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making, mindsets and strategies that foster creativity

THE TROUBLE WITH PIVOTS

THE TROUBLE WITH PIVOTS

I don’t know.  Maybe I am misunderstanding this new-to-me concept of “business pivots.”

starting-on-the-pivot-line
“Starting On the Pivot Line??” by Pure Geekery via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

WHAT IS A “BUSINESS PIVOT?”

The business pivot was an idea that gained traction after Eric Reis’s book, “THE LEAN STARTUP:  How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business” hit the entrepreneurial bookshelves in 2011.

Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but the Lean Startup thing seems to start with the premise that it’s a good thing to cobble together a prototype of a half-baked idea that’s “new and different” and offer it up first and fast with the intention of getting the product, service or other offering to Good on the fly.  Hmmm….

Apparently, this methodology is supposed to be a less expensive and more efficient way to gather relevant feedback from potential customers and measure the specific tastes, desires, and purported wants and needs of early-adopter buyers and others who come after as you churn out assorted re-iterations of your product or whatever.

Walking this way, they say, you’ll be all set to tailor your product, service, or business model to meet your customers’ needs and fulfill their wishes better.

The “pivot” is a particular mindset that’s part and parcel of this Lean Startup thing.

You’re supposed to stand at the ready to tweak, twiddle, and change the components and structure of your infant business – the products you sell, how you sell them, the way you communicate with and serve your clients and customers, the way you use your resources, and so on and so forth — in order to capture more and more business.

Really, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.  I’m just trying to figure out why it does not resonate with me.

IS IT A DANCE THING?

Maybe my problem with this whole pivot thing comes from my knowing dancers and martial artists who use another sort of pivot step.

That one is modeled in the following YouTube Jazz Dance video “How to Pivot Turn” (published in 2012 by Howcast).  In it, director and dance choreographer Liz Piccoli shows you how to do a pivot step.

(Note that the step Piccoli is showing is labeled as a “beginner jazz dance move.”)

Maybe I’m stuck because I’m having a hard time getting away from using this dance step as a metaphor for the “business pivot.”

It does seem to me that if doing business is a dance, then there’s got to be more to it than just doing the pivot this way and that until you get the walk “right” (according to your audience) even with the added body-English.

Doing the pivot step over and over and over looks like “twirling around.”  To me, it just seems like a good way to get dizzy.

Hmmm….

US CREATIVES DON’T DO IT LIKE THAT…OR DO WE?

Maybe my problem with the thing is the whole engineering-world, feature-creature taste of it all.  Frankly, getting feedback from assorted others as you’re building your vision sounds wrong-headed to me.

both-powered-by-the-breath-of-the-earth
“both powered by the breath of the earth” by byronv2 via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Wanna-be Creatives have always been exhorted to “find your own voice.”  Expressing your own self and being “original” is supposed to be the end-all and be-all of the Creative gig.  “Authenticity” and being “genuine” is a basic tenet of Creator-hood, it seems to me.

As a Creative hopeful, you believe that the “meaning” of your work is all bound up in you – how you see and feel things and your own conclusions about why the World is as it is.

Your Job Number One is, basically, figuring out where you stand and why.  F’r real, it is confusing and frustrating work.  It’s all about slog, slog, slog, and wandering around in heavy fog.

Looking for feedback too early in your process is likely to keep you from finding your own voice.  (My own thought on it all is if you’re going to do all that hard work in the first place, what’s the point of speaking with anybody else’s voice?)

As you develop your own voice and your own vision, you’ll be moved to send out “reports” from that place that is unique to you.  This could result in any number of “products” – pictures, sculptures, pots, performances, books, poems, songs, Rube Goldberg-y inventions, whatever.

With them you are trying to reach out to everybody else, using whatever skillful means you’ve developed, to produce a body of work that allows others to see the world as you do.  Your purpose in all of that is to get them to buy into that vision you’re sharing.

(The deal is, if enough of these folks buy something you’ve made, you can keep on doing what you do.)

A FEEDBACK SOURCE

Of course, none of this necessarily means that your vision or your work will mobilize and move the world to do anything other than what it is already doing.

That’s when feedback comes in handy.  Asking for feedback from other folks and being open to suggestions can help you in a lot of different ways.

  • Maybe you’ll find venues to showcase your work because of a thing someone or other points out to you.
  • Maybe you’ll try different ways and means to refine how well your message connects with and influences other people, winning their support for your work.
  • Maybe you’ll find soulmates and partners in surprising places who help you expand your horizons.  You might even find your tribe.

tim-devlin-frontside-pivot
“tim devlin frontside pivot” by andrew hutchison via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Some things will work.  Others will not.  You’ll keep doing the things that work and maybe you’ll try other new things as well to get your work into the hands of your supporters.

Instead of pivoting willy-nilly, you’ll use the vision you’ve developed and ride herd on it as you test and try out other people’s suggestions that help it evolve.  You’ll use your vision to make sure that everything you do – your work and the marketing of it — aligns with the direction you are wanting to go.

That’s a good thing, don’t you think?  I do.

PIVOTS AS THE WAY BACK

I do think, however, that sometimes you as a Creative may find the pivot is useful for getting back to the vision and voice you’ve already developed.  When you have gone off-course, it may be the only way to get back to moving in the direction you want to go.

My own favorite example of a pivot of that kind is the one made by a long-distance solo sailing legend, Bernard Moitessier (1925 – 1994).   He was inducted into the Single-Handed Sailors’ Hall of Fame in 1988 for his life achievements, but he is most famous for not finishing a race.

In 1969, the British Sunday Times sponsored the first international Golden Globe yacht race.   The fastest single-hander sailor to complete a non-stop circumnavigation of the world stood to win £5,000 (the equivalent of £82,500 nowadays).

The Golden Globe trophy, also sponsored by the Sunday Times, would be awarded to the first solo circumnavigator to do the round-the-world voyage.

Notoriety, adulation, and fame was expected to follow in the wake of both of these awards.  Book deals, speaking engagements, endorsements, sponsorships and the rest were bound to follow.

Moitessier, who was already a sailing legend as well as a noted author, had planned his own world-circling voyage on his custom-built 39-foot steel ketch “Joshua” before the race was organized.

The timing of his around-the-world trip coincided with the newspaper-sponsored race which was apparently structured to automatically include all of the sailors who were attempting to sail single-handed around the world that year.

The sponsors of the race prevailed on Moitessier to participate in the race and he reluctantly agreed even though he made it clear that he felt that doing so was somehow compromising what he considered his special relationship with the sea.

Moitessier was on the last leg of his circumnavigating journey and many say he would have won the Golden Globe race as both first and fastest if he had finished his trip.  Instead, he changed his vessel’s course and continued sailing eastward.

