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CULTURES OF MEANING

CULTURES OF MEANING

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.

treadmill
“Treadmill” by John Reynolds via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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.)

john-donne
John Donne via Wikimedia.com {{PD-Art}}

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 HOW-IT-IS

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

And turns the whole of everything

In ways that only bless.

 

The beautiful, the true, the good:

You have to have all three.

It cannot only be you and them

They all require “we.”

And all of them together

Make a wonderment and delight

That fades away if you stare too hard,

Pontificate and posture,

Postulate or bite.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “October 21” by R. Crap Mariner via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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LIFE IS GOOD

LIFE IS GOOD

I spent this weekend reading two books.

One was a hoary old classic marketing book, THE 22 IMMUTABLE LAWS OF MARKETING:  Violate Them At Your Own Risk! by marketing strategists extraordinaire Al Ries and Jack Trout which was written in 1994.

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.

gavel
Gavel: Ohio Supreme Court by Andrew F. Scott via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
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.

 

Rolling that tire back up that hill

was part of the price for playing.

 

Laughing was the best part.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  Life Is Good by Herr Olsen via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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WHERE ARE YOU STANDING?

WHERE ARE YOU STANDING?

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.

stand
“Stand” by Go to See This World Through Lenses via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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.)

movement-9
“Movement 9” by Pedro Martin via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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.

rocks-on-koki-beach
“Beach Rocks on Koki Beach” by Adam Theo via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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.

mango-leaves-in-chings-pond
“Mango Leaves in Ching’s Pond” by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
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.

And here’s a poem:


 DARING TO DANCE THE TIDE

Daring to dance the tide.

(Won’t reach my dream-place ‘less I try.)

 

Daring to dance the tide.

(No question ’bout it,

Those scary waves are so very high!)

 

Daring to dance the tide.

(Stomach in knots but my hands are steady,

My heart’s already sailing on,

Going high and wide.)

 

Daring to dance the tide.

(Hey, heart!

Wait for me!

Here I come….

Hoo-hoo!

What a ride!)

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Maui Sunrise” by Angela Sevin via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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

 

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KEEP WHAT YOU LOVE

KEEP WHAT YOU LOVE

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.

backpacker
Backpacker by dontdothisathome via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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 parttake 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.

Here’s a poem:


CHANGE

Change is going to happen…

That’s guaranteed.

With me or without me,

Change is going to happen.

 

And it’s a very funny thing:

I can affect change

One, two, three…

And it’s a very funny thing.

 

When I put my energy there

Towards nurturing the good

Then the good will grow,

When I put my energy there.

 

When I put my energy there

Towards nurturing the beauty,

Then beauty will surround me,

When I put my energy there.

 

If I grow lax, letting things fall apart,

Get all lazy, losing heart,

That’s where the change goes

If I grow lax, letting things fall apart.

 

If I lose my way, if I grow weak,

Forget my path and forget to speak,

That’s where the change goes

If I lose my way, if I grow weak.

 

Change can’t be forced, oh, no, no, no…

You can’t push the river,

It just keeps it flow

Change can’t be forced, oh, no, no, no.

 

Going where it will, where it must,

Change still needs space and trust.

Time is the essence, a vehicle,

Going where it will, where it must.

by Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  Clutter by staci myers via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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

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FINDING YOUR AUDIENCE

FINDING YOUR AUDIENCE

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….


VOICE

 

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

Stop shrinking yourself small;

You’ll get big enough inside

To contain and reframe them all.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Disembodied Voices by Jeremy Brooks via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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RISE OF THE KHAN (ACADEMY)

RISE OF THE KHAN (ACADEMY)

It’s a well-known story now:  A young engineer and hedge fund analyst begins helping his niece understand algebra during a family visit.  The lessons work so well that the young man continues to tutor the girl online using Yahoo’s Doodle notepad.  Then, other relatives and friends want help in mathematics as well so the analyst moves his tutorials to YouTube where he creates an account so he can meet the demand for his help and…

But, wait.  There’s a YouTube video that’s a collaborative effort of Reddit’s entrepreneur community and the Google Cloud Platform called “Sal Khan’s (Khan Academy) Formative Moment.”  It tells the story better than I can.  CLICK HERE to see the video….

