In 2001, a group of friends graduated from college and set out on a cross-country road trip to interview people who lived “lives centered around what was meaningful for them.”
The boys acquired an RV, and wandered around countryside filming a documentary about their trip in which they brazenly approached all sorts of people who were doing what looked like interesting things and asked them a lot of personal questions about life-issues like, “How do you know that this thing you do is right for you?” and “What was your worst mistake?” and “What advice do you have for a lost puppy like me?”
The documentary the friends made of their journey was expanded into a series on PBS. They wrote a book about the first road trip.
This first book was followed by other books, by other projects all designed to help other people get the kind of insights the young men acquired on their own original road trip.
Eventually they and the team they assembled along the way launched a nonprofit called “Roadtrip Nation.” The goal of this nonprofit is to help other young people who need advice for shaping their own careers into something fulfilling, for living a life doing what matters most to them.
In the following YouTube video, “Road Trip Nation: The RT Nation Story,” the three friends, Mike Marriner, Nathan Gebhard and Brian McAllister, tell the story of their continuing journey.
They point out that going around the country asking people they encountered questions about how they ended up living lives that had meaning and mana helped each of them find their own truths, their own self-definitions, and their own kind of good life.
Asking questions and listening to the answers from people who had taken their own paths was profoundly useful to them. It helped them answer that age-old question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
What started as a madcap adventure-cum-vision quest has spawned a whole movement of young people who are looking for their own answers to this most important question.
Besides an assortment of books, Roadtrip Nation maintains an extensive on-line video library of the interviews they conducted on their PBS series.
If you click on the “watch” link you can browse the PBS series by season. Within each season you can browse each episode by interview subject. Among those interviewed are everything from CEOs of major corporations to everyday workers in all kinds of industries and working situations who love what they do.
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.]
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.
Starting is a series of events. You decide to walk to Cleveland and you aim to do it on your own two feet – no bike, no bus, no train, no plane or helicopter…not even a hot-air balloon. You’re going to walk to Cleveland.
So you take a first step in the right direction. That’s starting. At the end of the day, however far you’ve gotten, you might stop at a hotel and rest. And what happens the next morning? Either you quit this silly project, decide you’d rather ride, or you start again…walking to Cleveland.
Up close and personal on this long walk, you’ll start to get the underlying idea after a while. What you’ll figure out is that every step you take on this long-haul journey is a new beginning.
Every time you take another step you are reaffirming your commitment to your goal and you are making another start. All the way to Cleveland. (The trick, of course, is to keep going until you get there.)
But, doing the walk all by yourself can be a long and lonely trip. A companion or two makes the journey much more fun. A whole tribe could get downright lively on the road trip.
Entrepreneurial thought leader Seth Godin wrote a book, TRIBES: We Need You to Lead Us, that talks about how tribes have formed down through the ages. He shows you how to develop as a leader of one.
Any group of people can become a tribe. Who knows, maybe you can grow your own and take them along on your journey. This book could point you in the right direction.
IT’S MORE FUN WHEN THERE’S MORE THAN ONE
Another entrepreneur, Derek Sivers, is best known for being the founder and former president of CD Baby, the online CD store for independent music-makers. He’s also well-known for a TED talk he did that went viral in 2010, “How To Start a Movement.”
During his talk he used a video of a guy in the crowd doing a silly dance at the 2009 Sasquatch Music Festival as a metaphor for his talking points.
The advice contained in the talk is not earth-shattering. It is, in fact, a bit simplistic, but it did get people thinking about “lone-nut leaders” and how they get validation if they can attract the right guy to follow their lead.
It’s the “first-follower,” Sivers says, who actually shows the rest of the people how to follow and how to join in the fun.
Three years later, Phil Yanov, a technology columnist and public radio commentator, did a TEDx talk in Greenville, SC called, “Bang a Drum. Build a Tribe. Start a Movement.”
Yanov takes the idea a little further in his talk. He gives you three steps to get you off your duff:
Find YOUR one true song. (He tells you how to tell when the song you are singing is your one true song.)
SING your song so people can hear it. (Being shy won’t get your song heard, he points out, and reminds you that your mission is more important than little ole you.)
Grow your circle everywhere any way you can.
