Disagree [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Months later, she* is still angry with me. I asked her to “stop blowing me off.”

Some things need to be discussed and necessarily require entertaining differing points of view. Finding middle ground or considering alternate possibilities requires hearing what others have to say – and giving others the courtesy of hearing what you have to say. Her standard phrase of choice, when faced with an opinion or idea not her own, is this: “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

No. I don’t agree to disagree. Especially at the onset of a dialogue. I want to talk about it. I want to hear what you have to say and more importantly why you hold your point of view. I won’t agree to not hearing or being heard.

Opposing points of view, differing opinions, need not be conflicting. They can be highly generative. Mind opening. Thought provoking. “I’ve never thought of that,” is an expression that results when considering a different point of view. In ideal, our nation is based on the notion of two opposing points-of-view extending to each other the courtesy of listening and considering possibilities not yet seen. Yep. And, we are witness to what happens when one side (or the other) rejects the basic premise. Dismissiveness is the strategy of an empty suit.

Why assume conflict?

She followed “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree,” with the real statement, her actual aim: “You do what you want. I’m going to do what I’ve always done and follow my plan.” In other words, she had no intention of hearing anything that did not support her plan. Why, then, I wondered, did she invite conversation?

When the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. When the only door you have is a closed door, then every knock sounds like an intruder.

I laughed aloud when I read Bill Murphy’s article in Inc. Magazine about his pet-peeve phrase: “Look, I get it.” He writes, ‘”Look, I get it,'” is almost always inherently untrue…Even worse for our purposes, it’s woefully ineffective.”

It’s dismissive. Just as is “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.” The agreement she wanted was for me to agree to be dismissed. An agreement of silence. Why would I – or anyone – agree to that?

[* “She” is not Kerri. We hold each other in high esteem. It’s why the sign in our kitchen reads, “You are my favorite pain-in-the-ass.” We welcome our differing perspectives. Neither one of us dismisses the other nor tolerates being dismissed.]

read Kerri’s blog post about “LOOK, I GET IT.”

Sing, “EEE-AAAWWW!” [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Drive across the country with Kerri and one thing is certain to happen: the moment she sees a donkey, she bursts into a rousing chorus of “EEE-AAAWW-EEE-AAAWWW!” She loves donkeys. She wants one. Or two. “They’re like big dogs,” she assures me. I have my doubts but I confess to picking up her quirk. Now, if I spot a donkey before she does, I point and launch a festive “EEE-AAAWW!”

Bill and Linda have two donkeys. We arrived after dark so had to wait until morning to go to the barn for a donkey-confab. She wiggled all night with excitement. “Smack-dab material,” I thought. I’ll be drawing cartoon donkeys soon. I can’t wait to figure out how to make the Kerri-cartoon character wiggle in anticipation.

Linda knows of Kerri’s donkey-love so she had donkey treats ready. I stood back and watched. “This is my future,” I thought. “Can I have another?” Kerri asked and Linda smiled, handing over the plastic container of orange donkey-cookies. Those lucky donkeys hit the cookie lotto.

Donkey cookies. Who knew! There’s more amazing wonders in this world than any of us can comprehend. Stand outside of anyone’s world, peer in at their passions, and you’ll have to try hard not to drop your jaw in fascination. From inside their world, the quirk seems boringly normal. I try to remember that when people stand agog at something in my world that seems normal-to-boring. “What’s the big deal,” I think.

People are great at reducing the magic in their lives to seem insignificant. I’m a “people” so, like all people, am guilty of my own diminishment. Beware of the word, “normal.”

Bill and I bumped fists. We are brothers-in-quirk. While Kerri and Linda stuffed the donkeys with cookies, Bill and I talked about the-things-that-come-out-of-our-mouths that get us into trouble. We think they are obvious. Ordinary. But, the response to our commentary indicates otherwise. He just retired from a board position and, his peers, in their farewell speech, described him in two words, both beginning with the letter “o”: outspoken and opinionated. All laughed. “It’s true!” he said, “And I’m proud of that,” and added, “No one wants to be a rubber stamp.”

What a perfect summation. EEE-AAAWWW-EEE-AAAWWW. Donkey cookies! Magic-in-the-ordinary. No one wants to be a rubber stamp.

read Kerri’s blog post about DONKEYS!

Gain The Force [on KS Friday]

It seemed appropriate, in order to conclude our year of water, that we travel to visit a region of the country with 250 waterfalls. Of course, we didn’t know about the waterfalls until we arrived. Water, water everywhere. I howled with laughter and secretly affirmed that our unintentional pilgrimage to the waterfalls might appease the great WHATEVER and finally release us from water-resistance into the watercourse way.