HOW IT GREW

In the beginning, the teaching videos were hand-made by Khan for his cousins.  The earliest ones were about math and followed the interests and needs of the cousins.   The videos show step-by-step doodles and diagrams on an electronic blackboard.

As he put them together, Khan presented short, often funny, lectures explaining what he was doing and why.  Khan listened to the feedback from the cousins, working with them to make the things more effective as learning tools for his students.  He was surprised when the videos attracted the attention of literally thousands of viewers from around the world.

Later, after Khan had quit his day-job and stayed home, working with his close friend Josh Gefner to develop the content of his YouTube channel; after they put up the Khan Academy website (khanacademy.org) as a wrapper for the videos hosted on YouTube; after Khan spent a great deal of effort and time promoting the Academy and their mission; and after the Academy began receiving donations to support their work, it began to grow by leaps and bounds.

The Academy was able to expand its faculty and offer courses about history, healthcare, medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, cosmology, American civics, art history, economics, music, computer programming and computer science.  The lesson library continues to grow.

The organization also developed a network of content specialists who help put together the courses as well. Besides the broader range of subjects and lessons, updates have included collaborations with the Stanford Medical School, and even math and science explorations with NBA star LeBron James.

In August 2015 Khan Academy partnered with Disney & Pixar Animation Studios to launch Pixar in a Box on Khan Academy. The goal, they said, was to show how academic concepts students learn in school are used to solve creative challenges in the making of Pixar films.

HOW IT MORPHED

All of the videos available on the Khan Academy website are licensed under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) 3.0 license.  Khan really did mean it when he said he wanted to make opportunities for learning available for everybody.

Tools on the website like the Coach Resources section (aimed at parents, tutors and teachers) has helpful tutorials on using the site as well as monitoring software to help track the progress of students.  An adaptive web-based exercise system that generates problems for students based on their skill and performance was also developed.   Teachers and tutors could track a student’s progress without having to subject them to the stress of testing.

Software for doing the exercises with feedback and continued assessment was made available as an open source project under the MIT License.

The dashboard on the site improved over time.  Navigation got easier and lessons could be recommended based on student progress.  Students were able to pause the lessons and return to it at a later time.

A companion iPad app allowed video downloads for off-line viewing.  Meanwhile assorted non-profit groups distributed offline versions of the videos to rural areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Over the years, thousands of Khan Academy resources have been translated into other languages and is supported by partners and volunteers in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Turkish, Hindi, Indonesian, German, Czeck, Italian, Swahili, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Polish, Russian, Turkish, Xhosa, Greek, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, Malayalam, and Chinese.

The website has been translated to 23 languages and its videos to 65.  There are seven “official” websites now, each in a different language.

On September 15, 2014, a brick-and-mortar Khan Lab School opened in Mountain View, California.  The work continues.

HERE’S THE REAL

Khan and his Academy have won all kinds of prestigious awards nationally and internationally.  The Academy is entirely supported by donations from assorted foundations and is used as a tool by many educators and parents, mostly because it apparently works.  Kids and adults learn.  They like it.

Students can sign up using a Google or Facebook account.  An e-mail address will also work.

Khan wrote a book about his vision of education, THE ONE WORLD SCHOOLHOUSE:  Education Reimagined,  in 2013.  In it he presents a case for returning to “mastery learning,” a concept that, he says, was abandoned in the last century.

the-one-world-school-house
The One World School House (via Amazon.com)

LOVE IT, HATE IT…WHATEVER

The Academy and Khan do have detractors.  Professional educators who don’t like the Academy harp on the fact that Khan does not have a background in pedagogy.  What’s “pedagogy”?  Apparently, it is the “art and science of teaching.” It’s the way teachers teach and nurture child development according to the theories behind modern education methods.  There are different flavors of pedagogy and a number of different schools of thought.

Khan and the instructors who put together videos for the Academy don’t work on trying to develop anything in their students.  They just want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how to solve a particular problem and to add to the factoids and thoughts already in the learners’ heads.

The Khan Academy seems to have some virulent haters as well as rabid fans.  The critics say there is nothing “new” about teaching through lectures.  Some haters have even gone so far as to call Khan “boring” and “incompetent.”

