She’s an Internet buddy who grabbed my hand and enthusiastically dragged me off to play with her. Always a grand thing, I say!
Fleeky frequents the Wealthy Affiliates platform, which is a learning place for people who spend their time poking at computer keyboards, building blogs and customer bases and all that stuff, twisting their heads around to learn to deal with all the complexities of that effort.
(Most of us who hang at Wealthy Affiliates are learning how to get a handle on affiliate-marketing and are using the incredible array of knowledge presented there by expert online marketers and a very large world-wide tribe of wanna-be financial independents to further our own runs to Rainbow’s-End.)
I told Fleeky about my “Guest Poet Portal” and extended an invitation to her to share a poem on this here blog and her response was immediate.
A Fleeky-poem appeared. The speed of her response was awesome. It took my breath away.
Here’s the poem:
ONE POEM a day
Keeps the doctor away
Sound familiar? Rewrite
Poetry saved my life
It is a wonderful world Full of meaning and sense
The shorter The best
Misstakes and typos Are common errors But…oh so funny!
In 2011, a video of a kid speechifying after learning to ride a bike went viral. His dad “interviewed” him after his accomplishment, asking him whether he had any “words of wisdom” for all the other kids who wanted to ride a bike.
“Thumbs up everybody…for rock ‘n roll!” à la the rock group KTN (Kill the Noise) the little boy says, and the world laughed.
The video above is the “Original,” according to the YouTube posting. Copies and parodies proliferated for a while.
I thought on all the sometimes-marvelous, oftentimes moving sermons and speeches and lectures and blogs and videos and books and courses and such put out by assorted and varied people.
It seems to me that if you know how to play with words, work your voice, and move your body with conviction and sincerity radiating out of your every pore, it’s not that hard to come up with stuff that at least gets people on their feet and cheering, rarin’ to go off and conquer the world.
There are even courses that will teach you how to induce that effect on other people, and on yourself, I suppose.
The problem is the word-induced enthusiasms and zeal sort of fade away when those people in the audience go back to their ordinary, regular lives.
The fervor and the fire dies down, drowning in the wake of the unending same-old. The audience members come down off the high and it all turns to meh again.
Wisdom words seem to have a short shelf life.
The viral video made us laugh at ourselves because we know that space, all of us.
IF YOU REALLY WANT TO INSPIRE “THE MASSES”
Master Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson once said, “What is respected by the masses is action; you can inspire someone for a day with your words, but you can inspire someone for a lifetime by what you do.”
And that’s a truth. Thompson lives it.
He is famed as the first Native Hawaiian in 600 years to practice the ancient Hawaiian art of navigation on long distance ocean voyages using only the stars, the wind and the waves, the flight of birds and the power of focused intent.
It has been his life-work to guide the Hōkūle’a, (“Star of Gladness” or Arcturus), a modern-day iteration of the double-hulled sailing canoes used by the ancients to sail across the Paciific.
Nainoa has also helped to further the work of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a nonprofit research and education organization that grew out of the effort to build the canoe and to sail her.
[For more information about the Polynesian Voyaging Society, click on the button below.]
The society has developed many ways to explore the deeper meanings of voyaging and wayfinding and they continue to reconnect the island peoples of Oceania with the old ways, with each other, and with the world.
In their growing, they’ve helped to revitalize a number of cultural practices that hold great meaning and mana for the ones who live it.
These practices include art, language, music, dance, ways of thinking and ways of cooperation that are a counter to the homogenizing and narrowing effects of our post-modern dependence on machines and straight-line thinking.
The book tells the story of the vessel’s making and her first voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976. It captures the images of the people who made her and sailed her.
The saga is a remarkable tale of high adventure and great derring-do, a chronicle of the beginnings of one of the sparks that ignited the rebirth of a culture and a people that was languishing in defeat and despair.
(The author also made an award-winning film, “The Navigators – Pathfinders of the Pacific”.)
In 1978, the Hōkūle’a embarked from Oahu’s Magic Island, once again headed toward Tahiti on another cultural expedition. This time the dream was to have a Hawaiian navigate the canoe on the trip to Tahiti.
The canoe capsized in treacherous seas outside the Hawaiian islands and the crew spent the night adrift.
Eddie Aikau, an internationally acclaimed surfer and waterman, who was a member of the crew, set off on his surfboard to find help. He was never seen again.
The crew was rescued, but the loss of Eddie which was compounded by the departure of their teacher, master navigator Mau Piailug, left the leadership of the voyaging group in disarray.
(Mau had returned to his home, disgusted at the contentious infighting and lack of consensus among the Hawaiians, before the trip began.)
Nainoa’s father and other leaders in the Hawaiian community helped the young people work through their disheartenment.
The old guys, who were experienced group leaders, told the younger ones that they had not “earned” the trip. They had not learned enough of what they needed to know to make the run.
Any great endeavor requires extraordinary preparation and forethought and a great deal of hard work. Until you’ve done the work and developed the backlog of skills that you need to deal with the inevitable emergencies, you are likely to meet with failure.
The elders spoke from experience gained over lifetimes of trying and failing and trying again.
With the sharing of their life-knowledge they helped to foster the understanding that there could be a deeper purpose for the voyaging than just playing around and having a good time on the open sea.
Thompson went to Micronesia to bring Mau back.
The group learned. Thompson learned. They earned that trip to Tahiti and then planned and worked and did others.
They continued to venture out on voyages throughout the Pacific, to build their community, and to build canoes.
They kept extending the circle of connection outward.
AN ICON RIDING THE WAVES THROUGH TIME
Hōkūle’a, which was designed by artist and historian Herb Kawainui Kane, has become a symbol of the ancient indigenous arts of wayfinding and sailing off into the unknown and for the power of human connection and cooperation.
Other canoes have since been built, but she was the start.
Her greatest voyage was a three-year circumnavigation of the earth that began in March, 2014. Hōkūle’a docked at 150 ports, stopping in 23 countries including Tahiti, Brazil, South Africa and Cuba and came home in June, 2017.
The world watched. The children learned.
An interesting thing.
The around-the-world voyage began with many of the oldest surviving members of the past canoe crews who had a hand in sailing the vessel over the years of going out and then returning.
The crew that brought her home were from among the best and newest voyagers who had been trained by their elders.
And the procession continues, from the old ones to the young ones, from the past to the future.
THE POWER OF REMEMBERING YOUR TEACHERS
In 2015, as Hōkūle’a was making the world-encircling voyage, PBS Hawaii’s Leslie Wilcox presented an episode in their “Long Story Short” series that featured Wilcox’s interview of Nainoa Thompson.
The talk-story meanders through Thompson’s life and includes his childhood and his history with wayfaring and the cultural renaissance of the Hawaiian people, touching on turning points and highlights of his life-journey.
It elucidates Nainoa’s thoughts on how one develops into a worthy leader, the importance of building community, and the value of teachers and mentors in this process.
Even more importantly, Nainoa explains how he continues to live his life based on the “culture of values” into which he was born.
Here’s the YouTube video of the interview:
About halfway through the video, Thompson talks about the time when he was appointed by the Hawaii Probate Court, in the year 2000, to serve as one of the five trustees for the Bishop Estate, the largest private property owner in the state of Hawaii.
The trust, established by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s will, funds the Kamehameha Schools, a private school system in the state that the princess founded.
Nainoa’s appointment as a trustee came at a time when the trust was rocked by a scandal centered around gross mismanagement that jeopardized the future of the schools.
The previous board had been dismissed and Thompson was one of the replacement trustees, recommended by many community leaders.
Nainoa said that he felt absolutely inadequate for the job at hand. He was a fisherman, he said.
“…I didn’t feel like I had the tools, I didn’t have the background. But you were asked; right? You were asked to do this.”
Maybe it’s a Hawaiian “thing” – one of those values that are a given: When your community asks you to do something because they believe that you are the one who can help, then you have to respond to that trust and say yes.
Once you do that, you have obligated yourself to try to do the best you know how and to learn how to do better than you already know.
Thompson tells how he countered his own self-doubt during that time by having his assistant hang in his office pictures of all of his life-teachers, those who he defined as “leaders that navigated” – the ones who had set the course for him for his whole life. There were more than sixty pictures on the walls of the room.
The pictures included Pius Mau Piailug, one of the last traditional navigators from Micronesia; Thompson’s father Myron “Pinky” Thompson; NASA Space Shuttle astronaut and teacher Charles Lacy Veach; and waterman Eddie Aikau.
