BODY OF ABSENCE

JOEL: I can’t remember anything without you.
CLEMENTINE: Aw, that’s… very sweet, but try.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The people with the most persistent claim on my attention are all gone. The persistence is linked to the gone-ness. I take it upon myself (from somewhere well beyond and before conscious choice) to outline their absence. I hang on to them, which can be a problem because—let’s face it—a degree of forgetting is necessary in order to get on with living.

A loved one’s premature exit fixes even the most banal image into a mental frame. Look. Hold it up to the light. Turn it over. Don’t polish it up. Just look. The way a man once leaned in over a shared dessert, then later tucked a newspaper under his arm right before disappearing around the corner. That man reminded me I could write. There are no more images to be had where that came from.

Howie's Hat
Howie’s Hat

With no new experiences to be had, presence turns to absence and gets filled with stories. At memorials, wakes and shivas. Don’t ask how we are. We are broken. We are sitting at the edge of a volcano trying not to lean in. On a couple of mornings in the early raw months, I wake and for a few seconds am in a prologue world. I wake with mundane thoughts smoothing the sheets. Calm. As if.

And then.

As a writer, I should write about such things. Stories with Meaning and Import. But I have either smoothed frosting over tears or poked at grief so tentatively that every nerve wakens while nothing is healed. I hate those stories. I don’t want those stories.

Then someone who knows loss says to me, “All we have are the stories.” We trade some between us, and the shape of an old absence sharpens again. We’re talking about Howie, murdered in 1992. He was my business partner. We founded Smart Set. We were unlike in most ways, but through the business our names rolled out of people’s mouths as one: howie’an’jana.

In the aftermath, I was a proxy widow, a location for people’s grief. He was so loved. When he was with you, he was really with you. He didn’t leave anything unsaid. No unfinished business. That’s what everyone said at the memorial. I wanted to say, Howie left the unfinished business with me. The widow indeed.

“All we have are the stories,” she said. After 23 years, my memories have been cut and recut. For years I was sure that I was partly to blame. I hadn’t cared well enough for him. Guilt about frustrations vented over the business that I couldn’t take hold of as personal frustrations. So much submerged in my deep seated Minnesota-nice. I didn’t see Howie much in the last months before he and the world he was making were cut short.

None of it made any sense. Killed by two idiot children with men’s strength in their bodies and, I imagine, snow for brains.

I didn’t know where to put that kind of cold. I fetched his Timberwolves jacket from the drycleaner, where no one expected it to be. Howie had vowed to wear it with all its history until the team won a championship. Had he lost faith in the team’s destiny? Or, I hoped, had he met someone new he really wanted to clean up for and impress?  

I tried harder to get hold of my own humanity, usually crouched defensively behind getting to work on time and never being late with a payment. When the homeless man stood on the steps of our first office asking for money—which all three of us knew would go to booze—it was Howie who walked with him down the street to the store where he bought him a loaf of bread, a pack of bologna, mustard and milk.

Howard Liebhaber
Howard Liebhaber

One Monday morning, Howie burst into the office and demanded I sit down and—before anything—read John Sayles’ “The Anarchists’ Convention.” The business survived because of my 24/7 work ethic. I survived because Howie knew that business wasn’t life. I still wonder why, in the lottery of violence, why, why take him—the one who wanted his life—instead of me, who was always ambivalent about everything except a deadline?

There’s forgetting that is oblivion and forgetting that is a form of taking in. We had some hours together, and there our stories end. In all the years since, Howie’s life as he would have lived it goes undone. But not unremarked. I was the one who fought with him and would like to fight with him still. If I love you, I might have to kill you, goes the logic of close relationships, our dependence a feature of love (though often treated as a tragic bug). So maybe it’s my stubborn insistence that we’re not done that has led to a certain taking in of how I remember Howie … an embodiment of memory that needs no specific recollection.

I still wonder what he might say … what new thing he might be fascinated by … what he might insist that I try right now. Listening to music he liked. Reading authors he admired. Technology. Jewishness. Social justice. Bicycles. Sports (occasionally). All those things that don’t come naturally but expand the possibility that I might be able to do what’s needed. Not what is “good.” What is needed.

I’ve taken him in, what parts of him I had the wherewithal in those years to grasp. He told me almost nothing about his personal life, and that was alright between us. We’d never be married, so we had a business, and that had to be alright between us. Really, I knew him so little.

