Outside the Box

I’ve been an avid reader all my life and I’ve found lots of good advice from fiction. Fictional stories can serve as metaphors – teaching lessons about reality.

Consider this story from Star Trek lore. While studying at Star Fleet Academy, Cadet James T. Kirk, future captain of the star ship Enterprise, took a test called The Kobayashi Maru. The purpose of the test: to confront a no-win scenario and consider how one might deal with a situation where all the choices are awful and all the choices mean losing.

Cadet Kirk did not believe in the no-win scenario. He hacked the test’s computer program so that he could save the day. Instead of disaster, the bad guys were defeated and lives were saved.

Bad: he cheated and ignored the purpose of the test. Good: he thought creatively and accomplished a positive outcome.

These days, the global pandemic we all face might seem like a no-win scenario or perhaps low-win is a better description. How should we confront the aftermath of this crisis? Will we think and act differently?

Are there any perfect scenarios? Probably not. Will we try some different actions because they already work in some places? I hope so. What will we try that is new?

Will we change to all-mail balloting for all future elections? We do that where I live and I do not miss standing in line at polling stations. I find the political debates of the past pointless and annoying because I have no interest in watching candidates trash each other. I also do not attend public campaign events because I have no need to see a candidate in person. What I do want to know is their problem-solving ideas. This type of info could easily be conveyed by TV interviews of individual candidates with one of the rules being that no candidate can mention any opponents.

What will all the restrictions on travel do to the planet’s atmosphere? Will our atmosphere be cleaner? What can we accomplish with less travel for the long term? Will we even discuss that? Will we better appreciate our natural resources and take better care of them?

How will we allocate future resources? I find it horrifying that I could lose loved ones to this disease, not because we don’t know how to treat it but because we don’t have enough medical resources to treat everyone. Yet not treating everyone was happening even before this pandemic. No insurance? Minimal or no treatment. Insurance but sky-rocketing, out-of-reach costs? Minimal or no treatment. Bankruptcy and death? So sad, too bad.

A dear friend who is also a teacher of economics recently did a superb job of explaining to me some economic basics.  Our economy used to be based on the gold standard where the value of money in circulation was equal to the amount of gold at Fort Knox. That changed and now the value of our economy is based on faith which means faith in each other. How much gold are each of us worth?

Economic difficulties may be around – and traumatic- much longer than this virus. While the national government argues over economic stimulus no one is mentioning how this will punch the national debt so high as to possibly be unsolvable. Will we struggle with poverty, starvation, and non-existent opportunities for the immediate and far future? Or will we think outside the box and try some things that might result in more positive outcomes?

If we and our faith in each other are the assets and value of our economy, how can we use those assets to benefit everyone? If actual, real money is numbers on a spreadsheet, can we do a James T. Kirk and reprogram the spreadsheet so that our resources benefit everyone? So far we have been unable and unwilling to end homelessness. So far we have been unable or unwilling to pay people a living wage. These failures cost all of us money and we ignore that because the costs are often hidden in higher bills and higher taxes.

Arguing over economic systems like capitalism or socialism is pointless. If you want more of my views on that you can read my earlier blog titled The ISM Cop-Out. I’d like the aftermath of this global emergency to be as positive as we can make it for everyone. Don’t you want the exact same thing? If not, what’s the matter with you? Will you cling to old ways that no longer work?  Or will you think outside the box and try something new that just might work better?


I was eleven years old when my life changed – forever – for the better. The Beatles came to America.

Hubby and I recently saw the movie Yesterday. The premise is that something happens and all evidence of The Beatles vanishes. Only one man remembers that they ever existed. He is a struggling musician and because he remembers their music, he begins to be wildly successful passing off their songs as his. That is as much as I will tell you about the plot of this movie but it is a delightful film and I hope, gentle readers, that you will check it out if you haven’t seen it.

