Ze Frank, Kony 2012 and Don Quixote

When I was a little girl, my bed was tall enough for me to sit under. My sister and I had gotten on our own rooms for the first time in our lives. Our dad had cut in half the bunk bed he had made for us to share. Kerry got the bottom half, and I got the top half. It was my space, under my bed. I had pillows, a lamp and a record player. I read, dreamed and listened to music.

It was under my bed that I discovered Man of la Mancha. I was so swept away by Don Quixote, Sancho and Dulcinea that I had the words of the story album memorized. To this day, I can still recite most of it from memory. It has been strong in my mind this morning.

In the past few months, I have found myself drawn to people in positions of anguish who are failing to fall prostrate to their despair…choosing instead to not only create hope in the midst of pain, but to share it publicly. I am inspired by the vulnerability in it. I am inspired by the strength in it. I am drawn to the humanity and imperfection of them. Through their bravery, I see the path to my own courage light up before me…and I push forward.

In every instance, however, I find encounters with another character in Man of la Mancha, the Great Enchanter. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Great Enchanter defeats Don Quixote in battle by presenting him with his own reflection in a circle of mirrors. Don Quixote’s faith in his mission is overcome by the “reality” of his circumstances and limitations. He falls, never to return to the field.

Cynicism is a tempting version of reality. The reality of our fallible humanity is a truth that is hard to argue with. We are imperfect. We make mistakes. We break down. We do stupid things. And, as the windows into each other’s worlds increase as our online lives become increasingly visible, becoming the ‘voice of reason” amidst a groundswell of enthusiasm over anything is an addictive position to take. It arms up against the possibility of dashed hopes. It puts us into a position of “see? I told you so.” In the instance that someone’s imperfection shows. We did not fall for it.

The Joseph Kony 2012 campaign drew criticism from the moment it was launched, and then the criticism grew sharper and more pointed after the man who made the video had a very public breakdown as a result of the public scrutiny.

Ze Frank became an online sensation six years ago with his quirky breakthrough video blog. You can see the fear in his latest video as he screws up the courage to launch his next endeavor. He seems to be braced for impact. And, unfortunately, he is likely to get it as people will come out of the woodwork to offer up their commentary, good and bad.

The world is rotten and god doesn’t even know we’re living on it.
Aldonza
Man of la Mancha

I have loved this quote for most of my life and repeated it often. Cynicism has been my “go-to” forever. I wanted to be at the front of the “I-saw-right-through-it” queue. But I find that this kind of thinking has left me wanting. I want to be inspired. I want to hope. I want to believe. I want to find people’s bravery inspiring, especially if they are imperfectly human, like me. It gives me hope that all of us crazy, hot-headed, weepy, impractical, baggage-carrying misfits can do something beautiful. That maybe all our efforts will meld together, in ways we cannot even anticipate, to bring our broken culture into something beyond our ability to imagine alone.

So, to everyone out there who is thinking of putting yourself on the line and bringing your imperfection out for the rest of us to see – remember that what you see in the enchanter’s mirrors is only a very shallow aspect of reality, and that there are always going to be those who can’t see past that. Please don’t let that stop you.

To those of you who feel a little fire kindle whenever you see, hear or read something brave and human…comment, share, follow. Be bold in your hope. Set yourself up to be ridiculed for being naïve or misled. Don’t be afraid to be inspired.

And, to all of you, from a little girl, under her bed with a record player…

xo,
Kimberley

Why Kony 2012 Matters

It almost doesn’t matter what the “cause” is for the Kony 2012 campaign.

Almost.

At least for me.

I am coming at this from a particular vantage point. And I am writing this today, because I think I am not alone.

The glut of information of all that is wrong in the world has been overwhelming me for years. There is only so much I can follow, only so much I can research, before I begin feeling inadequate and unprepared for the task of doing anything about much of anything at all.

