I was looking through an old poetry journal of mine, looking for something to use in a post. I found a folded sheet with a poem by a dear friend who died recently, Pat Masumoto. The poem was dated September 10, 2015.
I remembered that Pat asked me to read this poem for her at a Maui Live Poets gathering she wasn’t able to attend because of conflicts in her hectic schedule.
Memories came flooding back and I was missing my dear friend. Poems have that ability to speak for you when you’re gone, it seems.
Aloha no, my ‘aikane…aloha no….
Here’s the poem:
CHANGING THE GAME
(to be read with a perfectly straight face)
Self control. It works.
When I feel hurt by rude insensitivity
I talk a lot and sometimes shout.
If I’m not heard, I walk away,
even when I want to choke someone
until he turns a putrid green.
When I feel alarmed by injustice
I stand up against it,
And if I can’t get anywhere, I read about heroes…
instead of spitting at people’s faces.
and I don’t like using guns either.
When I find myself in fear,
I might compose a poem…or two.
I won’t cross my arms and crouch and I absolutely
will not growl and bite anyone coming near.
As I become stronger and tougher,
I’ll do a silly giggle and laugh like crazy.
If you want to know what else, I’m aching to
get down on all fours and
howl at the moon, but I won’t.
When I’m gladdened by kindness,
By patience and generosity, I smile and grin.
I don’t get naked and
run amuck in the streets,
arms raised and hands open, screaming with joy.
(visibly take a breath)
After exercising self-control for my whole life, I’m now bored with it.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
(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 –
Nothing hangs together right.
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
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.
Journalist and radio producer Dave Isay firmly believes that every person has a story to tell, one that the world needs to hear, and he’s been working on figuring out how to gather these stories together so everyone can share in them. It all comes down to taking the time to listen.
THE LOST STORIES
It started, the guy says, when he was a young lad. He was a loner and a nerdy sort who preferred talking to older people.
One time he “interviewed” his grandparents and other family elders gathered for Thanksgiving using an old tape recorder he had found packed away in a box at his grandparent’s house. The old ones were happy to entertain the boy with their stories. He was enthralled and a good time was had by all.
The elders died after a time, he says, and the old tape he had made of their voices telling stories for their young relative was lost. Isay has always regretted that loss.
This animated YouTube video tells that story (in the inimitable StoryCorps style) as an introduction to the ongoing work of the massive oral history project that he initiated.
HEARING THE CALL
Years later, Isay was a 21-year-old, freshly graduated from NYU. He was waffling about whether he really wanted to follow the family tradition of slogging through medical school to become a doctor and took a year off to figure out what he wanted to do. While he was wrestling with that problem the confused young man decided to try his hand at being a journalist.
Isay’s very first attempt at putting together a documentary was for a story about the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a series of violent, spontaneous protests by the LGBT community against an early-morning police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay dance bar, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
The raid was part of the constant harassment and bullying the gay community faced during those times. It was a raid just like any other raid, but this time, someone got mad. Someone said, “Enough. Other people joined him. The angry protests spread and the Gay Liberation Movement was born.
In this YouTube video, “Remembering the Stonewall Riots” published in 2013 by Open Road Media, Martin Duberman, author of STONEWALL, talks about the significance of the riots.
Isay was really pleased with his work on that first documentary. It seemed to him that he had found his calling. He withdrew from medical school and started making documentaries. His favorites were about the ones about ordinary people.
The man’s life-work has been built on listening to stories. The company he built, Sound Portraits Productions, is an independent production company dedicated to telling stories about America’s ghettos, prisons and other neglected and hidden American communities in print, on the radio and on the internet. The company mission statement is emblazoned on the bottom of their emails: “Sound Portraits Productions…Documenting a Hidden America.”
IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE
It’s not a new idea, nor one for which Isay takes credit. Instead he lists the ones he calls his heroes, other documentarians of the disenfranchised and the unheard:
Joseph Mitchel, the New York journalist of salon-keepers and street preachers
Dorethea Lange and Walker Evans, the great WPA photographers
Studs Terkel, oral historian extraordinaire
Alan Lomax, folk-life archivist
Alex Kotlowitz, documentarian of ghetto life.
Sound Portraits Productions went on to create award-winning radio documentaries that were featured on PBS.
Isay has said, “When we feel we’ve succeeded it’s because we’ve managed to expose – truthfully, respectfully – the hidden, forgotten, or under-heard voices of America. And where and when we fail it’s because we’re short of this mark.”
But the little boy who listened wanted to do more. So many people had stories they wanted to tell and the world needed to hear, but there was no way for them to tell the stories. Nobody even knew they were there.
STORYCORPS IS BORN AND GROWS AND GROWS
In October, 2003, the first StoryCorps soundproofed “Story Booth” opened in the Grand Central Terminal in New York City with an open invitation for people to interview one another. Friends, loved ones, even relative strangers were given the chance to conduct 40-minute interviews with help from the StoryCorps facilitators.
Anyone could make an appointment to record a session and it was a free service. One person was the interviewer, the other was the storyteller, relating some aspect of the life they’ve lived. The facilitator helped the participants record the interview.
