Friday, 31 October 2014

Stories about Storytelling

The first story is about an outstanding teacher, one whom I hired in 1994 to teach language arts to 6th and 7th graders.  Gwynn Spencer was a unique personality for many reasons, not the least of which was her passion for storytelling.  She had a great friend in Joe Hayes, an award winning author and teacher of storytelling.  Joe taught storytelling at the University of New Mexico and his influence extended through Gwynn to her students and beyond.  Have a look at Joe’s video “The Gum Chewing Rattler” or his book called A Spoon for Every Bite and you’ll get an idea of Gwynn’s mentor and model for storytelling.  She inspired more than a few of her students in the art of writing and telling stories.
One day, Gwynn hung a sign on her door that opened to the hallway and it read, “The Universe is Made Up of Stories.”  Down the hall at the other end, another teacher opened his door and tacked up a sign that read, “The Universe is Made Up of Atoms.”  The dialogue between arts and science had begun and the students took great joy in participating.  Gwynn’s final posting on her door was “Yes, Stories About Atoms.”  Gwynn was also a lover of books and for awhile owned and ran a bookstore in Albuquerque. In her latter years she published a monthly newsletter from Mancos, Coloardo called “The Cosmic Raccoon.”  It was filled with wonderful stories, most of them real.
Everyone has a life story or many stories that tell the tale of who we are, how we came to be where we are and what makes us both the same and different.  I have just finished reading The Boys in the Boat by Dan Brown. In addition to Dan’s being a great story teller, the story itself has its own power because of the range of human emotions expressed by the characters in the story.  Many of them emanate from Joe Rantz, one of the nine young men from the University of Washington’s crew who made it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  The book begins with Dan’s interviewing Joe as he is dying and the story begins with Joe’s early life, his countless struggles and all that happens in Joe’s lifetime.  It’s an amazing story, told with engaging details and components one might not expect from a book that sounds like it could be about rowing.  Rowing, like running, fishing, sailing, or any competitive sport, becomes a metaphor for finding out what’s required for the highest and deepest levels of excellence.
The last story about telling a story, at least for now, has to do with my own story of some 77 years and still going.  I chronicled some of it last year with the publication of Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir.  (River House Press 2013)   That is a short collection of watershed learning experiences or stories that helped to shape and influence who I am and how I got to be where I am.  From my point of view, there was nothing magical or extraordinary in my story and few of us have the capacity to look at ourselves with any degree of objectivity.  Our stories are about the choices we have made that took us in one direction as opposed to another.  It is perhaps best summed up with this famous Robert Frost poem.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Call it what you will, scaling down can be more challenging than scaling up.  What do you keep and what do you sell, disperse among family members, give away or recycle or throw away?  It's an issue faced by those of us in the older generation who are making plans for the future that can be managed easily by either or both of us.

We moved from a large property that included a 3000 square foot house, an 1800 square foot barn, various, small outbuildings such as a chicken house, garden shed, run in shed for donkeys and 6 acres of landscaped, fenced in and gated land plus all the equipment that went along with it.  That was 9 months ago and we unloaded a number of things then, put everything else in storage and lived in our motor home.  We were on the road for several of those months, north in the summer, south in the winter and kept our base in Santa Fe.  Among the RV crowd we were considered full-timers and faced the decision whether to stay in that mode or find a small place that was adequate, affordable and convenient from which we could travel whenever the spirit moved us, a place to come home to that we have enjoyed for the past 20 years. 

We designed and purchased a "manufactured house" and put it in a small "senior community" where there are like-minded people from various walks of life - artists, engineers, educators, writers, business executives, trades people and world travelers.  The house is simple, about 1000 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and  we must now deal with finishing and furnishing the house, emptying the storage units, organizing the new spaces and preparing for winter.  There is not a lot of joy in dealing with stuff.  For further insight into how we clutter our lives with stuff, have a look at Annie Leonard's book, The Story of Stuff.   We concluded some time ago that we did not want to spend much more time in taking care of things thus we are condensing, shrinking and becoming more compact and efficient.

At one level it is quite simply where we are at this stage in our lives.  It is who we are given our values, choices, and life style.  As time unfolds and gives us opportunities to explore and enjoy the world around us, we will continue to travel, to be connected to our children and grandchildren and we will continue to question our government with so much waste and agendas of self-serving politicians. There is also the miasma of health care in our country and elsewhere and the issue of how we can avoid GMO's and embrace a more healthy diet such as that proposed back in 1971 by Frances Moore Lappe in her work Diet for a Small Planet

If you want to make a leap from individuals to institutions and organizations, ask the question about where you are in your own stage of growth and evolution and whether you might consider becoming more efficient and effective by scaling down or scaling up.  Either is possible with creative leadership, sufficient resources and the collective will and commitment to get it done.

