See The Invisible [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Oh my gosh!” She whispered. “These remind me of my mother!” She quickly pulled her camera from her purse and, to the amazement and amused curiosity of our fellow grocery shoppers, we had a straw-plate-holder photo shoot at the end cap of aisle 9.

It is, of course, among my favorite aspects of going through life with an artist wife. Everything is a story-thread. Everything is a possible composition, an opportunity for beauty. Everything is immediate. It is utterly unpredictable when the muse will strike. And, the immediacy of capturing the moment usually draws a crowd and she is blissfully unaware of the ruckus her immediate-story-composition creates. She is a rolling storm of performance art. I am the lucky one who gets to watch both the artist and the audience.

Augusto Boal, one of the developers of the Invisible Theatre, would be most proud of the unintentional performances Kerri creates. In an everyday setting, everyday life, a performance snaps an audience into awareness, shocks them out of their dulled sensibility, an audience that has no idea that it is functioning as an audience. Many stop to watch the crazed lady snap photos of straw-plate-holders as she tells sweet stories of her mother. Many scurry for the safety of anonymity. Either way, either response, a pure theatrical event takes place.

The performer scrutinizes her many photos, completely unaware of her performance. As she places her camera back in her purse, the audience immediately disperses, hopeful not to catch the attention of the performer and somehow be called into the play. They fold themselves back into the normalcy of their day.

But, something has changed. They have a story to tell, an unusual event happened in their day. The performer has touched back to her deep story and through her photographs, plucked her heart-threads.

And I have been the happy witness to art and artistry. All are fed by these lovely, oh so common, straw plate holders displayed at the end cap of aisle 9.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRAW PLATE HOLDERS

Listen To The Lake [on KS Friday]

The sun poured in the window this morning. We sat in it. No, we basked in it, ate breakfast, sipped coffee. Simple pleasures. Endless appreciation. We reminisced about our childhood homes. Kerri recalled the layout of the den. I described the kitchen in my growing-up house. We remembered cooking smells and Formica table tops.

Our story zones expanded to include the many chapters of our lives. Multiple eras. Times that seemed as if they would never end. Times that passed too quickly. We imagined a day when we would reminisce about these times, pandemic times, both the hardships and the appreciations. For instance, in our isolation, we’ve created an end-of-the-work-day-ritual called ‘snack time.’ A glass of wine, french fries hot from the oven or a pear and cheese. Olives. We sit at the table we placed by the window, watch the day wane, and savor. I suspect snack time, borne of the pandemic, will be with us for the rest of our lives.

When in my old age I tell the story of the pandemic times, when the hardships fade in importance (as they always do), I will tell the tale of life slowed down. I will remember how limits made movement less frenetic and much more mindful. Rather than doing more, we pared down. We did less and experienced more. We placed increased importance on the simple things. In fact, we placed importance on the important things. Connecting with friends and family, not out of obligation or unconscious pattern, but out of necessity and intention.

I will talk about our walks, already central to our daily happiness, how they took on a wholly new significance. Getting out and walking became an exercise in paying attention, in absolute appreciation of the simple miracles. Affirmations of life. The magic appearance of the robins on a frigid day. The sunset bringing fire to the ice in the harbor.

I will tell the story of the day we were stopped in our tracks by the song of the ice on the lake. It sounded like whale song. I will tell the story of standing still in blistering cold, listening in utter amazement until ours eyes watered and our fingertips burned, until we looked at each other and in unison said, “Snack time!”

read Kerri’s blog post about LAKE SONG

Make Noise [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am conflicted. I wrote a version of this post and then tossed it away. I’m trying to be less argumentative in my daily writing. And then, Toni Morrison collided with Albert Einstein:

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent… This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” ~ Toni Morrison, No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear

I am an artist. Is it argumentative, is it confrontational, to write what I see? Yes. Sometimes. Once, I saw a park service truck, on a trail, quickly backing up. The driver did not see the man in the wheelchair right behind his truck. I screamed and ran and banged on the side of truck until the driver stopped, a few inches from hitting the man in the wheelchair. Sometimes it is necessary to shout and make noise.

All of my life I’ve understood the first rule of being educated, namely, to check your sources, as simple sage advice. It’s a good idea, if you are going to anchor your identity in a narrative, to make sure that your narrative-of-choice is solidly anchored in verifiable substance. Doubt and questioning, used properly, are necessary tools of an engaged mind.

