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GIVE UNTIL IT HELPS

GIVE UNTIL IT HELPS

Here’s a thing from Jay Conrad Levinson’s GUERILLA MARKETING EXCELLENCE:  The 50 Golden Rules for Small-Business Success:  “Give till it helps.

It’s a very different take than the more usual “give until it hurts” that Mother Theresa espoused.

Mother Theresa’s thing seems to encourage a degree of selflessness that’s way over the top.  Some folks take it to mean that you’re supposed to give and give and give until you’ve nothing left to give….and then you give some more.

With that one, I’m not quite sure what you’re supposed to do when you’re totally depleted and unable any more to take care of your own self, your own dreams, and the responsibilities that are yours.

totally-exhausted-fathers
“Totally exhausted fathers” by smumdax via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I’ve often wondered.

MINDFULNESS AND GIVING

Levinson’s take on the whole giving thing seems, instead, to encourage mindfulness, looking at whether the “help” you’re giving is actually a help to the other person and is not a detriment to yourself.

  • Is this help you are giving effective?
  • Are you empowering the other person?
  • Does the help you are giving encourage the recipient to continue walking their own road?
  • Does it help them to build themselves up so they can tackle their own problems?

Very often, you have to watch to make sure that the responses and moves you’re evoking from the other person as a result of the actions you’ve taken are heading in the direction that can allow them to make the best use of the energy (money, time, talent) that you’ve expended on their behalf.

So, what happens if it doesn’t?  What if your gift keeps the other person from learning the lessons they need to learn?  What if your gift actually diminishes them?

An everyday example of that is the effects of being raised by a so-called “helicopter parent.”

A well-meaning, overprotective parent who does your chores and your homework for you; tries to resolve your every social problem; is your personal rally squad who cheers you on for every little thing you might accomplish and attempts to completely eliminate any sort of contact you might have with frustration of any sort is NOT a help.

If every obstacle is eliminated for you, how are you going to learn how to do your own work-arounds and develop your own strengths to power on through the potholes and hurdles and to fix your own mistakes?

she-climbs-a-tree
“She Climbs a Tree…” by Walt Jabsco [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
If your way of giving involves solving another person’s problems without giving them the chance to face their own challenges, the net result is that your gift can prevent them from developing their own abilities and making their own choices and decisions.

It sends the unfortunate message that you don’t think they can do it without your help.  Is that a message you want to send?

AND WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Also, a major question you might want to ponder is this:  When you are making this gift, are you using your available resources in a way that adds meaning and mana (inherent power) to your own life?

do-i-know-you
“Do I Know You?” by Tom Waterhouse via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg has written about the positive effect generosity can have on one’s sense of freedom and our own sense of self.

When we give, we continually test our limits, she says. “The practice of generosity is about creating space. We see our limits and we extend them continuously, which creates a deep expansiveness and spaciousness of mind.”

The late poet Maya Angelou once famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

try-my-boy
“Try my boy!!” by matthew Fang via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
What other meaning does the power of giving lend to your life?  Is it worth the cost?

TWO ENDS OF A GIFTING TRANSACTION

It occurs to me that every gift has a giver and a receiver.  The gift is a transfer of life-energy from one to another.

Gifting is always a transaction between the one who gives and the one who receives.

helping-hand
“Helping Hand” by istolethetv via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The thing is, human relationships are always complex.  Questions to ask yourself before you offer to help someone with more than an easy-fix problem are these:

  • Does the person want your help?
  • Is the person ready to accept your help?
  • Do you have the skill, the time and the inclination to do what is really needed? Trying to help people when you don’t have the skills or the time or the commitment to a project is likely to do more harm than good.

Jumping into somebody else’s life and messing with their “stuff” does require a lot of heavy thinking beforehand.  Be respectful.  Be careful.  That may be somebody’s heart you’re stepping on.

stone-and-flesh
“Stone and Flesh” by Rachel Titiriga via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
HOW ARE YOU HELPING?

Sometimes it’s just a matter of pitching in.  Some project needs to be completed and you are willing and able to lend a hand.

The goal is clear, everybody agrees on the purpose and the method is fairly obvious.  You go.

helping-hands
“Helping Hands” by Andree & Edward via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
However, it does get more confusing and a lot more difficult when you’re trying to help others as they cope with circumstances that are catastrophic or perhaps the result of societal issues over which they have little control.

This YouTube video, “Help That Helps – Giving What Is Really Needed,” was published in 2016 by the Visalia Rescue Mission.  It was put together by people who spend their days providing concrete help in many different ways for the homeless in their area.

The major take-away from this one is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the bigger, more problematic circumstances humans often face.

stew-and-sympathy
“Stew and Sympathy” by Neil Moralee [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Two prominent economists, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, wrote an investigative book called WHEN HELPING HURTS:  How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself. 

The book has a Christian bent.  Its goal is to educate missionaries and ministries as well as other helpers who work in poverty- and disaster-stricken areas about how to effectively alleviate poverty for the long-term.

The authors advise that these helpers need to focus on the resources and abilities a community already has rather than focusing on what the community does not have.

The book is an interesting read for anyone who’d like to gain a better understanding of the different facets of helping those in need.

compassion-and-generosity
“Compassion and Generosity” by K. Kendall via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

HOW TO TELL WHEN YOU’RE GIVING TOO MUCH

Professor Shawn Meghan Burn’s 2014 article in Psychology Today, “Twelve Signs That You are Giving Too Much,” gives a rundown of the signs that the help you are giving to someone may be dysfunctional and unhealthy.

To read what she has to say, click-here

 

The good doctor has also written a book, UNHEALTHY HELPING:  A Psychological Guide to Overcoming Co-dependence, Enabling, and Other Dysfunctional Giving.

You may want to check it out if you think that maybe your giving is not a help.

SOME TIPS ON EFFECTIVE GIVING

Generosity researcher Adam Grant, the author of GIVE AND TAKE: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, describes generosity as “micro-loans” of our knowledge, skills, and connectIons in ways that transform and shape other people’s experiences.

He says the most successful and effective givers are those who rate high in concern for others and also in self-interest.

These givers contribute in ways that reinforce their social ties and they say yes to the things they for which they have the unique skills, resources or time to give.

They also limit what they do.

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“Power In the Palm of My Hand” by Matthew via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Failed givers, Grant says, tend to say “yes” to everything.  Often they end up either overwhelmed, ineffectual, or resentful and put-upon.

LOOKING FOR THE SIGNS

Perhaps Levinson is right.  Looking at the real effects of what you do to help other people can guide you in determining how much you give and how.

  • If what you are doing is truly a help, then it makes sense to keep on doing what you’re doing.
  • If it does not help (either because you’re making stupid or ineffective moves or because you’re dealing with blind people), then it’s probably a good idea to stop whatever you’re doing and reassess.

warning-sign
“Warning Sign” by oatsy40 via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
As one commentator pointed out, if you help the wrong person for the wrong reason or in an ineffectual way, you may miss opportunities to really help the right person who needs the kind of help you can gladly give.

GIVING IS A GOOD THING

We all agree that helping people is a good thing.  We believe that it’s a way to ensure our own happiness.

Wise guys have told us that forever.

There’s a Chinese proverb that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.  If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.  If you want happiness for a year inherit a fortune.  If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

neighbors-helping-neighbors
“Neighbors Helping Neighbors” by Arlington County via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Saints, power dudes and other famous sorts all tout giving and serving others as the way to happiness.