The movie brought back all sorts of growing-up memories for me and I treated myself to a Beatles day. I watched A Hard Day’s Night and Help and started working my way through eight marvelous video tapes: The Beatles Anthology produced in 1996. Oh my goodness. Bliss.

I’ve got four Beatles posters displayed around my house. I’ve got their albums, both original LPs and digital versions. Their music brightly colored my childhood from February 1964 on and has provided memories and pleasure to the present day. These four people changed the world for the better. They sang about peace and love. We sure could use more of that – eight days a week.

Ringo will be eighty years old in July and Paul will be seventy-eight in June. It is heartbreaking that George and John are not still with us. Maybe in an alternate universe they still are. I’d like to see what that universe looks like and sounds like.

There’s a thought in the movie Yesterday: the world without The Beatles is a worse place. No argument here.

I recently heard an interview of actor Daniel Craig who is also from Liverpool. The interviewer suggested that Mr. Craig may be one of the most successful people from Liverpool. Mr. Craig laughed and said, with no need to mention any names, that there are definitely four people from Liverpool who are more famous.

I did not see The Beatles until the second of their Intro-to-America Ed Sullivan Show. It took less than a second for me to be hooked. They were electricity personified. Their humor and charm shone like a laser beam. Every new song was SO GOOD. Critics said that they wouldn’t last. Critics were wrong.

I think of their song This Boy sung in three-part harmony, their heads close together, three friends having fun and sharing that fun with their audience. I think of that amazing sound, unlike anything I’d heard before, created with three voices, three guitars, and a drum set. My folks listened to classical music. I think of that last live performance on the roof of Abbey Road studio. Their enjoyment of their music, despite a lot of group discord at that point in their history, was still there.

I’ve got this amazing and enormous visual and sound collage in my head of four young men, and the pictures and music and all the interactions with my own dear friends and fellow fans that The Beatles gave me. Dearest friends, you know who you are. Those four people and the wonderful songs that they sang for us: I hope that you would agree that it was and still is Fab.

A Walking List

  • None of us remember learning to walk. At least I don’t and I’ve never met anyone who does. I like to use learning to walk as a metaphor for my drawing students.  Each of us probably fell down a lot before we figured out walking and the same is true of all learning. Mistakes (falling down and getting back up) are sometimes good ways to learn.
  • There was a man-made reservoir near where I grew up. It had a three mile, paved trail around it that was open to the public. Three miles was quite a long walk for a little kid and I was pooped when we finally got home. Only later did it occur to me that my folks might have been eager for their little daughter to be pooped once in a while!
  • Walking around that reservoir, that we called a lake, is among my fondest memories. It was beautiful: snowy white and icy blue in winter, deep green and shady in spring and summer, a riot of oranges and reds and yellows in autumn. We stopped for snacks and we picked blueberries and we looked for frogs and fish. We spotted a snake once. We got lots of exercise, and my dog loved it too. He ran away once and we found him on the road to the lake.
  • In college, we took study breaks in the evening and walked or jogged around the football field. We discovered that a cloud nine is a big, puffy bag for pole jumpers to land on and we loved collapsing on it.
  • When I was a very wee girl we lived in an apartment project at the top of a long, steep hill. One winter, Dad and I and the car got stuck in the snow at the bottom of the hill along with a whole lot of other people and cars. I got very frightened and started to cry. Dad abandoned the car and carried me up the hill and home. I was amazed and impressed.
  • There’s a lovely park near where I grew up. Another special memory: walking through the park in the fall, picking up colored leaves and hunting for chestnuts.
  • I wore the wrong shoes on a trip to Paris: loafers. I wanted to look stylish – if you consider loafers at all stylish. We did all the trip planning that included lots of walking. OW. Sore feet. Dumb. On a later trip to Great Britain I wore heavy-soled sneakers and the heck with style. I had happier feet though I was still limping from a recently-healed broken ankle. (As the Scots might say, best laid plans gang aft agley.)
  • My last full time job was sometimes boring and I got sleepy. To avoid falling out of my chair with a crash I got up and walked around the building – inside in cold weather and outside in warm weather. No one seemed to care or miss me when I disappeared for a while.
  • Dog-walking is fun. My folks wouldn’t let me walk my childhood pet dog because they were afraid he and I would get in some kind of trouble. So I enjoyed my grown-up dog-walking experiences. Walking the neighbor’s dog – for a break – during my Dad’s final days on the planet preserved some of my sanity.
  • Walking around Liverpool, where the Beatles also walked gave me goosebumps. Thinking about it still does. Hubby photographed me next to an official Penny Lane sign and I photographed him next to the Strawberry Fields gate.
  • Walking around the Scottish Isle of Mull where some of my ancestors came from is almost too intense to describe. Chalk it up to  imagination but I felt a sense of belonging in a place I had never seen before.
  • Imagine the courage of people who cannot walk. I like to think that actor Christopher Reeves and Scientist Stephen Hawking stood up and started walking and then running and then maybe even flying after they passed away.
  • Life is full of the unexpected. The best you can do is walk forward and see what will happen next. Whatever it turns out to be you will most likely learn something and learning is good, so start walking.