Years ago, Robert Cialdini wrote, “The world abounds with cults populated by dependent people who are led by a charismatic figure.” In other words, people are easily led and – as we have recently witnessed – with disastrous results. All that people ever need do to avoid a nasty drink of purple Kool-Aid is to check their sources. In our day and age it is almost easier to check the veracity of the story-we-are-being-fed than it is to be misled. Almost. One must first desire to be fed the truth, even if the truth challenges rabidly-held belief.

Checking takes less than a minute.

Just ask the now-jailed-and-soon-to-be-tried capitol insurrectionists claiming that they were led astray by a flimflam-president-man. The Big Lie was easy to check. It remains easy to check. Yet, none cared to check it or perhaps refused to believe what they found. Checking the lie, listening to the data, would undermine the tightly held power-narrative of an entire political party. A pathological lies requires more and more effort, more and more outrageous lies, to sustain itself. It should have been easier to check the story than it was to storm the capitol.

Now I see the first rule of being educated, the necessity of checking sources to verify fact, as a dire necessity. It is the flashing red warning signal to these de-united-united-states that there is a cliff ahead. It is no longer a sweet bit of sage advice; it is a survival imperative. Respect for the line – truth or fiction – will determine whether we as a nation unite and grow or divide and collapse.

Many years ago, Robert Cialdini also wrote,“Audiences have been successfully manipulated by those who use social evidence, even when that evidence has been openly falsified.” Openly falsified. He wrote those words decades before tweets, Fox News, and the mega-amplification of all the openly falsified big lies. His words might now serve as the sad single credo of the Republican party.

It is not shocking that a political party lies. It is most shocking how little the followers of the party care to check the sources of the enraged hype it daily swallows like so much anger-candy. Dependent people. Easily led. Believe wholeheartedly. Ever expanding lie. No facts necessary. It is far beyond Einstein’s observation of people doing nothing in the face of evil; our nation is in peril because the evil we face is an openly falsified narrative. So many of our people, so many of our leaders, know it is a lie, feed the division, and actively look the other way.

read Kerri’s blog post about DOING NOTHING

Breathe and Make Choices [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James

A note from the Rejuvenation Fairy: the relief we seek may depend upon the phrase we choose. For instance, consider this phrase: coping mechanisms. What ease might become available if we viewed ourselves as something other than machines? Turn this dial. Adjust this screw. Add a little oil. Check the battery. Do this, then that will happen. Turn down the pressure gauge. Talk to others. Take a break. Cause and effect.

Breathe. Sentient beings are much more complex and subtle than apparatus made from iron and steel.

We story ourselves. For reasons no one will ever fully comprehend, we sort to the tragic. We imagine the worst. Ask any good storyteller and they will confirm that conflict is the driver. Yearnings meet obstacles and stories ensue. Everyone, without exception, is telling themselves a story. Everyone, without exception, is starring in their own movie, complete with impossible mountains to climb, monsters to face, dreams that remain just out of reach. Robert Sapolsky has it right: zebras don’t hold onto their tale of stress while human beings are reticent to let it go. We like to tell it again and again and again.

If we cast ourselves as victims in our movie, our stories will be filled with ogres to blame. If we reduce ourselves to the mechanical, our stories will be endless attempts at fixing what’s broken, looking for the right hose to replace. How to recharge the battery. The fortunate few recognize that their movie might be a story of choice. Choices made within given circumstances. The storm, like time, passes. How do we stand in it?

There’s little doubt that we are living in stressful times. There’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to turn up those mechanical pressure gauges. Add another notch or two of pressure with extreme national ideological division, cowards at the switches of government, mix in some economic stress…there are plenty of choices on the angst-menu. All are visceral. All are circumstances to the story we choose to tell, the story I choose to tell.

I came across a few universal coping strategies. Eat healthy. Exercise. Give yourself a break. Get plenty of sleep. Talk to others. Recognize when you need help and ask for it. I wondered why these good choices are reserved for times of stress. Why not give yourself a break as an everyday expectation. Talk to others. Eat healthy. Weave a calm center it into the fibers of daily life. Make choices. Especially in the story you tell yourself about yourself. The thought upon which you choose to fixate, to play over and over again in your movie-mind.