I only have so much in the way of resources…time…energy…money. Every choice I make to support a cause is also a choice to not support another, just as worthwhile, cause. And what is the tiny bit of money I can give against a tidal wave of need that rises into my world every day through the multiple media channels that surround me? Every effort I make seems consumed by even greater need, until I become paralyzed and block it all from my view.

Every day I learn more about how this government, that is supposed to be representing me, doesn’t. And that knowledge pushes me further into paralysis, because how can I possibly make my voice heard in the sea of lobbyists with bankrolls and party invitations? Can I really expect issues most important to me and my kids to be prioritized above the issues of those who have underwritten the campaigns of those in office?

Then, along comes Kony 2012 and I am transfixed. In the space of two days, my Facebook, Google+ and Twitter feed are all filled with posts about this viral video. It is what I always wanted the Internet to be, but what it has not been to this point…a vehicle for amplifying the voices of the many so that they could be heard above the cash that controls the government officials. The message has been distilled and simplified to the point that it is easy to deliver, easy to understand, easy to follow and easy to support. Someone has taken what is possible with social networking and turned it into something probable.

When we join this legion of voices, we are not only amplifying a call to the government to bring Joseph Kony to justice, we are becoming a community. With this campaign, we are sensing our power as a people. We are feeling what it means to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people…as the founders intended.

I have for years agreed that the government has gotten out of hand. I have not, however, been able to get behind those who would abolish the government or lessen its power. I have worked in the oil and gas industry too long to believe that self-regulation has any possibility of keeping us, as human beings, safe and that is just the tip of the iceberg. No, we need government. But I feel pretty confident that, if the founding fathers could see what this government has turned into, they would be horrified. And, if not, it is enough for me that I am. This government does not represent me or my kids. It is easy enough to see, in the decisions made by governing bodies every day, whose interests are being protected.

Kony 2012 is imperfect in its goals. I have done the reading and read the reports and comments on those reports until I am swimming in them. At no point do they outline explicitly HOW justice be served, but that it remain a highly visible priority until it is….but the critics have much in the way of material to work with in their criticisms. However, at the end of the day, three important truths remain:

  1. Joseph Kony is a brutal war criminal with a trail of brutal abductions, heinous rapes, atrocious murders and maimings using children as his army.
  2. He is still at large.
  3. We have had 26 years to bring him to justice and have not.

So, it is well past time for this to become a matter of large-scale public concern.

But this…this viral campaign…is more than that. It is opening doors to the possibility that we can, as a people, demand to be part of the conversation. That we can share information more easily than ever before and discover the truths that lie outside of the tightly controlled messaging being fed to us on any given issue. That we can find a way to join our voices of concern together in a way that makes it impossible for those in power, the ones with the ability to actually represent us in a tangible way, to ignore us.

That is worth supporting. That is worth fighting for. That is worth our energy.

 

Video Skype, Adventures and Our Friend Maya

Monday, we had a long video Skype chat with our super hip friend, Maya Stein. For those of you unfamiliar with Maya, she is a feral writer, poet, chef, diorama artist and lip sync maven. She has traveled across the country doing feral writing workshops…and she is constantly dreaming up new crazy things to do.

Conversations with her always make me want to go out and spray paint our truck…make our front yard a giant diorama…pack Tina and the kids up and travel around the country in an RV. There is an undercurrent of “What’s next?” with her that is contagious.

The conversation came around to the paradox of how to live the wild life while also recording it. There is something about being in the middle of a grand adventure that makes it hard to record. It is often hard to get enough distance from the middle to actually write anything that communicates what is going on.  You know how it feels to be the one on the vacation with the camera and having to decide all the time if you actually want to participate in the activity, be in the moment, enjoy the scenery…or take pictures of it? It always feels that way for me, except that, on the bigger adventures, I’m also not completely understanding what I’m looking at anyway. So, I wait for the story to unfold a little. Wanting to capture the whole of it, rather than the snapshots.

But then, when do you stop the adventure and take time to record it…in whatever way you choose to record such things. It is a little disorienting to come off of something life-changing and stay still long enough to let it soak in and become something to tell. But being slow and solitary, there is not much to tell about.