Thank you Mr. Bach

Author Richard Bach has written an amazing collection of novels and short stories. He is probably best known for Jonathon Livingston Seagull written in 1970. Another favorite of mine is Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah written in 1977. For me, these books were not only delightful reads, the philosophy expressed in them was life-changing. For those who do not like long books – they are short! Check them out if you are curious.

Richard wrote: “Argue for your limitations and they are yours.” What does this mean? Sounds weird. I remember many a school assignment, where the assignment looked like the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. I did not even have any snow boots let alone know how to climb to 29,029 feet. “This is too hard,” I thought. “I can’t possibly get this done.”

Mount Everest is not climbed in a day. It is climbed in many steps over many days and there are lots of books written by people who did. A wonderful one is titled Facing Up, The Kid Who Climbed Everest by Bear Grylls that describes all those grueling steps.

One might wonder why anyone would want to do something that is grueling and painful. But I am not suggesting that you go climb a mountain unless you really want to. What I am suggesting is that you consider approaching a task that is new and that looks difficult with an attitude that it is possible!

Why start by arguing for your limitations – starting with the premise that: I can’t. It is too hard. Why not argue for your possibilities starting with the premise that: I can. I can figure this out. 

I remember an adult ice skating class that began with all of us clinging desperately to a railing at the edge of the rink, all of us terrified of letting go. The instructor showed us a simple way to stand and take that first step. Wonder of wonders, all of us glided across the ice and no one fell.

I remember a gigantic reading assignment and wondering how I would get it done in what seemed to be a ridiculously short time to read it. Mom suggested I check how many pages there were and divide that number by the number of days I had to read it. DUH. Suddenly that reading assignment was obviously possible.

I love horses and as a kid I wanted to draw them. I found out that drawing horses was difficult. I drew picture after picture after picture and they were all awful. I knew that something was wrong but I did not know what it was and there was no one to ask. But I wanted to draw a horse so badly that I kept drawing. One day, wonder of wonders, I did it.  Remember that kids’ story The Little Engine That Could? It was written in 1930 and taught the benefits of optimism and hard work. I think I can. I think I can. I was determined and I could.

Optimism and practice WORK! They are a recipe for success. But there is another aspect of this recipe and that is desire. No amount of practice is going to get you anywhere if you don’t want to do what you are faced with doing. If you have enough desire, what is grueling and painful becomes something to conquer and accomplish. To conquer, learn and accomplish things feels really good!

I could not be an art teacher if I did not believe that I could teach people to draw. And I’ve done it many times, giving others something fun to do that, if they choose, they can do for a lifetime.

Richard Bach spoke of that old saying: I’ll believe it when I see it. Then he turned it around: you’ll see it when you believe it.

Thank you Mr. Bach.