Tens of thousands of people went for it. The storytellers and their listeners got a safe place where they could hold uninterrupted, meaningful conversations and ask and answer the important questions that very often get lost in the everyday daily grind of life. They also got a copy of the recording as a memento.
Another copy of the recording session was retained by the Story Corps and the stories became a weekly feature of the Morning Edition of NPR (National Public Radio) since 2005. (They’ve also been used to create animated shorts which can be viewed on the NPR website.)
The original Grand Central Station StoryBooth was closed down and a new one erected at Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square in July, 2005.
Meanwhile, that same year, StoryCorps converted two Airstream trailers into mobile recording studios and launched them from the Library of Congress parking lot. They’ve been touring the country ever since.
Here’s a YouTube video published by StoryCorps, “On the Road Since 2015,” that illuminates that story.
A second semi-permanent StoryBooth opened in San Francisco in 2008. Over time, additional booths opened in Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee and Nashville as well.
The StoryBooths, both permanent and mobile, were the major collection points for the stories at first, but not everybody could make it to them. The organization developed a couple of community programs to collect these other stories as well.
There’s the “Door-to-Door” service that sends teams of StoryCorps facilitators to temporary recording locations in the United States for several days at a time.
There’s also the “StoryKit” service that was started when the New York booth closed down in 2011 for a time due to a lack of funding. Professional-quality, portable recording devices were shipped to participants around the country for this one.
Another workaround that was developed was the “Do-It-Yourself” service that allowed individuals to download free step-by-step interview instructions, equipment recommendations and a “Great Question” list. This one was for people who wanted to conduct interviews using their own recording equipment.
A DAY FOR LISTENING
In 2008 StoryCorps launched an initiative called “the National Day of Listening” to encourage Americans to record stories with family members, friends and loved ones on Black Friday, the pre-Christmas shopping bonanza that occurs the day after Thanksgiving.
Then in 2015, the day was rebranded as “The Great Thanksgiving Listen” when StoryCorps launched their StoryCorps App. Teams worked with teachers and high school students across the country. The kids interviewed their elders and recorded their stories over the holiday weekend on an app on their smartphones.
The free app was developed by StoryCorps with the support of a 2015 TED Prize and 2014 Knight Prototype Fund award. It allows users to record the interviews on a smartphone. Users can upload their interviews to the StoryCorps.me website.
Over the years, there have been collaborations and initiatives with groups, organizations and institutions from all over the country that target various segments of the American population as well. Stories have been collected from the military, from people suffering memory loss, from Latinos and from African-Americans, from LGBTQ community, from people in prisons and the criminal justice system, and from those personally affected by the events of September 11, 2001.
Also, there’s the StoryCorps Legacy community program which partners with medical and disease specific organizations to provide opportunities for people with serious illness and their relatives to record and share their life story as well.
A LIVING RECORD
With the participants’ permission, the stories collected by all of these efforts (including the ones recorded on smartphones) are archived in the Library of Congress’ American Folklore Center. It constitutes the largest single collection of “born-digital” recorded voices in history. It is a massive living record of American lives by the people who lived it and it is magic.
The stories are slices of life that have been used in a wide range of projects. The collection has been useful as a resource for various researchers in language, speech-recognition, and history among other things..
Over the years StoryCorp founder Dave Isay has published five books full of stories from the collection as well.
One of the participants who conducted an oral-history interview with her grandmother in the Grand Central Station StoryBooth was featured in a Library of Congress blog post about the archive and how it was made.
Sharon DeLevie-Orey explained, “Last year my sister and I came to StoryCorps with my then-91-year-old grandmother. We had this fantastic interview, in which my grandma was candid and funny and loving.
“Yesterday she died. I just took out my StoryCorps CD and noticed the date, a year to the day. Tomorrow will be her funeral. I could only listen to about 20 seconds before bursting into tears,” she says, “but I am so grateful that I have this. Sure, I could have taped her anytime in the last 41 years. But I didn’t. Now the reward is so huge.”
Her conclusion: “Everyone should do StoryCorps—because we don’t live forever.”
Sharon’s story is echoed by many others who have participated in the StoryCorps process as well. For many it was the “best 40 minutes of my life” that added meaning and mana to their ordinary life.
Starting is a series of events. You decide to walk to Cleveland and you aim to do it on your own two feet – no bike, no bus, no train, no plane or helicopter…not even a hot-air balloon. You’re going to walk to Cleveland.
So you take a first step in the right direction. That’s starting. At the end of the day, however far you’ve gotten, you might stop at a hotel and rest. And what happens the next morning? Either you quit this silly project, decide you’d rather ride, or you start again…walking to Cleveland.
Up close and personal on this long walk, you’ll start to get the underlying idea after a while. What you’ll figure out is that every step you take on this long-haul journey is a new beginning.
Every time you take another step you are reaffirming your commitment to your goal and you are making another start. All the way to Cleveland. (The trick, of course, is to keep going until you get there.)
But, doing the walk all by yourself can be a long and lonely trip. A companion or two makes the journey much more fun. A whole tribe could get downright lively on the road trip.
Entrepreneurial thought leader Seth Godin wrote a book, TRIBES: We Need You to Lead Us, that talks about how tribes have formed down through the ages. He shows you how to develop as a leader of one.