It is true that the Academy lesson videos are basically just simple lectures that show students how to do things.  They tend to present the practical, procedural side of things.

Sometimes there are inaccuracies and errors.  There are sometimes confusing bits in some of the videos, especially when the whys and wherefores of a system of doing things are discussed.  These inconsistencies are quickly corrected when they are found.

The videos themselves are plain.  There’s no music, no distracting cartoons, no fancy tricks, and no talking heads in them.  There’s just the lesson.

Students can concentrate and focus on what they are doing.  The best thing about these videos is that the students control the pace of the learning and they can go back over the parts that don’t make sense to them again and again.

Khan points out that he has always said that the Academy can be used as a tool for the classrooms and for education.  He, himself, has never advocated replacing more traditional paths with the Academy videos.  “I think they’re valuable,” he says, “but I’d never say they somehow constitute a complete education.”

The haters, however, especially take issue with Khan’s idea for “flipping the classroom.”  A part of his vision is for students to watch his lecture videos at home, try some of the problems and when the class meets, the students and their teachers can engage and try hands-on projects.  They can have more discussions among peers as well as more one-on-one interactions between the teacher and students.

Academy critics have been called bitter and threatened.  Khan’s “followers” are accused of being a part of a cult.

FINAL THOUGHT

My own thought on this is that Khan has succeeded in making a remarkable product.  Folks remark on it…and the buzz continues.

Here’s another Evan Carmichael offering in his YouTube video series of the “Top 10 Rules for Success.”  Internet entrepreneur and social media marketeer Evan Carmichael has an ongoing project to collect the top ten Rules of Success held by assorted successful people in every field of endeavor.  He’s put together videos featuring writers, artists, musicians, film makers as well as assorted business people.  You may want to check out Carmichael’s website, #BELIEVE (EvanCarmichael.com .)

These are Salman Khan’s top 10:

And here’s a poem:


WRITING DOWN THE BONES

Writing down the bones

Helps in ways that

Echo down through the years.

 

You do not forget so easily….

The daily grind does not wear away

That blade of pain

That lances through your complacency,

Presenting you with the steaming guts

Of another deader-dream.

 

You remember, and you honor

The ephemeral beauty of

The joys that grab your heart and

Buoy it up and up

Until it floats ‘mid nebulous clouds of stars

In the deepest dark,

Catching rides on chuckling comets and

Tickling the edges of black-hole mysteries.

And you savor again the enveloping warmth

Of the welcome home.

 

You do not, cannot muck it up

With think and double-think

When the raw is sitting on the page

Waiting for you to touch it yet again.

 

The lessons transmute and morph into

Axioms that divide into precepts and corollaries

And “whereas-es” and “wherefores” spiral out and out

As your mind expands…

Big enough to contain mountains,

Big enough to cradle the sky…

 

As Dragon uncoils from sleep,

As Phoenix burns in flight,

As Tiger stalks through the underbrush

And Turtle moves, deliberating,

While the winds of change blow through.

 

It’s a hard road, this writing down the bones,

And the tracks of the tears running down your face

Mark the paths down which it takes you.

by Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Salman Khan at TEDx talk (cropped from original by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

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TELL YOUR STORY…

TELL YOUR STORY…

When I Googled “tell your story,” I got 166 million search results.  It seems the world is hungry for stories…your story.  Ears are everywhere, waiting to hear, it seems.

Of course there are all the ones who want to teach you how to tell your story and others who want to tell you why you should, especially if you are a business.  And there are the other ones as well.

Every kind of organization – for-profit and not, religious and not, beneficial and (perhaps) not — are listed in the search.

  • There are support groups who collect stories to show other people with similar issues and problems that they are not alone. Often they are working on using the anecdotes they collect to help you and fellow sufferers heal.
  • There are folks who collect stories as part of an effort to help preserve a culture or to build a consensual sense of history.
  • And then, of course, there are the folks who basically seem to be bent on listening their way into your wallet.

Telling your story is generally agreed to be a good thing.

NARRATIVE HEALING

Sometimes telling your story helps to ground you and helps to start your healing.  This YouTube video by spoken-word poet Jon Jorgenson is called “Tell Your Story.”  In it, Jorgenson tells what happened when he opened up before a group of interested, well-intentioned Christians.