Channeling Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes novels are just plain fun. I’ve read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories. The famous detective is so well-liked that other authors have also written novels about his crime-solving adventures. I’d be willing to bet that most people know his famous statement to Dr. Watson: “Elementary my dear Watson!” Wanting to do a little research I typed that statement into Google and here’s what I found.

According to more than one website “Sherlock Holmes never said this line—at least, not the Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Though Holmes did say “elementary” and “my dear Watson” in books by Doyle, the world’s favorite detective never put the two together. He was actually more into saying “Exactly, my dear fellow.”

Use of the word elementary suggests that the problems Sherlock solved were simple. At least to me and possibly many others, the solutions were not at all simple. And that is because Sherlock was a walking collection of encyclopedic knowledge. An example from one story: even traveling blindfolded through London he knew where he was from the sounds, smells, and even bumps in the road.

I’m no Sherlock. I’m particularly bad at guessing who-done-it in any number of mystery stories. And I am no walking encyclopedia either. But what I do have these days is the equivalent of many encyclopedias – vast libraries – from my computer and Internet access. In the old days, research meant a trip to the local library. Now I can do that from the comfort of home.


My Dad had a colleague who was convinced that folding a piece of paper made that piece of paper weigh more. Why he thought that is unknown. Sherlock would have pulled a portable scale out of his pocket, as well as several reams of different kinds of paper and proved to that person, on the spot, that paper does not gain weight by being folded.

Another colleague of Dad’s had been so badly frightened, as a child, by an unknown animal that this person hated all animals and could see no reason for there to be any animals on the planet. Channeling Sherlock, I would have like to ask this person if they ate meat. And if he/she were vegetarian, I would have liked to ask if this person was aware of the importance of bees pollinating a variety of the crops we eat.

I live in a high desert climate. Growing grass here is difficult. A neighbor once complained about his watering bills and how much work he had to put in to keep his lawn healthy. I suggested he consider xeriscaping. In his knowledge base, xeriscaping meant removing all plants and replacing them with rocks. Some research would have proved him incorrect because the term means landscaping with drought-resistant plants that require minimal water. My home landscape is xeriscaped and it is stuffed with plants.

But this neighbor wasn’t interested in factual knowledge. He said that without grass – specifically grass – we would not be able to breathe. At that point I knew that mentioning people who live in desert climates in various places around  the world would be a waste of my time. Clearly he was going to cling to this misinformation like a drowning man swimming frantically to a life preserver.

Locally, our city has just instituted permanent watering restrictions for garden watering. Of course there’s been a chorus of annoyed people who don’t want to  adhere to that and who don’t believe, despite overwhelming factual evidence, that we have got to conserve water in this climate. One writer to the local paper had the times when she could water exactly the opposite of what the new rule states. Another writer, possibly a relative of my former neighbor, thinks the city will look awful because we will not have anything green growing here.

I too wrote a letter to the local paper correcting these misconceptions – with facts – all of which could have been self-corrected by the people who did not know what they were taking about. The solution: a little bit of easily-conducted research.

I’d like to start a club called The Sherlock Club: our purpose is to see if what we think we know is correct or to learn something new that we don’t know. The only requirement for being a member is to do a little research. Gentle readers, will you join?

Distinctive Voices

Art Garfunkel still has a marvelous voice. He is seventy-eight years old and still performing. He warned us that the altitude here might make him fumble a few notes. He sounded awesome. Lots of musicians have trouble with Colorado’s altitude. Consummate professionals, they avail themselves of provided supplemental oxygen and the show goes on.

About Mr. Garfunkel, I can only say WOW. He lost his voice for slightly more than five years – a paralyzed vocal chord. But he worked at it and his voice slowly returned – to the benefit of his audiences. He puts on an outstanding show in which he not only sings, but tells stories and reads from his book: what is it all but luminous, notes from an underground man. The book is well worth a look; it is almost entirely his own poetry and stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Cool stuff. And besides his solo career, he and Paul Simon have performed many times together since their breakup decades ago. Wish I’d been somewhere that I could have heard them again.