When Kerri and I fall off the pony and run around like our hair is on fire, we make chicken soup. I am the sous chef. She is the master mind. The recipe comes from her mother so the making of the soup is more than food prep, it’s a love-touch to her anchor. We touch love. And, of course, defying the advice of experts to avoid alcohol, we enjoy a glass of red wine. We choose the glasses: Jamie’s? Or Skip’s? Or Joan’s? For our wedding, we were gifted with many special wine glasses from many special people. Recently, Jay and Carol and Rob sent us wine. When we clink our glasses, we touch the depth of our support and reach of our friendships. We call 20 and laugh. As the soup simmers and the wine disappears, we realize that our hair is not on fire, that, although we are not zebras, we are infinitely capable of releasing our tale of woe. We need not cope or distract. We can grasp hold of the full tale of the enormity of our lives. We need only refocus our eyes, see the depth and expanse of our story and choices, enjoy the warming soup. Appreciate the story of the wine.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHICKEN SOUP & WINE

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

Follow The Conversation [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I met Horatio on an airplane. With his wife, Teru, we were seatmates on a flight from Washington D.C. to Seattle. I’d just finished facilitating a workshop at the Smithsonian about story, he was stepping toward directing films, and Teru is passionate about writing life histories. We talked about storytelling clear across the country and our conversation continues to this day.

David and I sat next to each other at a conference. I’d only just moved to Seattle, I knew no one. I saw a sign for the conference and wandered in. It was my good fortune to pick a seat next to a brilliant visual and theatre artist. We started talking about life and art. Years later, every gallery I enter, every play I attend, I have conversations with David in my mind – and hurry home to write him or call him and share what we talked about.

To this day, MM is my greatest collaborator. We used to sit in my office and dream big dreams – and then go out and make them happen. He is the ultimate player-of-infinite-games, playing-to-play. When I need my mind opened, my pot stirred, or my obstacles surmounted, I turn to MM.

I was visiting Tom McK at his ranch. When he asked me to help him tell a story I had no idea that his simple question, the story that he needed to tell, would take more than a decade and would only be possible after his death. His story became my story to tell.

It was Tom’s story that I told to Horatio that day on the flight from D.C. to Seattle. It was multiple good conversations over many years with David about writing plays that finally brought me to clarity. MM was my constant companion. With his band, Mom’s Chili Boys, he composed the music that supported the telling of Tom’s story. He built the world of the play and then, together, we stepped into the world and fulfilled Tom’s request.

Fortuitous seat assignments on a flight. Following an impulse into a conference and taking any old seat. Playing an infinite game. One good conversation, again and again, and nothing will ever be the same.

read Kerri’s blog post about ONE GOOD CONVERSATION

Lead And Follow [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

And now, a few days beyond the solstice, we baby step our way back into the light. Yesterday on the trail, for a few moments, the sun broke through an otherwise dreary day. I was immediately heartened. The warmth went all the way to my bones. And then, it was gone.

“This will define me or I will overcome it.” Sue’s quote is a re-statement of Viktor Frankl: this experience will give meaning to me or I will give meaning to it. This morning, while pondering this quote, it occurred to me that almost every coaching/consulting relationship I ever had could be boiled down to this meaning-seeking or meaning-making distinction. Will it define me or will I define it?

In some ways – well, in all ways – it is a false choice. It is not an either/or world. Our experiences inform us and we define our experiences. The sun emerges and my spirits lift. The sun disappears and I shove my hands back into my pockets, hunch my shoulders, look at the ground. It’s a dance.

If 2020 has taught us anything it is that no one has control over their circumstances. Pandemics rage. Wrists break. Jobs vanish. Stability collapses.

We do, however, have the capacity to choose how we engage with our circumstances. We have the capacity to choose who we are within our circumstances.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point stood under the stars, shook their fists at the sky and asked, “Why?” It’s also true that I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point in their journey stopped, turned and looked back on their life, and in festival of meaning-making, connected the dots. “It all makes sense,” they whisper.

Am I the captain of my ship or am I tossed about on the seas? It’s not a useful question to ask. A better question to ask: as the captain of my ship, how am I when the seas rise and throw my boat to-and-fro? Every captain is cocky in calm waters but the real story emerges when Poseidon pitches a fit, when the waves tower over your boat.

