Lateral Thinking

Robert D. Kirvel

Raisin Premise

Only two years before A Raisin opened, Lorraine [Hansberry] gathered all her material for the play in the fireplace and prepared to burn it. Nemiroff [her husband] took the pages away. A few days later, he put the script in front of her, and she went back to work. (The New Yorker, January 24, 2022.)


A Raisin in the Sun was nominated for four Tony Awards and named best play of 1958 by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.

Pet Premise

A legend in Japan describes an excellent dog that saves its master from being poisoned by snatching a roasted duck from the master’s plate, wolfing it down, and promptly dying. This is a story about (a) karma, (b) devotion, or (c) love.


Great works of art and literature sometimes mean the opposite of what they appear to say.

Reading Premise

People used to warn that too much reading causes disobedience, heat rash, gout, hemorrhoids, and asthma.


We now understand the cause of those ills is socialism.

Jouska Premise

“Jouska” is a term used to describe how some individuals relive an argument repeatedly in their head, akin to a mental tape player stuck on auto-replay.


The Welsh novelist and playwright Gwen Thomas once declared, “silence is the only true sanity.”

Incentive Premise

Raising a person’s wage from $10 per hour to $20 will please according to the principle of positive incentive contrast (think carrot). Cutting a wage from $30 to $20 will displease according to the principle of negative incentive or negative contrast (think stick). In both cases, the final wage is $20 per hour.


Incentives operate in the context of location and time, and—per Einstein—are relative.

Disagreement Premise

Disagreement with a reasonable person can change minds.


Disagreement with a fatuous person will likely make things worse.

Bacon Premise

Richard always grabs six pieces of bacon at breakfast because he knows how much everyone loves bacon.


Janie always takes one piece of bacon because she knows how much everyone loves bacon, and she is not a dick.

Americana Premise

Manifest destiny, exceptionalism, karma, savage heathens and beloved slaves, separation of church and state, under God, domino theory, The Greatest Generation, Second Amendment, and, above all, work hard to prosper.


Superpatriots tend to mistake metaphors and then salute fabrications as noble truths. To paraphrase Epictetus, you can’t learn about what you are convinced you already know.

ABS Premise

The anti-lock braking (ABS) system installed on most vehicles today was introduced commercially in the 1970s after being touted for reducing stopping distances and limiting skids. An investigator of traffic accidents at the time argued against adopting any form of automated ABS because, “the reduction in skid marks used as evidence would make investigations much more difficult.”


The illusion of knowledge by the confident is more dangerous than ignorance.

Girls versus Boys Premise

It’s fine to wear glasses, read a book, play with dolls, or like a girl if you’re a girl.


It’s _____ to wear glasses, read a book, play with dolls, or like a boy if you’re a boy.

Conspiracy Premise

Recent studies show half the American population believes in conspiracy theories. A large percentage of the population also believes in aromatherapy, aural cleansing, astrology, colonic irrigation, crystal healing, detoxification, feng shui, flower remedies, macrobiotics, past-life regression, phrenology, or rolfing.


The larger problem is not thinking what’s fake is true, but thinking what’s true is fake because then there is no truth. It is possible people do not care for truth.

Friendship Premise

It is an empirical and demonstrable—if paradoxical—fact that your friends, on average, have more friends than you do.


Most people have a few friends, but a few people have many, skewing the odds and leading to the paradox.

Planetary Hunger Premise

The Earth and Mars are spinning into the sun according to certain blogs on social media, and the death spiral will be complete when, in 200 years or so, the Sun “eats” the Earth through a planetary digestive process accounting for today’s global warming.


Rebel thinkers who invent their own science can mistake ignorance for creativity and advertise their witlessness by emotional farting for an audience.

Gun Premise

Any minute now, radicals will come pounding your door to take your guns and melt them down into abortion clinics run by murderous immigrants preying on the unborn.


Every hero requires a villain.

Welfare Premise

To vilify government handouts, Ronald Reagan offered the example of the “Welfare Queen,” a black woman from Chicago who through theft and mindless promiscuity bilked honest taxpayers out of six figures of government funds.


The actual woman, a daughter of itinerant sharecroppers, was expelled from an all-white school after the second grade, succeeded at fraud for some $7–8,000 before being caught, and likely suffered from mental illness.

Agency Premise

According to Henry Ford, whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.


According to science, a person’s views are as valid and reliable as are the sources of information.

Always and Everything Premise

Always trust your feelings. Everything will work out in the end.


An informed discussion assumes all parties are informed.

Bias Premise

Hungarian mathematician, Abraham Wald, is remembered for what is now called survivorship bias. Analyzing damage to returning WWII aircraft from enemy fire, he observed twice as many bullets hitting fuselage and wings than damaging other places. Military officers thought extra armor should be added to those damaged areas.