Whenever he faced uncertainty and overwhelming pressure to make some complex decision that involved balancing the often-conflicting needs of the people involved in an issue or situation, Nainoa would take a time-out and go sit in the room, surrounded by his teachers.
He would remember their stories, how they acted, how they thought, and the way they lived. He would ponder on what they would do in the situation he was facing.
Their ways of walking became the foundation for building and developing his own.
He says, “…that was the smartest thing I ever did, was to get all my teachers and my leaders in the room with me, and I could sit with them in counsel by myself. Then, go back inside and deal with the rough decisions that you’re never, ever feeling that it’s one hundred percent the correct thing to do….”
At one point in the interview, he calls the fear of moving forward into ambiguity and uncertainty and taking the next action his “best friend.”
Thompson likens that fear to a door you don’t want to open– the one that requires you to be honest about all of your inadequacies and your-less-than-perfect self and to go on anyhow.
For that lesson, he credits his friend, Eddie Aikau, the big-wave surfer who always would go, who always wanted to take action.
“Eddie said, Open the door.”
Nainoa kept that thought with him as he continued to help to build a legacy for the ones who followed after him.
Once his term as a Bishop Estate trustee ended, Thompson went back to the sea.
The voyages and the wayfinding continues still.
As a writer and a poet, I am very much aware of the power (and the limitations) of words.
I do know that one elegant and beautiful way of walking through the world is more valuable than all the words and words and words that are meant to move the hearts around you.
It’s a good thing to remember when you are working towards some dream or other. It really does not matter whether the walker becomes famous or remains obscure. It’s glorious to succeed, but what are you succeeding at?
It seems to me that what is important is whether the way the walker walks helps to make the world a better place for everybody else.
It’s probably the most effective way to make friends and influence people as well.
One of the wisest thoughts I’ve ever encountered about impermanence is this one from English writer W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, THE RAZOR’S EDGE:
“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.”
It reminds me of a Hawaiian aesthetic that holds that beauty is made more precious when we understand that it is ephemeral and will not last.
The world changes and changes and, if we are wise, we will drink in whatever beauty we find and enjoy it while it is still with us.
Delighting in the beauty that we encounter and not begrudging the limited time it can stay, is the only response that makes sense in this world of change, Hawaiians say.
The glory of rainbows must surely be affected by our understanding that they do not linger on and on. They come. They glow. They fade away.
One of the most beloved flowers used for making Hawaiian leigarlands is the pua kenikeni.
This tubular, five-petaled wonder has a strong, unique fragrance that lingers as (in one day’s time) a strand of the flowers slowly morphs from being an exquisite creamy whiteness to a vibrant golden orange before becoming a collection of brown straggling bits.
The entrancing dance of lava flowing from the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano in this National Geographic Showcase Short Film produced by Lance Page and Wesley Young is hypnotically beautiful. The YouTube video was published in 2015.
Always, the eruption of one of our volcanoes is a dramatic reminder that change happens and the display of destruction and creation can be very beautiful.
All of these likely Hawaiian examples of impermanence are taken from nature, but in Japan — another island kingdom across the Pacific — honoring the beauty of impermanence, process, and regeneration takes a more human turn.
ANOTHER PEOPLE’S WAY OF HONORING IMPERMANENCE
For 1300 years and more, the Japanese people in the city of Ise and the surrounding areas in the Mie prefecture have carried on a tradition of cyclical reconstruction and deconstruction.
Every 20 years or so the people connected to the place rebuild two of the holiest of their holy buildings as well as a number of other structures that comprise the Shinto Ise Jingū or Grand Shrine.
The rebuilders use Hinoki cypress wood — some from trees that are over 400 years old with trunks that are 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) in diameter — taken from ancient mountain forests that surround the area.
The cultivated trees are planted, maintained, earmarked and harvested on a cycle that spans hundreds of years in order to provide material for the great work.
This short 2019 YouTube video, “Ise Shrine/Ise Jingu,” which features a tour of the shrine complex was uploaded by travel vlogger Charlie Casia. The serene beauty of the complex shines.
The two main shrines in the complex are the Gekū (Outer Shrine) and Naikū (Inner Shrine). They are separated from each other by about four miles (6 kilometers) of forested land. More than 120 smaller shrines and sanctuaries have sprung up around them as well.
The main shrines were originally built from wood harvested from the same forest that surrounds the latest iterations now.
These days, the local Hinoki wood is not as abundant as it once was so the shrine rebuilders have come to depend on other domestic producers who insure that only the very best wood is used for the work.
Logs are obtained from the mountains and floated down the rivers flowing past Ise.
Once the logs are harvested, they are put through a lengthy seasoning and drying process during which they spend several years in a pond before being dried and prepared as building material.
Timber for Gekū is landed from the Miya River while that for Naikū is landed from the Isuzu river.
No nails are used in the shrine construction. The master artisans who erect these buildings use an ancient post-and-lintel technique with intricately cut and fitted joints that are designed and carved to fit together like puzzle pieces.
My favorite YouTube video about the miyadaiku carpenters of Japan is this one, published in 2019 by a Great Big Story.
It is titled, “In Japan, Repairing Buildings Without a Single Nail” and features Takahiro Matsumoto, a miyadaiku from Kamakura, Japan who assesses and repairs damaged temples in his own city. It shows the kind of work these master craftsmen do.
A 100-meter long (longer than a football field) wooden bridge that spans the Isuzu River at the entrance of the Naikū shrine is rebuilt as well.
It’s actually a part of the training process.
The bridge is a journeyman project for the traditional miyadaiku temple builders — craftsmen and artisans who will, if they become masters, be entrusted with the next rebuilding of the main shrines.
The two shrines are each rebuilt on an empty building site that is adjacent to the current shrine. Each rebuilding has always alternated between these side-by-side building sites.
(The next scheduled rebuilding of Naikū, which is deeply connected to the Japanese imperial family, is scheduled to occur in 2033 on the lower, northern site.)
Other shrines in the complex are also included in the rebuilding project.
While the people at Ise Jingū are not the only ones to practice this kind of rebuilding, these structures are the only ones that have been consistently rebuilt through the many centuries of their existence.
Besides the builders and carpenters involved in the building, scores of other craftspeople prepare thatch for the roofs using traditional techniques, cut the gold sheets that make certain of the ridge poles shimmer in the sun, weave the cloth used for hangings, and attend to the myriad details that go into making the newest shrine incarnation real.
All over the country other artisans create the sacred offerings and utensils that will be used in the renewed structures as well.
The local people in the surrounding areas are often deeply involved in the process, participating in various traditional events as well as a number of festivals that also include the millions of pilgrims and tourists who visit the Grand Shrine complex every year.
There’s a special festival when some of the logs and timber that will be used in the rebuilding are moved onto the site with help from many willing arms and backs.
This video, “Ise Shrine,” was published in 2007 by Journeyman Pictures and offers a slice of the experience from one tourist vlogger.
The pebbles in the courtyard surrounding the newly built shrine are gathered, washed, then moved to the site and placed there by respectful human hands in a two-month process that involves the residents and visitors to the area.
(Afterwards the pebbles from the old structure are returned to the river. One day they may be returned again to the site.)
The entire reconstruction process ideally takes about 17 years, with the initial years focused on project organization, general planning and fundraising, and the last eight years concentrated on the actual physical construction of the buildings.
Ritual and celebrations orchestrated by the Shinto priesthood is generously mixed in throughout the whole process and the people come to help and to participate in and watch the spectacle slowly unfold.
About six months after each new shrine building is completed and the sacred objects housed in the old shrine are ceremonially transferred to the new one, the old shrine is disassembled.
Some parts of the old shrine are kept for use in the next rebuilding effort.
The old major shrine’s two massive main pillars are repurposed to make the enormous torii gate that greets the multitudes of pilgrims and other visitors to the shrine complex.
Other parts of the old shrine are used to repair and maintain the smaller shrines that have sprung up around the two main shrines or are distributed around the country to other shrines that need repair.
And still other bits will become part of Ise amulets that are then sold throughout Japan to be placed on household altars – in Japan and almost certainly in other parts of the world as well.
The thing about the Ise Grand Shrine rebuilding is that it continues, rippling through the world in ever-widening circles.
MORE THAN JUST A HUGE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT
Each rebuild costs about half a billion US dollars (of which at least half are paid for by Japanese tax payers).