He ended up completing a one-and-a-half circumnavigation of the world which took him around Cape Horn (again) and on to Tahiti.

It took him 301 days to complete the voyage.  In doing so, he broke the world record for the most miles sailed solo non-stop.

Meanwhile, another legendary yachtsman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, became the first winner of the Golden Globe race, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer.   Sir Robin’s voyage took  a “stately” 312 days.

Moitessier wrote a note to the London Sunday Times when he turned away from winning the race.  He delivered the note by slingshot onto a passing ship.

In the note he said, “My intention is to continue the voyage, still nonstop, toward the Pacific Islands….I am continuing nonstop because I am happy at sea, and perhaps because I want to save my soul.”

His book, THE LONG WAY, chronicled his 301-day voyage.  It sold very well.

This YouTube video, uploaded in 2011 by GMGB68, features images taken by Moitessier himself during his nonstop solo voyage around the world.

Here’s a poem:


CIRCLES

I figured out something:

I move in circles like the sun because

I want to see everything there is to see.

Like a hunter in territory unfamiliar,

I move slowly, with caution,

Stopping, stooping, seeing the tracks

Of the wild beasts and other things,

Finding the paths they walk,

Following to where they lead me.

I glide softly through the bushes,

Stepping quietly, walking lightly.

 

I stop and listen to the sounds around me.

Let them touch me, let them flow.

My breath is deep; it fills my belly.

Calm I am, a part of the One.

I move with no thought, no expectations.

What am I stalking?

I don’t know.

There is something waiting for me

Out there, somewhere,

When I have traveled full circle,

Perhaps I shall see what it is.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Sunflower” by Mikael Hvidtfeldt Christen via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

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ONE ARTISAN VILLAGE

ONE ARTISAN VILLAGE

I think that in every Maker’s heart of hearts, there is a dream of being surrounded by others like them who live their lives working and dancing to their own heartsong, trying to do their own best  work and cheering each other on to greater effort.

We dream of a place that supports us in our journey while letting us find our own way to our own best life.

AN ARTISAN DREAM

One of the oldest established “artisan communities” in America is the village of Sugar Loaf, which is a small hamlet roughly six miles long and five miles wide, in the town of Chester in New York’s Orange County.  It’s been around since the 18th century.

The village was originally a waypoint along the King’s Highway, providing supplies and horses for the travelers along that road.  It was a busy place and went through many changes as the world moved through and then past it.

Back then it was likely that every tradesperson was some sort of artisan, if the definition of “artisan” is someone who makes things by hand.  (There wasn’t any other way to make useful things.)

Sometime around the middle of the last century, the village had become little more than a forgotten bit of the landscape between crowded metropolises.  Transportation routes had changed and it was no longer a hub and hive of activity.

There gathered a group of artists and artisans who took up residence in Sugar Loaf and began doing their work in the old falling-down buildings and barns that had endured for a couple of hundred years. These Makers found a place with room enough and time enough to do the work they loved.

In the course of things, a core group of these full-time working craftspeople opened up their independent artist’s studios to the public, selling the works of their hands to support lives they found meaningful.

prophecy-untold
Prophecy Untold” by Henry M. Diaz via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
For an interesting history of the early days of the Sugar Loaf artisan community as well as some of the trials and tribulations as the community went through assorted economic and other changes, click on the button below to check out an old Sugar Loaf Guild site by one of the leaders among these early artisan-residents, Bob Fugett.

(I have to warn you:  Bob is a bit cantankerous.)

click-here

As Fugett points out, some of the early artisans continued to develop their skills in their chosen work to a high level.

Over the years other Makers joined in as the earliest of these creative people and their neighbors made a community that was centered around producing locally made, one-of-a-kind, high quality creative work.

The people who appreciated the quality of the work they produced came in droves from all over the world.

THE CHANGES DO KEEP ON COMING

But, the Way of the Creative is never an easy road.  In his musings on his website, Fugett mourns the lost shape of the community he helped to build.

sugar-loaf-sign
“Sugar Loaf Sign” by Kafziel Complaint Department via Wikimedia.org [CC BY-SA 3.0]
In one of the riffs on his site, Fugett quotes James Lynch, the founder of Fforest Camp, an eco-living retreat in West Wales:  “It’s my experience that artist communities are almost always camps because they appropriate space that nobody else wants (at the time), but by virtue of a creative progressive view of neighborhoods they create a demand from others that ultimately marginalizes them, so they are forever transient.”

It’s a pithy commentary on what happens after the Makers have made Beauty in some abandoned place, which then becomes a “destination,” and then gets made over into something else as other folks move in.

This YouTube video, “Artists and Artisans,” was published in 2017 by Sarah J. Burns.  It’s a mini-documentary featuring interviews with some of the artisans currently living in the village and focuses on how their livelihoods changed with the recession.  It also offers a glimpse of the village itself.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The future is never certain, but the village continues anyway and it will grow into some new shape that better reflects the Makers who now live and work there in these very different times.

One of Bob’s salty comments that is spot-on nevertheless is this:  Talent is bullshit; work is the thing, and of course it is all for naught, always has been, always will be, but that has nothing to do with the doing of it.

Here’s a poem:


CHANGE

That things will change is a given

There is no argument.

Established constructs will be riven

And much will fade of past efforts spent.

 

Still and yet and ever more

The world keeps turning in its place.

Still and yet, there will be joy,

There will be rainbows and always grace.

 

Change comes, change goes

And so do you and I.

The only things we get to keep

Are the ways we walk and fly….

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “The Work Never Matches the Dream….” By Kendra via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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JOURNALIZE YOUR LIFE

JOURNALIZE YOUR LIFE

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that “creativity” is not a talent; it is a way of operating. [The coolest thing is anybody can do it.]

I guess it’s a cliché now.  One way to enhance your creativity, they tell us, is to keep a journal.  Snuggle up with your thoughts and illuminate your feelings, write down your dreams and hunches, collect quotes from the famous and the notorious.

Spend time in your own head.  Be your own psychotherapist.  Be your own guru.  At the very least, you can be your own pen-pal.

COMMONPLACE BOOKS

Journalizing your life is part of a long, long tradition.  In Enlightenment-era Europe, during the “Age of Reason” (which most people say runs from around 1685 to 1815), it was all the rage.

The smarty pants and wise guys then all kept what they called “commonplace books.”  These were personalized encyclopedias of quotes as well as thoughts and aspirations and other bits of their own writings that scholars, amateur scientists and aspiring men of letters put together.

commonplace book detail
“Commonplace book detail” by vlasta2 via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Some folks transcribed whole gobs of books they found interesting in their commonplace books.  (One guy cobbled together parts of the Bible that made sense to him, leaving out the parts that didn’t.  This was not well-received in some circles.)