FINDING YOUR PASSION

Sometimes telling your story becomes an exploration and an uncovering of a passion that sustains you and connects you to the world.

In this 2012 TEDx talk given at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, “Maka Maoli:  Storytelling On a Screen Beyond Stereotypes,” independent filmmaker and hula dancer Lisette Flanary tells how she began creating her award-winning documentary films that celebrate a modern renaissance of the hula and Hawaiian culture.  It helped her to re-connect with her roots.

RAZZLE DAZZLE AND PIZZAZ

Sometimes you can use your stories and ideas to make something new that resonates with the world.  In this YouTube video, filmmaker Zach King recounts how he began his YouTube channel FinalCutKing after his application to film school was rejected.

He posted video editing tutorials on the thing and more than 400,000 subscribers tuned in to his channel.  Even after he was accepted into film school, King continued playing and exploring his video-making habits.

In 2013 King launched a Vine account that attracted an audience of nearly a million fans in a remarkably short time.

King points out that he did all this with just a computer and a digital camera, assorted everyday props (including pets and stray people) as well as a cadre of computer geek collaborator-friends.

While he had to give up his fantasy of directing a major blockbuster and collaborating with Steven Spielberg, he was also able to bypass the estimated twelve-plus years of industrial dues-paying and the incessant fundraising that’s an inevitable part of producing “real” films.

In this YouTube video of a TEDxPortland talk, The Storyteller In All of Us, he tells his tale.

He does look like he’s having a good time….

MY FAVORITE SHARE-A-STORY PLACE

My own favorite share-a-story place is The Moth, an organization whose mission is “to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience.”

Each Moth show is built around a theme, some aspect of the human experience.  Every Moth storyteller tells a true story live, in front of standing-room-only crowds with no notes.

Since its inception in 1997, the group has become international.  In more than 25 cities around the world, The Moth currently produces more than 500 live shows each year.  Through their Education and Community outreach programs they conduct workshops to teach high school kids and adults how to tell their stories.

Their podcast is downloaded over 30 million times a year and each week the Moth Radio Hour is heard on 400 radio stations worldwide.  This radio show won the Peabody Award which recognizes when the telling of “stories that matter” is done well in electronic media.

The Moth’s first book, THE MOTH:  50 True Stories was a New York Times bestseller in 2013.  A new book’s in the works now.

NOT READY TO TALK?

What if you’re not really ready to tell your own story?  What if it disturbs your sense of privacy?

Well, there’s always listening to the stories all of these other people are telling theirs.  That’s a lot of fun too and, as a bonus, you might even learn something….

Here’s a poem:


COME TELL ME YOUR STORY

Come, come, come….

Come tell me your story.

 

I promise you:  I WILL listen.

 

I will listen for

the heartsong

that beats through

every halting word.

 

I will listen through

the heated flames of anger,

the coldest wind of bitterest gall,

the piquant and the sour words

falling from your mouth,

the salt of an alkali desert

pouring from your lips.

 

I will listen for the sweetness,

the soft notes of redemption

from the shining songbird that settles

in that gnarly old tree

growing in the wasteland of you.

 

I will listen until

you can hear your own story,

until you know you will endure,

despite…

because….

 

Your story is very much

like my own, you know.

 

Thank you for sharing

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Tell Your Story stencil by Acid Midget via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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CHANGING THE WORLD

CHANGING THE WORLD

Baby-Boomers really did try to change the world.  We tackled the same-old with the tried and true, passed on down to us through the ages:  rebellion and protest, dreaming big dreams and making them real, and exploring new directions in spirituality and/or consumerism.

Somehow, even though the world certainly did change, the mess kept morphing in other directions.  Changing the world is not such an easy thing to do.  Who knew?

Here’s a poem about it from a Baby-Boomer point of view….


CHANGING THE WORLD

Some people seem to think

They need to change

This old World and make it fit

Some vision they are seeing.

 

If only this, if only that,

If only the Others would, they say,

Then there would be a lovely New World,

All joyousness and love and truth.

 

It’s odd, though, the way it turns out:

When their vision finally comes to pass,

Out of all their effort and struggle and pain,

Somehow it all turns into the Old again.