Way back when Simon and Garfunkel were new, a dear friend and I went to see them in concert. One of our dads drove us to the nearby town where they performed and the other dad picked us up. Thank you dads. S and G sounds are a part of my life story just as Beatles music is.

One of the tidbits in Mr. Garfunkel’s book: he says that George Harrison once said to him “Your Paul is to you exactly as my Paul is to me.” Ah the various meanings that could have. Fascinating.

It is interesting how some voices become so ingrained in your brain that they are recognizable anywhere. I’d recognize many rock singers (The Beatles, of course, Dylan, Barry Manilow, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, Mick Jagger) without any trouble. I was shopping once in a store playing rock and roll music on their sound system and suddenly, there was George Harrison singing a song that I’d never heard. Drove my crazy for a long time wondering how I could find out more about it. Turns out it’s a tune from George’s brief time with the group The Traveling Wiburys. Besides George, there’s a few distinctive voices in that group too.

I used to be puzzled by some people when they called on the telephone. They would say “Hi!” and start right in talking and I’d have to confess that sometimes I didn’t have a clue who they were and I’d have to play along until some hint of who called me was conveyed by what they were saying. Once I did this and finally had to ask the person, “Excuse me but who are you?” Turns out it was a wrong number. Oops.

I still remember the first time I heard my own recorded voice. We don’t sound like we sound in our heads. I was stunned at hearing my voice. That’s me?

Sounds: voices and music are marvelous things, embedded in each of our lives, from annoying ear worms to amazing symphonies. Gentle readers, think on some distinctive voices that you know and love and let them play in your memory and delight you.


Re-imagining Robot Vacs

People who use robot vacuum cleaners must not have floor clutter like I do. Or not having to push a vacuum cleaner around motivates them to pick up floor clutter. I have floor clutter and yes, I do periodically pick it up. But it reappears without fail. The re-occurrence of clutter must be a law of physics but I haven’t figured out which one it is yet. It occurs to me that the statement I just wrote implies that I know many laws of physics.

I don’t.

If a robot vacuum got loose in my house it would constantly have to navigate shoes and socks and yarn and knitting needles and art supplies and books and magazines. What happens if a robot vac encounters a cat or dog or snake or turtle?  I once saw a commercial with a cat riding on top of a robot vac. But what if the vac somehow got hold of some critter’s tail and would not let go? Oh the chaos! Oh the inhumanity!

Many years ago, as a child, I had a fish tank and one of my fish jumped out of the tank and lay gasping on the floor. My mother – ACCIDENTALLY – sucked it up with the vacuum cleaner. She frantically took the vacuum apart and rescued the fish but it did not survive. I shudder to think of my innocent mother scrambling to sort out a tiny fish from a bewildering landscape of sticky dust clumps.

Robot vacs look like little flying saucers. And so I let my imagination wander and came up with a robot vac idea.

What if this was a Star Trek Next Generation robot vac? It could have a replica of the bridge of the Enterprise D on top. It could include robotic action figures. Imagine a miniature Captain Picard lifting his hand and waving a tiny feather duster while saying “Engage” when it was time to start vacuuming. Or Lieutenant Worf could say “Today is a good day to vacuum,”  while brandishing a miniature bat’leth sword. Captain Picard could send Commander Riker out on away missions to pick up items too big to be vacuumed (i.e. clutter). Or Transporter Chief O’Brien could use a tractor beam to move large objects out into the garage. Counselor Troi would be available to shoo away sleepy pets or give psychological counseling to accidental animal victims of faulty cleanup.  Doctor Crusher might have saved the life of my wayward fish. Commander Data and Commander La Forge would be available to work with the vac’s computer core and accompanying nanites if they malfunctioned or if something Commander Riker missed got sucked inside and jammed up the warp core or the deflector dish. And of course there would be miniature phasers and photon torpedoes to take care of any enemy objects like hostile alien Tribbles and vast asteroid waste lands.

Now I’d buy a vac like that. How about you?