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.
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…


Living Dangerously

“The voodoo priestess can kill you
And she does not even need to be anywhere near you.”
I am sitting in the back of a pick up truck
Against the tailgate
Because here I am in Haiti,

Living dangerously.

“It is hard for you to understand their magic.

Because you are not of here.”
The women with me in the back of the truck are American too.
They are skeptical.
We are always so skeptical of things we don’t understand.

“People in the rural areas,” his English perfect,

his accent perfectly Haitian, “they believe everything is voodoo.
But it is not everything.”
One of the women in the truck bed with us speaks up,
“Maybe they can kill people,
because people believe in it.”

Our young host looks down as if trying to find a connection

In the grooved floor of the truck bed.
There is none there either.
“You are probably safe,
you are not from here,” he decides.

“But we are of this land,

This soil is in our bones.”

A car pulls up behind us and the headlights frame the dark outline of my head
And shoulders
Until my reflection in the back window of the truck
Looks like I am
The absence of light.

“Yes, you are probably safe.

If you see a white woman on a horse
Or a black dog that is unusually large,
Do not go home.
Do not go to sleep.
Just in case.”

Tonight, I learn a little something about rescues

There is something hypnotic about sitting in the middle of a conversation in a language you do not understand. Something about the familiar cadence and the unfamiliar words causes my brain to flicker in and out this afternoon…as if I were trying to fall asleep in self-defense. I watch Tina and wonder if it’s worse for her, because she understands enough of the Greek conversation surrounding us to follow it, having been exposed to the language her entire life, but not enough to truly participate. Her brain is grasping the edges of the conversation, so must be working very hard.

The topic of conversation is music. The people we sit with are professional musicians of one variety or another. If it weren’t for the fact that I am a stranger here, I would be of no interest at all in this room and I am lulled into a false sense of invisibility that one gains by being completely unable to comprehend anything that is going on. This does not last long. My heart races as I realize that Ellie is referring to me in something she says. My dull, glazed over look feels inappropriate when I am suddenly referred to. I can tell she is letting them know that I told her months ago about Kataklysmos, the festival in town…that she knew nothing of it until I told her about it. Her story is clearly charming and animated…I am clearly surrounded by storytellers actually…but still I can’t follow. Though no one seems to notice, I find myself embarrassed by the fact that I am making the freshman traveller mistake of mirroring the movements and expressions of the people talking without understanding what they are saying. I feel a little like a bobble head doll.

Ellie’s friend, Mary, has been scurrying around making sure the house is in perfect condition for us. Unnecessary, really, as it was beyond perfect when we walked in. Unexpectedly, she slides into the room beside me and asks me if perhaps we would like to go for a walk to see the beach. I dearly hope my rush for the door didn’t appear as desperate as it felt. I did not even want to take a moment to change into more comfortable shoes and risk the chance that the opportunity would pass. The people in the room with us were clearly so sweet and kind. But my brain ached from trying to remain awake. Plus, I wanted to see the beach.

Tina and I walked with Mary and she spoke to us in English. She was quite capable of communicating with us, but I felt bad that she had to make the effort, having just scrambled out the door to escape the challenge to my own brain.

Mary’s 21 year old son was studying in the states when he was diagnosed with cancer and told he must go to Houston to be treated. She took an eight month leave of absence from work and rented an apartment in Houston to be with him during the treatment. She was alone in a huge city where she knew no one, spending the few hours a day with her son, as she was allowed while in cancer treatment and then returning to her apartment alone. The thought of this truly dear woman enduring this time alone fills me with so much grief that I am grateful when the well of emotion running through her slows her to standing. Motion seemed inappropriate given the intensity of story. The story she shares runs so deep in her that I can literally feel the lonely ache of sitting by herself in an empty apartment counting the hours until she could be back with her son. And this is how I learn about Ellie.

I have known Ellie for years, of course. But today, standing along the beautiful beach as the sun sets, I really learn about her in a way that would be impossible except through the words of a woman like Mary.

Ellie received the call about Mary through the Cypriot network in Houston and sprung into action. Every day for eight months, Mary could count on Ellie’s call, a connection to something other than the fear and loneliness that filled her days. Ellie came often to pick Mary up from her apartment and take her shopping, to lunch or dinner, or to just sit amongst the noise and chaos of a house full of people somewhere. Mary was clearly not a charity case to Ellie, Mary was a sister…a sister who needed her.