It’s an addiction, being the adventurer…being the one in the peer group who is unpredictable. As much as I am loath to admit it, I like that I am introduced now as “the one who just returned from Haiti.” I like how that defines me instantly. And I would be lying if I did not admit that I’m not crazy about the fact that it is wearing off, and now I am just me again…writing.

It is a quieter life…but the truth is, I really love it when I manage to pour out a single sentence or paragraph that truly tells where I am or describes what I experienced. I love watching the story emerge in words. I dig how my life now is reflecting some of what I learned back to me, and that, the more I write, the more I understand of my experience there. When I am actually writing, it is like the whole experience is happening all over again, but with context this time. And that is kind of cool.

Maya is in the planning stages of her next big thing. I can’t wait to see how it organizes and becomes something bold and epic. And we will follow her along in her adventure…or hear about it afterwards…and delight in the unexpected bits that always accompany an out-of-the-ordinary experience.

And, in the recesses of my brain, I will be putting the pieces together of my own next adventure. I’m thinking it might include passports.

I Quit My Job

That looks funny even written on the page like that. It’s all big up there in the headline and all. But there it is in black and white. And its true.

Thing is, I had a great job. I made pretty good money, good benefits. I had a lot of flexibility in my schedule. We officed in a sweet, funky house in a cool area of town. I worked in jeans unless I had a client meeting (and I even wore my pajamas to one of those…different story). My peers and clients respected me and appreciated what I did. I was valued as a crucial part of the work we did. AND I write this knowing that my two past bosses will be reading this (Hi, Shelly and Monica! Um, just kidding about the pajamas). So, unless my check to them has not quite made it in the mail, you will not even hear any rebuttal from them in the comments.

But I quit anyway. And it was a LOT harder than I thought. And it still is.

I am a writer and have always wanted to write more than the copy I was producing for our clients. But at the end of the day, and on the weekends, my writing muscles were totally burnt. I had no more juice for my own writing. I could not for the life of me figure out how to solve this problem. A series of events last year made quitting the only logical solution. Since then, I have seen and written about things that blow my mind. Traveling has given me perspective on my own culture that I feel I understand more about it and can write to that. I was offered an incredible contract opportunity, working for an NGO in Haiti that I would not have been available to only months before. And I am in the middle of writing a book that is burning through me faster than I can write it down.

But every time someone offers me a job…every time someone asks me what I am going to be doing now that I am back from Haiti…and even when people offer me contract copywriting gigs, I stumble over myself trying to decide, all over again, if I have made the right decision. I usually end up asking my partner Tina to answer the question for me. Seriously…I ask someone else to answer the question for me. I can’t believe I’m telling you that.

So, this baffled me until I read an article yesterday in the Harvard Business Review (cause I am smart like that…and also someone linked to it on Twitter). You can click on the picture to get to it your own self…

 

I read the Harvard Business Review...

Oh yes, Daniel Gulati. Strumming my pain with your finger, singing my life with your words…

It is a quick and enjoyable read, so I encourage you to pop on over for a few minutes. But if that just feels exhausting…all that clicking around, here are the high points, with notes about exactly how perfectly they fit me…just for fun.

  1. We have been conditioned, like rats in the famous Skinner experiment, with variable scheduled “recognition and reward” pellets. Check – I not only lived for these, I helped my managers tell me what I needed to hear “Aw, don’t say ‘hey, you did great!’ say something like ‘Your writing really made that cheese sandwich sound more delectable than humanly possible! How ever did you do that?'” Then I would return, happy, to my corner of the cage to gnaw on my paws.
  2. Social media has made your successes and failures more visible than ever. Which is apparently scary. Oh yeah, baby. So easy to say you are a writer…if only you were not so busy with work and kids and housework and Facebook. Telling people I am taking time off to write means I have to produce something. And if I don’t produce something worth reading, everyone will know. Oh god, I’m freaking myself out.
  3. We suffer from premature optimization (come on…who named that?). This means that, instead of looking for the biggest mountain possible, we just climb the closest one to us…usually at work. “I will totally get to writing that Great American Novel after I finish this wicked client project on how to make employees work harder with fewer resources. I am going to make those instructional videos sing!” Yeah, enough said on that.