Yanov also offers a bonus bit of advice: Start today….
If what you’re doing matters, waiting until everything’s just so isn’t going to make it start to happen any faster.
WHEN YOUR KOOL-AID’S BIGGER THAN YOU
There are so many directions you can take this.
If you find an “idea worth spreading,” as our TED-talk friends are wont to say, try asking whether the idea has been spread as far as it can go. Has its reach been hobbled by some external factor, perhaps?
Maybe the guy telling the message is a dork-head with zero people skills and his very important idea is getting trashed as a result. Or maybe that great idea is buried in technical lingo and jargon that leaves everybody dizzy.
Can you help with that? Can you use your communication skills and make something out of them that the general public can use? Can you figure out everyday ways to use the seminal good idea to make other people’s lives better?
The framework you build on the one good big idea as you widen your circle of people who are believing in the big idea and helping to spread it and make it happen could become like a sunken ship off some shore that supports a whole colony of reef creatures. The snorkeling could get good over time.
ONE GUY’S TRIBE
As an artist painter Brendan O’Connellhas made a name for himself as “the Warhol of Wal-Mart.” His paintings of the interiors of assorted Wal-Mart stores hang in museums and his art has been lauded by the New Yorker and appeared in the Colbert Report.
O’Connell’s latest works are pictures of branded products on grocery and supermarket shelves. Collectors and aficionados snap these up. Grocery-cart candidates can be fine art, it seems.
However, O’Connell is more than just another artist with a gimmick. He has long espoused the idea that creativity is a human birthright and that everyone can be creative. With this in mind, O’Connell co-founded Everyartist, a non-profit social enterprise that’s bent on sparking creativity by promoting the act of art-making among children.
Every October the group puts together huge community art events (Everyartist Live!) that involve many, many children. Their goal is to turn the work of a million young artists nationwide into “the most massive community art event in history.”
Here’s a video of one of the events, titled “Wal-Art, Bentonville, AR,” which was published in 2012.
O’Connell built himself a tribe and they started a movement. They keep on doing good work.
Here’s a poem….
THAT’S THE ONE
The World and the Real:
Two paths to follow.
It would be easy if
They just went off in
One going here, one there.
It can’t be that easy can it?
Some cosmic joker went and threw
Another loop into the equation,
Making an intricate Chinese knot
With some pretty name.
The paths intertwine,
Over and under and through,
Up and down and around,
No beginnngs, no ends that the eye can see.
The cords run parallel; they divide,
Looping and swooping
Through intricate patterns,
They make a beautiful whole.
But, how do you tell when
You’re looking for one and not for the other?
How do you know which way to step?
(Too bad they’re not color coded.)
The wise guys say if you’re looking for Real,
Here’s what you do:
Find the path that shatters,
The one that won’t console,
The one that isn’t some easy glide
Through the same-old, same-old.
Find the one that takes all of everything you’ve got
It’s been a quiet sort of shift. More and more people are moving away from the “work-and-spend” mentality that characterized the latter half of the last century. They are looking for more meaning to add to their lives, they say.
Gregg Easterbrook, in his book, THE PROGRESS PARADOX: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, has pointed out, “A transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecedented scale—involving hundreds of millions of people – and may be recognized as the principal cultural development of our time.”
WHY THE SHIFT?
Easterbrook suggests, after delineating assorted studies by the guys who study “happiness,” that the whole mindset centered around material want didn’t actually work so well. The people who got all the stuff they ever wanted or could imagine were not appreciably happier than they were before the stuff showed up.
The problem is, the researchers say, we humans tend to get accustomed to a certain circumstance – good or bad — very quickly. When all of our dreams come true, we start to take for granted all of our fulfilled wishes.
All the wise guys down through the ages tried to warn us: The hunger of our built-in Want Bugs is bottomless. Get the one absolutely gotta-have-it thing today and tomorrow a new gotta-have-it thing will take its place. It’s like all those wants are on some kind of conveyor belt that just keeps turning and churning.
The wise guys told us: The only thing you can do when you’re stuck on a treadmill is to step off. If a lot of people step off the collective treadmill, then it becomes the start of a movement, the start of another cultural iteration.
This curated YouTube video, “Thanks Internet,” published in 2014 by reKindle.org, shows one change that is happening.