Janice Porter | "coffee cups laughing" | pencil on paper | 8 x 10 | 1985
“Coffee cups laughing” was Janice Perry Porter’s gift to me and Howie on the founding of Smart Set in 1985. (I see him in the cup on the left.)

I dream of him periodically. In the beginning, he would walk in to other dreams to ask how I was. Just interrupt an unrelated scene to check in. In those dreams,  we both know he’s dead. We’re just having our usual coffee meeting but without the coffee (we were all about the coffee).

This January, he showed up in a different sort of dream. He arrives, and he’s alive. He was in prison somewhere, but now he’s back. He stays at my apartment and decorates a room with photographs—most of his life, a few of my life, and some of us together. Thank you for doing this for me, I tell him. With a sideways grin, he says: Who said I did it for YOU?

A full dream, and mostly forgotten on waking, except for the dream’s pulse of SURPRISE. The surprise of Howard. Stories can remind me of his originality but never re-create it. I can’t know what he might have done. Might have said. Might have wanted. Surprise me, I want to say to him. And instead, as the rest of the dream fades and I begin to wake up, one image sharpens: I stand in the middle of the room he has decorated, and now I am holding up his severed head, fingers in his black, curly hair.

Now I’m fully awake … up against the limits of imagination (and memory is an act of  imagination). Conjuring scenes that, no matter how dearly felt, have no body or breath but what I give them.

Other absences crowd in—other people gone too soon for my taste. A swell of what might have been (and relief for some that wasn’t). Doors hush. Screens are dark. There is no looking back that isn’t also a moving forward (though tiny whiplash reversals can feel like standing still). I take what I can remember, mangled pieces of their particularities. I miss them. I miss him. They whisper in my veins and wash my actions with an instruction to get on with my own particularity. Surprise me, I want to say to them. Surprise us, they say back.

BEING AND STUPIDITY

Yoshitomo Nara 2014
Yoshitomo Nara 2014

Feeling stupid. Where was I? There’s a moment of stupidity that’s something like a gap in the order of things. A forgetting, except that I don’t care that I’ve forgotten. That sliver is a strange freedom, not unlike the feeling of staying out after dark and ignoring calls to come in. Some game is in play.

Where was I going? 2001. Boston’s Comm Ave, home to plenty of students, the spring sidewalk is covered with crushed apple blossoms, the contents of student apartments piled at the curb. I’ve never seen this kind of waste. Here in Boston, though, at the end of the school year college students move on to jobs or another school or drop out. And wherever they’re going, the furniture is too cheap or heavy to take. So it waits in the open for the garbage truck or scavengers.

I find myself staring at the couch I passed earlier. It’s half in the street, cushions now strewn half a block away. Too much to carry, and in the end, unnecessary for wherever its owner went. An apple tree overhangs the sidewalk. I can’t remember why I came this way, but I walk through it, trying not to slip on the wet mat of trampled blossoms.

Maybe these moments of stupidity, loss of direction, loss of thought, loss of sense are a way to lose what I never needed in the first place: a loss of sense without the sense of loss. The blossoms drop, from beauty to bruised. There’s the green, hard nub of a new apple.

This stupidity is a failure of mind and a subversive success of heart. The order I try to impose on my day is a tiny whip too small to turn some internal caravan from the place it needs to go. In forgetting where I was going, direction can be reinvented. Surrealists embraced this wandering as an exercise. I struggle not to see it as a failure of my Midwestern work ethic.

What am I doing here? I browse the paint chip display at the hardware store. A thousand colors and not one of them the reason I came to the store. Fanning the colors, I wasn’t thinking about repainting the kitchen or the reason green has so many shades and how many of them look beautiful in nature but sickly on a wall… I wasn’t thinking much at all. Busy eyes while I drifted with those things that got buried under paint chips and sink strainers and string—the kind you tie on your finger to remind you of something.

LEARNING TO LOVE THE VATIC VOICE

purplewallThere’s a blank. Then a curve or sharp end comes into view: a word or image that wasn’t there before. Where does it come from? Not fully out of my head (the bobbly part I use to dig myself into holes). Maybe the body? (“Write from yr stomach,” Liam Rector advised again and again.) Or somewhere less tangible and harder to name?

