My own experiments in crazy-quilting and then sashiko quilting had me going blind doing fancy-stitching with wild and crazy colors and patterns as well as tactile combinations of bumps and lumps that were a heck of a lot of fun for me and for the heart-friends to whom I gifted these bits of silliness.
That may be why this YouTube video, “Constellation Quilt,” (published in 2013 by Public Record) showing work by designer Emily Fischer and her design studio Haptic Lab caught my eye.
The idea, expressed in the video, of wrapping yourself up in stars and time caught at the strings of my imagination.
Then I saw another YouTube video, “Flying Martha Ornithopter.” This one was published in 2017 by Made Me Look. It, too, was about an object designed by Emily Fischer and Haptic Lab.
Like Fischer, I understand that kites, winged things and even flapping flags can help us humans explore the movements and flow of the invisible forces of wind. They can help us tap into the tactile joys of flight.
KINDRED SPIRIT FOUND
It seems to me that I have found another person for whom tactile and sensory design – how a thing feels in your hand and on your skin – is as important as what the thing looks like.
Even more importantly (for me anyway), here is a person for whom objects are repositories for the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.
Among the objects Haptic Lab produces are extraordinarily detailed street maps that they call SoftMaps that can be customized and personalized for individual customers to show where their stories have taken place.
It seems to me that designers like that are a rarity.
BEGINNINGS OF A COMPANY WITH A HUMAN TOUCH
Emily Fischer grew up in rural Wisconsin where she learned how to make such things as quilts and kites as a youngster. Even as an architect-wannabe, her crafty beginnings continued to find expression.
As an undergraduate student at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in 2002, one of her projects was her first quilted map that she designed as a way-finding tool for the visually impaired.
The inspiration for the project was her mother Peggy who had begun to lose her eyesight through complications from glaucoma.
For these quilts, Emily combined her skill with computer-aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) rapid prototyping tools, and open-source mapping software as well as her grounding in the old-school, painstaking craft traditions of quilting and needlework with her explorations of haptics (the way humans perceive objects and sensations through touch).
For years, she continued to make these quilts as side-projects while pursuing her career as an architect in New York City.
In 2009, during the extreme depths of the recession, Fischer was laid off from her job at a commercial architectural firm.
One of the first things she did was build a simple website with images of her experimental personal work that included objects exploring her interests in cartography and early flight.
About that time she says: “Almost immediately, design blogs like Cool Hunting started publishing images of my handmade quilts and kites. I was commissioned to construct a kite for an Opening Ceremony video directed by Matt Wolf. I got a message from ID Magazine (RIP). Then the Los Angeles Times. Then the New York Times. Suddenly everyone wanted to buy the quilted maps I was making. So within three weeks of losing my job, I accidentally started my own company.”
And so it began.
Fischer operates her accidental company, Haptics Lab, out of a Brooklyn studio with a small, close-knit team. The company is grounded in values that emphasize fair trade and sustainability.
For thoughts and insights Emily shared in a 2015 article for Design Sponge, “Ten Ways to Bootstrap a Sustainable Business: How I was able to meet expectations, make a living and not overwhelm myself and others while also respecting fair-trade practices,” click here:
It is an extraordinarily useful compendium of advice from one who has gone down the road a ways on a path that she says makes her happy.
FINAL FISCHER THOUGHTS
This YouTube “How the Founder of Haptic Lab Uses Design to Drive Positive Change” was created by Skiftx contents studio in 2017.
Here’s a poem:
AT THE CROSSROADS
Do I go straight ahead?
Do I turn left?
Do I turn right?
Do I go back?
Standing flatfooted in the middle
Keep standing there and
You’re likely to get run over
By some unheeding vehicle
That keeps on trundling along.
The roads in front spread outward
Leading to who-knows-where.
They stretch on to infinity, you know.
And “back” just means more same-old.
And here I am,
With my raw and bleeding heart
Pulling me towards
The one road that is so bright and shiny
That it takes my breath away.
The caution signs posted
Along that road are intimidating.
They jump up and down, even.
Loss and devastation, they declaim.
Doom-and-gloom, they promise.
Desperation and despair.
Aw, the heck with it, babe!
by Netta Kanoho
Header Photo credit: “Touching the World” by Joe Szilagyi via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
In a world of seven billion-plus souls, one of our deepest human needs often goes unfulfilled – the need to be heard. That may be one reason why the Spoken Word movement, once a subculture on the fringes of the mainstream, is gaining widespread acceptance around the world.
THE RISE OF SPOKEN WORD
“Spoken word poetry” was born in Chicago in 1984, when a construction worker, Marc Smith, started reading poetry at a popular club and encouraged others to join him in sharing their work. Smith was looking to “democratize” poetry and “bring it to the masses.”
He was following an old road with an ancient lineage that meanders through the underground and fringes of Society among the dispossessed and disenfranchised and the ones who choose to stand different.
The trailhead for this road began before there was writing and paper. The college theses expounding about the “long-held traditions” of the ancient art of wordsmithing (and all the other hoo-hah that made playing with words seem like it is a probable cause for dyspepsia) were not even a glimmer on any horizon.
Smith was going back to that most ancient of traditions, Word-of-Mouth — just like the tribal storytellers and assorted con artists and bull-shitters sitting around campfires and hearth-fires of the world from ancient times, weaving a yarn for their friends and companions. And he was inviting everybody else to join him.
