these birds, this woman

Love and greetings once again from the big desert. Joshua Trees, soaring mountains, winds that carry the breath of the creatures and plants in Earth’s biome, and layers and layers of sky surround me, swirling. I am quite near Vasquez Rocks, scene of frequent hilarity.


My dead are in mind and in use as much as my living right now; E.B. White, Edward Teller, Carl Sagan, Buckminster Fuller, our grandmothers, our mothers, my friend Alice Olson, my uncle John Freeman. The ancient-named gods of the winds, the sun, the sky, Dali, Henry Miller, Fitzgerald, Gaudi, Saarinen, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury.

More are added every day; 2016 has been cruel beyond cruel; Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Steven Hill, Robert Vaughn, Morley Safer, Merle Haggard, Abe Vigoda, and as if that weren’t enough, Gene Wilder and Alan Rickman. And Trump elected? Are we dreaming, we ask. I console myself that Dick van Dyke remains, as of today.


Each time I walk by the ground squirrels outside where I’m living, or stop for looks back and forth with the robins or ravens in the trees, I think, these birds, this woman, this moment. I smile at them when I pass, sometimes I stop if it is sunny and I make small noises of friendship. They run, or do not run, sometimes they make noises back. I cannot tell one robin from another, but some ravens stand out to me as individuals.

We really ought to be able to translate the rudiments of raven language. So many sounds, so many clicks, so much intention and long-range communication. Such blackness and shininess and smartness. I want to talk to them.


raven photo © Minette Layne via

I’ve started playing tennis, I may have mentioned this. In my own way, I’ve been a secret athlete, but other than chess (chess team in high school, represent!) I’ve never really done an organized sport by the rules. I love badminton, but without a net, and with lots and lots of fierce spiking of birds. I like Scrabble, but I like to play upside down and backwards, blanks go wild when they hit the board, 12 tiles, under 30 points a turn you’re drool. For the last four months, though, I’ve played tennis almost every day, and I’ve played hard. And what do you know? I’m a beast! I mean that in the best possible way. It suits me. So I feel strong and healthy.

Also, thrillingly, the work that I began at MIT almost two years ago is coming to fruition in ways beyond any that I could have imagined. Not only are we bringing wind and solar power to the campus, and contributing to the renovation of MIT54, but we are also bringing a lab of world-class scientists, engineers, artists, designers, programmers and business people to tackle the real work of solving problems. We’re all weary of the make-work of administration and corporate and academic and funding constraints and reports and conditions and supervision and forms and consultants and metrics and and. We just want to do work, only work, and in the most enjoyable, deep, meaningful ways possible.

So – we are making our own lab. It’s called the UnLAB, and we’re starting in Boston, this spring. Watch this space for news! Our plans are ambitious and hopeful, but with the lineup we’ve got, it’s hard to go wrong. We look like this:


Finally, exciting beyond belief: after starting over twice (so much beautiful information has come in so many floods this year) I am nearing completion of the final Contemporary Geometric Beadwork books. With something like 6500 $50-$75 investors in our project, it’s a lot of communication, and it will be a beautiful relief to hand over the finished work, and watch it flower in the hands of the people.

More soon…

and maybe a little Willy Wonka?

come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination
take a look and you’ll see into your imagination
there is no life I know to compare with pure imagination
living there you’ll be free
if you truly wish to be

People I love

Hello, people I love. Here is a little Miss Fish to cosmically kiss.

Miss Fish, sun, happy.
Last night was very difficult.

It was a dark night of the soul for everyone who cares about kindness, fairness, about the example we set for our children, about the future of our planet, the value of the dollar, the value of intelligence, about the rights of women and minorities. The boorish pigs of the world feel vindicated, and people we know and love are going to have serious problems with health insurance, deportation, and the damage to their retirement accounts. We must care for each other as best as we can. What can we do?

We can be strong and kind, and help further good work and good people. I can create places of refuge and sanctuary where work can continue on the things that will really and truly turn our ship: for me, the top two are clean power and clean water.

I’m deeply hurt by the votes of the American people. It’s hard to forgive such ugliness. But I’m the same person today that I was yesterday, and I’m ready and willing to help lead the way to a genuinely different game and story- one that’s global, not political or national, and one that isn’t driven by the exploitation of the planet, people or animals.

So right now, let’s identify what can be sheltered from the coming storm, and get busy protecting it as best as we can. There is a great deal that I can do, actually; I’m fortunate to have already been moving in these directions, including setting up mechanisms to do work outside of the systems.

Breathe, and keep your love moving: this bad time will indeed bring hard changes, but change is a lever open to all. Perhaps this time if we keep our heads, we (the people of the world, not the voters of America) can make a different story arc out of the same old setup.


I love you, and nothing can change that, and you must do the best you can with the hand you are dealt. Me, I am going to get directly back to work, trying to make things better. I’m here for you if you need me.

cranes memorial MIT


It’s been an unusual year for me so far, with many changes. It’s strange, I know, that I haven’t written or spoken since January (or technically since June) but there have been circumstances. If you haven’t heard from me, rest assured, almost no one has.