Even scientific research provides compelling anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.

The guys in the lab coats have used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology to map out how giving activates the pleasure centers in the brain, just like food and sex.

Humans are hard-wired to feel great about giving, it says here.  We like doing it.  Giving makes us happy.

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“Reminder” by Ryan via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
For some people, giving is as natural as breathing.  For others, not so much.

If you feel like you are starving to death and the world is set up to take everything you have away from you, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be moved to generosity very often.

Generosity is a learned response and you can learn it from the people around you.

That’s what research by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith suggests, anyway.   He concluded that it is certainly possible to absorb lessons for or against generosity.

This 2015 YouTube video, “Joy” was a story presented by Ashok Ramasubramanian in Speakeasy DC’s monthly storytelling series.  It was part of a show at Town Danceboutique, a bar in Washington, DC, on the theme, “The Charismatic Leader: Stories about those we follow for the right and wrong reason.”

The video gives an example of how someone can be influenced towards more generosity.  It’s also an engaging story.

Smith is not completely convinced that the increased activity that happens in the brain when we are being generous is actually responsible for increasing our happiness.

Maybe all that cogitating is triggered by questions like, “Should I?”, “Can I?”, “Is this worth it?”

He’s one of the guys who suggest that, maybe, because generous people tend to view the world as safe, secure and abundant, it could just be that they are happy because they have a generally sunny outlook. Whatever.

It’s a funny thing, though.  Even seeing other people’s generosity tends to be uplifting and induces a bit of teary-eyed smiling.  This sweet video, “The Most Generous Boy in the World,” published by filmmaker Meir Kay in 2017, is a smile-maker that way.

Another science of generosity finding backed by a lot of anecdotes and stories is that the more adversity someone has experienced, the more compassion he or she often feels.  This compassion is likely to increase the tendency to be generous.

One of my favorite YouTube videos is this 2013 short film made by TrueMoveH, “Inspiring Power of Giving and the Power of Veggie Soup” that was published by Get Your Health Up in 2013.  (Got your Kleenex handy?)

Here’s a poem:


FRIENDS

An everyday wonder are the friends of your heart,

They see you and they let you know you are there with them.

They cherish you for who you are

And they honor what you are making of your own true self.

Their love’s embrace is soft,

But the love is solid and deep.

 

Like a gentle bay, they invite you to come and play

On warm, golden sands shaded by tall trees

With leaves that rustle in the softest breezes,

And swim in calm waters ringed by strong reefs.

You can build sand castles there.

You can float in the water cradled between sand and sun,

A peaceful bit of flotsam among the ripples.

 

Like the moana beyond the reef,

The deep, rolling waves of their love

Carry you on your way beyond the horizons

To new worlds that you can only imagine

As you dream on the beach while you watch the sun set.

In your sailing canoe you will go

To where today meets tomorrow

Supported by the love that surrounds you,

The love that knows who you are.

 

Friends stay with you, enfold and embrace you,

Cry for your pain when lovers go away.

Friends will cheer you and keep near you,

When the world hammers at your soul.

They remind you not to give yourself away.

And, you know, it occurs to me:

It would be a very sad thing

To have a world full of lovers

And not a single friend….

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “Helping” by eltpics via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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TEACH SOMEONE AND LEARN BETTER

TEACH SOMEONE AND LEARN BETTER

Every time I open a book I smile.

I remember.  As a child who was just beginning to learn to read, my favorite time was spent sitting on my grandpa’s lap and “teaching” him how to sound out the squiggly lines on the pages.

He would laugh and hug me as I sternly scolded him and got him to sound out the words as I was learning to do in school.  Together we made it through several adventures of Dick and Jane and Spot.

Papa, I suspect, was severely dyslexic.  He could sign his name, but he never learned to read – in English, anyway.

I think those times when he would sit still and let his baby girl “teach” him from her primer books probably set the foundation for my love of books and word-play.

SEE ONE.  DO ONE. TEACH ONE.

In his book, SMART THINKING: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate and Get Things Done, author Art Markman says that the cornerstone of medical education is, “See one.  Do one.  Teach one.”

When medical students are learning a new procedure, the first thing they do is watch someone who knows how to do it carry out the procedure.  This gives them a general idea of how the thing is done.

The student will then practice the new procedure until he or she can carry it out.  Doing it helps the student understand the various elements and techniques involved that aren’t apparent from just watching someone else do the procedure.

After that, the student is encouraged to teach this procedure to someone else.  This helps the student see whether he or she has enough knowledge of the procedure to show someone else how it is done as well as explain, in a simple, understandable way, why the procedure is useful.

As Albert Einstein famously pointed out, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I found it interesting that these same principles are also used by tradespeople, craftsmen, artists, performers and cooks to pass along their specialized knowledge as well.

discover-the-possibilities
“Discover the Possibilities” by Georgie Pauwels via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

TEACHING HELPS YOU TEST YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE

Markman points out that in order to teach somebody else you do need to form a complete and organized, easily-understood explanation of what you’re trying to teach.

It’s like writing down a recipe for making muffins.  Stirring the liquid ingredients into a mound of dry ingredients works a heck of a lot better than vice-versa. It’s a good and helpful thing to mention that to someone making muffins for the first time.

If your attempted explanations confuse your student, it’s probable that you need to work on filling in the gaps in your own knowledge.

  • Perhaps the student doesn’t understand the words you are using. Do you?  Are there other more common words or alternative ways of explaining that you can use instead?
  • Perhaps the student needs more information than you are giving them. Take it back down to a more basic level.  Find out what the student knows and does not know and start from there.
  • Maybe the way you’ve organized and presented the information confuses the student. How can you make the steps easier to follow?  Are some of the important steps in a procedure missing in your attempted explanation?  Are they in the right order?

In 2009, Columbia University professor Simon Sinek was interviewed by Erik Michielsen, founder of Capture Your Flag, a virtual mentoring platform.  The following YouTube Video, “How Teaching Others Build Your Knowledge” is a snippet published around that time.

In it, Sinek says, “Teaching forces you…to break down your knowledge into components that give you a deeper understanding of your own knowledge.”

JUST PLANNING TO TEACH SOMEBODY ELSE HELPS YOU LEARN BETTER

Interestingly, researchers have found that students who thought they were going to be tutoring or teaching others worked harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately, and apply it more effectively.

The guys in the lab coats dubbed this “the protégé effect.”  If we are going to teach somebody else, then we know we need to pay attention to the most important, relevant points and organize them in our minds so that we can present them in a coherent, understandable way.

This way of “relational learning” happened even if, ultimately, the students were not actually required to teach someone else.

This YouTube video, “Why Teaching Others Is the Best Way to Learn” published in 2013 by Art of Smart TV features resident nerd Rowan Kunz explaining the value of teaching others in order to get feedback about your own level of knowledge.

Art of Smart describes itself as a “movement that is changing the world through a new kind of holistic tutoring and mentoring for young people.”

An important point Kunz makes is the one about repetition.  Every time you go back over the material you are teaching someone else, trying to help the other person make sense of it, the knowledge gets embedded more clearly and more deeply into your own mind.

It all helps your brain build neurotransmitter pathways that help you access the information in your head.  Cool stuff!  Perhaps, by teaching (or planning to teach someone else) you’ll find other ways to widen and deepen the knowledge you hold.

ANOTHER TAKE ON TEACHING

There are more than one way to teach.  Some of them don’t use words.

