Ah…here it comes again. Another Un-Seeing Exercise. There’s THAT question: Who am I to be so bold?
The story you tell yourself about what you “cannot” do can hurt you your entire life. This question, in particular, can tie you up in all kinds of knots and keep you stuck in suck.
WHY BOLD? WHAT IS BOLD?
“Lemme tell ya, cookie,” as an old, rasty rascal of a friend used to say, “it’s supposed to be bold. What are ya? Some kinda snail?”
Jan (Arny) Messersmith published that sky-diving image in the header of this post in his Flickr stream in 2010. He tells the backstory in a long rumination in his image notes. He also includes one of the best definitions of “bold” I’ve ever seen.
He says, “Boldness is the exercise of one’s beliefs accompanied by a certainty that positive and well-considered actions will produce desirable outcomes.” He continues, “Timidity and fear are not compatible with confidence and trust.” It’s a truth, that.
This INBOUND Bold Talk, “From Suit to Seal” was published on YouTube by HubSpot in 2015. It features Phil Black who hung up his suit as a Goldman-Sach minion to become, of all things, a Navy Seal.
“Be bold,” Black says at the end of his talk. Bold is the first step to following your dream.
TAKING THAT FIRST STEP
How do you get to bold? Some counterpoint questions might help. How about these?
When you are 80, are you going to regret that you did not take action and believe in yourself because you were scared?
What message will you give your kids and your grandkids? How are you going to authentically encourage them to follow their dreams when you stop yourself from following your own?
The saddest comment I have ever overheard was one from an elderly grandmother telling her grandson, “Go do your dream, bebe. Me, I too old for dream now. I can only wish.”
Another take on this is the advice in this spoken poem, “Everybody Dies But Not Everybody Lives” in this YouTube video by Richard Williams, better-known as American rapper and spoken word artist Prince Ea.
Prince Ea published the video in 2016. It was a collaboration between the artist, who calls himself a “Futurist,” and Neste, a Finnish oil refinery company that, besides producing and marketing petroleum products, also produces “renewable diesel” which is produced in a patented vegetable oil refining process. The upcycled vegetable oil works well as an alternative fuel in diesel engines.
PRETEND THERE IS NO COUNTDOWN
The Real is that being bold isn’t all that hard to do. Major tip: Forget the countdown. Never mind “a-one and a-two and a-three.” Just go.
Practice will help with that. It gets easier every time you do something that makes you scared and nervous.
FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS
Bold can also get easier if you can follow along the trails of adventurers and explorers who’ve gone on ahead of you.
Start a file folder today – either a physical paper one or one on your computer. Choose a few people who you admire for their bravery and bold actions. Research their stories.
Chances are your heroes started in situations that are no better than yours right now and they made it. Find out how they did it. Look at ways that maybe you can do it your own self in your own field.
Cinthia I. Albers is a fellow member of the Maui Live Poets Society. She’s a lifelong poet with a quirky sense of humor and her own tales to tell. She has laid claim to a “poet husband and a poet cat” and has collected her poems in a series of books that are available on Amazon.
I asked her to share a poem that has meaning and mana for her and to tell us why. This is hers:
“I have always been at war with the ideas of what the world says woman should be. Magazines show us these images and most of us do not measure up.”
“I was at a doctor’s office and picked up a woman’s magazine and thought about all those magazines I had read and discarded over the years. The idea that what interests women is reflected on their pages seems like a cosmic joke. Women are much more than that.”
“This poem grew from that. This was published in Maui Muses Vol 4- Equitude (a collection of poems curated by the Live Poets) and in my own collection.”
I was flipping through one of those magazines
You know the ones
With the makeup ads
And perfume ads
And Handbag ads
And High heeled shoe ads
Just for you
The ones with the articles
How to lose weight
Lose belly fat
Sculpt your thighs
Sculpt your arms
Tighten those abs
Make that butt tight and firm
Those articles about
How to please your man
How to have more sex
How to have satisfying sex
How to declutter your home
How to organize your life
That kind of magazine
That follows the weight loss article
And the sculpt your body
into a fat burning machine
With the recipe for a 10000 calorie dessert
And the five minute meal
That takes three hours prep
And 100 dollars of ingredients
But you’ll be fine
Using their budget tips
I picked up that magazine,
I flipped through
I admired those thin women
With the leather coats
And the hair that flows in the wind
The one where you can smell her perfume
The one that runs in heels and never falls
Looking at them, the perfect make up
The happy homemaker
The husband pleaser
With the decluttered kitchen
And the picture perfect comfy house
Being born a woman
How did I fail so badly?
