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Category: Skillful Means

skills and tools for developing mastery and fostering creativity

POST-TRAUMATIC GROWTH

POST-TRAUMATIC GROWTH

It’s easy to stay in our comfort zone.  We’re good there.  We know where we are.  We know what we’re supposed to do about it all.

the-bell-jar
The Bell Jar by melingo wagamama via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
There are two problems with hanging in the comfort-zone, however.  Life doesn’t often let us stay there, and we don’t grow as much there.

 

POST-TRAUMATIC GROWTH

“Post-traumatic growth” is a term coined by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, two of the pioneering experts on the subject.  They say PTG is the “positive change that occurs as a result of struggle with highly challenging life crises.”

In this YouTube video, History of Post Traumatic Growth, Calhoun tells a bit about how their concept of studying “growth through stress” developed.

The scientists and their teams interviewed people who had endured hardship. They wanted to know why some people grow after trauma and others don’t.   What they found surprised them.

Calhoun put together their findings in a 2006 book, HANDBOOK OF POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH: Research and Practice.

Just like the wise guys keep telling us, it seems suffering can help people transform in fundamental, positive ways.  The transformations in the people who were interviewed were more profound (and more common) than the researchers expected.

They tell us that there are five ways people can grow after a crisis:

  • Their relationships can strengthen.
  • They can discover new paths and purposes in life. Sometimes these are related to a particular survival mission.  Other times the crisis becomes the catalyst for a more general reconsideration of priorities.
  • Trauma allows them to find their inner strength.
  • Their spiritual life can deepen.
  • They can feel a renewed appreciation for life.

 

HUH?  HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?

“Deliberate rumination,”  (spending lots of time trying to make sense out of painful experiences and reflecting on how these circumstances have changed you), the psychologists say, helps to foster post-traumatic growth.

Tedeschi and Calhoun use the metaphor of an earthquake to explain how we grow in the wake of crisis.  Just as a city has certain structure before major earthquake so too do we have fundamental beliefs about our lives and the world.  Trauma shatters those assumptions.

Out of the rubble comes the opportunity to rebuild.  In the aftermath of an earthquake, cities aim to erect buildings and infrastructure that are stronger and more resilient than what now lies in ruins.

Those who are able to rebuild psychologically, spiritually and otherwise after a crisis are better equipped to deal with future adversity, and they ultimately lead more meaningful lives.

windswept-coco-palm
“Windswept Tree” by ptross via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
As Anne M. Mulcahy, the former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corp, once advised, “When you have that window of opportunity called a crisis, move as quickly as you can, get as much done as you can.  There’s a momentum for change that’s very compelling.”

 

WHAT PTG CAN MEAN FOR YOU

Personal coach-mentor Robin Amos Kahn gave a short talk about this phenomenon which was published in this YouTube video, Post-Traumatic  Growth by OwnTheRoom in 2014.  In it she shares her personal story of personal adversity and how she grew from it.

Own The Room is an organization of skillful communicators  based in New Jersey who provide leadership training and work with corporations around the world.  They say they help “empower high performance cultures that enable people to actually have fun while doing the best work of their lives.”

 

OKAY….HOW DO I DO IT?

The following collection of six life-hacks are take-aways from these guys and others who have continued to figure out how to use the findings on post-traumatic growth and their ramifications to help other people survive and thrive after a crisis.

windswept-trees-at-slope-point
“Windswept Trees at Slope Point” by Marcus Holland-Moritz [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The ideas for these life-hacks were iterated by psychologist Stephen Joseph in his book, WHAT DOESN’T KILL US:  The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth. 

I’ve thrown in asides from psychologist Fredrike Bannink whose book, POST TRAUMATIC SUCCESS:  Positive Psychology and Solution-Focused Strategies to Help Clients Survive and Thrive, was written for other psychologists working with trauma survivors.

(Stephen Joseph spent over 20 years working with survivors of trauma and is a professor at the University of Nottingham.  Fredrike Bannink, who among other things is the Mental Health Trainer for Doctors Without Borders, is an internationally known clinical psychologist based in Amsterdam.)

TAKE STOCK

  • Figure out where you are now.
  • Acknowledgement and validation are important, the guys in lab coats say.  You have to understand and accept the changes that have happened.  You have to cop  to the fact that you are smack-dab in the middle of it all
  • F’r real, your problems don’t need to be analyzed to death. They are there; they are in your face.  See them.  Know where you’re standing.  If you can just see the challenges, you can actually face them and maybe do something about them.
  • Focus on what already works – assess your strengths, competencies and resources:  How do you cope?  How do you keep your head above water?   Do more of that.  What have you got?  Use it.

VALUE CHANGE ITSELF

You know what the best thing about change is?  It is happening all the time.  If you’re stuck in suck, it helps to remember that old and hoary reminder:  “This, too, shall pass.”

Obstructions and adversity do not go on forever.  Mostly that’s ’cause we don’t last that long.  Also, we always have the option to choose to step out of the bog our own selves.

One way to do that is to try to get past looking at just the negatives of a situation.  Check out how things may have improved as well.  Even a small change for the better counts.  Count them all.

BUILD ON HOPE

  • Learn to be hopeful about the future, these guys tell you. Look for inspirational stories about people who have overcome similar obstacles and start looking at how you, your own self, still have a future, one that can be good anyhow.
  • Focus on your personal goals. Seeing yourself as you want to be is the key to personal growth.   What are your best hopes?
  • The scientists, seekers and practitioners all say building hope and optimism is very important for transcending whatever 2 x 4 has hit you upside the head.  They are the antidotes to the hopelessness and pessimism that keep you in the muck.
  • Develop an attitude of gratitude. Yup.  Count your blessings.  They are on the other side of all the wo-wo-woes.

RE-AUTHORING

Re-write your own story.  You can do this literally by using expressive writing techniques to find new perspectives.  As Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once said, “I am not what happened to me.  I am what I choose to become.”

So…tell the story about who you are choosing to become.  Make up your own happy endings.

After a while you’ll start to understand that it doesn’t matter who hurt you or what broke you down.  What is going to matter to you is who and what made you smile again and why.

NOTICE NEW GROWTH

  • Ask yourself: When have you felt better lately?
  • Put on your own lab coat and use “scaling questions” to assess your progress, motivations, hopes and confidence.  On a scale from 10 to 0, where would you say you are today?  How come it’s not lower?
  • Notice the progress you’ve made. Don’t discount them just because they’re teeny.  One step is still one step.
  • Call your shots – What will be the next signs of progress?
  • Celebrate success.