Any group of people can become a tribe. Who knows, maybe you can grow your own and take them along on your journey. This book could point you in the right direction.
IT’S MORE FUN WHEN THERE’S MORE THAN ONE
Another entrepreneur, Derek Sivers, is best known for being the founder and former president of CD Baby, the online CD store for independent music-makers. He’s also well-known for a TED talk he did that went viral in 2010, “How To Start a Movement.”
During his talk he used a video of a guy in the crowd doing a silly dance at the 2009 Sasquatch Music Festival as a metaphor for his talking points.
The advice contained in the talk is not earth-shattering. It is, in fact, a bit simplistic, but it did get people thinking about “lone-nut leaders” and how they get validation if they can attract the right guy to follow their lead.
It’s the “first-follower,” Sivers says, who actually shows the rest of the people how to follow and how to join in the fun.
Three years later, Phil Yanov, a technology columnist and public radio commentator, did a TEDx talk in Greenville, SC called, “Bang a Drum. Build a Tribe. Start a Movement.”
Yanov takes the idea a little further in his talk. He gives you three steps to get you off your duff:
Find YOUR one true song. (He tells you how to tell when the song you are singing is your one true song.)
SING your song so people can hear it. (Being shy won’t get your song heard, he points out, and reminds you that your mission is more important than little ole you.)
Grow your circle everywhere any way you can.
Yanov also offers a bonus bit of advice: Start today….
If what you’re doing matters, waiting until everything’s just so isn’t going to make it start to happen any faster.
WHEN YOUR KOOL-AID’S BIGGER THAN YOU
There are so many directions you can take this.
If you find an “idea worth spreading,” as our TED-talk friends are wont to say, try asking whether the idea has been spread as far as it can go. Has its reach been hobbled by some external factor, perhaps?
Maybe the guy telling the message is a dork-head with zero people skills and his very important idea is getting trashed as a result. Or maybe that great idea is buried in technical lingo and jargon that leaves everybody dizzy.
Can you help with that? Can you use your communication skills and make something out of them that the general public can use? Can you figure out everyday ways to use the seminal good idea to make other people’s lives better?
The framework you build on the one good big idea as you widen your circle of people who are believing in the big idea and helping to spread it and make it happen could become like a sunken ship off some shore that supports a whole colony of reef creatures. The snorkeling could get good over time.
ONE GUY’S TRIBE
As an artist painter Brendan O’Connellhas made a name for himself as “the Warhol of Wal-Mart.” His paintings of the interiors of assorted Wal-Mart stores hang in museums and his art has been lauded by the New Yorker and appeared in the Colbert Report.
O’Connell’s latest works are pictures of branded products on grocery and supermarket shelves. Collectors and aficionados snap these up. Grocery-cart candidates can be fine art, it seems.
However, O’Connell is more than just another artist with a gimmick. He has long espoused the idea that creativity is a human birthright and that everyone can be creative. With this in mind, O’Connell co-founded Everyartist, a non-profit social enterprise that’s bent on sparking creativity by promoting the act of art-making among children.
Every October the group puts together huge community art events (Everyartist Live!) that involve many, many children. Their goal is to turn the work of a million young artists nationwide into “the most massive community art event in history.”
Here’s a video of one of the events, titled “Wal-Art, Bentonville, AR,” which was published in 2012.
O’Connell built himself a tribe and they started a movement. They keep on doing good work.
Here’s a poem….
THAT’S THE ONE
The World and the Real:
Two paths to follow.
It would be easy if
They just went off in
One going here, one there.
It can’t be that easy can it?
Some cosmic joker went and threw
Another loop into the equation,
Making an intricate Chinese knot
With some pretty name.
The paths intertwine,
Over and under and through,
Up and down and around,
No beginnngs, no ends that the eye can see.
The cords run parallel; they divide,
Looping and swooping
Through intricate patterns,
They make a beautiful whole.
But, how do you tell when
You’re looking for one and not for the other?
How do you know which way to step?
(Too bad they’re not color coded.)
The wise guys say if you’re looking for Real,
Here’s what you do:
Find the path that shatters,
The one that won’t console,
The one that isn’t some easy glide
Through the same-old, same-old.
Find the one that takes all of everything you’ve got
It’s been a quiet sort of shift. More and more people are moving away from the “work-and-spend” mentality that characterized the latter half of the last century. They are looking for more meaning to add to their lives, they say.
Gregg Easterbrook, in his book, THE PROGRESS PARADOX: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, has pointed out, “A transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecedented scale—involving hundreds of millions of people – and may be recognized as the principal cultural development of our time.”
WHY THE SHIFT?
Easterbrook suggests, after delineating assorted studies by the guys who study “happiness,” that the whole mindset centered around material want didn’t actually work so well. The people who got all the stuff they ever wanted or could imagine were not appreciably happier than they were before the stuff showed up.
The problem is, the researchers say, we humans tend to get accustomed to a certain circumstance – good or bad — very quickly. When all of our dreams come true, we start to take for granted all of our fulfilled wishes.
All the wise guys down through the ages tried to warn us: The hunger of our built-in Want Bugs is bottomless. Get the one absolutely gotta-have-it thing today and tomorrow a new gotta-have-it thing will take its place. It’s like all those wants are on some kind of conveyor belt that just keeps turning and churning.