They showed me how
It’s so simple
They told me so
I just have to read
Follow simple instructions
Bat my phony eyelashes
Buy the right kitchen organizer
Use the correct perfume
Take care of my man sexually
And all will be perfect
I will grow the perfect boobs
Sculpt the perfect ass
I will the don the perfect haircut
And I will be able to run
In expensive spiked heels
With matching bag
And fly away coat
Truth is it never worked
I just can’t quite master that image
Who would have thought being a woman
Was so hard to become
Considering I was born one.
At a party recently, a bunch of old guys – artists, tinkerers and generally handy dudes of a certain age – were reminiscing about high school shop class.
They found it amazing that forty and fifty years ago it was not considered unusual for a bunch of silly-assed, overly amped kids to be dealing with hands-on fooling around using massive, old, industrial-strength power tools.
In fact, they agreed, shop class was the go-to class for all the worker-dude guys who were not academically inclined.
All those assorted spinning wheels, sharp cutting edges, power cords, burning and smoking things, flying sparks, mounds of debris and such were a natural part of the shop class landscape.
Every one of the guys remembered that their shop teacher was missing at least a couple of fingers. Every one of them remembered the safety lectures.
Mostly, though, they remembered how shop class got them fascinated with the joy of Making Something. Collectively they mourned the passing of this rite of passage.
Those old dudes were sounding “Taps” too early, it seems. The joy of Making has taken the world by storm again. It’s even got its own Movement now. Do-It-Yourself lives!
This “Maker Movement” is a convergence of traditional artisans, computer hackers, independent inventors, designers, tinkerers and other (often manic) crafty sorts who toil away in their cluttered workrooms and closet-offices making cool stuff that sometimes solve everyday problems, big and small, and sometimes is just for fun.
The first stirrings of the Movement in 2005 was spurred on by the vision and enthusiasm of the editors of Make: magazine, a publication that was born out of founder Dale Dougherty’s conviction that Making is a very good thing to do.
Before the magazine was a year old, it had become a nexus and a gathering place for a tech-influenced, grassroots, DIY community that spread and sprawled out like a kudzu vine. The magazine dubbed them “Makers.”
“I think the magic of [the magazine] was simply that we connected a lot of different groups that were making things but saw themselves as doing something separate,” Dougherty has said.
According to him, the artisans and artists saw themselves as different than the people who do robotics or electronics. There was a sense of disconnection among all of these creative folks. A knitter, a musician and a guy who builds a drone might not be able to feel like they belong to the same tribe, for example.
“To some degree calling them all makers kind of allowed for a flourishing of some different people coming together and seeing commonalities,” he said.
MAKE: MAKER FAIRES
The Makers also spurred the magazine editors on to put together the first Maker Faire, a festival celebrating the innovation and self-reliance of the folks who do-it-yourself.
The first Maker Faire happened in San Mateo, about 20 miles from San Francisco. It was billed as the “Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth.”
The idea was to get all kinds of people of all ages and backgrounds to come together and show what they were making and share what they were learning with other people. It was also all about experimenting, playing, and having fun connecting with other people.
The first Faire was a grand success, stirring the imaginations of jaded consumers numbed by the overabundance of generic, mass-produced goods. It spawned what has since became a worldwide network of fancy flagship Faires in major cities that involve thousands of people as well as more down-home, independently produced mini-faires.
At these events, curious participants of all ages can experience the inventions of the Makers firsthand. The spectators are invited to join in the parade and fun is had by all.
This 2012 YouTube video, “Inspiring a Maker Movement” was published by CNN and features Dale Dougherty talking about the very fundamental human need to make stuff. You’ll also get a taste of what it’s like to be at a Maker Faire.
As Dougherty points out, it isn’t all high-tech, although 3D printers, digital manufacturing, drones and robots are all glittery highlights at the big international Faires. New forms of arts, entertainment, crafts, food experiments, and every other kind of human creativity is fodder for exploration.
You can learn to build your own smartphone or make your own toys.
You might be able to print out a pair of shoes.