CONCRETE EXPRESSIONS

The scientists who study post-traumatic growth all say that if you can get through the painful process of dealing with trauma and change, you will get to the point when you will make something that is your very own unique expression of self.

It is worthwhile to remember, I think, that one old meaning of the word “suffering” is “to undergo.”  When you “suffer,” you are undergoing something.  What you’re doing is just all about going on through it.  You can choose to suffer over your suffering, or not.

Once you’ve made it to the other side, you’ll be able to make something, the guys in the lab coats say.  Maybe it’ll be a marvelous thing the world has never before seen.

 

windswept-tree-at-bow-fall
“Windswept Tree at Bow Falls, Banff, Alberta, Canada” by davebloggs007 via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

FINAL THOUGHT

The poets, the artists, and the wise guys got there before the scientists again, I am thinking.

They know, those poets and artists.   Through all of the ouches and angst and all the confusion and chaos, there’s a golden thread that leads you back to your Highest Self.  And when you get there, oh…the thoughts you can think and the things you can do….

All this other stuff is about finding that thread.

 

golden-threads
“Golden Threads” by David Pilbrow via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Here’s a poem:


LOOKING FOR THE GOD THREAD

Looking for the God Thread…

Where the heck did it go?

It’s buried under all this other stuff.

Tangled up in all this blustering blow.

 

Looking for the God Thread…

Do you see a shiny fine gold wire

Wandering through this mass of

Fuzz-ball thoughts, messed-up desire?

 

Looking for the God Thread…

It’s in here, I know.

I’m picking through all these old bits,

Growling ’cause the going’s so slow.

 

Looking for the God Thread…

Where the heck can it be?

It’s all my fault!  I got distracted, a bit refracted,

Now that God Thread’s LOST somewhere in me.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Windswept” by Maciej via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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POEM POWER

POEM POWER

Ever since people started talking to one another, they’ve explored the power of words.  The power of LOGOS (the Word) has been the fundamental foundation for building a religion, a culture, a movement, a life.

Words can move you.  Words can move other people.  That’s probably why everybody talks so much.

A MOST EFFECTIVE PUNISHMENT

Remember the Biblical Tower of Babel?  According to the story, the people on earth got together and decided to build this great tower that would reach into Heaven itself.  They figured they could be like little gods if they did that.

They were planning to invade and trespass into God-country.  The Big Guy got mad that they even dared to make that attempt.

tower-of-babel
“Tower of Babel” by ellenm1 via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
So, how did the Dude punish them?  He made it so they began to speak in all kinds of different languages.  All of a sudden, there was a major obstacle to collaboration and cooperation.  You can’t work together if you don’t understand what the other person is saying.  The project was abandoned.

Of course, that also meant that folks had a harder time just living together peacefully, but that’s another story….

DISTILLING THE WORDS

Poems are an especially powerful form of word-use.  Poets distill their thoughts down to their essence, throwing away all the parts that interfere with their dance with the words.

Poems are like the essential oils of the Word World.  It takes an incredible number of rose petals to make an essential oil.  Imagine.  It takes 10,000 POUNDS of petals to make one pound of rose oil.  Each little 5mL bottle contains the essence of 105 pounds of petals.

a-rose
“a rose” by Hans Splinter via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Whew!

Have you ever tried opening one of those teeny bottles of essential rose oil?  Wow!  One sniff and your nose transports you into the best enclosed rose garden there ever was.

POEMS AS A BUSINESS TOOL

In this 2013 TEDxMarin video, “The Power of Poetry”, leadership coach and teacher Dale Biron, who combines poetry with martial arts, leadership, and life-strategy, in his speaking, coaching and workshop sessions for business conferences, organizational retreats and university classes, talks about how great poems are like powerful “apps” for the mind.

Biron says poems can be “good stories with the boring parts removed.”  He believes in the power of poems to get you to a life worth living.

POEMS IN MAXIMUM PRISON

Touring spoken word poet Phil Kaye has won many awards in his career so far.  He’s currently a co-director of Project V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression).  The Project, it says here, is “a national movement that celebrates youth self-expression through Spoken Word Poetry.”  They aspire to encourage young people to use Spoken Word Poetry as a tool “to explore and better understand their culture, their society, and ultimately themselves.”

When Kaye was still a student at Brown University, he participated in and eventually  became the coordinator for the college’s S.P.A.C.E. (Space in Prisons for the Arts and Creative Expression) prison initiative program.  The University students, unpaid volunteers all, offer a variety of weekly art workshops at the Rhode Island Adult Correction Institutions (ACI).  Phil did workshops about spoken poetry.

(S.P.A.C.E. also facilitates workshops in the Providence Center, a residential recovery service provider located on the campus of the ACI.)

Kaye developed a keen appreciation for the power of poems during the time he taught weekly poetry workshops in maximum-security prisons.  In this TEDxFoggy Bottom video, “Poetry in Maximum Security Prison,” he talks about that time in his life and how it has influenced his life-direction.

Kaye’s journey has led him to venues all over the world from the Lincoln Center in New York City to the Malthouse Theater in Melbourne Australia.  His work has been viewed online over five million times and has been featured in media outlets ranging from National Public Radio to Al Jazeera America and Upworthy.com.

In 2011, Kaye published a well-received book of his poetry, A LIGHT BULB SYMPHONY.

One of Kaye’s favorite life high-points was being asked to perform alongside His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama during the beloved teacher’s 80th birthday celebration at the 2015 Global Compassion Summit conference in Anaheim.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In my own life, poems have been my way to get back to clarity about a life-situation or about my own self.  Writing down and recording all the moving parts is like taking a step back from them so I can get a better handle on the whole mish-mash of chaos and confusion.

Sometimes, a hole opens up in the clouds and a light shines through.  Sometimes not.

clouds
“clouds” by Daniel Boyd via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
I keep working on it.  Sometimes I get a whole bunch of poems.  Sometimes nothing.

It’s all process….

Here’s a poem:


UNPLAYFUL WORDS

Nothing comes together.

This poem is not going well.

The words keep turning pale.

They fade, they float away.

They stumble around looking confused.

 

Hmmm.

 

I let loose my Sergeant Major

Who growls at these clueless bo-bo recruits.

They keep stacking themselves this way, that way.

They keep falling over, all in a heap.

A horrible mess.

 

These words have forgotten how to weave, it seems.

They’ve lost the knack of bending and turning themselves

Into a shapeliness that lightly dances.

All they’re doing now is tripping all over themselves,

Faltering and flailing wildly.