Smith remembered: Poetry was, first and foremost, an oral art. It was an art with a performer and an audience. The people around him liked that reminder.
Two years after he first got up to tell his poems out loud, Smith approached the owner of a jazz club. Those readings happened every week and evolved into a competition.
The format gained popularity, but it was the Internet that blew it up big. A lot of people liked being reminded that poetry is an oral art.
Poetry was originally produced by a human voice, propelled out of a human body with the breath. It was one person talking to a bunch of other people.
Audiences liked the presentations by the most avid performers that showed that poetry, at its most effective, contains the rhythm and movements of a human heart.
They liked that the beginning and end of a poetic line is often a unit of phrasing and sense-making that is based on the human breath. You need to breathe when you’re speaking your poem. It is your breath and your voice that animates it.
PAGE POETRY VS STAGE POETRY
Poetry Its-Own-Self has always been a means of often-powerful self-expression. It grew out of song and prayer and storytelling traditions that continue to this day. It has been with us forever and because of that it can be difficult to pin down and define.
One cute breakdown, “What Is Poetry? #Poetry Defined” was published in 2015 by Advocate of Wordz. Here’s the YouTube video:
In my own experience, poetry has been a life-saver. It continues to be a way for me to find my own clarity in the confusion of everyday life. Rearranging words on a page helps me to rearrange the thoughts in my head. It works very well for that.
But, let’s face it. Over the centuries, page poetry has become stigmatized by many folks as indulgences of the rich-and-snooty. Books of poetry tended to gather dust on bookshelves.
Page poetry (especially as was taught in schools when I was growing up) could be a yawn-inducing experience. Poetry – at least the kind pedagogues seemed to favor — had the most gawd-awful and esoteric rules formulated by various poetry-makers in times past, all gathered together by the intelligentsia and assorted acolytes of High Culture.
If your teacher was into it, as mine often were, it was a grand thing; otherwise, not so much. Teachers who got stuck on guiding their charges through parsing and analyzing some “Great Poem” or other, killed more poets a-borning than any other thing, probably.
Like calculus and philosophical debate, it was stuff for the Big-Brains (or folks who wanted to look like they had some.)
Page poetry was a good thing to inflict on children. Like regular doses of cod-liver oil or whatever, it was supposed to keep them growing and make them strong. By the time the children hit adulthood, it was often not a thing remembered fondly.
“Dull” was page poetry’s other name.
Committing poetry to a page (if you were not an academic sort), was a weird sort of hobby at best. Solitary you could string the words from your heart across assorted pages and realize all kinds of gains. Rigorous mental exercise, mastery of an art form, personal catharsis, and insights are possibilities that come to mind.
A common fate for these homemade page poems was to be stuck in a drawer where they moldered until the poet’s death, after which, they were probably tossed by the poet’s heirs.
If you were particularly proud of the page poems you constructed, you submitted them to magazines in exchange for magazine issues, sold them to greeting card makers for pennies, or spent money on producing self-published chapbooks to give to all of your family and friends.
If you got good at producing poems, you might even consider spending time creating them “on demand” as a busker.
When the Internet revved up, you could also post them on websites or on social networks and then wonder whether they ever reached anybody. (The page poem launch very often hits a wall of dead silence.)
The problem with even the best page poetry is that it is only one-half of a dialogue. The maker makes, but doesn’t know whether anybody is out there listening, doesn’t feel like he or she is being heard. It gets to feel like you’re talking to yourself.
Stage poetry (as spoken word has been called) is something else. When it’s done well and the audience is lively, it flies. Performers and audiences can get caught up in a group hug-fest.
Some poets are raucous; they rant and rave, yell and shout. Others are calm and relaxed.
There are poets who make you laugh and poets who make you cry. Many of them bare their deepest secrets and rock your heart.
Some weave intricate verbal patterns that enthrall you in a web of sound.
Others parse out a problem using simple words that drill down into the core of it, reframing and rearranging your mind.
Stage poetry can be inspiring. A spoken word poem can be stimulating and entertaining when it’s good.
When several good poets get together it can turn into a jazz jam, a live performance never to be repeated in exactly the same way. It can be a feast.
More importantly, even when the poetry or the performance is not so good, stage poetry is about connection. The poet speaks. The audience listens. Good performers take their listeners flying; bad performers get a lot of points for trying.
A TASTE OF SPOKEN WORD
To give you a taste, here’s one of my favorite slam poems, “Legacy,” presented in this YouTube Video published by Button Poetry. It features poet Tui Scanlon performing for Hawaii during the prelims at the 2014 National Poetry Slam.
Button Poetry was founded in 2011 by poets Sam Cook and Sierra DeMulder. Since then it’s become the largest digital distributor of spoken word in the world. The Button Poetry videos are shared on websites like Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and NPR. Their YouTube channel has over 900,000 subscribers. Click here to check them out:
SPOKEN WORD INTERNATIONAL
These days, commentators note that spoken word has “gone mainstream.” Poetry meant to be performed – performance poetry – is winning accolades from audiences of regular people. Some of those people get up on stage and do their own spoken word pieces before sometimes massive crowds.