Every rebuild requires about 10,000 to 12,000 old cedar trees, many of them grown and harvested from areas outside Ise, and all of them expensive.
It is a costly proposition, keeping the culture alive.
However, it is worth noting that the Ise Grand Shrine rebuilding is an ages-old, ecologically sustainable practice that provides a structure and a framework for renewing a deep national commitment to an ancient spiritual and creative tradition.
This tradition brings together large numbers of like-minded individuals as well as those bound to the place through all the generations of families who have been a part of the ongoing project.
How much is an affirmation of Life-Its-Own-Self really worth?
NOT A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
As I’ve said, the rebuilding of the Ise Grand Shrine is all about honoring impermanence, process and regeneration.
Maybe that’s one reason why these holiest of holy buildings in a country that is full of them – buildings that have occupied their current sites for more than 1300 years – have not made it onto the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began their famous list of sites that are judged to be “important to the common culture and heritage of humanity” in 1972.
These sites, they say, have cultural, historic, geographical or some other unique feature that make them worthy of protection from harm.
Some of these UNESCO sites are considered to be places where humans made great strides in advancing technology or intellectual and spiritual thinking.
The UNESCO list and the preservation program connected to it, it is said, is one of the most widely acknowledged international agreements.
The sites on the list are very popular with world travelers and tourists as well.
[Click the button below for the latest iteration of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.]
There are currently 1,121 sites on the list. Twenty-three of them are in Japan.
You will notice, however, that Ise Jingū, the Shinto “Grand Shrine” complex which is not only historically connected to the imperial family of Japan but is also a justly famous pilgrimage site, is not on the list.
It’s said that the Shinto Imbe priests who care for the Grand Shrine have resisted the inclusion of it on the UNESCO list.
The priests say they do this because the shrines are a part of an ongoing, living tradition that continues still.
That reminds me of one old Hawaiian friend who once pointed out, “Preservation is not the same as perpetuation. Preservation is what you do to make pickles. When you perpetuate something, you are helping to keep it alive.”
Through the centuries of practicing this form of reverencing life and caring for the sacred within the world, the living tradition evolves, passing through the hands, hearts and minds of many people, and yet it remains the same.
In America, dating since the original Social Security Act of 1935, retirement and making it intact to the “Golden Years,” (when you are supposedly free to stop working and “enjoy” lazing around in the little bit of life span you have left once you stop working) has been a gold-standard goal.
The paradigm among the “human resource” contingent of the time, was that you’d be a tired, shopworn bit of humanity and could be sidelined like a piece of obsolete old equipment that was still in working order but kind of irrelevant.
It made a horrible sort of sense, that — especially after the rise of the Industrial Revolution when people were often seen as interchangeable parts in an ever-more-efficient system of production and productivity.
Young people were encouraged (and even brow-beaten) into going for and hanging on to “secure” and possibly meaningless-to-them jobs and to diligently squirrel away the nickels and pennies that were left over from paying for the lives they were living in order to build up a retirement fund for the winter of their life.
THE WHOPPING BIG ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
There is only one problem.
Since the retirement thing was first conceived in the early 1880’s by Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck of Germany – the first-of-its-kind social insurance program — all the smarty pants in labs and such have been pushing our physical envelopes.
We are now living longer and longer lives thanks to all of the advances in medicine and technology. People are living decades after the official start of the “Golden Years.”
It has been one of the major societal goals of every culture, after all. Who doesn’t want to live long and prosper?
When the then-new concept of “retirement” was first proposed, our human lifespans were not much more than three-score and ten. It was expected that your body’s expiration date was about 70 or so years after you checked into this world.
Therefore, it was assumed that if you retired at 65 it was quite likely that you’d fall over dead very shortly thereafter. The social program that helped you live your life as an old person was sustainable, it was thought.
It sort of worked for a while, but that’s no longer happening.
Now there’s a whole generation of older folks wondering whether whatever stack of money they’ve hoarded (if they ever got around to it during their “active” years) will last long enough and, for sure, the government subsidy thing keeps on shrinking as the cost of living heads on up.
The bills don’t stop during the “Golden Years.” You still have to eat and you still need a roof over your head and your body…well, it’s been lived-in.
It breaks down. Maintenance costs.
And, even more depressing, we’ve all figured out that people can really get bored spending twenty-some years slouching around doing nothing much.
Frankly, the so-called freedom of not-working sucks.
A new freedom is beginning to replace it as the Ultimate Goal: the freedom to find and keep working at something that holds meaning for you.
ON TO ANOTHER PLAN
For the past twenty years and more author and social entrepreneur Marc Freedman has been working on fostering the idea of the “encore career,” a second vocation in the latter half of one’s life.
The idea dates from 1997 or 1998, when Freedman’s San Francisco-based nonprofit called Civic Ventures (since renamed Encore.org) introduced the notion.
Freedman’s non-profit developed into an innovation hub bent on “tapping the talent of people over 50+ as a force for good.”
By the time he gave the following talk at TEDxDrexelU in 2013, Freedman had co-founded “Experience Corps,” mobilizing thousands of Americans over 55 to improve the education of low-income elementary children.
He was spearheading the presentation of the Purpose Prize, an annual $100,000 award for social innovators in the second half of life.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) now runs both of these programs.
In his talk, which was published in 2013 by TEDxTalks, Freedman pointed out that people are living longer and the old Golden Years plan is no longer working so well.
Since that talk, Encore.org has developed the Encore Fellowships program, a one-year fellowship helping individuals translate their midlife skills into “second acts” focused on social impact as well as the Encore Network, a coalition of leaders and organizations that help people turn those longer lives into an asset.
Freedman and his colleagues have written other books and continued to develop programs.
The concept has taken off. Millions of older adults, aged 50 years and older, are working on delving into and developing a “second act” as the end of their primary careers draws closer.
A 2009 video published by Encore.org, “Timothy Will, 2009 Purpose Prize Winner” is a moving presentation by one of the winners of the organization’s Purpose Prize who leveraged his experience and skills into a way to help his Appalachian neighbors get back to the land.
The video was one of many.
The encore career has become a way to combine personal passion, social purpose and a paycheck, as Freedman is wont to say.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE RESOURCES GATHERED TOGETHER AND DEVELOPED BY ENCORE.ORG:
The upshot of all of this is that Freedman has been marvelously successful at instigating the Longevity Revolution. Many others have taken up the banner as well.
Opting for an encore career has become a trend, even a movement.
Many baby-boomers and others who’ve reached (or are approaching) retirement age choose to do some other thing that fulfills their need to grow and to continue to engage with the world as well as to help pay the bills that just keep on coming.
This quintessentially human book is soul-satisfying, meandering through stories from May’s personal life (with lots of old wisdom-tales thrown in) that present us humans in all our glory and flat-footed stubborn.
More than anything else, it illuminates the value and the uplifting power of Story in our human journeys.
After working in construction, then becoming a teacher and a counselor, May gave in to his passion for telling a good story, following a family tradition that produced many a fine raconteur.
For more than 25 years, as a professional storyteller, May presented stories at story-telling festivals and events that drew tale-spinners from around the country together in the United States, Canada and Europe.
He’s appeared at the National Storytelling Festivalin Jonesborough, Tennessee four times and has participated in England’s oldest and most respected folk festivals at Towersey and Sidmouth.
One of his favorite things was appearing on the Studs Terkel radio show in Chicago.
In 2000 May was named by his peers to the Circle of Excellence, the highest of honors for the storytellers in the National Storytelling Network. Before that, he won a Chicago Emmy for a WTTW-Channel 11 production of his original short story, “A Bell for Shorty.”
The man is good.
The following YouTube video, published by JustStoriesVideo in 2012, features Jim May remembering the day that Holocaust survivor and president of the Illinois Holocaust Memorial Foundation Lisa Derman died of a massive heart attack onstage at the Illinois Storytelling Festival while she was telling her story of survival.
It is a moving tribute as well as a testimonial for the power of Story.
ON-TRACK ONCE AGAIN (SORT OF)
It occurred to me after I had digested all of this, that May is also a fine example of a person who developed a personally satisfying encore career that worked well for him.
The thing he exemplifies is what happens when you look for (and find) another Why to live, and then do it well.
In the video honoring Lisa Derman, May mentions in passing his belief in the value of the wisdom of elders – wisdom that is part and parcel of the stories they tell.