 

Maybe they’ve contracted some runical laxness…

A touch of lyrical amnesia, perhaps,

Or maybe some versical repression.

They are limp, they are flawed.

They are a bunch of lazy bums!

 

Maybe I’ve stumbled upon a stash of leftover bits —

Just coagulated lumps of airhead thoughts,

Neither highly expressive nor particularly rhymical.

A deadly dud-ness.

 

(Sigh!)

Ah well…maybe they just need to rest.

See ya later, guys.

I’m gone….

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “garden poem” by Julie Gibbons via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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

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BE A MARTIAL ARTIST OF THE MIND

BE A MARTIAL ARTIST OF THE MIND

It seems to me that no matter how you walk, you are always going to be stumbling over other people’s concerns, other people’s desires, and other people’s understandings.

There is no getting around it:  The World is full of other people and every one of those guys have their own world-views and their own agendas.  They get in your way and you could spend a lot of time struggling with them…or not.

crowd
“Crowd” by James Cridland via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
One lifelong project for me has been putting together a bunch of strategies for dealing with other people.  These strategies were taken from my years of studying the thoughts in a mountain or two of business books and how-to manuals and scientific studies about the human mind as well as in the I Ching and more esoteric studies, and the musings from martial artist practitioners and from crazy wisdom masters.

My professional practice as a residential property manager has been a testing ground for these things and I’ve had many opportunities to try my hand at getting to pono, what Hawaiians call “balanced and righteous actions and behavior.”

I’ve worked hard at learning how to move through the travails of my (basically contentious) trade gracefully and learning how to be a proper go-between so that everyone involved can get where they want to go.

It’s been a fun exploration – often ARGH-making, and sometimes sublime.

for-rent-sign
“For Rent Sign by Mark Moz via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

ASKING, “HOW CAN I GET TO MINE?”

I’ve noticed that, very often, touted hacks for getting your own way tend to be war-like (where you bash other people out of your way, using the force of your persona to bull your way through) or manipulative (where you basically trick someone into doing what you want).

Either way of walking may get you the crown and let you be king (or queen) of the mountain, but then there’s the problem of being there all by yourself because nobody wants to hang with such a bully or trickster.

Some of my friends have gone that route.  They don’t seem very happy with it.

So, it seemed to me that it might be a better thing to become a martial artist of the mind instead – to understand and practice forms that are made up of many smaller moves that evoke certain responses from the other person which you can use to get to where you want to go.

It’s not about using force and strength.  It’s not about making tricky moves.  It’s about using your own mind’s balance, leverage, and focus to affect another person’s way of moving.

How do you get to that?

THE SEVEN HACKS

Over the years I’ve tried and discarded many so-called sure-fire techniques and tactics and distilled the ones that seemed to work every time into seven all-purpose hacks.  These strategies (with appropriate martial artist-type names) are as follows:

 

springtime-in-malibu
“Springtime in Malibu” by Pacheco via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
STILLNESS OF THE MOUNTAIN.  In this one, you become silent and you quietly observe.  You let the other person talk and you listen.

What do you see?  Does the other person’s point of view have validity?  Or is the other person wanting to do the waltz when you were thinking you were going to be doing the tango together?

Just taking the time to be still can bring a lot of things into view that perhaps your concentrated focus on your desired outcome has obscured.

You may be ignoring some big pothole because you have not looked down.  A boulder may be on its way to squishing you because you’re standing there and you haven’t looked up.

Other people may be seeing the things you’re ignoring.   Pay attention.


the-mirror-houses-of-laerdal
“The Mirror Houses of Laerdal” by Caruba via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
REFLECTION OF THE LAKE.  You can reflect back the other person’s concerns or resistance to your idea using his or her own language.  Tell them back what you think you are hearing and check that what you are hearing is what they are actually saying.

Ask them to clarify their point of view in a very non-aggressive way.  Listen.  Pay attention.


willow-silhouette
“Willow Silhouette” by mattharvey1 via Flickr [CC By-NC-ND 2.0]
SUPPLENESS OF THE WILLOW.  You can agree with another person’s demand in principle.  Say, “I suppose we could do that.  How would we handle this or that negative consequence, do you think?”

Perhaps the other person has not thought through the consequences of some move they are proposing.  Perhaps they are short-sighted.

Or, maybe, they’ve done their homework and might be able to point out workarounds that you can’t see.  Pay attention.


stone-lion-silk-ribbon
“Stone Lion, Silk Ribbon” by Can Pac Swire via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
THE STONE WRAPPED IN SILK.  You can calmly state solid fact (the stone) in as supportive a manner as possible:  “Are you aware that this is true?  What do we do about that?”  Listen.  Pay attention.


st-nectan-glen-waterfalls
“St. Nectan’s Glen Waterfall, Cornwall, UK” by ukgardenphotos via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
MOVING LIKE THE RIVER.  You can acknowledge a proposal you don’t want to accept and then invite the other person to think of another way to solve a problem you can see with it.

“Hmmm.  That’s an interesting idea, but I do not think it is the way I want to go.  Can you think of another way that we might be able to do this, that would meet your needs at least partway and help me meet mine?”


sky-with-clouds
“Sky With Clouds” by elycefeliz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
DISPERSING THE CLOUDS.  When you see that the other person is caught up in beliefs, assumptions and fears and has boxed himself (or herself) into a corner, you can acknowledge all of the perhaps-legitimate concerns and then ask what he or she might do if the perceived obstacles did NOT exist.

Use their concerns as a springboard for further movement.


fire
“Fire” by Brenna Cade via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
ACCEPTING THE FIRE.  Name the major sticking point for the other person, the one main thing that he or she cannot accept about your proposal.

If that thing is an absolutely important, non-negotiable issue with them and you are not able to deal with it in a way that would be equitable for your own self, then you will have to accept that you and this other person cannot dance together.

Say, “thank you.”  Walk away.


FINAL THOUGHTS

I have found that it’s important to remember that a lot of struggle results from your emotional investment in any one dance.  The thing is this, there are many ways of dancing and many, many other dances.

If you can step back from the emotions involved in working towards a desired outcome  and remember that it’s all just dancing, then it can make the whole thing a lot smoother.

Here’s a poem:


STUCK IN THE BOG

When you focus on the outside,

Bringing all your strength to bear

On some damnable situation or other,

You are stuck in a quagmire.

 

The more you struggle,

The more effort you expend,

The deeper you sink.