All over the world, wherever people gather, there are open mic nights, where folks get up in front of a crowd and share their words – angry poetry, love poems, poems of protest and politics, stand-up poetry, punk poetry, jazz poetry, nonsense rhymes, and rap and hip-hop fusion poetry.
There are regular organized gatherings of amateur and casual poets.
There are poetry slams where the competition and audience participation can get intense.
There are shows by professional poets. At festivals, you’ll find performing poets sharing the stage with musicians, actors, dancers and other performing artists.
On the Internet, the variety (and the sheer number) of posted poetry videos boggles the mind.
There are even spoken word workshops you can attend to become a better performing poet.
And, in the schools, performance poetry and spoken word has opened a door to the impact and the power of words for children of all ages.
Smith’s plan to bring poetry back to the masses worked. Words were spoken…and more and more and more words keep being spoken, mostly because people are definitely listening.
The quality of the works vary, of course, and that seems to be a part of the whole scene.
THE BEST POEM
My benchmark “best poem” has no words. It was an exchange between my friend Wide Garcia, who chairs the meeting of the Maui Live Poets that meets in the Makawao Library on the third Wednesday night of each month, and a young man with Aspergers Syndrome.
During one of our regular meetings, we were doing a round-robin, where all of the poets in attendance took a turn to present a poem to the crowd. A young man came in midway through the first session and sat down in an empty chair. He sat quietly and watched as the poets read or spoke their work, watched as the audience responded.
It’s Wide’s practice to ask everyone who comes to the gatherings if they would like to present a poem. After the first round was done and the poets were mingling and talking story, he approached the young man, who was sitting there, seemingly detached from the hubbub around him, and asked whether the boy had work he would like to share.
The young man did not answer, so Wide asked again, looking deeply into the teenager’s eyes.
There was a pause. Then the boy lifted his right hand with all of his fingertips held together like a spear-point and touched the middle of his chest, fingers pointed right at his heart. He gestured, moving his arm outward towards Wide and opened his hand, palm-up, as if he were offering his heart.
Wide made the same gesture back to the boy and grinned at him. The boy just looked back at him out of his own world.
And, for me, that became my benchmark “good poem” – the one I remember every time I start constructing another one. A good poem offers up your heart to another person. It’s even better when that other person offers up his or her heart back.
Since 1956 the Compline Choir has filled St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, WA with the uplifting holy sounds of chant. The service happens at 9:30 p.m. every Sunday. It is only 30 minutes long.
There are no sermons, no priests – just readings of psalms and some thoughtful musings interspersed between an incredible, soothing, peace-inducing sound.
This YouTube video, The Compline Choir at St. Mark’s Cathedral (Seattle, WA), was published in 2014. It was the first one to be produced and commissioned by the Choir and gives you a taste of what they do.
(The video was filmed by Markdavin Obenza and includes excerpts from the Compline Service for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels on September 29, 2013.)
A BALM FOR THE WEARY SOUL
Chanted prayer is an ancient tradition, one that modern-day science has found is good medicine for the body and for the mind.
Dr. Alan Watkins, a neuroscientist and co-founder of Complete Coherence, a European business leadership development firm, has explored many different ways to help clients maintain high levels of performance during challenging and stressful times.
In 2008, when Watkins was a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London, he announced, “We have recently carried out research that demonstrates that the regular breathing and musical structure of chanting can have a significant and positive physiological impact.”
Watson and his team followed five monks at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, a Cistercian monastery in the village of Heiligenkreuz in the southern part of the Vienna woods, north-west of Baden in Lower Austria.
The monastery, founded in 1133, is the oldest continuously occupied Cistercian monastery in the world. The monks are famous for their Gregorian chants.
The scientists followed the monks around and measured their heart rates and blood pressure throughout a 24-hour period. The heart rates and blood pressure numbers dipped to their lowest point in the day when the monks were chanting.
Dr Watkins pointed to similar previous studies documenting the neurological effects of sound supported their findings that chanting seems to lower blood pressure, increase performance hormone levels as well as reduce anxiety and depression and improve mood.
One remarkable story is the one French audiologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis tells in a 1978 documentary called “Chant.” The good doctor was called in to help the monks of a Benedictine monastery who were suffering from deep fatigue, depression and physical illness.
The doctor found that the sad, sick monks had been complying with a new church edict that had halted the centuries-old practice of chanting prayers throughout their day to mark their connection with the Divine.
When Tomatis convinced the monks to re-establish their rituals of prayer, the religious community regained its vitality. The monks were healthier and happier.
Not only is chanting beneficial, but it seems that just listening to chanting can be good for your health.
Some scientists believe music can stimulate the production of endorphins—natural opiates known to generate feelings of excitement and satisfaction.
It’s also possible, they say, that music helps the left and right hemispheres of the brain communicate more effectively and that it creates new neural pathways in the brain.
Benedictine nun, Sister Ruth Stanley, who is the head of the complementary medicine program at Central Minnesota’s Heart Center at St. Cloud Hospitals, found that having her patients listen to chant helped to ease chronic pain.
When you play chant, Sister Stanley said, “about 85 percent of the time, the body goes into very deep healing modes. It’s quite remarkable.”
Listening to the Compline (and to other forms of chanting as well) can foster inner peacefulness and healing, it seems.