Throughout history, in every culture, the stories the old people tell link the young ones to the procession of ancestors. They present ages-old human dilemmas as well as solutions and guidelines about strategies and actions that have worked in the past.
These wisdom stories can be an enormous help to someone who is looking for clarity or a new direction.
“The final years have a very important purpose: The fulfillment and confirmation of one’s character. When we open our imaginations of the idea of the ancestor, aging can free us from convention and transform us into a force of nature, releasing our deepest beliefs for the benefit of society.”
That chapter in May’s book is titled, “Signal Trees.” In it he tells stories about the mentors and elders that he is grateful to for their stories, their wisdom and their support.
THE THING ABOUT SIGNAL TREES
Signal trees are said to be a Native American way of shaping tree saplings to mark significant locations.
According to the lore surrounding the signal trees, they are a part of a navigational system through the forests and waterways of northeastern and southeastern tribes throughout North America.
The manipulated trees, we are told, mark sacred gathering places, trails that were important, a fresh water source off a main route, indications of deposits of flint, copper, lead and other minerals important for medicinal and ceremonial purposes as well as portage points and linkages to other major trails
The three-tonged bur oak tree in the header picture is considered to be an Indian Signal Tree. It’s even labeled by a bronze plaque, even though there is still some mystery surrounding its purpose.
The button below takes you to a Summit Metro Parks article that explains more about the tree and about signal trees in general.
As May points out in his book, if you’ve lived your life well, age gives you gifts – patience, tolerance, resilience, a long-term perspective, varied life-experiences and well-developed skills — that are worth sharing with those who come after you.
And that is the point of this new Longevity Revolution: You, too, can become a signal tree.
An encore career has been described as “a new chapter of work,” something you move on into after you have spent many years at one kind of work, often quite successfully.
The encore career can be a deepening and broadening of the career you’ve already built, using the stockpile of skills you’ve mastered and the lessons your experiences have taught you that will allow you to reach a different level in your field as a self-employed freelancer and entrepreneur, a consultant, a coach, or a mentor.
It might be about you finally starting out doing your own passion your own way and finding ways and opportunities to keep on playing in this new field that enriches your life and fills it with meaning.
An encore career could be a position as a volunteer supporting some solution to the social ills around us or toward fostering some good thing you want to see grow.
It can also be a way to stay active and to feel useful.
And, of course, an encore career very often is a way to help fund your “Golden Years.”
For whatever reason, the encore career has become a significant and growing economic trend and movement that the baby-boomers are spearheading these days, it seems.
The following YouTube video, “Encore Careers: From Social Trend to Social Movement,” was published in 2012 by NextAgenda as a promotional piece.
What’s even more interesting is the more recent development featured in this next video, “Encore Careers: How to Find Your Perfect Job At Any Age,” published by The List Show TV in 2018. It features Jared Cotter of The List, the national Emmy award-winning show that looks at pop culture and currently trending ideas.
The Longevity Revolution continues to grow and spread. It’s even crossed generational lines.
Here’s a poem I made honoring a friend who wandered through a series of foster homes in her youth. She made her baby dreams come real and her life is now one of great joy for her and for the ones she embraces.
Orphan child stands apart,
Always the stranger,
The wanderer has
No place to lay her weary head,
No place that enfolds her, no warm, no light.
No one tucks her away from the cold, the dark.
She tells herself she’ll make her own place,
A place where all the dispossessed,
The abandoned ones,
Can come and find
Someone who sees them as they are,
Someone who is not afraid to hold them in the dark,
Someone who loves them even though they are not like
For the past few months, the Light of My Life and I have been showing up at the early Saturday-morning Upcountry Farmer’s Market fairly frequently.
It has been some years since either of us visited the market.
For us, the market is a delightful surprise and has become a treasured part of our weekend routine.
Every time we go there are old friends who we haven’t seen for a long time. We touch base with other friends. We make new ones as well.
The market has also been a personally poignant reminder that a “movement” is really just people building community and connection and developing ways to share the resources that surround us.
WE SERVE COMMUNITY TO BUILD COMMUNITY
That’s the motto of this home-grown market that is one of the longest running gathering places for farmers, hunter-gatherers, food artisans and creative business folks on Maui — an island where dedicated foodies spend a lot of their time seeking out more variety, better quality, and lovely new taste sensations.
The concept that the people living in the islands need to grow more of our own food, out of which the market and others like it has grown, is a recurring theme for those of us who live here.
“Food security” – the assurance that a person will be able to get food to sustain the people he or she cares about from the place where they live — is a very real concern when the various estimates by all kinds of experts say that 85 to 90 percent of all of the food we consume here is shipped or flown in from other places.
The whole system that is now in place is a wonder to behold.
Consider this: The islands of Hawaii are physically located way-the-hell-and-gone in a very big ocean.
The closest landmass to the Hawaii is a point on the southernmost tip of an unnamed peninsula in Alaska overlooking Ikatan Bay…a whopping 2,259.28 miles from Tunnels Beach on Kauai.
(The second-closest is near Flumeville, California, also more than two thousand miles away from Hakalau on the Big Island.)
And, yet, if you wander through any food store on any island – even the smallest ones – you will find a truly incredible array of food from every part of the planet.
The whole thing is also a precariously balanced system.
It is not hard to imagine worst-case scenarios where a series of disastrous natural events might stop the flow of ships and aircraft hauling in all that food.
People do like to point out that folks got along quite well in the old days without all that fancy stuff.
The native peoples grew and harvested enough food to get by and live their lives well before the coming of all those tall ships and the new thoughts that flowed in.
Of course, the native systems of land management and ownership were very different than our current ones.
The foods that were available might have been plentiful, but they were limited to a few staple crops and rounded out by some animals that were imported to the islands by early Polynesian settlers as well as the abundance of fish and bird-life back then.
Our ancestors developed an impressive array of survival skills that most modern-day folks replaced with other skills that are better adapted to all of the modern-day systems of “conveniences” we now enjoy.
IT TAKES A TRIBE TO GROW A CHILD AND KEEP ON FEEDING IT
It occurred to me that the survivalist tactics of the self-reliance extremists with apocalyptic visions who live on continents may not be particularly pertinent to people who are stuck on an island.
Yes, you can learn many of the skills you need to optimize the resources available to you, but one person or even one family or smallish group has a limited amount of knowledge and energy to make a life of abundance all by themselves.
Then, of course, there’s the problem of having to deal with the hungry neighbors. Yipes!
One of the most important considerations the ones who are all “me-for-myself-and-mine” is the fact that without planes or ships when you pack up and leave, you won’t get very far on a relatively small island.
(Maybe that’s why Oceanic ancestors did a lot of sailing around.)
Setting up a survivalist camp that’s off the grid in the bushes is not a real option for many of the people on an island.
(For one thing, it does cost a lot of money and requires all kinds of technological knowledge and skills to set up something that is actually sustainable in the long run.)
Bumbling along and working as a community of people of good will to help each other survive on a day-to-day basis seems a more viable option to more moderate sorts.
With this in mind, many people on all of the islands have banded together to work on trying to produce more of our own food and on developing networks that will be able to sustain us if things go very bad.
This video, “Farmer’s Perspective” was published in 2016 by GoFarm Hawaii, a University of Hawaii program. It contains a number of different viewpoints from several farmers who’ve been involved with the program and is an interesting look at the agricultural efforts and mindsets of small, diversified farmers in the islands.
It’s been happening for a long time now.
LOCAVORES “BUY LOCAL”
The “Buy Local,It Matters” campaign, a joint project of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, encourages residents of Hawaii to purchase local produce.
(Click on the campaign name for more information about it. It is the latest in a long line of government efforts to address the problem.)
The button below takes you to an open data portal put up by the State of Hawaii Ag guys that presents some solid measurements and facts about food production in Hawaii and more information about the effort to keep on expanding our capacity to grow our own food.
The goal of all of this measuring effort that started in 1997 is to double local food production.
As consumers, our choice to “buy local” even when the imported stuff in the very next bin or shelf at a supermarket is quite a bit less expensive (in terms of money) is definitely a way to help our neighbors and our own selves work towards a more sustainable life, it seems to me.
BACK TO THE MARKET
Mat and I remember when the Upcountry Farmers Market was held at Makawao’s St. Joseph’s Church. (Has it really been more than 40 years ago?)
Some young “back-to-the-land” advocates and tree-huggers (many of them friends of ours) started the thing.