 

If you can be still,

Let your feet rise up,

And lie down on top of the sticky,

Maybe you can float to where

You can pull yourself out.

 

Think light.

Let go.

Float and reserve your strength

For when you can do something

To help yourself.

by Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  “Be As Mount Fuji…” by Timothy Takemoto via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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

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OWN IT

OWN IT

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.

caterpillar-on-finger
“Caterpillar On Finger” by Tom Phillips via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
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.

boy-in-a-box
“Boy In a Box” by David Dodge via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
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.

peace-of-mind
“Peace of mind…” by Lalit Shahane via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

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.

breakthrough-green-road-sign
“Breakthrough Green Road Sign” by Wonder woman0731″ via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
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:


HYMN FOR A LINED FACE

Of all the wonders World displays

Not one can match your face.

What is the meaning of this line,

Or that one that I trace?

 

This deep one here, from eye to chin,

What sorrow etched it there?

The others feathering everywhere

Show pains and joys quite clear.

 

I would not want some lover with

A face smooth as an egg,

That shows a quiet life unlived,

No cup drunk to the dregs.

 

You are a wonderment to me,

A glory and a joy,

Behind the marks of a life lived large,

I see a luminous boy.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “mystery box” by spinster cardigan via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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

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SHUSH — Another Inner Peace Symptom

SHUSH — Another Inner Peace Symptom

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  a disinclination to endlessly discuss your plans and dreams.  [Every time you talk about a dream, a little bit of the energy powering that dream leaks out.  It’s kind of like letting the air out of a filled balloon to make farting noises.  After a while all the gas is gone and the balloon won’t rise.]

‘Kay.  There you are with this HUGE idea…the Biggest of the Big.  It is definitely, absolutely, without a doubt, going to be a killer!

You just have to share, right?  After all, ideas don’t live in a vacuum.  They need to be watered and fertilized, cultivated and encouraged to grow until hey-ho they bloom!  All of that.

Who better to help you lift that bale and tote that bucket than your nearest and dearest friend or two or ten or, hey…why not hundreds or thousands?

big-day-out
“Big Day Out” by Eva Rinaldi via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

CHAMPION OF THE DREAM

So you pump yourself up and you spread the word.  You are gonna do this and you’re gonna do that and you’re gonna and gonna and gonna….buzzity, buzzity, buzz, buzz, buzz.   It’s all very exciting, that.

You get so into talking about that Dream that you really feel like your words are manifesting the thing out of the ethers.  You are the self-appointed Champion of the Dream.  Yup!  You’re keeping it alive.

champ
“champ” by kurge via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
That gush of words and words and words building the excitement up and up is bringing the Dream that much closer, right?  Ummm…not really.  “The Dream” actually becomes what one group of guys and gals in lab coats call an “identity symbol” in your brain.  Its function is to make your self-image seem real.

Since both actions and talk can create these symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it may “neglect the pursuit of further symbols” (like actually taking action), according to NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer who has been studying this since his now out-of-print 1982 book, SYMBOLIC SELF-COMPLETION.

In a study published in Psychological Science magazine in 2009, the professor and his research team announced that they had figured out that if you tell your goal and the people you tell cheer and celebrate or applaud you as if you actually did something, then your brain will think that you already did it.

The acknowledgement becomes part of your “social reality,” and may actually provide your brain with enough satisfaction that you don’t feel you have to do anything else.(Why would your brain want to bother with doing it for real?  It’s convinced that the thing is done already!  You’ve already won the prize.)

The researchers did find one interesting side effect of this phenomenon.   They say you actually are more likely to go forward with your goal or dream if the people around you ignore you when you tell them what you want to do.

Just because you’re a contrary human being (like the rest of us), when you are ignored, it becomes a part of your determination to “show” all those unappreciative, short-sighted ding-a-lings that you really are capable of doing what you say you want to do.

LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS…TORPEDOS NOT NEEDED

Check out this podcast published by the TEDTalks organization on YouTube featuring dream-building master Derek Sivers, author of ANYTHING YOU WANT:  40 Lessons For a New Kind of Entrepreneur.

In this short talk, he admonishes, “Keep your goals to yourself.”

There may also be a number of practical and psychological arguments for keeping mum.

  • If you tell someone your goal, the resulting attention can then increase the pressure on you in a negative way. The pressure to perform is likely to raise your anxiety levels to new heights.

This may not be helpful when the goal requires that you remain calm and composed.  (You may not want an audience or a cheerleading section when you’re taking a driving test for the first time, for example.)

  • Sometimes, when you tell people your goals, they may tend to use the knowledge as a lens for judging your future actions. They see your actions and compare them to what you said were your goals.

This can work out well if you’ve agreed to accept their holding you “accountable” for your goals – if you ask them to support you and help keep you on track.  The thing is, it does depend on how skillful they are at doing that, and whether you are actually good at accepting guidance without balking.

But, if you are prone to resent being “pressured” into doing anything (even if you ask for this help) or if the other person is less than tactful in their approach, any “helpful” commentary might actually feel like an attack or “nagging” to you.  This might cause you to move in a different direction than the one that gets you to your goal.  Not good.

  • Sometimes your idea is just too fragile and new to bear the touch of other people’s minds. Sometimes your dream has to be protected from rough handling and premature dissection. It’s a newborn, after all.  You’re not supposed to play football with it.

A lot of very good ideas have died horrible deaths because other people couldn’t keep their mouths off it.    Often it’s better to wait until your vision has evolved and grown a bit before allowing other people to put in their two cents.  A bit of voluntary, self-induced deafness might also be in order at the beginning.

The Real is:  it’s all a dance and you will react to other people’s reactions.  Sometimes it feels like you’re the little ball zooming around in the pinball machine.

pinball-bumpers
“Pinball Bumpers” by Tom Rolfe via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

FINAL THOUGHTS

The next time you’re tempted to share your latest Big Dream, STOP.

shhhh
“Shhh” by Sonny Abesamis via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Go think about how you can make your Big Dream become real.  Then go try a little something that moves the process forward.  Little step by little step by little step.

Ask questions.  Resolve the problems you encounter along the way and pick other people’s brains about solutions to try.  Think and do, do and think.  Ask for help with the how of it all from people who actually know something about it.

When you have made some substantial progress at learning the basics of a new skill or have made a good start at some life-change, or, better yet, when you have a sort-of-working prototype, that’s when you’ll have something.

Share that…but only in a way that doesn’t cause others to do a victory dance for you.  (You don’t want that brain of yours to get too complacent.)  Then go back to making your dream happen.