I will someday look back at our journey to the falls and realize the extent to which we “let go.” It already serves as a marker, a breaking through the resistance and fight of the last chapter and into the next. The new chapter.

Yesterday, at work, I had the opportunity to tease apart a question en route to asking a better question. I am fortunate to have a team of collaborators that, instead of rejecting my alternate perspective outright, even amidst the frustration of my challenge of the norm, ask me to lean into it. My assignment was to return next week with a better question. I am a firm believer that the form of a question – the way that it is asked – determines the answers that are seen or – more importantly – not seen.

Better questions are like the watercourse way. They show up when, instead of swimming against the current, against “what is,” the swimmer/questioner turns and allows the current to carry them. Wu-wei. Natural action. Every creator knows the moment of frustration when trying to force something into being. More force can only produce more frustration. Or, it breaks something. The best thing to do, when force can only produce an eddy, is put down the brushes, step back, and look at what-is. Force never produces a better question. Stepping off the mountain so it becomes visible – or acknowledging the direction of the river’s flow and giving into it, always reveals new possibility.

It is what I remembered for myself at the waterfall. It made me chuckle, then, when my first moment back at work, I was doing for my team what I’ve done all my life: attempting to flip or free a perspective by lobbying for flow; acknowledge what exists-in-the-moment versus what we want to exist. The better question – for me – and others – is always found when we turn and gain the full force of the river.

[I can’t imagine a better piece of music to carry us into 2022. Give yourself a treat – truly – and listen to Riverstone]

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATERFALL

riverstone/as it is is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

riverstone/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

See The Dance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“You can only push the truth down for so long, and then it bubbles back up.” ~ Cassandra Clare

“Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul.” ~ D.H. Lawrence

Last night we made a fire in the fire pit. We decided to have a pop-up dinner by the fire so we set up our table, lit candles, poured some wine, and brought our dinner out under the stars on a chilly October night. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so we looked at the stars. We wondered if the brightest lights were planets.

There are many, many works of art from a genre in the Middle Ages known as the Dance Macabre. Dance with death. The scary images were meant to remind people of life’s fragility, its passing nature. They were also meant to point out the obvious: we are all united in our final destination. No one is better or worse than any other in the grand scheme of things, in the Dance Macabre. In the Middle Ages, the allegory was meant to suggest it was best to aim your focus at the afterlife. Do good works as an investment in your future or go to the fiery place below.

Were I to paint a series of Dance Macabre images today, my intent would be the exact opposite: aim your eyes at this moment. There is nothing more precious or wonder-full than this moment. If there is a heaven, it is now. And, it will go unnoticed if the dance is not acknowledged. There is no sadder phrase on earth than, “Same-old-same-old.”

According to some cultures, I am now in sacred space. I’m seeing all things relative to my dad’s recent passing. Sitting by the fire, our dinner complete, we talked about his death and my inability lately to invest too much emotional energy in anything. Things that would have upset me a few months ago barely register. I’m watching the usual list of anxieties and worries drop off. Why would I give an ounce of my wonder to something so…small? Perspective is the gift of the dance macabre. Clarity of sight and intention comes with this kind of perspective.

We clinked our glasses, the cold night and the heat from the fire colliding around us under the stars. DogDog slept on the deck, a few feet away. We realized our moment. Fully. Magic was alive, bubbling everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about BUBBLES

Go To The Mountains [on DR Thursday]

For Mike, it was the ocean that called. For me, it was the mountains. When Columbus passed, more than a service, more than any gathering, I needed a walk in the mountains. I needed the quiet of aspen, the smell of pine. A moment in time, time that keeps moving through the monumental and the everyday. The trees and stream were here before I was born and they will be here after I am gone. I went to the mountains for perspective.

I am working with brilliant people. We are developing something that we hope will help people. Our conversations are genuine. Our intentions are pure. And, yet, how easily do we get lost in the minutiae. How often do we spin out into abstraction. Right now I have a unique perspective on life. I am in no hurry to get anywhere. I easily let go of my end of the rope in any potential tug-of-war. Will what we create actually help others? That is like asking, “Will they like my painting?” That is not for me to decide. Mine is to paint it. All I know is that our conversations are genuine. Our intentions are pure. None of the rest really matters.

