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The Adjacent Possible Never Stands Still- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

The Adjacent Possible Never Stands Still- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

The Adjacent Possible Never Stands Still


As some of you may know, our daughter is studying at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.


Ruined Castle St Andrews

Old Castle St Andrews




Like many aspects of the adjacent possible, this would have been very hard to predict not that long ago.

But our daughter’s choice of the path she took is not just unusual because of how far away from home she is (5,090 miles, approximately) but because of a backstory regarding Bruce and Scotland.

Long before Kimberly (Kimy) was born and way before Bruce ever met Nancy, Bruce traveled on a remarkable scholarship trip right out of high school that involved traveling around the world, seeing the canonization of an American saint at St. Peter’s in Rome and walking on a live volcano in Hawaii, among other things.

The trip involved fifteen people from three countries, five each from the USA, Japan, and the UK. The centerpiece of the trip was two weeks in Australia with Australian students, a kind of multinational goodwill gesture that emerged from the ashes of World War II. 

One of the other students traveling on the trip turned out to be from Scotland, and Bruce took an immediate liking to her. He found her intelligent, articulate, and beautiful in a profound and absolute way that only a first true love could be. 

For two years they wrote assiduously back and forth and Bruce assembled the resources to go see her in the UK. Doing so involved selling a sailboat that Bruce had spent two years building and with which he had harbored dreams of becoming the youngest person to sail across the Atlantic.

Given those pre-GPS and tracking beacon days combined with a small homemade sailboat that he christened Dulcinea, after Cervantes’ impossible dream makes one shiver in retrospect at the very good chance the voyage would have been disastrous and somebody else would be writing this blog post.



Life buoy





Just like the possible sailing voyage that never happened, the voyage to see the object of Bruce’s heart’s desire was also a shipwreck.

The reunion was strained and uncomfortable, and a week later the parents of his erstwhile girlfriend sent him packing on a solo and sorrowful train voyage through the islands and highlands of Scotland, staring out of a rain-streaked train window glumly at a starkly beautiful and forbidding landscape. 


Rail bridge, Scottish highlands


Bruce’s life eventually moved on after much grieving.

But Scotland remained marked by sadness, the site of one of life’s great disappointments, like the monument to the great defeat at Culloden, where the Scottish Jacobites met their demise at the hands of the British in 1746. 




Fast forward to decades later, when our daughter accepted an offer to attend the University of St Andrews. Of course we were going to go to St Andrews with Kimy and help her get settled in.

Privately, Bruce wondered how this was going to sit with him, whether it would be a dagger twisted in the heart, a turn of cruel fate, or whether it would feel like a different person and a different life. Scotland is a small place—Couldn’t Kimy have decided to go somewhere else?

It was an experiment whose result was almost impossible to predict in advance. It was easy to imagine it going either way.  

Fortunately, as it turned out it was easy and natural to be in Scotland again. Nancy and Bruce had a fabulous time meeting other parents and seeing the gorgeous medieval town of St Andrews, Kimy took to her new life seamlessly, and we returned home happy.

In one’s creative life, there are many turning points and disappointments, some of them great.

Sometimes disappointments become so ossified they become part of the landscape, no longer questioned, just avoided and walked around like some large feature of the geography. The lava hardens, what was once a fluid landscape is now solid and immobile.


Scottish highlands




We shall not cease from exploration,

and the end of all our exploring

will be to arrive where we started

and know the palace for the first time.

= T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding



The lesson here was that, purely by accident, an opportunity was created to re-question a memory that had become fixated. And the surprise was that it had vanished over time.

Perhaps there are memories like this in your lives, setbacks that were enormous at the time that have become embedded in your consciousness that are now moveable, transparent, or even entirely vanished.

The only way to find out is to check, to run the experiment.


The adjacent possible is not permanent, it is fluid and constantly reconfiguring. 


With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce

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Readers Favorite Gold Medal International Award- Non-fiction, Art & Photography

The Adjacent Possible: Evolve Your Art From Blank Canvas To Prolific Artist  Readers Favorite Gold Medal International Award- Non-fiction, Art & Photography




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