The thing is that I LOVED that job while I loved it. When it stretched me and kept me learning and growing. I have friends there now that love it and I can’t blame them. It was and is a great place to grow. But I stayed a lot longer than I should have. Long past I was done.

I have had a lot of support in making the decisions I have made over the past year. And, sometimes that support has looked like “Don’t be an idiot. Go for it.” But the whole path toward doing the unthinkable started because a part of me started to want to do something really big and a little scary, and I allowed myself to consider it.

I’d love to hear what the big and scary thing is that you want to do and if any of this resonates for you. Don’t worry. No one is sending this to your boss.

Xo,

Kim

Arrival and the Haitian Flop

Hi Kimberley fans. It’s Tina. With Kim’s permission I am posting a few entries in the form of notes I have received from her. I am taking out any reference to famous people and the name of the organization to comply with the media agreement she had to sign. Kim sends lots of love. She is receiving your emails and good wishes. She doesn’t have much time for personal correspondence. Being inspiring is apparently more than a full-time job. 🙂

I am sitting in the large living room area in the headquarters. I am sitting here, in the middle of everything and everyone because the room I am going to be living in for the next three months is currently full of someone else’s stuff who has not quite moved out yet. I am not upset so much as I am overwhelmed. Trying to find the fun and adventure in this. Not quite there. I feel pretty certain that everyone here thinks I am deadly serious. Maybe I am.

My room is quite a luxurious set up compared to the other accommodations here. As a long term volunteer (most are here for two weeks or so) I get my own space. A giant room upstairs has been divided into two rooms but a wood frames and partial walls of plastic tarp. I almost cried with relief when I saw it. There is a light, two electrical outlets and a small window. There is a standard issue cot there, not sure if I get that. I have my fingers crossed. There is no door, but at this point, I could not begin to care less. It feels positively palatial. I wish I could move into it right now.

It rained like crazy this evening. Wild lightning and thunder torrential downpour type stuff. I put on my swim suit to go stand in it on the deck outside of my room. There are two tents on that deck…all space is occupied here. In any case, a guy saw me go out and showed me a little secret. He has a covered front area and a bucket sitting on the ground. When it rains, you can go out and dump the water from the cover into the bucket and then pour it over your head. It is freezing and wonderful. I have done it twice already. No one is up there, and it is dark. Heavenly. I needed that.

The drive here was wild. Reminded me so much of Nepal, with beat up streets running down into winding roads with houses and buildings all over the place.

Anyway, the streets are tragic. Things for sale everywhere. Art, drinks,  something that looks like it might be cleaner…not clear. In any case, the people seem extremely friendly, just desperate. The airport was insane.

The minute I am outside of immigration, I am in the middle of a sea of people who want to be the one to help me out to whatever form of transport I need to get to. In this sea of faces, I am supposed to pick out two that are in a picture that was sent to me…a small picture. Fortunately, One of them is holding a sign with my name on it.  I have six men literally surrounding me, and more waiting to jump in if a space opens up, when I see him through the crowd. He is completely mute, and not impressive in stature, but he effectively takes over my case…though the six continue to follow us to the parking lot and will end up asking me for a tip, even though I was clearly taken care of. I totally get it. They are just trying to earn a living in a country starving for work. But I have maxed out. I silently pray for the power to shut down mentally, but it does not come.

I have been praying this prayer all day. Wanting to shut down and just barrel through. It eludes me, except in very small moments. I almost lost it when it became clear that I would not only not be getting a phone, but I would also not be getting hooked up to the internet tonight. I am breathing into everything. Breathing. Into. Everything.

I met two Haitian boys on the plane today. Early twenties. They live in Boston now and are visiting for three days. They were sitting next to me and very sweet throughout the trip.