ROOTS OF THE COMPLINE
The Compline has its roots in the everyday life of medieval Catholic monastics. It is the last service in a cycle of “offices” or “hours” sung in the Western Church throughout the day, the prayer before going to bed.
During medieval times, in the Catholic monasteries and convents in the west, the resident monks and nuns spent their days in solitary and communal prayer as well as doing more mundane work. (For all of them staying mindful of the Divine in their lives was one of their primary jobs, actually.)
Residents in the monasteries were more isolated from the world than those living in convents and friaries, who spent their days doing good works in their communities, but all of them prayed separately and together throughout the day, reciting formal sets of prayers and meditations created by the leaders of their various orders.
The timing and the formats of the monastic prayer services that marked the divisions of the religious day evolved as leaders of the various religious groups set up rules for how their followers should live and work and pray. Much of it was pretty much standardized for the different religious communities in the west by the fifth century.
During medieval times (and pretty much into the 20th century) each religious day was divided into eight parts (also known as canonical “hours”). The set prayers for each of these divisions made up the Liturgy of the Hours.
Lauds (morning prayer) sanctified the morning, preparing the inhabitants for the day. In medieval religious communities, that day started very early.
Terce (mid-morning), sext (midday), none (mid-afternoon) were known collectively as the “Little Hours”. They were celebrated with short prayers intended for use during breaks in manual or scholarly work.
Vespers (evening prayer) was for coming together to give thanks for the blessings received during the day and for work done well.
Compline (night prayer) was designed to be said as the last prayer before going to sleep. It starts with an examination of consciousness and includes a contemplation of mortality and a prayer for inner peace.
This service of quietness and reflection before rest completed the day for the religious. In certain monasteries, it marked the beginning of a period of silence observed by the whole community (including guests) throughout the night until the morning service.
The Night Offices (also called Vigils, and, in more modern times, Matins) were performed very early in the morning while it was still dark. During this time you were supposed to contemplate the mysteries of salvation.
In some of the more rigorous monasteries, the monks were supposed to get up in the middle of the night to recite these prayers and to meditate.
There was one other “hour” called Prime, which was celebrated between Lauds and Terce.
Around the year 382, it seems that in at least one monastery there were some monks who couldn’t get up for their morning prayers after spending half the night doing their Vigil practice.
To keep the monks from staying in bed until mid-morning instead of getting up to start their day, all of the monks were called together for Prime when they prayed together before heading out to do their tasks. The practice proved to be effective and was adopted by other monasteries.
(Prime was abolished by revisions of the Second Vatican Council when church leaders looked at ways to make the practices of a contemplative religious “more humane.”)
Until the 20th century, the Compline was pretty much unknown to the general public and worshippers who were not a part of a monastic community.
ONE MAN’S VISION
St. Mark’s Compline Choir and the Compline Service was the brainchild of American composer and liturgist Peter Hallock (November 19, 1924 to April 27, 2014) who was organist and choirmaster at the St. Mark’s Cathedral from 1951 to 1991.
When he attended the Royal School of Church Music in England, from 1949 to 1951, Hallock was one of the few American students allowed to chant the Office of Compline with fellow classmates in the crypt of the Canterbury Cathedral.
When Hallock became the organist at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, he invited twelve music students from his alma mater, the University of Washington, to gather at the St. Mark’s to study and sing plainsong. Their text was from the Proposed Book of Common Prayer (1928) of the Church of England, set to medieval chants.
By late 1956, this study group evolved into the Compline Choir. Not all of the choir members were religiously oriented. They were, however, excellent musicians and they loved liturgical music.
The all-male group grew in number as they began singing the Office of Compline for others on Sunday nights. It was the first offering of the Office in English on a regular basis (outside of Anglican monasteries) in North America. For a number of years they sang to an empty church.
Starting in 1962, the St. Mark’s Compline service was broadcast live over the radio on KING-FM.
Perhaps that is why when the “Summer of Love” in the late 1960’s turned young people’s minds towards more spiritual practices, colorfully dressed young people discovered the beauty and peacefulness of the Compline, and began attending the service at St. Mark’s in droves.
The congregation grew, practically overnight, from zero attendance to several hundreds packed into the church.
Hallock led the Compline Choir from 1956 to 2009. (The choir is now directed by Jason Anderson, who joined the choir in October, 2004.) The services continue to be well-attended and thousands more tune in to the radio broadcast or listen via the Internet.
As time went on, a renewed interest in plainsong and other forms of liturgical music as well as the Compline grew. Over fifty groups now offer a regular Office of Compline in the United States and Canada..
The once-obscure medieval religious service has become a regular spiritual practice for many modern people. It is also a lovely way to help yourself get to sleep.
PETER HALLOCK INTERVIEW
Composer Peter Hallock talks about his music and his experiences at St. Mark’s Cathedral in this YouTube video published by Markdavin Obenza in 2013. The video features session footage and music from the Byrd Ensemble’s CD release, Peter Hallock: Draw On Sweet Night.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2001, a group of friends graduated from college and set out on a cross-country road trip to interview people who lived “lives centered around what was meaningful for them.”
The boys acquired an RV, and wandered around countryside filming a documentary about their trip in which they brazenly approached all sorts of people who were doing what looked like interesting things and asked them a lot of personal questions about life-issues like, “How do you know that this thing you do is right for you?” and “What was your worst mistake?” and “What advice do you have for a lost puppy like me?”