 

Peacemakers take up war;

Rebels turn into tyrants;

Freedom-seekers embrace chains.

Stern laws and unbending rules,

Liars and cheaters make.

Compassion turns to bitter-tasting Charity.

 

And this old World keeps on turning,

A seething, sweet, and stinking mess,

That keeps right on singing its chaotic heartsong

That always changes, always stays the same.

By Netta Kanoho

NOW COMES A BETTER WAY

Jason Haber, in his book, THE BUSINESS OF GOOD:  Social Entrepreneurship and the New Bottom Line, details the rise of Social Entrepreneurship, a way of doing business that combines an entrepreneurial foundation plus the very real desire to make a difference and wrapping it all up in sound, sustainable business practice.   There is hope as well that these businesses will promote real change.

The biggest difference between plain vanilla entrepreneurship and the “social” variety is that one of the top priorities for the social entrepreneur is doing work that makes the world we live in a better place.

Attention to business sustainability and growth is paramount, but it is balanced by a mission to work towards mitigating gnarly social problems.  One of the strategies that seems particularly effective for working towards change is connecting with people and helping them change their lives by themselves.

Below are two social entrepreneurs whose work was included in Haber’s book and one that was not.

BANKER TO THE POOR

This YouTube video by Infinite Fire is a brief documentary, a quick overview of Nobel Prize winning social entrepreneur Muhammas Yunus who invented the idea of micro-finance to help combat global poverty.  He started the Grameen bank.

In his book, BANKER TO THE POOR, Yunus points out, “Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility.  Charity is no solution to poverty.  Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about those of the poor.  It appeases our consciences.”

Jason Haber points out that more than 7 million borrowers rely on Grameen Bank.  Of those, 97 percent are women.  The average loan balance per borrower is approximately $162.  The gross loan portolio of the bank is in excess of $1.1 billion.

In a typical year, the default rate on the Grameen Bank loans is 2 percent.  This is very different from loan default rates in developed countries:  11 percent for student loans, 6.5 percent for mortgages, and slightly under 3 percent for credit cards.

YEAR UP

Another program for good reviewed in Haber’s book is Gerald Chertavian’s Year UP program.  This program gives inner-city young people the chance to develop skills that make them employable.  In the following video Chertavian talks about how the program began.

The program, which was founded in Boston and has since spread to other cities all over the United States, gives inner-city young people the chance to develop skills that make them employable.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A MAP OF YEAR UP LOCATIONS. 

Chertavian’s book, A YEAR UP, describes the program.  New enrollees in the Year Up program range in age from 18 to 24.  They sign a contract that tells them what’s expected of them.  They earn a daily stipend while they participate  in the program but they don’t pay any tuition.  (The funds that maintain the program come from the fees Year Up charges to corporations and companies for well-trained interns.)

The students’ Year Up is split between 5 months in a classroom environment learning personal and professional skills and six months in a full-time internship program.

Eighty-five percent of the Year Up graduates are in school or have a job within four months of graduation, Haber says.  They earn an average of $32,000 a year for full-time employees and $16 per hour for part-time work.  Even during the Great Recession, Year Up students were succeeding, earning 30 percent more than those outside the program.

This video, Year Up Journeys, tells the stories of three young people who participated in the program.

ENTREPRENEURIAL THINKING = WORLD CHANGE

Here’s one other program that sounds particularly interesting.  It is not featured in Haber’s book.

Jeremy Liddle is Director of Entrepreneurship at The Enterprise Network for Young Australians (ENYA – www.enya.org.au), a not-for-profit organization established in 2002.  It is described as being “run by young people for young people.”  The organization has the vision that Australia will lead the world in innovation, and that every person will understand that starting their own business is an immediate and viable career choice.

Liddle believes that entrepreneurial thinking can change the world.  His passion is focused on creating a world of job creators, people who are in control of their own financial destiny.

The following TedX talk was given by Jeremy Liddle at Macquariel University in Sydney, Australia in 2013.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The social entrepreneurship movement continues to grow.  It seems like that is a very good thing.

Picture credit: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far go together” by J. Mark Dodds via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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HOW ARE YOU BUSY?

HOW ARE YOU BUSY?