All around me in different rooms, people are laughing and joking and chatting away. I know I should join them. I don’t want to. I don’t want to act. I don’t want to pretend like everything is peachy. I just want to disappear and process. I have decided to count the days after all.

Thing is, the people seem like people we would like to hang out with, at least at first blush. I find myself wondering what brings all these people here. So many are here for over a year.

The house is giant, but not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. The view is stunning, so it must have been magnificent once. There are many more than 20 people here, however. Many more.

As we drove to the house from the airport, I was told about a medical condition here called “the Haitian flop” by the medical team. Apparently, people are brought in without any physical issues at all, yet they are completely unresponsive to any kind of stimulation. They do not respond to anything the medical community knows how to do to rouse a passed out patient…pricks, shots, aromas…nothing. They have found the only way to revive them is by doing something to the nose. In any case, they have experienced trauma so extreme that they are complete and in all ways incapacitated. Have lost all feeling and are in some kind of emotional coma. This brought up a conversation about PTSD (the other person who arrived with me is a therapist)…to which I eventually replied, “when do you determine it is post trauma? Seems to me it would have to end for it to be PTSD.” This produced an interesting conversation. It feels really weird. This country is so relentlessly battered. It is impossible for me to fully comprehend what that must be like. The sheer relentlessness is mystifying. 
Love,
Kim

Finally, a Personal Reason to Celebrate Independence Day.

I confess that I have not been a big fan of the Fourth of July celebration for the past decade or so.

I go through the motions. I sweat it out watching fireworks. I do the picnics. But my heart just has not been in it. I haven’t really given it that much thought until this year.

I love the fact that I live in the United States, the land of opportunity. I appreciate the freedoms we have and truly value those who have fought for them. Yesterday, I began to wonder why it is that I don’t feel connected to this holiday. Then I heard the cloying lyrics to “I’m Proud to be an American” bleating out of the speakers at the grocery store. Suddenly, it all became clear.

I have no problem at all with being proud of being an American…but I do take issue with sentiments that alienate us from everyone else. I have a problem with jingoism and national pride taken to the extreme. Those who would take our luck of the draw on being born under the government that we have been as some sort of indication of individual superiority. But there is something worth celebrating today. I had forgotten it.

235 years ago today, our founding fathers did something so wildly daring and extreme that it boggles the mind. They spoke on behalf of the colonies and said, to the most powerful government in the world at the time, “ENOUGH!” They announced their intent to separate from the oppressive rule of the British monarchy, even though we were clearly no match for their force. The odds were against us, but the colonies had the strength of their conviction. And that conviction was strong enough for them to commit to something that would certainly result in countless deaths and the likelihood of defeat. A betting man would not have picked the freshly united colonies to win this battle. But win they did. Although, the very act of writing and signing the Declaration of Independence, given those odds, is enough reason to for celebration.

So, today, I am celebrating that spirit. I celebrate the spirit of rising up and fighting for what is right, even though the odds are against you. I am celebrating those who made a pact to stand together in the face of almost certain defeat to defend their right, and each other’s, to have a voice in how they are governed. I am celebrating that union of brothers and sisters, who had so much faith in their mission that they were willing to cast aside the comfort of what they knew to pursue something more authentically representative of who they had become together. I salute those who recognized that “united we stand and divided we fall.” That is a sentiment that has the power to reach around the entire world to embrace everyone who faces tyranny of any kind.

And that is a sentiment worthy of fireworks.

Xo,

Kimberley

A Miraculous Shift in Perception

I sat on one of thirty or so hard gray plastic stools at the back of the temple meant to catch the overflow of the faithful. I knew the minute I stood on the outside of the door to this sanctuary that I would join them, though no westerner appeared to be among the worshipping. I still do not know where this bravery is coming from. I keep wondering if it has something to do with all the times when I was little and chickened out when dared to do something…like I am making up for all those dares now. Brian McElroy, if you are reading this, I would totally swing on that rope swing over that mean old man’s backyard ditch if you dared me today. No way would I let you tease me about chickening out for an entire two years that followed that little incident.