One of my mentors told me that the trick is not to eliminate your fear. That is a fool’s errand. The exercise is to to keep your focus on where you want to sail. Choose your focus. The fear will always be there, it’s a necessary part of the gig. In a storm, fear is sometimes useful when making choices. The exercise is to know that you are making choices, the best choices given your circumstances. Just don’t make fear your focus. Don’t make fear your choice.

It’s a dance. Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. Sometimes you lose your way. Sometimes you simply stop walking and, for a few brief moments, turn your face to the sun.

read Kerri’s blog post on DEFINING

Story Your Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A difficulty is a light; an insurmountable difficulty is the sun.” ~ Paul Valery

A newsflash from Captain Obvious: this has been a very difficult year. We’ve revoked permission to ask, “What else could happen?” because, in this year, something else always happens; something else climbs on the pile of the already insurmountable mountain of difficulties.

Robert Olen Butler wrote that a story is what happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. We humans love a good story of difficulties surmounted. There is great satisfaction when Luke Skywalker finally trusts the force, when Frodo returns the ring to the lava, when the underdog wins the race. We cheer when the skinny girl punches the bully, when the peasants rise and vanquish the brutal king.

The difficulty, the obstacle, evokes character. The difficulty also reveals character. This year of difficulty has revealed much about the character – and the lack of character – of our nation. Both/And. Healthcare workers run into the fiery jaws of this dragon-virus every day. With hospitals overrun, with numbers of infections skyrocketing, many of us ignore the pleas of healthcare workers to stay put, to avoid gathering, and fly off to play at Disneyland. Both/And.

In the arc of every great story there must be a loss. The difficulty has to win-for-a-moment in order to evoke the light. The obstacle serves as the catalyst for discovery. The discovery serves as the introduction to the next obstacle. Let’s face it, a life without difficulty is flat and void of tales. It’s a cycle of life.

It is tempting, when sitting in the belly of the whale, to think that the belly is the end of the story. It never is. It is the moment to weep. Yes. It is the moment to sit still and wonder what to do. Yes. It is the moment to run around in a last ditch effort to create enough belly-havoc that the whale burps you to the surface and spits you out to face the next obstacle, the next difficulty, that will someday become the story of ‘I didn’t know I had it in me.” The moment of greatest creativity. The Hail-Mary pass.

The story of your light – of our light – and how it came into the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHTS

Unify The Story [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It is a continued irony. The fuel driving the angry wearers of red hats, those who fervently seek a bygone world with concrete truths, a simpler time awash in black-and-white thinking, have wrapped themselves in a fox-cloak that shields them from fact or data – the very thing that might deliver them to their holy land. Science, the lodestone of reason, the giver of hard truth, is the first thing they deny. Their wizard, magnified through a foxy megaphone, has magically transformed facts into threats, assaults on ham-headed belief.

And, so, we continue the dance of two competing narratives.

Science tells us the climate is changing and human activity is driving the change. Carbon emissions sits atop the list of greenhouse gases. It is a fact. Think of it this way: narrative number one: the west coast burns with record-breaking forest fires, the gulf coast is pounded by record-breaking storms because, as science tells us, the globe is warming. Narrative number two: the west coast is on fire because, as the denier expounds, the good people of California haven’t adequately raked their forests.

Repeat a lie long enough and often enough and it will become a mantra.

Hoax. Hoax. Hoax. Fake. Fake. Fake.

It is the national equivalent of an anorexic looking into a mirror and seeing someone who needs to stop eating. No amount of evidence will penetrate the disorder. It is deadly to be so deluded.

And so, we arrive at the election. A continued tale of two narratives. In the complete absence of evidence, forest-rakers, climate-change-deniers, scream across a canyon of missing evidence, “FRAUD!”

Narrative number one: all legitimate votes were counted with every possible safeguard in place making sure it was a fair election and Biden accrued the most votes (sidebar: seriously, in these times with a raging pathological liar in the president’s seat, can you imagine any state not doubling and tripling their vote checking? That is, in fact, what happened. There has never been an election with so many safeguards).