The video is a composite of many videos shared on the Internet by the people trying to help make the world a better place for at least one other person. The result is an amazing feel-good bit of work. The non-profit organization posted a message at the end of the video asking that people go do good deeds, take a video and tag it with #reKindleKindness.
They want to do more of videos like this one.
WHAT’S A CULTURE OF MEANING?
All cultures are “meaningful.” How not? They are the products of the minds and the lifestyles of a group of people who all live together in it. The ones that hold the most promise for an individual’s well-being and happiness are the ones that amplify positive values and goals.
Cultures that promote kindness, compassion and love rather than fear, hatred and anger and those that seek to lift up other people rather than inflict harm on them tend to be the ones that grow happy people.
Cultures that cultivate cooperation and participation in something bigger than any one person while tolerating and even honoring individual quirks and idiosyncrasies in its members are more likely to be good for you than those that don’t. We didn’t really need guys in lab coats to tell us that. It’s sort of built into our gut-knowledge.
MEANING IN THE INTERNET AGE
The coolest thing about this postmodern world of ours is our exposure to so many different cultures, sub-cultures, sub-sub-cultures, primal cultures, hybrid cultures, made-up and made-to-order cultures….and so on. We are, in fact, drowning in all this information about all the doings of people around the world.
We can touch the lives of people from around the world. We can build our own community or tribe of folks from around the globe.
We can even go retro and just touch the life of somebody who lives down the street.
Here’s a YouTube video, “Grow Some Good: Maui School Gardens,” that was published in 2013 by Ken Surrey. The video was made by Emmy-winning photographer Jess Craven about how one group of neighbors have built a culture of meaning around the concept of connecting kids to the food they eat by building and supporting school gardens.
The garden featured in the video started with three raised beds and grew, becoming nearly quarter of an acre of food garden and learning lab.
The garden this video spotlights is part of an ongoing project of Grow Some Good, a nonprofit group that has helped to establish food gardens and living science labs in local schools all over the island.
The outdoor classroom lessons support school curriculum in science, math, health and agriculture. The kids study traditional Hawaiian plants and learn the growing practices of native Hawaiians. They also experiment with growing and preparing foods from other cultures as well.
The group builds ongoing community partnerships, recruiting volunteers and supporters that include gardeners and farmers, food educators and assorted businesses as well. Local chefs support the gardens through fundraisers, recipe workshops and harvest parties.
I am remembering the struggle I had as a kid memorizing the words of John Donne’s “No Man Is An Island.” My teacher liked torturing us with all kinds of high-sounding ideas. (I loved her dearly so I gamely tried to not mangle the thing too badly.)
I’ve since learned that Donne was a cleric in the Church of England during the 17th century, who was considered to be one of the leading “metaphysical poets” of the Renaissance era. The poem my teacher made me recite was actually first written by him in 1624 as a prose “meditation”in his DEVOTIONS UPON EMERGENT OCCASIONS.
The Renaissance was another period of incredible change and reawakening, it seems to me. People were searching for meaning and mana in their own ordinary lives back then too.
Confusion and information overload was also a common theme back then. Just as we are experiencing in our time of great change, the culture and mindset a person chose to embrace back then affected the way he or she walked through the world.
I am thinking it would be a good thing, as part of this exploration of meaning and mana, to feature other stories in this thing about the “cultures of meaning” that our neighbors and cousins and friends are getting into. What do you think?
Here’s a poem:
The true, the beautiful, the good…
Entrance and beckon me.
Their light, like a candle glows,
Softly embracing the warm dark
Full of beloved shadows.
The true keeps me grounded
While the beautiful helps me play,
And the good is a quiet beacon
That shows me the best way.
The good, the beautiful, the true:
Without them you get lost.
You nourish others with the good,
The beautiful nourishes you,
And you can keep your feet on the ground,
If you’ll just remember the true.
The three enfold your smallness in one gigantic yes
This slim book took the world by storm in its day for a good reason. The master marketers were the first to distill down their work and life experiences into marketing “laws” that still apply to this very day. It’s a good one for any wannabe marketer to have on their shelf.