The documentary the friends made of their journey was expanded into a series on PBS. They wrote a book about the first road trip.
This first book was followed by other books, by other projects all designed to help other people get the kind of insights the young men acquired on their own original road trip.
Eventually they and the team they assembled along the way launched a nonprofit called “Roadtrip Nation.” The goal of this nonprofit is to help other young people who need advice for shaping their own careers into something fulfilling, for living a life doing what matters most to them.
In the following YouTube video, “Road Trip Nation: The RT Nation Story,” the three friends, Mike Marriner, Nathan Gebhard and Brian McAllister, tell the story of their continuing journey.
They point out that going around the country asking people they encountered questions about how they ended up living lives that had meaning and mana helped each of them find their own truths, their own self-definitions, and their own kind of good life.
Asking questions and listening to the answers from people who had taken their own paths was profoundly useful to them. It helped them answer that age-old question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
What started as a madcap adventure-cum-vision quest has spawned a whole movement of young people who are looking for their own answers to this most important question.
Besides an assortment of books, Roadtrip Nation maintains an extensive on-line video library of the interviews they conducted on their PBS series.
If you click on the “watch” link you can browse the PBS series by season. Within each season you can browse each episode by interview subject. Among those interviewed are everything from CEOs of major corporations to everyday workers in all kinds of industries and working situations who love what they do.
Sometimes, it really is only a little thing that can make a big difference. A genuine smile may brighten someone’s day. A kind word or a sincere expression of appreciation can help somebody keep on going through tough times.
“Loving-kindness” was what the Tibetan Buddhist crazy wisdom master Chogyam Trungpa Rimpocheused to call it, and for him and his students it was a most pertinent practice. It helps alleviate the suffering in the world, the old masters all say.
And, yeah: It’s a cliché. But that’s the thing about clichés…often they are just old truths that we need to keep telling each other as reminders.
It’s often really, really little, this loving-kindness thing. It’s pretty much ordinary and every-day. Still, loving-kindness is the best way us humans have for connecting with each other.
The original story by Elizabeth Silance Ballard was first published in a 1974 issue of Home Life magazine as “Three Letters from Teddy.” Over the next three decades it spread, even making an appearance in one of the CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books. It is a good story.
Here’s another video produced by the Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas that was published on YouTube by Sarheed Jewels in 2011. It asks: What if you could see other people’s problems? How would that affect you?
One of the loveliest online sites about loving-kindness in action is the one put up by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK), a group of educators and community leaders led by Gary Dixon who are all dedicated to the proposition that us humans are meant to go around spreading warm fuzzies. Their mission is to encourage you to go forth and be kind.
The RAKtivists believe that kindness is teachable and contagious. They can point to a lot of scientific evidence that seems to validate the fact that doing kind things is actually very good for your own health.
Among the findings they highlight are the following facts:
Kindness produces oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Oxytocin, in turn causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide which dilates the blood vessels. This aids in lowering blood pressure and helps protect the heart increasing overall heart-health.
Harvard Business School did a survey of happiness in 136 countries in 2010 that found that people who were generous financially were happiest overall.
People who volunteer tend to experience fewer ache and pains. One study showed that people 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were at 44 percent more likely to live longer. Other studies have shown that engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins – the brain’s natural painkiller.
There’s a thing called the “helper’s high,” according to research from Emory University, that is a consequence of the fact that often when you’re kind to someone else your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up. Maybe that’s because acts of kindness apparently stimulate the feel-good anti-depressant serotonin, which helps to heal wounds, calm you and make you happy.
So…here’s one other benefit to the whole kindness thing: When you’re kind to somebody else, it just naturally bounces back on you. And isn’t that a very good thing?
Here’s a poem:
I PROMISED ME
No one ever promised
That life would always be true and fair
Or that there’d be a shelter from the storm,
A warm fire waiting there,
That happy would perch on your head
And belt out one more song,
That reaching out a solid hand
Would find other fingers reaching, just as strong,
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that generosity is not a down-payment on love. [Generosity is spill-over when you’re feeling full.]
I am reading a book, LOVE LET GO: Radical Generosity for the Real World, by Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell. It is a story about an amazing church congregation in Chicago, the LaSalle Street Church, who received a totally unexpected windfall: a check for $1,530,116.78.
The check represented the church’s share of proceeds from the sale of an urban property that they had bought in the 1970s with three other churches. The land had been used for a desperately needed low-income housing project in the neighborhood, Atrium Village, which had served the purpose for more than 25 years.
The church’s heartful investment had been returned…in spades.
This 2017 YouTube video of a “100 Huntley Street” interview with pastor Laura Sumner Truax, one of the authors of the book, is a kind of a teaser for the book.
As Truax says, the church leaders made a wild, counter-intuitive move that changed the game on a clear day in September, 2014. The leaders used ten percent of the windfall money to tithe back to the church members. Each church member received a $500 check with the injunction to go out and do good in God’s world.
The leadership of the church also encouraged the members to participating in the effort to study and pray on how they were going to allocate the rest of the windfall funds, the “Big Money.” More than half of the congregation spent nine months on the project.
The book tells the story of what happened and what the people involved in this exploration learned as a result. It was and remains an ever-evolving, extraordinary process and journey, one that makes my heart smile.