It grew as backyard gardeners, small local farmers, hunter-gatherers and fishing folks as well as crafters and artisans joined in, sharing the food they grew and the products they created from island offerings with their neighbors in trade for other things they needed or for some extra side-money.
The Upcountry Farmers Market migrated to the Eddie Tam Community Center in Makawao after it got too big for the church space.
The market vendors and their aficionados continued to meet there for 31 years, braving weather and fickle or clueless customers and the confusing convolutions of red-tape and other bureaucratic busy-ness to keep on doing what they did.
By the time the rules and regs for the use of the popular and much-used public facility became too cumbersome and restrictive for the market vendors, a new place opened up down the road in Pukalani.
The market moved once again in 2010 to an out-of-the-way part of the parking lot at the still-under-construction Kula Malu town center.
It has grown from a core group of a dozen or so die-hard folks who fervently believe in producing and providing food and other locally made products that are, as they say, “thousands of miles fresher” to an ever-evolving and growing group of more than fifty-plus regular vendors.
They set up their tables and tents at the market every weekend to sell their fresh produce, plants and flowers, their “grinds,” and other wares to hundreds of devoted fans and other folks.
Smiles and hugs are standard greetings there. Talking story is a favored pastime as well.
THE MARKET AS A SLICE OF HISTORY
Checking out what the market offers has been an eye-opener for me.
It got me thinking that, for real, a heck of a lot of the foods we consider “native” or “Hawaiian” or “local” fare were imported to the islands at some point in history.
Almost all of our foodstuffs are pretty much “foreign” species. Many of them might even be considered “invasive.”
Think about it.
When Polynesians first touched ground on the islands, the only indigenous edible plants were some ferns, ‘ohelo berries, and a panoply of seaweed.
Maybe some palm seeds and nuts floated in on the tides and took root, but the chances were pretty slim.
The animal life on the island back then included assorted birds (now mostly extinct) and bugs, the fish and sea life in the ocean surrounding the islands, and some small critters in the streams.
Remember that these islands are located thousands of miles away from anyplace else.
That’s a long way to go when you’re clinging to a piece of driftwood. Few plants and probably no land animals from the continents made it here on their own.
Polynesian voyagers brought kalo (taro), niu (coconut),ʻulu (breadfruit), ʻuala (sweet potato), maiʻa(banana) and ko(sugarcane) on their canoes, as well as chickens, pigs and dogs for meat.
Starting in the 18th century, European explorers dropped off cattle and goats.
Later American missionaries and other plant dudes and entrepreneurs imported macadamia nuts, coffee, and a wide variety of tropical fruits including the pineapple that has come to symbolize the idea of “Hawaii.”
Sheep showed up. So did assorted game birds and beasts suitable for fans of the hunt.
When the sugar and pineapple industries arose in the late 19th century, they precipitated waves of immigrants from China, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Korea, and the Philippines, as well as various other parts of the Americas, Europe and Asia and the rest of Oceania to work in the fields and to participate in the diverse and constantly evolving island lifestyle.
Every one of them brought foods from home.
They shared their food with their neighbors who learned to like all kinds of ways of cooking and learned to grow a lot of different kinds of plants and animals.
Some things thrived. Others – like apples and other foods that grow well in temperate places — did not.
A lot of that food shows up in many of the farmers’ markets around the state.
The sense of abundance gets mind-boggling as you walk around.
What I’m noticing about being a frequent shopper at the farmers market is that it adds a whole other dimension to the way we cook and the way we think about food.
I’m noticing that the foodstuffs and value-added products we’ve discovered during our forays into the market can determine what we are going to be cooking and eating for our next few meals.
Rather than just automatically grabbing this or that vegetable, fruit or meat and preparing the same old stuff we always make, we are reaching for new-to-us things to try.
We are beginning to combine our finds in different ways than usual. We are learning to substitute new-to-us cousins of foods we already know in old familiar recipes to make a whole other taste sensation.
Since we’re never sure what is available at the market on any given day, it’s likely that we will become even more ready to remain receptive to the possibilities the market’s offerings present and allow ourselves to be guided by what we choose to get.
The produce and products we like at the market are all grown or made by the people who are selling them, so we have a chance to ask the sellers about where and how the plants are grown and how a thing is made.
It’s a chance to find out where the food we are eating comes from and what it takes to produce and process the ingredients we’re planning to use.
I notice that I am likely to get tips about how to turn the fruits and vegetables that are new to me into meals I can enjoy. (Very often, passersby weigh in with advice as well.)
The whole thing has been a fun-filled, enlivening learning experience.
I expect that as we become more aware of the foods that are commonly available at a certain time of the year, we’ll be able to start planning meals.
Recipes I’ve never tried may become new favorites.
Different styles of cooking that I’ve been meaning to explore may become more do-able and I may even learn some new skills.
Because the mix of vendors changes from week to week, there will always be that element of surprise.
My own experiments in crazy-quilting and then sashiko quilting had me going blind doing fancy-stitching with wild and crazy colors and patterns as well as tactile combinations of bumps and lumps that were a heck of a lot of fun for me and for the heart-friends to whom I gifted these bits of silliness.
That may be why this YouTube video, “Constellation Quilt,” (published in 2013 by Public Record) showing work by designer Emily Fischer and her design studio Haptic Lab caught my eye.
The idea, expressed in the video, of wrapping yourself up in stars and time caught at the strings of my imagination.
Then I saw another YouTube video, “Flying Martha Ornithopter.” This one was published in 2017 by Made Me Look. It, too, was about an object designed by Emily Fischer and Haptic Lab.
Like Fischer, I understand that kites, winged things and even flapping flags can help us humans explore the movements and flow of the invisible forces of wind. They can help us tap into the tactile joys of flight.
KINDRED SPIRIT FOUND
It seems to me that I have found another person for whom tactile and sensory design – how a thing feels in your hand and on your skin – is as important as what the thing looks like.
Even more importantly (for me anyway), here is a person for whom objects are repositories for the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.
Among the objects Haptic Lab produces are extraordinarily detailed street maps that they call SoftMaps that can be customized and personalized for individual customers to show where their stories have taken place.
It seems to me that designers like that are a rarity.
BEGINNINGS OF A COMPANY WITH A HUMAN TOUCH
Emily Fischer grew up in rural Wisconsin where she learned how to make such things as quilts and kites as a youngster. Even as an architect-wannabe, her crafty beginnings continued to find expression.
As an undergraduate student at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in 2002, one of her projects was her first quilted map that she designed as a way-finding tool for the visually impaired.
The inspiration for the project was her mother Peggy who had begun to lose her eyesight through complications from glaucoma.
For these quilts, Emily combined her skill with computer-aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) rapid prototyping tools, and open-source mapping software as well as her grounding in the old-school, painstaking craft traditions of quilting and needlework with her explorations of haptics (the way humans perceive objects and sensations through touch).
For years, she continued to make these quilts as side-projects while pursuing her career as an architect in New York City.
In 2009, during the extreme depths of the recession, Fischer was laid off from her job at a commercial architectural firm.
One of the first things she did was build a simple website with images of her experimental personal work that included objects exploring her interests in cartography and early flight.
About that time she says: “Almost immediately, design blogs like Cool Hunting started publishing images of my handmade quilts and kites. I was commissioned to construct a kite for an Opening Ceremony video directed by Matt Wolf. I got a message from ID Magazine (RIP). Then the Los Angeles Times. Then the New York Times. Suddenly everyone wanted to buy the quilted maps I was making. So within three weeks of losing my job, I accidentally started my own company.”
And so it began.
Fischer operates her accidental company, Haptics Lab, out of a Brooklyn studio with a small, close-knit team. The company is grounded in values that emphasize fair trade and sustainability.
For thoughts and insights Emily shared in a 2015 article for Design Sponge, “Ten Ways to Bootstrap a Sustainable Business: How I was able to meet expectations, make a living and not overwhelm myself and others while also respecting fair-trade practices,” click here:
It is an extraordinarily useful compendium of advice from one who has gone down the road a ways on a path that she says makes her happy.
FINAL FISCHER THOUGHTS
This YouTube “How the Founder of Haptic Lab Uses Design to Drive Positive Change” was created by Skiftx contents studio in 2017.
Here’s a poem:
AT THE CROSSROADS
Do I go straight ahead?
Do I turn left?
Do I turn right?
Do I go back?