Abraham Wald pointed out that selectively examining survivors is biased sampling. Planes hit in the most vulnerable areas never came home at all, whereas the massive damage observed on returning aircraft fuselages and wings was, in fact, evidence those areas did not need reinforcing. More armor should be added instead to areas that appeared to get the least damage.

Exploding Head Premise

Unattractive people tend to overestimate their own attractiveness according to a 2020 study published in Cognition and Neurosciences. Incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency according to the Dunning–Kruger effect described in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Exploding head syndrome (EHS) is a medical condition that can manifest as a lone “firework” while falling asleep or waking up, violent twitches accompanying visual flashes of “lightning,” or a chorus of detonating “bombs.”


It is more difficult to understand ourselves than others, but a key question remains: are we doing our best?

Another Relativity Premise

After a few decades of living, many adults are struck by how long a century is.


After many decades of living, a century feels rather like the blink of an eye.

Final Ownership Premise

You don’t own your car or underpants. You don’t own your kids or pets. You don’t own your house, your health, or your investments.


The only thing you own are words from your mouth or pen.

Robert D. Kirvel has literary works published in six countries and 50 journals. His second book, iWater and Other Convictions, won the Steel Toe Books Prize. @Rkirvel.

Four color panels of a fertility goddess statue
Venus of Willendorf ©Aimee McKay

Venus of Willendorf

Aimee McKay

The Venus of Willendorf is a small statue of a voluptuous woman from 30,000 years ago. She’s one of the oldest works of art ever discovered. Carved of oolite limestone, she is believed to have been painted entirely in red ochre. Due to her pronounced secondary sex characteristics (heaving breasts, ample buttocks, and exaggerated genitalia), those who discovered her presumed her to be just one more faceless fertility goddess.

            I do not often see myself represented often in art. When I go to museums, a particular type of woman is immortalized and hung on gallery walls. But no one would describe me in those terms: I am not frail or fragile, blonde or slight, petite or idealized. I am more like the words they use to describe this statue of Venus, this ancient goddess: “strangely compelling,” “a corpulent, mature woman,” and even “pornographic.” When I look at her, she looks like me. She does not fit the mold, and the patriarchy isn’t quite sure what to do with her.

            She is my people.                      

            Years ago, while performing in Vienna, Austria, I made a pilgrimage to her. I was surprised that she was tiny, only about four and a half inches tall, housed at the Natural History Museum in a small, glass box atop black velvet and a round mirror—hardly the kind of representation I expected for such a lady. A single light shone on her from above, and she stood all alone off to the side of the room. Venus was displayed the same way your Grandma might show her most-prized Praying Angel Precious Moments statue or your 8th-grade confirmation picture – it was a point of honor. Yet, only a little care was given to this ancient, supposedly sacred object.

            In a paper published in February 2022, anthropologists Weber, Lukeneder, and Harzhauser from the Natural History Museum discovered that Venus’ origins differed from what they thought. They postulated that our Venus most likely originated not in Germany but in Northern Italy near Lake Garda, about 400 miles from where she was discovered on the banks of the Danube.

            She is Italian. Again, like me.

            Art can only be interpreted through our modern biases. We guess at the artist’s intention through the prism of our reality. The men who found her defined her by her appearance. And, seeing her exaggerated body parts, fertility was the only answer they could come up with as to why she would be immortalized. But in 1996, art historian LeRoy McDermott offered an alternative view. He stated that these Paleolithic figurines were created from a unique perspective: “The lozenge perspective eschews anatomical accuracy in favor of the individual’s perspective of her body.” I.E., this may have been a self-portrait of a woman looking down at her body and documenting it as art.

            Y’all, this was a selfie.

            This primitive hottie carved herself, every inch, dimple, curve, and valley, into this rock for her boyfriend to carry in his pocket, to caress in the palm of his hand. Venus saw this rock and thought something along the lines of, “Yo, this rock looks just like me! I am shaken. Bruh, it’s like low-key hot. My bf Garf is gonna freaking love this!” A nomadic hunter like Garf needed something to keep him warm at night on hunting missions, and this queen knew that her thick thighs could save lives.

            So, sitting in her Italian village, the wooly mammoths grazing on the mountains, she looked down and captured her point of view. No mirrors, no front-facing cameras, no Polaroids. She carved what she saw: her soft, pendulous breasts, wide hips, and juicy thighs. Her petite arms rested atop her breasts, her legs bent as she craned to get a good look at her booty galore.

            She didn’t etch her face onto the totem, just as you don’t include your head on the nudes he asks you to send at 3 am. It may have been 23,000 years before the invention of the wheel, but our girl wasn’t dumb.

            Venus is a woman representing herself: an artisan and a visionary. An apple-shaped goddess saying you can’t ever erase me, I am here, I exist, I matter, see me.

Aimee McKay is a writer and actress who has appeared in 2 Broke Girls, New Girl, Arrested Development, and othersShe performed sketch and improv with the Second City Touring Company. In her spare time, she guides giant helium balloons down parade routes. She has just completed her first essay collection.

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