Yeah, it’s not so fun, but it does work better.

Here’s a poem:


YEAH, YEAH, YEAH

I’ve heard these promises before, you know.

Oh, yeah…for real…that’s right.

 

Any day now,

Some day soon,

The sun’s gonna shine, shine, shine.

 

And I have waited for that dawning,

Waited for that glow that grows,

Waited…waited…waited.

 

I’ll get right on it.

Yes, I’m gonna do it.

It’s a-comin’, yes it is.

 

But all my waiting with bated breath

Just got me blue in the face,

Anticipation turning to sour disappointment.

Gonna happen,

Yes, indeedy,

Soon now; really, really soon.

 

Braddah-man, lady-sistah,

Your mouth moving but not your hands.

Your feet not walking, you only got plans.

 

No can, li’ dis!

 

The cold wind’s blowing up past my ass,

And I already know the end of this story.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Drifting Away” by Chris Chabot via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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BOUNCING BACK

BOUNCING BACK

Resilience researchers ask why some people handle adversity better than others and go on to lead normal lives despite negative life experiences while others get de-railed by them.

After years of study, they pretty much figured out that the old guys had the right of it:  You need to stay positive.  You need to have a good crew at your back.

ONE SCIENTIFIC STUDY

This YouTube video from Big Think, “Resilience Lessons from Our Veterans” features psychiatrist Dennis Charney, the Dean of the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine discusses his book, RESILIENCE:  The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, which he wrote with Steven Southwick, who is the Professor of Psychiatry, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Resilience at Yale Medical School.

According to the good doctors, the right kind of optimism as well as a strong support network are key factors in developing resilience.

ANOTHER TAKE ON IT

International bestselling author Paul McGee wrote HOW TO SUCCEED WITH PEOPLE:  Remarkably Easy Ways to Engage, Influence and Motivate Almost Anyone.  He did a series of remarkably satisfying podcasts published by Capstone Publishing in 2013 with riffs taken from his book.  Here’s the one about being resilient….

PULLING IT TOGETHER

Emily Esfahani Smith, in her book, THE POWER OF MEANING:  Crafting a Life That Matters, pulls together a whole body of information about resilience and gives some insight into the characteristics of resilient people and how they keep on bouncing back.

She tells us that resilient people have the following assets in their set of character traits:

  • Purpose and a worthy goal
  • A moral compass that’s tied to altruism or selflessly serving others
  • Social support
  • Spirituality (which could be defined as a “source of strength and power that is greater than yourself”).
  • A natural inclination to continue on through adversity.

According to most resilience researchers some people naturally resist adversity better than others.  Maybe it’s their genetic makeup.  Maybe their early life experiences predisposed them to this way of doing things.

But, Smith says, resilience is not a fixed trait.  Everyone can learn to adapt to stress more effectively by developing a set of psychological tools to help them cope with stressful events.

She points out three successful mindsets and strategies that center on finding meaning in the everyday that work:

OPPORTUNITY MINDSET.  If you can see a stressful situation as a challenge and not as a threat, you are more likely to just keep on keeping on.

“IT’S NORMAL” MINDSET.  If you can see the difficulties and obstacles in front of you as a natural part of how the world works, then you free yourself from stressing about how it’s all because YOU are not-this or YOU are not-that and YOU don’t belong  and YOU are not-supposed-to…and the rest of that garbage.

This mindset can set your mind free from the uncertainties about “belonging” and the doubts that rise up when you’re doing something that is not what the people you want to impress would do.   It allows you to just keep going.

“KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON THE JOB” MINDSET.  If you focus on how doing what you’re doing can help you and others live out self-transcendent values (rather than focusing on how to promote your own self and your own agenda), it’s easier to keep on moving forward.

Smith believes that keeping the life values that are important to you firmly in mind helps to protect you from the damage that stressing over some outcome or other can do.

cahill-craziness
“Cahill Craziness” by Helen Taylor via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

MY OWN THOUGHT

All of the foregoing stuff gets me to thinking about what the old guys called “gumption.”

Merriam-Webster says “gumption” showed up in the early 1700’s as a word.  Its earliest uses referred to “intelligence” and “energy”.  By the 1860’s Americans were using the word to imply “ambition” and “tenacity.”  It has since evolved into a synonym for “courage” and “get-up-and-go.”

Bouncing back requires all of that.  It’s good to know that they can be developed, they can evolve and they can grow.

 

sunrise-over-maui
Sunrise Over Maui by Rose Braverman Molokai Hawaii via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that the thing you absolutely cannot lose is your gumption.  [Nothing is sadder than somebody whose gumption got up and went.  Hang on to that gumption!]

Here’s one more YouTube video, “Resilience:  Hard Times Motivation” published by Eric Thomas and the Marshall Training Systems guys:

Whew!

And here’s a poem:


MEBBE NEX’ TIME

There you are,

A bit shaky still as you stagger up the beach

Out of the foam.

Life took you and tossed you

Over the falls…again,

But you made it through that maelstrom

More or less intact.

 

There you are, still standing,

Dripping wet and breathing hard.

The pounding’s rubbed you ragged,

But you’re in one piece and you’re moving.

Wobbly as you are,

You’ll be reaching for your board again,

Looking for the next wave,

“Spahking-out” the next ride.

 

Eh!

Good one, brah!

Mebbe nex’ time you goin’ get ’em!

You go!

by Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  “Engulfed” by Nathan Rupert via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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PUT IN PLACE

PUT IN PLACE

It’s the first thing they teach you in chef school:  a system called mise-en-place, or literally, “put in place.”   It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.

The mise evolved out of the rigid “brigade system” of culinary hierarchy codified in the 19th century by Chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier.  This system emphasizes focus and self-discipline and a high level of organization and order.

Escoffier would probably have agreed with Ben Franklin who once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

In the high-stress world of the professional chefs, planning and preparation are paramount.  How else could they prepare so many meals of exceptional quality, one after the other in a three-hour period, night after night after night?

Preparation is the essence of mise-en-place.

BASIC MISE

At its most basic, mise-en-place means to set out all of your ingredients before you start to cook. Measure out what you will need, chop the vegetables that will need to be chopped, and have everything ready on the counter or in small bowls on a tray.

In the following YouTube video, “How to Mise-en-Place, published by Cooking Light, Chef Keith Schroeder, author of MAD DELICIOUS: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing!, demonstrates how home cooks can start to “mise” their recipes.

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

If you talk to professional chefs, that part of the mise-en-place is just the tip of a very large iceberg.  Some of them get downright Zen or Jedi about it.  Everything has to be in place, including your stance and your mindset.