Standing flatfooted in the middle
Keep standing there and
You’re likely to get run over
By some unheeding vehicle
That keeps on trundling along.
The roads in front spread outward
Leading to who-knows-where.
They stretch on to infinity, you know.
And “back” just means more same-old.
And here I am,
With my raw and bleeding heart
Pulling me towards
The one road that is so bright and shiny
That it takes my breath away.
The caution signs posted
Along that road are intimidating.
They jump up and down, even.
Loss and devastation, they declaim.
Doom-and-gloom, they promise.
Desperation and despair.
Aw, the heck with it, babe!
by Netta Kanoho
Header Photo credit: “Touching the World” by Joe Szilagyi via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
Back in the ‘70’s I ran across a small book of distilled teachings taken from talks given by Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki, ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND.
There was this quote in it:
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
It spoke to me, that quote, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to unpack the thing.
I’ll probably do other posts about Beginner Mind, so all I’ll say about it right now is that Beginner Mind is an ancient wisdom teaching that helps you develop what educator Barbara Oakley dubbed a “growth mindset.”
This way of thinking keeps you from locking into fixating on the same-old “shoulds” and “musts” and “that’s-the-way-it-is” that all of us humans tend to create as we experience life.
Beginner Mind is expansive. It’s not cluttered up by a lot of specious assumptions, expectations and preconceptions.
A gear-head analogy for Beginner Mind would be something like attaching a satellite dish to some receptor or other and having access to a whole bunch of channels.
Martial artists wax poetic about standing receptive to whatever comes at them when they talk about Beginner Mind.
Whatever. Beginner Mind is a very cool tool to have in your Life Toolbox.
That’s been my take on Beginner Mind for a while now.
It may be why the YouTube video, “Nurturing a Beginner’s Mind,” that I’ll be sharing with you towards the end of this post caught my attention.
The video is a production of INKtalk, an off-shoot of the TEDtalk phenomenon. INKtalk is organized by Lakshmi Pratury, who put together the first TEDIndia talks in Myosore in 2009.
(The reason the video’s at the end of this post is mostly because it introduced me to some other fascinating side-trails that I think are also worth exploring. Come take a look!)
TALKING ABOUT INK
The video I’m going to share with you (after a bit of dancing around) is an INKtalk published on YouTube in 2013.
It is one of a series of talks that have happened during the annual conferences, mini-conferences and salons coordinated and produced by INK, self-described as “India’s foremost platform for the exchange of cutting-edge ideas and inspiring stories.”
Click here for more information about INK and the talks:
Pratury wants the world to see INK as “a curator of contemporary oral history.”
The organization, she says, searches the world looking for people with stories and missions that center around innovative solutions for the broad scale problems that plague young economies, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
The stories they have gathered together are about innovative, world-changing ideas that address problems in recurring societal issues like education, governance, energy, health, poverty, and infrastructure.
The stories make for very interesting reading. Check them out.
ANOTHER WAY OF SCHOOLING
In the upcoming INKtalk video, Saba Ghole, a former architectural urban designer who became an education and technology entrepreneur, talks about the work she and the members of her team do at the NuVu Studio at Cambridge University.
Ghole is one of the co-founders of the NuVu Studio, which was a brainchild of fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus Saeed Arida.
As part of his Ph.D. dissertation while at MIT, Arida explored the concept of a learning place modeled on the apprenticeship and project-based learning and hands-on problem-solving that is characteristic of an architectural studio.
Before he graduated, Arida implemented an on-campus pilot program at the Beaver Day Country School in Brookline. This pilot was so successful that it led to an even larger project.
Arida collaborated with Ghole and another fellow MIT student David Wang, an engineer and technology enthusiast, to launch NuVu Studio in 2010.
Wang collects degrees, it seems. He’s got them in aeronautics, astronautics, electrical engineering and computer science.
The three friends have a penchant for collaboration and they continue to gather people together so they can help other Makers build cool stuff.
NuVu Studio has become an amazing “innovation studio” that is an alternative full-time, trimester-length schooling experience for middle and high school students — baby Makers who want to learn how to grow their spirit of innovation and to experience hands-on, real-world problem-solving of the finest kind.
More than 3,000 students – mostly from the local schools in the Boston area — have gone through the program since it began.
It is a far cry from your regular school experience, as this short video, “What is NuVu,” published by HarvardX in 2017 illustrates:
Capitalizing on the immense resources of MIT and Harvard University, the Studio facilitates the participation of the students in multi-disciplinary collaborations with Studio-trained “coaches” who are themselves architects, engineers, or experts in science, leading-edge technology, music, art, photography, fashion, and more.
Many of the coaches are MIT or Harvard students who are excited about doing hands-on work in their fields as well.
They work in large open-space studios and workshops using state-of-the-art tools that include things like laser cutters, 3D printers, as well as more mundane tools and assorted building materials.
Here, students don’t get grades – they have portfolios showcasing their work and progress. Problems are tackled in weeks-long blocks rather than hour-long classes.
The students are challenged to learn in new ways.
Analytical thinkers are inspired to explore their creative selves while creative students expand their capacity to think and learn analytically.
Whole-brain thinking is nurtured and encouraged.
The goal for these students is to make products that solve real-life problems that the students have defined with the help of their coaches using “themes” selected by the organizers.
In the video, Ghole presents a collection of wonderfully clear insights about the components that make up the Beginner’s Mind stance.
(By the time she did the talk Ghole had already been working on helping to grow creativity and innovation for a number of years.)
The three big ideas are as follows:
THE POWER OF MIXING
Mixing together people (experts and neophytes), combining assorted themes that relate back to the real world, and tinkering – also known as breaking and re-making (which includes repurposing and reusing, collaboration with other minds and making use of open sourcing platforms to find ideas) – are the foundations that the Studio uses to encourage and support the students in their efforts to produce novel and effective solutions to problems they have chosen to pursue.
WHAT MAKES THE HEART OF A BEGINNER?
Ghole says the Beginner’s heart is an intriguing mix of Trickster, Craftsman and Poet.
Each of these are archetypes that come with sets of behaviors that are often focused on seeing the world in ways that are different from group-mind and consensus.
NOT 2, NOT 1 (BOTH 2 AND 1)
This is the best iteration I’ve ever seen of the concept of wu, a really esoteric and dizzy-making ancient teaching that proposes that when two ideas (or people) come together, the dynamic interaction, relationship and flow between them produces a third idea or concept or way of moving that combines aspects of both.
She explains the three pairings that the Studio uses to try to ignite new thinking among their students: Process + Product, Mindful + Mindfulness, and Fiction + Reality
I found the whole thing mind-blowing. I hope you enjoy it too.
Here’s a poem:
WHERE IS THAT KNIFE?
If I rehash the old stuff,
They come alive again,
And I make the threads
Just by adding
Strands of thought –
Little, tiny thoughts –
Like fibers crowded together,
Tighter and thicker,
Turning into one heavy-duty rope,
Turning into one huge knot.
Where’s that knife?
I had it a minute ago.
I need it to cut through this stupid knot!
Back to beginner mind….
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Photography In The Garden” by Olds College via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that the world is a communion of subjects and not a collection of objects. [Everyone and everything in the world has a story. You can connect to the story if you lead with curiosity rather than judgment.]
It has occurred to me (many times) that everybody walks through worlds made of stories. The stories are, after all, how we make sense of ourselves.
Our own stories – our struggles, our mistakes, the choices we make and the results of those choices, the lessons we’ve learned and the ones we keep ignoring – are windows through which we display who and what we are. Each of us has a unique, custom-made story that we rework every day.
And since there are only so many ways any human can move through the world, each of us is very likely to find similarities and insights in every other person’s story. These findings can often be applied to our own selves.
Probably that’s why we like looking through other people’s windows. Probably that’s why other people’s stories fascinate us.
Some smarty-pants scientists who research such things tell us that our brains fire up more strongly as we listen to a story rather than to a list of factoids and dry-as-dust measures and measurements.
Our minds go sailing off into other worlds on the wings of a story well-told. The best storytellers transport us.
We actually can “see” where they have been and their words take us along with them on their journey-memories. Our brains rev up and go into overtime. We remember stories.
That’s a heck of a lot different than the sleepy-time induced by power-point presentations and soporific lectures that pile a lot of facts on our heads and bury us in a confusing avalanche of teeny-tiny details that don’t actually help us put together any kind of coherent picture.