The following YouTube video published by Fred Then in 2014, “Learning By Doing and Not Teaching” dramatizes one little Thai girl’s lessons from her mother, a vendor selling fresh fruits from a trolley at a market in Petchburi province.

The girl, Achara Poonsawat (also known as “Nin”), won a scholarship from the Sarnrak Project that allowed her to complete a Bachelor’s Degree program and become an elementary school teacher.

Nin’s mother’s methods of teaching were not academic since she was herself unschooled.  However, they were based on real-life fact-finding.  Nin’s mother encouraged the girl to observe what others did, analyze why their methods worked and try the methods for herself.

Sarnrak Konkeng Huajai Krang (Good Kids, Good Hearts) is an initiative operated since 2000 by AIS, the largest mobile phone operator in Thailand.  The children targeted by the initiative are “underprivileged children who demonstrate love and close tie to their families.”

While the scholarship recipients go to school, their families receive financial aid from Sarnrak as well since that allows the youngsters to attend school without worrying about having to help support their family.

Here’s a poem….


PAPA AND HIS NET

Papa sits on the gray-green sand.

His skin is leathered by the sun.

Jewel drops of water sparkle in the darkness of his hair.

White salt traces down his arms, his back, his chest.

His rough, brown hands weave the shuttle delicately.

Like a bird, it flies intricate patterns over and through,

As the net grows whole.

 

Papa talks about the fish the net and he have captured.

It is a strong net, his best net.

Not even a big uhu could escape it.

Manini and weke they have caught by the score.

He snagged it on some rocks and it was wounded,

Torn upon the cruel, black pōhaku.

He mourns the jagged tears as his hands deftly flutter,

As the net grows whole.

 

Papa argues with a friend, things fishermen argue.

He swaps lies about the ones he and his net “almost,

And he brags about the ones that didn’t get away.

His eyes twinkle when he shows his teeth in laughter.

They shine in amusement at the whoppers and the toppers

And the ones that flop,

And his hands – his rough, brown hands – keep on flying,

As the net grows whole.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Teach Me” by Giovanna Matarazzo via Flickr [CC BY-NC]

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SPOKEN WORD AND BEING HEARD

SPOKEN WORD AND BEING HEARD

In a world of seven billion-plus souls, one of our deepest human needs often goes unfulfilled – the need to be heard.  That may be one reason why the Spoken Word movement, once a subculture on the fringes of the mainstream, is gaining widespread acceptance around the world.

THE RISE OF SPOKEN WORD

“Spoken word poetry” was born in Chicago in 1984, when a construction worker, Marc Smith, started reading poetry at a popular club and encouraged others to join him in sharing their work.  Smith was looking to “democratize” poetry and “bring it to the masses.”

He was following an old road with an ancient lineage that meanders through the underground and fringes of Society among the dispossessed and disenfranchised and the ones who choose to stand different.

The trailhead for this road began before there was writing and paper.  The college theses expounding about the “long-held traditions” of the ancient art of wordsmithing (and all the other hoo-hah that made playing with words seem like it is a probable cause for dyspepsia) were not even a glimmer on any horizon.

Smith was going back to that most ancient of traditions, Word-of-Mouth — just like the tribal storytellers and assorted con artists and bull-shitters sitting around campfires and hearth-fires of the world from ancient times, weaving a yarn for their friends and companions.  And he was inviting everybody else to join him.

campfire
“Campfire” by Markus Pachali via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Smith remembered:  Poetry was, first and foremost, an oral art.  It was an art with a performer and an audience.  The people around him liked that reminder.

Two years after he first got up to tell his poems out loud, Smith approached the owner of a jazz club.  Those readings happened every week and evolved into a competition.

The format gained popularity, but it was the Internet that blew it up big.  A lot of people liked being reminded that poetry is an oral art.

Poetry was originally produced by a human voice, propelled out of a human body with the breath.  It was one person talking to a bunch of other people.

Audiences liked the presentations by the most avid performers that showed that poetry, at its most effective, contains the rhythm and movements of a human heart.

They liked that the beginning and end of a poetic line is often a unit of phrasing and sense-making that is based on the human breath. You need to breathe when you’re speaking your poem.  It is your breath and your voice that animates it.

PAGE POETRY VS STAGE POETRY

Poetry Its-Own-Self has always been a means of often-powerful self-expression.  It grew out of song and prayer and storytelling traditions that continue to this day.  It has been with us forever and because of that it can be difficult to pin down and define.

One cute breakdown, “What Is Poetry? #Poetry Defined” was published in 2015 by Advocate of Wordz.  Here’s the YouTube video:

In my own experience, poetry has been a life-saver.  It continues to be a way for me to find my own clarity in the confusion of everyday life.  Rearranging words on a page helps me to rearrange the thoughts in my head.  It works very well for that.

But, let’s face it.  Over the centuries, page poetry has become stigmatized by many folks as indulgences of the rich-and-snooty.  Books of poetry tended to gather dust on bookshelves.

Page poetry (especially as was taught in schools when I was growing up) could be a yawn-inducing experience.  Poetry – at least the kind pedagogues seemed to favor — had the most gawd-awful and esoteric rules formulated by various poetry-makers in times past, all gathered together by the intelligentsia and assorted acolytes of High Culture.

If your teacher was into it, as mine often were, it was a grand thing; otherwise, not so much.  Teachers who got stuck on guiding their charges through parsing and analyzing some “Great Poem” or other, killed more poets a-borning than any other thing, probably.

Like calculus and philosophical debate, it was stuff for the Big-Brains (or folks who wanted to look like they had some.)

Page poetry was a good thing to inflict on children.  Like regular doses of cod-liver oil or whatever, it was supposed to keep them growing and make them strong.  By the time the children hit adulthood, it was often not a thing remembered fondly.

the-poet
“The Poet” by Russell Chopping via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
“Dull” was page poetry’s other name.

Committing poetry to a page (if you were not an academic sort), was a weird sort of hobby at best.  Solitary you could string the words from your heart across assorted pages and realize all kinds of gains.  Rigorous mental exercise, mastery of an art form, personal catharsis, and insights are possibilities that come to mind.

A common fate for these homemade page poems was to be stuck in a drawer where they moldered until the poet’s death, after which, they were probably tossed by the poet’s heirs.

If you were particularly proud of the page poems you constructed, you submitted them to magazines in exchange for magazine issues, sold them to greeting card makers for pennies, or spent money on producing self-published chapbooks to give to all of your family and friends.

If you got good at producing poems, you might even consider spending time creating them “on demand” as a busker.

poet
“The Poet” by Garry Knight via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
When the Internet revved up, you could also post them on websites or on social networks and then wonder whether they ever reached anybody.  (The page poem launch very often hits a wall of dead silence.)

The problem with even the best page poetry is that it is only one-half of a dialogue.  The maker makes, but doesn’t know whether anybody is out there listening, doesn’t feel like he or she is being heard.  It gets to feel like you’re talking to yourself.

Stage poetry (as spoken word has been called) is something else.  When it’s done well and the audience is lively, it flies.  Performers and audiences can get caught up in a group hug-fest.

  • Some poets are raucous; they rant and rave, yell and shout. Others are calm and relaxed.
  • There are poets who make you laugh and poets who make you cry. Many of them bare their deepest secrets and rock your heart.
  • Some weave intricate verbal patterns that enthrall you in a web of sound.
  • Others parse out a problem using simple words that drill down into the core of it, reframing and rearranging your mind.