THE GIVING CHURCH
LaSalle Street Church was built in 1886 in the near north side of Chicago by Swedish immigrants who never once worshipped in it. The congregation had been left bankrupt by the effort of its construction.
Its history of hard luck and scarcity continued throughout the church’s long history of involvement with a community that is diverse and sometimes volatile. One of the primary principles the church has always held to is this: Giving is better than receiving.
They really did walk their talk even though most of the time the church was, like their neighbors, “just getting by.”
Giving didn’t change the church’s financial circumstances but it did change “the way LaSalle wore its scarcity,” as authors Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell lyrically puts it. They did it with style and their acts of generosity were truly appreciated.
During the 1960s, when Chicago exploded in the violence and vitriol of the race riots, local youth protected the LaSalle Street Church from burning. The angry young ones who were pressing for change remembered. They protected the people who helped them through their hard times.
The church has always been a major light in the community. Senior citizens who needed company and a meal, the kids looking for sanctuary and a safe place to go after school and residents who were caught up in a legal system they could not navigate all found what they needed at the church.
This video, which was put together by Faustino Productions in 2015, was published on YouTube by tinogon1942. It shows the aftermath of the Chicago riots on the west side of Chicago after Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968 as the Supreme’s “Stop In the Name of Love” plays.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s Chicago officials embraced the concept of urban renewal and started creating high-density, high-rise dwellings like Cabrini-Green and relocated people from the poorer parts of town to these new developments. The joke going ’round then among the city residents was that the program would have been more aptly named “urban removal.”
In reaction to this government program, LaSalle Street Church’s senior pastor at the time, Bill Leslie, preached a commitment to turf. La Salle stood at the edge of communities in transition. On one side, some of the city’s neediest residents lived. On the other side was some of the most expensive real estate in Chicago.
Leslie thought that the church could be a meeting place where everyone was welcomed. He and his congregation of fifty-some members believed that at the bottom of it all the church was all about all of us people being in this old mess of a world all together.
The members who were better-off materially saw themselves in their poorer neighbors’ situation. They understood the struggles and they also believed that they needed their neighbors as much as their neighbors needed them. They looked for a way to help.
In this they were aided by local congressman Robert L. Thompson, an African-American who was also a long-time resident of the city. Thompson worried over the impact of urban renewal on the thousands of his constituents who were facing displacement.
When Thompson was offered a bribe of ten thousand dollars to influence the award of the rights to the land occupied by the LaSalle’s row house neighbors, he refused. Then he called Leslie.
Somehow the congregation found what they thought could be a solution to their neighbor’s problems. There was a plot of land for sale that sat to the west of the church, juxtaposed against the homes of high society to the east. It was big enough and near enough for a housing development to which their neighbors could relocate and still be neighbors.
Over the next two months Leslie rallied LaSalle and several other churches to invest one thousand dollars each in a campaign to secure the land rights. (When you consider that Leslie’s own salary hovered around three thousand dollars at the time, it was a goodly sum of money back then.)
The housing project that grew there, Atrium Village, was the first housing development in the country to be financed and constructed by state, private and church funding. It took years for all the players to finally agree to the vision of a truly diverse project: 50 percent black and 50 percent white; 50 percent market-rate and 50 percent under-market rate rents.
The first apartment tower was dominated by a nine-story open atrium. That atrium gave the “village” its name and it lessened a significant fear factor. The central atrium left no dark hallways in the building. Light flooded in.
Also, there were glass elevators that allowed light and visibility and the courtyard area around the buildings provided safe places for children to play.
Atrium Village opened to a flood of three thousand applicants. It became a solid anchor in the community and was a testing ground for finding the best practices for community-based housing. It was also the first of three building projects the church undertook in the neighborhood, all of which focused on building community engagement among people who were different from one another.
The other two were a building for senior housing and another for a legal-aid clinic.
Here’s a short YouTube video, a for-rent ad for Atrium Village apartments, published in 2012 by apartmenthomelivingA.
In the early 2000s, almost 25 years after Atrium opened its doors, La Salle got word that the primary investor in the development wanted to sell its interest. The restrictive covenants on Atrium would soon expire without possibility of renewal. The city was in the process of demolishing Cabrini-Green, the public-housing complex of 30-story buildings that had been a long-time neighborhood fixture.
The new model for government thinking on the public-housing problem was dubbed “scattered site” housing. Instead of monolithic structures, the vision now was lower-density, low-rise units that served a diverse population – exactly the vision that the people who made Atrium Village happen advocated.
The times they were a-changing…again.
Even though the churches who initiated the Atrium Village project represented only a 15 percent interest in the property, as a voting bloc, they could stop the sale of the property. Two of the partner churches faced almost certain closure by their denominations because their memberships had dwindled down to mere handfuls.
The church memberships had watched the Cabrini-Green towers come down, knowing that the retail developers were also watching it happen. Condominiums that cost upwards of half a million dollars were being planned.
The churches, all of whom were like LaSalle and framed their ministry on being bridge churches, understood that their neighborhoods were changing. They finally reached an agreement to sell their interest while negotiating hard for more units set aside for the working poor.
They were supported in this intention by the Chicago city tax assessor, their local alderman, and various community groups. Any redevelopment plan would be required to have 20 percent of its units available at below-market rate.