One of the best bits of advice I’ve come across is in Sam Bennett’s book GET IT DONE: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day:  “Be busy like a trapeze artist flying through the air or like a stuntwoman – just cleanly move through each task with great clarity, concentration, and grace.

WHY MULTI-TASKING IS NOT A GOOD IDEA

I’m thinking that the development of clarity, concentration and grace is probably the best argument there is for not multi-tasking.  Think about it.  When you’re trying to do three things at once, you are never very focused or concentrated on just one thing because the other two tasks you’re trying to do in tandem keep niggling at you and jostling your elbow.

These other tasks distract you and that can make you clumsy.  You don’t do any of the tasks you’ve set for yourself very well and it’s likely that you’ll screw them all up.  And if you’re flying high, it is probable that you’ll also take a tumble.

The antidote to multi-tasking is uni-tasking:  doing one thing at a time with focus, care, and attention.

Since I’ve got lots of things to do, serial uni-tasking is going to be my next big thing!  Do many things, one thing at a time….one-step, one-step, one-step.  I’ll still be busy, but I probably won’t fall off the trapeze in a distracted moment.

ULTIMATE UNI-TASKING

I’ve been tripping on watching guys play at parkour, which is also called “free-running.” This extreme sport, which apparently began in France, involves running at top speed through an urban or natural obstacle course using whatever happens to be there to get further.

The practitioners have to just DEAL with whatever gets in their way and just keep on going.   In a split-second they have to accept what lies in front of them and fling themselves at it in order to overcome whatever challenge it presents.

It’s an astounding display of physical prowess, fast thinking, and fearlessness.  You cannot do anything ELSE except stay on course and keep on going because if you’re distracted in the middle of leaping from one rooftop to another, you are likely to end up as street pizza on the sidewalk below.

Here’s a You-Tube video of the world’s best parkour and free-running.  It was posted by StuntsAmazing….

To remind myself of my latest resolve, I have a new motto:  PARKOUR!

And here’s a poem about yet another strategy – accepting what is and saying “yes.”  This poem is written in pidgin.  However, only a few of the words are likely to be unfamiliar, I am thinking.  Mostly it’s the grammatical liberties taken by the speaker that makes the poem pidgin.

The word “went” set before any verb turns that verb into past tense, so “you went show me” translates to “you showed me.”  Often the “is” and the “are” get dropped in the sentence structures.   (“You no fool” is really “you are no fool” in proper English.)   “For” is oftentimes substituted for “to” in a sentence.

All of this ungrammatical playing around gives pidgin its own special rhythm, which is very useful for certain poems.

Right on” basically means “accurate” or possibly “true.”

Braddah” means “brother.”

Babylon” is the nonsense and delusions that the world tries to sell you.  It’s a favorite shorthand word taken from Rastafarian speechifying.

No fool around” means “to talk straight.”

Go good” basically means to “move the right way.”

‘As how” means “that’s the way to do it.”

Some good” means “very good” and “all good” means “everything is good.”

Da kine” is a local pidgin phrase that’s really hard to describe.  It basically refers to the all of everything in a particular context that requires no further explication, mostly because the other person already knows what the speaker is referring to.  Sometimes the use of “da kine” can verge on telepathy.  It requires that the two people who are talking are in tune with each other to a high degree.


FOR REAL

You know you right on, my braddah.

You went show me how for live.

“For drown out Babylon,” you went tell me,

“Say ‘yes’ to Yes.”

 

You no fool around, my braddah,

You went teach me for go good.

“No question, just stay cool,”

“Say ‘yes’,” you went tell me, ‘to Yes.”

 

“Say ‘yes’,” you went tell me. ” ‘As how.”

” ‘No’ only bring you down.”

“Accept,” you went tell me, “what’s now,”

“Say ‘yes’,” you went tell me, “to Yes.”

 

Through your anger, grief, and pain

“Say ‘yes,’ ” you went tell me, “to Yes.”

And now…oh, wow…some good

‘Cause you went say “yes” to Yes.

 

My braddah, you went show

Da kine can be all good,

And ev’rything just flow

When you say “yes” to Yes.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit: Trapeze Artists by Tender Young Pony of Insomnia via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

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MIRACULOUS ABUNDANCE

MIRACULOUS ABUNDANCE

I am reading a most amazing book by a husband and wife team who began a small farm, La Ferme du Bec Hellouin, in 2004 in Normandy.  This small farm was deliberately and mindfully built as an alternative to the big industrialized agricultural farming complexes that take lots of expensive equipment and chemical compounds to produce food for the masses.