Stage poetry can be inspiring.  A spoken word poem can be stimulating and entertaining when it’s good.

poet
“Poet” by Taz etc. via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
When several good poets get together it can turn into a jazz jam, a live performance never to be repeated in exactly the same way.  It can be a feast.

More importantly, even when the poetry or the performance is not so good, stage poetry is about connection.  The poet speaks.  The audience listens.  Good performers take their listeners flying; bad performers get a lot of points for trying.

the-elders
“The Elders” by Laura Thorne via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

A TASTE OF SPOKEN WORD

To give you a taste, here’s one of my favorite slam poems, “Legacy,” presented in this YouTube Video published by Button Poetry.  It features poet Tui Scanlon performing for Hawaii during the prelims at the 2014 National Poetry Slam.

Button Poetry was founded in 2011 by poets Sam Cook and Sierra DeMulder.  Since then it’s become the largest digital distributor of spoken word in the world.  The Button Poetry videos are shared on websites like Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and NPR.  Their YouTube channel has over 900,000 subscribers.  Click here to check them out:

click-here

SPOKEN WORD INTERNATIONAL

These days, commentators note that spoken word has “gone mainstream.”  Poetry meant to be performed – performance poetry – is winning accolades from audiences of regular people.  Some of those people get up on stage and do their own spoken word pieces before sometimes massive crowds.

All over the world, wherever people gather, there are open mic nights, where folks get up in front of a crowd and share their words – angry poetry, love poems, poems of protest and politics, stand-up poetry, punk poetry, jazz poetry, nonsense rhymes, and rap and hip-hop fusion poetry.

There are regular organized gatherings of amateur and casual poets.

There are poetry slams where the competition and audience participation can get intense.

german-language-poetry-slam-championships-2010
“German-language Poetry Slam Championships 2010” by Very Quiet via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
There are shows by professional poets.  At festivals, you’ll find performing poets sharing the stage with musicians, actors, dancers and other performing artists.

national-cowboy-gathering
“National Cowboy Poetry Gathering – 2017” by Travel Nevada via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] (Photo by Sydney Martinez)
On the Internet, the variety (and the sheer number) of posted poetry videos boggles the mind.

There are even spoken word workshops you can attend to become a better performing poet.

slam-workshop
“Slam Workshop” by Tom Astleitner via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
And, in the schools, performance poetry and spoken word has opened a door to the impact and the power of words for children of all ages.

louder-than-a-bomb-kc-team
“Louder Than a Bomb KC Team” by Laura Gilchrist via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Smith’s plan to bring poetry back to the masses worked.   Words were spoken…and more and more and more words keep being spoken, mostly because people are definitely listening.

The quality of the works vary, of course, and that seems to be a part of the whole scene.

THE BEST POEM

My benchmark “best poem” has no words.  It was an exchange between my friend Wide Garcia, who chairs the meeting of the Maui Live Poets that meets in the Makawao Library on the third Wednesday night of each month, and a young man with Aspergers Syndrome.

During one of our regular meetings, we were doing a round-robin, where all of the poets in attendance took a turn to present a poem to the crowd.  A young man came in midway through the first session and sat down in an empty chair.  He sat quietly and watched as the poets read or spoke their work, watched as the audience responded.

It’s Wide’s practice to ask everyone who comes to the gatherings if they would like to present a poem.  After the first round was done and the poets were mingling and talking story, he approached the young man, who was sitting there, seemingly detached from the hubbub around him, and asked whether the boy had work he would like to share.

The young man did not answer, so Wide asked again, looking deeply into the teenager’s eyes.

There was a pause.  Then the boy lifted his right hand with all of his fingertips held together like a spear-point and touched the middle of his chest, fingers pointed right at his heart.  He gestured, moving his arm outward towards Wide and opened his hand, palm-up, as if he were offering his heart.

Wide made the same gesture back to the boy and grinned at him.  The boy just looked back at him out of his own world.

And, for me, that became my benchmark “good poem” – the one I remember every time I start constructing another one.  A good poem offers up your heart to another person.  It’s even better when that other person offers up his or her heart back.

Here’s a poem….


ALWAYS THERE ARE POEMS

 Always there are poems.

Not all of them use words.

Sometimes your body builds them.

Sometimes hearts must be heard.

 

The hand that reaches out,

The smile that glows and shines,

The eyes that sparkle in delight,

The hug that says, “We’re fine.”

 

Always there are poems.

All you need to do is see

The wonders of the universe

And the worlds in you and me.

 by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Ballsaal um 20:50” (Poetry Slam) by Sebastian Courvoisier via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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TALK TO STRANGERS

TALK TO STRANGERS

This YouTube video, “Why You Should Talk to Strangers,” features Robbie Stokes, Jr. giving a TEDxFSU talk at the Florida State University.   It was published in 2013.

In it, Stokes, a former Washington, DC events coordinator for a congressional delegate to the United States House of Representatives, tells how, the year before, he quit his job, sold all of his stuff and chased his dream about wandering around the world and talking to strangers.

Over the course of 110 days, he traveled the world, visiting 17 countries.  He spent his time talking to strangers.  Here’s what he learned….

Somewhere in there, Stokes also created the I TALK TO STRANGERS Foundation with a bunch of help from his friends.  They call themselves a “social movement whose philosophy encourages and challenges individuals to create genuine relationships through meeting new people.”

The Foundation’s “initiatives,” – an impressive array of projects, programs and events organized in North America, Africa and Southeast Asia is detailed in the 2012 – 2017 Foundation Report. 

GROWING UP CONNECTED

I grew up in a miniscule place.  Molokai is the fifth largest island in the Hawaiian island chain.  It measures a mere 38 miles the long way and 10 miles across at its widest point.

A lot of the island is empty.  The people cluster in a few communities scattered here and there on the island.

When I was growing up, the population of the entire island stood at around a little over 5,000 folks.  Wikipedia says a “town” has anywhere from 1,000 to 20,000 people.  Back then, according to this, the whole island of Molokai would have qualified as a small, very rural town.

molokai-shaka
“Molokai Shaka” by Samuel Apuna via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
For me, there were no “strangers,” only cousins and aunties and uncles I hadn’t met yet.  Even the grown-ups who weren’t officially related to me were “aunty” and “uncle.”  It was good manners and proper to notice people and to greet them and to “talk story.”

It was only later, when I got off that little rock, that I encountered the rule about not talking to strangers.

I got into all kinds of trouble for acting polite. (“What do you mean, I can’t talk to that guy on the street corner?  We see him every day.  He’s really nice, you know….)

conversation
“Conversation” by Sarah Herman via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
I never did get the “don’t talk to strangers” thing right.  Maybe that was a good thing.

TALKING TO STRANGERS CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU

According to the smarty-pants who study such things, just noticing the folks around you and being noticed is a good thing.  (They can’t “prove” that yet, but there are strong indications, they say.)

In 2014, a study published by psychologists at the University of Michigan was one of the first to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks (a fact of life for more than 700,000 Americans every year, it says here).

The study looked at all kinds of factors and the neighbor connection was just one correlation, but as researcher Eric Kim suggested, being friendly with neighbors has some pretty obvious benefits.

conversation
“Conversation” by Christine Vaufrey via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Neighbors who know each other tend to check in on one another.  They talk story and share health-related information.  They tend to watch out for each other.  Often friendly neighbors share resources as a matter of course.

conversation
“Conversation” by Lotus Johnson via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
More importantly, the casual hand-wave and friendly “Hi, how are you?” adds up to a feeling that somebody sees you and acknowledges that you are there.