THE REST OF THE STORY….
And so it happened: the sale, and then the check, and then the tithe from church to its people.
You’ll have to read the book to get the rest of the story.
An interesting history of the church building and the neighborhood provides a glimpse at the background for this story. Here’s the YouTube video, “130 Years – History of the LaSalle Street Church Sanctuary Building,” which was put together and published by the church in 2016.
Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoda once said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation of human beings.”
THE SEED IS PLANTED
In the poorest postal code in Canada, in the city of Vancouver, the old farmer’s vision has come to ground and taken root in a network of four urban farms located on five acres of reclaimed land. They call it “SOLE Food Street Farms.”
The name is an acronym. It arose out of a project, “Saving Our Living Environment” (SOLE), by United We Can, a Vancouver non-profit that operates a recycling program and employs street people and people from the neighborhood to clean up streets and alleys. Until the farms were able to operate independently, they sheltered under the United We Can umbrella.
The project was spearheaded by visionary farmer and food-growing advocate, Michael Ableman (of Foxglove Farm fame), and his collaborator Seann Dory who worked for United We Can. They put together a project that provides stable jobs and training and development for 25 people, most of whom live in the neighborhood where they work. Together they have built an oasis of green in the middle of gray and black city hardscape.
DOWN ON THE FARM
This 2013 video, “The Story of Sole Food,” which was produced by Point Blank Creative with the support of Vancity and is available on YouTube, tells the tale:
The farms have succeeded beyond the two founders’ wildest hopes when they began reclaiming their first piece of ground in the parking lot of the Astoria hotel in Strathcona, the oldest neighborhood in Vancouver (right next door to Downtown Eastside, the poorest postal code in all of Canada.)
Every year the farms produce over 25 tons of fresh produce that includes tree fruit from a large urban orchard that grows in an abandoned railway yard.
The farms supply more than 30 area restaurants and sell at five Vancouver farmer’s markets. They operate a community-supported agriculture program as well.
They donate up to $20,000 work of produce every year to community kitchens.
Most importantly, they help their urban neighbors reconnect and re-ground themselves in the age-old cycles of life and growing that every farm honors and celebrates.
After the farm project had been going for several years, the MBA program at Queen’s University conducted research into the uber-local farming enterprise.
The guys in the lab coats figured out that for every dollar SOLE Foods spent on employing people who are “hard to employ,” there was a $1.70 combined savings to the person and the legal system, the health care system, the social assistance networks, and the environment through carbon sequestration and energy and transportation benefits. A good return-on-investment, that.
The book is a triumphant mash-up of Ableman’s philosophy about farming as a business and a traditional craft with pictures on every page spread (many of them taken by Ableman) documenting the continuing trials and tribulations of trying to build a real farm in the middle of the big city. The best parts of the book are the stories about the relationships that have developed between the organizers, the farm workers, their clients, and the Downtown Eastside neighborhoods where they work and live.
If you’d like more information about SOLE Food Street Farms, CLICK HERE.
At the time it began, the scale of the farms was, perhaps, unique. It was urban agriculture, growing food on a for-real farm that was run as a business with a heavy dose of social consciousness added in. Many of the earlier efforts by assorted city planners and developers in various cities around the world focused on garden-scale projects – urban horticulture rather than agriculture.
It isn’t a new concept, this growing food in the middle of a city. As cities grew, the food needed to feed the people was grown all around them. Sumerians, back in 5000 BCE, were famous for the sophisticated irrigated agriculture in and around some of the world’ earliest cities in what is now southern Iraq.
But, these ancient farmers and all of their descendants in the long history of agriculture did not have farms built on top of pavement covering over the contaminated soil between buildings in the remains of demolished factories and other urban ruins. This is what makes these street farms so remarkable. What makes them even more remarkable are the number of lives they have touched and the ones they have helped to nurture, heal and rebuild.
Michael Abelman says that SOLE Food Street Farms is “based on the belief that the simple act of planting a seed can bring new life to the world.”
[Amen to that one, braddah.]
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): a tendency to build bridges between your world and other people’s worlds. [Foot-traffic on all the bridges you build brings many treasures into your world.]
Among the treasure trove of ideas in Seth Godin’s book, POKE THE BOX, is this one: No one has influence, control, or confidence in their work (or any other area of their life) until they understand how to initiate change and predict how a thing will respond.
The “box” Godin is talking about in his title is any complex bit of your life that you want to understand better with the goal of making your interaction with it more effective.
The “box” might be that brand-new computer program, just sitting there waiting for you to poke at the buttons on your machine and make the new do-dad do things, make it dance.
The “box” might be a market you want to tackle and make sit up and take notice of you. Maybe that “market” is just one special somebody whose attention you crave. It might be a customer or it might be your boss or maybe a somebody you’d like to be significant in your life.
Whatever the “box” is, the thing is a puzzle that can be solved in only one way – by poking.
POKING IS A WAY OF BUILDING A PRACTICE
My brother Michael was an intrepid bug explorer in his youth. He was forever hunkered down, watching lines of ants or other critters, chasing down caterpillars and watching them turn into butterflies, studying spiders in their webs, and grabbing up crickets and grasshoppers.
He spent hours watching what the little guys did, poking at them with fingers and sticks, seeing how they moved and what made them do things differently.