The wise guys told us: The only thing you can do when you’re stuck on a treadmill is to step off. If a lot of people step off the collective treadmill, then it becomes the start of a movement, the start of another cultural iteration.
This curated YouTube video, “Thanks Internet,” published in 2014 by reKindle.org, shows one change that is happening.
The video is a composite of many videos shared on the Internet by the people trying to help make the world a better place for at least one other person. The result is an amazing feel-good bit of work. The non-profit organization posted a message at the end of the video asking that people go do good deeds, take a video and tag it with #reKindleKindness.
They want to do more of videos like this one.
WHAT’S A CULTURE OF MEANING?
All cultures are “meaningful.” How not? They are the products of the minds and the lifestyles of a group of people who all live together in it. The ones that hold the most promise for an individual’s well-being and happiness are the ones that amplify positive values and goals.
Cultures that promote kindness, compassion and love rather than fear, hatred and anger and those that seek to lift up other people rather than inflict harm on them tend to be the ones that grow happy people.
Cultures that cultivate cooperation and participation in something bigger than any one person while tolerating and even honoring individual quirks and idiosyncrasies in its members are more likely to be good for you than those that don’t. We didn’t really need guys in lab coats to tell us that. It’s sort of built into our gut-knowledge.
MEANING IN THE INTERNET AGE
The coolest thing about this postmodern world of ours is our exposure to so many different cultures, sub-cultures, sub-sub-cultures, primal cultures, hybrid cultures, made-up and made-to-order cultures….and so on. We are, in fact, drowning in all this information about all the doings of people around the world.
We can touch the lives of people from around the world. We can build our own community or tribe of folks from around the globe.
We can even go retro and just touch the life of somebody who lives down the street.
Here’s a YouTube video, “Grow Some Good: Maui School Gardens,” that was published in 2013 by Ken Surrey. The video was made by Emmy-winning photographer Jess Craven about how one group of neighbors have built a culture of meaning around the concept of connecting kids to the food they eat by building and supporting school gardens.
The garden featured in the video started with three raised beds and grew, becoming nearly quarter of an acre of food garden and learning lab.
The garden this video spotlights is part of an ongoing project of Grow Some Good, a nonprofit group that has helped to establish food gardens and living science labs in local schools all over the island.
The outdoor classroom lessons support school curriculum in science, math, health and agriculture. The kids study traditional Hawaiian plants and learn the growing practices of native Hawaiians. They also experiment with growing and preparing foods from other cultures as well.
The group builds ongoing community partnerships, recruiting volunteers and supporters that include gardeners and farmers, food educators and assorted businesses as well. Local chefs support the gardens through fundraisers, recipe workshops and harvest parties.
I am remembering the struggle I had as a kid memorizing the words of John Donne’s “No Man Is An Island.” My teacher liked torturing us with all kinds of high-sounding ideas. (I loved her dearly so I gamely tried to not mangle the thing too badly.)
I’ve since learned that Donne was a cleric in the Church of England during the 17th century, who was considered to be one of the leading “metaphysical poets” of the Renaissance era. The poem my teacher made me recite was actually first written by him in 1624 as a prose “meditation”in his DEVOTIONS UPON EMERGENT OCCASIONS.
The Renaissance was another period of incredible change and reawakening, it seems to me. People were searching for meaning and mana in their own ordinary lives back then too.
Confusion and information overload was also a common theme back then. Just as we are experiencing in our time of great change, the culture and mindset a person chose to embrace back then affected the way he or she walked through the world.
I am thinking it would be a good thing, as part of this exploration of meaning and mana, to feature other stories in this thing about the “cultures of meaning” that our neighbors and cousins and friends are getting into. What do you think?
Here’s a poem:
The true, the beautiful, the good…
Entrance and beckon me.
Their light, like a candle glows,
Softly embracing the warm dark
Full of beloved shadows.
The true keeps me grounded
While the beautiful helps me play,
And the good is a quiet beacon
That shows me the best way.
The good, the beautiful, the true:
Without them you get lost.
You nourish others with the good,
The beautiful nourishes you,
And you can keep your feet on the ground,
If you’ll just remember the true.
The three enfold your smallness in one gigantic yes
A while back I was involved in an infuriating (to me) conflict that seemed to be made up of a lot of little niggly nothings that got blown up into bigness. It stopped me in my tracks and got me riled up…badly.
IS IT A VIRUS?
In reaction to it (and also out of my, I admit, boundless impatience), I coined a new word for a phenomenon I was noticing at the time: PETTY-PHOBIA.
I say it means “the fear of all the little things in life”…all the myriad little concerns and dust-mote details of the World….things like whether some form was filled out properly or some rule was followed in exactly the prescribed manner or…well, you get the picture, I bet.
Petty-phobics — people who are afflicted with this seemingly chronic condition — often have major anxiety attacks caused by the massive overload of petty details and the perceived importance of each and every one of the durned dingleberries.
They spend a lot of time trying to get every single little thing just right. They insist that everybody else around them have to get the things right before anybody can move on to more productive concerns.