Just the feeling that somebody’s got your back is worth the effort to be friendly, if you can.

Other studies since then have shown that people who talk to the other people around them rather than staying inside their own little bubble when they travel on public transportation or zoning out in a checkout line or hiding behind a book at a table for one, report that they enjoy their daily commutes, doing non-recreational shopping, and feeding their faces more.

conversation
“Conversation” by Bernard Laguerre via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The everyday nitnoy annoyances get less stressful when you’re all in it together, it seems.  If you can include and engage with familiar strangers (like the guy working the cash register, the barista serving up your fancy coffee fix, or even the person you see on the bus every day), there’s a warm fuzzy feeling that trails around after you all day long.

CAN TALKING TO STRANGERS MAKE YOU SMARTER?

Not only that, but all kinds of studies have shown that talking to strangers might even make you smarter.

It’s all based on a thing called the “confirmation bias.”

Every one of us tends to think the same thoughts over and over again.  We look for evidence that our thinking is “right.”

We also tend to hang with people who think the way we think, act the way we act, and so on.  It’s comfortable.  You don’t even have to go into spasms about it.

Strangers, on other hand, “think different.”  Often, that makes them annoying obstructions and challenges that you just want to ignore because they take you out of that comfortable space.

conversation
“Conversation”) by Mark Zastrow via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Sometimes, however, their different way of thinking may be just what you need to help you get past your own blind spots when you’re wrestling with a complex problem.  Sometimes strangers can present some other way of looking at a thing that helps you move forward on some project.

You do the same for them.  It isn’t a one-way street.

It could help you to think of strangers as exotic resources you can tap.  What do they see?  Why is it so different from your way of seeing?  Is there something in there that you can use?  Hmmm….

This could lead to exploratory journeys into parallel universes, you know.

Peace
“Peace” by Bart via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

WHAT IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW?

I have figured out, though, that a lot of people really do have a hard time just talking to people who are different.

Take a look at this YouTube video posted by The Atlantic magazine in 2016.  It is an episode of its If Our Bodies Could Talk series.

In it senior editor James Hamblin (who is apparently not so good at talking to strangers) tries out different techniques suggested by Kio Stark, author of WHEN STRANGERS MEET:  How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You.  Stark is really good at talking to strangers and she knows all kinds of ways to develop that skill.

The video was shot in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

The fact that talking to strangers is a skill is an important concept.  A skill can be learned.

It does take a bunch of practice stepping outside your comfort zone.  It also requires a certain recognition of other people’s boundaries as well as an acknowledgement of your own …..

Sure it looks funny at first.  You do get better at it.

TWO CAVEATS

Okay.   Now for an important message from your Inner Smarty-Pants….

First of all, if you’re going to get outside your comfort zone, you still have to pay attention to what your body, your head and your heart is telling you.  If a person or a situation gives you the shivers, do not, not, NOT ignore those feelings in the name of “open-mindedness.”

Whatever else, fear is always real.  You are feeling it and it is giving you a very important message.  Your fear is your early-warning-system and it deserves your attention.

The fear you feel may not even raise a blip on somebody else’s radar.  But, then, it’s not somebody else’s fear.

Get out of there and then when you can breathe again, check in with yourself and try to figure out what set off the alarms.  Was it something tangible, something that makes your backing away a sensible move?

If so, thank your fear and get on with your life.  If not, then take the fearful reaction as a signal that you need to slow down and take smaller steps towards your goal of being more open to experience.

Just ‘cause you’re trying to be more open-minded does not mean you want your brains to fall out nor do you want to fall into a vortex of new experiences that confuse you so much you can’t even think straight.

open-minded
“Open-minded” by Eddi van W via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Keep practicing as you can.  It’ll get you accustomed to testing and challenging yourself .  It will also re-set your fear monitor.

Of course, as with all these types of things, it’s always important to remember boundaries.

  • Don’t spark up a conversation with someone who’s not interested.
  • Don’t push it if people don’t reciprocate.
  • Be respectful of other people’s time and mindful of other people’s boundaries.

If you’re lucky, you might find someone else interested in sparking up a random little conversation as well.

conversation
“Conversation” by Michèle Chauffaux via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Here’s a poem….


not strangers

people with the same loves

are not strangers,

even if we’ve never met.

our worlds dance to rhythms

that mesh and climb, overflowing

into other spaces, other times

that we recognize when

we finally, at the last,

touch each other with our minds,

a hall of mirrors, each to each,

reflecting one another’s span,

refracting and expanding into many,

the penultimate one.

 

awww…that just sounds too esoteric,

makes it seem like angels flying.

 

Let’s get real:

Howzit, braddah?

How you, sistah?

What?  You like play?

by Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  “The Conversation” by David Schroeder via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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

 

 

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COMPLINE — Wings of a Prayer

COMPLINE — Wings of a Prayer

Since 1956 the Compline Choir has filled St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, WA with the uplifting holy sounds of chant.  The service happens at 9:30 p.m. every Sunday.  It is only 30 minutes long.

There are no sermons, no priests – just readings of psalms and some thoughtful musings interspersed between an incredible, soothing, peace-inducing sound.

This YouTube video, The Compline Choir at St. Mark’s Cathedral (Seattle, WA), was published in 2014.  It was the first one to be produced and commissioned by the Choir and gives you a taste of what they do.

(The video was filmed by Markdavin Obenza and includes excerpts from the Compline Service for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels on September 29, 2013.)

A BALM FOR THE WEARY SOUL

Chanted prayer is an ancient tradition, one that modern-day science has found is good medicine for the body and for the mind.

Dr. Alan Watkins, a neuroscientist and co-founder of Complete Coherence, a European business leadership development firm, has explored many different ways to help clients maintain high levels of performance during challenging and stressful times.

In 2008, when Watkins was a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London, he announced, “We have recently carried out research that demonstrates that the regular breathing and musical structure of chanting can have a significant and positive physiological impact.”

Watson and his team followed five monks at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, a Cistercian monastery in the village of Heiligenkreuz in the southern part of the Vienna woods, north-west of Baden in Lower Austria.

The monastery, founded in 1133, is the oldest continuously occupied Cistercian monastery in the world.   The monks are famous for their Gregorian chants.

heilingenkreuz
“Heiligenkreuz” by Paula Funnell via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The scientists followed the monks around and measured their heart rates and blood pressure throughout a 24-hour period.  The heart rates and blood pressure numbers dipped to their lowest point in the day when the monks were chanting.

Dr Watkins pointed to similar previous studies documenting the neurological effects of sound supported their findings that chanting seems to lower blood pressure, increase performance hormone levels as well as reduce anxiety and depression and improve mood.

One remarkable story is the one French audiologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis tells in a 1978 documentary called “Chant.”  The good doctor was called in to help the monks of a Benedictine monastery who were suffering from deep fatigue, depression and physical illness.

The doctor found that the sad, sick monks had been complying with a new church edict that had halted the centuries-old practice of chanting prayers throughout their day to mark their connection with the Divine.

When Tomatis convinced the monks to re-establish their rituals of prayer, the religious community regained its vitality. The monks were healthier and happier.

Not only is chanting beneficial, but it seems that just listening to chanting can be good for your health.

Some scientists believe music can stimulate the production of endorphins—natural opiates known to generate feelings of excitement and satisfaction.

It’s also possible, they say, that music helps the left and right hemispheres of the brain communicate more effectively and that it creates new neural pathways in the brain.