When you do THIS, what happens? When you do THAT, what happens? Hey, it ALWAYS does this when I do that! Wow! Now, why did it do that?
Michael sure did learn a lot about bugs. They were his “box.” After a while he got really good at knowing what assorted bugs did and how and why. He turned an initial wonderment into a passion and that passion became a sort of practice for him.
ANOTHER KIND OF OWNERSHIP
In a similar way, if you poke at your own puzzles, your “box” reveals itself. As you get better at questioning and poking, you not only get smarter but you also gain what Godin calls “ownership.”
You step into the box and make it your own.
Godin’s kind of ownership does not have to be equity or even control. Ownership comes from understanding and from having the power to make things happen. “Ownership” is another name for mastery and influence.
THE WONDER OF IT ALL
It all begins with that sense of wonder, and it begins by asking questions and looking for some answers:
How does this work?
Why does it do that?
How can I make it do something else?
Can I do this with it? What about that?
What are its limits?
Can I expand those limits?
What happens when I do?
As you unravel your puzzles and wander around in your mysteries you’ll find your own answers. As you test your conclusions in the real world, seeing whether the things you’ve thunk actually work outside the confines of your own head, you will develop own your way of walking.
GUIDED BY THE ANSWERS
Consistently asking your questions and faithfully following where the answers lead you eventually gets you to a place where nobody else can answer the questions you still have. By then you’ll have built yourself a practice and a method and means for exploring this world you’ve discovered.
The answers you start finding and following are going to be different than the run-of-the-mill, regular ones. You’ve already gone past those everybody-knows-that answers.
If you do it right and don’t fall down some pothole or other and the creek don’t rise, maybe you’ll spark up more questions that other people can use to construct their own paths.
THE QUESTION-BOX HEADS OUT
It all starts with being aware. It all starts with noticing. It all starts with a determination to go where the answers to your questions lead you.
Godin says, “Winners turn initiative into a passion and a practice.” With his book, he shows you a way of doing just that.
The following YouTube video, “Make Your Life Spectacular,” was published by Goalcast and is a tribute to one of my favorite funny guys, the late Robin Williams. What a heartful man!
Here’s a poem, constructed for one who followed his questions:
The Twin Poets are identical twin brothers, Nnamdi Chukwuocha (born Elbert Mills) and Albert Mills, with a unique style of poetry that evolved out of their habit of finishing each other’s sentences and the rap and hip-hop of their youth. They are internationally known for their live performances of socially conscious work, including “Dreams Are Illegal In the Ghetto” and “Homework for Breakfast.
Their book, OUR WORK, OUR WORDS…: Taking the Guns From Our Sons’ Handsare filled with poems that tell the stories of the people they’ve encountered in their work as social workers and teachers for more than 17 years in the poorest sections of Wilmington, Delaware. These poems are definitely “Life-Built Poems” — of the most heartbreaking kind.
The brothers appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” series in the mid-2000s and, as a result have since performed on stages across America, Europe and Africa. Through it all they continued to work with the people in their communities.
Besides being poets, the twins spent more than 17 years working at the Kingswood Community Center in Wilmington, Delaware and continued to expand and develop their idea that art could counter the dream-killing effects of poverty and hardship. Mills is a family therapist and community-based social worker and Chukwuocha is a social worker who has served on the Wilmington City Council for a number of years.
In 2014, Newsweek called Wilmington, “Murder Town USA” and said it ranked third on the FBI’s annual list of “most violent cities” among cities of comparable size. It also ranked fifth when compared to all cities with populations greater than 50,000.
Most of the city is safe, Wilmington residents who were offended by the Newsweek article protested.
A 2015 Delaware Today article, “Wilmington Crime: A City That Bleeds,” pointed out that the numbers in the statistics used by the Newsweek report of murder and mayhem are disproportionately centered in areas like the Hilltop neighborhood mentioned as well as other, similar neighborhoods and are the result of a number of chronic problems – not enough jobs, not enough support of education and training, housing issues, and several generations of social ills that have no easy solutions. It continues to be an ongoing problem.
Over the years the brothers have received a number of awards recognizing them for their community service, including the Village Award (2006) from the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families and a Local Heroes Award from Bank of America (2006).
The Twin Poets were the State of Delaware Mentors of the Year in 2001, and, in December, 2015, they were named the 17th Poet Laureate (a shared title) of the state of Delaware by former Governor Jack Markell.
Another article in Delaware Today, “Wilmington’s Twin Poets Provide Healing Through Art,” chronicles the extraordinary efforts they’ve made and continue to make to help save the children in the poorest of the communities they service from the hopelessness and helplessness that the disenfranchised experience in their world.
The brothers founded Art for Life–Delaware, a community-based, social worker-led mentoring program that uses art to change the lives of delinquent youth and their families.
They also developed G.O.A.L.S. (Getting Organized Always Leads To Success), a tutoring and mentoring program that teaches children about the importance of self-expression and writing.
This Hearts and Mind Film published in 2013 features the Twin Poets poem, “Why I Write”:
“Why I Write” is also the name of a website about the brothers and their work that was initially designed by the interactive design students at the University of Delaware.
As Chukwuocha says in the Delaware Today article about their life, the brothers have refused many invitations to become rap and hip-hop sensations over the years. They wanted to “make a difference,” he said. They continue trying.