Another name for these guys is “Perfectionists.” (They probably call the rest of us more doofus sorts “Scruff-balls.”)
[I’m sorry, but I have to do this. This is a You-Tube video of the Starrkeisha Cheer Squad @TheKingofWierd by TIU Campaign. It is just too joyous not to share….]
NO GOOD RESULTS
Meetings led to stalemates and dead-ends. Conflicts erupted and kept erupting over and over again. A lot of good work kept getting stalled or had to be re-done again and again. Redundancies proliferated. A lot of trees died and mountains of paper grew.
It caused me incredible heartburn for a while until I got my head turned around.
DISCOVERING THE HIDDEN PAIN
I finally figured out that these people were really hurting. What seemed like a minor thing to me was, for them, something that was of apparently earth-shaking proportions.
It boggled my mind. I thought, what happens if they have to face something that is really earth-shattering? Yeesh! I mean, really. If every situation you face is life-and-death, you are going to be suffering through lots and lots of deaths.
And I thought, how often do you make it to Perfect in this life? For me, the answer to that question is just about never. Something is always going to go aglay. It’s the way of the world.
I wondered, then: How can you even MOVE in the face of that? OMG!
WORKING AROUND IT
I finally figured out that rather than trying to pound some sense into the nut-heads, I had two other choices: I could either (a) adjust and help them feel more comfortable, or (b) opt out of the game.
I could use either one of those two choices, depending on how important it was for me to be able to get on with my own dance.
It did occur to me that petty-phobics probably rule the world. It is my opinion that this is because people who are busy doing their own thing let the petty-phobes get away with so much nonsense rather than doing the sensible thing (which, in my fantasy world, is picking up my light-saber and whacking off their heads or something).
But, I also figured out that you really can’t go around being like the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.” Doing a bad Bette Davis imitation all the time is just…tacky.
So, how do you deal with all the petty-phobics littering your landscape? Basically, it involves the same three steps you need to make every time you come up against fear or anxiety or insecurity.
ACCEPTANCE. You can accept that this is the reality with which you are faced: There is a petty-phobe in your face and you get to deal with that.
ADAPTATION. You can adapt to this circumstance in whatever way seems to work best in the situation and then go on from there. You need to help that petty-phobe feel comfortable and safe and secure. It will not be easy.
Remember that this person is a good person trying to do the very best he or she can. Your job, if you want to get around the roadblock in a civilized manner, is to make their job easier.
CHANGE. If the situation becomes untenable for you, then you have two choices.
You can change your response. (In my case I had to stop blowing my top and losing my temper and come up with compromises and suggestions and solutions.)
Or you can change your environment. (Walking away and finding more amenable situations is better than going postal, I say.)
AND WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Now comes another big question: Are you a sufferer of Petty-Phobia your own self? Do you like it being in that space? Do you like the results you are getting as a result of being in that space?
Would you like to move away from that? Are the results you are getting unsatisfactory? Would you like to change your behaviors and get different results? For you, too, the same three steps apply.
ACCEPTANCE. Know that you are a sufferer. Know that you will never be an easy-going sort. Petty-phobia and the quest for Perfection is never-ending.
Know that you’re going to worry and get anxious and afraid. Know that other people are not going to understand your issues. Accept that other people are going to get enraged at you for doing that thing you do.
Remember that the shlub of a wild-eyed maniac who is standing in front of you is a good person trying to do the best he or she can. Your job, if you want to get the fool out of your face, is to make their job easier.
This does include being sympathetic about their distress. Getting all self-righteous will exacerbate an already-bad situation.
ADAPTATION. Notice when other people start to act weird around you. Pay attention when things start getting hairy.
Check to see what you are doing as well as what other people are doing that triggers behaviors that seem to result in not-so-good results.
Think about how you could make things easier for other people without getting yourself too tied up in knots.
CHANGE. If the situation becomes untenable for you, then you have two choices.
You can change your response. Maybe you can make one or two small concessions without hyperventilating and curling into a fetal ball. Definitely try to see the other person’s point of view.
If there really is nothing you can do about a situation and you are governed by rules that demand utter compliance, then say that and stick to your guns while helping them work through your dilemma. Definitely acknowledge their distress.
Or you can change your environment. Walking away and finding more amenable situations where you are not having to battle unreasonable sorts is always an option.
Notice that the advice is the same for both sides. It’s always the same. Humans do human things. We work together (or not) and we’re all still trying to do the best we can.
Here’s a poem:
You are angry, you are tired,
Caught between the desire to live your own life
And the need in some other’s eyes.
A heavy burden imposed on you
By old connections, old ties, you say,
But admit it:
You chose to swallow it whole
And now the anger festers in your gut.
You say you are tired of waiting for change,
Of picking up after one who is unaware,
Uncaring of the cost.
You say you are angry at holding up one
Who makes his legs rubber over and over.
You are tired, you say,
You are angry,
Yet compassion dictates your next move.
Trudging on, carrying the burden,
You persevere and you endure.
You persevere because it’s what you do.
All the effort that went before means nothing at all
This slim book took the world by storm in its day for a good reason. The master marketers were the first to distill down their work and life experiences into marketing “laws” that still apply to this very day. It’s a good one for any wannabe marketer to have on their shelf.