Benedictine nun, Sister Ruth Stanley, who is the head of the complementary medicine program at Central Minnesota’s Heart Center at St. Cloud Hospitals, found that having her patients listen to chant helped to ease chronic pain.

When you play chant, Sister Stanley said, “about 85 percent of the time, the body goes into very deep healing modes.  It’s quite remarkable.”

Listening to the Compline (and to other forms of chanting as well) can foster inner peacefulness and healing, it seems.

ROOTS OF THE COMPLINE

The Compline has its roots in the everyday life of medieval Catholic monastics.  It is the last service in a cycle of “offices” or “hours” sung in the Western Church throughout the day, the prayer before going to bed.

During medieval times, in the Catholic monasteries and convents in the west, the resident monks and nuns spent their days in solitary and communal prayer as well as doing more mundane work.   (For all of them staying mindful of the Divine in their lives was one of their primary jobs, actually.)

Residents in the monasteries were more isolated from the world than those living in convents and friaries, who spent their days doing good works in their communities, but all of them prayed separately and together throughout the day, reciting formal sets of prayers and meditations created by the leaders of their various orders.

The timing and the formats of the monastic prayer services that marked the divisions of the religious day evolved as leaders of the various religious groups set up rules for how their followers should live and work and pray.  Much of it was pretty much standardized for the different religious communities in the west by the fifth century.

st-benedict
“St. Benedict” by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
During medieval times (and pretty much into the 20th century) each religious day was divided into eight parts (also known as canonical “hours”).  The set prayers for each of these divisions made up the Liturgy of the Hours.

Lauds (morning prayer) sanctified the morning, preparing the inhabitants for the day.  In medieval religious communities, that day started very early.

Terce (mid-morning), sext (midday), none (mid-afternoon) were known collectively as the “Little Hours”.  They were celebrated with short prayers intended for use during  breaks in manual or scholarly work.

Vespers (evening prayer) was for coming together to give thanks for the blessings received during the day and for work done well.

Compline (night prayer) was designed to be said as the last prayer before going to sleep.  It starts with an examination of consciousness and includes a contemplation of mortality and a prayer for inner peace.

This service of quietness and reflection before rest completed the day for the religious.  In certain monasteries, it marked the beginning of a period of silence observed by the whole community (including guests) throughout the night until the morning service.

The Night Offices (also called Vigils, and, in more modern times, Matins) were performed very early in the morning while it was still dark.  During this time you were supposed to contemplate the mysteries of salvation.

In some of the more rigorous monasteries, the monks were supposed to get up in the middle of the night to recite these prayers and to meditate.

There was one other “hour” called Prime, which was celebrated between Lauds and Terce.

Around the year 382, it seems that in at least one monastery there were some monks who couldn’t get up for their morning prayers after spending half the night doing their Vigil practice.

To keep the monks from staying in bed until mid-morning instead of getting up to start their day, all of the monks were called together for Prime when they prayed together before heading out to do their tasks.  The practice proved to be effective and was adopted by other monasteries.

(Prime was abolished by revisions of the Second Vatican Council when church leaders looked at ways to make the practices of a contemplative religious “more humane.”)

Until the 20th century, the Compline was pretty much unknown to the general public and worshippers who were not a part of a monastic community.

ONE MAN’S VISION

St. Mark’s Compline Choir and the Compline Service was the brainchild of American composer and liturgist Peter  Hallock (November 19, 1924 to April 27, 2014) who was organist and choirmaster at the St. Mark’s Cathedral from 1951 to 1991.

st-marks-cathedral-organ
“St. Mark’s Cathedral Organ” by kaoruokumura via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
When he attended the Royal School of Church Music in England, from 1949 to 1951, Hallock was one of the few American students allowed to chant the Office of Compline with fellow classmates in the crypt of the Canterbury Cathedral.

cantebury-cathedral-arches-in-the-nave
“Canterbury Cathedral Interior: Arches in the Nave” by barnyz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
When Hallock became the organist at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, he invited twelve music students from his alma mater, the University of Washington, to gather at the St. Mark’s to study and sing plainsong.  Their text was from the Proposed Book of Common Prayer (1928) of the Church of England, set to medieval chants.

By late 1956, this study group evolved into the Compline Choir.  Not all of the choir members were religiously oriented.  They were, however, excellent musicians and they loved liturgical music.

The all-male group grew in number as they began singing the Office of Compline for others on Sunday nights.  It was the first offering of the Office in English on a regular basis (outside of Anglican monasteries) in North America.  For a number of years they sang to an empty church.

Starting in 1962, the St. Mark’s Compline service was broadcast live over the radio on KING-FM.

Perhaps that is why when the “Summer of Love” in the late 1960’s turned young people’s minds towards more spiritual practices, colorfully dressed young people discovered the beauty and peacefulness of the Compline, and began attending the service at St. Mark’s in droves.

The congregation grew, practically overnight, from zero attendance to several hundreds packed into the church.

Hallock led the Compline Choir from 1956 to 2009.  (The choir is now directed by Jason Anderson, who joined the choir in October, 2004.)  The services continue to be well-attended and thousands more tune in to the radio broadcast or listen via the Internet.

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“view above the altar in St. Mark’s Cathedral” by robryan65 via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
As time went on, a renewed interest in plainsong and other forms of liturgical music as well as the Compline grew.  Over fifty groups now offer a regular Office of Compline in the United States and Canada..

The once-obscure medieval religious service has become a regular spiritual practice for many modern people.  It is also a lovely way to help yourself get to sleep.

PETER HALLOCK INTERVIEW

Composer Peter Hallock talks about his music and his experiences at St. Mark’s Cathedral in this YouTube video published by Markdavin Obenza in 2013.  The video features session footage and music from the Byrd Ensemble’s CD release, Peter Hallock:  Draw On Sweet Night.

Here’s a poem….


SOUL THING

It’s a soul thing.

 

World sometimes gets at you

With all the needs and wants

Pulling at you, dragging at you

Making you sink down

Under the weight of so much

Gimme, do me, want me, honey!

 

Real is something else:

A quiet place that sits there

Waiting for you to come and rest

Your weary self by waters

Gently flowing like soft music

Melting down your heart, yeah!

 

It’s a soul thing, don’t you know?

The ebb, the flow of this thing

We are doing together that

Seems like everything and nothing

Much at all, at all.

But we keep doing it, yay!

 

We keep on doing, doing, doing it….

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  St. Mark’s Cathedral (on Seattle’s Capitol Hill as viewed from the Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union) by sea turtle via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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

 

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AN ORDINARY DIFFERENCE

AN ORDINARY DIFFERENCE

Sometimes, it really is only a little thing that can make a big difference.  A genuine smile may brighten someone’s day.  A kind word or a sincere expression of appreciation can help somebody keep on going through tough times.

“Loving-kindness” was what the Tibetan Buddhist crazy wisdom master Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche used to call it, and for him and his students it was a most pertinent practice.  It helps alleviate the suffering in the world, the old masters all say.

CLICHÉ-ALERT

And, yeah:  It’s a cliché.  But that’s the thing about clichés…often they are just old truths that we need to keep telling each other as reminders.

It’s often really, really little, this loving-kindness thing.  It’s pretty much ordinary and every-day.  Still, loving-kindness is the best way us humans have for connecting with each other.

The original story by Elizabeth Silance Ballard was first published in a 1974 issue of Home Life magazine as “Three Letters from Teddy.”  Over the next three decades it spread, even making an appearance in one of the CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books.  It is a good story.