The second book was a joyous romp of a read. The book, LIFE IS GOOD, THE BOOK: How to Live With Purpose and Enjoy the Ride, is written by Bert and John Jacobs and is the story of how “two ordinary brothers from Boston, who didn’t want a job but weren’t afraid to work,” built a company worth more than $100 million by selling t-shirts with the help of their friends.
It’s a very good read, authentic and honest, that incorporates told-from-the heart stories and a picture album of their wonderful shirt designs and the people who made it all happen having fun.
It was also a real-life illustration of the Ries-Trout Fifth Law, The Law of Focus, which says, “The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.”
You burn your way into the minds of your customers by narrowing your focus to a single word or concept, these mavens say. And your customers will help you build your world around that concept.
The corollary to that law is this: “The leader who owns the word owns the category.”
ONE IDEA, ONE DESIGN, ONE BRAND
The rollicking tale of the Jacobs boys’ journey is part of their brand legend .
Starting in 1989, the Jacobs brothers wandered around, crisscrossing state lines in a nondescript mini-van hustling their shirts to no avail. By 1994, with $78 between them, the boys were ready to throw in the towel. They had, after all, given it their best shot.
As they drove home to Boston, they were talking about the daily flood of negative news. Between them they agreed that the only thing that could counter the mindset that arises from swallowing all that negativity was a different one with which they were very familiar.
It was a mindset that they had learned from their mom, Joan – untrammeled optimism in the face of constant obstacles and obstructions.
This You-Tube video, published by RogiDream, features two short poems by the brilliant Charles Bukowski who had a genius for hitting the heart. They are spoken by Tom O’Bedlam and speak to the real power behind the concept of optimism.
Optimism really is not about swimming in peaches and cream, you know. It is about fighting the good fight and staying with it no matter what.
The highway talk led the brothers to one idea that led to one shirt design that became the brand called “Life Is Good.”
LISTENING TO THE FEEDBACK
After every road trip, the brothers threw a coming-home party to celebrate making it back to home base. Even though they were depressed and tired, they went ahead with their ritual.
At each of these parties it was their practice to tape sketches of all of their newest t-shirt design ideas on the walls of their apartment and encourage their friends to comment on the ideas by writing on the wall.
The design that got the most kudos was the result of their highway talk: a line-drawing of a good ole guy with a baseball cap on his head and a wide grin. The caption said, “Life Is Good.”
When they printed up 48 shirts with that one design and took them to a street fair to hawk, they were amazed. All of the shirts (including the two they were wearing) sold in less than an hour to a wide array of people.
BUILDING OF A TRIBE
Naturally they made more of the shirts. They kept on selling and LIFE IS GOOD became their brand name.
The concept grew and evolved as more and more people joined in the fun and the brothers kept listening to the suggestions from their customers. More and more people jumped on for the ride.
The result became that $100 million company that uses art work and shares inspiring stories from their customers. Their designs, all focusing on the power of optimism, were magnetic. People flocked to join a tribe who sincerely believes in the power of optimism.
These days, ten percent of the company’s annual profits goes to help kids overcome poverty, violence and severe medical challenges. Their nonprofit LIFE IS GOOD Kids Foundation positively impacts the lives of more than 100,000 children a day.
Festivals and celebrations are a part of corporate life. So is helping people.
Here’s a YouTube TEDx talk at Beacon Street recorded in 2013 featuring one of the brothers, Bert Jacobs, “Do What You Like, Like What You Do.” The company’s grown a bunch since then.
It’s all good.
SUPERPOWERS YOU CAN GROW
LIFE IS GOOD, THE BOOK lists ten “superpowers” that can be developed to enhance your own optimistic mindset: Openness, Courage, Simplicity, Humor, Gratitude, Fun, Compassion, Creativity, Authenticity and Love.
The brothers devote a chapter to each of these attributes, ending each one with ideas and suggestions for growing your own. And they promise: “The Life Is Good superpowers will help you overcome obstacles, drive forward with greater purpose, and enjoy the ride of life.”
That is also a very good thing….
Here’s a poem:
THE CYCLE CONTINUES
The cycle continues:
arising, becoming, crumbling away,
then born again in some new-old form –
a never-ending relentless pattern
flowing, spiraling through this life,
in this world of dust.