The second book was a joyous romp of a read. The book, LIFE IS GOOD, THE BOOK: How to Live With Purpose and Enjoy the Ride, is written by Bert and John Jacobs and is the story of how “two ordinary brothers from Boston, who didn’t want a job but weren’t afraid to work,” built a company worth more than $100 million by selling t-shirts with the help of their friends.
It’s a very good read, authentic and honest, that incorporates told-from-the heart stories and a picture album of their wonderful shirt designs and the people who made it all happen having fun.
It was also a real-life illustration of the Ries-Trout Fifth Law, The Law of Focus, which says, “The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.”
You burn your way into the minds of your customers by narrowing your focus to a single word or concept, these mavens say. And your customers will help you build your world around that concept.
The corollary to that law is this: “The leader who owns the word owns the category.”
ONE IDEA, ONE DESIGN, ONE BRAND
The rollicking tale of the Jacobs boys’ journey is part of their brand legend .
Starting in 1989, the Jacobs brothers wandered around, crisscrossing state lines in a nondescript mini-van hustling their shirts to no avail. By 1994, with $78 between them, the boys were ready to throw in the towel. They had, after all, given it their best shot.
As they drove home to Boston, they were talking about the daily flood of negative news. Between them they agreed that the only thing that could counter the mindset that arises from swallowing all that negativity was a different one with which they were very familiar.
It was a mindset that they had learned from their mom, Joan – untrammeled optimism in the face of constant obstacles and obstructions.
This You-Tube video, published by RogiDream, features two short poems by the brilliant Charles Bukowski who had a genius for hitting the heart. They are spoken by Tom O’Bedlam and speak to the real power behind the concept of optimism.
Optimism really is not about swimming in peaches and cream, you know. It is about fighting the good fight and staying with it no matter what.
The highway talk led the brothers to one idea that led to one shirt design that became the brand called “Life Is Good.”
LISTENING TO THE FEEDBACK
After every road trip, the brothers threw a coming-home party to celebrate making it back to home base. Even though they were depressed and tired, they went ahead with their ritual.
At each of these parties it was their practice to tape sketches of all of their newest t-shirt design ideas on the walls of their apartment and encourage their friends to comment on the ideas by writing on the wall.
The design that got the most kudos was the result of their highway talk: a line-drawing of a good ole guy with a baseball cap on his head and a wide grin. The caption said, “Life Is Good.”
When they printed up 48 shirts with that one design and took them to a street fair to hawk, they were amazed. All of the shirts (including the two they were wearing) sold in less than an hour to a wide array of people.
BUILDING OF A TRIBE
Naturally they made more of the shirts. They kept on selling and LIFE IS GOOD became their brand name.
The concept grew and evolved as more and more people joined in the fun and the brothers kept listening to the suggestions from their customers. More and more people jumped on for the ride.
The result became that $100 million company that uses art work and shares inspiring stories from their customers. Their designs, all focusing on the power of optimism, were magnetic. People flocked to join a tribe who sincerely believes in the power of optimism.
These days, ten percent of the company’s annual profits goes to help kids overcome poverty, violence and severe medical challenges. Their nonprofit LIFE IS GOOD Kids Foundation positively impacts the lives of more than 100,000 children a day.
Festivals and celebrations are a part of corporate life. So is helping people.
Here’s a YouTube TEDx talk at Beacon Street recorded in 2013 featuring one of the brothers, Bert Jacobs, “Do What You Like, Like What You Do.” The company’s grown a bunch since then.
It’s all good.
SUPERPOWERS YOU CAN GROW
LIFE IS GOOD, THE BOOK lists ten “superpowers” that can be developed to enhance your own optimistic mindset: Openness, Courage, Simplicity, Humor, Gratitude, Fun, Compassion, Creativity, Authenticity and Love.
The brothers devote a chapter to each of these attributes, ending each one with ideas and suggestions for growing your own. And they promise: “The Life Is Good superpowers will help you overcome obstacles, drive forward with greater purpose, and enjoy the ride of life.”
That is also a very good thing….
Here’s a poem:
THE CYCLE CONTINUES
The cycle continues:
arising, becoming, crumbling away,
then born again in some new-old form –
a never-ending relentless pattern
flowing, spiraling through this life,
in this world of dust.
And here’s me:
trying to dance on top of this turning wheel…
moved to try to direct it, even…
(not that there’s a steering wheel).
It rolls on, it rolls on,
and I keep trying to play with it,
reiterating halcyon days of youth
when us kids took turns
rolling that abandoned old truck tire
down the grassy hill behind the baseball field,
trying to keep from crashing it through
the mean old neighbor-lady’s hibiscus hedges
and running over her half-blind old English bulldog.
It’s a cliche, of course. Writers, artists, and performers of all sorts (including politicians and business speakers) are forever being told that they have to “find their own voice.” The premise in all this advice is that each one of us is a unique individual with our own way of seeing the world and sometimes by speaking our own truths in our own way we can help other people find theirs. Your “voice” is your style, how you present your own truths.