I’ve decided to put two paintings into a local show. I’ve only shown and sold online since moving to Wisconsin eight years ago. I was tired. Before I moved, I had paintings in galleries or office spaces or bars or restaurants every single day for over a decade. I was moving or mailing paintings all of the time (and my paintings are mostly large). Once, I took 15 paintings, loaded on a cart, on the light rail. I arranged for a truck that did not show up and I had to deliver the paintings that day, within a specified time-window. I wheeled 15 large paintings down the street, onto an elevator and maneuvered them onto the train. The train-police came to make sure I meant no harm. We had a nice chat and I showed them my work. We laughed heartily at my delivery method. I wheeled them off the train and through a neighborhood to the gallery. “I’ll never do that again,” I said to the train-police when I wheeled my empty cart back onto the light rail. It all seemed so necessary, important.

A specified time-window. We only have so much time. The clock is ticking. The funds may run out. Will we get there in time? Will our/my work matter? Is the message clear? What is the message? What am I willing to do and not do?

And, so, I went to the mountains for perspective.

read Kerri’s blog post about PERSPECTIVE

Chasing Bubbles © 2019 David Robinson

Miss The Point [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Kerri is a detail girl. I’m a big-picture guy and generally live at 30,000 feet. It is common for us to have conversations about diametrically opposed topics and think we are talking about the same thing. It is also common, when we have a spat and are in mid-turmoil – to realize that we are, and have been all along, in absolute agreement. We’re simply looking at the same elephant from radically different points-of-view.

It is the reason that one of the most oft-spoke phrases in our house is: Wait! What are we talking about again?

read Kerri’s blog post about YELLOW AND GREY

smack-dab. ©️ 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Sit On The Curb [on DR Thursday]

As much as our wily-ole brains would like us to believe otherwise, we can be nowhere else but in the present. Everything else is imagination.

Years ago I belonged to a support group of independent consultants. We met once a month to discuss our business challenges, insights, and to give and receive some advice. One of the members of the group was a Byron Cady coach. I have no memory of the discussion that prompted her to offer this Byron-thought-metaphor: “If your house burns down, rather than race around in panic, the best thing you can do is sit on the curb and appreciate the moment.”

To the consumer-mind, wisdom often sounds like bad advice. That you are alive, that you have this moment, means that no real possession was lost. The question is, in the face of calamity, what will you make of the moment?

Brother Joseph told the story of holding a woman wearing expensive furs, each finger was diamond encrusted, as she died on the street. He was, in the moment, overwhelmed by the worthlessness of her stuff. The illusion of value once life has gone.

Life. This moment. Calamity is certain to come. Sit on the curb and see what is there, beyond what you think is there.

We’ve had our share of adversity these past few years. I would like to report that we laughed heartily in the face of lost jobs and broken wrists and pandemic madness and civil unrest. We did not. We shook our fists at the sky. We made up words and ran loops like Chicken Little. We invested in all manner of fear-of-the-future and ran from monsters-of-the-past. None of our racing around or fist-shaking brought comfort or change.

But, the moments that we took a breath, walked a trail or sat on the back deck and listened to the cardinals and crows, sipped hot coffee on cold mornings, held hands – sat on the curb and appreciated the undeniable truth of our moment: we have everything. We have this moment – the only moment of life that we’ll ever inhabit. We have each other. The rest, the fear of future, demons of the past, are pure imagination. In those moments, wrapped in a circumstance of calamity, we laughed at the beauty of it all.

read Kerri’s blog post about LAUGH IN THE FACE OF CALAMITY

Pay Attention [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read Kerri’s blog post about UNBROKEN SNOW

Accept What You See [on Flawed Wednesday]

I had the privilege to watch the work of the great Kichom Hayashi. He was a master of the middle way, helping polarized groups find middle ground and shared purpose. I have more than once wondered what Kichom would say about our great national divide.

For someone whose life work has been steeped in the art of “seeing” and perspective flips, I find myself utterly incapable of seeing the perspective of those on the other side. In truth, it’s not that I am incapable, it’s that I believe I already see it and what I see is ugly to the bone.

I remember a heated conversation in 2016 with my dear friend who stands on the opposite side of the divide. Too emphatically I said, “You wouldn’t leave your daughter alone in the same room with this man! How could you vote for him?” To date, 26 women have accused the outgoing president of sexual assault or misconduct. I can’t NOT see that nor can I pretend that it isn’t relevant. Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, my emphatic question to my friend unearthed the crux of the matter. This man has no moral compass. This man is capable of anything.

Standing on my side of the divide, the conversation that pops up again and again is a dilemma that goes something like this: “I want to find common ground but I can’t NOT see what my family, friends, neighbors have embraced.” The list of lies is extensive and pervasive. The corruption is life-long. A scam called Trump University. Bilking donors through his foundation. A businessman, famous for stiffing the working men and women who built his projects, who has been bankrupt six times, is not the biz-wizard he pretends. The emoluments violations are breathtaking. The art of his deal is the art of the swindle and I am utterly mystified at what my loved ones standing on the other side of the crevasse do not see.