Writer Dan Charnas, of hip-hop journalism  fame, wrote a book last year, WORK CLEAN:  The Life-Changing Power of Mise-en-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind.  It grew out of his interviews of dozens of culinary professionals and executives and focused on his understanding of mise-en-place as a personal code of ethics that emphasized excellence.

As Charnas says in an article he wrote for National Public Radio, “….most colleges and grad schools don’t teach basic organization.  Culinary schools and professional kitchens do.”

This YouTube video, “The Ingredients of Work Clean,” published by Rodale Press shortly before the book came out, contains a brief explanation of what it is: a simple system that helps you focus your actions and accomplish your aims

  • Planning is prime. Be ruthlessly honest about time and timing.  It’s the only way you can set it up right.
  • Arrange spaces so you can perfect moves. Place things so you can make your moves with just the flick of your fingers.  Know how you move and place your dishes of prepared ingredients and your tools right where you will be able to reach them when it’s time to use them.
  • Clean as you go. Keep your tools and your station as organized as when you first started.  This knife goes in this space.  The chopped chives go right there. Everything that is no longer needed does not belong at your station.  You’ll need it later so if you’ve got a breathing space, wash up the thing you’ve used and put it aside for when you’ll next need it.
  • Know what to start first. Start the longest process first.  It will be done by the time you get to the shortest process and by the time you’re done, you’ll be at the end.
  • Do not wait to finish. It isn’t finished until it’s delivered.  As soon as it’s ready, let it go.
  • Slow down to speed up. Don’t panic when things get hectic.  Calm your body, calm your mind.  Hurry opens the door to mistakes.  Get it right, and fast will happen.
  • Open your eyes and ears. Balance your internal and external awareness.  Remain focused and open.   Be receptive.  React as needed to the world around you but stay focused on what you are doing.
  • Call and call back. Streamline and confirm essential communications.  Follow up, update your team and turn information into intel you all can use to work together well.
  • Inspect and correct. Excellence requires vigilance.  Check your work.
  • Aim for total utilization. Avoid wasting time, space, motion, resources or persons.  Figure out how to tap into the flow of using them all and making them move in the direction you want them to go.  Look to create a synergy that you can step into.

The real is that mise-en-place is about being able to “work clean.”  It’s not about “creating order,” as in, “Gee, wow, I’ve organized my desk and doesn’t it look clean and cool?”

What mise-en-place says is, “I’m committed to move through all of these many steps I need to do and get them done right.  When I’ve finished with all the steps of this project  I am on now, I’ll wrap it up and deliver it.  Then I’ll resume my stance at my station, put myself in a position where everything is in place for me to work on the next project, and I’ll deliver that one.”

With mise-en-place you can repeat as needed for as long as necessary and it all gets done right every time.  You think about the process of making something from start to finish, and then you set up a system so you can get it done.

The system you create and maintain will allow you to stay focused on the most important thing at each moment.  What you need to do to accomplish something gets done faster and more proficiently because everything you need to do it is right there in front of you.

It’s cooking, planned and executed like a military campaign, and the moves are eminently transferable to other life-things as well.

A companion YouTube video, also published by Rodale Press, The Daily Meeze is a short introduction to the 30-minute daily planning session that Charnas recommends as a way to take mise-en-place out of the kitchen and apply it to regular life.

You may be able to figure out your own way to make your “meeze” your own.  Think about it.

Here’s a poem:


I SHOW UP

I suppose one thing there is

That can be said about me:

I show up.

It isn’t much, that.

Not earth-shaking….

I raise no mountains.

 

It’s not like I’m riding

On the waves at Jaws,

Throwing myself down

The face of some

Massive wall of water,

The epitome of Cool.

 

I show up.

What needs to be done

Gets done because of that.

The gears get oiled,

The wheels keep turning

And nothing comes

To a screeching halt.

 

I show up.

By Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Dongjiadu Mise-en-place” by Gary Stevens via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

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TALKING STORY

TALKING STORY

The Light of My Life teases me.  He says my eyeballs are getting square.  A Luddite of the most determined kind – the man doesn’t even own a phone – he worries that this one-eyed monster, my computer, will eat my days and steal me away from Life-Its-Own- Self.

THE SOUND OF AWKWARD

Apparently, he has cause for concern.  A couple of years ago, teacher Paul Barnwell wrote a thought-provoking article in The Atlantic magazine. He noticed that his students (juniors in high school), didn’t know how to have a face-to-face conversation.

I have a hard time imagining this.  I come from a culture that values connection and takes for granted a certain gracefulness in our encounters-of-the-face-kind.  Every so often I’ll meet an old friend who will bust out the pidgin and exclaim, “Ho, Netta!  Some long time I nevah see your face!”

We laugh and fall into catching up with each other’s lives again as easily as walking into another warm hug.

That ease of communication is partly due to history and familiarity.  Old friends don’t need to spend a lot of effort falling into Friend-Space.  You know you’re accepted for who you are because the two of you have done a heck of a lot of silly, possibly embarrassing, things together.

talk-story
“day 249 Talk Story” by Makena Zayle Gadient via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

PRACTICE HELPS

Skilled conversation is also due to practice, I am thinking.  People who are good at talking tend to talk a lot.  They may be opinionated or dramatically expressive or grand storytellers. They might just like hearing themselves talk and, if they’re really good, they know how to make that interesting for their listeners as they do it.  That takes a lot of practice.

Those who are good at being silent don’t talk so much but they don’t really have to.  There isn’t that unattractive, overweening need to “audition” and to fill the air with noise just to prove they are there.  Because they are comfortable in their silence, the quiet ones allow others to be comfortable with it too.  That takes practice too.

GROWING UP TALKING STORY

I grew up in a large extended family on a very small island where ignoring other people was the height of rudeness.  Going shopping along the main street of town could take hours.  You pretty much had to stop and talk story with everybody you passed on the street (as well as wave or acknowledge the other people who were farther away) or run the risk of being considered arrogant or stuck-up.

shaka
“Shaka!” by Kanaka Rastamon via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
As youngsters, we learned how to talk story.  We hung out with each other and we talked.  We learned how to be quiet together.  We learned how to throw quick quips and exit on a laugh.

We learned to smile and wave to all the aunties and uncles and ask after their families.  We talked to the neighbors, to assorted salesclerks, and to everybody else we met on the street.  We were good at talking story.

Even though our world has gotten full of other folks who just got off the plane or who come from other less communicative places, we can still do face-time pretty well.