One of the leading lights of the Enlightenment movement was John Locke.  He was a systems guy and from an early age he was busy devising new systems and new ways of looking at things.

Locke developed a version of the commonplace book in 1652 (during his first year at Oxford) that was a cause for excitement among the geeks and nerds of the day.  Locke put together an elaborate system for indexing his commonplace book’s contents which made it easy for him to find passages and ideas that he wanted to revisit, review, and use.  Others followed his example.

JOURNALING TODAY

Nowadays journals come in all shapes and sizes, fancy and plain.  They’re mostly blank books that you fill in your own self.  Some are peppered with other people’s thoughts, all ready for you to use.  They’ve come to be one of the default gifts you want to give to people who are Makers (or who want to be).

You can write in them and you can turn them into sketchbooks or artsy work notepads and such.  You can even turn them into works of art.

The things are ubiquitous.  Everybody gets one at some point or other.  There are magazines, how-to videos, courses and guidebooks for making your own as well.

If you’re not particularly into deep thinking, if writing is boring for you, or if you are insecure about your art skills, receiving one of those things can precipitate a minor crisis of sorts.  (It becomes one more thing to hide under your bed or tuck behind other stuff on the shelves and ignore.)

For the people who have never been able to “finish” one of those ready-made journals, here’s a You-Tube video about WRECK THIS JOURNAL, a book put together by guerilla-artist, author, and illustrator Keri Smith.  It was published in 2012 by Penguin Books as a promotion for her book of that name.

That book took off and is the first of four volumes in a series.

Over the years, Keri Smith has made an astonishing array of books about creativity and getting your art on.  Her books include bestselling concept books like:

For many years she also maintained a popular website, Wish Jar, that is a beautifully constructed on-line journal of sorts.  It doesn’t seem to be very active these days, but the site is lovely to explore anyway.

THE JOY OF DIGITAL ARCHIVING

And that’s the other thing:  Computers can be turned into journaling tools, if that’s your bent.   You, too, can put together a digital archive.

You can fill it with all kinds of stuff:  quotes, research on specific projects, passages transcribed from articles and books, web page clippings, and random discoveries, hunches and intuitions of your own.

Some folks call clunkier, more workaday versions of these things “swipe files.”  (That term gets my back up.  It sounds like an invitation to thievery or something.)

I prefer to think of the things as a stewpot simmering away over a bunson burner or a hot plate. (Or maybe it’s a cute personal crockpot, if you’re not into minimalism.)  You can get some really good writing or art-making “stock” out of that stuff…even from the yawn-inducing junk.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I am a writer and a poet.  For me thoughts and ideas are building blocks and ingredients that can be cooked together in a variety of ways.  The thoughts you add to your archive (whether digital or paper) can add savor and flavor to your own efforts at writing or art.

Even if you fish out all the bits of meat and vegetables in a long-cooking stew, the broth holds the flavor anyhow.

Here’s a poem:


ON READING OLD JOURNALS

So…

This is what they’re for:

I wander through the pages,

Poring over the

Old maps I have drawn of

The counties of my mind.

 

I stop here and there,

Remembering the stances

I have tried that now

Lie crumpled like improbable fashion

Statements that didn’t quite work.

That mix that didn’t match…

 

Ooh!  This one’s embarrassing!

Old revelations sparkle

In the pile of dither

And the tarnished dross of

Plated costume-jewelry thoughts.

 

I see the spirals that I dance,

Around, around, around

And I have to laugh at all

The silly detours and digressions

That lead me straight back to

The core that stands there still,

Waiting….

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “Reflections of Maui” by Mark Faviell via Flickr [CC BY-ND-NC 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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HOW TO MESS AROUND

HOW TO MESS AROUND

Hands-on (often inept) fooling around with stuff has been called “tinkering.”  The top definition for the word “tinkering” in the online collaborative Urban Dictionary is this:  “to mess around with something and you don’t really have a clue what you are doing.”  (The regular dictionary definitions are pretty boring.)

It’s to honor the Urban Dictionary spirit of tinkering that Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, the co-directors of the San Francisco Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio put together the book, THE ART OF TINKERING.

In the introduction to this amazing collection of wonders by 150+ Makers who combine art, science and technology to put together incredibly diverse works, Wilkinson and Petrach tell us that tinkering is “more of a perspective than a vocation…. It’s thinking with your hands and learning through doing.”

The book grew out of the work being done by a group of artists, scientists, developers, educators and facilitators who play with many different sorts of tools, materials and technologies at the museum’s “Tinkering Studio” and at the PIE Institute.

JUST MESSING AROUND

This gathering of fun-loving Makers bent on giving us all a taste of the joy of tinkering was the result of a project called the PIE (Play-Invent-Explore) Network.  This federally funded project began as a collaboration between the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group, the Exploratorium, and several other museums,

They started by experimenting with science and art activities that developed into innovative educational activities suitable for wonderment, playfulness and learning about the world around us.

Work by the Tinkering Studio guys often become either exhibits at the museum or hands-on activities that allow museum visitors to jump in and play in the museum’s Tinkering Studio space which is open to the public.

The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium has become an inspiration for tinkerers and other wanna-be Makers since it began in 2009.

This 2012 YouTube video published by core77inc  gives a taste of what the sessions held in the Studio feels like:

TINKERING TENETS

The book has a slew of advice about how you, too, can play at tinkering.

Here are my favorites:

  • Create rather than consume.
  • Express ideas via construction. Use your hands to build the constructs living in your mind.
  • Embrace your tools. Learn how to use them the “right” way, then figure out other ways to use them that work for what you are trying to do.  It’s been said that a master knows how to misuse tools at least three different ways to get other results.
  • Prototype rapidly. When you have an idea, don’t let it just sit in your brain.  Get it out into the world as soon as possible.  Sketch a design.  Build a working model with stuff you have lying around.  Once it’s out of your head you can work out your next steps and move on to Phase 2.
  • Make it strange. Use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways.  Take a common object and put it to another new use.
  • Get stuck. It’s a good thing.  Failure tells you what you don’t know.  Frustration is for making sense of that failure in the moment.  Taking action to work through the problem and playing with it ultimately lead to new understandings.

BEST BIT

The best advice of all is this one:  You need to balance autonomy with collaboration.