Even now, it feels risky and personal to speak. I don’t want to. But I also don’t want to make a habit of silence; this time has closed my voice, drawn me inward.

photo Ryan Anas kate mckinnon lying in the MIT chapel

So much has happened. It all really started up, this new strand of my life, when in fall of 2014, four of us (and two cats) went to live in Boston for a half-year’s academic sabbatical at MIT. It was everything that I always thought it would be to live as a family in that alive, happening place, and to be surrounded by people walking, thinking and doing. It was especially sweet for me after 24 years of the family being based in St. Louis, a place that was only ever meant to be temporary. Even Bill never meant or wanted to stay. It just … happened.

At a personal level, my work was so sparked by the experience of being at MIT and in Boston that it leapt off of the table and whinnied. I was in a cosmic and happening place, I met new collaborators everywhere I went, and man, did I go everywhere. Each of us in the family reflected our surroundings, and it was lovely, lively.

After the five months of the fall semester, the time was up. I wanted to stay. We could have done it, but there were circumstances, as ever; Liam was finishing high school in summer of 2015, Evan would finish in summer of ’16. Bill and I said, “we can move when Evan fledges”. This didn’t get us back to living as a family in a happening place, but the future was something we could move toward as two human beings in the third phase of life.

We went back to our rhythm of two houses, intersecting lives, monthly visits. Evan turned 18. I got lonelier. I contemplated, as I had for 24, then 25 years, the ideas of acceptance, the practice of waiting for the Future. The Future, as it turns out, does not actually exist. I’ve had some time to think that over.

Liam, Evan and Bill McKinnon, Christmas 2012

We have only the moments of the present, strung together like jewels.

If I was waiting, I spent my time well, I think- I worked on my books, I kept my projects hopping, I went back to MIT three times, and I even taught at the January 2016 term, which was a dream come true. I found my own academic home there, I found that I could stay if I wanted to. I felt welcome, valuable, valued in a place that was one of the best in the world. I felt at home.

It really all seemed divine. The timing was perfect; the kids were grown, Bill was of retirement age (but still had lots of juice and a towering stack of chewy Pluto, Europa and other work that he could do anywhere). And so in January I asked him to get ready to move to Boston. Oddly, against all expectation, he refused to leave St. Louis, then or possibly ever.

Leaving my marriage was a really difficult thing to do, especially over something we actually agreed on. How surreal is that? Quite recently, in an equally strange circumstance, he accepted a visiting position at JPL in Pasadena. He can work on All Of The Things, he can teach at CalTech. It’s marvelous, but the timing is hard for us to understand. In a way, we felt (and still feel) played by the play, as if we were performing the process of a kind of separation we were incapable of making without a prop.

I haven’t known how speak of what happened to our marriage without seeming to place the responsibility on Bill for reneging on the deal to move; this isn’t right, because that’s not how I feel, it’s not real. What happened was mysterious, and my desire to be moving in the world was just as much in play as his refusal to move, as was the feel of water moving, inevitability. Just as when we met.

I am convinced, as is Bill, that we played/were played by the Fates. I don’t think about destiny, but I do believe in work, and I think and trust that we have work to do that we could not have done if we had remained bound in that system, in that place. For me, it has already started in a flow that cannot be stopped; ideas stream out of me, they move into a fertile bed of minds in physics, in engineering, in the world of art, we are a sussuration of bees; we are creating work individually and together that we hope will stand over time. Soon, maybe, the wind-fall I’ve been dreaming will stand in the Cambridge skyline. I think so.

I say to Bill, when we ache together over what is lost (and we do) our separation may be as holy as our union. With Bri by our side, stalwart elf, we brought the two boys into the world, we lived a deep luck and love, and we have our family forever in our hearts. My love has no end, it wraps through time in all directions, love begins and ends and never ends in a hot flow through my heart and mind, I feel as close to the center of the Universe as I can stand and survive. I meditate every morning, and when I do, I run film of every person that I love, and I fill those images with as much joy as they can hold, like filling cups until they flow over.

And yes, love is everything, but I’ve had to come to a real grip with the idea that loving someone unconditionally doesn’t mean that you spend the human time-string of your life waiting for them to take actions. The neutral mind, the path of acceptance, these are beautiful ideas, but in practice neutral behavior contributes little more to the Universe than the existence of a tree, or a field of flowers. In fact, the tree does it better. Much better.

Anyway: sometimes the only way a person who is stuck can even take an action is if another person calls game. I understand being a forcing function, but in this context I am surprised to be the spanner in the works.

Bill and Evan in the Pear Tent

I’ve struggled somewhat this year professionally as the Contemporary Geometric Beadwork work (which I expected to publish in spring) exploded into arenas that I am still working academically (mathematically, in engineering and in physics) to understand; I am nearly a year behind my publication schedule, yet this is as I always have been and probably always will be. This is my life, this is who I am, this is consistent. I have to be thorough, I need to do my work in the way I do my work.