Those of us who want to communicate our thoughts to the world spend a lot of time thinking on that. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out not only how to say our own say, but also we keep trying to figure out how to find an audience that will hear us when we do. Communication is a two-way street. There’s you doing the sending and there’s all those other guys doing the receiving (and talking back).
Here are some thoughts about this from a varied group of people who have been working in their craft for a while. All of them have worked on finding their own voice. Each of them has found and cultivated an audience who hears them. Perhaps one of their ideas will spark some of your own.
TO FIND YOUR VOICE, USE IT
Artist and online entrepreneur Austin Kleon, in his book SHOW YOUR WORK: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity And Get It Discovered, had some hard-earned advice. After years of trying to figure it out he says, “….now I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.”
This YouTube video, “How to Find Your Own Voice,” was published by Bedros Keuilian, the president of Fit Body Boot Camp International, which is among the fastest growing fitness chains in the world, apparently. Keuilian focuses on marketing strategies in his videos. In this one, Keuilian points out the importance of being you. (Everybody else is taken.)
USE YOUR VOICE TO FIND YOUR AUDIENCE
As a writer, a speaker or an artist, your incentive for developing a voice is so that people will recognize you, listen to you, hear you. Madman-writer Dan Harmon advises, “Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.”
In this YouTube video clip published by FidelWriting, Harmon is giving a talk at the Nerdist Writers Panel. This bit of silliness is Episode 107, “Structure of a Sitcom.” In his advice to young writers Harmon does a wonderful riff about storytellers….
Buried in the laughter is a truth: Your voice is yours. Don’t let anyone take it away from you.
This little gem’s from Roz Parry, a consultant in communication and team-building. She agrees that the best way to find your audience is to speak with your own voice. “You have to be true to your deep beliefs, especially in the face of adversity. That way you attract the people to you who value you and what you stand for. They come to you, not the other way around.”
SUSSING OUT YOUR AUDIENCE
Finding and speaking with your voice is only half of the communication equation. You also need to know something about the audience that your work attracts.
Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold was the Secretary-General of the United Nations for most of the 1950’s. Hammarskjold pointed out another truth, “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you hear what is sounding outside, and only he who listens can speak.”
Todd Henry is the founder and CEO of The Accidental Creative, a company that helps creative people and teams generate brilliant ideas. He regularly speaks and consults with companies about how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. He’s written three books: ACCIDENTAL CREATIVE, DIE EMPTY and LOUDER THAN WORDS.
Henry says, “It’s not the responsibility of your intended audience to adapt to you, it’s your responsibility to adapt your idea so they can receive it.”
So, how do you suss out your audience? Listening is a big part of that. So is research.
This Kickstarter YouTube video is part of a collection of helpful tips and advice from creators about common Kickstarter project questions. In this one, “Knowing Your Audience,” filmmakers Karyn Parsons , the creator of “The Janet Collins Story;” Adam Weber and Jimmy Goldblum, co-directors of “Tomorrow We Disappear;” David Thorpe, director of “Do I Sound Gay?” and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, director of “Call Me Kuchu” tell how they worked to find and build the audiences for their crowd-funded projects:
Here’s a poem about getting the voice right….
When you get it right, when it all goes well,
And everything falls in place,
There’s a shift inside of you
That opens up another space.
You’re an empty, hollow flute
That the winds blow through and through,
And the words that appear on the page
Don’t even feel like you.
You think another voice
Has sounded through your throat,
And all the notes and pauses
Seem to effortlessly float.
The variations and the themes
Are from some other place,
Some other who in some other when,
Wearing some other face.
It is a comfort then
To understand and see
That the self you think you know
Is more than you think it could be.
The music of the spheres contain the songs you sing
It’s happening again. This is the 18th year that the annual statewide Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Poetry contest will be organized by volunteer teachers, writers and artists who call themselves “The International Peace Poem Project.” Small donations keep them alive.
Almost every school in Hawaii is invited to participate in the contest and there is no entry fee. Every student winner in the contest from each class gets a certificate of honor and a prize for their winning poem during spring ceremonies on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, the Big Island (Hawaii) and Molokai.
Last year more than 2,000 students in Hawaii entered the contest and hundreds of them were recognized at ceremonies held in auditoriums statewide. In past years other schools throughout the United States have taken on the Peace Poem as a class project.
PLANTING THE SEED
The seed for this Maui-based Project was planted in 1996 when three friends Melinda Gohn, Frank Rich (aka Wide Garcia) and the late Lawrence Hill, who had started the Maui Live Poets Society, began compiling what they called “The Peace Poem.”
The idea was to get people from all over the world to contribute lines to the poem until it became the world’s longest poem about peace. A six year-old girl, Libby Barker, contributed the first two lines:
“Peace means everyone loving everyone else
And we are all part of one world.”
The group has been collecting lines for the poem ever since.
The poem is hand-written by many, many hands on a scroll constructed of rag paper sheets and other papers. (In those early years, the group considered and rejected the option of collecting the lines over the Internet. It felt more real to have the lines laid down by all those hands.)
At every Live Poets gathering the people in attendance are still being asked to contribute their lines. People who visit the islands and people who live here have been tapped to write a couple of lines.
The group has taken the poem into churches to collect lines from the congregations. They’ve gone into prisons to get lines from the inmates in lockdown. Contributors represent all ages, social strata and religious beliefs.