Maybe you’ll make your own jewelry or a handbag for mom or learn how to cook up something new.
You might learn how to crochet.
You might even learn how to home-automate your house with just a few simple measures.
You could learn how to pickle, can, and preserve fruits and vegetables and check out the latest advances in bee-keeping, composting and growing your own food.
You might learn how to write better instructions.
Checking out all that’s new in the world of making things could lead you to the start of a new interest, hobby or vocation.
At the Faires, open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology rule. The strategy is to provide interested people with the right tools and the inspiration and opportunity to use them. Creativity and a lot of imagination-sparking ensues.
to check out the Faire schedules and locations. It truly is mind-boggling!
Makers make stuff. They want to know how they can do this thing or that. They want to know how other people have solved a problem they are facing.
Magazines (like Make: magazine) as well as books, podcasts and YouTube videos for do-it-yourselfers have grown exponentially as more and more people become interested in being a Maker of one sort or another.
Hobbyists, enthusiasts, and those who’ve gained a certain mastery in some form of Making might be encouraged to give demonstrations, classes or workshops that attract others who want to explore new ways of Making too.
Then there are the MakerSpaces that welcome a diverse group of builders, hackers, and hobbyists who share resources and knowledge. Hundreds have cropped up in the past decade or so in the United States.
Some are housed in existing community centers such as libraries, museums or youth centers. Others are sponsored by companies and organizations at conference centers. All of them focus on the love of Making.
This YouTube video put together by TheMakerSpace earlier this year explains further:
MakerSpaces have taken off in all kinds of directions. There are community-based spaces, spaces for kids, and spaces for explorers of all kinds.
Here’s another YouTube video, by Intel (yes, those guys) showing off their “Ultimate MakerSpace,” at the company’s Intel Developer Forum in 2014.
Both the dedicated and dabbler Makers have fueled the growth of companies that produce the materials and tools that people use to make (or fix) stuff. Sales of arts and crafts supplies and parts for all kinds of machines and electronic equipment are booming as well.
People who get involved in Making often find something that they feel is worth exploring further, that gives them great pleasure. Some of them turn their new-found passion into a life-long hobby. Others become entrepreneurial and turn their creations into a business of their own.
Besides distributing their creations to traditional brick-and-mortar stores or participating in venues like street fairs and festivals, many Makers sell their creations online to people all over the world by making their own websites or by using Craigslist, eBay, or Etsy to sell their own cool stuff.
The connections just keep multiplying.
More than one observer of economic and business trends have commented on the Maker Movement. It has gotten wide and deep.
The general consensus seems to be that it is a very good thing to encourage folks to ponder on problems and figure out how to make their own solutions rather than just going out and buying another doo-dad put together by someone else.
After all, it is the people who make things who have the potential to change the world.
Matthew Crawford, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the author of SHOP CLASS AS SOULCRAFT: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, has this thought: “I think [the Maker Movement] is tapping into a really basic fact about us as human beings. From infancy we learn about the world by manipulating it, by sort of poking it and seeing how it pokes back.”
My own feeling is that each of us carries a little spark of the Creative within us. It’s a good thing, I think, to go play with that.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I keep working on it. Sometimes I get a whole bunch of poems. Sometimes nothing.
It’s all process….
Here’s a poem:
Nothing comes together.
This poem is not going well.
The words keep turning pale.
They fade, they float away.
They stumble around looking confused.
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.
Hands-on (often inept) fooling around with stuff has been called “tinkering.” The top definition for the word “tinkering” in the online collaborative Urban Dictionary is this: “to mess around with something and you don’t really have a clue what you are doing.” (The regular dictionary definitions are pretty boring.)
It’s to honor the Urban Dictionary spirit of tinkering that Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, the co-directors of the San Francisco Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio put together the book, THE ART OF TINKERING.
In the introduction to this amazing collection of wonders by 150+ Makers who combine art, science and technology to put together incredibly diverse works, Wilkinson and Petrach tell us that tinkering is “more of a perspective than a vocation…. It’s thinking with your hands and learning through doing.”
The book grew out of the work being done by a group of artists, scientists, developers, educators and facilitators who play with many different sorts of tools, materials and technologies at the museum’s “Tinkering Studio” and at the PIE Institute.