Poet and all-around prolific writer Donald Hall termed this creative spring the vatic voice, a capability he believed everyone had:

Vatic was the Greek word for the inspired bard, speaking the words of a god. To most people, this voice speaks only in dream, often in unremembered dream. … It is the vatic voice (which is not necessarily able to write good poetry, or even passable grammar) which rushes forth the words of excited recognition, and which supplies what we call inspiration. … I know that as you grow older you can learn better how to listen to this vatic voice. You can learn better not to dismiss it, you can learn not to be frightened of it. You can learn to let it keep talking…” (1)

Hall’s advice for cultivating the vatic voice reminded me of what I was doing at the time in psychoanalysis, treatment I started because words had dried up. No, the world wouldn’t miss my unwritten poems. But clients wouldn’t pay for a blank page, and I would miss a roof over my head. I had things to say, all trapped under some psychical ice.

The vatic voice sounded something like free association, which is not as freewheeling and random as its perception in popular culture. Free association is a skill that takes time to learn through a shared process of speaking, listening, hearing and being heard. Instead of a transactional “fix me” therapeutic exchange, psychoanalysis teases an open-ended and uncertain dance with the as-yet unspeakable. It takes an attentive, curious and creative analyst to make it possible, let alone make sense of it.

At the time I read Hall’s short and classic essay, I noted the echo to free association and then forgot about it. I was getting my words back. I was meeting client deadlines. I hacked away at poetry and other personal writing, unearthing texts of myself. I was listening better to myself, an ogre catching small birds and trying not to maul them.

*

Love crept in. The classic transference. I became an analytic cliché, but it gave new meaning to a favorite passage from Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text:

“To be with the one I love and to think of something else: this is how I have my best ideas, how I best invent what is necessary to my work.” (2)

This wasn’t love as subject or object, possessed or possessor. Rather a sort of air that makes a certain relaxed attentiveness possible, an environment necessary for words—on the page (for Barthes) and before the page (for me). Barthes describes the most pleasurable text as one that:

“…manages to make itself heard indirectly: if, reading it, I am led to look up often, to listen to something else. I am not necessarily captivated by the text of pleasure; it can be an act that is slight, complex, tenuous, almost scatterbrained: a sudden movement of the head like a bird who understands nothing of what we hear, who hears what we do not understand.”

As Barthes reads, Hall writes and I stumbled through hours with my analyst. Each activity is a transit across a territory (book, page, space between two chairs) that mirrors the transit across an inner territory where we each linger to hear a true word.

*

A few months ago I came across an interview in which Hall explained the origin of his notion of the vatic voice. It was, in some measure, something he learned in psychoanalysis, a process that lasted seven years, up to three times a week:

“Coming into my doctor’s office, I learned how to tap instantly into the on-flowing current inside my head. That essential step took me about a year, but once you learn it you don’t lose it. I learned to listen for the vatic voice, to watch images running over the mindscreen, to give a telegraphic account of what I heard and saw. It was good for me as a creature and good for me as a poet.” (3)

He described the effect on his writing process:

“Today when I begin writing I’m aware: something that I don’t understand drives this engine. Why do I pick this scene or image? Within the action of kicking the leaves something was weighted, freighted, heavy with feeling—and because I kept writing, kept going back to the poem, eventually the under-feeling that unified the detail came forward in the poem. The process is discovering by revision, uncovering by persistence.”

photo 2Yes! I was excited and in some way relieved to see that Hall had elegantly translated his psychoanalytic work from the secluded hours of treatment into a concept that any creative could appreciate. It reminds me of what I so easily forget: that speaking and listening to myself is the creative work, whatever the result.

*

Now that my analysis has ended, I’m aware that the territory “between” is now a “between within.” This transition extends the conversation indefinitely, as Hall said:

“Even now I talk with my doctor every day of my life and he explains the sources of feeling—although he’s dead.”

My own psychoanalyst is, I’m grateful to report, very much alive. But there’s an hour on Wednesday that now feels dead. It is the black hole that recurs in my dreams—both the well of a more livable self and the eclipse of loss. The shape of what’s missing and where it might be found.

The open question remains: How well will I be able to stay with my vatic voice? Who is listening? Am I listening? Judith Butler writes,

“The very ‘I’ is called into question by its relation to the one to whom I address myself. This relation to the Other does not precisely ruin my story or reduce me to speechlessness, but it does, invariably, clutter my speech with signs of its undoing. Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.” (4)

So I sit down to write, solitary but not alone, inviting the loose attentiveness that lets something more than mind and even body speak. Something more fragmented, rarely easy and always incomplete.