Thursday, 9 October 2014


Our bodies, along with our minds, change over time and it is up to us to keep them functioning at an optimum level as long as we can consciously choose to do that.  Benjamin Franklin is credited with the saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and that seems to still hold true.
However, with all the good intentions and practices that many of us have exercised over the years, various conditions arise that require some kind of medical attention and intervention.  These can range from mild to serious, including diseases and disorders that require medication or surgery and sometimes a combination of therapies intended to heal or cure.  Hospitals and doctors offices are not the most inviting and comfortable places to spend any time and the costs borne in part by individuals and even more so by insurance companies are often outrageously high. 
I am not a conspiracy theorist but it does not take a rocket scientist to see the interrelationships among the four entities of physicians, hospitals, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.  Our bodies are broken into various parts and those different parts can only be treated by specialists and sub-specialists who depend on a variety of tests and procedures to help determine what to do next. 
When I take my car into the shop for service, most places can fix whatever is wrong in one place even if it takes several different mechanics.  Medical practice moved away from that concept with the passing of general practitioners, many of whom, in addition to diagnosing and treating a variety of conditions, were also qualified to read x-rays, perform surgery and write prescriptions.  The new assembly line, factory model of medicine has to deliver so many end products to be economically viable that actual office visits may not average more than 10- 15 minutes on the conveyor belt. And then, there must be another follow-up appointment to keep the line moving and the money flowing.
At the moment, I am seeing four different doctors, undergoing a variety of tests and monitoring five different medications.  I find it both amusing and annoying given my previous health history that was excellent until a year or so ago.  Then I got caught up in the medical machinery that continues to grind away without any clear resolution in sight.  There is a part of me that wants to say the hell with it and just drop out and see what happens.  Yes, doctor, I am aware of the risks.   The other part wants to take care of everything and get on with my life without so many complications and lack of timely communication.  I know they are busy but so am I, so don’t tell me you don’t have anything open until more than three months from now.  That is simply ridiculous.  I am not ordering a Ferrari although I feel like I might be paying for one.
What I have concluded at this point is that I cannot sit and wait for the factory whistle to blow.  I have to take charge and become actively involved in making things happen.  I cannot wait until they get around to putting me back on their assembly or disassembly line.  I am lining them up and I will choose where I get the best results.  I have a schedule to keep too and they can find a way to work around mine just as they expect me to work around theirs.  They certainly aren’t changing their vacation plans so why should I change mine to accommodate them?
One other thing.  While I find the whole picture rather amusing, they don’t seem to see anything funny at all.  In fact, they are way too serious.  Lighten up folks.  You’re not getting out of it alive either.

Saturday, 4 October 2014


Look at the synonyms for the word transition.  It is a rather amazing               list that attempts to describe a process or an experience.

I chose three words which, for me, capture the essence of a transition, from one state of being to another.  It usually happens over time rather than all at once, much like what the Skin Horse explains to Rabbit in Margery Williams classic book, The Velveteen Rabbit:
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
The first word is CHANGE and that can happen over time or all at once, suddenly.  Many of us believe that the best kind of change is planned change, designed thoughtfully, implemented carefully and celebrated widely.  Sudden changes like heart attacks, accidents and disasters that cause untold suffering are unwelcome events that change the lives of others as well as the victims who experience the change first hand.   How we deal with change whether planned or unplanned speaks volumes about our capacity to adjust, adapt and continue forward.
The second word is SHIFT.  Shift happens or so it has been said and the original video on You Tube back in 2008 is both inspiring and informative. The question is have you made a shift in the way you see the world and your place in it?  If so, what shifted?  What happened in your mind and spirit that became different once the shift occurred?  It is fairly certain that the world has shifted in many respects and how we respond to these shifts once again says much about who we are as individuals and as a collective group of people whether defined as Americans or any sub group worldwide. 
The third word is PASSAGE.  Passages from one state or stage to another are often subtle, characterized by a slower transition rather than a speedy or sudden one. The eight stages of human growth and development as described by Erik Erikson, from infancy to early childhood to pre-school to school age to adolescence to young adulthood, to middle adulthood to old age are easily observed passages that everyone does not complete on the exact same schedule.  Each of these is accompanied by the passing of time, usually in a number of years.  There are passages through mountain ranges, passes named after explorers who were often the first ones to record the passage.  It was often a slow trek over dangerous terrain. 
As you make your own transitions, in work and life, consider how you can effect those changes, stages and passages and how they affect you.  Think for a moment about your future.  Envision it. What do you see ahead?