Suddenly, the fuss over ensuring our comfort was understandable. I came thinking that Mary felt indebted to Ellie and was happy to have a chance to give back to her in some way. But this is not really it. Mary was inviting family into her home. She is proud to have us here. Having us stay somewhere else is unthinkable, not because she has a debt to pay but because she loves Ellie, and by extension, us. And she truly does.

I have always loved Ellie. She is easy to love. But as we walked back to the house this evening, I loved a part of her that I had not really known before. Ellie has a gift for making family of strangers. She gives where she is most needed. She loves those who most need her love.

I silently thank Mary for the fresh glimpse of Ellie.


Dreaming as a Family

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

I have been thinking about this a lot over the past year. Its funny how I clear I am about how long I have been thinking about that actually. It is tempting to say I have been thinking about this my whole life…but I know now that I haven’t. I have been so focused on what I want within what I think are my limitations that I have somehow lost my ability to dream big. I don’t even know when I stopped dreaming really big, but I do know it was before high school. I was pretty “realistic” about my dreaming by that time. The messaging in our culture is so focused on plugging away and then retiring that we don’t even realize that this dream does not really fit all of us. We have invested ourselves in pursuit of watered-down version of a dream older than our Grandparents. Or at least from a time when “plugging away” and then retiring meant security, or some semblance of it.

There is something freeing about letting go of the myth of security. Letting go of the thinking that, if we plan well enough, invest well enough and save well enough…we will be safe. There are still people now who are retiring comfortably, but there are more stories every day of people who had that in their plans and are not able to retire…at least not comfortably, whatever that means.

Lifting my head from this myth has made me realize that “safe” was never really all that inspiring to me. There is no adventure in that. And, as I look at my safe-seeking kids, I realize that I have been modeling, by example, that comfort is more important than adventure or taking risks.

Erica Jong famously said, “And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.” I believe this in my heart. But I have not been living it as much as I would like.

I am glad my kids want to be safe, it is somehow in their nature. But I want them to know that they have access to more, should they want it. I want them to, at least occasionally, want something so passionately that they are willing to close their eyes and take that leap into the unknown. I don’t want them to think that their dream is safety.

Stay tuned…



My List

A few years ago there was a movie called Uptown Girls.

I LOVED this movie. Probably because I am that little girl and I need the Brittany Murphy character to teach me how to relax and play. (RIP Brittany)

Tina has had a very big job of trying to get me to be more playful. Not easy. But help is on the way. And it rides in tomorrow morning.

In honor of Dream Lab starting tomorrow, I am posting my Mondo Beyond list from March.

That’s right…all three of you who read this blog (yes, I am counting myself) will see what Mondo Beyondo made me realize I want to do. For the one of you who does not know about Mondo Beyondo…it is about dreaming big. Not the small “wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-find-the-perfect-pair-of-flats-on-sale” dreaming. Jen and Andrea had me dreaming of things that made me giggle and blush a little.

I am putting this list down now because I am going to play. Jen and Andrea are going to give me back my mojo with Dream Lab. They promised. And I trust them.

My Mondo Beyondo List (abbreviated, but important, version)
• Live with the kids in another country for at least a year (this one totally threw me off guard)
• Complete and utter financial security forever so that I can live boldly, give freely and not worry
• Become silly and wildly playful (that is this summer’s assignment)
• Marry Tina legally
• Free up the writer in me so I can create things I am thrilled with instead of just making clients happy
• Become someone I wish I knew
• Dramatically reduce my worklife (this is in progress)
• Write and get published

The point of the list is to be dramatic…to think of things you have absolutely NO IDEA how to manifest. There is sssssooooo much more to the course, but I am not interested in killing the drama of discovery. Do your heart a favor and find out for yourself what it wants.