 

* * *

1. Find “The Vatic Voice” in Breakfast Served Any Time All Day: Essays on Poetry New and Selected (University of Michigan Press 2004)

2. The Pleasure of the Text by Roland Barthes (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1975)

3. Read the entire interview online: “Donald Hall, The Art of Poetry No. 43,” The Paris Review, Fall 1991, No. 120.

4. Undoing Gender by Judith Butler (Routledge 2004)

SPINNING AND THE PARAMETERS OF POWER

The book charkha is a mobile, affordable spinning wheel in a box.
The book charkha is a mobile, affordable spinning wheel in a box.

A few months ago I got the itch to spin again. Out of nowhere, that memory of fibers twisting up from an undifferentiated mass into the start of something useful. As a teenager, I spun wool from the fleece of my single sheep. The yarn was thick and uneven, the spinning wheel big enough to qualify as furniture.

This time around, after a bit of research, I stumbled across the Indian book charkha (“book”? I’m hooked). It’s meant for spinning thin, light fibers like cotton and silk. When closed, it’s no bigger than a hardback bestseller. In an increasingly complex world, I love its simplicity. With so much of my life relying on digitization and virtuality (evidence this blog), my charkha is pleasantly analog and physical.

GANDHI’S CHARKHA

The book charkha (and larger briefcase-sized version) is more properly known as a Yerwada charkha, a design Mahatma Gandhi and his associates developed and used while imprisoned in the Yerwada jail in the early 1930s. Gandhi was behind the re-engineering of the large household spinning wheel into a portable, affordable tool.

Why did Gandhi care about the charkha? Indian cotton was being exported to Britain and then imported as finished cloth, a relationship that enriched Britain economically and politically, while making India dependent at both ends of the textile value chain. Against this landscape, Gandhi realized that spinning could be a symbolic act of independence.

First he began spinning cotton, making “women’s work” into everyone’s work. Then he began wearing only kadhi, cloth made from homespun cotton. In these simple and perfectly legal gestures, he revealed the politics of cotton and cloth. When he encouraged everyone to spin—men as well as women and in public whenever possible—spinning became an act of political defiance, symbol of national self-sufficiency and also pushed social politics forward. The charkha became a weapon in India’s nonviolent war for independence. All that from a spinning wheel in a box.

SPINNING AND PARAMETRICS

It took me a few tries to feel the rhythm of spinning on the charkha, but soon I was winding thread off the spindle to make room for more. It can be quite meditative, but one day I put my laptop nearby to watch video of the CalArts conference “The Politics of Parametricism.” The fascination running through my fingers was about to get a new dimension.

Charkha Monument, Mumbai, India, a beautiful parametric sculpture
Charkha Monument, Mumbai, India, a beautiful parametric sculpture

Parametricism describes design that takes multiple parameters into consideration, a complexity powered by computational algorithms. If you’ve ever wondered how those fluid, organic, futuristic-but-here-now buildings are possible, that’s parametrics. See some masterful examples at Zaha Hadid Architects. Watch this for an introduction.

Parametric design soars and inspires more organically than those higher-than-high, straight-to-the-sky structures. It’s easy to get lost in those curves.

But today, parametric architecture is also status architecture. The CalArts conference exposed the problem: Is parametricism for everyone, or is it computational power for those with power? Can it be used to empower local neighborhoods and small scale economies or must it always inscribe the signature of status and wealth? Is it part and parcel of our current capitalist orientation, or can it be used to transcend that worldview, benefiting a broader base? These are no small questions for architecture and every other industry and discipline being recast through the heady possibilities of Big Data and computational power.

MEANWHILE…

So how fitting that the low-tech charkha and high-tech parametricism come together in Mumbai’s Charkha Monument, an abstract design that “represents the ideology of the spinning wheel and India’s sustainable progress through its visual motion and construction.” It embodies modernism’s signature parallax view, with every vantage point revealing a different sculpture. It references political history while looking forward through the lens of a design “developed using a digital applet, the spiralling gesture of a spinning wheel explored with multiple parameters in play: diameter, density, speed, and geometries.”

I came across the Charkha Monument after watching the CalArts conference. It’s the spring of 2014, some 85 years after Gandhi reminded Indians of the power in their own hands. Meanwhile, American democracy bows to corporate power and care for the commons becomes more rare. It’s the era of experts (as .expert becomes the latest URL extension) that reminds us that some things are better left to the grownups.

