if you know where to look.

Points. Spaces between. Analytics or Synthesis? Break it into parts or look at the whole. Is it a particle or a wave? Both/And.

Tom used to say, “Teaching is a relationship.” It’s not about the material-to-be-covered. It’s never about the test. It’s always about the spaces between. Learning, at its best, is not about coverage. It’s about incorporation. It’s about meaning made from relevant experience. Experiences made relevant.

Every action has an intention, even if the intention is to stir the pot, to see what happens.

A few blocks from our home, outside the courthouse, protestors face each other across a perceptual dividing line. The energy is locking up. Tension is building. Last year a boy, too young to legally order a beer in a bar, legally brought a big gun to a protest. His mom brought him to the protest, big gun and all. He killed two people and maimed a third just a block or two from where he now stands trial. In the year since, he has been made a symbol, a well-financed icon of those who desire a dividing line. The pressure builds, just as the system demands. We await the explosion. It will be here, a few blocks away, or elsewhere, but it is coming just as the system requires.

There’s a less understood truism when the focus is placed on the points & oppositions: the tension builds and the explosion happens again and again because no one ever learns. It’s a repetitive pattern that perhaps feels like progress but is actually an eddy. Empty movement.

The only way out of the eddy is to attend to the relationships, to turn the focus to the spaces between.

read Kerri’s blog post about DIVIDING LINES

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