And here’s me:
trying to dance on top of this turning wheel…
moved to try to direct it, even…
(not that there’s a steering wheel).
It rolls on, it rolls on,
and I keep trying to play with it,
reiterating halcyon days of youth
when us kids took turns
rolling that abandoned old truck tire
down the grassy hill behind the baseball field,
trying to keep from crashing it through
the mean old neighbor-lady’s hibiscus hedges
and running over her half-blind old English bulldog.
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that your own truth is based on what you feel or deduce from where you stand. [So then the question becomes: Where are you standing?]
It’s the human dilemma, it seems to me: we each have this spark of the Creative in there and it demands that we do Something to deliver the gift that each of us is to the World. There is even a built-in expiration date on the thing. (We only get a certain amount of time here in the World, after all.)
It’s not that there aren’t guideposts, and training manuals and how-to books, and tapes, and organizations galore that are perfectly willing to tell you which way to go. Everybody has an opinion, everybody has The Right Way. Uh-huh.
GETTING ON WITH YOUR OWN DANCE
It seems to me that the only thing that’s worth anything in all the blather is knowing that you are free to do whatever you want to do, just like everybody else. It is a good starting point.
You get to choose which way you go from where you’re standing. The rest of it you make up as you go along.
It does work better if you listen to your own heartsong. It gets right lively if you dance when you can. (Trudging along with your head down tends to be so disheartening.)
Since you’re just the messenger, the gift you are holding is the important thing in all this. Your job is to make your delivery. The world is waiting on you. (If you step on too many toes, of course, there will be consequences and you’ll either handle them or not, but that’s just another part of the story.)
Your delivery-man or -woman journey probably goes better if you can find your own way to dance. Dreams and visions are a part of that journey. Where you go and what you do is all on you.
WHAT IF YOU’RE A NON-STARTER?
It is always an option to be a non-starter. You could just say no to all that effort and trying and turn your back on your mission. Of course you can. You’re free, remember?
The biggest problem you encounter when you give up on your visions and your dreams is that you will probably end up dissipating all this good energy that became available to you when you first started out. When you decide to just give up, you are very likely to end up standing there in the middle of the road, scratching your head wondering how you’re supposed to share this gift you know you’re carrying.
RECURRING OBSTACLES AND OBSTRUCTIONS
The other thing about this journey is that, invariably, no matter which direction you choose to take, there will be a really big ball of knotted strings — your if-thens and your maybes and your buts and your can’ts — right in the middle of this road you’ve decided you’re supposed to be traveling down.
It is huge, this ball. It blocks the whole road. You’ll probably have to push that ball out of the way so you can get on down the road you’ve chosen to take. (Every time you stop to take a breather, that stupid ball’s probably going to materialize right in the middle of your road again. It’s what it does.) It is H-A-R-D. Yes, it is.
And every time the ball comes back and you’re standing there feeling disgruntled, you have to decide again: Go on? Stop? Turn around? Take the time to try to dismantle the ball (and watch it morph into some other recurring obstruction) or just keep on heading towards your dream?
You know, if you do give up on dreaming and visioning and all that and refuse to enter into or continue onward in the fray, it’s possible that you will get to be a rock that sort of sits there eroding in the wind and the wet. Just part of the landscape. Somebody may come along and turn you into a piece of a wall or something. Maybe you’ll get to be part of some other road.
Maybe that’s okay. You’re useful. You’re doing something. And then you’re dead. Right.
Or maybe you can transform yourself into a leaf floating down a stream, just cruising and looking pretty, bumping into things. You’re already dying, but it’s a sunny day and it’s okay. Nothing much happens.
You party with all the other leaves or sit around telling each other things and all that. It’s cool. Then you sink down under the water and turn to sludge. Right.
A BETTER WAY
There’s got to be a better way, don’t you think? Here are some thoughts from motivational speaker Iyanla Vazant, speaking at the 2014 ESSENCE Music Fest, a “party with a purpose” that started in 1994 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Essence, a magazine aimed primarily toward African-American women.
It’s a YouTube video, “Iyanla Vanzant On Creating a New Life Vision,” published by Essence in 2014.
The Essence Fest, as it’s known locally in New Orleans, has become the largest event celebrating African-American culture and music in the United States. It happens from June 29 to July 2 this year.