Autonomy – going solo – helps you get to your own kind of mastery.  You learn how to work with tools and materials.  You develop your own skill and knowledge.  You grow your confidence.

running-a-drill
“Running a Drill” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Tinkering with other people can be a blast.  Collaboration helps you clarify your ideas for solving a problem because you have to be able to explain them to your partners in a way they can understand.   (Otherwise they won’t be able to help you get where you want to go.)

setting-up
“Setting Up” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
You and your partners will have different and various skills and ideas that can be brought to bear on the problem.  Cross-pollination is likely to occur and that could lead to other wonders.

set-to-go
“Set To Go” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Best of all, everybody can be a part of something larger than themselves, and that, as any wise guy will tell you is a very good thing.

eat-our-rust
“Eat Our Rust” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
All of the pictures of the hand-made sailing rail-cars project above were taken by Gever Tulley, the founder of Tinkering School, an internationally known summer program.   He also started SF Brightworks, an innovative K-12 school in San Francisco emphasizing experience-based, hands-on experiential learning.

Tulley is the also the author of the book FIFTY DANGEROUS THINGS (YOU SHOULD LET YOUR CHILDREN DO), among others.  As he has noted, “I have made it my mission to reintroduce the world to children:  the real world as revealed through unscripted, hands-on, meaningful learning experiences.”

Here’s a poem.


MAKING ROOM FOR THE CREATIVE

The Creative has no limits, it is said.

It moves along, coursing through our days

Like rivers and streams,

Tumbling over the rocky places,

Making babbling brooks and dancing rills,

Trickling through the hard

As runnels and creeks,

Diving under massed walls,

Soaking on down to run deep

And springing back up as

Freshets, sweet and clear….

Tributaries all, running through the World

On their way to the Sea of Dreams

Where all potentialities roll around playing.

 

It keeps on moving, the Creative,

Carrying away bits of our landscape

And depositing them somewhere other,

Building up and tearing down

The structure of our lives.

It’s just there, the Creative,

That essence, shiny-bright,

A beautiful, chaotic force.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Tinker Town Tuesday” by Erin via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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TRY SOMETHING ELSE

TRY SOMETHING ELSE

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an inclination to try and see whether you can pull something off.  [Trying it for yourself can lead to some amazing discoveries.]

I am watching a young friend who’s stuck in a major cycle of suck.  He won’t try anything new.  I don’t understand why it’s so hard for him, but there it is.  He sits around moaning about how his life is not working, but he won’t try doing anything different.

I don’t know.  Maybe he took the Icarus story too much to heart.  Icarus and his dad, a mythological inventor extraordinaire named Daedulus, were incarcerated in a famously inescapable prison by some king or other.

Daedulus, it says here, invented a way for humans to fly.  (This was long before hot air balloons and heavier-than-air planes or anything.)

The inventor and his son, the story goes, strapped on wings made of wax and feathers that Daedulus designed.  The wings worked and father and son escaped the fortress strong, but Icarus got so tripped out by the experience that he flew too close to the sun.  The wax melted, the wings fell apart, and he crashed.

At this point, the Greek chorus cuts in and dolefully groans out the orthodox lesson:  “The gods get angry at those who would dare to fly.”  Uh-huh.

(It is worth noting that Daedulus also flew and he got away clean.)

icarus
“Icarus” (at the entrance of the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio) by The Mighty Tim Inconnu via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick had an interesting take on the Icarus myth.  He said, “I’ve never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be as is generally accepted, ‘don’t try to fly too high,’ or whether it might also be thought of as ‘forget the wax and feathers and do a better job on the wing.'”

Kubrick is famous for directing ground-breaking, innovative films (in their time) like Dr. Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket.  He was really good at the art of trying something else.

HERD-THINK

We are, all of us, trained to fit in.  The herd is stronger if everybody is all together, doing the same things, following the tried and true is the reasoning.  Everybody agrees.

Don’t stand up.  Don’t stand out.  In Australia, they call it the “tall poppy” problem:  Stand out and you’ll be cut down.  In Japan they talk about the nail that sticks up.  (It inevitably gets pounded down.)  Sheesh!  Taking a turn off the beaten path engenders dire predictions of eminent doom.

the-tall-nail
“What’s That Saying About the Tall Nail?” by Alan Levine via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

The easiest way to “fit in,” it seems, is not to start anything, not to try anything that is not-like-the-other-guys.  It’s also a really good way to get stuck in suck…as my young friend is, unfortunately, finding out.  The problem is you can get mired in a miserable bog of your own making that is a lot like being stuck in high school forever.

fit
“Fit” by Daniel Horacio Agostini via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

SEED THOUGHTS AND SUGGESTIONS

The antidote to all the heavy, herd-induced, foot-dragging, haul-that-barge-tote-that-bale mentality is to get into the habit of trying something else.  It doesn’t seem to matter what you try, it seems.  (Probably, though, experimentation with the latest pharmaceuticals might not be a grand idea.)

Software engineer Matt Cutts is featured in this You-Tube TEDTalk that was published in 2011.  In it he advises, “Try something new for 30 days.”

If that sounds like too big a step for you, there’s an even smaller, tiny-step method, all ready-made and on-line.

In this YouTube video by CreativeLIVE, “28 to Make: Create Something New Every Day This Month,” you can join Makers Kate Bingaman-Burt, Ryan Putnam, Erik Marinovich and Lara McCormick in their romp through a series of daily creative project ideas that show up in your mailbox when you sign up for them.  It’s a “way to get back into the habit of making cool stuff”, they say.

One of my favorite books that I dip into again and again for new things and new “heads” to try on is Mark Nepo’s THE BOOK OF AWAKENING:  Having the Life You Want By Being Present to the Life You Have.  Nepo took 14 years to write the book after coming out the other side of cancer.  They are his beautiful musings about life and loving and being heartful.

The book was published in 2000 and has since gone all over the world, being translated into 20 languages and over two dozen printings.  It is a wondrous place to put your head if you are wondering what else you could try.

Go on…give these things a shot!  Who knows what you might make?

Here’s a poem:


NOT A STORYTELLER

Blocked.

Again.

It just keeps going like that:

Erect a new idea and float it –

One more flying castle in the sky –

Then run-run-run to lasso the thing

And anchor it to the ground.

 

Work your buns off making it come real,

Then watch it crumple one more time

And dodge those stupid falling rocks

Coming down all around you.

 

The wise ones call it a treadmill, ya know.

I think I’m starting to get it.

That hamster in his cage has nothin’ on me except

The squeaky wheel’s starting to irritate the heck out of me,

And he just keeps on truckin’.

 

Okay…

Tell me again, babe:
You are doing this…WHY?

Hmmm….

Where’d I park my Millenium Falcon?

There has GOT to be a better way to do this.

 

Ya know…

I think I figured out why I don’t write novels.

I’m not a storyteller, it seems.

My timelines fall apart and nothing makes any sense.

It does not come together.

 

I guess I wasn’t born to write stories.

Nope.

I’m just doomed to live them.

(Sigh!)