WHAT IF…?

Here’s another video produced by the Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas that was published on YouTube by Sarheed Jewels in 2011.  It asks:  What if you could see other people’s problems?  How would that affect you?

SEED THOUGHTS

One of the loveliest online sites about loving-kindness in action is the one put up by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK), a group of educators and community leaders led by Gary Dixon who are all dedicated to the proposition that us humans are meant to go around spreading warm fuzzies.  Their mission is to encourage you to go forth and be kind.

The RAKtivists believe that kindness is teachable and contagious.  They can point to a lot of scientific evidence that seems to validate the fact that doing kind things is actually very good for your own health.

Among the findings they highlight are the following facts:

  • Kindness produces oxytocin, the “love hormone.”  Oxytocin, in turn causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide which dilates the blood vessels.  This aids in lowering blood pressure and helps protect the heart  increasing overall heart-health.
  • Harvard Business School did a survey of happiness in 136 countries in 2010 that found that people who were generous financially were happiest overall.
  • People who volunteer tend to experience fewer ache and pains.  One study showed that people 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were at 44 percent more likely to live longer.  Other studies have shown that engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins – the brain’s natural painkiller.
  • There’s a thing called the “helper’s high,” according to research from Emory University, that is a consequence of the fact that often when you’re kind to someone else your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up. Maybe that’s because acts of kindness apparently stimulate the feel-good anti-depressant serotonin, which helps to heal wounds, calm you and make you happy.

So…here’s one other benefit to the whole kindness thing:  When you’re kind to somebody else, it just naturally bounces back on you.  And isn’t that a very good thing?

i-give-you-all-i-can
“I Give You All I Can….” by Brandon Warren via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


I PROMISED ME

 

No one ever promised

That life would always be true and fair

Or that there’d be a shelter from the storm,

A warm fire waiting there,

That happy would perch on your head

And belt out one more song,

That reaching out a solid hand

Would find other fingers reaching, just as strong,

That doing good and being kind

Would bring goodness and kindness back,

That celebrating and taking joy

Can disassemble any lack.

 

No one’s ever promised that

‘Cept for some god-mad fool or three.

Now I’m sitting here remembering that

Once upon a time,

Those were all things I promised me.


Header picture credit:  “Be Kind….” by Kate Ter Haar via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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RADICAL GENEROSITY

RADICAL GENEROSITY

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that generosity is not a down-payment on love.  [Generosity is spill-over when you’re feeling full.]

I am reading a book, LOVE LET GO:  Radical Generosity for the Real World, by Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell.  It is a story about an amazing church congregation in Chicago, the LaSalle Street Church, who received a totally unexpected windfall:  a check for $1,530,116.78.

windfall
“Windfalls” by Rhia via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
The check represented the church’s share of proceeds from the sale of an urban property that they had bought in the 1970s with three other churches.  The land had been used for a desperately needed low-income housing project in the neighborhood, Atrium Village, which had served the purpose for more than 25 years.

The church’s heartful investment had been returned…in spades.

This 2017 YouTube video of a “100 Huntley Street” interview with pastor Laura Sumner Truax, one of the authors of the book, is a kind of a teaser for the book.

As Truax says, the church leaders made a wild, counter-intuitive move that changed the game on a clear day in September, 2014.  The leaders used ten percent of the windfall money to tithe back to the church members.  Each church member received a $500 check with the injunction to go out and do good in God’s world.

The leadership of the church also encouraged the members to participating in the effort to study and pray on how they were going to allocate the rest of the windfall funds, the “Big Money.”  More than half of the congregation spent nine months on the project.

The book tells the story of what happened and what the people involved in this exploration learned as a result.  It was and remains an ever-evolving, extraordinary process and journey, one that makes my heart smile.

a-give
“a:give” by John and Aga Brewster via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

THE GIVING CHURCH

LaSalle Street Church was built in 1886 in the near north side of Chicago by Swedish immigrants who never once worshipped in it.  The congregation had been left bankrupt by the effort of its construction.

Its history of hard luck and scarcity continued throughout the church’s long history of involvement with a community that is diverse and sometimes volatile.  One of the primary principles the church has always held to is this:  Giving is better than receiving.

They really did walk their talk even though most of the time the church was, like their neighbors, “just getting by.”

Giving didn’t change the church’s financial circumstances but it did change “the way LaSalle wore its scarcity,” as authors Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell lyrically puts it.  They did it with style and their acts of generosity were truly appreciated.

During the 1960s, when Chicago exploded in the violence and vitriol of the race riots, local youth protected the LaSalle Street Church from burning.  The angry young ones who were pressing for change remembered.  They protected the people who helped them through their hard times.

The church has always been a major light in the community.  Senior citizens who needed company and a meal, the kids looking for sanctuary and a safe place to go after school and residents who were caught up in a legal system they could not navigate all found what they needed at the church.

This video, which was put together by Faustino Productions in 2015, was published on YouTube by tinogon1942.  It shows the aftermath of the Chicago riots on the west side of Chicago after Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968 as the Supreme’s “Stop In the Name of Love” plays.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Chicago officials embraced the concept of urban renewal and started creating high-density, high-rise dwellings like Cabrini-Green and relocated people from the poorer parts of town to these new developments.  The joke going ’round then among the city residents was that the program would have been more aptly named “urban removal.”

In reaction to this government program, LaSalle Street Church’s senior pastor at the time, Bill Leslie, preached a commitment to turf.  La Salle stood at the edge of communities in transition.  On one side, some of the city’s neediest residents lived.  On the other side was some of the most expensive real estate in Chicago.

Leslie thought that the church could be a meeting place where everyone was welcomed.  He and his congregation of fifty-some members believed that at the bottom of it all the church was all about all of us people being in this old mess of a world all together.

The members who were better-off materially saw themselves in their poorer neighbors’ situation.  They understood the struggles and they also believed that they needed their neighbors as much as their neighbors needed them.   They looked for a way to help.

In this they were aided by local congressman Robert L. Thompson, an African-American who was also a long-time resident of the city.  Thompson worried over the impact of urban renewal on the thousands of his constituents who were facing displacement.

When Thompson was offered a bribe of ten thousand dollars to influence the award of the rights to the land occupied by the LaSalle’s row house neighbors, he refused.  Then he called Leslie.

Somehow the congregation found what they thought could be a solution to their neighbor’s problems.  There was a plot of land for sale that sat to the west of the church, juxtaposed against the homes of high society to the east.  It was big enough and near enough for a housing development to which their neighbors could relocate and still be neighbors.

Over the next two months Leslie rallied LaSalle and several other churches to invest one thousand dollars each in a campaign to secure the land rights.  (When you consider that Leslie’s own salary hovered around three thousand dollars at the time, it was a goodly sum of money back then.)

The housing project that grew there, Atrium Village, was the first housing development in the country to be financed and constructed by state, private and church funding.  It took years for all the players to finally agree to the vision of a truly diverse project:  50 percent black and 50 percent white; 50 percent market-rate and 50 percent under-market rate rents.

The first apartment tower was dominated by a nine-story open atrium.  That atrium gave the “village” its name and it lessened a significant fear factor.  The central atrium left no dark hallways in the building.  Light flooded in.

Also, there were glass elevators that allowed light and visibility and the courtyard area around the buildings provided safe places for children to play.