Narrative number two: “HOAX! FRAUD. FAKE. CHEAT.” The red hat team screamed their mantra even before the votes had been cast and carry on their chant even though less votes were cast for their candidate (sidebar #2: their guy also screamed “hoax, fraud, cheat” throughout the 2016 campaign until he won the electoral college and then, magically, everything was legitimate. Keep in mind that he also empaneled a commission to prove that there was FRAUD when he lost the popular vote. His panel found no evidence of voter fraud. None. Zero.)

The evidence of voter fraud in these-never-sometimes-united-un-united-states is statistically zero. That has always been true. It is true – especially true – today.

It’s a pattern and it’s more than exhausting. No amount of forest-raking will change the reality of climate change. No amount of bullying or cries that the sky is falling will change the vote count.

Ignorance is not always about a lack of education. Sometimes it is an absolute dedication to a story that has no merit. It is to build a house-of-belief on shifting sand and claim-in-the-face-of-hard-proof that it is built on solid stone.

Kerri’s been humming this song all week. Time for a cool change. Yes. It is way past time. Her humming is like a rain dance, an invocation of life-giving relief from a truth-drought.

The rain has come; the election is over. Perhaps, the earth will cool, the narratives will unify. A boy can dream.

read Kerri’s blog post about COOL CHANGE

Turn Around And Look [on Merely A Thought Monday]

A few years ago, while swimming in the world of entrepreneurs, I wrote a short book entitled The Seer. It was in many ways a process summary of the work of my life to that point. All of my work – whether in the visual arts, the theatre, diversity and intercultural facilitation, systems change, teaching…driving a bread truck, shoveling dirt…all of it, has in one way or another orbited the moon we call ‘story.’ Occasionally, I pull my little book from the shelf and read what I once knew because it seems more relevant now than when I wrote it.

For instance, the white house recently pulled the plug on all diversity training in government agencies. The reason is simple and explicitly stated: they do not like the story it tells of these-once-united-states. The story, they claim, is “anti-American.”

I structured my book around 9 Recognitions. The first is this: You do not have a problem. You have a pattern. We don’t have a problem. We have a pattern.

Our pattern, generation after generation, is the lengths we will go, the violence we will suffer, to ensure that we exclude a significant part of our story from the national telling. It is untenable to maintain a nation-story built on the ideal of equality that began with, among other things, the institution of slavery and the annihilation of native peoples. To avoid the full story guarantees a schizophrenic national persona. It perpetuates division. Ours is a pattern of adamant story avoidance.

The story works well for the white aristocracy that created it. It’s an exercise in celebrating Doctor Jekyll while denying the existence of Mr. Hyde. Those good guy settlers had to eliminate those pesky “Indians” because they stood in the way of a destiny that was manifest. What is the story as told from the Native American point of view? Or from the point of view of the black American that, to this day, everyday, navigates institutions designed to repress them? They have lived this history – this story of slavery, Jim Crow, and new forms of institutional violence. They are located in the story as the obstacle or the bad guy. The less-than-human.

Diversity training is nothing more than an attempt to tell the full story from all points of view. It is only made necessary because we have a deeply ingrained pattern of either dismissing the full story or pretending that our inequality is in the past.

We cannot become whole until we look in the mirror and reflect on the full picture. It is as ruthless as it is hopeful. It is as dark as it is bright. The path to health for any individual is to first admit that they have a dis-ease. The same is true of a nation.

In the recent actions of the white house, the response to the BLM movement, we are witnessing the latest in our pattern to severely edit our story made the more violent because diversity is percolating its way into the halls of power.

The slogans “Keep America Great” and “Make America Great” only make sense or have appeal to those committed to the Jekyll part of the story. They are the pattern. They are a rally cry to those who feel that in real equality they have something to lose. It’s an “all hands on deck” siren that will tolerate all manner of violence, ugly rhetoric, shaming, dereliction of duty, undermining of judicial integrity to avoid admitting the full story entrance into the American narrative.

The good news is that it is possible, once the full story is realized and the pattern is seen and told, to change the story. The tension is, after all, between conserving what was and progressing toward the ideal.

America may one day become great.

First, we must tire of our schizophrenia, our commitment to division and a system that works for the few. Doctor Jekyll must turn and take a good honest look at Mr. Hyde and stop pretending that the horror that follows him isn’t really there.

read Kerri’s blog post about GRRRREAT!