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  West Maui Mountain Sunrise by Mike via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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ASK THE STUPID QUESTION

ASK THE STUPID QUESTION

I had a friend who won my admiration because his constant go-to request was always this:  “Can I ask a stupid question?” Then he’d ask a question that was A-B-C simple about something I thought I knew.

I’d answer the question (out of my own great wisdom, of course).  It made me feel so good to be able to be…uh-hem…The Expert.

My friend Les listened carefully.  He’d think on what I said.  Then he’d ask more “stupid” questions, helping me explore where my thoughts might lead. One thought would lead to the next and then the next.  He’d interject his own insights, showing me that he was listening and appreciating what I had to say.  In the discussion that would inevitably follow, with me expounding and him asking more and more questions, a light would start to dawn.  Often, I’d reach the limits of my understanding fairly quickly, and still he had more questions.

That’s when the real fun began.  Because he brought a little-kid wonder to the exchange and he’d jump in with his own thoughts on the thing, new ideas would start popping up.  Often they were things I’d never considered.  Les would start grinning wide and bring up another question.  He’d get all sparkly and go with the flow of the conversation, interjecting “yes-and” thoughts, building on the mind-construct I would make.

Les had a lot of fun running with ideas.  (I guess nobody ever told him that ideas are like scissors and it can be dangerous to run with them.   Nobody told him that the ideas can cut you if you’re not careful.)

Our discussions got quite lively.  They really were a lot of fun. At the end of all our talk-story, we’d hug each other, hugely satisfied by our game, and go along on our merry ways.  And my take-away, always, was another way of seeing the world and more ideas for explorations and moves to try.

I don’t know what he got out of these talks we had, but it sure was a lot of fun.

A MASTER IS ALWAYS AN AMATEUR IN DISGUISE

We are always being told that being a “master” is the pinnacle of our journeys toward Achievement and $ucce$$.  It’s the end-all, be-all of the whole thing, they say.  Be a Master, Rule the World.  R-i-i-ight.

In this YouTube video, “Sarah Lewis:  Be a Deliberate Amateur,” which was published by the National Association of Independent Schools in 2015, art historian Sarah Lewis tells us that part of the process of developing Mastery is knowing how to fall back into an I-Don’t-Know state of mind and ask “stupid questions.”

Who knew?

Lewis is an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies at Harvard University.  She is also the author of the LA Times bestseller book, THE RISE:  Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.

Her book explores the question of how new ideas happen and is a lively and interesting read that has won widespread praise.  It mashes history, biography and psychological research together and explores the value of what the wise guys call “Beginner-Mind”.  In it, Lewis points out the value of retaining that natural sense of wonder you carried around as a child.

 BEGINNER-MIND ON THE RISE

The following YouTube video is a part of a series published by Mindfulnessgruppen, a Stockholm-based company offering courses and trainings based on mindfulness.  It features mindfulness researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn exploring the benefits of Beginner Mind, one of what he calls “the nine attitudes of mindfulness.”

Kabat-Zinn’s life-work has been explorations of the mind-body connection and how mindfulness helps promote health and well-being.   He’s been credited with bringing the once-obscure concept of Mindfulness into mainstream thought, it says here.  After Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness was no longer just the province of wrinkled, half-naked, bearded old men sitting in caves all blissed-out.

The man has written numerous ground-breaking books in the field, and is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.   As a result of his studies, testing and developing assorted practical applications for his discoveries, Kabat-Zinn figured out a way for people to use mindfulness to help reduce stress.  He and his crew teach other people how to do his MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction).

The whole thing is a further iteration of old wisdom that’s been made new and relevant to our own world now.

 THE WONDER OF IT ALL

In order to explore ideas to their fullest extent (or at least as far as your own mind can take them), it’s clear that you need to get back to Beginner-Mind.  That is the start of it all, it seems.

The very best thing about the Beginner-Mind mindset is the sense of wonder that is a part of our birthright as humans.  We can wonder.  We can think.  We can dream.

This extraordinarily beautiful YouTube video, The Wonder of Life, was published by RedFrost Motivation in 2015.  In it, Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, some of the best of our scientific thinkers, give us things to ponder while the guys who put together the video blow up our minds big and bigger with out-of-this-world images and heart-expanding music.

My own thought on all of this is that it gets really hard to think small when you figure out that you’re made up of the same stuff as stars and rainbows and butterflies.

Here’s a poem:

 


CLARITY’S COMING

Oh…here I am again.

I LIKE this place:

Standing on the tippy top

Of a razorback ridge,

Rocking in the wind,

Waiting for…I don’t know what.

 

Clarity’s coming…

The mist is down there,

Looking like the softest bed,

And the other mountain tops

Are poking through the cloud-duvet,

The strong, silent types.

The sky’s that “come-and-fly” blue

That pierces your heart

And breaks it open.

 

Clarity’s coming,

And the world’s going to change again.

Wonder what’s going to happen next.

(It’s never what I think, you know…

The world pays no attention to

Ant pronouncements and jellyfish goals.

It just keeps on turning, the World.)

 

Clarity’s coming

And there’s something new

That’s been there all the time,

Just waiting in the wings for

Its turn to dance.

And there I will be –

The faithful audience –

My hair all messy from the head-scratching,

Another stupid grin plastered on my face.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  Wonder by technolibrary via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that basically us humans are clueless when it comes to answering the Big Questions.  [Life-Its-Own-Self is a big Mystery.  Wonder and awe are appropriate responses.]

THE QUESTION-BOX KID

I confess:  I was that Question-Box Kid who kept asking adults the stumper “why” questions all the time.  It is not a good survival trait in a culture where young ones are supposed to watch and listen and learn.

I don’t think I was built for all that big-eyed, bated-breath wonderment stuff – the one where you go, “Oh, wow, Big Person, tell me what I need to know.”

I thought the Big Guys were keeping me from figuring out the all-of-everything.  It was all a conspiracy, I figured.  I was going to hammer the Big Stuff really fast so I could just go out there and DO stuff, just like them….maybe better than them.  Ha-ha!

mario-boxes
Mario Boxes by Jodi Green via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I was, I think, an annoying piece of work.  I survived my childhood mostly because I was surrounded by people who were too slow on their feet to catch and strangle me.

THE BIG SIX – WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, HOW, AND WHY

Later on, I finally did figure out that the WHY questions have no pat answers.  You can ask WHAT, WHO, WHERE, WHEN and HOW questions from sunrise to sunset and get some pretty solid answers from other people.

The answers you get to those kinds of questions are productive.  You can do stuff with them and make things happen.