The farmers, Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyers, wanted to make a real family farm, one that produced good food and nourished their family and their neighbors.  They wanted the farm to be the work of their own hands and they wanted it to be a viable business model that would be self-sustaining.

Over the years they brought together in one comparatively small place a collection of sustainable, bio-intensive small-farming methods and techniques which produces a mountain of food in a small place over and over again. They’re still working on their last objective, turning the farm into a sustainable business, but it is starting to come together very well indeed.

FARM AS POEM

In the process they created a beautiful poem of a garden that supplies food for a number of local restaurants and is also an incubator of ideas and a resource and school that attracts students from around the world.  You can read about their work, their mistakes, and their triumphs in their book, MIRACULOUS ABUNDANCE:  One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers and Enough Food to Feed the World. 

miraculous-abundance

MARKET GARDENERS OF FRANCE

The first, foundational bio-intensive gardening idea the Hervé-Gruyers incorporated into their own gardens was la culture maraîchère, market gardening.  This form of gardening developed in the heart of Paris during the second half of the 19th century and was pretty much the direct descendant of the gardeners who provided the raw materials to the chefs and cooks who fed the kings and nobility of France.

The success of the market gardeners of France from the late 1600’s though the early 1900’s established urban gardening practices that have lasted well into the 21st century and have spawned other methods of growing that are also remarkable ways to produce a lot of good-quality food.  The French urban gardeners evolved intensive soil-building techniques and developed extraordinary methods for extending the growing season.

Prince Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist writer of the late 19th century, was very impressed by the Parisian market gardeners.  He pointed to them as an example of how local communities could become thriving, self-sufficient communities and used them as working models that showed how his ideas of strong local economies and self-determination could work.

winter-harvest

Eliot Coleman, author of THE WINTER HARVEST HANDBOOK: :  Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses, tells us, “The cultivated land of the Parisian growers covered up to one-sixteenth (6 percent) of all the land within the city limits of Paris. And the produce selection was remarkable.” Coleman continues, “This system fed Paris all year round with the widest variety of both in-season and out-of-season fruits and vegetables. Hotbeds heated with decomposing horse manure and covered with glass frames allowed the growers to defy the cold and produce fresh salads in January and early cucumbers and melons in May and June.

The market gardeners were the early forerunners of the post-modern idea of “eating as local as you can.”  They made it real more than 150 years ago.  “French intensive gardening,” as it was called in English, was designed to grow the maximum amount of vegetables on the minimum area possible.  Urban plots used for this way of gardening were invariably small and noncontinuous, after all.

The average Parisian market garden was between one and two acres in size.  The plants were grown on eighteen-inch beds of combined straw and horse manure from the stables. Crops were planted so close together that when the plants were mature, their leaves would barely touch. This close spacing provided a mini-climate and a living mulch that reduced weed growth and helped hold moisture in the soil.

Companion planting — growing certain plants together that enhance each other – was used. For example, strawberries and green beans produce better when grown together; whereas onions stunt the growth of green beans.

In addition to companion planting, gardeners developed an elaborate schedule of succession planting to get the most from the land throughout the growing season. Timing was key.  An early spring hotbed would be sown with radish and carrot seed broadcast and then transplanted with lettuces at the same time.

First, the radishes would be harvested, making more room for the carrots growing between the lettuces. The carrot tops would stick out from around the lettuces until the lettuces were harvested, which gave the carrots enough light and space to complete their growth.

But, as soon as the lettuces were harvested, young cauliflower transplants would be set out among the carrots. Once the carrots were pulled the cauliflowers had the frame to themselves until they were harvested and the ground was prepared for the next crops.  Gardeners grew up to nine crops each year and could even grow melon plants during the winter.

The goal of the market gardener was always to “tend the smallest amount of land possible, but tend it exceptionally well.”  The work was non-stop.   The care given to each individual plant was highly detailed-oriented and labor-intensive.  Soil-building became almost a cult.