As cotton runs through my fingers, I wonder how we will negotiate this “hands off” approach to our own future. Computational power is being embedded across the built landscape and in the devices of everyday life. This will supposedly do more for us, making life easier. But as net neutrality teeters on the brink of extinction, the future is indeed not looking like it will be evenly distributed. Will this Internet of Everything be good for all or only for some? When no one needs to drive a car, how will our inherent longing for control be satisfied? What new fantasies will we agree to in order to keep the machines running?

Another view of the Charkha Monument in Mumbai, India.
Another view of the Charkha Monument in Mumbai, India.

I draw out more cotton and turn the handle on the charkha, working out unevenness and testing the strand before winding another yard of thread onto the spindle. I don’t quite know myself anymore, this woman asking political questions. I wasn’t raised to be political. Politics was for politicians, but whenever I hear someone say, “I’m not political,” I hear my own fear. “I’m not political” means “I’m not ready to wield my own influence.”

RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW

For those years on a Montana ranch, I felt I had no influence at all. Everything happened somewhere else. But I did learn the tools of self-sufficiency (too well, at times). I did learn to expect answers of myself before seeking answers from others. As I spin, I’m aware of this fundamental orientation. It creates a turning together of the countless small things I’ve learned and experienced over the years. Now they’re overlapping and catching, twisting up into a directional strength. This might be a rope to tie a boat or thread to weave into a material with new properties and possibilities.

The impulse to spin, literally and figuratively, is deep in the bones of culture. It’s how raw material becomes material that matters. Look to the double-helix; spinning is in the very shape of our DNA. Politics—the art and science of power—is also with us everywhere, making the worlds where we live and shaping what we grow, make, buy and build. More than ever, computational power and algorithmic design are shaping those outcomes. But make no mistake. It begins with our own grasp and what we choose to take in hand.

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MORE:

The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies and the Future(s) of Sociality, CalArts conference at REDCAT, Los Angeles, November 15-16, 2013

LIVE Architecture: Charka Monument, 11-meter tall outdoor Installation in Cross Maidan, Mumbai, India

The Charkha Movement

An introductory video on charka spinning by Ritesh Singh

I bought my charka and cotton fiber from New World Textiles.

THE ESCAPING WORD

"Should I Stay or Should I Go" by Yoshitomo Nara, 2011
“Should I Stay or Should I Go” by Yoshitomo Nara, 2011

Again, at the precipice. Some part of me must love it, considering how much time I spend here. This place of mind and body where time mostly stops and all notions of progress are undone. It’s the place from which I didn’t finish two master’s degrees, the place from which I leave businesses and communities. It’s the place from which I broke my marriage. I clear the area and protect what I can. Disasters loom.

Depression is what I used to call it, a too-simple pseudo-diagnostic that was nevertheless a sort of relief and license for getting nothing measurable done. It is a trough—but also a precipice. Outwardly, I feel low. Inwardly, somewhere near my bones, chaos is erupting. This deadened surface is, in fact, a highly polished containment field. I make no sudden movements. I put away the credit cards and don’t get behind the wheel. Every gesture will be rash. Damage will be done but (with luck) only the kind that can be undone.

When whatever lurks deep flashes too fast to the surface, behavior gets bent. Absent words or images—absent the possibility of an understanding audience—what longs for symbolic expression gets written in the flesh.

Skin is not the only surface we use to inscribe our identities. My persistent fat is a story of the struggle that circulates continuously in my blood and nerves. The mind of my body has its own strategies and sometimes seems to have had enough of me. Then, to satisfy the craving for change, the best tactic seems to be: unloose the body itself. Time to go. Time to move on. An action that is by nature unfathomable, even when the polite suicide leaves an explanation behind.

At this precipice, my self-doubt so far takes hold, even as it unleashes empathy for those who go. Their suffering is by definition beyond bearing. Whatever the inexpressible “it,” it is too much. Too much becomes a hole with its own gravity. It calls. It swallows some of us.

Impossible to know how it works out for those who go. But there is the suffering left behind, the aftermath that is not at all “after” but present, if not accounted for. The legacy to loved ones and acquaintances is the unthinkable possibility, their  minds and bodies now imprinted with the shape of that hole.