Crabb believes that it is the connection that forms between people that is important in the act of storytelling and story-listening.
He says, “I think some people think it’s all about talking about you, you, you. But what it really is is reaching out into the void and connecting with people and letting them know they are not alone.”
The Moth, an acclaimed nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling, has been flying high for more than 20 years now. It’s the brainchild of writer George Dawes Green.
Here’s a YouTube video, “The Courage to Create,” that was published by Cole Hahn US in 2016. It features Green talking about the transformation that happens onstage when storytellers tell a tale and their audiences connect with it.
The Moth attracts all kinds of storytellers – bad and good boys and girls, and the famous, the infamous and the anonymous. And, many times, the magic happens – over and over again.
HOW THE MOTH WAS BORN AND GREW
George Dawes Green loved the storytelling sessions at his friend Wanda’s home on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia where he grew up. The moths that gathered around the porch lightbulb and the magic of friends gathered together, drinking bourbon and “talking story” were a part of the parcel.
After he became a published author and was living in New York, Green began missing the story sessions on Wanda’s porch. He wanted to recreate the experience, where ordinary people could deliver well-crafted, well-told personal stories, for his friends.
Green started hosting gatherings of storytellers in his New York loft, and the magic he remembered kept happening.
By 1997, Green’s idea had grown into a nonprofit organization named after the moths he remembered. Twenty years later The Moth had presented over 20,000 stories, told live and without notes to standing-room-only crowds worldwide.
Thousands of people have participated in Moth storytelling workshops, performance opportunities, and StorySlam competitions.
There’s a Moth Podcast that’s downloaded more than 44 million times a year as well as a Peabody-award winning radio show, The Moth Radio Hour, which airs on 450-plus public radio stations around the globe.
There’s even a Moth Corporate Program that provides industry-specific storytelling solutions.
And then there are the books. In 2013, The Moth published its first story collection. The list kept growing.
This YouTube Video, “THE MOTH: The Best Storytellers In The World,” was published in 2013 by THNKR.
It showcases a behind-the-scenes look at the astonishing effort and enthusiasm that goes into getting the storytellers ready for performing in one of the most prestigious live shows in the line-up that the group produces and it touches on what the participating storytellers get out of doing it.
It is a revelation that there are all of these people who have the guts to volunteer and come forward to tell their own story in front of a large crowd of strangers.
What’s so mindboggling, however, is that all of the other people who attend the events have made the effort and taken the time to come and listen to strangers, regardless of the topic.
As one commentator pointed out, “In a world of negativity, this…allows people to escape from the concept that everything must be internalized and that we are alone.”
I agree that “it may very well be one of the biggest acts of love this world has to offer.”
Here’s a poem:
CHICKEN SKIN KINE
In the streetlight halo at the corner,
Cocky young ones gather
To whisper warnings to each other
In spooky-story guise.
Don’t stop for that white-clad woman
Hitching a ride in the dark night.
Turn to challenge her strange silence,
Find her changed…or just not there.
Don’t carry pork over certain mountains.
There are spirits lurking in the passes there.
The pork will draw them to you and they’ll surround you.
Give them what you carry; maybe they’ll release you.
Another road, a moonless, starless night.
Quiet paws padding, the snick of sharp claws pacing behind you.
Don’t turn your head; there’s nothing there.
Show no fear; you might make it to the light.
Honor now the ancient kapu laid upon this place.
Those there are who pass in proud procession,
Ghostly torches lighting their endless path through time.
Hide. If they see you, they may take you with them.
The darkness presses inward, heavier with each new warning.
Tendrils of gossamer terror quietly spin out, a web
That catches at the day-bright glow of innocence and joy
And leaches into the wanderer’s golden longing for home.
Bold laughter chokes
In throats turned tight with dread
Of the easy road home,
Shrouded now by the magical night.
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Sunrise, sunrise” by Chris Chabot via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
In 2010, Steven Kealohapau’ole Hong-Ming Wong – “the slam poet known as Kealoha” — was designated by Governor Neil Ambercrombie as Hawaii’s first (and, so far, only) official state poet laureate.
The following 2010 YouTube video, published by poetryfan808, shows the multi-genre, multimedia collaboration that opened the 2010 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards Show, the annual premier music awards in Hawaii. (Think of it as Hawaii’s Grammy Awards.)
The show’s opening act, which was spearheaded by Kealoha, features performances by renowned Hawaiian musicians that include the late O’Brian Eselu, Keali’i Reichel, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, Anuhea, Mailani, Natalie Ai Kamau’u, Amy Hanaiali’i, Jake Shimabukuro, Henry Kapono and John Cruz as well as two hula halau, Na Pualei O Likolehua and Halau Na Mamo O Pu’uanahulu.
WHAT’S A POET LAUREATE?
The mandate given to Kealoha at the time of his elevation to “poet laureate” by the governor was this: “As Hawaii Poet Laureate, Kealoha will highlight poetry in all its forms as enriching to our lives and giving voice to our history and way of life in the Aloha State.”
His duties, the governor’s office said, include reading, writing and spreading awareness about poetry appreciation as well as performing at official state events like the dedication of a sculpture garden at the Hawaii State Art Museum and performing at the governor’s inauguration.
He can also be asked to represent Hawaii at similar ceremonial events around the country and the world.
Kealoha was doing all that for years before he was named Hawai’i’s official poet laureate. It has all been a part of a spirited journey that took some unexpected turns.
GETTING TO THE BEST DREAM
Kealoha is a local boy. He was born and raised in Honolulu.
Like many bright island youngsters he went away to school in the Mainland. At the time he was dreaming about becoming a nuclear engineer, working on atomic fusion, and changing the world.
He returned home to Honolulu at the end of 2001, after earning a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and after spending a couple of years after he graduated working as a business management consultant in San Francisco for the Mitchell Madison Group, a worldwide company with clients such as Adidas, Visa, Samsung, Mattel, Sun Microsystems and Health Net.
Looking at it from the outside, there doesn’t seem to be much of a connect between business management and his major in nuclear physics (with a minor in writing), but as Kealoha says, scientists and engineers are trained to solve problems.
Corporations value that ability and problem-solvers are well-paid. At Mitchell Madison, he oversaw marketing, aggressive sourcing, business development, internet strategy, corporate strategy and energy research.
It was in San Francisco that Kealoha discovered slam poetry. He told PBS Hawaii “Long Story Short” interviewer Leslie Wilcox about that time.
The poetry he heard when he attended his first poetry slam in 2000, he said, just blew him away. He was instantly hooked.
He said, “…my work just sort of got pushed to the side ‘cause I would spend all my time writing. I was spending all those late nights, on Sunday night going to these poetry slams. And Monday morning, going to work all tired. And I didn’t care; I was living again. I had something that really inspired me.”
Meanwhile, his work as a consultant had become less meaningful to him.
Kealoha needed to re-think where he wanted to go with his life, so he did what a lot of local kids do. He did the Full Circle; he came home.
One interesting question that Wilcox posed during her interview with Kealoha struck me as noteworthy. She asked whether Kealoha had a five- or ten-year plan. He chuckled a bit ruefully and admitted that he did not.
The guy does not deliberately plan out his path. He just takes off in the direction that looks like it could work for him and then whales away at it until it does work. Maybe there is a lesson in that.
HAWAIIANS AND THE SPOKEN WORD
When he got back to Honolulu, Kealoha discovered that the urban poetry and art scene was alive and lively.
At the time of his homecoming, Wordstew, the brainchild of poet-performer Jesse Lipman (recognized as the godfather of Hawaii Slam Poetry), was drawing crowds at the Wave Waikiki nightclub’s open-mic nights.
This YouTube video features a poem by Jesse Lipman, “Jewipino Flowers,” at an early First Thursday gathering in 2013.
Other literati, musicians, deejays, and artists were cultivating “art spaces” where sound and visual artists could meet to collaborate. Kealoha found a thriving literary and performing arts community.
Its existence was probably due in part to the reverence for the spoken word that has always been strong in Hawaii.
Before there was a written language, all of the native history and traditions were contained in the chants and the mele (song-poems) that were passed down through the generations.
Even when speaking the Hawaiian language was discouraged by those in power over a conquered people, the songs, old and new, could not be silenced. The habit of word-play continued.
More than one observer has noticed the affinity the island peoples have for it. Spoken word artist, author and publisher Richard Hamasaki found it to be true when he participated in the state Department of Education Artists-in-the-School program.