JUST MESSING AROUND
This gathering of fun-loving Makers bent on giving us all a taste of the joy of tinkering was the result of a project called the PIE (Play-Invent-Explore) Network. This federally funded project began as a collaboration between the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group, the Exploratorium, and several other museums,
They started by experimenting with science and art activities that developed into innovative educational activities suitable for wonderment, playfulness and learning about the world around us.
Work by the Tinkering Studio guys often become either exhibits at the museum or hands-on activities that allow museum visitors to jump in and play in the museum’s Tinkering Studio space which is open to the public.
The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium has become an inspiration for tinkerers and other wanna-be Makers since it began in 2009.
This 2012 YouTube video published by core77inc gives a taste of what the sessions held in the Studio feels like:
The book has a slew of advice about how you, too, can play at tinkering.
Here are my favorites:
Create rather than consume.
Express ideas via construction. Use your hands to build the constructs living in your mind.
Embrace your tools. Learn how to use them the “right” way, then figure out other ways to use them that work for what you are trying to do. It’s been said that a master knows how to misuse tools at least three different ways to get other results.
Prototype rapidly. When you have an idea, don’t let it just sit in your brain. Get it out into the world as soon as possible. Sketch a design. Build a working model with stuff you have lying around. Once it’s out of your head you can work out your next steps and move on to Phase 2.
Make it strange. Use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways. Take a common object and put it to another new use.
Get stuck. It’s a good thing. Failure tells you what you don’t know. Frustration is for making sense of that failure in the moment. Taking action to work through the problem and playing with it ultimately lead to new understandings.
The best advice of all is this one: You need to balance autonomy with collaboration.
Autonomy – going solo – helps you get to your own kind of mastery. You learn how to work with tools and materials. You develop your own skill and knowledge. You grow your confidence.
Tinkering with other people can be a blast. Collaboration helps you clarify your ideas for solving a problem because you have to be able to explain them to your partners in a way they can understand. (Otherwise they won’t be able to help you get where you want to go.)
You and your partners will have different and various skills and ideas that can be brought to bear on the problem. Cross-pollination is likely to occur and that could lead to other wonders.
Best of all, everybody can be a part of something larger than themselves, and that, as any wise guy will tell you is a very good thing.
All of the pictures of the hand-made sailing rail-cars project above were taken by Gever Tulley, the founder of Tinkering School, an internationally known summer program. He also started SF Brightworks, an innovative K-12 school in San Francisco emphasizing experience-based, hands-on experiential learning.
Tulley is the also the author of the book FIFTY DANGEROUS THINGS (YOU SHOULD LET YOUR CHILDREN DO), among others. As he has noted, “I have made it my mission to reintroduce the world to children: the real world as revealed through unscripted, hands-on, meaningful learning experiences.”
I was looking through an old poetry journal of mine, looking for something to use in a post. I found a folded sheet with a poem by a dear friend who died recently, Pat Masumoto. The poem was dated September 10, 2015.
I remembered that Pat asked me to read this poem for her at a Maui Live Poets gathering she wasn’t able to attend because of conflicts in her hectic schedule.
Memories came flooding back and I was missing my dear friend. Poems have that ability to speak for you when you’re gone, it seems.
Aloha no, my ‘aikane…aloha no….
Here’s the poem:
CHANGING THE GAME
(to be read with a perfectly straight face)
Self control. It works.
When I feel hurt by rude insensitivity
I talk a lot and sometimes shout.
If I’m not heard, I walk away,
even when I want to choke someone
until he turns a putrid green.
When I feel alarmed by injustice
I stand up against it,
And if I can’t get anywhere, I read about heroes…
instead of spitting at people’s faces.
and I don’t like using guns either.
When I find myself in fear,
I might compose a poem…or two.
I won’t cross my arms and crouch and I absolutely
will not growl and bite anyone coming near.
As I become stronger and tougher,
I’ll do a silly giggle and laugh like crazy.
If you want to know what else, I’m aching to
get down on all fours and
howl at the moon, but I won’t.
When I’m gladdened by kindness,
By patience and generosity, I smile and grin.
I don’t get naked and
run amuck in the streets,
arms raised and hands open, screaming with joy.
(visibly take a breath)
After exercising self-control for my whole life, I’m now bored with it.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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’.
Tell me again, babe: You are doing this…WHY?
Where’d I park my Millenium Falcon?
There has GOT to be a better way to do this.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.