WHY questions, on the other hand, are always….debatable.  They lead to arguments and dissension and lots of disagreements between people.   Wars have been started over differing WHY-question answers.

the-big-question-sculpture
Big Question Mark by Benjamin Reay via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

FROM ONE TRUTH TO ANOTHER

The thing is, the answers to WHY questions are not necessarily “right” or “wrong.”  Like the answers to the other questions, the answers to WHY questions either work or they don’t work.  The problem is the answers to the WHY questions only work for some people and not for others.

The answers to the WHY questions are always one Truth or another.  But, each person sees Truth in their own way and sometimes one person’s Truth will absolutely contradict another person’s Truth.

Finding the WHY-question answers that work for you are a lot of work.  The deal is, though, those answers are the absolute bottom-rock foundation for adding meaning and mana to your life.

The wise guys say that all the answers to the WHY questions are already inside of you.  For some reason, they’re obscured by assorted issues and assumptions and other-people stuff.

It’s the price of admission for coming into this world, that.  That’s what you get for coming into the world as this helpless little being that has to depend on all these other people to keep you alive.

golden-admission-tickets
Golden Admission Tickets by City Foodsters via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
(To avoid all that, the wiser guys point out, you would have to come into the world as a fully-realized being, already self-sufficient and smart enough not to say much.  That comes with a different set of problems that might end up with you getting burned at the stake or crucified or something.  REALLY not a good thing.)

Things being the way they are, it means that you have to develop “creative discovery skills.”  Since nobody else actually knows the answers that are going to work for you, you have to go find them your own self.   It requires you to ask the right questions.

Here’s a TEDx Tokyo talk by James Curleigh about “Asking the Right Questions.”  (At the time the video was made, Curleigh was the president and CEO of Keen Footwear.  He has since become Levi’s brand president.)  It really sounds like the guy asks a lot of questions too….

CREATIVE DISCOVERY SKILLS

Creative discovery skills are actually just a matter of asking questions that look past previous assumptions.  The more forethought you put into the questions you ask, the better answers you get and the more options you uncover.

It’s kind of like turning over rocks and leaves and overturned boxes and such and finding out what’s under them, then taking all the stuff under them (plus maybe some of the stuff you overturned as well) to make a whopping cool new thing.

This is pretty much the definition for how scientists and inventors and artists and craftsmen and business innovators came up with all these fantastic new ideas and products that surround us today.

PLAYING WITH OTHERS

It’s a lot more fun when you can share these skills with other people.  To do that, you mostly have to just ask their permission to play in this new way and then invite them to join in.

When you encounter stuck-in-the-mud resistance, the best response is usually asking another question.

Keep asking questions until the other person starts thinking too…even if they’re only thinking of ways to block you.

Remember that they are doing you a favor when they try to block you.  You get to think about their objections and propositions and see whether you can find ways around them.   Their objections help you refine your own way of dancing and point out your mistakes or missteps.

Eventually, if you both stick with this way of playing, you may find some common place where you can stand together and start making something together.

There is a very useful communication skills article (as well as a very good video by Yashwant Schinde) on the Mind Tools Club website that you might want to check out.   You can click HERE to do that.

Mind Tools is an online educational/business training organization that was established in 1996.  It works with top global corporations as well as individual entrepreneurs and careerists to help them increase productivity, improve management and leadership skills and all that good stuff.

If you like what you see, you can even join the club for a not-unreasonable price. (The standard membership is $19/month after the first month for $1.)  You can also subscribe to their free newsletter.

FINAL THOUGHTS

You do have to watch out and make sure you’re not being a pest when you play this game, but sometimes even being a pest will get the other person off their duff.

If you get really good at it, their getting off their duff is not going to be because they are so mad at you they want to beat you into the dirt.  (You know you’re good when you can take off your running shoes and not bother with them any more.)

running-shoes
Running Shoes by Danielle Bardgette via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


WORLD VS REAL

In the World, where most people live

There’s Science and Security,

Answers, Deadlines and Objectivity.

There’s hustle, bustle and activity.

Things happen “because” and “so that.”

 

And the people think

They can run from Death,

Not realizing that they are

Carrying him on their backs.

 

In the Real, where some people go,

There are questions and puzzles

And no thought and no time.

Things happen as they happen

And they are all connected

And the connections are all there is.

 

And Death is an ally

That helps you dance more deeply.

And when one day you’re done,

He’ll be the one to take you home.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  Sunrise from Mount Haleakala by Brian Snelson via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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FOOLING AROUND

FOOLING AROUND

My life-model is the Fool — the guy in the Tarot card stack who’s walking along cheerfully, heading off a cliff.  That guy is my hero.  He knows that it’s all one big iffy pile of ambiguity and he’s cheerful anyway.  I can live like that, I am thinking.

A while back, I developed a thing I call “The Fool’s Premises.”  I’ve lived my life pretty much according to these premises and, hey, it’s been a lot good.  I found that you can learn a lot from fools.

THE FOOL’S PREMISES

I am just me…and that is enough. 

It took me a long, long time to get to that one.  For years I was always beating myself up because I was measuring who I am and what I am by standards set by other people.  I never measured up to other people’s expectations and desires and wants and needs.  I barely could keep myself from drowning in them all, running madly around trying to be everything to everybody.  It didn’t work.

And then, I decided, hey, I’m pretty good just as I am.  Well…a funny thing happened.  I was able to see where my strengths were, where my failings were and I could choose to use my strengths and compensate for the things I am not so good doing.  It works okay.

I am friends with myself now.  It works better.

I play and I help other people play.  

Apparently there is some kind of conspiracy that wants to keep people from playing.  All that “this is se-e-erious, Netta!” tends to do is alert me to incoming not-fun ideas.

Hawaiians are supposedly notorious for developing the ‘alamihi-crab bucket syndrome.  See, the little black ‘alamihi crabs are really tasty eating.  To catch them, you set a bucket with an aku fish head or something in the bottom into the ground at night when they are most active.  They jump in.  The bucket keeps the crabs from getting out again because every time somebody tries to climb out (over the bodies of the other crabs), some other crab in the bucket pulls them back down.

alamihi-crab
Alamihi Crab by Blake Handley via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

This is a metaphor for a human trait that seems to be ubiquitous.  Hawaiians just got a bad rep because we made up the bucket ploy to catch the little ‘alamihi, I think.

I decided I was not happy being an ‘alamihi.  I didn’t like being in a bucket.  I didn’t like my fate as somebody else’s dinner.

I figured that the best thing I could do was stay out of the ‘alamihi bucket and help other people stay out of it too.  Mostly that’s what I try to do.

It’s a funny thing, though.  When I tell people this premise, they tend to discount anything else I might say after that.  Play has fallen into severe disrepute, it seems.  The grasshoppers are losing to the ants.

Too bad.  All that ant stuff is really boring-looking.

The only thing that abides is the way I walk. 