ENCOUNTERS OF THE FACE-KIND

If your whole world is made up of texting and words scrolling across screens, and all that, sometimes your mouth goes into sleep mode. It’s good to practice the face-thing and try to develop better skills at talking-story.

(Hey…it can even help you get a job or put together collaborations and projects and other good stuff like that.)

Family is a good place to start.  So are familiar strangers.

Think of the people you encounter across sales counters.  Acknowledge them, laugh with them, take a moment to pay a compliment or give them a kind word and it opens a new level of comfortable.  You become a person, not a number.  How cool is that?

One of the best YouTube videos I’ve seen on this is radio host Celeste Headlee’s TEDTalk, “10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation.”  In it, she says, she’ll teach you how to “be a good interviewer.”

It is, she says, what good conversation is.  When we talk-story, we try to step into each other’s worlds and find out more about them.

To reiterate Headlee’s tips:

  • Don’t multi-task. Be present.
  • Don’t pontificate. Assume that you have something to learn.
  • Use open-ended questions that can’t be answered by a “yes” or “no.” Say, “What was that like?”  Say, “How did that feel?”  See where that takes you.
  • Go with the flow. Follow where the conversation leads you.
  • If you don’t know, say so. No shame.
  • Don’t equate your experience with theirs. Your story may be nothing like their story.  (Good conversations are not scar and wound competitions.  Nobody gets a prize for being the most hurt.)
  • People don’t care whether you get every single nitpicky detail right. What they care about is you – who you are, how you feel about something, what you’re doing and so on.  That’s the same stance you need to take too.
  • Pay attention.
  • Be brief.

The best conversations are the ones that take you into other worlds that give you new insights and inspire you.  They happen when you are prepared to be amazed by all the heartful people around you.

ONE CAVEAT – TAKE IT SLOW

You do have to make allowances for your own innate limitations.  If you tend to go into severe overwhelm when surrounded by crowds of people, it might be better if you stick to one-on-one talks when you’re in analog world.

Here’s a poem that grew out of a weekend of me doing the networking dance at some industry conference or other.  All the small talk and inane posturings and glad-handing got to me after a while.  By the second day, my brain just sort of lay there, gasping, slumped over and drained.

social-network
“Social Network” by Kevin Dooley via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
(I did get a poem out of it so it wasn’t a total waste of time….)


SHE HAS NO CONVERSATION

Sometimes I cannot speak.

The words I need are dreaming

Deep down below the sea inside me

And it takes time to retrieve them.

 

I need stillness to get to them,

To dive down and find where

They are clinging to the rocks

In underwater caves.

 

It makes for sporadic conversation

And long, long pauses.

 

If I try to force it, churning and

Floundering all around,

What comes out sounds stupid –

Childish, incoherent.

 

Nothing hangs together right.

(Sigh!)

 

I have always envied the ones

Whose words are all

Laid out in neat rows on long shelves

(Probably categorized…and labeled, even.)

 

All THEY have to do is grab them up

And gift them to people easily.

They can do the small-talk game,

Easy fitting-in among any crowd.

 

Maybe they even have some neat

Pyrotechnical wonders

They can grab up and shoot off

To wow the Peanut Gallery.

 

Their words always seem to make a lot of sense.

(Until you think about them some)

And then they turn out to be breaths of air

Manipulated by clever tongues and teeth.

 

At their worst, the words are little more

Than those pressed-lips farts we used to make as kids.

 

Hmmm…

Talking slow and deep is not so bad.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit: “Talking Story” by Georgia via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 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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LISTEN UP

LISTEN UP

Journalist and radio producer Dave Isay firmly believes that every person has a story to tell, one that the world needs to hear, and he’s been working on figuring out how to gather these stories together so everyone can share in them.  It all comes down to taking the time to listen.

THE LOST STORIES

It started, the guy says, when he was a young lad.  He was a loner and a nerdy sort who preferred talking  to older people.

One time he “interviewed” his grandparents and other family elders gathered for Thanksgiving using an old tape recorder he had found packed away in a box at his grandparent’s house.  The old ones were happy to entertain the boy with their stories.  He was enthralled and a good time was had by all.

The elders died after a time, he says, and the old tape he had made of their voices telling stories for their young relative was lost.  Isay has always regretted that loss.

This animated YouTube video tells that story (in the inimitable StoryCorps style) as an introduction to the ongoing work of the massive oral history project that he initiated.

HEARING THE CALL

Years later, Isay was a 21-year-old, freshly graduated from NYU.  He was waffling about whether he really wanted to follow the family tradition of slogging through medical school to become a doctor and took a year off to figure out what he wanted to do.  While he was wrestling with that problem the confused young man decided to try his hand at being a journalist.

Isay’s very first attempt at putting together a documentary was for a story about the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a series of violent, spontaneous protests by the LGBT community against an early-morning police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay dance bar, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

The raid was part of the constant harassment and bullying the gay community faced during those times.  It was a raid just like any other raid, but this time, someone got mad.  Someone said, “Enough.  Other people joined him.  The angry protests spread and the Gay Liberation Movement was born.

In this YouTube video,  “Remembering the Stonewall Riots” published in 2013 by Open Road Media, Martin Duberman, author of STONEWALL, talks about the significance of the riots.

Isay was really pleased with his work on that first documentary.  It seemed to him that he had found his calling.  He withdrew from medical school and started making documentaries.   His favorites were about the ones about ordinary people.

The man’s life-work has been built on listening to stories.  The company he built, Sound Portraits Productions, is an independent production company dedicated to telling stories about America’s ghettos, prisons and other neglected and hidden American communities  in print, on the radio and on the internet. The company mission statement is emblazoned on the bottom of their emails:   “Sound Portraits Productions…Documenting a Hidden America.

IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE

It’s not a new idea, nor one for which Isay takes credit.  Instead he lists the ones he calls his heroes, other documentarians of the disenfranchised and the unheard:

  • Joseph Mitchel, the New York journalist of salon-keepers and street preachers
  • Dorethea Lange and Walker Evans, the great WPA photographers
  • Studs Terkel, oral historian extraordinaire
  • Alan Lomax, folk-life archivist
  • Alex Kotlowitz, documentarian of ghetto life.

Sound Portraits Productions went on to create award-winning radio documentaries that were featured on PBS.

Isay has said, “When we feel we’ve succeeded it’s because we’ve managed to expose – truthfully, respectfully – the hidden, forgotten, or under-heard voices of America. And where and when we fail it’s because we’re short of this mark.”