Atrium Village opened to a flood of three thousand applicants.  It became a solid anchor in the community and was a testing ground for finding the best practices for community-based housing.  It was also the first of three building projects the church undertook in the neighborhood, all of which focused on building community engagement among people who were different from one another.

The other two were a building for senior housing and another for a legal-aid clinic.

Here’s a short YouTube video, a for-rent ad for Atrium Village apartments, published in 2012 by apartmenthomelivingA.

THE SALE

In the early 2000s, almost 25 years after Atrium opened its doors, La Salle got word that the primary investor in the development wanted to sell its interest.  The restrictive covenants on Atrium would soon expire without possibility of renewal.  The city was in the process of demolishing Cabrini-Green, the public-housing complex of 30-story buildings that had been a long-time neighborhood fixture.

The new model for government thinking on the public-housing problem was dubbed “scattered site” housing.  Instead of monolithic structures, the vision now was lower-density, low-rise units that served a diverse population – exactly the vision that the people who made Atrium Village happen advocated.

The times they were a-changing…again.

Even though the churches who initiated the Atrium Village project represented only a 15 percent interest in the property, as a voting bloc, they could stop the sale of the property.  Two of the partner churches faced almost certain closure by their denominations because their memberships had dwindled down to mere handfuls.

The church memberships had watched the Cabrini-Green towers come down, knowing that the retail developers were also watching it happen.  Condominiums that cost upwards of half a million dollars were being planned.

The churches, all of whom were like LaSalle and framed their ministry on being bridge churches, understood that their neighborhoods were changing.  They finally reached an agreement to sell their interest while negotiating hard for more units set aside for the working poor.

They were supported in this intention by the Chicago city tax assessor, their local alderman, and various community groups.  Any redevelopment plan would be required to have 20 percent of its units available at below-market rate.

THE REST OF THE STORY….

And so it happened:  the sale, and then the check, and then the tithe from church to its people.

You’ll have to read the book to get the rest of the story.

An interesting history of the church building and the neighborhood provides a glimpse at the background for this story.  Here’s the YouTube video, “130 Years – History of the LaSalle Street Church Sanctuary Building,” which was put together and published by the church in 2016.

Here’s a poem:


A GREAT BLESSING

A great blessing

When good people

Try to help

Correct another mistake

In a long

Line of mistakes.

 

A good feeling

When the world

Rallies ’round one

Who is hurting

One who is

Not as strong

As other ones.

 

Thank you, nakua….

Thank you, world….

Blessings and thanks.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Crater Sunrise,” by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

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GO MAKE SOMETHING: The Maker Movement

GO MAKE SOMETHING: The Maker Movement

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.

jim-wood-turning
“Jim’s Wood Turning” by William Warby via Flickr [CC BY-21.0]
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.

IT’S A-L-I-V-E!!!

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.

time-to-clean-up-the-work-bench
“Time to Clean Up the Workbench” by Kent Landerholm via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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!

MAKE:  BUSINESS

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.

mike-soroka-demonstrates-glassblowing
“Mike Soroka demonstrates glassworking ” (Artisan’s Asylum Open House, 2012) by Chris Devers via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
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.


maker-space-ship
“Maker[Space]Ship” by San Jose Public Library via Flickr [CC BY-SA-2.0]

makers-space
“makers space” by jenny cu via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

makers-space
“Makers + Spaces” by Sharon Vanderkaay via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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.

SEED THOUGHT

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.

Here’s a poem:


SPARK

What do I want?

Peace and freedom,

Friendship and love…

What all humanity says it wants.

 

Unoriginal?

Perhaps…

Or maybe it is encoded

In the cells of this body

That carries the primal spark

Which comes from the eternal flame

That burns at the heart

Of our ancestral home.

 

Work and play bring us together,

More than the sum of our parts,

The synergy fueled by the love

In the hearts of each of us.

 

I am small,

No more substantial

Than a wispy-haired seed,

But the stones are my brothers,

The stars, our cousins,

And the winds carry whispers

And echoes of the life that

Is, has-been and will-be,

And the waters of river and sea

Comfort and cradle and carry us all,

In circles and cycles and serpentine spirals,

Backwards and forwards,

To our beginnings

And our ends….

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo:  Hexapod robot (Maker Faire Somerville) by Chris Devers via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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CHANGING THE GAME

CHANGING THE GAME

I was looking through an old poetry journal of mine, looking for something to use in a post.  I found a folded sheet with a poem by a dear friend who died recently, Pat Masumoto.  The poem was dated September 10, 2015.

I remembered that Pat asked me to read this poem for her at a Maui Live Poets gathering she wasn’t able to attend because of conflicts in her hectic schedule.

Memories came flooding back and I was missing my dear friend.   Poems have that ability to speak for you when you’re gone, it seems.

Aloha no, my ‘aikane…aloha no….

Here’s the poem:


CHANGING THE GAME

(to be read with a perfectly straight face)

 

Self control.  It works.

 

When I feel hurt by rude insensitivity

I talk a lot and sometimes shout.

If I’m not heard, I walk away,

            even when I want to choke someone

            until he turns a putrid green.

 

When I feel alarmed by injustice

I stand up against it,

And if I can’t get anywhere, I read about heroes…

            instead of spitting at people’s faces.

            and I don’t like using guns either.

 

When I find myself in fear,

I might compose a poem…or two.

I won’t cross my arms and crouch and I absolutely

            will not growl and bite anyone coming near.

 

As I become stronger and tougher,

I’ll do a silly giggle and laugh like crazy.

If you want to know what else, I’m aching to

            get down on all fours and

            howl at the moon, but I won’t.

 

When I’m gladdened by kindness,

By patience and generosity, I smile and grin.

I don’t get naked and

             run amuck in the streets,

            arms raised and hands open, screaming with joy.

 

(visibly take a breath)

 

After exercising self-control for my whole life, I’m now bored with it.

I want to change the game.


Header picture credit:  “Maui Sunset” by Bernard Spragg, NZ via Flickr.  [CC0 1.0 – Public Domain]

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TALKING STORY

TALKING STORY

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

THE SOUND OF AWKWARD

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

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

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

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

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

PRACTICE HELPS

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

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

GROWING UP TALKING STORY

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

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

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

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

ENCOUNTERS OF THE FACE-KIND

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

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

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

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

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

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

To reiterate Headlee’s tips:

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

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

ONE CAVEAT – TAKE IT SLOW

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

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

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


SHE HAS NO CONVERSATION

Sometimes I cannot speak.

The words I need are dreaming

Deep down below the sea inside me

And it takes time to retrieve them.

 

I need stillness to get to them,

To dive down and find where

They are clinging to the rocks

In underwater caves.

 

It makes for sporadic conversation

And long, long pauses.

 

If I try to force it, churning and

Floundering all around,

What comes out sounds stupid –

Childish, incoherent.

 

Nothing hangs together right.

(Sigh!)

 

I have always envied the ones

Whose words are all

Laid out in neat rows on long shelves

(Probably categorized…and labeled, even.)

 

All THEY have to do is grab them up

And gift them to people easily.

They can do the small-talk game,

Easy fitting-in among any crowd.

 

Maybe they even have some neat

Pyrotechnical wonders

They can grab up and shoot off

To wow the Peanut Gallery.

 

Their words always seem to make a lot of sense.

(Until you think about them some)

And then they turn out to be breaths of air

Manipulated by clever tongues and teeth.

 

At their worst, the words are little more

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

 

Hmmm…

Talking slow and deep is not so bad.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit: “Talking Story” by Georgia via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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