I take deep breaths, I visualize the whole set of books (I am working on three at once, because I am mad) finished, sparkling, correct. I see them riding out, as they always do, bound and clean and beautiful and into hands, minds.

I’m regretful that I disappeared for so long, but I didn’t know (and I still don’t know) what to say. I’ve really felt (regarding my personal life) that I should wait to speak until the dust settled and until each of us in our family had a chance to breathe and process the changes. And so here we are, here I am.

Moving forward.

Kate and Bill at John Waters in Boston 2014

Bill and Bri in the early morning

442 Bill and Evan web

Bill and Kate at Ricardo Cat
Bill McKinnon with tiny fall leaves and the Aqua Building

So much love under the bridge, and more yet to come.

boys walking me to steamy train

Bri and Kate under the Longfellow Bridge photo by Kyle Cassidy

“I wish you joyous and mysterious eruptions
of profound gratification and gratitude.
I wish you fluid insights and revelations that lead
to cathartic integrations on a regular basis.
I wish you the ripening of lucky trends you’ve worked hard to earn,
resulting in the kind of healing that allows your generosity to flow.
I wish you captivating yet relaxing adventures
that enable you to weave together diverse threads of your experience,
inspiring you to feel at home in the world.”

Rob Breszny


Until we meet again

Remembering Gwen; a post from the past on the anniversary of her death in 2013.

Kate McKinnon

My beloved friend Gwen Gibson passed away yesterday.  She was at home, surrounded by people who loved her, peaceful, accepting. As these things go, it was ideal.

Gwen in the kitchen at La Cascade

Gwen, in the kitchen of La Cascade, Durfort, France

I met Gwen when I went for the first time to the South of France and stayed in her lovely old house in the town of Durfort. The house is named La Cascade, and this is the street. The water down the center of the road is the old quench stream for the metalsmiths who created the copperwork that Durfort was famous for.


To quote Gwen, about how it came to be that she should own a house in the South of France,

“An appetite for fresh experience and the need to keep moving take me places I would never have imagined beforehand. Because I find the unknown tempting, I’m often drawn to projects…

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spheres of activity

It’s been fantastic to have Henry Segerman (OSU, mathematics and mathematical art) in town. He brought his Ricoh Theta spherical camera, and we loved it. Getting one of my own will really improve my ability to make searchable records of inaccessible sites; these huge images are zoomable, flyable, beautiful records of location. Not only that, if you record a talk with one, you can get the whole room.

Spherical Henry on MIT54 June 2016

If you had the stereo image, and the Ricoh Theta viewer, you could fly around this one, taken by Henry off of the edge of MIT54.

I have a couple of days to myself this weekend to get things in order for about 20 guests (scientists, engineers, and artists) and this is nuts but it’s going to be beautiful. We have three apartments, an auditorium, and a lot of energy. I’ll keep you posted.

Forward Motion at MIT

Work on practical ideas to take the Green Building at MIT energy-zero (and to do it beautifully) is rocketing forward. We should hear this month as to whether or not we’ve made the next wave of the Fuller Challenge; and if we have, we will be pleased to conduct our team interviews with our hard hats on, as we’ve already begun the work.

Arriving in about a week are a steady stream of engineers, students, artists and scientists, including senior program managers from Sandia Labs, Lockheed Martin, the Army and Navy science offices, NASA, DARPA and UTEP. Next week, before they all come in, our job is to gather as much data as we can on our site, our building, and its energy needs and usage.

Pei skyscraper at MIT.jpg

As you can see, the blank river side of the building is ripe for 20 slender stories of wind-eating. One of our most exciting teams (involving engineers from the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and wind artist Ned Kahn) is dreaming up a wall of delicate turbines, something that blends seamlessly with the structure and generates big power.

The Pei is a historical building, so anything we propose for it must make sense architecturally and be almost transparent visually; this is an intriguing challenge and our success with that will determine our chances of approval. Frankly, only the boldest and most astonishing ideas stand a chance, and conveniently that’s exactly what we plan to deliver.

The idea of using beauty like these installations to generate power is compelling.

The principles of spontaneous cooperation are holding solid for our group. People who want to work with us know it immediately, and those who aren’t involved in the work seem to also know that intuitively. It’s interesting; I’ve never seen such a clear middle before. We experience the usual sort of pushback on a daily basis (this is unavoidable when you are working with disruptive ideas) but none of it seems particularly real or solid.

MIT has been extremely generous with access and support, and in addition to an access pass for the EAPS building (and the roof) the registrar’s office has given us full use of the gorgeous, vintage auditorium in the Green (below) and their Drama department has given us enough furnishings, costumes and props to turn both the auditorium and the empty palace we’ve heisted for our students (photo of the entry at the end of this post) into warm spaces.

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Although it’s unlikely that we would need a 250-seat auditorium for our own meeting space (our working group will rarely be more than 25 people) the setting will be perfect for filming interviews, talks, and for filling the blackboards with morphing lists of topics, tasks, and daily schedules. More soon.

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