But the little boy who listened wanted to do more.  So many people had stories they wanted to tell and the world needed to hear, but there was no way for them to tell the stories.  Nobody even knew they were there.

STORYCORPS IS BORN AND GROWS AND GROWS

In October, 2003, the first StoryCorps soundproofed “Story Booth” opened in the Grand Central Terminal in New York City with an open invitation for people to interview one another.  Friends, loved ones, even relative strangers were given the chance to conduct 40-minute interviews with help from the StoryCorps facilitators.

Anyone could make an appointment to record a session and it was a free service.  One person was the interviewer, the other was the storyteller, relating some aspect of the life they’ve lived.  The facilitator helped the participants record the interview.

 

Tens of thousands of people went for it.  The storytellers and their listeners got a safe place where they could hold uninterrupted, meaningful conversations and ask and answer the important questions that very often get lost in the everyday daily grind of life.  They also got a copy of the recording as a memento.

Another copy of the recording session was retained by the Story Corps and the stories became a weekly feature of the Morning Edition of NPR (National Public Radio) since 2005.  (They’ve also been used to create animated shorts which can be viewed on the NPR website.)

The original Grand Central Station StoryBooth was closed down and a new one erected at Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square in July, 2005.

storycorps
“Summer Streets 2011: Story Corps” by NYC Dept. of Transportation via Flickr [CC By-NC-ND 2.0]
Meanwhile, that same year, StoryCorps converted two Airstream trailers into mobile recording studios and launched them from the Library of Congress parking lot.  They’ve been touring the country ever since.

Here’s a YouTube video published by StoryCorps, “On the Road Since 2015,” that illuminates that story.

A second semi-permanent StoryBooth opened in San Francisco in 2008.  Over time, additional booths opened in Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee and Nashville as well.

The StoryBooths, both permanent and mobile, were the major collection points for the stories at first, but not everybody could make it to them.  The organization developed a couple of community programs to collect these other stories as well.

There’s the “Door-to-Door” service that sends teams of StoryCorps facilitators to temporary recording locations in the United States for several days at a time.

There’s also the “StoryKit” service that was started when the New York booth closed down in 2011 for a time due to a lack of funding.  Professional-quality, portable recording devices were shipped to participants around the country for this one.

Another workaround that was developed was the “Do-It-Yourself” service that allowed individuals to download free step-by-step interview instructions, equipment recommendations and a “Great Question” list.  This one was for people who wanted to conduct interviews using their own recording equipment.

A DAY FOR LISTENING

In 2008 StoryCorps launched an initiative called “the National Day of Listening” to encourage Americans to record stories with family members, friends and loved ones on Black Friday, the pre-Christmas shopping bonanza that occurs the day after Thanksgiving.

buy-nothing-black-friday
“Buy Nothing Black Friday” by Mike Licht via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Then in 2015, the day was rebranded as “The Great Thanksgiving Listen” when StoryCorps launched their StoryCorps App.  Teams worked with teachers and high school students across the country.  The kids interviewed their elders and recorded their stories over the holiday weekend on an app on their smartphones.

The free app was developed by StoryCorps with the support of a 2015 TED Prize and 2014 Knight Prototype Fund award.  It allows users to record the interviews on a smartphone.  Users can upload their interviews to the StoryCorps.me website.

Over the years, there have been collaborations and initiatives with groups, organizations and institutions from all over the country that target various segments of the American population as well.  Stories have been collected from the military, from people suffering memory loss, from Latinos and from African-Americans, from LGBTQ community, from people in prisons and the criminal justice system, and from those personally affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

Also, there’s the StoryCorps Legacy community program which partners with medical and disease specific organizations to provide opportunities for people with serious illness and their relatives to record and share their life story as well.

A LIVING RECORD

With the participants’ permission, the stories collected by all of these efforts (including the ones recorded on smartphones) are archived in the Library of Congress’ American Folklore Center.  It constitutes the largest single collection of “born-digital” recorded voices in history.  It is a massive living record of American lives by the people who lived it and it is magic.

The stories are slices of life that have been used in a wide range of projects.  The collection has been useful as a resource for various researchers in language, speech-recognition, and history among other things..

Over the years StoryCorp founder Dave Isay has published five books full of stories from the collection as well.

  1. LISTENING IS AN ACT OF LOVE:  A Celebration of American Life From the StoryCorps Project (2007)
  2. MOM:  A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps.  (2010)
  3.  ALL THERE IS:  Love Stories from StoryCorps (2012)
  4. TIES THAT BIND:  Stories of Love and Gratitude From the First Ten Years of StoryCorps (2013)
  5. CALLINGS:  The Purpose and Passion of Work (A StoryCorps Book) (2016)

One of the participants who conducted an oral-history interview with her grandmother in the Grand Central Station StoryBooth was featured in a Library of Congress blog post about the archive and how it was made.

Sharon DeLevie-Orey explained, “Last year my sister and I came to StoryCorps with my then-91-year-old grandmother. We had this fantastic interview, in which my grandma was candid and funny and loving.

“Yesterday she died. I just took out my StoryCorps CD and noticed the date, a year to the day. Tomorrow will be her funeral.  I could only listen to about 20 seconds before bursting into tears,” she says, “but I am so grateful that I have this.  Sure, I could have taped her anytime in the last 41 years. But I didn’t. Now the reward is so huge.”

Her conclusion:  “Everyone should do StoryCorps—because we don’t live forever.”

Sharon’s story is echoed by many others who have participated in the StoryCorps process as well.  For many it was the “best 40 minutes of my life”  that added meaning and mana to their ordinary life.

microphone
“Microphone” by yat fai ooi via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


TO AN OLD STORY TELLER

The thing about telling a story

In the first person

With you at the center of it all,

Looking out from your inner sanctum,

Looking back down

Old roads and paths once traveled,

Is that you know and I know: 

You survived.

You lived to tell the tale.

 

No matter how many thrills

And chills and spills you call up,

The fact is that you’re still standing here

Under this old sun,

Remembering days gone by –

Times of high adventure and

Moments that touched infinity –

Remembering old friends and old foes,

Remembering the mountains and the valleys

Hiding in the mists of your memory.

 

The quiet times make a matrix

Where light plays in the dark

As you hum an old song

And conjure up the dreams

Of the days when you were young and stupid

And the world was new to you.

You are an old survivor.

And me, I am one too.

It’s a marvelous thing to sit,

Leaning against this pillow,

Listening to the dream of you.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Wall” by Apionid via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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

 

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