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

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

Was I Ever Really There?

I didn’t want a going away party when I left Haiti. I got sick the day before I left and used that as an excuse to avoid the fuss-making over my leaving. I ended up going out for a drink with some friends and then catching the tail end of a larger party that was apparently also meant to be a farewell to me.

The next day I crammed my morning so full that my office goodbye was nothing more than a fly by of waving arms, air kisses and brief hugs. I am not even entirely sure that everyone there knew I was actually flying home that day and not returning.

And I did this all as if I were the only one to consider.

I did not give the friends I had made there a chance to really look me in the eye and tell me goodbye. I did not let it settle in to the people I worked with that I would no longer be a part of their work lives. I did not give anyone a real chance to have closure with me. It felt clean and tidy at the time. Today it feels selfish.

Working on a three-month assignment in a country as intense as Haiti is really such a strange beast, after all. It is such a short time, as it turns out. Enough time to learn that what you had originally thought you would do was not doable after all. Enough time to determine the best path forward, which is always a looser, more organic-to-the-culture approach. But not enough time to get anything like that going. Not enough time to see anything more than the flickering of success somewhere far on the horizon. Not enough time to have something to hold in your hands to show what your time meant there.

But the hardest thing about three months in that kind of situation is about relationships. I lived in close quarters with some great people there. Every day we would either be in each other’s rooms or we’d have only our tarped walls separating us, which encouraged constant conversation. I had many more friends to whom I sent demanding emails all the time for them to “Get on Skype” so we could chat…or “don’t even think about going somewhere without me this weekend.” I knew more about the habits and needs of everyone there than I know about any of my very close friends here. And every day, we’d share the frustrations of the day, the weirdness everything going on around us and whine about stuff that would not be worth whining about back home, but which gave us something safe to bitch about in a place where none of us really felt we had the right.

I have been home now for a month and a half, and I have been completely disappeared from that place in a way you can only understand if you have been there to see it happen. No one emails me. No one asks me questions or looks for counsel on what I know. Short term volunteers must flow through there now who have never and will never hear of me. The international staff that was there when I was closed the gap around the void I left, before I even got back home. To a newcomer there, I never was.

And I know this with certainty, because I was part of that gap closing in the past. My hands too drew the curtains behind those departing for home. It becomes so routine that the day someone has left, it is as if they were never there. There are occasional mentions in the context of conversations, but nothing much more than that. I never called or wrote either. And I understood it then every bit as much as I understand it now, which is to say…not at all.

Except to say that, in an environment like that, it is hard to become attached and lose people all the time. And it is not just the mushy and emotionally expressive ones who suffer those losses. Even the solid ones who do not show it feel the chipping away until they cloister themselves away to avoid as much of the attachment as possible.

The strange and unfamiliar sadness I feel over this is so complex that it is difficult to explain and I don’t process emotional things as clearly as I used to before Haiti. But, if I were to try, it might look like peering through a foggy train window toward a spot on the horizon that you can’t quite see, but know is there all the same.

xo,

Kimberley

This Post is Empty

Today, the day that I have publicly proclaimed as the first official day of my life as a writer, I do not want to write.

I don’t mean that I cannot think of anything to write about. I don’t mean that I have writer’s block. I don’t even mean that I can’t get exactly what I feel onto the page and that it is frustrating. I have felt all of those things before at one time or another. Today, all I feel is resistance. My jaw is set against it. Yeah, I can feel my jaw tight and determined.

The logical part of my brain is pleading. I can feel that as well.

“It doesn’t have to be good!”

“It doesn’t have to change anyone’s life!”

“It doesn’t even have to be anything about Haiti, Nepal or the fact that you are blowing your life wide open!”

“Just get something down.”

“Just write.”

“Anything.”

But it is almost noon and I have cleaned the kitchen, finished some financial stuff that has been hanging over my head, I have made appointments and filled in more of my to do list. And all this was done with an undeniable air of defiance.

I am not your monkey.

And I don’t even know with whom I am fighting. Whose monkey am I not being exactly? There is no outside pressure on me to perform. I have no deadline pressures. I have no authority figure over me.

I am too new at this to know what to do with myself when I am actively and aggressively resisting something I want to do. How does one talk themselves down? And, seriously, what am I to do with the insolent child of myself, pouting with her ball in her arms, threatening to take it home?

Anyone?

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

I’m not worthy…Nepal

Am I up to this?