Hamasaki found that many of the children he encountered in the program had an affinity for word-play. He said, “They had ingenious ways of combining what they heard on the radio with the language of their culture and they produced work that was honest and alive.”
This is no small thing. Hawaiians are descended from poets and songwriters as well as warriors, farmers, artisans, and sailors, and even the children can dance with words.
Perhaps this is because, for Hawaiians, words hold power. There’s an old proverb, I ka ‘ōlelo no ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make. (In the word is life. In the word is death.)
It comes from a time when the performers of the chants and the mele had to be word-perfect. They were, after all, the ones who carried the words of the ancestors and of those who held the old wisdoms. These words held power and magic.
AND THE DREAM COMES REAL
Kealoha joined right in, working open-mic nights, competing in national slam competitions and helping to build a “poetry scene” in Hawaii.
He helped to found HawaiiSlam, a non-profit organization dedicated to showcasing poets from the islands.
HawaiiSlam has been running the nationally certified First Thursdays slam poetry competition, the largest registered poetry slam in the world, and Kealoha has been SlamMaster since 2003. HawaiiSlam’s ongoing First Thursdays competitions in Kaimuki draws more than 500 attendees each month.
Kealoha has also been on the “Artists-in-the-Schools” roster since 2005, helping to introduce youngsters to the power of words and poetry and he works with young poets who are hoping to compete in the national slam poetry competitions.
HBO’s 2009 “Brave New Voices” documentary produced by Russell Simmons featured Kealoha as the strategic coach for “Youth Speaks Hawaii”, a slam poetry team that won the entire festival that year.
He has ventured into theatre as a director, playwright and actor, has performed internationally as a poet and storyteller, and was selected as a master artist for a National Endowment for the Arts program as well. The list goes on and on.
In an interview for his alumni on-line newsletter, “Slice of MIT,” Kealoha said that being named the official poet laureate for the state was a great honor.
He also said that he feels most fulfilled when people tell him that his work has moved them or changed their perspective.
“That’s the goal – that’s the good work,” he says.
And isn’t that the best reason to make the journey into your own dreaming?
This YouTube video is Kealoha’s 2012 TEDxManoa Talk which features his poem, “The Poetry of Us”.
I know, I know. You’ve heard it before and will almost certainly hear it again: You are the creator of the world you inhabit. You become what you think.
Every motivational video and podcast producer focused on self-improvement is probably going to whack you upside the head with that one.
Here’s an especially good one published in 2017 by Tom Bilyeu as part of his “Impact Quotes” series.
Bilyeu is an American entrepreneur, the co-founder of Quest Nutrition, maker of a best-selling protein bar. He is also a powerful motivational speaker and life-trainer.
CLICHES ARE TRUTHS REPEATED SO OFTEN THEY TURN INTO BABBLE….
Every advocate for positive thinking and optimism and every feel-good therapist of every flavor, backed up by all the guys in lab coats who are into probing the secrets of our brains and other aspects of our lives, will haul out this old chestnut at some point.
Even the wise guys who aren’t telling us we’re a bunch of delusional creatures will tell you this.
They’ve built all kinds of thought-constructs that prove that it’s true. You’ve gotta believe them. They know, right?
My own favorite is American entrepreneur T. Harv Ecker’s take on the matter. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.
Ecker has said,
“Thoughts lead to feelings.
Feelings lead to actions.
Actions lead to results.”
Therefore, once you’re aware of the thought-to-feeling-to-action-to-results progression, you are in a position to change your thoughts.
This will lead you to new feelings and perspectives that will affect the actions you take and the moves you make.
Using this progression, you can get to the results you want…it says here.
Okay. Fine. Right.
BUT THEN THERE’S THE PRIMAL QUESTION
I have to confess that I always get a bit squirmy and fidgety when I get yet another hit of this particular bit of nebulous wisdom that pushes me forward onto center stage as the “World-Creator.”
That sort of implies that the burden is on me to get my own world right.
The thing is, it seems to me that it would be a heck of a lot easier to get a handle on being a big-shot World-Creator if I could just figure out the answer to the Primal Question:
SO, WHO AM I AND WHAT DO I REALLY WANT TO DO IN THIS LIFE?
There are, of course, many opinions, positions and theories about how you can find the answer to that question.
There are all kinds of tools you can use to figure out “The Big HUH?”. Every self-development book probably contains a dozen or so.
Many people have explored this question and returned from their journeys to explain and expound on the answers they found for themselves. Some may even ring true for you.
ONE OTHER DIRECTION TO EXPLORE
At the start of the 20th century, University of Michigan professor and sociologist Charles Horton Cooley (1864 – 1929) went against the trend of thought held by his fellow sociologists of the time. They were firmly committed to considering the development of individuals and societies as separate processes.
The classic utilitarian (and selfish) individualism of economics, which was promoted by the theories about the dynamics of social interaction held by other sociologists of his time, did not make sense to Cooley.
Cooley argued that society and the individuals in them were not phenomena that can be separated. He said they were “different aspects of the same thing, for a separate individual is an abstraction unknown to experience, and so likewise is society when regarded as something separate from individuals.”
To Cooley, studying how people develop and behave separately from how a society operates was a lot like dissecting a frog in biology lab class.
He said, “Our life is all one human whole, and if we are to have any real knowledge of it we must see it as such. If we cut it up it dies in the process.”
Out of this way of thinking, Cooley developed the concept of the “looking glass self,” which has become known and accepted by most modern psychologists and sociologists.
Cooley’s theory expanded William James’s idea of the self having the capacity to reflect on its own behavior.
According to Cooley, we see ourselves as other people see us, as if reflected in a mirror. People gain their identity and form their habits by looking at themselves through the perception of society and other people with whom they interact as well as by directly considering their own personal qualities, he says.
Whether our beliefs about how other people see us are true or not, it is those beliefs that truly shape our ideas of ourselves.
The following YouTube video, “Charles Cooley Looking Glass Self | Individuals and Society” was published in 2015 by khanacademymedicine. It gives a good, easy-to-understand explanation of Cooley’s theory.
HOLDING UP THE LOOKING GLASS
Tom Bilyeu, who was featured in the first video, is also the host (as well as co-founder and CEO) of Impact Theory, an interview video series exploring the mindsets of the world’s highest achievers.
This next video, “I Am Not What I Think I Am,” was published in 2018 by Fearless Soul and features life coach Jay Shetty in an interview with Bilyeu. It presents one way to use Cooley’s “Looking Glass Self” theory to find the life-direction and path that holds the most meaning and mana for you.
Jay Shetty has been called “one of the most viewed people on the Internet internationally.” Among other things he hosts his own daily show, “HuffPostLive#Follow the Reader.”
In the video, he points out that all of us “live in echo chambers. We’re just surrounded by the same thinking. We meet people who are just like us most of the time.”
Shetty outlines three steps you can make to counter that condition:
Expose yourself to new experiences or role models.
Find the experiences or role models with the most meaning for you, that you can be passionate about, and take seriously.
Ask, “Yes or no? Does that work for me? Do I want to, for-real, live the life my hero/heroine is living?
This will at least keep you from unquestioningly following what you think the people around you are saying about who and what you are and what you “should” be doing with your life.
It can help you judge for yourself whether a particular lifestyle, with all of its inherent pros and cons, is really how you want to spend your days.
It might put you on the road to finding the life that has meaning and mana for you.
Here’s a poem….
THE WORLD IS MY MIRROR
I have come to the conclusion
That the world is my mirror.
In its many-storied face I can find
Bits that resonate in me,
The hapless spectator with the flat feet.
I am like a harp wire, tightly wound,
That awakens as the air is stirred by
The sound of just one other string
Plucked by some insistent hand
That thrums and vibrates through me.
The stories are all around me,
Playing themselves out,
No more mindful of me
Than a stream is mindful of
A fallen leaf floating in it.
But, here’s the deal:
The stories I NOTICE are the ones
That tell me a thing or two
About what I am and who I am
And why I do my walk.
It is the fact that the story snagged my attention,
Raised up banners high,
Started horns tooting,
And fire-bombs flaring…
THAT’S the thing that needs attending.
Like the overly-sensitive, alarmingly bleeping parked car
In the middle of a quiet night in the ‘burbs,
It is mine to sort out.
I am the one that has to go deal with the durned thing,
Because it’s my car, my alarm, my concerns, my fears.