It’s the new “thing” — Letting Go. Everybody who’s anybody keeps telling you that the only way to move forward is to let go of all that baggage you’re lugging around. “The Simple Life,” hey, ho! Minimalism rules.
They tell you, “Gee whiz, guys and girls…you’ve got a wagon train following along behind you with all the accumulated baggage of a lifetime and you’re pulling that thing around with you. No wonder you’re so tired all the time.”
For the most part, that is probably a truth, you know. People who have little day-packs can scoot along hiking trails a heck of a lot easier than the guys lugging around those huge mountain backpacks that tower over their heads.
MAKING A START
You figure that you probably do have to let go of at least some of that stuff. As you’ve probably found already, if you’re a natural-born hoarder who tends to leave claw marks all over stuff you’re forced to release, even letting go of just one little thing might be really tough.
It’s likely that you’ll start remembering the back-story behind every itty-bitty thing or else you’ll recall the dreams you had for this thing or that. Getting to The Simple Life could very well become an exploration and excavation into your life-story.
You may keep getting sidetracked by all those stories and perhaps you’ll never get to the part where you let go of anything.
GETTING CARRIED AWAY
So, finally, after much browbeating there you are, winnowing your way through your stuff and starting to feel good about making all that progress. The space around you is starting to clear up and it really does feel good.
It’s a good thing to remember that some of the more enthusiastic of our wanna-be advisors ignore the truth that you do have to be careful when you start tossing stuff. If you make it past the first little throw away and then start getting into the swing of it all, it’s relatively easy to tip into deep toss-mode.
Then it’s possible that anything or maybe even everything can go out the window. There you are, at the height of minimalistic euphoria….
“Tossing out the bath water…heave, ho, hup!..OOPS! There went the baby!”
Easy, there. Take a breather. You do not have to clear everything out all at once.
QUESTIONING YOUR WAY TO CLEAR
Here’s a three-part exercise that might help if you really are not making any headway at all.
Choose a target area that you want to clear. It doesn’t have to be a large area. It could be a small corner of a room. It could be a kitchen drawer.
Part One is to pick up each object in your designated area and ask yourself these three essential questions:
Do I need this? (Be brutally honest here. Do you really need twelve can openers? Do you need that tacky- looking tattered potholder?)
Is this useful? (Does it work? Have you used it at all in the past six months?)
Do I still have a strong connection with it? (Do I love it? Is it uplifting eye-candy? Or is it some guilt-holding like that uber-tacky hand-me-down vase from your beloved old Aunt Martha, the one that leaked all over the dining room table the one time you used it.)
Depending on your answers to these essential questions, you can stick the thing into one of three piles – the YES pile (for the stuff you’re keeping), the NO pile (for the stuff you’re tossing) and the MAYBE pile. If you’re a real pack-rat the MAYBE pile is going to be the biggest one of all.
Part Two of this exercise is to disappear the MAYBE pile. Ask yourself the questions again for each of the objects in the maybe pile. Keep asking until there are only two piles – YES or NO. The goal is to end up with only YES things in your life.
Part Three is to find places to put the YES stuff on display or in some easy-to-reach place. Understand that YES stuff that are packed in boxes stuck on high shelves are actually MAYBE or NO things in disguise.
Then, pack up the NO stuff and — this is the important part — take the NO stuff far, far away before the sun sets on your head.
If you are a natural-born hoarder, keeping the NO stuff for the Someday Garage Sale is just an invitation to collect more stuff. Do not do it!
Renting out storage space for the NO stuff is cheating. It is also very expensive.
Understand that these drastic measures are just a kick-starter. Once you get the hang of disappearing things, you won’t need to be quite so deliberate about it.
Once you’ve gotten one space cleared, it does get easier to tackle another little bit and then another until the only things left in your life are the YES stuff.
(Maybe you haven’t noticed this, but these same questions work whether you’re looking at a thing, a person, or some situation that is bothering you.)
PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST
Victoria Moran, in her book LIT FROM WITHIN: Tending Your Soul For Lifelong Beauty, points out, “A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty—but how efficiently we can put first things first. . . . When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar. ”
This is another good reason for understanding the why of the things you keep.