Today we meet the children. We are going to the Koseli.
After breakfast, Jen pulls me into her office (our bathroom) to discuss my enthusiasm. Which, despite my assertion that I am controlling, is apparently bubbling over the edges of the teapot of my brain. Our bathroom conversation is wildly helpful in a way that I cannot possibly verbalize. What I can say is, that Jen connects with me in this and now I have someone here who can hold my intensity…if I can hold it through the day, Jen will hold it for me at night and help me contextualize. Now, I am good. I have so much to learn. And that makes me happy. I love to learn. I want to grow into what is next. This is an intensive in that.
We leave for the school and I am sitting in the front seat with the driver. Jen directs me to sit there and I protest, but she sits me up there anyway and I’ll be damned if she is not right. I feel like there is a soundtrack moving through my head as I we make the trip to the school. I don’t want the drive to end. I am happy.
I step into the school’s gates, my insides melt. I could live here. I swear this is true.
Stephanie disappears immediately. How anxious she is to begin her mission. Ah, her mission, I have not told you about this. Let me tell you now.
Stephanie is a photographer. She lives in Georgia, outside of Athens, on a cow farm. She has a brilliant smile and she is here on her own mission. She wants to teach the kids to tell their own story, through pictures. She has just formed an organization called Lens on Life. She has kids in Tanzania and Nepal that she is now dedicated to in driving this mission. This is a real call of the heart. She travelled, met these children, took pictures, and when she left, her work came to her. She needs to help the kids tell their own story. These kids needs the tools to communicate. This is a mission I can get behind.
Stephanie has, through her Twitter network, eight iPhones donated for her trip. She is teaching the kids to take pictures with them. Pictures of their life.  Pictures of the things that are important to them.
So, today, I am in a class of twelve kids as her assistant. Twelve kids who are magnificently ready to take on this challenge.
And they are incredible, these kids. Each comes from the slums of Nepal. Slums I have not seen, but are clearly beyond anything we identify as slums in the US. Each of them has a story that is beyond our ability to comprehend from where we are. I fall in love instantly. This is not the “how precious are these children” kind of love. This is “I love them. I want to them to teach me. I want to help them become whatever it is they want to be.” I want my kids in this school. I want my kids with these kids.
Immediately, two girls focus in on me…and I on them.
This is Srijana and Pinky.
As Stephanie gave them the iPhones. They immediately began taking pictures of me. Every time I looked at them, they were looking at me.
Pinky is an artist. I mean, seriously. I will post pictures of her work tomorrow.
She and her friend, Srijana were magic to me.
I love them. Seriously. I want to bring them home with me.
Stephanie engaged them in a way I would not have thought possible. She taught them how to start the phone. How to take pictures. How to communicate what it is they see.
“What is important is you…not your camera. There are people in the United States who would love to come to Nepal. They can’t. They need you to see what it is like here. What your life is like.”
Stephanie showed them her pictures from Tanzania and the US. Showed them pictures of kids in their natural environment. The kids were silent as she clicked through the pictures, drawing in the lives of kids they would never see in person and don’t have any context for what their lives are like. They got it. You could see it in their faces. They understood the importance. You could literally see the lightbulbs going off in them. I could live in that moment.
Neil and Kristi, the videographers who said yes to this project before they really knew what it was, were moving around the small room in a way that seemed completely natural and beautiful. I have been watching videographers for years and I have never seen a dance like this. They moved around the room like they were connected by an invisible thread. Never in each other’s shot and always shooting the complimentary shot. It was a beautiful symmetry that could only exist between two people in love. And they are. You should see them together. It is a true romance. It is my goal to capture that love with my camera at some point so you can see. They are lovely, fun, sweet and their heart is totally in this.
I am an assistant here, and I love this role.  I am learning so much. Stephanie tells me what to do and I gleefully do it. If she asked me to clean the bathroom with a toothbrush, I would do it with more love than I thought imaginable.
There is more. Of course there is more. And you will know it. I promise you. I will give you everything.
Xo,
Kimberley

My Memories and Tears Find Me in the Delhi Airport

I am standing in line at the airport when Tina tells me the news that she has been holding onto. Chris’ dad has died. The news hits me like a ton of bricks to my chest and before I know what is happening, I let out a wail and begin crying before I remember that I am standing in line with people I don’t know, in an airport on the other side of the world. Immediately, I am disoriented. Like I am in a surrealist work of art. I can’t quite process what people are telling me quickly enough and they are having to repeat the instructions to me multiple times…though they are speaking perfect English.

Chris’ dad was a shell of himself in recent years, a combination of the bipolar chemistry ravaging his thoughts, the drugs he took every day to ‘manage’ those chemicals and the impact of the repeated failure of those drugs to mediate much of anything in him. I knew he was tired of fighting, but I did not think death was really a possibility. Not yet.

Bob felt deeply and read voraciously…could talk at length about all manner of subjects.  He was inquisitive and fascinated by people. He was such a kind heart, and you could see it even in his most frenetic moments. He also suffered mightily at the hands of the ups and downs of his chemistry. If you have never seen anyone at the mercy of that kind of horrific chemistry, trust me…it is heart-breaking.
But it was not always a problem. Bob was playful, energetic and brave. Once, when he was visiting us in Seabrook, he took an interest in a beautiful house on the water of Galveston Bay. I too was obsessed by this house. It was two doors down from us and had stunning details, like an observation tower rising above the roof line that held a telescope, and openings in the wall around the property that held a variety of beautiful bells. On one of his many walks, he brought his video camera along and moments later, as I was standing on the seawall having coffee and looking at the water, I hear Bob shouting hello. At the end of the dock of the gorgeous house just two doors over, he stood next to the grinning, happy owners waving at us. He had just asked them straight out if he could come in and videotape their house. And Bob was just the kind of person you wanted to say yes to.
That is the memory I am holding of him today. Not the man ravaged by a sickness that our culture does not really want to talk about. In our world, even an emotional outburst is seen as some kind of regrettably digression, a symbol of our lack of strength.
I read something recently from a woman who had just lost her husband to suicide. The wild trip of riding his brain chemistry overtook him one day and he came up with the only permanent solution he could imagine in his state. Her one wish, as she penned this post was that people start demystifying mental illness and talk about it openly. That these big, strong men who feel like it is a sign of weakness to confess that you need help, get help anyway. Before it is too late.
Bob did not commit suicide, but he did get exhausted by the fight. Because for him, it was a fight. He too believed deep inside him that his inability to overcome the genetic illness in his family line on his own was a sign of weakness. It wasn’t. It is a sign of the weakness of our culture that Bob still felt he needed to fight this fight alone.
Goodbye, Bob. Even half way around the world, you are on the top of my mind today. I hope the place you are resting your weary head is beyond the expectations your challenging and cynical mind could hold. I am imagining you standing on the deck of a house far away, camera in hand, waving like crazy to let us know where you are and that you are happy and fine.

And that you are getting some really cool shots for us to look at later.
I love you.
Kimberley