Everything is impermanent.  That’s a given.

So, I went looking for what actually abides — what stays when everything else goes wonky.

 The wise guys are right:  the way you walk is the only thing that stays real.  So….I walk and I keep walking one-step, one-step, one-step.

I walk through other people’s worlds and need not take what they do personally.

This one grew out of understanding that my world, what I see and what I feel, is just mine.  Everybody else has their own world they see.

Because we are all milling around in the same place, everybody else’s worlds impinges on my own.  We are all connected and the connections pull at me when you move.

Very little of what people do actually is about ME personally.  They just live their lives and our connections and ties drag me around or trip me up as I’m trying to do mine.

So…if that is a truth, then, it means that mostly I can just keep going on with what I am doing and duck when something particularly nasty comes heading my way.

Not having to spend my days always angry or hurt about other people’s actions that trip me up sure makes it a lot easier to do my own walk.

Here’s a YouTube video published by the Oprah Winfrey Network as part of the SuperSoul Sunday series.  It features Don Miguel Ruiz and speaks about this very thing:

Don Miguel Ruiz is the guy who wrote the books about Toltec wisdoms, THE FOUR AGREEMENTS.

THE BACK STORY

This thing developed as I was learning to walk without my husband Fred in my world any more.  When he died, it seems I was cut loose to go looking for a different kind of way of being that wasn’t so governed by Monkey-mind.

Fred died in 1997, after we’d been together for 27 years.  I still miss him a lot.  But, I don’t think I’d be living my life this way if he were still alive.

Here’s a poem:


FOOLIN’

F’r real, ya know:

I’m just foolin’ around.

 

See that card?  That’s the Fool…

The one with the nut with the

Silly grin all over his face?

 

His eyes look all twinkly from

The stars stuck in them.

He’s dreaming big.

He’s caught in mid-step,

One foot in the air

At the brink of some cliff.

He’s got this bindle on the stick

Held over his shoulder….

Probably lunch.

See his faithful little dog,

All sprightly-looking,

Gamboling along all over his other foot?

 

That’s me.

The sun’s shining.

The birds are chirping.

It sure looks like a messy ending’s

In the offing.

 

Awww…I know what the SMART ones say.

They keep trying to convince me that

The other card’s the better one,

The Heirophant, high-priest guy,

 

That one has this guy perched on some chair

That’s probably harder than

The cheap peasant benches

‘Cause somebody piled on the velvet cushions

Before they let the guy sit down.

He’s dressed in drag.

(At least, that robe thing of his

Sure looks like a bitch to drag around.)

And they’ve jammed this big old heavy hat or something

On his poor, balding pate.

 

He’s surrounded by crowds of folks,

Looking like they’re intently listening for

Profound pronouncements and proclamations from the poor guy,

And you’ve gotta know

They’re just waiting for one wrong move

So they can grab the schmuck and dis him down into the muck

They spend the rest of their time raking up

And they drown him in some horrid pool of yuck.

 

Oh, yeah.

Right.

Some choice that one is!

Naw….

I think I’ve got it right.

 

Bet that fool’s got great balance.

Bet HE knows how to fly….

by Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  The Fool by Herval via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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KAHIKINUI PRAYER

KAHIKINUI PRAYER

Kahikinui is a land district that is approximately 22,860 acres between Kipahulu and Kaupo on the southeastern side of the island.  It is bound to the north by Haleakala National Park,  to the west by Ulupalakua Ranch and to the east by Haleakala Ranch.  The Pacific Ocean laps along its southern boundary.

This YouTube video, “Kahikinui,” was published by Jeremy Johnson using his drone and gives a taste of the sheer expansiveness of the place.  (The music is “E Nihi Ka Hele” by the legendary Hawaiian musician Gabby Pahinui)

THE MANY-STORIED LAND

Kahikinui can be a harsh place, a dry and rocky place full of thorns, feral goats and axis deer, and it is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful of Maui’s treasures.  The land is mostly undeveloped because of the shortage of water there.  Some see it as a good place to put up huge windmills for energy.

Kahikinui is the back of beyond…a hinterland that was inhabited since the early fifteenth century by na kua’aina, the country people.  Later planters transformed it into what was called the “greatest continuous zone of dryland planting in the Hawaiian islands.”

It sits mostly empty of people now, but at one time there was a fairly large population.  Ruins of old houses, trails, small farms, and a complex system of temples and shrines are scattered throughout the area.

kuaaina-kahikinui
KUAAINA KAHIKINUI by Patrick Vinton Kirch (via University of Hawaii Press)

Kahikinui was the subject of a 17-year-long study by anthropologist Patrick Vinton Kirch and his students.  He wrote a book about it, KUAAINA KAHIKO, Life and Land in Ancient Kahikinui, Maui.  It is an amazing book.

One reviewer calls Kirch “an academic archaeologist who tried to be pono at a time when to be an archaeologist in some circles was to be a social pariah.”  Interwoven throughout the book are stories about his relationships with a dedicated group of passionate homesteaders, Ka ‘Ohana o Kahikinui, who were allowed by the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission to set up for a bare-bones homesteading effort.

The Hawaiian Home Lands Commission is a State agency that oversees the distribution of (usually third-rate) farming land to Native Hawaiians, as mandated by the Federal government.  That’s a whole, other, very long story fraught with controversy and politics.

The members of the Kahikinui ‘Ohana were willing to do what they had to do to bypass the long, long wait for the government resources to become available to develop the infrastructure that is officially deemed necessary for the people to move back onto the land.

pueo
Pueo by pmm3 via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

LAND CONNECTION

My husband Fred and I were interested in becoming homesteaders there.  Two years after Fred died, the land became available.  I was offered a chance to acquire a lease for land there, a posthumous award to my husband.

I had to refuse the offer.  By myself, I did not feel able to do it.  In gratitude, however, I made a prayer/poem for the homesteaders there.

When I gave it to him, this poem made Mo Moler, the charismatic leader of the group, cry.  I was very proud of that.  Mo is one tough guy, a Vietnam veteran and a wild man.  It is not often that he lets himself cry.

pueo-on-the-fence
Pueo On The Fence by Mark Kimura via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Here’s the poem:

 


PULE KAHIKINUI

 E Akua, hear me.
This is your child who calls you.
 
Our thanks to you for this land:
For the great bowl of sky and the beauty around us,
For the cool of the mountain, the abundance of sea,
Our thanks.
 
We come together now to talk about this land,
This land that needs us as we need this land,
So the land may live,
So we may live.
 
Help us guard our mouths.
Let our words bring light, not darkness.
Help us clear our na’au and hold to our purpose,
So we can resolve our problems
In peace,
With love.
 