But this does not feel like something I am daring myself to do. Not like the zip lining in Belize. Not like the drive to get on the White House Staff during the Economic Summit when it came to Houston. Not like buying a bus ticket in Singapore to go into Kuala Lumpur all by myself. I felt pulled into this place. This place on Waterloo street, in Singapore that houses the holy relic of one of Buddha’s teeth.

This place is considered one of the holiest places in the world, let alone Singapore. Tourists pace around the courtyard, not daring to go in, but wanting to take pictures of getting close to it…of the colorful and ornate interior that is easy enough to capture without actually entering. They will let you take pictures anywhere in here, but I store my camera as I light a joss stick, pray for peace and place it reverently in the sand outside the temple door…I know how to do this now.

Inside there is a sign indicating that it is proper, but certainly not required, to make an offering of a candle and/or flowers to the Buddha. I make my way to the stand at the side where a gentle lady takes my money and hands me a candle wrapped in flowers…assuming I know what to do with it. I do actually, but only because I just saw someone else make her offering before taking her seat amongst the faithful.

This building has five stories, the top four house museums, a gift shop, gardens, a tea shop and the golden protected sanctuary where the sacred relic is kept. But for now, the chanting draws me to the wildly ornate inner chamber…to the chanting of the monks.

Todays’ recitation comes from the Sutra, verses 33-36. I don’t know this at the time, of course. It is only later, when I wonder what it was that moved me so much, that I decided to look it up. The appropriateness of this message to me right now, in this moment is not lost on me. The universe is divine and there are many paths to God. Here are the verses, translated:

33. If you want to completely liberate yourself from fear and end all internal formations and doubts, You must know that if you haven’t pulled out the arrow of desire, then you haven’t understood yet that this body is suffering.

34. Among the highest things that people call the most divine Nirvana is the highest. You must cut off all ideas and attachments and do not be deceived by words.

35. Knowing how to refrain or not to refrain that is the highest practice of letting go. If in our heart there are thoughts of practice the shell will be cracked.

36. Of all offerings, that of the Dharma is the most precious. Of all kinds of happiness, that happiness based on the Dharma is the greatest. Of all strengths, patience is the most powerful because it can put an end to attachment and bring the happiness of Nirvana.

Pulling out the arrow of desire…patience putting an end to attachment…my western mind struggles with these concepts, even though I feel the truth of it in my heart. But I don’t know any of this message as I sit in the middle of people who, like me, are sitting on small gray overflow stools. But who, unlike me, are following along in their own book of the Sutra (at least that I what I am guessing they were as it was all in Chinese characters) and sing-songing along with the orange robed monks who floated through the room at intervals delivering critical components to the service that I did not understand, as they chanted. I bowed when everyone else did. I turned to face another direction when everyone else did. But mostly, I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the hour and a half service pour over me and then through me. My heart understood something my mind could not.

And after twenty minutes or so, my mind rested and stopped trying to figure out if I was in the right place. I stopped worrying that I did not really belong there. I stopped wondering if the people there judged me for intruding on their sacred service. I know so little about Buddha, but what I felt in there was acceptance. I was creating my own separation, my own doubt, my own judgment. And I stopped.

And when I did, I could hear the chanting differently. What had frankly always felt sleep inducing and a little like droning to me, suddenly held passion and fire. What had felt cold and emotionless, now had life, warmth, intensity. How had I missed this? How is it possible that I had shut myself off from the experience of this with my own restrictive perspective?

The entire temple was stunning. In total, I spent more than three hours there, yet it felt like almost no time had passed. I walked through the gardens. I explored the museum. I turned the prayer wheel and I meditated before the Buddha’s tooth. But nothing could touch the experience of just being part of a flow I have been a part of that evening. Once again, my experience of a temple in Singapore defies my expectations and opens space in me that I didn’t know was there.

Taken long after the service ended, as I was leaving.

Xo,

Kimberley