The Gulf Between Us

Tina and I are gnawing ourselves from the inside out over the disaster in the gulf. We have gone from mocking the bizarrely and stunningly inappropriate remarks from everyone in the BP camp to letting the reality of what is happening to the body of life just south of us.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the insanity that is the business and the politics of what is going on. While we are screaming about money and penalties there is so much life dying in the gulf that it boggles the mind. I cannot even really comprehend the damage, and not just because we are not being shown all of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we must have discussion about penalties, payments, blame. I know that the circus stage on which our politicians parade around trying to make a name for themselves on our tragedy must be played out. I know that the idiots in charge at BP must be publicly humiliated. I know.

But I am frustrated at the arm waving and the well-meaning, but directionless people. Where are our inspiring leaders? Who can we follow? It is hard for me to get in my car, fill it up and drive to the beach to participate in a protest against offshore drilling when I know I have to get back into my gas guzzling car to drive home. I can’t fully participate in that kind of halfway thinking.

Where are the people who will direct us to something to fight FOR? Has this crisis created enough momentum that we can now find someone to follow who will guide us on how to draw attention when research and development into alternative fuels is being eliminated by any large company? Is there someone who will shine a light and leverage this disaster to highlight the numerous times progress toward incredible fuel efficiency or cheaper solutions for fuel have been lobbied away by car manufacturers who do not want to retool their factories? Will someone march us to these leaders and lead us to wail publicly at hastening the demise of a living ecosystem that sustains us in so many ways?

Where are our leaders? Where is the inspiration? Where is the heart in any of this? I just cannot rally behind a bunch of statistics.

My Response to the Question at Hand

I started a contest this week to start a conversation. I have so loved the responses I am getting and I realized this evening that I have not actually done my own work publicly to share with everyone. So, tonight I am laying it all out there.

I am a communication and learning strategist to the oil and gas industry. I consult with project owners and managers for large oil and gas companies on how to communicate with their people and help their people do their job. Prior to this, my background was in marketing…my clients were financial companies, oil and gas companies, and a smattering of companies in other fields. But mostly I work and have worked in service to oil and gas. I live in Houston, Texas, after all. The town lives and breathes oil and gas. Figuratively and literally.

I love how my knowledge is applied now. I am not a big fan of marketing and have become much less of a fan since I watched a Bill Hicks riff on it a few years ago (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDW_Hj2K0wo, forewarned…there is ugly language). I truly believe marketing has made us, as a culture, unable to make a decision on anything else but packaging and marketing. I despise my role in it…but I digress.

I love my clients now. I have always loved my clients, even in marketing. They are good people, just trying to do their job. I really believe that. I want them to be successful. It makes me happy to help them. Their individual goals are really good ones…they want to connect with their people and help them do their job well. They really do.

I love the people I work with too. I realize that my work in the organization supports the work they do and that we all need each other to be successful. They are supporting families too. I like that we have a really wonderful culture of people supporting each other in our collective work. It is an amazing feeling to go into work every day with this group. No joke. I am very lucky.

My work stretches me too. I am pushing the limits of what I know and I what I can learn. It is exciting to me to be learning so much. I love being challenged this way. Some of my work comes very easy as well, which is a good balance for me. I am also lucky in this.

There is a darker side too though. I drive 30 miles back and forth to work every day, releasing toxins into an environment that is already terrible (Houston is not known for its air quality). I am supporting clients in large companies. Large companies who must support a bottom line, regardless of the impact on the world. The work I do is to help people put their heart into their work and bond as a community over the effort. Good for the individuals, but is this good if the mission of the company is ultimately problematic?

I am not sure what to do with this information. I am trying to figure it out. I really am looking to build community around the questions and thinking. I need the brilliance of the crowd with me. I am not sure we can figure out our future alone.

I hope this helps more of you enter into the conversation. I am coming at this from a humble place. I do not believe I am operating in a clearly noble pursuit, as I have expressed in this post. Enter the conversation. Or, if you already have, has anything I have written here sparked anything for you?

Where are you?


The Story of Stuff

If you will promise to find 20 minutes over the next 48 hour period to take the time to sit down and really watch this, I will promise that my next two posts will be silly and lighthearted. Here is the teaser…

Here is the link:


This is the video that started me down this road for real. It changed the way I look at things. It is pretty heavy stuff. But it sets up everything else on this scramble toward personal sustainability.

I am not gonna be able to check up on you guys…so this will have to be on the honor system.