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Lost & Found & The Adjacent Possible- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Lost & Found & The Adjacent Possible- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Lost & Found & The Adjacent Possible


The Adjacent Possible is all well and good, but how do I get there?

When I was in grad school, I discovered a very unusual book. It is a book about a duck. A fictional duck.

This quacker has a profound effect on the cast of characters in its orbit, a bunch of oddballs and ne’er-do-wells living in the back of beyond back when Northern California had such a thing. The book is Fup, by Jim Dodge. 

Early on in the relationship between Bruce and Nancy, Bruce started a tradition that has endured to this day, namely reading to Nancy. This was the first book to be read aloud.

In a book of many memorable memes, a particular sentence comes to mind. It refers to the ruminations of the book’s elder protagonist, Grandpa Jake. 


He often let his mind wander. And like someone who lets his mind wander far and long enough, it occasionally got lost.

-from Fup, by Jim Dodge


Santa Fe


Just this last week Bruce returned to a place he had lived for twelve years, Santa Fe, New Mexico. He hadn’t been there since 2010.

There is nowhere like it. An earth colored city of adobe and faux-dobe buildings at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, it embodies a complex mix of histories and cultural crosscurrents.

It’s a magnet for seekers of various forms of enlightenment, with a focus on the spiritual and artistic. And it is centuries old, something unique in the United States.


Four Lives


In Bruce’s twelve years there, he had four substantially diverse experiences, from teaching at St John’s College, a very unusual college whose curriculum was based on the Great Books, to doing scientific research at the Santa Fe Institute, a think tank created to study complex systems, to creating a startup company to consult on complex systems and their applications to business.  

Eventually his tour of duty ran its course, and he lit out for Santa Cruz to find what was next, and set about building a life that continues to this day. He also went in search of water, as he was as close to an aquaman as one can find in the world of non-fiction. 


Is Anything A Waste Of Time?


Sometimes it happens that one reflects back on the choices and influences in one’s past and how one got to be where one is now, Seen from the vantage point of many years later, Bruce wondered if Santa Fe had been a waste of time, an expensive diversion, a dead end.

This is where the words of Jim Dodge came in, combined with the words about the Adjacent Possible that Bruce and Nancy have written since then. 


Getting Lost


If you search for the Adjacent Possible, it is going to require taking some paths less traveled. And if you take these paths, you might occasionally get lost.

In fact if you don’t ever get lost, you’re probably not exploring adventurously enough. It comes with the territory.

In that time in Santa Fe, Bruce definitely explored the Adjacent Possible, trying things that had elements of familiarity combined with the exciting, frightening, and new. One foot in the known, the other in the unknown.


At times since then, viewed in retrospect, it has seemed that much of the time there was spent being lost.


Was this really a dead loss, a waste of time, an existential dead end? Sometimes history is framed as a bad joke we play on our predecessors, but what if the predecessors are one’s self?

What transformed Bruce’s telling of history to himself was a metaphor made manifest. 

When Bruce had been in New Mexico six years, he decided to get rid of many boxes of books prior to a move. There was a local bookstore that bought old books. Bruce came out with several hundred dollars, a respectable haul.


Turning Books Into Trees


He decided to run an experiment in biological reversal.

Everybody knows that trees are made into books via the intermediaries of pulp and paper. But Bruce wanted to reverse this process and turn books into trees, a magical and unheard of transformation.

He took his winnings from book selling and drove to a nursery. There he bought two trees and planted them at his rental house, an old sheepherder’s cabin with a sod roof and a well that produced extremely cold, clear water, cold enough to make one’s teeth ache.

He used a pickaxe to hew holes in the unforgiving desert clay and transplant the saplings from their 15-gallon plastic pots. He watered them diligently for the two years he lived there.

Bruce went back this week to see his old home. It took a moment to absorb the reality of the transformed homestead.

One of the trees had grown 40 or 50 feet high, a majestic cottonwood in the flush of slender and muscular adolescence. Its limbs were still bare, but it was clear this was a substantial tree. Its roots must have burrowed deep down to the water table, taking advantage of being near the Santa Fe River.


Lost Became Found


That tree was symbolic of what had happened internally by the exploration of the adjacent possible. Year after year the roots deepened and the cooling shade spread and lost became found.  

It just so happened that Nancy recently read a book that knocked her socks off- one of those forever books you want to savor and reread. She gave it to Bruce to read on the flight, another un-categorizable book of fiction like Fup called Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr.

It is also about lost and found, the currents of history weaving through consciousness, the Sisyphean challenge to preserve the true and beautiful through the eroding exigencies of time.

With gratitude from my studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


P.S. Speaking of books- our forthcoming book, The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories of Artistic Transformation is getting closer to being published. Meanwhile, we’re still running the cover contest and we’d love your help selecting the cover!

Here are the 3 contenders. Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below.

The Adjacent Possible Book Cover Contest




Meanwhile, grab your copy of the first book in The Adjacent Possible series- you can get the eBook for only 2.99 for a limited time. 


The Adjacent Possible Book-

The Adjacent Possible Book- Nancy Hillis MD

Here’s what readers are saying about The Adjacent Possible:
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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “As an artist deeply transformed by her insight and teachings, I highly recommend this and her other books. Nancy Hillis is a brilliant art mentor and author.”
A revolutionary method influenced by groundbreaking research in biology and physics to guide you to embrace the unfolding of your art- from bestselling author Nancy Hillis, MD.
Being an artist is about continually evolving your art. It’s about cultivating your fullest self-expression and getting to the elusive deepest work your heart yearns to create.
Learn the science of creativity, the adjacent possible.
Every brushstroke, every decision in your art, creates a set of possible paths that were not only invisible before, but didn’t exist before you made that creative move.
This is the adjacent possible.
👉Click the link or “Learn More” button below to grab your copy today! It’s FREE in Kindle Unlimited or just 2.99 for a limited time!






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