The youngest donor was a 3-year-old girl whose 7-year-old sister wrote her words, “Peace is seeing a baby’s smile.” The oldest known contributor was a 93-year-old Maui poet.
Poetry was collected from China, Vietnam and Greece, and poetry scrolls circulated through England and Switzerland. The poem’s mission was translated into Spanish and was sent to international Spanish-speaking organizations. About this last, Gohn said, “There is so much unrest in South America. It’s a perfect place for the poem.”
“It’s very powerful,” Gohn says. “As soon as I bring up the Peace Poem, immediately we’re dealing on a high level. All the other stuff falls away.”
As she points out, “Everyone has a common desire for peace.”
In more recent years, the poem has gone (sort of) digital. Anyone who wants to can contribute their two lines about peace to the poem by downloading the group’s Peace Poem Scroll Page, copying the thing onto an 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper and get friends, fans and other fellows to write their lines as well. The sheet can then be mailed to Peace Poem, P.O. Box 102, Lahaina, HI, USA 96761.
By September 19, 2000, the poem had more than 15,000 lines that had been penned by people from over 120 countries. On that day the poem was symbolically presented to the United Nations during its Millenium Peace Day celebration. (Today, the poem has grown to over 160,000 lines.)
That was an exciting day for Melinda and Wide, who traveled to New York for the Millenium Peace Day, and made the presentation along with another member of the Project Allen Lewis.
Melinda recited poetry before a panel including the UN President Harry Holkieri and dignitaries from the UN General Assembly. She told the assembled world leaders, “The project has been a voice for people of the world to express their hope for peace. Let us hope world leaders will listen and work toward nonviolent solutions.”
Fifteen-year-old Maeh-ki (Red-Sky) El-Issa (the tall guy sharing her microphone) read a peace poem written by Mother Teresa in honor of his late mother, Ingrid Washinawatok, who was killed on March 4, 1999, when she was on a cultural education mission to Colombia. Allen and Wide hold up a part of the Peace Poem Scroll.
The presentation of the poem to the UN was the accomplishment of a goal set when the friends began the poem four years before.
START OF THE PROJECT
However, that event was not the end of the poem. Instead, a new chapter in the story began when Melinda and her friends organized the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Poetry contest and opened it to elementary school students from all over the state. The organization even put together poetry lesson plans and suggestions for the teachers at its website, www.peacepoem.org.
Students from schools on all of the islands are invited to enter the contest. The young poets vie for prizes and the winners are honored by island mayors or state officials at a school assembly and presented with Certificates of Honor and assorted prizes furnished by the Peace Poem organization.
Each of the student poems are a maximum of twenty lines and “can be about any kind of peace.” All of these poems are added to the Peace Poem scroll which continues to grow.
Melinda says, “The Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Poetry Contest was started in 2000 as a way to share with Hawaii students an understanding of the need for peaceful reflection and active work toward peace, as exemplified by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
“In honor of these peace and nonviolence principles which have played a vibrant role in Hawaiian culture—and in particular the Hawaiian Renaissance—we encourage Hawaii students to contribute their poems to the contest and the International Peace Poem. ”
Every year now thousands of students have participated in this statewide event. Other schools throughout the United States take on the peace poem as a class project.
A few years ago, I was dragooned (tricked!) into participating in a theater production of the “Mama Monologues,” an evening of dramatic readings and performances by assorted creative folks on Maui that was put together by a friend of mine, Pat Masumoto.
Pat, who was a force of nature, strong-armed all of her friends to participate in this annual production that she organized and produced at the ‘Iao Theater in old Wailuku town. It was actually a part of a national effort and she managed to keep pulling it off with the help of her loyal crew of fans and friends for a number of years.
The “Mama Monologues” thing was one of the ways Pat dealt with being the primary caregiver for her mom, Florence, who was another force of nature. Florence was a feisty, sharp cookie who was pushing on 100 years old and still going strong at the time this took place.
Talk about “Living Out Loud”! Pat was one of those who literally made productions out of all of her issues!
There was a poem I had written about my own grandmother who raised me and about our running argument that lasted until she died. (That argument still continues in my head.)
Pat liked it and she spent weeks wearing down my resistance to the whole scary concept of standing up on a stage in front of a for-real theater full of people and reading a poem to them.
We did it! It was good.
Pat died about a year ago, a few months after her mother’s death at 104. I still miss the ladies.
Here’s the poem:
MAMA USED TO TELL ME
Mama used to always tell me
“If you want the rainbows,
You gotta put up with the rain.”
“To get to the glory,” she said,
“You slog through the pain.”
Me, I’m just a silly git,
But I’m not at all sure
Mama had the right of it.
I’ve been thinking:
Rainbows also need the beaming sun,
And glory may be the price we pay
For this goofy race we run.
Smiles are frowns turned right-side-up…
Then, laughter bubbles over…
Foaming from a too-full soda cup.
It occurs to me:
In this illusory world of mists and dreams,
Nothing is really all it seems.
So…come on now…let’s go!
We’ll dance through all the changes – ho!
I just remembered something:
Mama sure did like dancing and prancing.
The music grabs your feet and pulls you out of bed