This YouTube video of a TedXIndianapolis Talk by screenwriter and blogger Maura Malloy, “The Masterpiece of a Simple Life,” points to a balanced way to get back to simple without losing what you love.
It’s a cliche, of course. Writers, artists, and performers of all sorts (including politicians and business speakers) are forever being told that they have to “find their own voice.” The premise in all this advice is that each one of us is a unique individual with our own way of seeing the world and sometimes by speaking our own truths in our own way we can help other people find theirs. Your “voice” is your style, how you present your own truths.
Those of us who want to communicate our thoughts to the world spend a lot of time thinking on that. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out not only how to say our own say, but also we keep trying to figure out how to find an audience that will hear us when we do. Communication is a two-way street. There’s you doing the sending and there’s all those other guys doing the receiving (and talking back).
Here are some thoughts about this from a varied group of people who have been working in their craft for a while. All of them have worked on finding their own voice. Each of them has found and cultivated an audience who hears them. Perhaps one of their ideas will spark some of your own.
TO FIND YOUR VOICE, USE IT
Artist and online entrepreneur Austin Kleon, in his book SHOW YOUR WORK: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity And Get It Discovered, had some hard-earned advice. After years of trying to figure it out he says, “….now I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.”
This YouTube video, “How to Find Your Own Voice,” was published by Bedros Keuilian, the president of Fit Body Boot Camp International, which is among the fastest growing fitness chains in the world, apparently. Keuilian focuses on marketing strategies in his videos. In this one, Keuilian points out the importance of being you. (Everybody else is taken.)
USE YOUR VOICE TO FIND YOUR AUDIENCE
As a writer, a speaker or an artist, your incentive for developing a voice is so that people will recognize you, listen to you, hear you. Madman-writer Dan Harmon advises, “Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.”
In this YouTube video clip published by FidelWriting, Harmon is giving a talk at the Nerdist Writers Panel. This bit of silliness is Episode 107, “Structure of a Sitcom.” In his advice to young writers Harmon does a wonderful riff about storytellers….
Buried in the laughter is a truth: Your voice is yours. Don’t let anyone take it away from you.
This little gem’s from Roz Parry, a consultant in communication and team-building. She agrees that the best way to find your audience is to speak with your own voice. “You have to be true to your deep beliefs, especially in the face of adversity. That way you attract the people to you who value you and what you stand for. They come to you, not the other way around.”
SUSSING OUT YOUR AUDIENCE
Finding and speaking with your voice is only half of the communication equation. You also need to know something about the audience that your work attracts.
Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold was the Secretary-General of the United Nations for most of the 1950’s. Hammarskjold pointed out another truth, “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you hear what is sounding outside, and only he who listens can speak.”
Todd Henry is the founder and CEO of The Accidental Creative, a company that helps creative people and teams generate brilliant ideas. He regularly speaks and consults with companies about how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. He’s written three books: ACCIDENTAL CREATIVE, DIE EMPTY and LOUDER THAN WORDS.
Henry says, “It’s not the responsibility of your intended audience to adapt to you, it’s your responsibility to adapt your idea so they can receive it.”
So, how do you suss out your audience? Listening is a big part of that. So is research.
This Kickstarter YouTube video is part of a collection of helpful tips and advice from creators about common Kickstarter project questions. In this one, “Knowing Your Audience,” filmmakers Karyn Parsons , the creator of “The Janet Collins Story;” Adam Weber and Jimmy Goldblum, co-directors of “Tomorrow We Disappear;” David Thorpe, director of “Do I Sound Gay?” and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, director of “Call Me Kuchu” tell how they worked to find and build the audiences for their crowd-funded projects:
Here’s a poem about getting the voice right….
When you get it right, when it all goes well,
And everything falls in place,
There’s a shift inside of you
That opens up another space.
You’re an empty, hollow flute
That the winds blow through and through,
And the words that appear on the page
Don’t even feel like you.
You think another voice
Has sounded through your throat,
And all the notes and pauses
Seem to effortlessly float.
The variations and the themes
Are from some other place,
Some other who in some other when,
Wearing some other face.
It is a comfort then
To understand and see
That the self you think you know
Is more than you think it could be.
The music of the spheres contain the songs you sing