And, actually, that sheds light on my fear. I am afraid that they DO see it. That they see it and either don’t care or that they embrace what this man represents. Misogyny. White supremacy. Authoritarianism. Conspiracy theories a-go-go. Fear mongering. Hatred of others. Rob. Rape. Pillage. I can’t NOT see what I know they MUST see.

I’ve provided an excuse for myself, something to make me feel better: they don’t see because they have their heads so firmly thrust into the fox hole. The story that they are being told blinds them. They are filled with info-goop that has all the truth-merit of the National Inquirer. But, in my quiet moments, I have to admit to myself that they must want to eat that bile. Who would choke down so much hatred unless, to them, it tastes good.

I rolled my eyes when my sister repeated the inanity, “There are more COVID cases because they are doing more testing!” I hung up the phone and shouted to the sky, “She can’t be that stupid!” She’s not stupid. She’s caring and loving and works hard in her community to make a better world. So what is it that she doesn’t see? Or doesn’t want to see?

On the other side of the crevasse I hear fear cries of “SOCIALISM” and, again, I roll my eyes. In a nation in which the top 1% holds and controls more of the wealth than the entire middle class, you’ll have to forgive my loud guffaw. “They can’t be that stupid!” I shout from the back deck. They either do not know what socialism is or they cannot SEE what is right in front of them. Or, they don’t care to see it. The slop that they are being fed must taste good. It must feed something inside of them. It certainly profits those who are feeding it to them.

Them. They. It is too easy to fact check what we are being fed. It only takes a moment to investigate media bias. What is it that THEY do not want to SEE?

And, most alarming to me, this is what I SEE: it is not just a difference of opinion that divides us. A difference of opinion orbits a common center of ethical understanding, of moral agreement. Kichom Hayashi could bring seemingly irreconcilable differences to a middle way because he knew the center, the moral compass, was shared.

To my friends and loved-ones, to those that have lined up behind a pathological lie, a gaping virtue-void, I can’t UNSEE it. I can’t justify or pretend there is any merit to the empty center, the grotesque morass of what you embrace. I would never leave my daughter alone in a room with a rapist. I wonder why you would.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNSEEING IT

Touch Nature [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ― John Muir

Since we’ve exhausted every mountain climbing documentary ever made, we now end our days walking an epic trail. We’ve done some serious time on the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Continental Divide Trail and, lately, our imaginary feet have, through the magic of hiker movies, walked every inch of the John Muir Trail.

In addition to our actual walks everyday, our end of evening film walks serve as our escape. It’s how we cope. Because my pals routinely tell me that they, like us, are exhausted or anxious or chronically unfocused, I’ve started the practice of asking them how they mentally get away amid the age of pandemic, social unrest, natural disaster, and pathological lie. My question is always met with a look (or sound) of surprise. Some read. Some play music. Some exercise. Some unplug from news and technology. All seek some time out-of-doors.

Mental get-a-way.

Hands in the dirt, feet on the path. The changing sky, getting caught in the rain or facing the sun, the smell of falling leaves or pine, those damn mosquitoes, cicada chorus, a hawk visitation…perspective givers, all.

Much of the madness chasing us through our days is nothing more than the horror story we unleash in our minds. Human beings are wildly creative and for proof look no further than the fear tales daily yammering through your thought. Amidst the presence of an actual pandemic, the imagination can let loose a full gallery of monsters.

We have legitimate monsters running rampant in our world. We also have imaginary monsters running roughshod in our brains. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Fortunately, there is a test that helps differentiate between them: the legitimate monsters, as a people (as human beings) we will always turn toward and face. The pandemic. Climate change. Injustice. The imaginary monsters we either run from or work hard to magnify. Ignore or amplify. Why is it that human beings argue so ardently for their fears?

The folks that deny the legitimate monsters have confused the legitimate monsters with the illusory. They believe the yuck that runs around in their minds is real. In order to validate the inner yuck requires an all out suppression of the actual threats like viruses, a warming globe, systemic racism. Conversely, dealing with the real challenges leaves no space for fantasy monsters like deep states and wild-hairy-democrats-drinking blood in under ground tunnels. That’s my theory.

A walk in the woods famously clears the mind of made-up-monsters. All of our devices and politics and power games seem silly when standing among the redwoods or on a beach with infinity breaking like waves and rushing the sand to meet your toes. There’s nothing like The Milky Way to make all those inner monsters seem trivial.

There’s nothing like cresting a mountain to affirm that we are – if nothing else – united in our smallness and passing lifetimes. It is only in our minds that we are possibly bigger than the mountain or more important than the seas.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE TRAIL