Let us put our minds together and pool our mana’o
And see what we will make together for our keiki.
Help us hold this land as witness to the beauty that was,
To the beauty that is,
To the beauty that can be.
 
Let us make from this land more beauty,
And with that beauty we will feed our souls.
Help us remember that we are the bridge between
Those who come before us
And those who come after us.

Let us be strong and true to that memory.
Help us remember who we are,
That we are yours as you are ours
And we are all together.
 
E Akua, hear me.
This is your child who speaks.
 
To you we offer the glory of this work we do.
It is yours, all yours.
Let the work be pono.
Let the land be pono.
Let us be pono.
 
E Akua, be with us.
We who are yours,
We ask.

by Netta Kanoho

E Akua is a calling out to the Creative and to the ancestors.  Na’au  literally means “guts” – a person’s center, where all of the emotions and subconscious thoughts and feelings are held – and where Hawaiians feel the human “mind” is really situated. Mana’o is “knowledge.”  Keiki is “children.”  Pono means being balanced and being righteous.]


Picture credit:  Kahikinui by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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THE PEACE POEM

THE PEACE POEM

It’s happening again.  This is the 18th year that the annual statewide Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Poetry contest will be organized by volunteer teachers, writers and artists who call themselves “The International Peace Poem Project.”  Small donations keep them alive.

Almost every school in Hawaii is invited to participate in the contest and there is no entry fee.  Every student winner in the contest from each class gets a certificate of honor and a prize for their winning poem during spring ceremonies on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, the Big Island (Hawaii) and Molokai.

Last year more than 2,000 students in Hawaii entered the contest and hundreds of them were recognized at ceremonies held in auditoriums statewide.  In past years other schools throughout the United States have taken on the Peace Poem as a class project.

PLANTING THE SEED

banyan-seeds
Banyon Seeds by yopper via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The seed for this Maui-based Project was planted in 1996 when three friends Melinda Gohn, Frank Rich (aka Wide Garcia) and the late Lawrence Hill, who had started the Maui Live Poets Society, began compiling what they called “The Peace Poem.”

The idea was to get people from all over the world to contribute lines to the poem until it became the world’s longest poem about peace.   A six year-old girl, Libby Barker, contributed the first two lines:

“Peace means everyone loving everyone else

And we are all part of one world.”

The group has been collecting lines for the poem ever since.

The poem is hand-written by many, many hands on a scroll constructed of rag paper sheets and other papers.  (In those early years, the group considered and rejected the option of collecting the lines over the Internet.  It felt more real to have the lines laid down by all those hands.)

banyan-tree-in-lahaina
Banyan Tree in Lahaina by Bret Robertson via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
At every Live Poets gathering the people in attendance are still being asked to contribute their lines.  People who visit the islands and people who live here have been tapped to write a couple of lines.

The group has taken the poem into churches to collect lines from the congregations.  They’ve gone into prisons to get lines from the inmates in lockdown.  Contributors represent all ages, social strata and religious beliefs.

The youngest donor was a 3-year-old girl whose 7-year-old sister wrote her words, “Peace is seeing a baby’s smile.”  The oldest known contributor was a 93-year-old Maui poet.

Poetry was collected from China, Vietnam and Greece, and poetry scrolls circulated through England and Switzerland.  The poem’s mission was translated into Spanish and was sent to international Spanish-speaking organizations.  About this last, Gohn said, “There is so much unrest in South America. It’s a perfect place for the poem.”

“It’s very powerful,” Gohn says. “As soon as I bring up the Peace Poem, immediately we’re dealing on a high level. All the other stuff falls away.”

As she points out, “Everyone has a common desire for peace.”

In more recent years, the poem has gone (sort of) digital.  Anyone who wants to can contribute their two lines about peace to the poem by downloading the group’s Peace Poem Scroll Page, copying the thing onto an 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper and get friends, fans and other fellows to write their lines as well.  The sheet can then be mailed to Peace Poem, P.O. Box 102, Lahaina, HI, USA 96761.

If you’d like to do this, CLICK HERE.

GOAL ACHIEVED

By September 19, 2000, the poem had more than 15,000 lines that had been penned by people from over 120 countries.  On that day the poem was symbolically presented to the United Nations during its Millenium Peace Day celebration.  (Today, the poem has grown to over 160,000 lines.)

That was an exciting day for Melinda and Wide, who traveled to New York for the Millenium Peace Day, and made the presentation along with another member of the Project Allen Lewis.

united-nations-peace-day
United Nations Peace Day via peacepoem.org

Melinda recited poetry before a panel including the UN President Harry Holkieri and dignitaries from the UN General Assembly.   She told the assembled world leaders, “The project has been a voice for people of the world to express their hope for peace. Let us hope world leaders will listen and work toward nonviolent solutions.”

Fifteen-year-old Maeh-ki (Red-Sky) El-Issa (the tall guy sharing her microphone) read a peace poem written by Mother Teresa in honor of his late mother, Ingrid Washinawatok, who was killed on March 4, 1999, when she was on a cultural education mission to Colombia.  Allen and Wide hold up a part of the Peace Poem Scroll.

The presentation of the poem to the UN was the accomplishment of a goal set when the friends began the poem four years before.

START OF THE PROJECT

However, that event was not the end of the poem.  Instead, a new chapter in the story began when Melinda and her friends organized the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Poetry contest and opened it to elementary school students from all over the state.  The organization even put together poetry lesson plans and suggestions for the teachers at its website, www.peacepoem.org.

Students from schools on all of the islands are invited to enter the contest.  The young poets vie for prizes and the winners are honored by island mayors or state officials at a school assembly and presented with Certificates of Honor and assorted prizes furnished by the Peace Poem organization.

Each of the student poems are a maximum of  twenty lines and “can be about any kind of peace.”  All of these poems are added to the Peace Poem scroll which continues to grow.

Lahaina Banyan Tree by Brian Ujiie via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Melinda says, “The Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Poetry Contest was started in 2000 as a way to share with Hawaii students an understanding of the need for peaceful reflection and active work toward peace, as exemplified by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

“In honor of these peace and nonviolence principles which have played a vibrant role in Hawaiian culture—and in particular the Hawaiian Renaissance—we encourage Hawaii students to contribute their poems to the contest and the International Peace Poem. ”

Every year now  thousands of students have participated in this statewide event.  Other schools throughout the United States take on the peace poem as a class project.

Here’s a poem:


HEARTSONG MAITRI

May all of our heartsongs

Foster joy in the World.

May all of our heartsongs

Foster peace in the World.

May all of our heartsongs

Foster freedom from suffering in the World.

 

And may the heartsong of the Universe

Join all of our songs

And spread through all the realms.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Maui Banyan Tree Square by Bevis Chin [CC BY-ND 2.0]

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