Among the garden marketers who rented land to make their gardens, it was a condition of the standard renting contract that the gardener could carry his soil away down to a certain depth when his tenancy ends.  The reasoning went that because he made soil himself, it belonged to him and when he moved to another plot he could carry his soil away, together with his frames, water pipes and other belongings.

Pesticides and chemicals were avoided.  (Kropotkin called them “pompously labelled and unworthy drugs.”)  Large amounts of compost, crop rotation, diversity, companion planting and plant protection were enough to prevent most diseases and pest outbreaks. It was felt that pests attacked only sick and weak plants; healthy plants in healthy soil would not need extraordinary measures. Also, small plots with diverse plantings have a tendency to keep pests from multiplying as they do in monoculture plantings where one pest infestation can wipe out entire fields.

The techniques of season-extension for which the gardeners were especially celebrated began at the royal potager gardens at Versailles under the celebrated head gardener La Quintiie in the 1670s and 80s.  These practices were extended and enhanced so much that the established urban gardens of the late 19th century could provide fresh vegetables for much of the year in Paris.

potager-garden-at-versailles

Potager du Roi, Versailles by Joy Weese Moll via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Even more impressive, one source says, “A great number of the Paris maraîchèrs, even of those who have their gardens within the walls of the city and whose main crop consists of vegetables in season, export the whole of their produce to England.”

Market gardening was introduced to England by C. M. McKay, a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, who led an expedition to Paris to see the techniques in 1905. A number of how-to books were published for English audiences, including a popular one by McKay himself. The techniques became quite popular, although they never quite achieved the level of sophistication seen in Paris.

In the 1920s and 1930s, English gardener and dramatist Alan Chadwick experimented extensively with the French intensive techniques, combining them with techniques from Austrian Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic method to form the “French Intensive-Biodynamic” method of gardening.

After the First World War, la culture maraîchère began to wane in France and England. Land values soared, and empty lots were developed or became too valuable for gardens. More importantly, cars replaced horses on city streets, and the straw and manure that had been so important disappeared.

there-is-a-garden-in-the-mind

In the 1960s, Alan Chadwick brought his techniques to America on a 4-acre organic student garden at the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus. Starting with a hilly area of poor, clayey soil, Chadwick was able to eventually produce healthy topsoil and yields four times that of conventional agricultural methods. Chadwick grew his crops on rounded raised mounds and used the “double dig” method – removing the top soil layer, exposing the subsoil or hardpan beneath, breaking it up, adding organic matter, and replacing the topsoil that was initially removed. This provided greater drainage and aeration.

how-to-grow-more-vegetables

The techniques were studied by John Jeavons of Ecology Action, who wrote a popular book promoting these methods under the name GROW-BIOINTENSIVE. Jeavons’ book, HOW TO GROW MORE VEGETABLES THAN YOU EVER THOUGHT POSSIBLE ON LESS LAND THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE (usually abbreviated to just the first five words), was first published in 1974.  It helped to revive and extend the French Intensive Methods for a new generation in a new country.

Even at the height of market gardening, the people who were most impressed with the results did have some reservations.  Kropotkin, for example, pointed out, “And yet the Paris gardener is not our ideal of an agriculturist…. He toils, with but a short interruption, from three in the morning till late in the night. He knows no leisure; he has no time to live the life of a human being; the commonwealth does not exist for him; his world is his garden, more than his family.

On the other hand, there is all that beautiful, beautiful food…..

Ron Finley, in this TED talk, tells about his efforts to grow food for himself and his neighbors in his community in South Central Los Angeles.  The poem continues….

 

Here’s another poem:


MOON IN TAURUS

The moon grows full

A planting moon.

Time it is to sow

The seeds for anything

You want to grow

Strong and fertile.

 

Stability enfolds you

In its wide warmth,

A sensual touch that

Grounds you deep and solid…

So solid that you may not

Want to move the way

The world says you must,

The way your heart says you must.

 

And what is it that

Nurtures you, Moon Child?

What is it that deepens you

And makes you stronger?

It is calling you,

Your comfort and your strength.

It is waiting to embrace you.

 

Do not be afraid.

Go to it.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credits:  Scenes From An Urban Garden by Travis Ford via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]; all book covers via Amazon.com

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