At this precipice I’ve learned to wait. It can feel pathological, this attentive inability to move. But it’s a vast improvement over sinking into thick silence or sizzling in the bright lights of compulsive distraction. I sit on this edge in a sort of humming drift, humming and groaning, listening for myself and the escaping word.

*

Postscript: A few weeks later, I come across these lines in Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover: “He waited for a clarifying wind. And torpor hardened over everything, like the lava stream. He looked into the hole, and like any hole it said, Jump.”

SPACE FOR UNCERTAINTY A.K.A. SCENARIOS, PLEASE

Exactitude French Poster 1929Not All Who Wander Are Lost. When I was a teenager, that bumpersticker favored by Lord of the Rings fans and New Agers didn’t strike me as profound or funny. Depression-era reality echoed down the generations of my family: Uncertainty is the enemy, and wandering doesn’t pay the rent.

In those years, Thoreau spoke to me, against a poster image of a sailboat at sea leaning into a moody sunset: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”  The problem? Certainty is the enemy of dreams, not to mention imagination.

In my 20s, I grew confidently in the direction of perfectionism and fetishism. I named one of my early businesses No Loose Ends. Life became some version of porn, compelling but completely unsurprising. Novelty but not change. Movement but not growth. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Certainty was my virtue. I was productive, efficient and unequivocal. What can be measured can be managed. Control, we’re told as consumers, is empowerment. Power is a springboard to freedom—the f-word that unlocks the American dream.

Certainty as a habit of mind was my defense, a hand held up to vast possibilities I had no capacity or facility to entertain. The “Exactitude” poster, a French Deco classic from a fateful 1929, hung in my first office. But certainty was a brittle strength. Uncertainty was and is the messy thing that overflows.

Most of what we rely is actually up for grabs (as it actually always has been). Last night’s earthquake, a gentle rock-a-bye as I was falling asleep, was a good reminder.

As it always has been! But electricity, running water, concrete, fully-stocked grocery stores, mobile phones (etc.!) give me the impression that I’ve mastered daily life. Even if it’s impossible to solve the Big Questions, a full belly leaves less room to worry about it. This may be why I’ve always been so obsessed with stories—novels, short stories, films. Narratives can be ways to imagine and rehearse alternative futures and even break open history so it can move in different directions. Stories can get past emotional and psychological defenses that “facts” can’t.

My own ability to imagine “what if” is limited less by knowledge than fear—unconscious fear that doesn’t announce itself but nudges me back into cravings for routine comforts. Endless, unchanging loops of the known. Processes that make other people bobblehead in agreement. Same as it ever was.

Without uncertainty in the frame, my thinking goes awry. Risks seem greater than usual. Creativity shuts down. I tell myself that I’m in control but wonder why my knuckles are turning white? It’s a form of mind-body split. I don’t think I’m alone in it. Companies use this dissonance to sell us more stuff while politicians exploit it to start wars. (Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of anti-fragility, things that benefit from volatility, is interesting here. Stay tuned for more on that.)

I’m still working at being more resilient. What’s clear is that by defending myself from considering alternative futures—and my agency in them—I also distance myself from what’s bubbling in my own unconscious. Dreams and the future. The two are not unrelated.

In 2006 I took a brief course in scenario planning, basically a business application of storytelling. Even after 2008, it’s a tough fit for businesspeople who are paralyzed by things they can’t measure. When I studied it, scenario planning was the ONLY business planning process that accounted for uncertainty. Astounding when you think about it. With one hand, we wave at the multiverse. With the other, we clutch at counting the stars.

Near the end of the course, I asked Kees van der Heijden, one of scenario planning’s big names, if the practice was as much psychological exercise as business strategy. Were the exercises really tools to help people gain a sense of familiarity with the very FACT of the unknown? He smiled and nodded.

An imagined future becomes a possible future (though not necessarily a likely one). And while more space for what’s possible sounds wonderful in that rational part of the mind, contingency makes us squirm. It threatens the way things are, and if the way things are is good for you, you stand to lose. But, to paraphrase another bumpersticker, shit will happen. And standing too firmly against that inevitability can get very messy indeed.

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Want more?

ScenarioThinking.org – an open community devoted to scenario thinking and planning

Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation by Kees van der Heijden

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of INCERTO (Antifragile, The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, and The Bed of Procrustes) an “investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision making when we don’t understand the world”